Had an adventure yesterday. Drove down to Metropolis, Illinois with members of my writing group, smart funny women who can talk about anything. On the three-hour trip we discussed books, baseball, boredom, and bondage. Okay, maybe we really didn’t cover the last topic, but put four women in a car and you’re eventually going to talk about sex and relationships and gender differences in road trip etiquette. Our driver was very considerate and stopped immediately when one of us complained of a full bladder. Okay, not immediately—that would have been dangerous—but there was none of this “You should have gone before we left” nonsense some of us had heard from fathers and husbands.
Metropolis is a small town in Southern Illinois whose inhabitants once believed it would grow into a big town, a proper city, a metropolis, given its location on the banks of the Ohio River. There was something ironic and sad about this grandiose dream and the current reality of Metropolis: houses in need of repair, signs that had scare quotes around them—Welcome to the “Metropolis” Chamber of Commerce (or something like that)— and a casino that the Metropolis website claimed was “no more than three miles” from the center of the city. But there was also something hopeful and quirky and fun about the place. In the early 1970’s, a resident of Metropolis had a great idea. I imagine him tossing and turning at night after too many fried mushrooms at Bob’s Bowling Alley: “I wonder if there are other towns named Metropolis in the United States. If there are no other towns named Metropolis, maybe we can build a huge Superman statue and rename our newspaper The Metropolis Planet and our main street The American Way. We can tell the public that Metropolis is the Hometown of Superman.”
And that’s exactly what happened. A small nothing town in the middle of nowhere is now attracting tourists by the thousands and has been featured on the Travel Channel. None of the shops “downtown” were boarded up, and we saw some nice houses.
“God bless America,” said our driver.
I thought it would be real funny if we pestered the townspeople with questions such as “Can you lead us to the grave of Superman?” and comments such as “Wait. You mean to say that Superman was a fictional character?” My fellow travelers did not agree, and I was too chicken to undertake this on my own, so I had to settle for a lascivious pose at the legs of the huge Superman statue in the town square. (I would post the picture here but there are decency laws relating to superheroes in Illinois.)
We visited the Superman Museum where I was able to expand my Superman lore. There was so much I didn’t know! I had grown up in a Superman-free zone. My Lithuanian immigrant parents thought Superman might give my sister and me some bad ideas—that we could fly, for instance. In any case, our television viewing was pretty much restricted to educational programs. (“Birds can fly because of a variety of specialized adaptations that allow them…..” ) The nuns at grade school were no big fans of superheroes, either. They’d say things like “Jesus Christ is Superman,” which really confused things for me. In any case, I hadn’t known that kryptonite was a bad thing.
The museum had old typewriters and telephones from the original Superman television show and a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles worn by Clark Kent (or George Reeves playing Clark Kent) that looked fashionably retro. There were lots of photographs and chunks of “kryptonite” and Superman wigs that had seen better days. A more elegantly curated museum (one with more money) would have found a way to preserve the toupees so that they didn’t look like underfed black cats who’d spent the night out in the rain. The woman who managed the museum/store looked a bit sulky. She reminded me of a slightly plumper Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Because the bathroom in the museum did not meet our high standards for hygiene, our only option was to drive to the casino, a large modern building (ship, I guess) with free valet parking and good-looking parking attendants. We were disappointed that despite the clearly marked sign—“IDs required to enter casino”— nobody asked for ours. “No way I’m gambling here,” I grumbled. We used the bathroom (very clean!) and then lied to the parking attendant that we’d be back soon.
The trip back to Charleston went by very quickly in part because that’s the nature of return trips and in part because our drive went above the speed limit. Once back home, we felt we needed more excitement, so we drove out in search of the tallest Abraham Lincoln statue in the world, somewhere in nearby Ashmore. There was a barbed wire fence surrounding the former resort that housed Abe, so we saw him only from a far distance. That was okay because, really, how many super-heroes can you take in a day?