Smile Politely

No effing way

Effingham is the quintessential new American town. Approaching from the north, a visitor first spies the watertower above the trees bearing the slogan, “Effingham: the crossroads of opportunity.” The logo? An interstate cloverleaf. Yes, Effingham is booming, and it’s all about big rig trucks carving up the countryside, hauling people and goods from one checkpoint to another. And Effingham is more than content to ride the 650-horsepower engine that brung it. So long as that lasts, things are looking up—a stark contrast to some of the hollowed-out and sunken-in towns that we’ve visited these last few weeks.

The place itself is nothing but access roads alight with every conceivable chain store-restaurant-facility you can imagine. They’re arguing about McDonald’s at the Louvre, but they should see the pop art masterpiece of the prairie. The high school looks for all the world like a shopping mall. Maybe they know what they’re doing. Maybe kids are showing up to class and sampling the buffet of academic and intellectual pursuits available in 21st century America. A&F or Hollister? Anatomy and Physiology or Creative Writing? What’s the fucking difference at this point?

Continue on into the heart of this community, and IT appears. If you’ve been here or even driven through, you can’t miss IT. IT is mesmerizing.

Jesus, deliver me from Effingham.

Oh, between the lines? From a football standpoint, it was supposed to be the most splendid matchup we’d seen this season.

In spite of their wretched existence as suburban step-children of another of the most god-awful cities in downstate Illinois, the Mount Zion Braves had heretofore channeled all of their rage and inner anguish into five weeks of spectacular high school football. They had pummeled their previous opponents by a combined score of 187–23 and had reached this pivotal Apollo Conference bout with a #8 ranking in IHSA Class 4A.

Meanwhile, Effingham’s Flaming Hearts had managed to pitch five consecutive shutouts en route to their Homecoming tussle with the Braves. That’s right—not a single point had been tallied against these sensitive warriors, one of whom stands 6’6″ tall and weighs 275 pounds. And punts. Well, sort of. Mostly he just flailed about helplessly 20 yards in the backfield. The long snap that somehow was fired over his head and outstretched arms on fourth down just minutes into the game, leading to a Mt. Zion field goal and early 3–0 lead, was something of an omen, as it turned out. The fourth-ranked Hearts, having poured 212 points on their 2009 foes, eked out a touchdown with five minutes remaining in the first half, but were not heard from again in this “contest.”

Perhaps sensing the home team’s helplessness, Mt. Zion didn’t attempt a single aerial in 62 advances from scrimmage, opting instead for the more traditional Woodrow Hayes drudgery. The Braves needn’t have crossed their fingers or themselves, not even in this town; the 344 yards amassed via the land route were more than enough in a 35–7 romp.

There might be more to say about the game, but we weren’t there to witness it. The high production value of the evening’s entertainment—well-groomed field, facilities, band uniforms, and brats—were not enough to keep us around. We made a healthy and informed decision to leave early, not wanting to spend one more minute than necessary in this god-ridden town. Give me Georgetown, Rossville, or Farmer City. The ghostly image of a once and future country. Anything but Effingham.







The authors would like to point out that a lot fewer of these images were altered than you might imagine. They’re also willing to retroactively add any of their favorite captions submitted by you, the reader.

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