Smile Politely

A farewell to charms

Champaign-Urbana is, at least for a significant number who pass this way, a transient town by its very nature. It is a stop along the road for thousands of students each year rather than a destination. It’s a place to soak in as much as possible in four (or five, or eight, or sixteen) years, to make some friends, drink some (large quantities of) beer, etc.

After a while, though, it’s a cinch to become a part of a community rather than a visitor to it. Especially this community. The timeframe is different for everyone, of course, but there are many things and many people that make it all too easy to become intertwined with the Chambana area, or at least one’s cozy corner of it.

It’s the little things in a lot of ways. It’s running into a close friend or someone you haven’t seen in a long time at the farmer’s market. It’s randomly ducking out of work early on a Friday afternoon and heading downtown, only to run into 5 or 10 friends who had the same idea, turning the occasion into an impromptu party. Or an unexpected find at the co-op that leads to a spontaneous cookout. Or stumbling across a street festival in progress that you didn’t even know about. It’s a record store that will hold new releases for you, a coffee shop that knows your order as soon as you walk in, and of course your favorite taco joint(s).

And then there are the slightly more significant things that still have a no-big-deal feel; knowing which mechanic to recommend to your friends, or what store has decent produce in the lean months, or who makes the best tiramisu in town (commence your debate in the comments section below). It’s the hidden gems nearby like Allerton, or the fact that there are approximately 11 miles of pristine mountain bike trails just 30 minutes away.

But those things wouldn’t make a community by themselves. It’s also the neighbors, classmates, co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances, old flames, collaborators, cohorts, and partners in crime. Connections both made and lost. Friends you’ve found, and being found yourself.

These things occur and arrive slowly, almost imperceptibly, until before you know it, you’re not just in Chambana, you’re of Chambana.

Some people very actively build a life wherever they wind up, while others see a life almost accidentally coalesce around them. For my part, I think I fell more into the latter camp. But no matter — one isn’t inherently better or worse than the other. Via either path, you arrive at a point where places and people are so familiar, so familial, that you begin to forget there was ever a time when it was otherwise.

If you ever do leave these towns, there will be a lot to miss (though certainly not those gods-awful college apartments). The favorite places and favorite faces make up the real losses. Too numerous to list, I assure you.

8 apartments, 17 jobs, 100+ podcasts — the numbers aren’t a measure of the experience. They’re not even an effective way to capture a snapshot.

The number of connections, memories, and lessons, the stuff that matters, is incalculable. Chambana will do that to ya. 

Thanks, C-U — it was a ride.


More Articles