Play the Silver Ball at Chicago Street Pinball

What:  Chicago Street Pinball Arcade

Where:  215 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL (779) 279-8799

When:
Friday and Saturday, 5pm-11pm
By appointment for private parties

Cost:  $5 one hour, $10 all night

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Chicago Street Pinball in Joliet just opened this past July, and is currently open only limited hours on a bit of a trial run basis.

Don’t think that means they’re hanging by a thread, though, that I’ll lead you all the way out there for kickass vintage pinball only to find an empty storefront. The place was started by brothers Chris and Mark Czarnowski, part of The Steelman Group that owns three buildings in downtown Joliet. They’re hoping to be part of a downtown renaissance.   “[The Czarnowskis] are real go-getters and they have a really great vision,” Pam Owens, director of Joliet City Center Partnership, told the Joliet-based Herald News. “The guys doing our downtown plan are seeing the same thing. They are saying Joliet has a vibe. It’s not a white-bread community. A lot of towns have become very sterile, but Joliet has maintained its unique character.”

Joliet mayor Tom Giarrante agrees, telling the Herald News, “I think [the Czarnowskis] are ahead of the trend. I think they can see what’s happening downtown and they want to get in now before interest peaks. Once the transportation center [is there] and [with the addition of] the Joliet Junior College downtown, there’s no question that the cost of property and rentals will go up.” He’s referring to Joliet’s multi-modal transportation center set to be completed in 2015, a stop on the proposed high speed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis.

Brother Mark Czarnowski is the games half of the duo, who’s been collecting pinball games for years. He envisions Chicago Street Pinball as a part of the new “barcade” trend of arcades serving alcohol, such as HQ Beercade and Logan Arcade in Chicago. When I spoke to him, they were still working on getting a liquor license, although they did sell a few small snacks (soft drinks and bags of chips). There are plenty of nearby eats and bars a short walk from the place, in any event.

He also wants to expand their business with private event bookings as well as hosting pinball tournaments. According to a June 2, 2014 article in WIRED, membership in the International Flipper Pinball Association, an official sports league of the game, now exceeds 23,000, up from 500 in 2006. The Chicagoland area in particular is a pinball hub; the only company currently manufacturing pinball games is Stern Pinball in the suburb of Melrose Park, whose latest games include The Walking Dead and Metallica.

Playing pinball is certainly a more physically engaging experience than video games (although Chicago Street does have a small smattering of video games as well). “Really, pinball is a game of skill and chance,” says Courtney Balestier of WIRED. “Players say it’s about an 80:20 ratio on newer machines; older ones hew closer to 50:50, because [of the design of the games].”

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The sign outside Chicago Street Pinball promises games from five decades, and that, they do deliver. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but the differences in games by era are pretty obvious, from Travel Time with its old school scoreboard of individually flipping numbers, to gimmicky games like Earth Shaker that have a “shake” feature that’ll make you think you broke the thing if you don’t know what’s going on.

Maybe it’s heresy to say this of a pinball joint, but my favorite game there was one of the five or so video games. At least it was vintage? It was a 1982 game called Pengo, which kind of reminded me of Pac Man (I used to be really good at Pac Man after getting the little table top version for Christmas as a tyke). Pengo is similar to Pac Man in that you go through a maze while monsters chase you, except in this case you’re a cute penguin and the walls are made of individual blocks of ice you can throw at the monsters for points. I guess the Pac Man template had been so thoroughly burned into my brain that messing with its basic structural environment just seemed like such gleeful anarchy to me. I was the number one high scorer, too (er, there were no prior scores up. “It resets every time you unplug it,” one of the employees said).

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Chicago Street Pinball was a great time, and you really can’t beat the price with their unlimited play, pay as you enter arrangement. Once the fall semester’s over, I’ll try to go back and plan my Pengo world domination. Charles and I had a great time in Joliet, grabbing a quick but delicious dinner beforehand just a couple doors down (that’ll get its own entry).

Strolling the Beauty of Anderson Japanese Gardens

What:  Anderson Japanese Gardens

Where:  318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, IL  (815) 229-9390

When:
May 1 – October 31 (earlier or later as weather permits)
Indoor events year round

Garden Hours:
Monday through Friday, 9am – 6pm
Saturday 9am – 4pm
Sunday10am – 4pm

Cost:
Adults $8
Seniors (62+) $7
Child $6
Children under 5 Free
Regular Admission for Garden Members is Always Free

Speaking of hidden gems, in the nation’s “third most miserable city” you’ll find the number one ranked Japanese garden in the U.S., according to Sukiya Living Magazine:  The Journal of Japanese Gardening. I’m talking about Anderson Japanese Gardens.

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The Gardens are the brainchild of its namesake, businessman John R. Anderson (as far as I can tell, no relation to John B. Anderson who ran for President of the United States as an Independent in 1980, although he is also from Rockford).

John R. Anderson is CEO of Anderson Enterprises, and a Rockford booster, serving as one of the local leaders behind the Rock River Regional Transformation initiative, whose goal is to make Rockford and the surrounding region one of the top 25 most desirable places to live and work in the U.S. by the year 2025.

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Raccoon Husband and Wife sculpture

Anderson had become enchanted with Japan through many visits and attempted to build a Japanese garden in his backyard. In 1978 he visited a Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, and tracked down one of the garden’s designers, Hoichi Kurisu, and arranged for him to build a similar garden in Rockford. As their brochure states, “From groundbreaking to today, the placement of every rock, alignment of every tree, and layout of all paths has followed the careful planning and vision of Mr. Kurisu.” In 1998, John and his wife Linda Anderson donated the Gardens to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association, and it now exists as a not-for-profit entity.

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Raccoon Husband and Wife sculpture (I thought they were cats)

Charles and I were lucky enough to catch the last day the Gardens were open for the season. We soaked up the beauty of fall, undercut as it is with the bittersweet bite of winter to come (or in more prosaic terms, that pit of your stomach feeling that tells you stepping outside will soon have you cursing a blue streak, so get in your nature loving while you can).

The Gardens are a sprawling 14 acres full of panoramic scenes and lovingly rendered little details. The main areas to wander are the two large ponds.  To the East is the Pond Strolling Garden, which is based on formal 13th Century Japanese garden design. To the West is the Garden of Reflection, whch features many traditional Japanese garden elements intermixed with more modern touches, such as Carl Milles’ Angels sculptures.

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Carl Milles’ Angels sculptures

There were beautiful curved bridges connecting the East and West ends of the Gardens, and plenty of koi in the ponds, the biggest I’d ever seen. There were lots of benches for quiet contemplation.  There were guest houses and tea houses (unfortunately, not open to the public), a visitor center and an event pavilion which hosts many special events, and can be rented out for weddings and private events.

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Koi!

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Waterfall

I had no idea such a lovely place was such a short drive away and can’t wait to go back in the spring. Although the Gardens proper are now closed for the season (you’ll have to wait ’til May 1, 2015 to check it our yourself), the Gardens hosts a lot of year round indoor events. There are ongoing Tai Chi and Bujinkan (a form of martial arts) classes, and on December 10 and 12 (if you have $50), get into the season with a traditional candlelight Christmas dinner including carols sung by Kantorei, The Singing Boys of Rockford.

Hangin’ with Sue’s Cousin at the Burpee Museum

What:  Burpee Museum of Natural History

Where:  737 N. Main Street, Rockford, IL  (815) 489-7970

When:  Seven days a week, 10am-5pm

Cost:
Adults: $8
Children 4-7: $7
Children 3 and under: FREE
Members: FREE

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I had never heard of the Burpee Museum, but Charles wanted to check it out, and chose it as one of a couple stops in the much-maligned city of Rockford. The name Burpee made me think of Burpee seeds and wonder if it was some kind of plant or farming museum. Apparently it’s named after furniture maker Harry Burpee, no relation to the tomato empire.

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Opened in 1942 with funds from Harry Burpee and the Works Progress Administration, the Burpee Museum is four floors of natural history exhibits. Its current star attraction is Jane, the world’s most complete and best preserved juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex in the exhibit Jane: Diary of a Dinosaur. Discovered in Montana in 2001, Jane’s bones have been reconstructed into a fully restored 21 foot skeleton. Jane is about half the size of Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton housed at Chicago’s Field Museum.

NIU researchers made important discoveries about the juvenile behavior of young T. rexes through the bite wounds on Jane’s nose. “When we looked at the jaw and teeth of Jane, we realized her bite would have produced a very close match to the injuries on her own face,” NIU researcher Joe Peterson said. “That leads us to believe she was attacked by a member of the same species that was about the same age. Because the wound had healed, we think this happened when Jane was possibly a few years younger.” In other words, if I understand correctly, T. rexes may have rumbled with each other to practice their fighting techniques like common house cats.

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BurpeeJaneSkeleton

There was much to learn about dinosaurs. Another exhibit was Homer’s Odyssey: From Badlands to Burpee, which recreates the life of another “teenaged” dinosaur, this time a Triceratops. There was an entire wall covered with different species of Triceratops skulls; I had no idea there was so many, The museum also had exhibits on the Ordovician Sea which millions of years ago covered the land now called Rockford, the living habits of indigenous people, and the local flora and fauna. The top floor had interactive panels that shot out the scent of local flowers and the sounds of local birds. Located as it was right on the Rock River, there was a lovely view out the window of what looked like some kind of outdoor concert area (I could only guess at its purpose as it was way too cold for outdoor shenanigans when we visited).

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Homer the Triceratops

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The multifaceted Triceratops family

I have to say it was extremely dead the day we visited. We practically had the place to ourselves, which was a little spooky. I don’t know if it’s not a high traffic museum or we just went on an off day (Charles’ Facebook check said there was a Bears game that day). Apparently local legend Rick Nielsen’s exhibit there a couple years back was a big hit

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The view out the window of the Rock River

The Burpee Museum has many educational programs for adults and kids, including science workshops for home schooled students, programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as virtual field trips for non-locals.

Reaping the Harvest at Boggio’s Orchard (Don’t Forget the Fudge)

Who:  Boggio’s Orchard and Produce

What:  Apple orchard, market store, family play area

Where:  12087 IL Hwy. 71, Granville, IL  (815) 339-2245

When:
Monday-Saturday:  6-9am donuts and pastries; 9am-6pm market open
Sunday:  6-9am donuts and pastries; 9am-5pm market open

BoggiosSilo

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I remember idyllic fall Sundays at apple orchards, filling bushels to the brim with fresh apples right off the tree.  Now that it’s fall, my Facebook feed is full of friends taking their kids there.  The manfriend (okay, maybe if you’ve been reading this long we’re friends now and I should just tell you his name is Charles) told me Boggio’s was the best orchard that wasn’t too far of a drive.  So, on an unseasonably warm Sunday right before Halloween, we headed about an hour south and slightly west of DeKalb to tiny Putnam County, the smallest county in Illinois, to check it out.

The sign was a bit hard to spot from the direction we were heading, but we could see the parked cars and rows of fresh pumpkins.  I didn’t realize there were so many different hues of pumpkin—they had Jack-o’-lantern orange, yellow, and pale ivory pumpkins lined up in rows like Legos.  We headed inside to the market shop and checked out all the apple products and paraphernalia.  We made sure to get some apple cider donuts; Charles was afraid they might be out.  They also had fresh fudge made on site, and I have to say it was about the best fudge I’d ever tasted.  Good enough to prompt strange cravings a year from now, I reckon. They happily handed out free samples and we left our consumption at that.  I especially liked the tiger butter, a mix of peanut butter and vanilla.

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We chatted with the people behind the counter a bit and they told us Boggio’s had formerly been in Hennepin but moved to Granville in 1992 under new ownership. The cashiers explained that the wooden contraptions on the wall were apple seeders.  I heard it as “cedars,” but they explained that they were designed to remove seeds from apples meant for processing.  I tried to Google more information about them and found a bunch of stuff about Apple computers.  Maybe it goes by a fancier and less prosaic name I’m not aware of?

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Apple seeders

We had a lot of driving in the 815 to pack into the day, so we didn’t stay that long.  Charles was ready to go after we bought a few small things but I insisted on checking out what was behind the store and wandered around snapping pics.  He really missed out, as there was a guy singing and playing guitar, a corn maze, a petting zoo, and kiddie hot rod rides.  I didn’t see anyone picking apples, and they only seemed to have a few small rows of trees, though the website says it’s a u-pick-em joint.  Maybe there’s another section I missed.

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To do list

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Kiddie hot rods

Boggio’s was a great place to take kids with plenty for them to do.  For adults just passing through, it’s a great way to enjoy the fall weather before winter clamps down and stock up on some gifts and treats for yourself.  We were lucky and got there on one of the last really warm weekends, complete with ladybugs crawling all over us and seeping into the car.

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Pleading critter

Star Worlds Arcade

StarWorlds

Who:  Star Worlds Arcade

What:  Retro video games and pinball

Where:  1234 E. Lincoln Hwy. (Rte. 38), DeKalb, IL, (815) 787-4599

When:
Hours of operation:
Tuesday-Thursday, 3pm-10pm
Friday, 3pm-11pm
Saturday 11am-11pm
Sunday 12noon-8pm

What’s New:
Fall FunFest 30th anniversary party October 4, 2014:
4pm photo shoot (free)
5pm-11pm – $25 includes all you can play video games and dinner

If you’re a gamer in the DeKalb area, chances are Star Worlds Arcade is no hidden gem but an old favorite.  You might have caught the 2011 documentary short  about the place (and if not, you can order it through the link).

As a casual gamer new to the area, I’d been meaning to check it out for some time.  I’d pass it often on its fairly isolated (though less than a mile east of NIU) stretch of Route 38, especially last summer as I headed back and forth to the city, slowly retrieving the last of the boxes from my old apartment.

I finally checked out Star Worlds with a new friend recently.  The arcade is on the small side, giving off a cozy basement feel.  Every inch of the place is filled with love for video games, with paraphernalia everywhere such as Pac Man drapes and board game versions of video games (who knew that was a thing?  Not me).  I didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place as a woman and casual gamer (though, admittedly, my new friend yammered on about pinball like he was getting paid for it).

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Pinball Wizards welcome

I spoke with Star Worlds owner Patrick O’Malley, who was so friendly and excited about the place you’d think he just opened it and could barely believe it.  In fact, they’re coming up on their 30th anniversary. Asking him what he did before Star Worlds, he said “Nothing; I was 12 years old.”  A native of Maple Park, IL (a further jog east down Route 38), he started collecting video games at a young age.  His house was the hangout for all his friends.  “Finally, my parents said, ‘Look, we love your friends, but get them out of here.’”  It wasn’t a business in a cute, air quote kind of way, but an officially licensed one (in his parents’ names ‘til he turned 16).

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Owner Patrick O’Malley with new Japanese arrival Pop’n Music

You might wonder how a small niche business stays afloat in this day and age, and the answer is having fingers in many pies.  “In the arcade, we have 40 games, but overall we have over 600 machines now.  I supply other restaurants and bowling alleys and bars.  We do have a warehouse, because with that many machines, you know there’s stuff that’s gonna be coming in that you’re looking for parts for and stuff like that.”  Starting out in Maple Park, the business moved to DeKalb 10 years ago to be closer to the college town spots he supplies.

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Wall to wall video love

Games are rotated near weekly, and he gets a particularly robust crop in the fall when summer attractions they supply such as Wisconsin Dells have closed for the season and head back to Route 38.  O’Malley also keeps repairs the games for Star Worlds as well as other locations.  “Oh yeah, I would never be in business if I had to pay someone to fix this stuff,” he said.  With all the crop rotation, a few old favorites can always be found there, however.  “The original Pac Man that my parents’ friends gave me as a graduation present when I opened the arcade when I was a kid, I keep that one there.  That Burger Time will never go anywhere, that’s my mom’s favorite game.  If I get rid of it, she’ll kill me.”

O’Malley said his current favorite games are the newer music based ones such as Dance Dance Revolution.  He was particularly excited about Pop’n Music, a Guitar Hero-esque Japanese game where you choose a song and hit the notes as they fall from the sky.  “We have the only one in Illinois.  Some of our friends actually had it imported; it took like three months to come over on the slow boat from Japan.”

Star Worlds’ 30th anniversary is actually January 11th, 2015 (it’s near my birthday, so I asked the specific date).  “It’s January, so we could have a blizzard going on [then],” O’Malley said, “so I’m having an event on October 4th at 4:00.  I’m trying to get as many people, like a flash mob, out in front of Star Worlds for a huge picture together.  There is no charge for that whatsoever.  What we’re doing to kind of give everyone a chance to have something cool for coming out is, when everyone checks into this picture they’ll get a coupon.  At the end, once this picture is taken and we’re done with it, we’re gonna draw one lucky winner and they’ll win a $200 birthday party at the arcade here.  Then at 5:00 we have the rest of our event, Star Worlds Fall FunFest.  That’s a $25 ticketed event that we only have a limited amount of space for.  Everything will be on free play that night for the guests along with dinner and tournaments.”  Party is sponsored by South Moon BBQ (where O’Malley also supplies games), Pita Pete’s, Billy Mitchell’s Hot Sauce, and Video Game Scoreboard.

Fall FunFest will also feature “special gaming celebrities,” including Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game world records.  O’Malley considers Walter Day a friend and mentor.  “He’s taught me a lot.  He has always just given me opportunities.  He kept on giving me opportunities and I was just like, ‘Okay, this is not what I planned,’ but I’m someone that, in 30 years of business, as in life, I look at it as, opportunities do only come across often once in life and if you don’t take them, I don’t want to be someone that’s gonna regret not taking an opportunity.”

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Video game hall of fame!

Mr. Day was featured in the movie King of Kong:  A Fistful of Quarters.  Day’s current venture is a set of baseball card-type video game hall of fame cards, 18 of which are affiliated with Star Worlds.  Cards for three of Star Worlds’ high scorers will be unveiled at the FunFest.

Princeton, Illinois Homestead Festival and Lovejoy Homestead Tour

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Lovejoy Homestead, exterior

On Saturday, September 13, I traveled to Princeton, Illinois, for its 43rd annual Homestead Festival.  The festival is named for Princeton’s Lovejoy Homestead, a stop on the historic Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th Century slaves escaping to freedom in the North.  The Homestead is one of five Underground Railroad stops in Illinois.  (Click here for the National Park Service’s interactive map of the Underground Railroad).  The festival commemorates the 1971 restoration of the homestead.

Saturday’s Festival activities started off with the Underground Railroad 5K race at 7 a.m. and rounded out with ‘80s tribute band Hairbanger’s Ball playing ‘til 12:30 a.m.  Other events throughout the day included tours of the high school and library, barbecue courtesy of the Bureau County 4-H Clubs, a blues concert with James Armstrong, and a celebration of Princeton-born screen actor Richard Widmark, including a screening of his biography with a moderated discussion afterward.

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Bureau County 4-H Clubs BBQ sandwich

My friend and I mostly wandered the booths at the Beta Sigma Phi Arts and Crafts show.  There was a wide range of offerings, including beautiful handmade wooden furniture, a small (as in, one booth) farmer’s market, a children’s author selling books and associated toys, as well as the best caramel popcorn I’ve ever had (sorry, Garrett’s; though to be fair, you’re a distant memory).  It was fresh, with coating light enough that you could still appreciate the natural popcorn texture.

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Produce booth, Beta Sigma Phi Arts and Crafts show

We also checked out the Homestead Festival Parade.  My friend warned we should get seats early, and the fest’s website says, “Parade starts at 1:30 but the lawn chairs start to appear on Friday!”  Being accustomed to city-sized parades, the setup seemed rather spacious to me, with plenty of room for everyone.  It was small enough that parade marchers passing out leaflets handed them directly to individual crowd members.  Lasting about an hour and a half, there was the usual parade fare of local businesses and politicians, local school marching bands, as well as Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team.  Going along with the home/homecoming theme, there were an impressive array of Princeton High School graduation class floats; I spotted at least six, ranging from the ‘60s up to 2009.

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Local preschool’s “barrels of fun” float

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Local drill team (not the South Shore Drill Team; they showed up later when camera phone was out of juice)

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Little candy catcher

After the parade, we stopped at the Lovejoy Homestead.  They’d had a busy day with the festival going on, and we’d arrived when they only had about an hour left.  The actual building is the small, single family home once occupied by the abolitionist, Reverend Owen Lovejoy, his wife Eunice, and their nine children (six of their own and three from her previous marriage).  A paid staff member in each room gave a history of the room’s setup and how daily life was carried out there.

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A Quick Bite of the Sandwich Fair; Gene’s

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On Saturday, September 6th, I made it to next to last day of the Sandwich Fair.  No, it’s not an ode to the joys of bread-bookended meats and cheeses, it’s a step into another world (at least for this ex-city girl). Running for five days straight right around Labor Day, the Sandwich Fair is the pride and joy of Sandwich, Illinois, which stretches out over DeKalb, Kendall, and LaSalle Counties. Sandwich is about a half hour drive south of my starting point, DeKalb. Admission was $9.00, and parking was free.

Unlike other temporary fairs that shoehorn booths and rides into otherwise occupied space, shutting down village streets and redirecting traffic, the Sandwich Fair is a permanent fixture on the landscape.  It’s been running strong since 1888 when the Sandwich Fair Association purchased the land where it sits.  (Click here for a map of the grounds).

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Petting zoo chick and friend

My friends and I were hungry on arrival and quickly made our way to the pulled pork sandwiches and sugary lemon shake-ups.  Thus sated, we meandered around the livestock pens.  (Pro tip:  Though the animals on display are champs, they’re still animals – watch your step and plan ahead with shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.  While we’re on the subject of bodily functions, though they had portable toilets to accommodate the crowds, I was pleasantly surprised that they not only had real bathrooms, but bathroom attendants).

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Friendly bathroom attendant

It was a lovely end of summer day petting fuzzy animals, checking out a steel drum band, a pig raffle, a baking competition (all the goodies were just for show behind glass, though), and a photography exhibit.  I felt like we barely scratched the surface of everything the fair had to offer.  Saturday’s big attraction was the NTPA sanctioned tractor pull.  Early in the day, my bones rattled at the wall of sound that was the 12:30 show, but I was unable to talk my crew into staying for the 6:30 show at the end of the long, hot day.  It also required extra admission cost – $10 for the grandstand seats and $20 for reserved and “hot seats.”  Maybe next year.  For more information on the tractor pulls, see the official Sandwich Fair website or check out a sneak peek on YouTube.  There were carnival rides and bands as well, with the day before featuring country star Easton Corbin.

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Kids learning farm work with Maggie the Milking Cow

Lunch was reasonably priced ($3.00 pulled pork sandwiches?  Yes, please).  We were quite pleasantly surprised that parking was free.  The parking lot was a breeze getting in, with plenty of attendants gesturing guests into neat rows.  It was quite an ordeal getting out, though.  Everyone was forced to exit in one direction, with people from rows ahead of you constantly braiding into the exit traffic.  We were stuck there a good 40 minutes.  Forewarned is forearmed:  Fill up the gas tank, pack some drinks, snacks, and music.  Focus on the gentle, fuzzy lamb you made friends with mere hours ago.

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Photography exhibit

We capped off the day in Sandwich at Gene’s (125 S. Main Street), where I was introduced to the glory of the beef roll, which I’m told is a LaSalle County specialty.  It’s like that old Chicago standby, the roast beef sandwich, but instead of a drippy (but delicious) mess of a sandwich roll, it’s wrapped in a freshly made pita, and eaten with a fork and knife.  When I say “pita,” don’t think of those sad little grocery store wedges for scooping up hummus.  Freshly made pita is a hot, bubbly, pillowy blanket of perfection.  In addition to beef, several sandwiches get the roll treatment; other options include turkey, gyro, and even a vegetarian lover’s roll.  I may have to investigate this roll phenomenon in future entries.