Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final part of Sarah’s journey across America’s heartland. Make sure to read her other touching and poignant interviews with people who speak common sense and expose their deep knowledge and understanding of American politics. You can find these powerful and thoughtful articles here, here, here and here.
The vast prairie that dominates the state of Illinois is in full bloom heading into an early fall harvest. Crops are beginning to dip, apples are ripening for market, and the Mississippi River is alight with river boats ferrying passengers on gambling cruises north and south. Tom Sawyer would be ever so impressed.
Illinois, named by French-Canadians, confounds many, still to this day, as Americans haven’t figured out the ‘s’ is silent. A pet peeve for the locals, as the dramatic eye roll I witnessed from the cashier at the Pilot Truck Plaza just outside of Champaign, spoke volumes.
“Really? How hard is it for people to learn to pronounce a state in their own country?” she pondered aloud, but to herself.
I nosed about the trinket area of the truck stop and finally met up with a young man perusing sunglasses. I sized him up as interviewee material and bit back a bark of laughter when I noticed he donned a pair of MAGA red, white and blue sneaks. No one had assaulted him, so I assumed I was in conservative territory.
I asked where he had purchased his shoes and he replied, “saw an ad of Facebook and just could not resist. I go to U of I (University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana) and my professors turn white as a sheet if I wear them to class.”
After an amusing visit in Champaign, I headed west on I-74 towards Indiana. Once across the state line, the prairie became woods and hills, and I left the Interstate and went north on Highway 41 towards Attica, Indiana, home to Red Ramblers, one of a few school systems not incorporated into county districts. Attica was laid out on the banks of the Wabash River, and as the Erie and Wabash Canal system was completed in 1847, the town boomed.
Today, Attica is home to about 3,000 people give or take. Farming and ancillary businesses for equipment, livestock necessities dominate the area. But the town boasts of two different dollar stores, two pharmacies, a grocery, and a variety of restaurants serving down-home, fresh fare. From authentic Chinese, Mexican, and Greek restaurants, with full parking lots in the middle of the afternoon, I ventured into The Crossroads looking to chat up the locals. I was not disappointed.
Eight older gentlemen presumably retired, sat at the only round-topped table in the place. I sat next to them and eavesdropped on their animated conversation about local sports. Finally sensing a break in the action, I interrupted and asked if they would like to put a few thoughts about our country on the record. And they did.
“No one is happy. Nothing is getting done,” Don jumped right in when I asked about our country’s biggest problem. “To tell you the truth, I don’t like Trump. But I would never have voted for Hillary.”
Jim decided to counterpoint his good friend and added, “He’s [Trump] very impulsive, and he is trying to change the mess we got into when we elected the past disaster nine years ago. And that isn’t going to happen in a few months.”
What struck me as refreshing; no matter how disappointed they had been with the Obama administration, they stayed respectful, and did not claim once, “not my president” that we hear from the left and alt left. These men respected the will of the people and were attempting to navigate the raging Trump waters.
They were worried a bit about the effects of climate change and the stalemate in Congress. And all unanimously agreed that term limits needed to be enacted immediately.
I rolled through smaller burgs, and on a ridge above the Big Pine Creek, a tributary of the Wabash River, I met Sarah Johnston working in her yard. Sarah and her husband are retired and Trump supporters. Sarah’s main concern is the people we elected that refuse to work with our president. I asked if she had any doubts about Trump, and she then introduced me to her dog; a small little guy with a blond bushy mop top. “Meet Trumpy,” she said proudly.
My visits with strangers in Indiana were peppered with honesty, great food, and a lot of warmth and humor. When my roundtable of gentlemen launched into the polling numbers the media seemingly generate on demand; Mike finally had something to say, “Honey, remember, figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”
But maybe my Indiana trip was best summarized by Monica Stultz, the bilingual waitress at Crossroads who was almost afraid to answer my question, what does this country need? She looked me dead in the eye and said, “Love. We are all Americans. We should be united and strong. Love.”