Peoria is a midwestern gem. We chose to head there because of the old adage, “Will It Play in Peoria?” and to get the feel for a classic midwestern town. Peoria, however, was bigger than we expected. With a population of 118,000 it is the seventh largest city in Illinois, the largest city on the Illinois River, and home to the world headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc.
We arrived around 4:30 PM. At that point, our long weekend in Chicago finally caught up with us, so lounging and naps commenced. Around 6:30 PM we hit the waterfront for some interviews. We were determined to get some perspectives different than those of college campuses and the West Coast. After walking around a barren waterfront we started to find some young folk. Matt and Will interviewed two 19-year-old transplants from Dayton who left gang life to better themselves at Bradley College. Phil and I spoke to JD, a 21 years-old father, who seemed mature beyond his age. After landing another interview with some break-dancing Millennial’s, we were energized and ready for dinner.
Fresh off some local recommendations, we headed to Sugar Wood Fired Bistro, three quarters of a mile away. The clouds were dark and ominous, and lighting flashed as we made our march to dinner; another midwestern thunderstorm brewed.
Over delicious Sugar Wood pizza we debated: head to Indianapolis or Louisville next? Our server quickly quashed that debate with a ringing Louisville endorsement complete with recommendations. As we downed our last slice of pizza and finished off our pints, the heavy clouds overhead began to let loose. First a slow rain, as we walked out, then 30 seconds later sheets of water drenched us, and our walk turned to a run. As we approached the waterfront, a dry oasis appeared, shrouded from the rain and lit by the heavens in all it’s glory: Hooters. We entered looking like we were there for a wet t-shirt contest. After drying off ever so slightly, Matt and Phil proceeded to order the worst beer of the trip, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.
Our waitress, Nicole, the consummate hooter’s girl, pointed us towards our next destination for the night. A place called Martini’s On Water Street for their Monday special, half off Martini’s. After laboring through the pitcher of Shandy, we followed her advice.
When we left, the rain had abated to a soft drizzle. As we walked the short distance to Martini, we heard a loud meowing. With fresh images of our South Dakotan cat-friend Clarence on our mind, we investigated the source. Standing over a storm drain it was clear a cat was trapped somewhere down there, but we couldn’t see it. After trying to coax it out by voice we gave up – a half-assed attempt – and proceeded to Martini’s. As we sat down, we all agreed that we hadn’t done enough. So we left, determined to save this cat.
The number for the fire department was no good and we didn’t want to call 911. After exhausting the prospects of reinforcements we turned to the Internet. Of course, Youtube had a DIY-save-a-cat-from-a-storm drain video. Armed with a blanket and jerky tied to a string as bait, we returned to meowing storm drain. For 15 or 20 minutes we tried to coax this kitty into view, but it never showed it’s face. The meows, once strong and consistent, dwindled and weakened. After a loud vacuum sucking sound, there was silence. The rain started up again.
We returned to Martini’s, defeated. By sheer luck we sat next to a table with a Peorian native who was born in Walnut Creek but moved to Peoria in the fourth grade. After chatting a bit, he invited us over. The Peorian’s name is Pat, a talented artist who left a serious impression on us.
That night we imbibed with Pat at his parent’s home with other young locals, swapping stories and learning what it was like to grow up in Peoria, where most people never leave. Although we likely could have stayed with our gracious host that night, we returned safely to our Marriott via our stead, Homer, and its teetotaler conductor, Will.
The next morning we returned to Pat’s house for a one-of-a-kind interview, and then headed to the Caterpillar Visitor Center Museum. The tour begins by sitting in the bed of a Caterpillar 797 mining haul truck, the largest they make. It stands two-stories tall, weighs 1.4 million pounds, and costs $5 million. One of its tires stands 13 feet tall, contains enough rubber to produce 600 regular car tires, and costs $42,000; the 797 uses six of them.
By 1 PM we had our fill of tractors and decided to hit the road. Louisville – or as we later learned Luuu’vill – beckoned.