Smile Politely

WORST 2021

Last year was terrible, and this year, frankly, wasn’t all that much better. Highlights include vaccines and boosters (thank you, science!) and that one glorious month of June when we had hope before Delta arrived. But this article is not a highlight reel of good — it’s the end of the year roast of the trashiest trash, the things that made us pull at our hair, release exasperated sighs, and gesticulate wildly. 

I think it’s safe to assume that most of us want the same things for our community: health, safety, some decent food, a little happiness, and some cultural and intellectual stimulation. Let us reflect upon this list of fails, broken promises, and poor choices, and vow to make change in 2022. 

— Jessica Hammie, Managing Editor

WORST election turnout: Champaign County municipal elections

Screenshot of Champaign County Official voting results from APril 6, 2021. Black text on a white backround. Screenshot from the Champaign County Clerk's Office website.

Screenshot from the Champaign County Clerk’s Office website.

Just over 16,000 voters turned out for the consolidated election in April. That’s out of about 120,000 eligible voters in the county. Municipal elections aren’t as flashy as Presidential elections, but city councils and other local governing bodies have much more effect on our day to day lives. Right now, city councils and the county board are deciding how to spend millions of dollars in America Rescue Plan funding. We all need to be paying attention to these smaller yet immensely important elections. (JM)

WORST Food + Drink loss to pandemic: Beloved menus and items

The kale bounty salad at Watson's in Champaign, Illinios. Tuscan kale salad with roasted vegetables, sunflower seeds, and goat cheese is served on a round white plate with a brown decorative edge. The plate is on a wood table. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie.

So many restaurants permanently shuttered their doors in the last two years, and that sucks. I’m so grateful to and for those that survived, and I encourage you to make an effort to include a locally owned restaurant into your regular take- and dining-out rotation. 

What kind of sucks, though, is that so many restaurants had to pare down their menus to accommodate supply and staffing shortages and otherwise find opportunities to put themselves in the black instead of the red. I miss Black Dog’s meatloaf special, and Watson’s bounty salad with kale and roasted veggies. (JH)

WORST response to ongoing gun violence: Champaign-Urbana 

Photo of a rock with a commmorative plate acknowledging lives lost to gun violence. On the left of the image is an orange sign that says

Photo by Erin Ewoldt.

Too many lives have been lost. Too many families have been traumatized. 

As a community, we permitted gun violence, lack of opportunity, and general disenfranchisement of Black and Brown and poor neighborhoods. We told ourselves that the gun violence was inevitable in “those” neighborhoods. We didn’t take notice or grow deeply concerned until the gun violence spilled out of “those” neighborhoods and shootings began to happen in the middle of the day, in places they hadn’t before, in “nice” neighborhoods, around schools (!) and places of business. 

We’ve written about this a few times this year. As a magazine, that’s what we can do. It almost means nothing to say that these are complex problems with complex solutions — we all, ourselves at SP included, keep saying this as a means to comfort ourselves for not doing enough, or to offer something to the people with power and money to enact change. Some things are true: gun violence in C-U is as bad as it’s ever been. Our city leaders need to do more, which is not to say that they are doing nothing, but it is to say that what they are doing is, in fact, not helping. Funding is needed for a wide variety of services. The non-municipal organizations doing work need to come together, share information and resources and find a more effective way of enacting their services. Policing needs to improve, and not just through surveillance. 

We are all culpable in the deaths of these young people.

A lot has to change, and we all need to do the work to make those changes happen. (JH)

WORST political moment: Mary Miller quoting Hitler right before an insurrection

Screenshot of video of Representative Mary Miller (IL-15) speaking outside at a podium. She is a thin, blonde white woman wearing a black coat with a fur collar. The lecturn has two microphones pointed at the center of the space. There is a sign on the front of the lecturn that says

Screenshot from the Chicago Sun-Times.

I don’t think anything else needs to be said here. (JM)

WORST attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19: Lack of vaccination requirement at U of I sporting events 

Four University of Illinois football players are mid-jump toward each other on a football field. Thousands of fans are in the stands in the background. Photo from

Photo from

There is one set of rules for faculty, staff, and students: vaccination required, masks in building required. Vendors and contractors visiting campus need to follow masking rules and be escorted by a university employee. 

Sporting events? No proof of vaccination or a negative test result necessary. Masks are “required,” but can be removed for eating and drinking. Memorial Stadium is technically outdoors, but anyone who has been in a place like that knows that there isn’t much airflow — you can definitely smell the hot dog burps of Chad, Braydon, and Mike sitting a couple rows behind you. 

What’s going to happen when COVID cases (already on the rise again) spike as we move indoors and have many holiday gatherings and there are 15,000 people in the State Farm Center cheering on the Illini in the dead of winter? What happens when the beloved student athletes contract COVID right before the Big 10 tournament? 

Attendees are already used to screening processes and clear bags and metal detectors. Adding in proof of vaccination and/or a negative PCR test is not going to create some sort of chaos bottleneck situation. Why not protect the fans, the players, and the people who have to work in the building by adding this simple requirement? There are many ways to incentivize this sort of thing, and it could be a really great way for the University to meaningfully engage with the community. (JH)

WORST support for the arts: The City of Champaign

Photo of metal sculpture featuring large circles and gears within them. Photo by Sam Logan.

Photo by Sam Logan.

It’s no secret that artists across the country have been hard hit during the pandemic. At a time when additional support is needed, The City of Champaign continues to reduce their arts funding, while The City of Urbana has continued to provide grants and other opportunities for local arts, Local economies are ecosystems. So funding artists not only supports their work, it supports the small businesses that serve artists or benefit from their performances and events. We need art in our lives and in our cities now more than ever. We need imagination. We need to spotlight previously unheard and unseen points of view. We need new narratives. But first we need to make sure artists on both sides of the C-U equation are equally supported. (DD)

WORST people: Assholes at restaurants 

You know the ones: the ones who complain about a QR code menu, who refuse to mask upon entry, the ones who leave no tip, and the ones who post in Spotted in Champaign to complain when they could have just spoken with a manager. They’re the actual worst. 

After a year of restrictions, the C-U dining scene is thriving, and people are at restaurants again. Act like the guest you are. It’s their business, their building, their rules. Don’t like it? Go somewhere else, get your food to-go, or stay home and cook your own damn food. If you’re going to dine out, follow the rules, tip big, and have patience. Likely the place you’re at is short staffed, so give a little grace to your server who takes an extra minute to get your drink order and be kind to those who are busting their ass to make and bring you your food. And say thank you. The servers who are serving you are people, and let’s treat our restaurant industry with the same kindness you expect from them. (AB)

WORST employment ad: This one from Tom Pliura

Screenshot of help wanted ad. Black text on white background reads

Image from Tom Pliura’s Facebook page.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Pliura, who runs Campustown Urgent Care on Green and Wright, made our WORST list last year for sidestepping C-U Public Health, posting test results on his Facebook page, and continually downplaying the pandemic. His page continues to be a hot mess of COVID misinformation — one of his recent posts is questioning the number of COVID deaths while also somehow bringing Hitler into it. 

But seriously: What is this unprofessional, homophobic nonsense? (JM)

WORST restaurant news: Lil Porgy’s fire

Photo of Lil Porgy's sign against a blue sky with puffy white and gray clouds. The rood of the restaurant is visible on the right. A red, vertical OPEN sign is on the left. Photo by Julie McClure.

Photo by Julie McClure.

Lil Porgy’s fire in April was definitely the worst restaurant news. In April, an accidental fire in the commercial cooking pit burned the restaurant, and while no injuries were reported, the fire damage was significant. Thankfully, the restaurant on Springfield Avenue is open again. (AB)

WORST school administration response: Mahomet-Seymour High School 

Photo of a coaster that says

Photo from Mahomet-Seymour CUSD 3 Facebook page.

If you are not aware of what happened to some of the students at Mahomet-Seymour High School back in September, you can read the full story here. In short, during spirit week at the school, a student wore a LGBTQ+ pride flag on U.S.A Day. The student was met with verbal harassment and online bullying, and another student was called hateful slurs and physically assaulted. The school administration did absolutely nothing at the time to show support of the victims or reprimand the perpetrators, and still haven’t addressed it at the time of writing this. 

Schools should be a place where everyone is welcomed with open arms and feels comfortable opening up and learning. This is more than bullying, these are acts of hate and violence directed at a minority group. The fact that Mahomet-Seymour High School admin has brushed this event off shows their true colors, and not standing in support of the victims shows that the school could care less about creating a truly safe environment for all of their students. (SW)

WORST PR stunt: The Ribeye

The exterior of the Ribeye restaurant in Champaign. A red awning with the restaurant's name is across the top of the entrance. Photo by Sean O'Conner.

Photo by Sean O’Conner.

We reported that The Ribeye would close and open with new management based on information shared online and also reported by The News-Gazette, but when the restaurant reopened, I called to ask about the changes. The man on the phone told me that it was the same owners, same menu. If that isn’t the most anti-climactic reopening, I don’t know what is. (AB) 

WORST Zoom-life side effect on remote panel discussions and classes: The death of Q & A participation

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting with 7 people logged in. Screen shot by Debra Domal.

Screenshot by Debra Domal.

I get it. Zoom fatigue is real, especially as the pandemic continues through 2021 and into 2022. But not participating (e.g., commenting or chatting) in a Zoom event is like not clapping at a live performance. It leaves the speaker or performer feeling like they’re literally shouting into the void. I know it’s scary to ask a question that will be livestreamed and recorded. But keep it simple, be sincere, and go for it. Or if that feels like too much, just type a quick thanks into the chat. It will be greatly appreciated. The ability to engage in thoughtful discussion is like a muscle. If we don’t use it, we might just lose it. (DD)

Alyssa Buckley, Debra Domal, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Sean Wilkinson contributed to this article.

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