Smile Politely

A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: 4th Street Blues

I’m going to give you readers a peek behind the curtain here and tell you a little bit about my writing process. I always have a number of column ideas rattling about in my head at any given time. Some of these ideas are buildings, feelings, and latrines that I’ve been holding on to for some time, just waiting for the unifying theme necessary to make them into a coherent column instead of just a weird ranty list of junk. So imagine my excitement the other day when I realized, quite suddenly, that a building, a feeling, and a latrine that I’d been stewing on are all on the same street! Truly it was one of the top 25 “eureka” moments of my whole life. Well, maybe more like top 50. Top 100 for sure. I have had a lot of earth-shattering revelations in my life. Anyhow, I present to you, A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: The 4th Street Blues.

708 S. 4th Street (The AT&T Compound)

On the Northeast corner of 4th and John, there is a big, creepy, tan brick building with an AT&T logo on the side. You may have passed this building many times without thinking it’s creepy, but I assure you that it is, because it has NO WINDOWS.



Well OK, there are some tiny windows on a few of the exterior doors. But those don’t really count. They don’t let in any natural light. Really, they make the place more creepy since they’re clearly only there so that suspicious doormen wearing sunglasses can peek out at the world.

I have so many questions about this building. Primary among them: How many poor souls work inside this windowless bunker? I kind of assume that it’s full of servers or something, so maybe nobody really works inside the building? On the other hand, maybe hundreds of pale, malnourished AT&T employees live inside and spend 12 hours per day running on treadmills, powering the turbines that keep the Internet going. That seems equally likely to me. Over my days of observing this place for this column, I never once saw a person enter or leave the building. Though there is a variable number of AT&T vans in the parking lot at any given point.

There must be some people inside, because look, there’s this extra sad single picnic table outside! The treadmill workers must come out here on their 90 second work breaks which occur only at 3 a.m. once per year.

I also wonder about the history of the building. Even if it is just full of lifeless computers now, a brick on the west side indicates that it was built in 1961, long before servers were around, or AT&T for that matter.


Some preliminary Google searching didn’t tell me much, so if you know what this building is used for now, or what it used to contain, tell me about it in the comments. Also, if you’re one of the pale, malnourished AT&T workers trapped inside and you want help escaping, just post a series of cryptic animated gifs in the comments. Don’t worry, I’ll decipher them and put a team together to get you out.

VERDICT: Don’t trust buildings that don’t have windows (unless they have some really good reason for not having windows).

Navigating the intersection at 4th and Armory

Most folks avoid driving through campus. As well they should, campus is a terrible place for driving. If you find yourself on campus, at the helm of a car of any kind, it’s because you’ve made poor life choices, and you deserve whatever punishment that campus can dish out to you.

That all said, some parts of campus are worse for cars than others. I submit that the worst intersection to be a driver is 4th and Armory. Especially during the points in the day where classes have just let out, or are just beginning. At those times, constant streams of students will walk through this four-way stop, without stopping, or even really noticing the cars. If you’ve only ever been on the infuriated driver side of this equation, you should really try being a pedestrian. Just show up to 4th and Armory at like 11:45 a.m. and do a lap. Just cross every street without looking. It’s very freeing. If any of the car folk get peeved at you, just give them friendly but patronizing look that says “you have no power here driver, these are pedestrian lands,” and then keep on walking.

VERDICT: In my hometown there’s an eight-way stop (two lanes in each cardinal direction). It is unsafe and terrifying for all involved. The University should really think about having one installed.

The Men’s Room (is there even a women’s room?) at The Illini Inn


I’ve been holding on to this bathroom since I started writing this column years ago. It’s probably the grossest bathroom in town, so of course I wanted to save it up for a special occasion. Some months ago, the Illini Inn closed and there were rumors that it would never open again. I was scared that I’d forever missed my chance to write about this terrible bathroom. But The Illini Inn did reopen. Though now the building it’s in is being leveled sometime soon, and a new Illini Inn will spring up in its place (this time with several stories of apartments above it). I knew I’d been given one of those rare second chances in life, and that this could be my last opportunity to write about the real Illini Inn restroom, before it gets replaced with some fancy new one.

When I stopped by the Inn last week, I was worried that maybe the bathroom would be clean, spotless even, and that there’d be nothing for me to write about except for fond memories of a slovenly bathroom long past. But I needn’t have feared, the Illini Inn bathroom was even more disgusting than the other times I’d been in it. This isn’t just the grossest bathroom in town, it’s the grossest bathroom I’ve ever set foot in.

God bless the Illini Inn.

Is that poop all over and in the toilet? Or perhaps vomit? Well dear reader, your guess is as good as mine. Actually, I take that back. My guess is way better than yours because I was there, and I can tell you with fullest confidence that it was a heady combination of both substances.

What’s at the bottom of that urinal? I really don’t know, nor do I want to know. I did confirm that the urinal flushes though.

I seem to remember there being a lot more graffiti on the walls last time I was here. There’s still a healthy amount of incomprehensible scribbling around though.

Yes, the soap dispenser is empty, and there are no paper towels. Seemingly there’s no toilet paper either, though, if you look in the trash can, this bathroom has one last punchline for its visitors.

Yes, there’s a full, industrial-sized roll of TP waaay down at the bottom of the trash can. Though the can does look a tad cleaner than some of the other parts of this bathroom, I’m still not gonna stick my whole arm in there unless I’m really desperate (which I suppose I would be if I’d actually used the toilet here).

For just a moment while I was in this bathroom, I felt real bad for the friendly bartender who’ll have to clean this all up. Then I realized that no, nobody is going to clean this bathroom. Why would they? Much easier to just let it continue getting worse until the whole building gets bulldozed. This is a bathroom that has lost all hope of ever being clean again.

VERDICT: If you’ve never been to The Illini Inn, you should check it out (open 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday). Make sure to join the Mug Club. Better do it soon before the bar gets replaced by a version with less charm and character. While you’re there, definitely take a peek at the restroom, but maybe don’t touch anything.

Well, that’s it for this column. As usual, please tell me about all of your creepy buildings, emotional feelings, and um, unique latrines. 

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