Day 2: Springfield

If you’re a cretin like me, it might take a reminder that Springfield — not Chicago — is the capital of Illinois. Of course, from The State House Inn, our 1960s-era motor hotel, that reminder is the capital building just a block south. It’s big and dramatic, but it’s not the attraction here.

This is Abe Lincoln country, the Land of Lincoln. Everywhere you turn in the small downtown area is littered with old Abe arcana. His law offices were over there. He played handball in an alley right here. The newlyweds lived for a while in a hotel that used to stand over there (it’s a parking lot now, so use your imagination). He may have written part of his First Inaugural Address in that old building there (closed to the public, but from the street you can gaze at the dusty upstairs windows). If you’re looking for Lincoln, you’ve come to the right place.

Since the weather was nice, we opted to head to the Lincoln Home, which rests in a four-block national park area of restored homes. Our tour guide, Barbara, was happy to hang out with us after the tour and share stories. Even after the stories ran out, she was still happy to hang out. She’s new in Springfield from Washington, DC, and I think she hasn’t made many friends yet. Don’t worry Barbara. You’re cool, and you’ll be all right.

On the way back, we encountered a photo shoot — high school graduation pictures for twin daughters of a gregarious woman. They’re taking the photos in shabby brick alleys and old storefronts, she’s accosting out-of-towners with local wisdom, everything from restaurant recommendations to architecture education. Turns out our hotel is an important example of the International Style. I’ll sleep better tonight.

Tourism is great, but old Abe will have to wait. It’s Sunday Night Football, Vikes versus the Pack, and the Vikes really need a win. Despite an advancing storm, we headed to Willy Ps Tap & Grill, and ordered up a ponyshoe with shaved roast beef. (A horseshoe is a local dish — your choice of meat on a slab of Texas toast, topped with seasoned fries, then smothered in a cheesy gravy sauce. In case there aren’t a dozen people at your table, the ponyshoe is the smaller version.) It’s delicious. Stop counting calories and just enjoy. Once the storm hit, the satellite went out for a while — so there was nothing to do but watch the driving rain and calculate the strength of plate glass windows.

The Vikes, a disappointment. The ponyshoe, a winner.

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