Normal, IL

You might not think there’s much special about Normal, Illinois. Aside from a brief mention in Neil Gaiman’s /American Gods/ and Ben Fold’s /Effington,/ what is there to really to say about Normal? In many ways it’s just another Midwest town — surrounded by corn fields, absent of anything resembling a hill (except Jersey Hill, of course), and filled with plump dad’s who exercise weekly and reward themselves with Wendy’s daily.

Yes, in many ways Normal is just another Midwest town, divided by the same kinds of class differences you see in other towns and cities across the country. For example, there is a big divide between the State Farmers and the non-State Farmers. And by that I mean the people who are employed by the friendly neighborhood insurance company, and those who are not. This divide has manifested itself in many ways, but by far the most contentious goes back to God’s favorite chicken company – Chic-fil-A. State Farm, employing many thousands of people, and wanting them to be plump and happy so they can work more efficiently, has a very nice cafeteria. As you might have guessed, this cafeteria is home to America’s only pro-Cow fast food chain, Chic-fil-A. For years the only way you could access their delicious spicy chicken sandwiches, or steal $10 worth of sauce packets, was to be employed by State Farm. Needless to say, this infuriated outsiders, and it took decades of uproar for a fully fledged Chic-fil-A to be built outside of State Farm’s campus for the common folk to use. Though the inequality has been rectified, the non-State Farmers still hold a grudge.

But if you look past these surface level traits, past fast food feuds and the plump Farmers, Normal is an extraordinary place. It boasts America’s largest Dairy Queen Grill and Chill, and is in fact one of the highest grossing fast food markets in the Midwest. The Hilton hotel just off of Towanda Barnes Road is one of the only hotels in the country to sink 3ft into the ground after being built, but still remain open. And the Culver’s adjacent the Hooters is proud to be home to the chain’s largest fish tank (and is home to many exotic species, such as the goldfish). And these are all just scratching the surface. I haven’t even touched upon our famed rendition of The King and I (which I was in).

Jokes aside, the truth is Normal was a great place to grow up. Old grain silos made for great climbing walls. Abandoned railways gave way to a beautiful trail that can take you all the way to Emack and Bolio’s (wonderful ice cream). And 100,000 inhabitants made it feel small enough to be home-y, but large enough to be diverse. Plus, when you’re a kid, do you really need more than a couple swimming pools, a decent yard, and a bicycle?

Though I love New York now, there are so many memories I’d lose if I grew up here instead. What junior high school would be left so unsecured that my friends and I could walk in at midnight to play airsoft? What community college would be so lax as to not check my high school diploma? And what brownstone would have room for a treehouse, cap gun fights, flag football, cherry trees, and a haunted trail? My guess is none. So while I do love New York and consider it my home, for more than a decade Normal, Illinois was my home, and for that I am grateful.