Editor’s Note: Just a small town girl

Each of us learned about the histories of the areas, we met business owners and we had fun living like locals for a bit in a new place.
Andrea Behling (left) and her mom, Becky Behling (right), pictured at B.A.S.H. Burger and Sushi House in Ottawa, Illinois.
Courtesy of Andrea Behling
Andrea Behling (left) and her mom, Becky Behling (right), pictured at B.A.S.H. Burger and Sushi House in Ottawa, Illinois.

My mom and I sat on a bench under a big, colorful mural in Ottawa, Illinois, sipping black coffee from the nearby bakery. It was the last morning of our weekend road trip on an unseasonably warm day in early March.

After just two days, Ottawa felt to us like one of those cities that becomes a main character of a movie. We even built out a story.

“Genevieve is the local reporter,” I said to my mom, motioning toward the Ottawa newspaper office, The Times. “She spends half her day in the LaSalle County Court House, and the other half eavesdropping on the trio of elderly men who sit in The Ottawa Bakery and quietly share the town’s juiciest secrets.”

My mom, picking up the story from there, took it into “Ozark” territory. “Then, Genevieve catches wind of a smuggling operation, and she finds herself sneaking onto a cargo barge that’s making its way down the Illinois River.”

We took turns evolving the story, working in Ottawa landmarks and other characters. The barkeep was having an affair with the mayor. The marina was a midnight meeting location, perfect for a quick getaway via speedboat. It became a ridiculous mess of plot points teetering back and forth between sweet, small town rom-com and tense crime drama. We broke our daydream with eye contact, and we laughed. The sun warmed our faces as we breathed in the last bit of our time together in a place that surprised us.

It was the best kind of road trip, we agreed. Ottawa was a small enough town that we had time to explore and get to know the place at a leisurely pace. Its streets were filled to the brim with locally owned shops and restaurants bursting with character. And, best of all, it was only a couple hours away, and not a single second was spent inside an airport, fighting for a parking spot or waiting in line.

We did new things — read more about our experience in a salt cave — and we did some not so new things, like stopping for a bloody mary at a local bar. We let the city be our guide, wandering from storefront to storefront. We decided Ottawa was our new favorite place.

After reading my associate editors’ “48 Hours In Red Wing, Minnesota” and “48 Hours in Holland, Michigan,” I could tell they also very much enjoyed their small town excursions. Each of us learned about the histories of the areas, we met business owners and we had fun living like locals for a bit in a new place.

And we came back with a clear message to readers: Take a road trip. Point to a small town within a few hundred miles, or choose from one of the 20 places we featured in our May issue. There are so many interesting destinations to be explored throughout the Midwest. It doesn’t have to be a big production — just pack up the car and play it by ear. There’s always an adventure to be found, and sometimes it’s where you’d least expect it.

Read the May cover story here. Order the May issue of Madison Magazine here.

Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine