I grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Rockford is a town of about 150,000 people that is 80 miles west of Chicago. This means that anyone from outside Rockford believes it is a suburb of Chicago. So in an effort to distinguish inself, Rockford hosts an ice-sculpting contest every winter and a big music and food festival at the end of every summer. But these are not the types of things that really set a town apart.
As a child, I knew that Rockford was a big industrial town, famed for its production of machinery and accompanying parts. I learned that my hometown had once been known as the Screw Capital of the World. Now there’s something a girl can be proud to tell her college roommates when they ask where she is from. Rockford lost that title but quickly picked up a new one: Worst City in the Country. Money Magazine ranked Rockford the worst place to live in the United States. Every year we duked it out with Flint, Michigan, for the bottom position. And we won. Twice.
After seeing my hometown repeatedly knocked around, I was excited to learn a couple years ago that Rockford was vying for a new title: Home of the Sock Monkey. Apparently some company in town claimed to have been the first to create one of those goofy puppets using a sock. I was excited to see Rockford moving in a new direction, one that seemed to embrace creativity and the arts. Well, maybe that’s a stretch.
I doubt most people ever learned about the sock monkeys, but no matter, for Rockford now has a new title: Home of the Terrorist. As Greg and I drove home Friday night, we heard a report on National Public Radio about a terrorist who had been caught in Rockford, Illinois. I quickly pushed the up button on the volume so I could hear every word. It seems that police caught a man trying to buy hand grenades. He planned to set off the grenades in trash cans within the mall right before Christmas. Fortunately, he was arrested before he could enact his plot.
And so once again Rockford gets a bad rap. I feel really sorry for the people of Rockford, most of whom are wonderful. They deserve to be known for something good. For just once in their lives.