Smile Politely

A decade of life in Champaign-Urbana

I hit a major milestone recently dear readers. Yes, August of this year was the 10th anniversary of me moving to Champaign-Urbana! I gotta tell you, I didn’t intend to stay in this town for very long, but now I can barely imagine living anywhere else!

To mark this anniversary, I’ve put together this special retrospective of my time in town including important events and firsts for each year, starting in 2011. Don’t worry readers, I’ll try not to get too emotional as I drag you forcibly down my own memory lane.


I moved to Chambana to start a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science.
Yes dear readers, I’ve tried to hide this from you for so long but it’s true, the only reason I moved to town was because I’m a weird little dweeb who loves books. I’d never been to Champaign before the day I moved in. For my first year here I lived in grad student housing at Goodwin-Green. My room was very… spartan, but that was fine, I’d just gotten rid of most of my belongings prior to moving from the West coast anyhow. Coming from undergrad at a small liberal arts school, UIUC was a pretty big culture change, but I quickly got used to the amount of vomit on the sidewalks.


I didn’t get out and see the sights too much while in grad school, but I did take one trip with a friend to the Chanute Air Museum (RIP). I love planes and this museum in Rantoul had some very good ones. I’d planned to visit the museum again before they closed in 2015, but they shut their doors earlier than planned, and I never got another visit. If you ever see me in person though, you can ask me about it and I’ll give you exhaustive details on every plane that was there.

The writer is standing underneath a plane in a hanger. He is holding his hands up and looking surprised. Photo by Marlene Brawner.

Photo by Marlene Brawner.

Observant readers will notice that I don’t have a beard in 2012. I was a wee, squishy, baby-child.


Wow, this was a huge year for me. I graduated with my Master’s degree. I got a job offer here in Champaign and, against my better judgement, accepted it because, ya’know money and such. I participated in my first Edible Book Festival with some friends and we won a prize for “The Bundt for Red October.”

A bundt cake with blue and white icing dripping down the sides. It's flanked by two submarines made out of chocolate cake and sitting on a platter. Photo by Charles Bjork.

Photo by Charles Bjork.

(Yes, those submarines are made of cake)

I went dancing at C Street (RIP) for the first time as a crew member in a Star Trek-themed bachelorette party. But most importantly, I grew a beard for the first time late this year. I think I would have eventually grown a beard regardless of where I lived (mostly because I got tired of shaving so often), but the frigid Illinois winters certainly sped up that decision.


My first time attending the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival (RIP), a truly magical event. This was the year Eddie Money was there, but I was much more interested in the funnel cakes, corndogs, and 60oz alcoholic beverages available for purchase.


Some friends and I won an award for the game we submitted to the CUDO Plays board game design competition (a local organization that I’m still very active with). And also I wrote my very first Building/Feeling/Latrine for Smile Politely (a local organization I’m still very active with).


My first time doing an escape room at CU Adventures in Time and Space, and also my first time attending a friend’s wedding in C-U.

Five people are posing for a photo in front of a fake brick wall. Three are wearing animal masks, one is wearing a ski mask, and the writer has a fake knife through the head. Photo by CU Adventures in Time and Space.

Photo by CU Adventures in Time and Space.

(This photo is from the escape room, not the wedding)


This is the first year I attended the 40 North Untitled fundraiser gala, which remains one of my favorite events every year. Also, my first time going to the Pens to Lens red carpet screening, another amazing local event that should not be missed.


This was the year I had JURY DUTY, and what could be more imporant than that? Something I’m glad I don’t have to do every year, but I think everyone should do once in their life. Honestly if you gotta have jury duty, there are worse places to have it than the Champaign County Courthouse. (I tried to take pics of the proceedings for my column and those courthouse folks DID NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL)


My first time attending the Champaign County Fair. All of the junk food I adore plus demolition derby! It was my first time seeing any demo derby. Controversial opinion: the small car and van rounds are the most fun. The old muscle cars just kinda waddle around and nudge each other.


I feel like my 2020 is already well documented on Smile Politely. I will say I spent more time outside in the fickle Illinois climate this year than any other before. I was even caught in that wild hail storm that happened over the summer.

And then there’s 2021: that’s today! Important things have certainly happened this year, but I won’t be able to pick the most impactful events until I can look back on them from 2022.

This is all great stuff, but obviously I haven’t stuck around this long because of just corndogs and escape rooms. I stay in Champaign-Urbana because of my amazing group of creative and supportive friends! If you don’t have any Chambana friends, I can’t recommend them enough, you really gotta get some. I’d tell you the names of all my friends, but that would be weird and invasive.

Anyhow, whether it’s your first year here in Chambana or your 77th… I hope you’ll be back to read my column next month!

Top photo by Tom Ackerman.

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