Things in Champaign-Urbana are pretty damned good. Honestly. We've kind of got it made here. The laundry list of things to do, people to meet, places to go — pretty much endless when you consider the size of our community. We love it here. You know this.
But alas, there are some horrible things that happen all the time. The WORST. And here is just a small collection of things that we consider to be just that.
Apologies if you are offended, dear readers. We realize that this is not something that most publications do. But we're feeling a bit brave in 2014. We feel like you can trust us, and even if you don't, will probably want to shake your fist at us from within your parent's basement. After all, you are the worst. The WORST, we tell you.
We are, too. Just read more to find out why. (SF)
WORST theatre poster
White People at the Station Theatre
Credit where credit is due, it was a bold move for the consistently talented and impressive folks at the Station to open their season by presenting a stage version of Phantom of the Paradise, Brian DePalma's cult musical mashup of Phantom of the Opera, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and... Hmm? What's that? This is actually a play about white folks in America telling stories about prejudice? Hmm. Let me check on that, because that freaky-ass poster begs to differ. [Checking Station website...] I'll be damned. Says here that it's "A controversial and darkly funny play about the lives of three ordinary white Americans placed under the spotlight. Through heart-wrenching confessions, they wrestle with guilt, prejudice, and the price they and their children must pay for their actions." O-kay. If you say so. Then what's that poster about? (MG)
WORST theatre etiquette
That time a Smile Politely photographer crashed opening night of Wait Until Dark and took photos during the goddamn play
Opening Night. It's a magical time for anyone who loves theatre, whether you're an actor, a director, or a member of the audience. For the performers, it's a showcase — a heartfelt explosion that comes after so much concentration, so much anticipation, so much ass-breaking work. For the director, it's so personal — seeing your thoughts and dreams and hopes take their first public steps in front of a room full of well-intentioned, supportive, but nonetheless opinionated people. And for the audience member, it's a chance to see a favorite story come to life — to escape from the long day and the real world and be entertained for a while. That is, until you get distracted by the goober with the camera, standing over there against the wall, half-way down the side aisle, taking photos during the performance. And yes, your attempts at stealth have failed; we can totally see and hear you on the other side of the room. But at least the actors didn't notice; at least the director wasn't there; at least the reviewer from your own publication wasn't sitting directly behind the Head of the Theatre Department. Wait, strike that. All of that happened. Good shots, though. (MG)
WORST luck for local business
Layalina Mediterranean Grill burning down after being open for 10 days
When a friend of mine suggested that we grab lunch at a new Middle Eastern place one day last November, I was totally excited. Actually, I hadn’t known that it had opened, and she told me that the food was delicious (she had eaten there within the first week of it being open). Off we went to Layalina for a leisurely ladies’ lunch. We ordered a variety of things: baba ghanouj, hummus, fattoush, a mixed grill platter, and falafel. They were all delicious. Save for some problems with basic restaurant service (no plates, no silverware), we were hopeful that Layalina would find a rhythm and become this awesome new addition to Champaign dining. I had taken photos and was going to publish my review the next week.
And then it burned down.
It wasn’t just a fire that damaged the kitchen or the dining area, the entire building—restaurant and attached apartment—burned to the ground. To the ground. Thirty firefighters were called to the scene. As in, there is now a gaping hole in the landscape where the structure used to stand. All of this happened within ten days of it opening. [You can watch a video of the fire, courtesy of our friends at the News-Gazette.]
That is some bullshit. Thankfully, no one was home in the apartment (the dog allegedly escaped), but one firefighter was injured.
And thankfully for the owner, Mohammad Saleh, has a rock solid disposition and knows how to persevere. The latest incarnation of Layalina has reopened down the street in the space formerly occupied by Minneci’s. Check out my review, and get yourself to Layalina before bad luck strikes them again. (JH)
WORST use of classic architecture
The old Princess Cinema — Downtown Urbana
The thing about a Downtown is this: it needs a wide variety of components to function, sustain, and grow. Never once was there a healthy Downtown where you could only get one kind of food, or only look at one medium of artwork, or only dance to one kind of music at a club, or only go see one genre of movie, or one kind of band, or only speak to one lawyer, or only buy one type of meat or vegetable, or only drink one flavor of milkshake, or only buy Birks (thank gawd)... you see where I am going, yes, yes? Yes. Good! I knew you would. That's good.
Thank you. You are a reasonable person.
In a healthy Downtown, all of those things are (ideally) available, but with wide variety, and are (theoretically) supported by one another. That's called cooperation. It's a basic tenet of decent humanity. It's the kind of place where you and I would like to live.
And at the heart of every Downtown, as you well know, dear reader, is the theater. The playhouse. The cinema. The stage. THE VENUE.
That's right. In any Downtown worth its goddamned salt, there's a wonderful space for the community to be entertained, night and day. And in Downtown Urbana, there existed a few of them, two across the street from each other, in fact. There's the small one on the 4th floor above Crane Alley, which remains inactive, but still there. Crazy, right?
And then there is the big one. The Princess Cinema. Heart of Downtown. Main St. It's still there. You've seen it, yes?
Well, have a look inside the theater and well, you can't really. It's nothing more than office space. Yep — that's all. Just, offices.
The building, initially constructed in 1870 as Busey's Hall by the brothers Samuel and Simeon, is iconic in the annals of history here in East Central Illinois. The first floor was an office space for the bank they were getting underway, and the second floor was a big hall for lectures, dances, entertainment, whatever. In 1915, the offices were converted into a cinema and it remained a single screen theater until it closed in 1994. I saw my fair share there. Had my first date there. Didn't pan out. No bueno.
But I digress...
With the right vision, and a decent developer, that space could have been anything. Could have been a venue akin to The Canopy, or The Virginia. Could have been a playhouse, or a multi-faceted venue. In short, it could have been the centerpiece to a thriving and bustling Downtown Urbana.
But it's not. It's fucking office space. A beautiful 150 year old theater. Office space.
Let me be totally clear on this one: I do not blame the tenants one bit for their choice to move into the back part of the old Princess Cinema in Downtown Urbana. The design is wonderful, quite frankly. Who ever handled the build out did a great job. And having spent a few minutes in there over the years, it's really well done and a nice work environment.
Am I clear? Good. Thank you for being reasonable, dear reader.
Oh sure, it's hard to blame the developers. The saw the opportunity and they ran with it. Good move, financially, on their part. The business in the back is thriving, and the consumerism that it spawned is worth a lot to the rest of the Downtown community. Technically, it's a great use of the space.
I can be reasonable, too.
But man, what a bummer, when you consider the possibilities. To convert that theater into office space? Really, that's the WORST kind of development for a Downtown.
That theater will forever remain office space. Goddamned office space. It's a dime a dozen. There's a lot of it, and for good reason. People need places to work. But with a little money, and a decent designer, you can take most any space and make it awesome. They have, like, TV shows about that.
But you can't just recreate or build a "new" old theater. Not ever. "They don't make 'em like the used to" is not just some aphorism that is used because it's convenient. It's a real thing.
Instead of a wonderful Downtown theater, we have office space.
WORST unfulfilled promise
Maize announcing it will open in Downtown Champaign in August 2013
I can’t tell you how many times people ask me when Maize will open in Downtown Champaign. It’s often. It’s one of those things where I’m asked when, I say I don’t know, and then the asker asks more questions about how and why Maize hasn’t opened.
I don’t know.
Last summer I interviewed owner Armando Sandoval about the new space. He told me (and SP published in the inaugural edition of Bonfire) that it would be open in August of 2013. I had my doubts, naturally. Like any good construction project, one must add time and money to arrive at a more accurate estimate for completion. I figured that it would open in the fall, the latest. I even visited the new space and took photos. It was coming together, as in, not that far off.
I would be eating Maize twice a week if it was open downtown. I’m pretty sure other people would be, too. It’s a wasted opportunity for the restaurant.
I understand that the restaurant business is fickle. It’s expensive. I get that. But shit, we all want to eat more Maize. (JH)
WORST potholes to ride your bike over
Near Birch and Green
I thought about including this in the News & Culture BEST article under the heading “Best Way to Get Your Crotch Pummeled,” but I decided that was too snarky even for me. I know we had a hard winter and all, I know [insert lame excuse for inaction that uses the words “economic recession”], and I know gaping, tire-splitting, ball-breaking potholes are a dime a dozen in our lovely cities at the moment, but, those objections notwithstanding, I humbly submit this stretch of pavement is the single worst patch of ground to bike over in the greater C-U area. If you choose to go over it, expect your teeth to feel loose for several hours afterward, and expect to get as much vertical air from bouncing up and down as horizontal motion from going forward. It’s not so great to drive over, either. (RP)
WORST Lincoln landmark
Near Main and Webber
Apparently before and during his tenure as The Great Emancipator, Honest Abe pranced all over C-U, as evidenced by our plethora of Lincoln nomenclature and Lincoln landmarks. Among these, certainly the most pitiful and unimpressive is this sad sign. When you go check it out, take note of the fact that it's under one of the tiniest trees in sight. “Magnificent elm”? I think not. (RP)
The Music Shoppe
Here's the thing — commercials can totally be effective if they are done right. They have to have an aspect that is memorable, and people associate that memory with a positive response within themselves. Advertising is an interesting beast as is, and if you are able to pull off an effective commercial, more power to you, friend. They are few and far between, so tip of the cap to companies that can produce these spots and make people react in a positive manner, and not want to switch the channel as quickly as they can find the remote to do so.
On the other hand, some commercials are so goddamned terrible that you have to continue to watch it until it's over. Have to. So bad you can't take your eyes off of it. You don't realize you're sucked into the vortex until it's already too late. Your senses burn at the idea that you haven't changed the channel yet. You hate yourself for not picking up that remote to fast forward on their DVR or switch the channel. You reconsider everything.
Well, this is one of those commercials, dear readers. I don't care how long it has been around (as I am aware that the jingle has been around for quite some time, and the date says 2013) — but this commercial is simply horrid, and low budget as it is, and by a local business, it is truly the worst. Can someone tell me why they would want to visit a store like this, please? For the love of God — the pretentiousness, the awkwardness, the beige shirts and walls — I don't think I need to go on. I saw this commercial earlier this year, and thank you sweet Jesus for YouTube that it exists on the web.
The Music Shoppe accomplished this. Watch it if you dare. (PS)
WORST use of social media
As a Smile Politely reader, you most likely know of what happened this past September with our run in with the fine establishment of Drew’s Pizzeria (RIP). If you’re unfamiliar, take a look back and check out what happened. Part of me didn’t want to bring this back up to the surface since it has been dormant for some time, but honestly, the timeline of how this story played out is entertaining enough, and definitely works for WORST use of social media for a local business.
Not only did those folks post a bunch of tweets asking women to expose themselves for free pizza — their reaction to getting busted after the fact is pretty great. To sum it up, they essentially took this new attention and embraced it. They didn’t think what they were doing was wrong, which is, well, dumb really. Needless to say, for a short period of time afterwards, people were much more aware that Drew’s existed after we published the story back in September — and shortly thereafter when it was run on Deadspin and Huffington Post, plus plenty of others around the globe.
Either way, Drew’s had their time in the limelight, and it was all good and fun (and good to make fun of), but if their shitty pizza wasn’t to blame for their downfall — their use of social media couldn’t have helped their cause. (PS)
Kyle Kinane's special gift at The Highdive
People who yell things out at comedy shows should be hung, drawn, quartered, burned, and water boarded. (Yes, in that order.) You're not helpful, you aren't “participating,” and no one thinks you're funny or interesting. Do not talk during a live comedy show; do not talk at the movie theater; do not dare to speak during a play. Shut up. Of course, there is a big, fat exception to this rule: If the performer, performance, or event invites people to speak, sing, or scream, then go for it. Have a blast. Just make sure you are actually being urged to participate in some way. That means a comedian, host, or narrator is directly asking you, or the audience in general, a question. That means a musician has shouted, “How's everybody FEELIN' TONIGHT!?”
When Kyle Kinane was in town May 16th, there was a heckling incident. I can't really adequately explain why the convergence of horrible timing and manners was so painful. Seeing someone with terrible manners, at the same time as other people witnessing it, is awkward enough. We all see it. We are all aware of the burning, electric, putrid discomfort in the room. We all have to deal with that now. All of us are responsible for reacting to and having an opinion about that display of social unawareness. Ugh.
So here's what happened (now that it's been built up way too much): Kyle Kinane had great openers. He had a warm welcome to play off of. He's nearing the end of his set and says something about frogs, something about lizards, something about something else. We all laugh. It's very funny. Then, we all hear, clear as vodka, a woman yell something out. She slurs, “Frogs aren't lizards!” Kyle asks her to repeat herself. She does. He informs her that this was the end of his set but “let's do this now.” We all cheer him on, uncomfortable but supportive.
The magic in a comedian's act is he can make you forget that he has pre-written the material. The stories might be rehearsed, but there are special moments peppered in, moments that make you feel like he is thinking of these little additions right then. When that drunk woman screeched basic scientific facts at Kyle Kinane, he told us all that the words to follow were off the cuff. He did not plan them. We were all riled up about the woman's slight, vicious even, but also dreadfully uncomfortable. That moment all but ruined all of the good momentum Kinane had built up for the past hour and a half. Which made me hate a stranger for just a few minutes. (KP)
WORST editing job
The graffiti graffiti in the upstairs bathroom at Mike 'N Molly's
Bathroom graffiti is mostly stupid. It's not art. It's not cute. It's not cutting or clever or socially responsible in almost any case, ever. And in case you and your pen are too drunk to notice, there's a freaking chalkboard in the women's room downstairs and, oh, across the street, covering a fifth of the alley. The original message, above, is just fine. BE NICE ON THE INTERNET. I get it. People are horrible, vicious creatures when they live without consequences, and online harassment is a legitimate concern. (I'm being a bit of a dick myself right now, but I would stand by my statements in person.) The original message is a sort of whiny, pointless thing to write in a bathroom the size of a small closet, sure, but it's valid in general. But. Then. Someone went in and did this shit: BE NICE everywhere
ON THE INTERNET
I want to know what this second person thought. Does the original graffiter not believe in being a decent human being offline? Does this second person even know what a mind numbing non-slogan this new message is? "Be nice everywhere" is not a slogan. It's a bad English translation of Swedish lyrics.
Kudos to the third and fourth people who added "like" and "First!" I know it was two different people because I pee in that closet at least once a week. Time lapsed. (KP)
WORST place to open a restaraunt
The old Jillian's, Buttitta's, and now Orange and Brew
The big (20,000 sq. ft.) and beautiful brick building located on the corner of Avondale and South Neil has tempted business owners since Jillian's closed after a 15 year run. However, businesses beware! It seems it has turned into a restaraunt graveyard — a place for businesses to die. It is currently being occupied by Orange and Brew, an Illini themed sports bar open since 2013. Previous to Orange was Buttitta's, an Italian restaurant, and unfortunately closed in 2011. I hope I eat my words and Orange and Brew becomes widley successful for a long time. (SL)
WORST bathroom doors
KoFusion in Downtown Champaign
Ever wanted to feel heavy strings of metal beads brush against your body as you push through them while heading for the restroom? Me either. Going to the bathroom in KoFusion is like walking through a dominatrix's front door. The metal is heavy, clangs, and could be used as a weapon case customers riot for more "dollar sushi" nights. (SL)
WORST decision by a city council
NO vote on Plaza Park — Neil and Washington; Downtown Champaign
On the whole, and I mean this genuinely, dear reader: I think this particular city council in Champaign is a really good one. They work well together. They listen to their constituents. They don't play politics with each other all that often. They make good choices. After all, we've got backyard chickens now. Volition is staying Downtown. Yahoo! is expanding their offices in Research Park. I am pretty sure that a hotel is opening up in the heart of the city in 2014.
Good stuff. Mostly.
This past April, the council voted down, 5–3, a plan to invest $50,000.00 from TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money to start planning the renovation of an older and antiquated Downtown parking lot that sits right in front of the Orpheum Theater, Meyer Drapery, and Soma, amongst others.
Evidently, those who voted against it on the city council haven't spent enough time in other, more vibrant, and economically, healthier cities. Green space and parks, more than anything — more than retail or restaurants or bars — brings families to a Downtown district, provided that there are also... retail, restaurants, bars in the immediate area. And we need places for families to hang in Downtown Champaign.
What better place than a small park, right in front of the Orpheum Science Museum, yes, yes?
Perhaps not. At least, not right now, sadly.
Perhaps they didn't get the memo, but we are flush with restaurants and bars. Retail not so much, as that is generally opening in Campustown, but that's even more to the point here.
Basically, Marci Dodds — who represented the Yes vote for the Plaza Park along with Tom Bruno and Deb Frank Feinen — hit the nail on the head when she said at the council meeting in April, "Retail follows people. You're not going to get somebody to come downtown unless you can show you've got foot traffic."
Hence, all the retail opening in Campustown and not Downtown.
What we need now is green space in the heart of Downtown Champaign. A place where people can go sit and have a picnic with their family. A place that provides a small enclosed space for dogs to run around. A place that has been designed to host small festivals and events. Concerts in the summer. Ice skating in the winter? Maybe that's ambitious, but regardless — we don't have that.
And please don't claim West Side Park as being that sort of park either. It's not.
According to the council meeting minutes, and to the report in the News-Gazette, while the reasons for the five NO votes from Foster, LaDue, Kyles, McIntosh, and Faraci varied, ultimately, it seems the biggest issue was one related to parking and the need for parking and the importance of parking.
Yes, what Downtown Champaign needs right now is parking. And more cars, to boot. And how! Let me tell you this, dear reader: every single time I drive to Downtown Champaign, I end up having to park in Urbana, and take the goddamned MTD over to Champaign. I am never, ever, able to find parking in Champaign. Especially not with the brand new parking garage that's literally always more than half empty across the street from the parking lot they are trying to demolish.
I recognize that, in particular, Meyer Drapery stands to lose out here. That's never a good thing. But part of living in a society is having to make concessions for the greater good. And if I am guessing, this council could have helped to find Meyer Drapery a better, more suitable location for its business. All things possible with cooperation. Nothing against the drapery business and all, but it's not really the kind of retail outlet that has folks chomping at the bit to head Downtown on a sunny afternoon for a day out with the kids.
Karen Foster was the only council member who got back to me when I asked for an update on the rationale about why it was voted down. As always, she made salient points.
An idea that she and the team had was to compromise and "continue the sidewalk and widen it along the east side of Neil which would mean taking out a row of parking."
And that's not all that bad of an idea.
She also stated that she would rather see the TIF money spent on developing Midtown, and the corridor that connects it with Campustown and Downtown.
Also an admirable thought, except that we've already done that with the new walking park / detention pond for Boneyard Creek that stretches between White and Springfield between 2nd St. and 3rd St.
If she wants more development in that area, she should be speaking with Dan Hamelberg, who owns University Group and who also now owns the entire east side of First St. between — you guessed it — White and Springfield, which overlooks the new park.
They are going to develop it. Of course they are going to develop it! That's what the private developer does. They develop the commercial space they own. The public sector, on the other hand — the government! — develops the infrastructure to surround the businesses with tax dollars. Like roads. And pipes for water and gas. Lightpoles. Sidewalks, and such.
And parks! Where the people go! Instead of a parking lot. Which is where cars once went. Before we got wise and built up and not out.
I do hope that this comes up for a vote again soon, and perhaps there will be a chance to ask some of the Mayoral candidates that very question coming up soon? Yes, there will be that chance.
After all, the parking lot in question is only there by default. Back when Market Place Mall was being built in the mid-1970s, the city ripped out a beautiful flat iron building to provide parking for Sears, which once sat next to Meyer Drapery. Then, a major fire in the 80s forced our hand after it took out a city block.
It wasn't designed this way. And it's time to do something with it.
We're better than this, council. Please reconsider, and have a bit more vision next time around. (SF)
Photo credit: Charley Kline
WORST editor on an almost entirely shitty editorial board
Jim Dey — The News-Gazette
Since around 1957, the old white men of America have gradually had to cede ground in the larger cultural discourse to racial, ethnic and social minorities — not to mention the womens. Jim Dey, managing editor of our very own News-Gazette, on the other hand, has used his career to rage against our progress as a society in some of the most cowardly ways imaginable. Rarely willing to engage an issue with much thought or nuance, Dey relies on regurgitated slogans and more often, ad hoc, dog whistle attacks. Dey's writing is lazy, self-indulgant, and signifies him as a genuine asshole. When it comes to writers and editors in this town, Jim Dey is the worst.
But don't take our word for it. Recently, Dey penned a column entitled "Not to speak ill of the dead, but..." in which he basically just talks trash about dead people, including the recently departed Maya Angelou. The following is an excerpt that very article:
When famed poet and author Maya Angelou died last week at 86, newspapers across the country were filled with lengthy obituaries that tracked her life from poverty to success, wealth and fame.
That included The News-Gazette, which detailed Angelou's 2002 appearance in Champaign-Urbana, where she spoke at the University of Illinois commencement ceremonies.
During an impressive address, which included a bit of singing, she urged UI graduates to take interest in other people.
"I encourage you to shine on somebody else. Someone else who may not look like you, who may call God another ... somebody who eats different foods and dances to a different path," she said, noting what a "wonderful" experience that could be.
Well, here's an admonition — watch what they do, not what they say.
Angelou may have urged others to embrace their fellow man, but her UI appearance was strictly business.
Her Boston-based agent, Lordly & Dame, negotiated a $43,000 fee for Angelou's two 30-minute speeches at the UI and demanded that Angelou have no other interaction with anyone.
"Dr. Angelou does not participate in any activities outside of the performance. This includes, but is not limited to group meals, receptions, classes, book signings, autograph sessions or press conferences," Angelou's contract with the UI stated.
Mr. Dey, who stands in the same small eternity-surrounded bivouac of existence we all do, absolutely has the right to piss on Maya Angelou for using a booking agent to help her prioritize the immense demand for her talents. At the same time, he's also told us all we need to know about the sort of human being he is. Furthermore, that the object of Mr. Dey's criticism just so happens to be a prominent African American woman who championed many of the progressive ideals that he regularly rages against in his position at the Gazoo is not lost on us.
It's interesting how Dey chooses his targets. You might think that, with his mantle, he might pick causes that actually contribute something of value to our community at large, but of course, he rarely, if ever, does. (SP)
WORST comprehensive coverage from an online magazine
Smile Politely — all sections, except in relation to local theater, restaurant reviews, Illini men's basketball, Market at the Square, indie rock bands, et al
You didn't think we were somehow averse to the idea of turning the knives on ourselves too, did you?
Good. Hope not.
We're wildly deficient, as a magazine. That was pointed out in more than a few comments over the past week, and even on Twitter, from people who we will publish works of tremendous fiction soon!
It burns. Really burns. But they are right, those vocal few, who speak truths that we sometimes care not to hear about.
For almost seven years we've published literally thousands and thousands of articles, written by people just like you, about all sorts of places, people, businesses, artists, idiots, geniuses, festivals, bikes, tragedies, fires, earthquakes — yes, my wife broke the goddamned story on the earthquake of 2008! — and who knows what else.
Let's face it. We totally suck some of the time. And that's something about which we're well aware.
We try our best. I mean, we really do. But we're a bunch of fucking amateurs. At least most of us are.
And that's no secret.
But that's no excuse. We should always be mindful of when we're flawed, or when we haven't quoted properly, or attributed credit to the proper person. Hell, I am 100% certain that in this very article, there are grammatical errors, style issues, you name it. It happens. Probably bothers others more than it bothers us most of the time, but we will try to improve, and look for new and better ways to inform you about what's happening in Champaign-Urbana.
We're a community magazine, and yes, there are times when we are the WORST, too.
The worst, man. Just... the WORST. (SF)