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Our journey up to Chigaco last Tuesday took us up Route 100 following the line of the Illinois River valley.
One of the towns we passed through was Kampsville.

Situated on the western bank of the river, Kampsville exemplifies all the charms and idiosyncrasies of a small town in the American Midwest.

Like many river villages, it looks like it was built yesterday. This is probably because much of it was; as you can see from the photographs this area is subject to flooding. So the houses tend to be utilitarian in design, often prefabricated or mobile homes. Some are built high on steel stilts.

There are exceptions, like this restaurant where we stopped for home-made pie (peach and blackberry).

We arrived late in the afternoon, so the place was deserted except for us, three staff members and a worn-looking retiree sitting at the bar. A quiet Wednesday afternoon in Kampsville.

The only activity was the gentle back and forth of the ferry carrying a handful of cars across the river to Route 108.

I watched as a Volkswagen Beetle (the old series – still far more classier than the newer and less-than-satisfactory remodel) waited for the boat.

A small ramp in the road led up the ferry entrance. Cars coming to Kampsville would drive down past this village sign.

Buried in a hollow and shaded by the afternoon sun, it struck me as a modest and uninspiring welcome. Suited, though, to this unprepossessing town.

It really should be so much more. The countryside around is beautiful. There are a number of riverside parks and reservations close by. In another part of the world, I could imagine this town as a tourist trap, not a sleepy backwater.

The ferry headed off with the Volkswagen. It didn't look at all exciting on the other side of the Illinois so we did not follow it.

Time was pressing though. We had to reach Chicago at least a reasonable hour.

So we walked back to the gas station where we had left the car.
Past the stained shacks and pools of flood water, past the riverboats tied to the bank.

All looked like they has seen grander days. Some even looked as if they had been floating restaurants or even small casinos, but there were no signs or lights to advertise their trade.

Perhaps they come to life at the weekends or later in the season. I hoped so.
But I doubt it, or even if that does happen, it is hardly a moneymaker. Like so many rural towns in this area, the prevailing impression is of a gritty poverty. Not desperate, but barely getting by, and the antithesis of any sense of America as country of abundant wealth. I find such places to be real and honest. I feel at home in them in a way that I never feel in the glitzy McMansions of the big city suburbs.

I would be happy to see the poverty overcome and prosperity established for all the people, but not at the cost of turning these towns into little bastions of affluence, all show and no substance. There is a middle way.

Perhaps now, in these days of economic disturbance and the growing realisation that the disparities and expectations of wealth between the rich and poor have grown too great, this country can return to the ways of real worth, compassion and caring.Finally, into the car and further on up the road.