Man About Town: American perfection: Autumn in a Midwestern college town

Prediction: I will one day be decapiated by a small woman (probably my own wife) with a giant carry-on who, in trying to stuff a ridiculously oversized piece of furniture into an overhead Delta bin, drops it on my noggin as I sit in my aisle seat, thumbing an airline magazine selling self-replenishing dog bowls and thinking, "I really ought to get one of those and — WHAM, BAM.

"Oh, is he all right?"

No, actually I'm dead, a seatback tray lacerating my sinuses. "Please sit up for takeoff," the flight attendant will say, tapping me gently on the back.

These days, commercial aircraft are merely RVs with wings, attracting the sorts of people who would stuff their own mother into their carry-on bag if it saved them 25 bucks. In addition, the airlines fly at almost full capacity, or beyond, overbooking every plane. Call it the clown car principle of maximizing profits.

Anyway, that's just one of the indignities I endure for the college girl as we head off for her last parents weekend at that overpriced university she's attended for 3.25 years. Here in the heartland, they're predicting a robust pumpkin crop, even though the corn seems to have all choked. Good luck getting a burger in about six months, though as I've warned you before, grass-fed beef is always better.

Meanwhile, a fine Indian summer has settled in here at the overpriced college. Many of the dads in the Midwest look a little pregnant to me — not bad, three months, maybe four. The moms and daughters perch their sunglasses up on their heads like tiaras. Right away you can tell who runs things.

Yet, they are the sweetest people. Met a dude visiting from San Diego. We're just talking, and he tells me how he's always caught off-guard by this particular Midwestern virtue, a civility that warms the place — the holding of doors, the chitchat during idle moments. You see that out here in California too, of course, but only on Christmas Eve.

They are, as you may guess, in great spirits here, it being early autumn. What Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, what New Year's is to drunks, early autumn is to Midwesterners. It lasts about three weeks and smells of wet wool and bratwurst. Then the winter storms start arriving, and the Edmund Fitzgerald sinks, followed by the Bears and Colts, signaling another bruising winter for these hearty yolk-on-their-teeth folks. But right now, there's almost no place I would rather visit.

OK, there are 100 places I would rather visit, though we do have a moment in a no-frills joint called Harry's, a plywood dumpster with beer taps, when I look at another father and say: "Hey, Jim, would you rather be anywhere else? I mean, seriously?"

Paris is the knee-jerk answer, and sure, it has its pleasures. But Paris has nothing on a college town on a perfect autumn day. No, I am not being facetious one bit.

The food is better, for one. For the pre-game tailgate, Molly's mom made an incredible brisket, on Yom Kippur, so it's blessed. There's 100 kinds of food here, 14 types of brownies alone, yellowing sycamores silhouetted against a searing blue sky. Last night, I had walleye.


Sure, you can go to Paris, or you can go to Madison, Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa, or any other big college venue and have a morning you'll absolutely treasure, surrounded by your children in their final stages of childishness.

We awoke at daybreak, dressed in costume — a senior class tradition here. By 9, we were standing in a bar holding Bloody Marys the size of small propane tanks.

As you know, I don't approve of drinking under any circumstances, but you're got to credit this guy Michael for the YouTube mockup (see photo). It's now on his wall somewhere on campus, with the signatures and phone numbers of about a dozen young women who thought it was the cleverest idea ever.

Wonderful, these smiley sons and daughters of middle-class America. Just ahead, a miserable job market and crushing debt. Otherwise, we've left them a pretty perfect world.

For them, life will get more interesting and in many ways far richer than right now. But I don't know that it will ever get better than a perfect fall weekend like this.


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