Hanging Out in Rockford: The next big thing

Elisha gets rear ended in her beautiful little Volkswagen Beetle. It is totaled. We spend the whole day Saturday looking for a replacement car, starting in Waukegan, where we are 45 minutes late to buy a Saab convertible she has found on the Internet. We tour every auto dealership in Belvidere and Rockford without success until we get to Anderson Motors on Forest Hills Road. They are mobbed with business, but still manage to give us very personal attention. Five separate members of the staff wait on us at different times. Everyone is outrageously professional. I think they are always like that here. I have brought three women here to buy cars.

We are standing outside in front of the dealership when John Alex, our sales representative, recognizes Elisha from Hononegah High School. Then he calls me by name and says “Hanging out in Rockford.” He tells us that they take turns reading the column aloud on Wednesdays. We’re busted. We feel like movie stars.

The daily newspaper has just been filled with news stories about new developments in the River District. This happens every few years. The last time it happened was the Coronado Theatre. The Coronado was going to save downtown. At the time, I wrote a column saying don’t save us, just come and join us. We really didn’t need saving. It was just the next big thing. Rockford thrives on the next big thing. The daily newspaper can’t wait to report on the next big thing.

We seem to have a hard time admitting that we can do anything right in Rockford. We have some need to think of ourselves only in negative terms. When we want to know what we should do, we go somewhere else to see what they have done. When we need a new school superintendent or development director, we hire them from somewhere else. Anywhere else. We don’t seem to have confidence in our own ideas or our own people. We are looking for that next big thing.

The truth of the matter is that this hubbub is just another step in the natural evolution of our River District, an evolution that has probably been going on since the middle of the 1800s. It is hard for people to see beyond a distance of one or two years. Most Rockford people will never see it at all because they are waiting for the area to be redeveloped before they come and check it out. I mean why go down there if it needs redeveloping? We’ll wait until it is done. When it is like Peoria, or Madison, then we will go into the jungle of the urban environment.

The older section of this town is its only worthwhile part. There isn’t enough dynamite in creation to do what needs to be done to that part of town that contains, among other things, the Chipotle Grill, a grill I might mention, that is entirely devoid of the real thing (Chipotle). The type of people who like this kind of thing will hopefully stay on their side of town leaving the real city for those of us brave enough to go where the real Mexican people live and cook real Mexican food. Most of those people have no idea what Chipotle is or, for that matter, how to pronounce it. Let them stay way out on the east side, please.

In the meantime, those of us who love the real Rockford, the vibrant and lively multiethnic Rockford, the Rockford that doesn’t come out of a can or a freezer bag, will continue to endure the next big thing. We will continue to endure the divisiveness of the daily paper that rather than look for consensus, seeks strife. We will put up with the new expert, hired from somewhere else, who is going to solve all our problems (but who will probably be gone in a few years). We will put up with all of this and quietly continue to improve our neighborhood. We will put up with all of this and continue to enjoy that part of Rockford that the other side of town never gets to see.

You see, we live in a real town, and we are not afraid of it. We know our neighbors and are glad to see them. We enjoy the natural change that comes with the slow and constant improvement that the downtown has enjoyed over the past 20 years. It would help if y’all stopped saying negative things about us, but we’re not going to let it get us down. We know that the next big thing is the natural evolution of what we and our friends and neighbors have been doing for a long time. We know that there will be another next big thing, and that it is just a few years down the road. We know that it is because of what we have already accomplished, but that you will never admit it, or for that matter give us all credit for it, because you just can’t wait for the next big thing.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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