Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Patterson Parklet, Urbana

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and July 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].


Patterson Parklet


401 W. Main St., Urbana

a picture of a wooden sign that states Urbana Park District Patterson

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


This tiny sitting “parklet” is owned by the Champaign-Urbana Sanitary District, and maintained by the Urbana Park District. It’s a small little alcove cut out of what space sits between the Boneyard Creek and the south side of Main St. at Central as you are leaving Downtown Urbana. 

a picture of the boneyard creek that sits behind Patterson Parklet

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

There’s not much to it really: a couple of benches, a few trees, and the sound of the Boneyard behind you. How loud it is just depends on how rainy it was the day before. It’s a nice place to sit and have a coffee, and lends itself well to conversation. 

A picture of two street signs that state Main and Central

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


I grew up in Urbana, so I’ve been finding my way to this little spot for as long as I was allowed to ride a bike away from my neighborhood on my own. By the time I got to college, and moved off campus, for so many reasons, I landed in this part of Urbana, because it just felt right for me. 

In 2001, my dear friends Travis and Johnny and I lived across the street from Patterson Parklet, in a rental apartment owned by Canaan Baptist Church. It was such a steal, too. We each paid like $155 a month. I worked part time at Piccadilly Liquors, just a block away. The old IMC was hosting shows 3 to 4 times a week; The Office had a Monday night hippie hang that seemed to pack out in full by 10 p.m., and even though the jams weren’t my own, it was a fun place to be. 

At the end of the night, I’d often find myself alone at Patterson Parklet, just thinking about my life, trying to sort out what might come next. Bottom line, I was nursing a severely broken heart. It took me longer to get over it than it probably should have, but it was also a very devastating break up. I mean, all break ups are to an extent, but I think this one ranked pretty high as far as “how the hell did this happen?” Over time, it got better; it always does. Time has a way of helping you forget, and new content supplants the old stuff you’ve been hanging on to. But I was glad to have the Parklet as my friend and neighbor. It was good for me. 

Fast forward three years later. I was living in the same neighborhood, down Stoughton, with my cousin and best pal from writing school, and wouldn’t you know it, after a couple more little hearbreaks, I’d met someone that I really, really liked. And she really liked me! She brought bagels to my door a few days after meeting me, just because she “knew it would make me like her more.” And she was right. I was a little resistant, but, she was smart, and funny, and super cute, and well, I felt like I could just take it slow with her, hang out, watch Cubs games, and not feel any pressure to be more than I could be, and she agreed. We could be friends first, and just kiss if it made sense. We didn’t kiss much the first week. Twice I think, and just like… you know, little goodbye kisses. They were nice, but it wasn’t like, anything much more than that. This was good. 

After about a week or so into knowing each other, we were hanging at my place, on the porch, drinking gin and tonic when a storm rolled through. It was a very warm May evening, and it was a pretty heavy rain. I remember that she wanted to know if it was a severe thunderstorm or just a lot of precipitation, so we looked it up on my desktop computer, which was hardwired to the DLS internet we paid for. We didn’t have WiFi then, or smartphones, of course. Alas, it was just rain. Her eyes widened and she asked me if I’d like to walk in it and go find some place to hang out together. And I told her, “I know just the spot.”

It felt powerful, arriving at Patterson Parklet with this new friend, this gal who I instantly liked so much, and who seemed to feel the same about me. We walked barefoot there, and held hands, and laughed about who knows what. When we sat down on the bench, she leaned her head into my shoulder and asked me if I thought she was right for me? I told her I wasn’t sure, but that so far, I was really having a lot of fun getting to know about her likes and dislikes, and that she was pretty easy on the eyes. She looked up at me, and said “ditto” and woo boy did we have a kiss! A long one, and it was rainy and warm out, and well, look, Justine is my wife now, and while we are by no means a perfect couple — ask anyone who knows us — we are still together, and still kissing, and still finding ways to make it work. 

We don’t really walk in the rain anymore, although maybe we should, now that I’ve written this all down and published it for the world to see? I bet our two boys would have fun doing that before the weather turns too. They see us kiss, and our older always puts his head in his hands and says “Poppa, why do you want to kiss for so long?” And Mom says “Hey, I ask him the same thing, Ellis!” and we laugh about that. 

Patterson Parklet is an important piece of my history. I am grateful for these kinds of places. They are unassuming and important because they provide big opportunities in small spots. Go there with someone you love. I think you will find that it’s the kind of place that helps you fall into some deep thoughts, and consider this and that.

Here’s the earliest known photo of the two of us from the summer of 2004, at Champaign Park District’s TASTE of Champaign-Urbana, probably about two months after we smooched at Patterson Parklet. Look at that grin! And wow, that is a really bad haircut I have, and — hey, check out those sweet back pockets on the front Justine’s jeans! Nice style, love!

She’s gonna kill me for this. 

A picture of the author and his wife in 2004 at an outdoor event

Photo by Illini Media Company. 
Top image by Maddie Rice. 

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