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.