I arrived in the twin towns of Bloomington and Normal on Friday, having taken the Amtrak from the Chicago Union Station. Stepping off the train, I saw a building with City Hall written on it. Without those words, I would never have thought that was the city hall. I had arrived in the middle of nowhere.
Now that’s not to say that Bloomington-Normal really is the middle of nowhere because I’ve definitely stayed a couple of days here and there in the middle of nowhere before. But this is definitely the smallest town I’ll ever had lived in, even if just temporarily.
Let me back up a little. To be completely honest, I was kind of excited to ride the Amtrak. It was the first time I’d ever been on the Amtrak and in some ways I’d always enjoyed train rides in other countries (sanitation issues apart). While the Amtrak was nice, it was less than what I had expected. It seemed more like a commuter train and didn’t have the hustle and bustle that I liked on trains. Or perhaps it was because the flat, boring lands of Illinois weren’t quite so scenic as some of the places I’ve passed through before. I was, however, in the last car and so I got to take one of those track pictures that I’d always wanted to take.
Please excuse the rather crappy photography. I was sick and fatigued and was uncharacteristically okay with just pointing and shooting.
And as I’ve been sick since I got here, I haven’t really gotten to see much of this town, which even though small does have things to explore. Here’s what I’ve noted though.
The people are nice. They’ve got that typical Midwestern amicability. I met a random old woman on the train and while I was asking her about whether or not there were taxis that waited at the station (there were absolutely none), she ended up offering me a ride. So when her grandkids came to pick her up, I hitched a ride (does this count as my first hitchhiking experience? Or do I seriously have to hold my thumb up on the side of the street?)
The people are homogeneous. Nearly 90% of the residents in these two towns are white (by my observations and census counts). Asian Americans count for less than 3%. Never in my life have I been so conscious of my race. Yesterday I went down the street to drop off something in the mail collection box and on my way back, this guy was staring at me while driving, turned around and not watching the road. From the time I saw him looking at me to the point he finally turned his attention back to the road, he’d probably gone at least 250 feet. I guess you don’t see many college-aged Asians here. This is just one example of people looking at me like I’m from another planet in the past five days. Guess that means I can’t even break the law here – it’d be so obvious who it is. Just name the place and say Asian 20-something and bam! goes on the cuffs. (Not that I plan on breaking any laws.)
It’s not a pedestrian-friendly town. Despite being small, it’s so spaced out that you really need a car to get places. Case in point: The other night I tried to go to the grocery store half a mile away (really it was just across the main street). [I really, really, really wanted chocolate and baked goods.] I got to the intersection and realized there were no pedestrian lights. Given that I was really sick and tired and it was dark, I decided not to run across and went to the corner gas station convenience store instead (very uncharacteristic of me).
That’s all for now. I’ve got two much more interesting posts coming up this week. Promise.