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June 23, 2014 / jeffnward

An ode to Elgin!

Maybe it’s something as simple as entering familiar territory. It certainly reminds me of my Evanston stomping grounds before they undid that city with high-rises and dense development. All I can tell you is, I truly look forward to my Thursday forays into Elgin.

And the best part of that drive starts when you shoot under that Route 20 overpass on McLean Boulevard. Though, when you consider the current construction and the stoplights set on “eternity,” perhaps “shoot” isn’t exactly the right word.  mclean

But once you’ve managed to make it through and you’re north of that crazy confluence, the atmosphere immediately changes. The energy is completely different than anywhere else in Kane County.

It starts with the narrowing street lanes and the modest houses making the most of the cramped space as they can. Sometimes proximity breeds contempt, but in this case, it seems to build a sort of camaraderie. There’s a sense of being in something together.

So whether you’re in a moving vehicle or not, you have to count on the kindness of your neighbors to make your life a little better.

Continuing north, you can’t miss Larkin High School as it looms large on your left. High schools should be set on major intersections and not tucked away where you have to seek ‘em out as many suburbs do. They’re a wonderful reminder of passing the baton, the promise of youth, and our own mortality.

We choose to set the groundwork for our sons and daughters to be successful because that’s who we are. We may have cynical tendencies, but I see real promise in every teenager that leaves that building with a heavy backpack.

Typically, I’ll turn right on Van, left on Clifton and sneak onto those almost hidden Chicago Street headwaters. But if school’s in session and I’m a little bit early, I’ll exit McLean on Meyer just to watch those on-foot and mini-van families picking up their children from Gifford Elementary.

I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something so reassuring about that prospect. Perhaps it’s as simple as, in an existence fraught with uncertainty and dysfunction, this reunion ritual quietly persists.

With its western reaches being somewhat sedate, you can take your time and take in the neighborhood as you head east on Chicago. And it truly is a “neighborhood” – not one of those manufactured subdivisions that most of us find ourselves living in these days. People actually walk down Chicago Street.

But that solace is summarily shattered when you hit that first hill at Wilcox and it suddenly sends you flying down though the unpretentious business district until the same street rises up to meet you again at Lynch.

And you know that just before you hit that large brown brick house on your right, it’s time to apply the accelerator one more time.

So now you’re at the peak of the second hill and the heart of the city of Elgin unfolds before you as you feel gravity’s grip take hold once gain. And the atmosphere shifts once again. But before you can truly take it in, it pays to remain cognizant of that Jackson Street stop sign that serves to sever your semi-steep descent.

For some strange reason, I never seem to make the light at Chicago and State, but it doesn’t bother me because the pause provides the opportunity to determine which particular cast of characters is hanging out at the bar on the northeast corner this week.

Then it’s over the tracks, past the Pace bus depot, and across the river to the spot where the Elgin Tower building silently stands guard. There’s no doubt you’re in Elgin now.

The journey could end with a simple left at Douglas, but I always take the longer loop up to Spring or Center and around and back down Highland before I park in front of WRMN. There’s something special about the older downtown and I don’t want to miss anything.

If Tim’s doing the show, we’ll stop for lunch at the Elgin Public House where the waitresses are actually friendly, the food is great, and Councilman John Prigge and City Manager Sean Stegall always have their regular weekly meeting. I could eat that hummus duo every day.

Then it’s up that long flight of stairs to the studio and you know the rest.

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the sense of community, the diversity, or it could be something as simple as the lack of entitlement mentality that’s so prevalent in smaller cities like Geneva and St. Charles that makes me look forward to Thursdays.

Or maybe it’s all three.

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