—From EF—

On our way home from Milwaukee the GPS had us on interstates all the way, but I caught sight of Dixon, Illinois, on the map, and overrode the planned route. Conrad’s mother lived in Iowa, and during our Milwaukee years we’d make the trek to Council Bluffs several times a year. The interstate highway system was still incomplete, and we’d be on state highways down through Beloit and Rockford, then follow State Highway 2 southwest along the Rock River toward the Quad Cities, where we’d hit I-80. We’d pass through little towns like Byron, Dixon, and Sterling, and that beautiful winding river would keep us company.

We discovered a grocery store with a huge deli, where we’d load up on picnic supplies and head for a picnic pull-off by the river. After we’d moved to Pennsylvania, we’d make a stop in Milwaukee before heading to Iowa, so our kids became familiar with that riverside picnic ritual. I used to make up silly songs to entertain the kids, and still remember the gestures (bouce bounce bounce, waggle waggle waggle) that accompanied “Beloit Beloit Beloit, Delavan Delavan Delavan.”

So this time we searched Dixon for that grocery store and couldn’t find it. Maybe Sterling? Nope. And the highway didn’t look the same; it was a four-lane along endless strip malls. I found a side-route that at last got us to the winding river shore, and we ate the lunch we’d already bought in Milwaukee, enjoying the silence and the water’s animated satin surface.

Now, the next day, I finally remembered. The grocery store was in Byron, and this time we didn’t leave the interstate until downriver at Dixon. Next time, maybe we’ll hit the two-lane sooner, at Rockford. Interstates are great for saving time, but for pleasure? Give me Wisconsin’s Hwy 2 or Nevada’s lonely two-lane US 50, where you can still appreciate the vast diversity of this country, neighborhood by neighborhood.      

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