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Thursday, May 24, 2007 02:32 pm

At the river’s edge

Lose track of time on the road to Grafton

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Untitled Document This time of year, office flu is going around. If you’ve ever suffered this malady, you know how the disease progresses: You clock in, get some coffee, scan your e-mail, maybe return a phone call or two. Then you notice sunshine winking through your window. You see foliage swaying slightly, indicating a breeze. You check the weather forecast and discover that three of four meteorologists agree that the rest of the day will be 78 and sunny. By this point, not even antibiotics can save you — you’ve caught the bug. You’ve got to play hooky. Those who lack imagination treat this virus with golf. Those who lack country-club memberships may want to try a different cure — a daylong road trip to Grafton. Head south out of town on I-55. Once you’ve had 70 miles of boring interstate, hop off at exit 30 (Illinois Highway 140) and head west. This road has the size and symmetry of a stalk of cooked spaghetti, but that’s OK, because the first 10 miles or so qualify as “the scenic route.” You can even stop and take souvenir photos at the big homemade sign announcing your proximity to Greenwich, England. It’s just across the road from where the buffalo roam (with any luck, you’ll see what I mean). The trip through Bethalto isn’t quite so delightful, so you might need to drive a few miles with your eyes closed. You’ll want to open them again when you arrive in Alton, which has preserved its historic charm. Your road will undergo a few name changes as you travel past Alton’s historic waterfront, through a grain elevator, and past the garishly glittering Argosy Casino. When you pass the stone quarry, with its painted depiction of the Piasa bird, you’ll know that you’re on the Great River Road (Highway 143). From here on you’ll see limestone bluffs on your right, the mighty Mississippi on your left. About a dozen enchanted miles down the road, you’re in Grafton.
A minute later, you’ve driven through the entire town. You have to stop, turn around, and choose a parking spot. From here on, your mission is to mosey. For a town with a population of less than 1,000, Grafton has more than its fair share of tempting restaurants, most situated right along Main Street. At O-Jan’s Fish Stand, 101 W. Main St., you can get catfish for two for about 10 bucks and dine outdoors on the upstairs deck overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. At the other end of the street is Beyond the Bubble, a new coffeehouse that could have been transplanted to Grafton from Soho, with vegetarian lunch specials, bubble tea, a juice bar, free wi-fi, and a large selection of fantastic Miam.Miam coffee mugs, ergonomically designed to fit your hand and your lips. In between are saloons, wineries, restaurants, boutiques, B&Bs, an ice-cream stand, and a plethora of artful junque emporiums. Not every place will be open, and several businesses have signs that announce their hours as “Maybe,” “Possibly,” and “We’ll see.”
In Grafton, see, they understand hooky. You’ll feel right at home.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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