The appeal of the Quad Cities is probably lost on most, but I can’t help but love the place. A few key things draw me to a place; geography, history and food (especially bad food) are the main attractions. First, geography. A location has to have some kind of physical attraction, not necessarily nature, but that is usually the case, especially when one is outside of a metropolis like Chicago or New York. In the case of the QC it is the riverfront. The size of the Mississippi River is just too vast to sum it up in writing. Every time I cross it, I am amazed at not only its width, but at the power it has and represents. Even though, like the Ohio River by Cincinnati, it really is but a series of lakes because of all the locks put in place to help shipping traffic, it still moves at a brisk pace. I’ve also been to the QC just after a spring flood and it is a sobering sight. We may be able to tame a calm river, but given enough water to push and one realizes how meager our efforts truly are. The appeal of the Mississippi also comes from Mark Twain, as cliché as that is, but I still remember dreaming of being with Huck and Jim making my way down river to an unclear yet better future. It’s that promise of the river that I still find myself drawn to. Of course with the river comes one of my favorite geographical features, the river bluff. Watching the flat landscape of Illinois and Iowa just bottom out when they approach the river feels like a rollercoaster. It also makes for challenging runs for those of us stranded in the vertical challenged locations.
Being next to such a force of nature, it is no mystery that the river figures prominently in the history of the QC. As you might guess, trade, shipping and manufacturing all played a part in the past of the town and the monuments to those industries are still around. Also straddling Illinois and Iowa, sharing an intament tie with Missouri and the south, is it any wonder then that the Civil War has markers throughout the region? The area, as much of rural Illinois and Iowa, was very prominent during the war. As my wife knows, there isn’t an historical marker I don’t like, and I could drive around the QC for day and not be bored.
More significant than the distant past, the more recent past is what makes me feel comfortable in a town. The past thirty years haven’t been too kind to the QC and it shows. Closed factories, boarded up storefronts and signs of neglect are rife in the cities. I feel such a strong connection to this type of place because it’s where I grew up. I watched my home town decay, close up and shut down. When I walk in one of the downtowns of the QC, I might as well be back in Northeastern Ohio. The accent may be a little different, but it still feels like home.
Finally, (and I’m breaking my 500 word rule) a place has to have some really bad (and of course delicious) food that you just can’t find anywhere else. In the QC two places satisfy my cravings for good old junk food with a distinct local flair. One is the staple of Iowa, and I think other parts of the Midwest but I’m not sure, Maid-Rite. My mother-in-law calls maid-rite sandwich “gravel on a bun” that’s about right. Think sloppy joe without the barbeque sauce, it’s just spiced ground beef on a bun and you “fix” it like a burger, ketchup, mustard, pickles etc. a wonderfully sloppy mess that I insist on eating every time I visit. The second isn’t quite so bad for you, but it’s still edging me closer to a heart attack. That would be the ice cream parlor, Whitey’s. If you ever go to Whitey’s you must get a “shake” which is actually ice cream blended for about two seconds with you choice of toppings. If you tried to drink this shake with a straw you would hyperventilate. A spoon is required for any and all confections worth eating from Whitey’s.
So, if you’re ever passing through, get off the highway for a day, eat a Maid-Rite, have a Whitey’s, go to a baseball game at the beautiful riverfront stadium and dream about where that big muddy river can still take you.