WPSU

Monday, September 13, 2010

Seats at the Game

Where we docked in Beardstown
This past Saturday night Penn State's Nittany Lions played Alabama's Crimson Tide, and the Cap'n wanted to watch the game.

No TV on our boat. So we needed to find a town . . . with a bar . . . with a TVtuned to the game.

Our neighbor boats for the night
Leaving Havana Saturday morning, there were several little towns along the way, but  the nearest town with a place to dock was Beardstown, Illinois,  population 5,900, more than 40 miles away.

And the official place to dock in Beardstown?  A rusty barge, covered with logs and litter, tied to other rusty barges, in the middle of a towboat docking facility, below a high cement wall that protects the town from flooding.


We climbed a metal ladder and walked into town. Half an hour before game time on a Saturday night,  dogs barking from behind backyard fences. We soon came to Beardstown's official sports bar . . . apparently closed.  Front door locked.  A litter of dead beer bottles and mashed paper cups in the grass out front.  But a guy was going in the side door, so we followed him.  It was dark inside. A couple guys in T's and jeans with shaved heads and muscular arms were behind the bar.  "Are you open?" Cap asked.  "We could be," said one.  The Cap'n explained his desire to watch the game.  "Come back at six," the biggest guy told us.

Beardstown has two buildings labeled "City Hall."
The one on the left is the old Court House where
Abe Lincoln did some of his lawyering.
If the name Beardstown sounds familiar, here's why:  The town enjoyed some notoriety in the 1980s from the "Beardstown Ladies," a group of women who gathered, not to quilt, or play canasta, but to pick stocks. They seemed amazingly successful.  They wrote books . . . appeared on network television.  Ultimately, it turned out their eye-popping investment returns were an accounting error.

Or maybe you recognize Beardstown because before he was prez, Abe Lincoln tried cases in the Beardstown Courthouse (now the City Hall)--most famously the "Almanac Trial."  A young man was accused of killing another man in a nighttime brawl. The state's witness said, he saw the whole thing. In a flourish that sounds like a twist from a John Grisham novel, Lincoln produced an almanac in the courtroom and showed that the night of the murder was moonless . . . and hence so dark that the witness, from his alleged vantage point, could have seen nothing.

Many buildings have a fresh coat of really bright paint!
More recently Beardstown has made news for its growing Hispanic population.  Hispanic workers were drawn to this (till then homogeneously populated) town about 15 years ago by the opportunity for employment in a meat-packing plant.

The portion of the population that was  Hispanic population went from about zero percent to about 20 percent.  Like towns in industrial eastern Pennsylvania, Beardstown has felt growing pains as schools, medical providers, churches, and other social services adjusted to new residents who might not speak English fluently or at all.

On the day we visited, we met mostly Hispanic residents:  A woman and her children in a park, young couples in suits and party dresses walking to a wedding reception, workers setting up in tents in the town square for the next days' Hispanic Heritage festival, shoppers browsing the large selection of Hispanic foods at the Save-A-Lot grocery story.  We passed two Mexican restaurants in the space of two blocks, including one where the enterprising owner had a pretty girl in a sombrero standing in the parking lot, waving to passing cars, inviting them to dine.

After scoring some groceries we headed back to the sports bar.  The burly bartender set us up with $1.25 drafts in frosty mugs and flipped on the big-screen TV.  A few other customers had come in, and they were shooting pool, chatting at the bar, watching the game, and--Alabama fans all--smiling tolerantly as the Cap'n whooped and hollered for Penn State's good (and bad) plays.


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