East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka! White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?” It’s not the last challenge like this I’ll get here where the sidewalk ends, or the most serious one. I start off in Hinsdale, Ill., hometown of Pat Quinn, America’s Worst Governor™, a borough of stone mansions and yoga-panted women with vastly complex Starbucks orders, where I admire the Gordon Abbott house designed by the draftsman William Drummond from Frank Lloyd Wright’s shop, and then journey Marlow-like down U.S. 55, the dyspeptic alimentary canal of Illinois, from the shadows underneath the gloomy turret of the Joliet penitentiary to the stagnation of Normal and Bloomington, across the vast stretches of lightly populated Corn Belt and through the almost-as-empty state capital at Springfield, where the only sign of life is a convention of legionnaires in their jaunty, flare-intensive garrison caps, then onward and downward toward the Mississippi until finally arriving at my terminus in East St. Louis, where instead of meeting my Kurtz I get yelled at by a racially aggrieved tyke with more carefully coiffed hair than your average Miss America contestant.
If you seek a monument to Governor Pat Quinn, take a good long whiff of the despair and decay around here. If his political career is indeed euthanized this November, they should bury its rotting carcass right here in East St. Louis, like Christopher Wren at St. Paul’s Cathedral: Lector, si monumentum ad Pat Quinn requiris, circumspice. If this is the Land of Lincoln, then Pat Quinn is the gubernatorial John Wilkes Booth.