I’m driving, 40 mph, into the downside of Quincy, Illinois.
We’re on a picking run, the boy and me, searching out a place called Old Town Antiques.
Hitting the potholes, steering around trash in the road.
The closer you get to the river, the more things generally go to hell.
It seems to be a standing rule for these midwestern cities.
Abandoned businesses, buildings with bars on the windows.
My young navigator reminds me to take a left at the next corner.
At least we won’t be any closer to the river.
One block up and we’re in for a pleasant surprise.
Suddenly, it’s another place.
(As Ray Bradbury would write.)
Bradbury’s been on my mind during this trip.
I’m just finishing up my annual summer reading of his nostalgic 1957 classic, Dandelion Wine, a fictionalized account of his boyhood life in Waukegan, Illinois, which he calls Green Town in the book.
So a lazy afternoon trek—even just barely into Illinois—conjures Green Town in imagination.
But it’s not imagination, it’s real and it’s right outside the windshield.
The squalor of declining fortunes has given way to old money neighborhoods and new money restoration.
The street is wide now, the lawns stretching out to meet it from two-story white Victorian homes and open porches with hanging plants and flowers.
There’s a sense of tranquility in the shade of old growth tree boughs and leaves holding onto summer green.
I slow down, roll along with the Boy’s guidance atop smoothly worn streets.
Another hallmark of Midwest cities. The closer you get to the river, the more compelling the history.
Another corner brings us to our destination.
Old Town Antiques.
A limestone block building as out of time as Green Town and Bradbury’s memories, deco style, cradling glass block windows, holding aloft two brass globes to the sky.
Looking through a lens of time.
It’s like a piece of the World’s Fair or something from a silent movie lot a century past.
It’s perfect Ray Bradbury.
I park at the curb, am greeted at the door by a friendly face. The man tells me the structure dates back to 1915 when it was an electric car dealership.
Of course there had to be electric cars!
We’re living Dandelion Wine and I can almost hear Miss Fern and Miss Roberta whiz past in their Green Machine:
Oh, that glorious and enchanted first week—the magical afternoons of golden light humming through the shady town on a dreaming, timeless river, seated stiffly, smiling at passing acquaintances, sedately putting out their wrinkled claws at every turn, squeezing a hoarse cry from the black rubber horn at intersections, sometimes letting Douglas or Tom Spaulding or any of the other boys who trotted, chatting, alongside, hitch a little ride. Fifteen slow and pleasurable miles an hour top speed. They came and went through the summer sunlight and shadow, their faces freckled and stained by passing trees, going and coming like an ancient, wheeled vision.
The treasures inside the store are too many to catalog.
It’s a blur of finely crafted wood furniture and wind-up toys.
Electric trains and cloth-bound books with cream pages.
We spend the afternoon, and there’s still more to see.
Outside, the sun plays in the branches of the trees and the man tells me a bit more about the Baker Electric Car company, echoing history and Bradbury again.
Later on, we pull away from the curb and tour the neighborhood, air conditioner purring.
The boy puts the satellite radio onto the 40s station for effect.
Eventually we’re bouncing back along Quincy’s main drag.
Jarred back to the present.
At the river, I almost turn around to make sure we haven’t imagined the whole thing.
But I don’t.
Not because I know we didn’t.
But because I’m unreasonably afraid that we did.