Smile Politely

A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: Gray Days

Hello dear readers, and welcome back to another installment of B/F/L! Yes, one theme of this month’s column is the color gray, but don’t worry, there’s very little doom or gloom involved, you’ll see!

Champaign Do It Best Hardware

I need you to understand: Do It Best is a magical place. Since I bought a home in Champaign late last year, I’ve been to Do It Best dozens of times as I struggle to gain basic competency in a wide variety of simple home-maintenance and home-improvement tasks. Each time I visit Do It Best, with fear and confusion in my eyes, there is a helpful employee there to point me in the right direction. Staff at the Do It Best appear to range from 11 to 98 years of age, but they’re all quite knowledgeable (or at least more so than I), and even when the store is busy, it seems there’s always somehow more employees than customers. Do It Best really is your friendly neighborhood hardware store, and it’s clearly been here for a long time as evidenced by some of their stocked items dating back to the Clinton administration.

I’ve wanted to review the Do It Best building for a while now as it’s a bit of a weird one — a one-story cinderblock compound right near the heart of Champaign. From most angles you can’t even tell it’s a retail store! Very recently the building received a new paint job, so I figured now was the time. I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the new colors. The cheerful (but certainly worn) light blue and white color scheme…

A building painted light blue and white. There is a sign that says Champaign Do it Best Hardware on one side, and a parking lot filled with cars in the foreground. Photo from Google Maps.
Photo from Google Maps.

…has been completely replaced with gray and DARKER GRAY!

The same building with the light blue and white paint replaced by gray and dark gray. The parking lot in the foreground is empty. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Not nearly as inviting in my opinion. But what do I know? I’m just some jerkoff, but there are professionals out there painting McDonald’s locations these same grays. I do like how, despite the new paint, other exterior issues were not addressed at this time.

A close up of a gray cinder block wall with a broken light fixture hanging on it. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

The Do It Best has two entrances. The south side looks like the main entrance, but I end up going in the west side door most of the time, which I guess is the official “Benjamin Moore” paint entrance.

An old and rusting ice machine sits at the end of a sidewalk leading up to the entrance to a store. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A raised sidewalk ramp leads up to a glass door entrance. There is a red and white Benjamin Moore sign on the gray exterior of the building. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Also, it looks like there was maybe a third entrance on the north side at one point? It’s definitely not an entrance now.

View of a building facade from across a road. The building is dark gray with a lighter gray roof, and rectangular. Green interstate signs stretch across the road. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

I assume it was originally there, so if you were driving east down Springfield Ave, and saw something in these big windows…

View across a road of the corner of a building, with large windows lining the exterior. Several ladders are visible, along with shelves of paint cans. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

…that you just couldn’t live without, you could slam on the brakes, pop your hazard lights on, jump in the north entrance and buy what you wanted. Simpler times, simpler times.

I desperately want to know what’s inside this door at the top of this exterior spiral stairway.

A white metal spiral staircase leads up to a small platform and white door, leading into a gray building. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

(Note the stairway didn’t get painted) If you’re a former employee of Do It Best, please let me know what’s in there.

VERDICT: Even with the new coat of paint, this building is still a good home for Champaign Do It Best Hardware. It’s no-nonsense, it’s unpretentious, and it’s big enough to hold a lot of hardware. In 40 years when they change the paint job again, I do hope they go back to the blue and white though.

At Home but Homesick

The other day I was walking down Lynn St. in Champaign and found a yard with prickly pear cacti. They didn’t look so great cuz of winter rolling in, but still it immediately gave me a little pang of homesickness for Phoenix, AZ, where I grew up.

A green prickly pear cactus is growing next to a light gray rock. Brown dried leaves are scattered around. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Homesickness really isn’t the right term though. I’ve lived in Chambana for 11 years — basically my entire adult life! This town is my home and I intend to keep livin’ in it! Still though, I think all of us many Chambana transplants have moments when we miss the lands we used to live in. Especially during these cold, gray months. (If you didn’t know many locations around the world, including Phoenix, Arizona, do not even have “cold, gray months.”)

VERDICT: My usual penchant for choosing pithy names for things fails me currently. Instead of “homesick” I’m just gonna have to call this feeling “oldotherplacesick.”

The Men’s Room at Art Mart

Every holiday season I MUST go to Art Mart at least once, and often two or three times, for gifts. I routinely refer to Art Mart as “The Mom Store” because it has something for every kind of mom. Here’s just a small sampling of the items available for purchase at Art Mart:

  • Very nice glassware
  • Kitchen gadgets
  • Scarves
  • Greeting cards
  • Fancy cheese
  • Quirky snacks from other countries
  • Toys for clever children
  • Toys for less-than-clever children
  • Wooden bowls of various sizes
  • Dozens of jigsaw puzzles
  • Hot sauces
  • Chocolates with booze in them

Anyhow, I was at The Mom Store recently looking for a gift for my own mom (and seasonal sweets for myself) so I decided to check out the men’s restroom for the first time.

Dear reader, I must say I was disappointed. Of course the whole bathroom was clean and functional, but look at how drab! Even during the rest of the year, but especially the month of December, Art Mart is a colorful bazaar absolutely chock full of tantalizing goodies and knick knacks, but you sure couldn’t tell that from inside this men’s restroom.

A gray bathroom stall with a metal rail along the wall. Next to it is a white porcelain urinal. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A double sink with a black countertop and white sinks, with a large mirror above it. There is a black soap dispenser and paper towel dispenser hanging on the gray wall, with a black garbage can underneath. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Maybe this is a conscious choice though. Maybe some dads (as stereotypical as this may sound) occasionally get overstimulated in The Mom Store and need some time alone in a quiet, lifeless gray box.

I’m not like those fellows though: Art Mart, put up some dang ART in this restroom! My personal recommendation would be to move this “Periodic Table of Desserts” into the bathroom.

Two framed pieces of artwork sit on a metal shelf. One has illustrations of cakes, and the other, titled Periodic Table of Desserts, has small images of different types of desserts in a chart. Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Right now it’s above the pastry counter, and when I’m there I’m looking at the real pastries, not this illustration. Please move this to the men’s room so I can be thinking about all the eclairs I’m gonna buy once I’m done pissing.

VERDICT: 7/10 – Needs more pieces of flair!

That’s all for this column folks. Here’s hoping you have a joyous end to your December, and I’ll see you in 2023!?!

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