Smile Politely

A Building, A Feeling, and A Latrine: 80s throwback

It’s summertime 2019, and from the clothes people are trying to sell you to the Stranger Things you’re watching, everything has a 1980s throwback neon/pastel look to it. Hoping to jump on board the nostalgia train for a time I never knew, I went around town looking for buildings, feelings and latrines that fit that aesthetic.

Spirit Tree (the tall sculpture by the Urbana City Building)

I’ve seen this strange structure for years whenever I’m travelling down Vine Street in Urbana. I always thought it was some weird public art dating back to the 80s. Turns out it was only finished in 2012, and the artist John David Mooney is a Champaign native, and world renowned! (he’s even got his own Wikipedia page, that’s how you know he’s important) Technically the whole mini park there is supposed to be a single, cohesive piece of art, but I’m gonna go ahead and only talk about Spirit Tree.

While from afar, the Spirit Tree looks a bit janky, up close it is quite imposing and mesmerizing. It stands tall alongside its organic pine tree brethren.

I’m especially taken by the one weird tail bit. Why is it pointing down? What does it mean?

The main reason that Spirit Tree is in this column though is that at night it gives off a pale blue/purple glow — the color of our 1980s cyberpunk future!

Wait what? The lights are just white now? When did this happen?

Dangit, I’m not making this up! The Spirit Tree really was blue before! This News Gazette article shows it to be so!

Ugh, well the white is a lot more classy anyhow, doesn’t give off as many strip club vibes. Overall an improvement, just a bummer for this 80s neon column. Also the lights were never neon anyhow, they’ve always been LEDs.

Fun discovery: it looks like a number of spiders take up residence in the Spirit Tree in the evenings.

The one on the northern spire appears to be doing particularly well for herself (left spider). Surely she is the Spider Queen of Urbana. Someday soon, mosquitoes will no longer sate her, and she will break into the Common Ground in search of artisanal cured meats.

VERDICT:  Next time you’re at the Urbana Farmer’s Market, skip across the street and take a look at Spirit Tree and its sister sculpture “Falling Leaf.” They’re worth the walk.

Trying on some vintage outfits at Furniture Lounge

If you’ve never been to Furniture Lounge in downtown Champaign, it’s a store that sells all sorts of stuff (including furniture) which (mostly) conform to the Mid Century Modern aesthetic. They’ve got records, books, knick knacks, and their collection of vintage clothes is so broad and eclectic that I always enjoy popping in and trying on some shirts that are older than I am.

Now, for the purposes of this column in particular, it’s important to emphasize that Mid Century Modern and 80s neon/pastel/nostalgia/synthwave are absolutely not the same aesthetics, however, you can usually find some great 80s garbs at Furniture Lounge anyway.

I however fucked up completely, and instead of looking like I was from Miami Vice, I created an outfit that I call “Very Religious, but Still Fun 1970s Dad Who is Throwing a Fondue Party.”

VERDICT:  I’m sure you dear reader would be more successful in assembling a great 80s summer look. Regardless, the clothing basement at Furniture Lounge is always a good time.

The Men’s Room at Arrowhead Lanes

I only recently went to Arrowhead Lanes for the first time, but I love it. Though the building itself is so mid century it could be sold at Furniture Lounge, the interior is a magical hodgepodge of sights and sounds from many eras. This is the most retrowave bowling alley in town. Just look at this carpet!

And THIS carpet!

The colors! The stains! The party ladies! Wow.

The bathrooms aren’t quite as aesthetic, but still: the colors! The harsh fluorescent lighting! The clashing tile choices!

I rather enjoy how all of the sinks and faucets are mismatched. Even the toilets in the two stalls are different.

The most aesthetic part of this bathroom by far is this framed, mirrored advertisement for Budweiser Ice Draft.

This advertisement is so extreme, it’s not even rectangular, but is a rhombus, and for some reason it’s mounted just inches from the ceiling (probably so mischievous teens can’t steal it to hang in their own bedrooms). I did some research and Ice Draft was released in 1993 and is no longer produced. Even though it debuted in the 90s, I think this video from the time proves that Budweiser Ice Draft, and by extension this whole bowling alley restroom, belong in this 1980s throwback column.

VERDICT: Budweiser Ice Draft has a rich, smooth draft taste that’s remarkably easy to drink.


Well folks, I mostly failed to tap into that 80s coolness, but I hope you’ll tune in next month anyway!

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