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Friday, April 30, 2010

2010 SPRING TOUR DIARY: Part Two

From March 9 through April 8, 2010, I toured the Southeast US, doing booksignings, slideshows, school talks, and visiting comics shops and bookstores. It was great trip, maybe the best roadtrip I've ever taken! For what it's worth, here are some photos and recollections of my time on the road.

John P.
Click here for Part One...

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PART 2: CHICAGO TO CAIRO, ILLINOIS

After a week and a half in the Chicagoland area, spent filming for the movie, and searching for Monster Comics in local comics shops (Top Cow/Yesterday Is Today-Love's Park, Capital City-Madison, Westfield-Madison, AK Comics-Beloit, Dreamland-Schaumburg, Chicago Comics), it was time to head back out on the road.  My mom convinced me to leave a day early, to avoid a coming Winter Storm.  The plan was to drive down to Memphis, and then to Nashville, where I'd meet up with Dan, and we'd do the rest of the tour together.  I was pretty excited, cuz I'd never been to Memphis, and only to Nashville once, when I was a kid, and didn't know yet that country music was so awesome!

The other exciting thing about this leg of the trip was that I planned to make pilgrimages to two of the most intriguing Illinois cities: Metropolis, and Cairo.  Both are located at the very southern tip of the state, and as an Illinoisian who loved maps, I spent a lot of time as a kid staring at them in the atlas and wondering what they were like.  Now, for the first time, I was going to find out!


Heading back out on the road.


Outside El Paso, Illinois.


This is either heading into Bloomington-Normal (home of the great Acme Comics) or Champaign-Urbana.  Kinda looks like Champaign, where I failed to find any Monster Comics...


Recorded outside Pesotum, Illinois, on I-57 Southbound;
March 19, 2010.


I arrived in Metropolis around one in the morning, and made my way to the center of town, to find the Superman Statue.  Metropolis has made a name for itself as the home of Superman Kitsch, and this 30 foot illuminated statue of the Man of Steel presides over the courthouse square!



On the corner across from the statue is the Superman Museum, home of the Largest Collection of Superman Memorabilia in the World.  Of course it was two in the morning, and I couldn't take the time to wait for it to open, so I just looked through the windows and wondered if they had any Monster Comics in there.  And I took a ton of pictures of this amazing, hand-painted wooden comics sign that was up on the wall:















The night is always darkest...


...before... the dawn?


After paying my respects to the Man of Steel, I drove across the bridge into Paducah, Kentucky and slept in the car at a rest area.  In the morning I drove into town, and found the Local Comics Shop.  It didn't open for two hours though, so I couldn't wait.  I walked around town a bit, along the water, and then headed back up into Illinois, to find Cairo.






The Ohio River at Paducah, looking across to Illinois.





Recorded off Illinois State Route 37, north of Mound City;
March 20, 2010.



Southern Illinois is an interesting place, because although people don't usually think of it that way, it really is the South:  Cairo, for instance, is farther south geographically than Richmond, Virginia.  And it really feels different down there.  I approached the city, wondering what it would be like.  I had no idea that I was going to find what I did:  Cairo was almost almost entirely blighted, and literally crumbling before my eyes...




Some of the few functioning businesses in Cairo.


Abandoned buildings.




Pretty much says it all...






"That mockingbird'll sing...  the saddest kind of song..."




Yes, that is a few inches of broken plate glass covering the sidewalk.


Another one of the only functioning businesses.  It was only 8 AM or I would've stopped in.




And then, across from Shemwell's, was a ray of hope...  A huge building that was being cleaned up, housing a business called Ace of Cups, containing an organic coffeehouse, used bookstore, art gallery, and community space.  It was amazing...  what was a place like this doing in a town like Cairo?  (Ed. note:  a few days later, I would find out...)


I peered in the windows.  They didn't open till ten, and I had a long drive ahead of me to Memphis, where every second would count, so I pushed a copy of King-Cat though the mailslot, with a note, and got back in the car.

As I drove away, I kept wondering about this place.  It was obviously a real-deal DIY space-- a couple vans in front meant that touring bands came through.  I always dreamed about getting some of my friends and moving someplace dirt cheap and creating a new world.  It looked like someone had done just that in Cairo.


Yep.






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Cairo is located at the massive confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  I drove back and forth across the vast two-lane bridges a few times, trying to capture the sense of just how much water there is down there...










And then into Missouri again, and Arkansas...

NEXT TIME: Memphis.

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5 comments:

  1. Amazing stuff, John. When you look at Cairo's decrepit buildings and imagine a once thriving town, replaced by far off shopping malls, etc. I can't imagine any town (for example, the little Illinois town I live in) letting things get so bad that they just leave debris on the streets. Is the town just abandoned, like a true ghost town? I'm intrigued by what happened to it and what the people living there do.
    Let me add that my parents live about 40 miles away from Peducah in Kentucky and I've been to Metropolis, in the daytime. Very surreal at night... especially that modern primitive stuff on the Superman "museum."
    I'm looking forward to your take on Memphis... which also seems to be suffering from a bad economy despite Elvis and Beale Street.

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  2. Frank,

    No it's not a Ghost Town, people DO live there, thought the population is said to be down to about 3,000. The closest thing I could compare it to would be some parts of Detroit, though obviously less urban.

    There's some information about what happened to Cairo in the "Cairo, Illinois" Wikipedia entry, including, on the discussion page, a lengthy comment by a former resident.

    There are also a number of Cairo "tour" videos on YouTube.

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  3. To clarify, the downtown part of Cairo IS like a ghost town. But there's activity in the residential neighborhoods, and traffic on the main strip, Washington Street.

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  4. Well hey, small world! I was visiting Chris at the time you passed through Cairo. We were kind of wondering about the King-Cat comic showing up one morning.

    Here are some more views of the town I took while I was there for those who are curious-
    http://benrains.blogspot.com/search/label/cairo

    I remember a great talk you gave about your comics in the Fine Arts building at Indiana University a couple of years ago. Hope you're doing well!

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  5. Ben-- thanks for the photos! It seems everywhere I went I met people who knew Chris... more on that soon...

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