One weekend every summer for the last seven, two foursomes of forty-something friends drive from Chicago to Peoria to play approximately 1,000 holes of golf in three days.
Why P-town? Because the courses are good and relatively cheap, the food is better than you'd think and relatively cheap, and the accommodations are … relatively cheap.
LIFE HACK: Establish something that's annual, predictably fun and cheap enough that you know you can pull it off every year. You get value on every discouraging day all year, from just knowing it's on the calendar. It's truly good for you.
But in these days of political polarization between liberals and conservatives and city mice and country mice, there's an unexpected benefit to an annual invasion of the hinterlands.
Here are some things I've learned in Peoria in the rare moments between golf swings, beer swigs, fart jokes and farts themselves:
- It is possible for people not to talk about Trump, as long as they have something to do with their hands. This group of guys has been to Peoria four years since Trump became the new small talk in America. Somewhere between two and five of these guys are Republicans (I don't actually know) and at least one is a Trump supporter (which I know through the grapevine). On this weekend politics almost never comes up. And when it does, accidentally—as when someone hit a wayward shot that, I impishly noted, was "leaking like the Trump White House"—it's quickly forgiven and forgotten. Yes, politics is important, and their constant avoidance is a civic cop-out. But the enjoyment of your friends (and the love of the game) should preclude gnawing on the national bone for at least one weekend a year.
- More importantly: You meet the nicest people in Trump country.* While I've written about the suspicious gazes I've felt in back waters on back roads on my motorcycle, I noticed little or none of that resentment at any of our stops, at the Mark Twain Hotel, at the Judges' Chambers bar (across from the county courthouse), at the Lick Creek Golf Course in Pekin, Ill., at Jim's Steakhouse, at Coyote Creek Golf Club in Bartonville, Ill., at the Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern or at Metamora Fields Golf Club (in Metamora, Ill.). Just about everyone was glad to have our business, and many said so cheerfully and hoped we come back next year. (We will.) Whatever is happening in the lives of downstate Illinoisans to make many of them vote Trump, we city nerds cannot dismiss these folks as monsters. They are not monsters.
- But we are not monsters, either. Though we had some terrific service in Peoria, there is a baseline level of competence and refinement in Chicago and other big cities that is not always matched in Peoria. Billing mix-ups at the weary Mark Twain Hotel, a golf course clubhouse attendant who said he couldn't sell us a Gatorade because the clubhouse barmaid hadn't come in yet … and the barmaid, who once she did come in, made the sale of four hot dogs and four beers into a bank megamerger botched so badly it would have bankrupted the economy. I watched with some pride as my golf buddies behaved generously, even gently, in the face of Keystone Cops customer service. I am not celebrating us for acting like grown gentlemen even during a weekend of direct contact with our inner seventh-graders. Just noting that a random cohort of privileged city guys, whatever our politics or attitudes toward downstaters, did not act like assholes.
So how did we play in Peoria? Better culturally than athletically.
I encourage Chicagoans and other city slickers to visit the Peorias of the world—a modest act of curiosity and citizenship (and tourism largesse) that will result, more than any healing words a campaigning politician might utter, in more national unity and understanding.
Who….I asked WHO is the second Trump supporter in that group?