Sorry, David Foster Wallace is cancelled

Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, is two-ish hours away if you take the train from Chicago. Amtrak will glide you through flannel-plains and the polished green beginnings of summer cornfields. The sun here glows white and shines a nostalgic sort of haze over the horizon. When you arrive, it will be into Normal’s Uptown Station. You will know you have arrived by the feel of the air-conditioning and the smell of Subway bread wafting from the store inside the terminal. Normal has a small but cosmopolitan Uptown that connects to its Downtown sister city, Bloomington. At the northern limit of Uptown a section of the Constitution Trail stretches out, a mostly straight line on mostly flat ground, flanked by maple and oak trees and other foliage. People jog. They ride bikes. Red northern cardinals and chipmunks and bunnies and squirrels dart about. It would be Disney if it weren’t so suburban. In 2014 Normal won the Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award. Branching off the Trail is the aforementioned suburbia. Smooth, concrete cul-de-sacs and sidewalks wend their way along neat green lawns out the front of grey houses that are reproductions of each other. Here you will see mailboxes with flags, some of them painted with The Flag. Sometimes a flagpole in the front yard. Sometimes a God Bless America sign. The kinds of houses you can raise kids in. The kind of neighbourhood you can raise kids in. The kind of place you can receive an education. As at 2010, the population was 52,497. In 2011 Normal won the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement (Civic Places). This place is, it has been said, all but recession-proof.

 

But depending on the circles you move in, you may know that Bloomington-Normal, IL, boasts something far more attractive to visitors than all the above combined: this is where David Foster Wallace lived, taught, and wrote a chunk of his 1996 magnum opus, Infinite Jest. Bloomington-Normal is thus a place of very particular pilgrimage for some folks.

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