Day 25: Carbondale (rest day)
This morning I rose at 8 am only to take a shower and then go back to sleep until 10. I love rest days. When I got up for the second time I joined Lila and Jack for a breakfast of potatoes, onions, and eggs prepared by Lila.
We decided to drop off our bike at a local bike shop named Phoenix and from there Jack would show us around Carbondale. We left our bikes at the shop and walked to a local mediterranean chain called El Greco.
As we walked to the restaurant we saw tons of sidewalk and street repair construction. We learned that Carbondale was preparing itself for the All American Solar Eclipse occurring August 21st.
While the eclipse can be seen from a total of 12 states, its occurrence in Carbondale, Illinois is particularly special. Carbondale, Illinois is at the eclipse’s point of greatest duration, meaning, the sun will be eclipsed for the longest period of time just a few miles from Carbondale. The total eclipse will begin at 1:21 pm and last for a total of 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
This eclipse is a pretty big deal for this moderate sized college town of ~26,000. For the eclipse anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people are expected to descend upon the town including folks from NASA. There will be a mass eclipse viewing party in the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Saluki stadium.
We walked into El Greco as Jack was finishing his gyro. From there we decided to go to the mall area of Carbondale so that we could buy some books (the kindle Nico lent me broke. Sorry you’re finding out this way, Nico). We also planned to buy some rope for the bear hang.
After we got our supplies Jack took us on a driving tour of his alma mater, SIU.
One of the first buildings we come across is the ex-Vietnamese studies center. Apparently the building may or may not have been the site of a CIA operation involving the Vietnamese War. Whatever it was, after the Kent State shooting of 1970, students of SIU rioted and destroyed the department.
Though Jack was no longer a student, he was in the national guard at the time. He joined the national guard as a way to avoid being drafted and deployed to Vietnam. By voluntarily joining the national guard he was able to choose a nonviolent path in the military rather than be drafted into the Vietnamese jungle. He was deployed to SIU to quell the riots.
Since Jack has graduated, left the military, and started his life, SIU has changed. Particularly in recent years the school’s population has been rapidly declining. Jack explained that not only SIU but all state institutions have been suffering lately due to the political gridlock between the state legislature and the governor, Bruce Rauner.
Essentially, Rauner is a billionaire with extremely conservative bootstrap theory ideas. He wants to slash funding for many state programs and, appalled by his politics, the state congress has refused to allow any of his ideas to come to pass. As a result the state of Illinois has not passed a budget in nearly 3 years. This has left Illinois with the worst credit rating in all 50 states and has left most state funded institutions surviving week to week including SIU.
After being driven around SIU long enough I started seeing this unfamiliar word everywhere: “Salukis.” I asked Jack what it meant and he explained that a saluki is an ancient Egyptian hunting dog.
He then went on to explain that Southern Illinois had the nickname “Little Egypt.” After a bit of research I discovered the origins of the nickname. Naturally, they were rooted in the region’s proximity to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The settlers of the region felt that this fertile land between the rivers was similar to the Nile River delta. There are many towns named things like Cairo (pronounced Care-o), Thebes, and more.
However, according to Judge Andrew Duff, the name most likely became popular in the 1830s during “The Winter of Deep Snow.” After this brutal winter, Northern Illinois’ grain harvests were abysmal. Many Northern Illinoisans moved to the South to partake in the still bountiful harvests. This migration was compared to the sons of Jacob in the Bible traveling to Egypt to survive a great famine. Thus, the region became popularly known as “Little Egypt.”
As it would happen, there is still one more comparison that earned Southern Illinois its Egyptian nickname. It should not be forgotten that in Egypt, slavery was very much part of the economy. Even though Illinois was a Union state, its southern region, settled by many US southerners, had a lot of sympathy toward the Confederacy. From Wikipedia:
“”In 1858, debating in northern Illinois, Douglas had threatened Lincoln by asserting that he would ‘trot him down to Egypt’ and there challenge him to repeat his antislavery views before a hostile crowd. The audience understood Douglas: overwhelming proslavery sentiment and Democratic unanimity in Egypt had led to the nickname.”
Tomorrow we will embark on our own exodus from Egypt to the town of Chester, resting on the Illinoisan side of the Mississippi River.