Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alton (Southwestern Show)

We stopped for gas about 30 miles from Alton along I-55. I felt drowsy still and got a giant 22 ounce Arizona Green Ice Tea. This struck me as ironic in part by the fact that Tom was been commenting lately abut the existence of these huge 22-32 ounce cans of beer available in the gas station convenience stores along the highway. Does this encourage drinking and driving? Nah, couldn’t be. But for me, I caught a mild caffeine buzz, my first in 5 days, and I didn’t feel too bad about it either. A new round of on-again, off-again caffeine follies was sure to follow.

As we rolled into Alton we listened to early Steve Miller hits (meaning prior to “The Joker”) and kept our eyes open for our bed and breakfast. Once we found the place, The Tiffany Inn, above the stained glass store, I took a nap. I also checked the television reception in case we got back in time to catch the Astros-Cardinals National League Championship series game 6. To my surprise the TV was getting its signal from good old-fashioned rabbit ears, and Fox was not coming in. Oh well. Better to keep my mind on the task at hand: Our Haunted Alton tour later that night.

Haunted Alton
First off, here’s something you didn’t see in the show: At the Aroma Café on Broadway where Tom and I had our morning coffee, we spoke to the boss about the town’s haunted reputation and asked if he had had any experiences of the supernatural first hand. He said very seriously it was no joke -- that in fact the most haunted places in Alton weren’t even on the tour! He said he’d been to plenty such sites in town that have given him the chills, the creeps, the heebie-jeebies, and that there is absolutely something real going on. If only we’d gotten that on tape.

On the tour we did take, however, nothing extremely dramatic happened, though let it be known that I am most welcome to strange and weird things occurring. (Anybody out there catch my special episode a few years ago covering UFOs and aliens in Chicagoland on “Ben Loves Chicago”? I called it “The B Files.”) We did, however, notice odd things about the tape once we were back in the edit suite putting the story together. On a couple of occasions (at the house with the immovable black paint, and in the underground railroad basement) we noticed small, quick moving shadows flit by the camera. Both times, Tom stopped the tape and said, “There was nothing there to make that shadow.” Also we had problems with my wireless microphone in the basement, some kind of interference. I guess we’re lucky to have gotten any tape at all. Thank you, spirits, one and all. Wait a minute – did we get releases on you guys?

Day Two in Alton
Rain threatened our shooting today but did not get he best of us. If anything I became more convince than ever that I wanted ultimately to do a show that affords greater in depth exploration of stories than was our practice in the early days of Wild Chicago. I really wanted to touch on a handful of places in Alton today, just touching of each briefly. But it quickly became clear that each merited more than that. We’re still working out how we are going to allot the time we have so I must accept that in some cases the places we visit may not get the time on screen I’d like to give them, and resolve to rise to the challenge of making good shorter pieces that somehow carry weight and do not leave the viewer (YOU!) thinking that what we are doing is merely fluff. (Of course, I do realize we’re talking TV here and not Tolstoy. Still, there is room for some humanity and heart even in a three minute segment on TV, something other than “hook-ups” and competing for money by doing unnatural acts.)

Case in point: When I first heard about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, as seen on the Illinois Bureau of Tourism posters around town, I figured this was going to be a 30 second quickie. But once we arrived at the statue (I just mis-typed “stature”!) and talked to our guides there, it was immediately clear that there was so much more to this story than just 30 seconds. We were shown the Robert Wadlow exhibit across the street in the Alton Historical Museum (against my initial desires to keep it brief) and my interest in this amazing man deepened. Alton, I am convinced, would be an excellent destination to visit even if the Tallest Man in the World story was the only story they had to tell. Of course, that’s not the case.

I fell in love with Alton, with the high ground overlooking the Mississippi, the beautiful old brick house on the bluffs and hills leading to the river. The unseasonably warm air of the night before didn’t hurt either, when we took our haunted tour with Antoinette and Alix. I felt like I was in Georgetown in DC. (Only these houses sell for $800,000 to a million dollars less.)

One more important note: you gotta see Elsah, especially if you like tiny towns that seem locked in the past. And this town was very much different from other Illinois towns we’d seen so far. This place felt to me like New England. Our segment captures this quite well, but being there in person is better. There was even a bed and breakfast for sale. One of my fantasies is to live in a town like Elsah where everything is simpler, quieter. Maybe run a bed and breakfast. Couldn’t be eating that pie every day, though, from My Just Desserts. Maybe every other day.

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