Editor’s note: As many of you are aware, this magazine was partly inspired by a message board on America Online titled “No Depression – Alt.Country”, which began in summer 1994 as an Uncle Tupelo fan board but soon grew into a forum for a much broader range of topics — usually musical, but often detouring down other avenues as well. Occasionally, the board will bloom forth with spontaneous bursts of memorable prose, as was the case on the morning of April 24, when the following three posts appeared within a few hours of each other. Though they addressed different topics, taken together they seemed to paint a picture of the American community, from neighborhood to county to country. Those three posts are presented here largely as they appeared on the board, with minor editing for matters of space, style and such. Our thanks to the authors, and to the board itself, which celebrates its fifth anniversary on July 13.
Subject: Hollywood & Vine
Date: Sat, Apr 24, 1999 9:37 AM
While in Hollowayville (pop. 100), in north-central Illinois off Route 89 about two miles east on Route 6 (which parallels I-80), I strongly recommend you stop and have a beer at Hollywood & Vine Tap. It’s at the southwest corner at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine streets. Seriously. There are only a few streets in Hollowayville, so you can’t get lost. If you do, don’t look for the police to help you — there are none. Actually, the county sheriff serves small towns like Hollowayville. Just outside of Hollowayville, and almost a twin city, is Seatonville (pop. 300). Nothing there but people and dogs and cats, and a couple of bars playing country jukebox favorites. Another village outside of Seatonville is Ottville (pop. 26), which my childhood friends and I renamed Hooterville in our own juvenile minds.
For something to do besides drink beer, go northeast about three miles to Ladd (Pop. 1,300) and eat at Lanutti’s. Ladd is my hometown; I left when I was 18. My folks are still there and I still love going home. Also in Ladd is the largest and highest coal slag pile in the United States. It’s mostly covered with trees that I helped plant while in grade school way back when, but you can still easily see the mountain for miles and miles. The peak was leveled in the ’60s when an entrepreneur decided he was going to build a nightclub on top. Unfortunately, the slag pile was not suitable for elevator shafts, and rain seemed to take slag with it all the time. Not good for a structure that high up.
Besides the slag piles, you’ll know you’re in Ladd when the WWII tank greets you at the south entrance on Main Street. Yeah, Main Street, USA. Once in Ladd, most people there will recommend Rips for their legendary fried chicken on paper plates, but I’m a Lanutti’s fan. Both restaurants are on Main Street (so is the post office, four bars, a pizza parlor, one general store, a gas station, the city park, Torri’s Ice Cream Parlor, and the bowling alley).
Spend another day in the area (note: locals avoid recommending the motel at the intersection of Route 89 and I-80 since Ladd’s only homicide happened there in 1980), and visit Cherry, about three miles north. Just take Main Street north out of Ladd. My mom works in Cherry, but once there you can visit the monument to the Cherry Mine Disaster, one of the worst in the nation’s history.
If you backtrack to Ladd and continue south to Spring Valley, ask the locals to show you the location of the Les Buz Ballroom, where my mother saw Bill Haley & the Comets and other pioneering rockers play in the ’50s. (Les Buz was the next scheduled stop for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper before that fateful plane crash in Iowa in 1959.) I went to high school in Spring Valley — big town (pop. 5,600). Heading west through the corn and bean fields of Bureau County, you’ll eventually come upon the towns of Sheffield, Tiskilwa, and Buda. Lots of Ringenbergs still live there, though Jason moved away a long time ago. In Princeton you’ll find lots of antique stores, a monument to the Underground Railroad, and lots of beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture in many large homes.
All this is just a two-hour drive from Chicago!
— Dave Klug
Subject: Update on the ND Midwest Hostel
Date: Sat, Apr 24, 1999 8:58 AM
So the roofer finally came by this a.m. — the one who persuaded me I didn’t have to replace the roof last summer, that I could just patch it and get another couple years out of it, after two roofers had told me I needed to spend nine grand on a whole new one. He walked around on the roof a while, then came down and said, “You didn’t get somebody up there to shovel snow last winter, didja?” I had to fess up….He said in these old houses, the beams are so close together you can have quite a few broken ones without the roof caving in. I asked about the cracks in the ceiling and walls, and he just shrugged and smiled: “It’s an old house.”