Smile Politely

A study of C-U: The Midwest survey

My two best friends from college and high school, Tina and Ashley, came to visit over the long holiday weekend. As this was their first time to the Midwest, let alone to central Illinois, I did my best to play the multi-faceted role of reminiscent friend, gracious hostess, and tour guide extraordinaire. I tried to cram in a lot during their four-day visit, including an overnight trip to Chicago, a fourth of July cookout (inside, thanks to the rain), and plenty of sightseeing.

Given that I’ve now been living in Champaign for nearly a year, I thought it would be interesting to give Ashley and Tina a Midwestern “exit survey” to gauge their reactions as C-U virgins. I have compiled their enlightening responses to several fill-in-the-blank questions, supplemented with my own answers and relevant commentary.

Before I arrived in central Illinois, I expected it to be _____.

Tina: flat.

Ashley: grassy and plains-y but I guess that’s west of Illinois. Oh, and tornadoes.


My favorite place that I visited in C-U was _____.

Ashley: Mica’s apartment, we had the most fun there.

Tina: Jarling’s Custard Cup.

The best thing that I ate/did in Champaign was ______.

Ashley: Jarling’s Custard Cup, I felt like I was in a sitcom watching those Midwestern children [She means the employees] spoon out custard. Although the Americana at Steak ‘n Shake was mind-blowing.

Tina: Dan’s spicy food [Dan is a good friend, fellow grad student, and lover of spicy ethnic cuisine. He also makes a mean hummus.] Also, go to Midwestern mainstays like Meijer and Jarling’s.

The best thing that I ate/did in Chicago was_____.

Ashley: eat at VIAGGIO’s.

Tina: Viaggio’s (duh)/step on a valuable piece of art (oops)/witness how terrifying the American Girl store is (very).

Mica: Three explanations are necessary here. 1) Viaggio’s has provided me with two excellent dining experiences. Sam, the owner [pictured], is also quite personable and amusing. 2) At the Art Institute, Tina accidentally stepped on a piece of modern art that was lying on the floor. 3) Apparently, Mattel acquired the American Girl brand. The resulting store on the Magnificent Mile is nothing short of horrifying.

Based on my experience, the biggest difference between Central VA and Central IL is _____.

Ashley: the lack of forests and trees. In VA, where there isn’t development, there’s forest, and in IL, where there isn’t development, there’s corn.

Tina: the elevation and the amount of corn.

Having now been to Chicago, I recommend that everyone do/visit _____.

Tina: the Chicago Institute of Art and a bakery that is considerate of people with nut allergies L Ashley: the Art Institute, it was pretty spectacular.

Mica: Run on the lakefront, but then again, I’m culturally stupid and don’t appreciate art.

In a battle for “best city” between NYC and Chicago, ______ would win because ______.

Ashley: Chicago, because I hate New York, although NYC might win in the winter; I don’t think I could handle Chicago in the winter.

Tina: Chicago, it’s less crowded, cleaner, and the people are friendlier. I can spend a day walking around Chicago without feeling a constant urge to shower.

I prefer _____ (LEX Express or Amtrak) as the best way to get from C-U to Chicago because _____.

Tina: Amtrak, because it is less bumpy and also, there is no mean snack lady on the LEX for us to hate on.

Ashley: Amtrak, because it’s not as bumpy and faster. Although we didn’t have a delay and that 6% on-time record is pretty scary, but beware the snack car lady, although I suspect she no longer has a job thanks to my scathing evaluation I submitted to Amtrak.

Mica: First, the “snack lady” refers to the unnecessarily rude and unfriendly snack car attendant on Train 393 on July 3rd, 2009. Secondly, Ashley is referring to a statistic she found citing Amtrak’s rate of on-time arrivals in the Champaign station for May 2009 as a dismal 6%.

Lil Porgy’s extra hot barbecue sauce is _____.

Ashley: spicy and sweet, I like NC barbecue [More of a vinegary taste] better though, and the meat wasn’t that great.

Tina: too spicy for white people, apparently.

Mica: Completely lame and sub-par. Please leave a comment and tell me where to find good barbecue around here.

Running in Champaign-Urbana is ____.

Tina: wonderfully flat and (while I was there at least) cool.

Ashley: unnecessary.

Mica: hard…like it is everywhere else.

True or false: Chicago bakeries need to be more considerate of people with tree nut allergies. [One of Tina’s main goals in coming to Chicago was to find an awesome bakery. Unfortunately, every one we tried, including Molly’s Cupcakes ( could not accommodate her severe tree nut allergy.]

Tina: True.

Ashley: FALSE, it’s nature’s way of weeding out the weak – HA! Also, I suspect that Tina wouldn’t have had a problem eating certain things at Chicago bakeries. I think Molly’s problem was one of liability and litigation rather than actual risk.

If I could transplant one thing from my home in Virginia to Champaign-Urbana, it would be ___.

Ashley: the food. There did seem to be a significant lack of good local choices.

Tina: myself and Ashley, so we could live on Mica and Harrison’s apartment floor FOREVER!!!!

Me: Better Indian food. Bombay Indian Grill does not make the cut.

Next time I visit C-U, I want to _____.

Ashley: see more of the campus. I am intrigued by the pirated Rotunda and Lawn. [The Quad and dome of Follinger Auditorium resemble suspiciously the iconic Lawn and Rotunda of the University of Virginia, where we all went to college.]

Tina: experience the infamous central Illinois winter, meet more of Mica/Harrison’s friends, see their new apartment, find a bakery that sells delicious things that will not kill me.

Mica: Cakes on Walnut, ironically, you are Tina’s last hope!

Any other comments?

Ashley: None of the grocery stores seemed adequate. Someone needs to build one there, and Wergler’s was scary. [“Wergler’s” refers to the Meijer on North Prospect. I can only assume that in her travels, Ashley has confused “Wegman’s of the North East with…something else.]

Tina: [In Ahnold’s voice] We’ll be back.

Well, there you have it. According to this rigorous scientific examination, there is both plenty to love and plenty to improve upon in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago. I can only hope that the next time these two roll into town, I’ll have even more interesting (nut-free) things to share with them. Your input is always greatly appreciated.

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