Of course, this will only be useful to those people who follow my same bike routes – in other words, twos of you – but still, you never know when you might find yourself in the hinterlands of IL or WI and say to yourself, “self, now where can I find the best donuts in the world?” and here I am, with just that kind of useful information.
But first, a PSA for those people who like to admonish me for wearing an iPod when I’m cycling. Umm, really, I don’t care, okay? I like listening to music when I’m riding, and belting out the tunes on those barren country roads, serenading the corn. As for the argument that “you need to be able to hear when trucks are coming up behind you” – well, that might be helpful for you folks who ride 2 or 3 abreast in the middle of the road. But me and my ilk, we already ride as far to the right as possible, so whether or not there’s a truck coming up is irrelevant, since there’s still nowhere for me to go, unless you’re suggesting I ride off the road every time I hear a truck. No? I didn’t think so. The music makes me happy, and I’ll take happy anywhere I can get it these days, thank you very much.
Besides, I find it ironic that the same people who give me a hard time about the iPod are doing things that are far more dangerous, particularly to others, like texting while driving (Deanna).
Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, towns that are evil, vs. towns that are not. Let’s start with the evil ones.
When I was a wee tot, I saw a movie on tv that scared the bejeesus out of me and gave me nightmares for years. It was called Race With the Devil, and it was about a bunch of hippie-type kids on some kind of road trip in a van, who stumble upon a human sacrifice ritual in the middle of the woods, then wind up fleeing across the country from the devil people chasing them, until they realize they’ve somehow gone in a big circle and wind up in the exact same place with the devil people closing in on them.
You can see how this would be terrifying.
And in their travels, they wound up in some small town where they realized while at the local swimming pool, as they looked up at the people around them, that they were amidst evil. That the people were all actually devil people and that the town was evil personified.
Capron, IL, is that town.
Oh sure, as an adult I used the power of the internets to track down this movie, and dragged “Stan” over to watch it with me because of course I couldn’t watch it alone. Well. Let’s just say that it was embarrassingly bad, ludicrously funny, not the least bit scary, and had Loretta Swit in it for god’s sake.
But, I digress. Back to Capron. Now, I’ve biked past this town many a time, and often wind up stopping into the pizza place to reload on water, perhaps get a soda. I’ve never liked the town – it has that seedy, rundown feel to it in a very Children of the Corn kind of way, that speaks not to a town down on its luck, but rather malevolence.
But Saturday while on my 84-mile ride, I passed through Capron at a point where I really needed some water, especially since it was about 90 degrees outside, and lo and behold, for some inexplicable reason, the pizza place wasn’t open at 9AM. Go figure that one out.
But what is this I see across the street? Yes, a café! Right next door to the “Stum’ble Inn” biker bar, which even I, the fearless of the fearless, wouldn’t venture into alone. Off I go to the café. As I’m going in, two cyclists are pulling up as well, so I give them a cheery hi, and get a curt “hey” from one and a sullen look from the other. Okay then. Walk into the café, say hi to the hostess person, she just gives me a sullen look. I walk back to the counter, see the waitress-type person, say hi to her, get a sullen “hi” in return.
You see the pattern here.
This is where I give them my usual request:
Me: “Can I buy some water and a soda?”
I always ask to buy water, because I don’t assume these places have nothing better to do than to pour water for any random cyclists who stop in. Usually the response is as follows:
Me: Can I buy some water and a soda?
Nice waitress at the Garden Prairie Café: Buy water? Pshaw, I’d be happy to give you some.
Not at the Capron Café. This was her – sullen – response:
Capron Café Children of the Corn Waitress: We don’t fill water bottles here. You can go across the street to the bike shop if they’re open, or down the street to the gas station.
I guess she missed the part where I asked if I could buy some water. Bitch. I clump out of there feeling the nastiness of the place pressing in on me like a shroud. Though in all fairness, there was one person who wasn’t the least bit sullen – that was the elderly farmer sitting at the counter, who smiled and waved at me both when I walked in and when I left.
Clearly he wasn’t from Capron.
My next step was in Wisconsin.
Sharon, WI, aka Bedford Falls
You know that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life where George Bailey goes running through Bedford Falls like a lunatic through the gently falling snow, yelling “Merry Christmas Bijou! Merry Christmas you crappy old Building and Loan!”? One day I’m going to do that in the town of Sharon, which even the crazy guy at the Lobster Boil last year admitted was NOT a bastion of Russian spydom. So it has that going for it as well.
I pull into Sharon, hoping that the place I discovered last year is still there. You never know, as the shops in these small towns seem to come and go like rainwater, and this town has its share of closed storefronts. Case in point, the small bakery/café that closed up, before the sweet shop moved in. Wait, let me get the name of that exactly right, so everyone knows how to find it: Sharon’s Sweet Shop, at 193 Baldwin Street. In Sharon, WI.
I walk in, say hi, and get a cheery hi in return. Of course.
Kelly, the owner: Can I help you?
Me: I need a donut. I was here last summer, when I discovered that you have the Best Donuts in the World.
Kelly: Oh, I remember you! What would you like?
Me: Hmm, decisions, decisions. How about one of those coconut sprinkled ones?
She gives me my precious donut, which I carefully carry over to a table.
Kelly: And there’s plenty of water there in the machine, so help yourself. Here, this is where you get it. And there’s the ice. Me, I’m going to have some of my mom’s special Southern tea. Would you like to try some?
And she pours me a big glass of icy cold tea, as I sit down with my donut.
Now, all this would be wonderful enough, this hospitality, but probably wouldn’t be enough to compel me to ride 42 miles in one direction just to stop there.
The donut, on the other hand. Well.
Me: Omg, these are still the best donuts I’ve ever had in my life. What do you do to them? I know they’re baked, but honestly, they’re insanely good.
Kelly, modestly: Why thank you, you’re too kind. I really don’t know, it’s my mother’s recipe, I guess I just bake them with a lot of care.
It’s a good thing I didn’t ask “What do you put in them – crack?”
The donut isn’t too puffy, not too dense, practically melts in your mouth in bite after bite of sweet doughy goodness. I can’t say that I’m a donut connoisseur – okay, maybe I can – so I know my donuts, and these are literally the best donuts I’ve ever had anywhere, ever. More than worth the bike ride up here.
We chat some more, as I remember that last time I was here Kelly was telling me about her plans to put in a fryer and start serving lunch. Whereupon I discover that soon she is in fact going to be serving lunch, including hamburgers from fresh meat, not frozen, with homemade buns, all made using her grandmother’s recipe.
I leave, and as I wave goodbye to Kelly, it’s like leaving an old friend. On my way back, I have one more stop, this time in Garden Prairie, not at the café since that’s just open for breakfast, but at the Prairie Pub. Which is also a bar that looks kind of like a shack, but is a good example of why not to judge a book by its cover. Unlike the Stum’ble Inn, this place just looks a bit shack-like, not evil, and sure enough, as I’m going in, a woman walks out who looks like she works there, and gives me a big cheery smile and a hello.
Then I walk in, and another cheery bartender is more than happy to give me water and soda and to fill my water bottles with ice, all with a chipper smile. So this is another town that is not evil.
To sum: Sharon, WI and Garden Prairie, IL = not evil. Capron, IL = evil. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…