Tag Archives: Rockford Illinois

Where you’re from shapes how you talk


This is where The New York Times thinks I live, based on the results of a a quiz I took that asked me how I pronounced some words and used some terms. They got my region pegged. Several of my family members who live in the same area  said their quiz results were the same, or nearly the same as mine (in the photo above). I took the quiz a second time, this time choosing another variation of how I might say something, and this time it placed me in Rockford, Grand Rapids, or Buffalo. It’s Rockford both times.

Now, I have lived most of my life in a region where the nearest movie theaters were in Rockford. My parents grew up here, too. But my mom’s mom grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, and my dad’s parents were children of German immigrants, and so I wonder how much of my language is that of my parents, and how much is from my peers.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this list of options:

dialect_foxweddingI love the poetic qualities here — fox’s wedding, liquid son — but what American variant picks the devil is beating his wife to describe a meteorological phenomenon? I guess this one.

Madison minus nice things = Rockford

The wonderful city of Madison, Wisconsin, is the home of the University of Wisconsin, and without that university, Madison “would be Rockford with lakes,” said Stuart Levitan in a program about the history of Madison that was recorded in 2010 and broadcast recently on the Wisconsin channel.

Ha, ha — Rockford sucks. I laugh because, well, I live near Rockford and people around here don’t seem to realize how much better things are just a few miles away, at Madison, Milwaukee, or the Chicago suburbs. So it felt like a breath of fresh honesty to hear the put-down of Rockford.

I live here because my family is from here, and because my professional license is good in Illinois. I would love for my home-area to get amenities that other places take for granted: say, a Trader Joe’s store, or a jogging/biking path, or so many things.

My former Daily Illini boss and current NPR reporter, Kelly McEvers, reported recently on her hometown of Lincoln, Illinois:

It turns out that what’s happening in Lincoln is happening in so many towns and communities across the country: As we recover from the Great Recession, jobs are coming back. But they are not middle-wage jobs — they are either high-wage jobs or low-wage jobs. The middle class is in serious decline. And that has all kinds of repercussions.

It’s a little frustrating to live in a declining area, but I’ll give it this — housing’s cheap, there’s little traffic, and with the Internet, we’re much less cut-off than we used to be.

UPDATE: It’s a couple days later, and I’m not sure what good it does to complain about the area where I live. Not that I’m changing my opinion, but that my opinion is kinda pointless. Sure, there are things I’d like to change here, but in my particular day-to-day experiences, I go to my job, I go to the grocery store, I walk my dog, and I go to bed. Very little of my daily experience has to do with demographic or economics generalizations or statistics. I try to remind myself of this, to let go of generalizations and opinions, and just keep my mind open to receive new ideas.

Rockford, Illinois: Depressing to come home to

My wife is reading Jennifer Egan’s book Look at Me, which, unlike almost the entirety of world literature, is set in Rockford, Illinois, the place I have to travel to in order to buy stuff (like, say, books, cars, clothes, and anything not marked up for the sake of its convenience). I’ve never lived in Rockford, but I’ve lived near it most of my life, and the duration of my life has not been a good period in Rockford history — factories shut down, corporations moved out, jobless rates and crime rates climbed, and Rockford frequently competes with places like Flint and Detroit, Michigan, for the highest rankings on “most miserable cities” lists. (Of course, the same list linked above put Chicago at #4 most-miserable, which doesn’t quite give credibility to the list. Chicago’s got problems, but people still actually want to live there, or near there. Literally millions of people crowd into Chicago and its suburbs rather than commuting from Rockford, which would require driving, because there’s no way to take a train for the 90-some miles from Rockford to Chicago. The “Was Metra an option today?” signs condescending to drivers on I-90 are simply mocking those of us who live near Rockford.)

By the way, I didn’t set out to live near misery — my family came to Rockford decades ago, when it was a more-prosperous community. And once our roots were established, it wasn’t always easy to notice just how bad things were getting.

But, living here, taking in what passes for local media (the poorly managed, shrinking newspaper and the farm-team broadcasters–#134 biggest!), we tend to hear a lot of empty boosterism about Rockford, such as this:

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said he disregards the Forbes ranking because it fails to recognize the positives the city has going for it.

Among those positives, he notes growth in the city’s aerospace industry and a “world class” airport, improvement in education, Woodward’s decision to expand locally, and the Rockford Park District being named the best in the country.

“Clearly, we have our challenges, but let’s offset that with some of the positives,” Christiansen said. “Unfortunately, the negatives sell magazines.”

Right, but those negatives — high crime, taxes, and unemployment — are not quite as compelling as the positives — schools no longer as institutionally discriminatory as they used to be! almost ten other cities can be flown to out of Rockford! very few wild pythons in our parks!
All this is the background info that will help convey why my wife and I are appreciating Jennifer Egan’s novel’s characterizations of Rockford:
Even as a child, riding home with my mother and Grace after a Saturday in Chicago, new dresses and Frango mints from Marshall Field’s packed carefully in our trunk, lunch at the Walnut Room still alive in our minds—even then, when the drive between Rockford and Chicago had encompassed the entire trajectory of my known world, arriving at State Street’s outer reaches, at that point practically rural, had roused in me not the lilt of home but a flat dead drone inside my head. Even then, I experienced my return to Rockford as a submersion, a forfeiture of the oxygen of life. And with every subsequent return there had been a flattening, an incursion of dreariness, as I remembered what I had come from and faced it again.
…room at the Sweden House’s faux-alpine façade, its little flags bearing generic coats of arms. I breathed smells of carpeting and Lysol and old cigarettes and braced myself for the familiar sensation of entombment. The Rockford thud.
I was alone in the middle of nowhere—worse than nowhere: the place that had made me. And now the depression, the Rockford thud whose arrival I had awaited from the moment Irene and I first drove into the city, blanketed me in its crushing, airless weight.