Smile Politely

A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: The circles of life

So, as you likely noticed, last week Smile Politely was entirely focused on Pygmalion Festival coverage. It was an awesome, sprawling event by all accounts (at least the ones I heard), and I feel slightly ashamed that I did not attend more parts of it.

However, the thing that affected me the most from Pygmalion was the logo:

Just look at those gorgeous circles. So round, so pure. Such soothing colors. Thus, this edition of A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine, will NOT be about Pygmalion, but will be all about prominent circles in Champaign-Urbana.


The derelict water tower behind the new Black Dog, aka: “The Champaign Whimsy Platform”

Obviously, if you went up to most residents of Champaign-Urbana and asked them to name a circular building in the area, they would reply with “Assembly Hall,” or if they wanted to make any listeners and innocent bystanders upset, they would use its new official name which I will not write out here. Well, I think too much ink has been spilt over Assembly Hall, and I’m instead going to be discussing a much less prominent circular building: what remains of the old water tower by the train tracks in downtown Champaign.

Sometime in the past few decades, most of the water tank bit was removed, and all that remains is a flat wooden disk suspended three stories in the air by heavy beams. The structure is quite imposing when you’re up close to it. I was immediately overwhelmed by the desire to climb it. Soon after though, that feeling itself was overwhelmed by my inherent laziness and fear of splinters so I stayed on the ground. Still, this tower is where 12-year-old me would have spent all his days… if it were not in the middle of a fairly active parking lot.

So yes, the old water tower is cool, big, and very wooden, but the reason I’ve dubbed this structure “The Champaign Whimsy Platform” is only apparent from a distance.

You see there? Up on the top of the disk? Is that… life?

This grainy Google Earth image confirms it. The summit of the dilapidated spire currently houses a tiny ecosystem. This fact in itself is so storybookish that I have no trouble believing that, were we to send a drone to the top of the tower to investigate it, we would find species of plants thought extinct for millions of years, or a colony of butterflies that speak fluent Portuguese and use discarded toothpicks as spears, or something else equally whimsical.

VERDICT: 8/10, I just can’t resist the beauty of abandoned structures.


Going to an Illini hockey game

You know what else is circular? Hockey pucks (OK, they’re cylindrical, I don’t care).

Before getting into this feeling, readers should know a little bit about my background. I am in my late 20s and have never followed a major sport or sports team with any kind of consistency. In college I was 500 times more likely to watch coverage of a professional Starcraft tournament than say, a football or basketball game, but I think I have reached the point in my life where I should pick a sport and a team to become knowledgeable about. Just so if I ever encounter an actual water cooler in the wild, I might stand near it and have an actual conversation with the other adults around it.

There are many sports to choose from in this day and age. By rights I should like American football since, at its core, it is almost a turn-based strategy game, but instead I am fascinated by hockey. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where not much hockey happens and not many people care when it does, and where any ice that doesn’t come from the freezer is seen as miraculous. Or maybe I just like hockey for the usual reasons: the games are short, and sometimes there are fights.

Anyhow, I went to a recent Illini hockey game versus Michigan State in the hopes of learning more about the noble sport of hockey. I had been to a few Illini hockey games in previous years, but this one was the most intense by far. Down zero to two at the end of the first period, Illinois came back to win it four to two.

The players were just part of the entertaining cast of characters that night. There were the rink attendants who had dance-offs between periods, the zamboni driver (a hero to one and all), and the valiant team of referees. There was King Ref, leader of the trio. A nimble man of few words. Good-natured, but no-nonsense Lady Ref. And finally, Novice Ref, fresh out of the ref academy and trying to prove himself. My companion and I obviously constructed elaborate backstories for each during the game’s slow bits.

VERDICT: Hockey is fun to watch in person, and Illini hockey is no exception. I didn’t quite feel comfortable singing the “you suck” song at the opposing team when we made a goal, but I’m sure that will change once the Hockey Hate within me grows.


The men’s room at The Original Pancake House

There’s really no competition when it comes to picking my favorite circular food. It’s pancakes, pancakes in all of their forms (just don’t ask me to pick a favorite variety of pancake).

As one would expect, the men’s room at The Original Pancake House is tidy and inviting.

Wait a second…. What’s this?

Zoom in, and ENHANCE.

This dear readers, is true restroom innovation. This is a real game-changer. Every public restroom should have a switch you can flip that will notify the proper authorities when the facilities need to be cleaned. Indeed, many private restrooms should have such a switch. Come to think of it, some individuals I know really ought to have a switch like this physically affixed to their bodies because they are prone to being unclean and poorly stocked and this switch would let me avoid actually having to talk to them about it.

Now, I did not flip the switch during my visit to the Original Pancake House (I wanted to avoid a boy-crying-wolf type situation), but I have to assume that if I had flipped it, a loud klaxon would have sounded and an elite bathroom cleaning team in full hazmat suits would have rushed in brandishing mops and fresh paper towels.

Actually, maybe this thing isn’t as innovative as I first thought. I mean, switches? Who uses those old things anymore. It’s 2015 and we have much more advanced ways to air our bathroom grievances. Just imagine if every bathroom had it’s own unique hashtag and a crew of beleaguered social media interns keeping watch on it….

*The Mike and Molly’s men’s room has been fine every time I have used it. This was a dramatization.*

Alright, maybe bathtags aren’t a great idea. We’ll stick with the switches.

VERDICT: Good bathroom. I want this switch thing to catch on.


Hockey fight vids? Pix of abandoned buildings? FRESH PANCAKES?? Post them all in the comments section below.

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