Rockford

Rockford used to seem like the edge of the world to me. As kids, we only went all the way out here when Kelly managed to stutter her way into the regional spelling bee. One year, we made a whole day of the event, bringing packed lunches and everything we would need to spend the entire day in Rockford for the spelling tournament. Kelly was eliminated on the worst word - premier.

Don't feel too bad, Kelly. I actually had to look up the spelling just now.

I'm nearing the end of my stay in Rockford, and as the moving date is getting closer, I'm seeing now that it is probably going to be a lot harder to bid farewell to the edge of the world than I had anticipated. I had a wonderful time here. Rockford is a unique place.

My imminent departure got me thinking about some of my favorite spots in Rockford.

Beacon Hill

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I've lived about two years in Beacon Hill apartments. Around when I was moving in, it was rumored that there was a stabbing the week before. As a result, people at work began to refer to it affectionately as stabby heights. Sorry to let you all down, but I didn't witness a single stabbing.

The scariest it got for me was on a hot summer night while I was taking out the trash. Before I tossed the bag into the dumpster, two beady little eyes caught my attention. I put down the bag and focused on the little glimmer in the darkness. Slowly, a little face formed around the dark, round, unblinking eyes. I recoiled in fear. For some reason, my first thought was Oh my gosh, there is a kid hanging out in this dumpster.

"Hey - what are you doing in there! Get out of there!." The kid just sat there motionless. The stirring of his jaw revealed he was chewing something.

"Stop eating the trash! It's not good for you!" I shouted. No response from the dark stranger. I took out my phone, remembering I had a flashlight app.

With my flashlight out, I could see the face belonged to a raccoon. I had been talking to a raccoon. It's a shame there were no witnesses. I'm sure any bystander would have been amused hearing me shout "Stop eating garbage, it's not good for you!' at a raccoon in the dumpster.

But like I said, as far as violent and dangerous encounters, it could have gotten much worse than a self-righteous scolding of a woodland creature by my dumpster. I had a great time living in Beacon Hill. The staff was warm, cordial, and always prompt. My neighbors were great people too.

Blackhawk Forest Preserve

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Rockford will always be the town where I discovered my ability to get in shape. Most of the sweat and tears were shed on the treadmill in the back corner of the Planet Fitness on Alpine Road, but occasionally my wife would convince me to go for a jog outside.

I hate running outside, but there was plenty of beautiful scenery at the Blackhawk Forest Preserve to take my mind off my own exercise preferences. Someone once aptly described it to me as where the Calvin and Hobbes comics really should have taken place.

I had heard about an interesting phone app that could spice up the outdoor running I dreaded. Zombie Run turned your run into an interactive audio book where you spent the duration of your workout surviving as a courier in a zombie apocalypse. It was pretty immersive, incorporating your speed, direction, and music play list into the experience.

I tried it out. Marissa wanted to run at a more casual pace, so we split up. The plan was that I would turn back after a mile and a half, making it a three mile run that would end at the car.

I must have gotten a little distracted by my zombie audio book. The adrenaline of running for my life had carried me five miles to where the trail ended. Mystified and exhausted, I paced around the woods for a few minutes wondering how I would make it back before sunset. Making matters worse, I had the only set of car keys, so my wife was to be stranded until I returned.

My wife had to call the police. A squad car found me huddled up in some playground equipment. My wife had taken shelter from the wind in a Port-o-potty.

Five Forks

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Five Forks is our favorite restaurant in Rockford. Don't let the tiny plates and the emphasis on lunch fool you. It's filling - and sure to put you in a good food coma.

When the recent tornados passed through Rockford, I didn't know it was such a big deal. We were supposed to celebrate my wife's birthday that night, and I had already gotten my dress clothes on. My wife, nervously watching the radar, recommended we stayed home.

Stay home? Did I put on uncomfortable dress pants for nothing? I don't think so. I wasn't having that at all. So I was the reason we stupidly ventured out in a tornado hail storm to eat shrimp toast and duck.

The tornado missed us, but my wife still teases me about how cavalier this restaurant made me feel during one of the worst tornados Rockford has ever experienced.

Seriously, try this place out - but make sure hell isn't raining from the sky first.

Jo-Jo's Pizza and Pub

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This is where Marissa works, but before my wife made her way behind the bar, it was our favorite place to hang out.

Jo-Jo's is a bar that, from the outside, seems surgically attached to a laundromat. Inside, it's a comfortable, personal paradise. My wife and I have had the best talks over Joe's deep dish pizza. The hot wings are good too, but I have a hard time talking while eating those.

I've told a few people this before, but I really think everyone could use a good bar. I'm blown away by how many people I've met at Jo-Jo's during the short time Marissa has worked there compared to the two years I've been living in Rockford.

Closing

We had some good times in Rockford. I recently celebrated with my work friends at Jo-Jo's, and when I had finally managed to pull the axe out of my forehead the following day, I found a text from one of my co-workers. I think it's brilliant, so I'm going to completely hijack it.

As the boy scout saying goes, leave the campsite in better condition than you found it. I'm a better person for having known you.

I was deeply humbled, and for the first time it caused me to reflect on the affect I had on Rockford. I was overcome with the feeling that the people of Rockford gave me so much more than I ever thought to give back. Albeit a little late in our stay, I really hope I have somehow left it better than I had found it. Not just the city either - but the people. As we move to Madison in about a month, I'm encouraged to get another chance with another campsite.

Rockford, you certainly left me better than you had found me. Thanks for the good times.