Smile Politely

WORST 2015

We’ve had a fun week highlighting what makes this community one of the BEST places to live, period. As you know, we love Champaign-Urbana because of all of those things that we discussed and beyond. We spend time throughout the year publishing things that are amazing, some things that totally are not amazing, and in between. Honesty is the best medicine in a lot of ways, and incorporating opinions and thoughts from the community at-large makes publishing really rewarding.

However, some aspects of the C-U community are not great. Really, the WORST. That’s OK. Talking about those things is healthy. It helps us recooperate and heal. It helps us grow. So, once again, we’re taking the opportunity to cap of BEST week with the WORST. 

We love you, we promise. Well, most of you at least. — Patrick Singer

WORST take on local music


I hate to give this guy more publicity, because that is the last thing he deserves, but the WORST list wouldn’t be complete without putting Brian Olek (who makes mediocre music on Bandcamp under the name Telepath) on it for his ignorant take on local music, as expressed in an email interview buzz published, and a follow-up conversation at a show at Mike N Molly’s. In fact, I think buzz should probably be on this list too, for publishing a pointless interview of stock questions that contained nothing of value. I eventually published the review he wanted, and Tom Pauly wrote a column on the whole debacle. Although most members of the C-U music scene are probably over it by now, this is the final thing I’ll say about it: it is worthless to sit on your high horse and judge everyone below. If you want to see a change, make the change yourself. You might find that in the process, you learn more than you thought you would. (MR)

WORST news for local art

Indi Go Gallery closing

There was once an art exhibit space in Champaign, Illinois with the following message for its potential exhibitors and all who love art:

We are interested in supporting a wide and unique range of artistic mediums, conceptual ideas, and collectives of artists. We have a high turn-over rate of exhibits at 7-10 days in order to further serve the arts in our community and get many artists into the space.

At Indi Go Artist Co-Op, we work to provide a space to bring together a broad spectrum of arts, artists, musicians, education, events, and appreciation of the arts emerging and already existing within our community.  Our gallery is quickly expanding into a music and performance venue. 

Those were the days. Sadly, Indi Go Artist Co-Op closed on May 30th, creating a void that we hope will be filled soon. (MG)

Thanks for a great run, James. (SF)

WORST way to clear out inventory

Jarling’s announcing its close, then reopening 

In early March, before opening the store for the season, the owners of Jarling’s Custard Cup announced (via Facebook) that they were looking to retire and sell the Champaign store. Tom Hanks Tweeted about it. It was kind of a big deal.

Then, on March 19th, one day before the opening for the season, Facebook posts indicated reduced hours, no drive-thru, and a “now hiring” call for staff.

After a bajillion people showed up for what could be their last taste of ice milk, Jarling’s announced on March 29th, that the demands of the store were too great, and the store would close as soon as inventory sold out.

Which was March 30th.

And then, on April 6th — just kidding — open again! Suddenly there is more ice milk, and staff? After a couple of days of misinformation about hours, it seems that Jarling’s has settled into Tuesday through Sunday routine and the drive-thru has reopened.

What a snowstorm. I don’t believe for a second that the owners couldn’t anticipate the demand for product (hello, 31 successful years of business) or find some apathetic teenagers to hire. (JH)

WORST food line

Pandamonium Doughnuts truck at Urbana’s Market at the Square 

This was a close call — the line at the Cracked Truck can be ridiculously long, too, and don’t even get me started on Jarling’s. But the line for those breakfast pastries is just out of control. The doughnuts are good, that’s not really up for discussion. But that line at the market? Absurd. Quite frankly, I don’t know anyone has the patience to wait in it. I will bypass the line, and get my doughnuts on another day (see schedule). (JH) 

WORST business closure


It always sucks when great businesses go under, but the recent announcement that Boltini’s doors are shut for good was this year’s worst business closure news for downtown Champaign. Sure, Boltini wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot going on: tasty cocktails, flamboyant floral arrangements, great entertainment, and an LGBTQ-welcoming atmosphere. For the moment there isn’t another business filling the shoes that Boltini left empty, and that’s too bad. (RP)

WORST scandal

Steven Salaita “unhiring”

Regardless of your views on the university administration’s decision to “unhire” Steven Salaita just weeks before the semester was set to begin, we can all agree that this event, which has dragged on, and on, and will continue to drag on, is just the worst for the university and for our community. Dozens of events were cancelled on campus due to the ongoing academic boycott of U of I, which means lost opportunities for faculty and students as well as lost revenue for the community; U of I is constantly in the national spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons; and tensions are high between faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders regarding the university’s philosophy of shared governance. Hopefully the recent appointment of University President Killeen will help heal some of the bad feelings that have been circulating around campus since this past summer. (RP)

WORST marketing

Unit 4 School District

I’ve given more shit to Unit 4 than to anyone I can ever remember over the past year. Perhaps it’s because I live in Champaign and my wife and I did the nasty ONCE and ONLY ONCE and had a child that will likely go to school at Unit 4 schools?


But when you don’t give teachers their due salary increase after having asked for it reasonably, and when priests are invited by a teacher and overseen by an administrator to perform religious rituals in schools, and when teachers start telling kids that Nazi gas chambers were actually delousing facilities, and when you allow your students to advertise for Jimmy John’s in exchange for one hundred obsolete laptops headed for the garbage dump, and when you propose a terrible referendum to build a new high school that loses, only to follow it up with an even worse referendum that underfunds the other high school that is sorely in need of an upgrade, well, it’s hard to stand by and just keep silent.

The funny thing to me is that most of these blunders could be forgiven with one simple marketing push. It’s so simple, really. Remarkably simple. I feel ashamed and embarrassed for having to spell it out here and now as part of a WORST issue in this online rag:

Stop bragging about how poorly you fund our school district, and start promoting all of the ways that we can collectively afford to solve our problems.

Unit 4 are a group of scared people, evidently. They think this community isn’t willing to pay for us to have everything we need, and more, for our schools and teachers. And that is why they promote the fact that Champaign has the lowest tax rate in the area for comparable school districts. They are placating us. 

That’s right. While it’s literally their job to employ good teachers, provide them with comfortable salaries with contract raises that don’t spell a strike, care for and teach our children, and provide them with the necessary resources to prepare for their adult lives, they are simultaneously propping up how badly we suck at funding the project. 

Fact is, the reason that we have to use old laptops from Jimmy John’s HQ is that there isn’t enough money to manage it all.

That’s a familiar tale, right? The State of Illinois is in the same pickle. So is the entire goddamned nation.

But instead of challenging our community to pony up and chip in appropriately to fix the problem, they nickel and dime it, and beg for charity from the very same people who whine about having to pay their property taxes in the first place.

There’s hope, however. Until May, the radically misguided leadership was being steered by a Board of Education that didn’t have a clue on how to engage with the community. And now, there’s a new Board, and a new Board President (thank GOD).  

Collectively, we could solve this with a percentage point or two. Literally, we could fund it all, if the average property owner was willing to throw down an extra $.33 – $1.00 a day.

I, for one, am hopeful that things will change. I am glad to throw in an extra chip or two to make right what is currently so very, very wrong. Aren’t you? Of course you are, because you are reasonable human being that believes that our children’s education is one of the best possible investments we can make into this community. 

Even a fiscal conservative would agree with me, if they aren’t too hung up on this, that, or the other. 

Or do we need to bring in Suzanne Somers up in this piece to get it done?

I certainly hope not. (SF)

Note: My sincere and most heartfelt apologies to Unit 4 spokesperson and director of communications Stephanie Stuart. She’s been an incredible resource to the media over the past year, and I am sure by now she is hopeful that some way, somehow, I would simply disappear. Needless to say, she’s magnificent at her job, and that’s worth a hat tip from me, and more. (SF)

WORST age limit

Illini Summer Academies

Experiments in rocket propulsion. I’ll type that again. Experiments in rocket propulsion. Do you want to experiment with rocket propulsion? Of course you do, because it’s a flipping rocket. Or maybe you want to build a robot, because we all totally thought everyone would have their own Rosie Jetson by now and we were lied to. But you’re in luck! Illini Summer Academies is offering several multi-day workshops on such awesome topics as Aerospace Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering, and all at very reasonable prices.

Unless you’re old. If you are, you have to experiment with rockets and build your cleaning robot on your own time. (Please don’t, though, because it does seem dangerous.) As their website notes: 

Academies are open to ANY Illinois youth who are currently in eighth to twelfth grade. They must be an incoming high school freshman to graduating senior this summer and must fall within the 14-18 age range as of September 1, 2015

We can sign up to chaperone the whippersnappers, though, as they build our dreams before our cataract-laden eyes. (AH)

WORST possible situation for the Illinois football program

Tim Beckman retained

Tim Beckman. My Lord. This couldn’t have gone any worse for the DIA here at UIUC. He was hired as their seventh choice or whatever, and then took over a team that had a bowl-winning season the year before (albeit, backing into it with a very ugly six loss Big Ten streak) and went 2–10. The next year, the team looked just as bad, but posted a paltry 4–8 record, leaving them home for the holidays. And then last year, they somehow found the will to defeat six pretty terrible teams to show up and get clocked in a bowl game sponsored by a restaurant no one here has ever heard of.

The result? Tim Beckman is retained.

Poor Mike Thomas. If he cans him, after three seasons where he effectively brought them back to a bowl, he’ll lose the confidence of every other potential hire. If he retains him, the Illini faithful will bristle at the thought of another year filled with mediocrity and poorly managed defensive units.

Add to that some allegations of abuse, you’ve got yourself a full blown shit show.

I wish to everything that this turns around soon. The economy depends on it. The U of I alumni want to come back and buy tickets and cheer these guys along. The locals do too.

Hell, I was raised a Purdue fan and I am cheering for a turnaround.

But I wouldn’t count on it for 2015. Things look… bleak. (SF)

WORST community members


We’re pretty damn lucky in this community. If you’re reading this, you probably know why that is — but I’m going to talk about it a bit here for the sake of this WORST column for the year. Champaign-Urbana is insanely rich with people who really, truly care about what is happening in our cities because ultimately, the goal is to improve upon the place in which we live. If you weren’t looking to improve the community, well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you’re taking up space, but you’re not really contributing to the idea of a “community”. That’s fine. You’re probably not reading this anyhow, being text within an article in a community magazine and all. 

Things are good here. People care. Of course, there is a difference between an “all for one, one for all” mentality and people that are looking out for their own hide. We all have to look out for #1 — that’s true. Ultimately, the world is a competitive one, and you have to look out for you and your loved one’s best interests. That’s completely normal. Though, when you decide that what you do is the end-all be-all, and if you don’t get your way, we’re probably going to have problems.

This, dear readers, is where we’re at with a few things in Champaign-Urbana, sadly. Being a part of the magazine, we are faced with all types of scenarios that come our way on a daily and weekly basis. It gets us high, really, to produce a magazine that services the community and acts as a voice for which people of all different ways of life can let their thoughts and opinions be heard. Many times, we get people who are very opinionated — which is great. We welcome varying opinions because that’s what keeps our feet on the ground. Not everyone agrees with everyone, which is part of a democracy and the community, is it not? There’s no doubt that there are some that have wildly differing opinions, but being different is good. It helps us tolerate others and grow as individuals. 

Opinions are what matter. Don’t like it? Tough shit. Here, we publish them for everyone to see (of course, within reason). We’re opinionated about everything from theater to food to music to you name it — and by we, I mean you. We’re ultimately a reflection of our readers and the people that exist here in Champaign-Urbana. Not able to handle it? Well, you’re probably thinking of you and only you because you’re unable to handle someone else’s thoughts on something you’ve done, or something you’ve experienced.

Create a piece of art, or some sort of art form? That’s great, though it’s probably not as great as you think it is. You should probably be willing to accept the idea that someone isn’t going to like it. That should be OK, right? It’s just a numbers game. If someone says that they weren’t too keen on it, and says it in a constructive way, you should be OK with that. 

Not happy with new competition in the realm of your world? That’s probably on you, because if it is competition, a lot of people are probably glad it’s around, frankly, because it makes everyone step their game up. I’m not talking big box stores vs. mom & pop stores, mind you. Just, you know, other people that are doing and creating just like you.

A media outlet publishes something or breaks a story first? Great. You should probably credit them for doing so instead of beating around it. We do it all the time. We’re not perfect, and improperly cite and credit things constantly. It’s just the nature of not being professionals. I realize publications and outlets are competing for advertising dollars, which is fine, but you should know when someone else gets there before you. You’ll honestly look better in the end.

We’re all in this together, C-U. Complaining about it isn’t going to get you anywhere. Sure, in a way, I am complaining about people being the WORST, which I can acknowledge. But if we all listen and improve, we’re all better for it. Let’s try to do that. (PS)

WORST teacher

That Holocaust denier

This guy. (PS)

WORST thing about this very magazine

Lack of racial diversity

I hate to have to whitesplain this to you all, but we’re white here at Smile Politely. Really really, just very fucking white. It’s embarrassing.

Smile Politely is a community magazine, and that means that anyone and everyone can write for us, any time they want, provided that they engage with our editors and can string some meaningful sentences in a row to form complete paragraphs that in some way educate or inform our community about the what have you that goes on around here.

But we’re failures when it comes to perpetuating one the most important components that comes along with such a role. We are a collection of white folks. And let’s face it, a bunch of white folks doing anything is kind of the WORST.

It’s not an easy fix. We can’t really hire beat writers because we don’t charge all that much to advertise with us, and we can’t really put a moratorium on allowing white writers to scribble for us because that would defeat the very concept of the magazine.

So, we’re forced to call ourselves out for being the worst at racially diversifying our contributors.

But the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. That’s our way of owning it and making a promise to try to change it. We’ll see if we can get there. (SF)

WORST idea

Trying to bring the Chief back to a high school basketball game 

This is easily the dumbest idea from 2015. District 301’s attempt to bring back Chief Illiniwek to a high school basketball game between Tuscola and Sullivan rightfully caused quite a big uproar. Look, in Central Illinois the Chief issue has been talked about ad nauseam — it’s wrong. End of story. Instead, we have educators that are willing to perpetuate a racist stereotype at a sporting event because of some nonsense tradition.

By the way, I’m still waiting for a reply from Superintendent Brad Tuttle about this. If you’re reading, Brad, I’ll expect something soon. (TP)

WORST billboard

First Bank’s Abbey Road billboard

The Beatles wrote songs about revolution and love and peace, not investment banking. Hell, even on Abbey Road, Paul McCartney sings “all the money’s gone, nowhere to go.” Harrison sang about the “Taxman”. This is about as clueless of an advertisement as it gets.

Yes we all recognize the Beatles imagery. But most people with grey matter in their skull don’t equate the Beatles with banks of any kind. (TP)

WORST live broadcast

Maggie Hockenberry’s Urbana Sweetcorn Festival report

This was a legendary blunder — an instant classic. We’re pretty sure Hockenberry took this in stride. Watch the only surviving video of it here. (TP)

WORST follow up question to ask at a mayoral debate

“What is your stance on legalization of marijuana? Have you smoked marijuana, and if so, from a bong?” 

We hosted a mayoral debate alongside our pals,, back before the voters turned out to cast their ballots for the City of Champaign mayoral race. We had the opportunity to ask some questions to the candidates, and it was all good and fun. We had a good time, learned a lot, questions were answered, issues addressed, etc. etc.

Sometimes people get carried away and caught up in the moment, and one of those times was our Publisher Seth Fein’s question to the candidates about the state of marijuana legalization. The part that we’d call WORST isn’t the question addressing marijuana, as it is an extremely important discussion, but really the final part of the question.

Here we go:

Seth Fein: “What is your stance on the legalization of marijuana?”

OK, cool. Totally fair question. Let’s hear the responses …

Fein: “And have you smoked marijuana before?”

Ha! Well, alright. That’s pushing it, but I’m not sure if some of the kids in the back were listening. I hope not. Oh, shit … uh …

Fein: “… and if so, was it from a bong?”

Oh, Jesus. Really, Seth? Hmm. Wonder how everyone will react? Some people are laughing! It is pretty funny, and not going back now. This might… yep, someone’s booing. Yeah she’s not happy. Her kid is right there next to her! Uh oh …

Really, everyone lived, and it was fine — Deb Feinen didn’t answer the final parts of the question, as she didn’t want to answer it around her kids, which is totally understandable. It wasn’t exactly timed or executed to perfection, and happened to be in an all-ages environment, so that’s why we’d call it the WORST. It was at Jupiter’s at the Crossing for chrissakes. There are kids’ games everywhere! (PS)

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