Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A One-Tank Weekend Among the Amish

It was a little out of our way, but we had to go to Paris over the long weekend. We ate breakfast at McDonald’s there and put gas in the car at a Speedway gas station and convenience store. At about $3.35 a gallon, it was fully 30¢ a gallon cheaper than near home in metro Chicago.

While we were in the neighborhood, we passed through Oakland, too. And Charleston. And Kansas, for that matter. Which sounds like our car has been equipped with the latest in matter teleportation -- beats the hell out of Onstar -- but actually all of these places are in east-central Illinois, in Coles and Edgar counties.

We were gone two nights and most of three days over Memorial Day weekend. All together, we put about 650 miles behind us, burning roughly one-and-a-quarter tanks of gas, or 26 gallons or so, an important consideration these days. If we’d stuck to our initial destinations without wandering to places such as Paris (county seat of Edgar) or a certain microscopic suburb of Greenup, Illinois (more about which later), we probably could have made it a one-tank trip. But 1.25 is close enough to my goal of one tank.

There’s a small llama ranch just north of Oakland, but that wasn’t the main reason we went down that way, as interesting as such serendipitous details are. Look closely just west of I-57 and about 30 miles south of Champaign-Urbana and you’ll see the towns of Arthur and Arcola, Illinois, which differ from hundreds of other little towns the state in that they’re surrounded by a concentration of Amish.

That’s why we went. To see something Amish. We did. But it left me with more questions than answers about that subset of American society – or maybe sub-subset, possibly with internal divisions as intricate as any clan societies anywhere in the world. I wonder about the little things: do they use postage stamps that depict people? They use paper money, which has portraits, but then again, maybe I didn’t see the plainest of the Plain People participating in the money economy at the IGA grocery store in Arthur. (What do they use all that Cool-Whip for? One sees the oddest things in grocery stores sometimes.)

Do some Plain People take pride in being plainer than others? Probably that would be a sin, and not something they would be apt to share with outsiders, but we are all sinners, given to pride in something.


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