MOPCon III - a fantastic weekend in Joliet

MOP Con III--that's the third annual Miles of Possibility Route 66 Conference for the uninitiated--is now one for the history books. A memorable weekend in Joliet, Illinois, drew attendees from numerous states plus Canada. I salute Debyjo Ericksen, conference organizer, for a fun and informative weekend!

As in the first two MOP Cons (Edwardsville 2015 and Bloomington-Normal 2016), the weekend featured historical tours, a variety of presentations, entertainment, and social/dinner get-togethers. On Thursday, October 19, well-known preservationist/author John Weiss led a bus tour from Joliet to Dwight and back. And on Thursday evening, our group met up for hard-hitting rock 'n roll at The Forge in downtown Joliet. The opening band got extra stage time due to the tardiness of the featured band. The Blooze Brothers finally arrived. Although some of the Boomers left to seek out a quieter venue, most stayed for perennial favorites like "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Soul Man."

The conference itself began in earnest on Friday morning, October 20, where two days of presentations, screenings, and break-out sessions were held in the Joliet Area Museum. This served as an excellent venue, with Route 66 flavor in the Welcome Center and gift shop, and adequate space for programs, vendors, and exhibits.

Friday morning's schedule began with Illinois Office of Tourism Director Corey Job delivering the keynote address. Corey gave us facts and figures that made us proud to be involved with Illinois tourism. A ripple of excitement in the crowd was palpable for the next happening. A press conference announced the purchase of the too-long-empty Launching Pad with its silent sentinel, the Gemini Giant, in Wilmington. Holly Barker and Tully Garrett, a couple with an intriguing story of love, loss, love again, and a fresh start, are the new owners of the classic Route 66 attraction. 

Next up was an update on the Road Ahead Initiative presented by Chair Bill Thomas and a look at the state of the Illinois film industry presented by Deputy Director Lou Ferrara of the Illinois Film Office. After lunch on our own (most of us went to the Route 66 Diner), break-out sessions offered two choices each hour for four hours. 

On Friday evening, the Tin Roof Restaurant downtown was the restaurant of choice, although I have to admit i opted for a couple hours of rest instead. Then everyone gathered at the magnificent Rialto Square Theatre to enjoy our favorite Route 66 band, the Road Crew. Joe Loesch, Don King Jr., Woody Bomar, and Jason Harmon debuted a new original song, "Miles of Possibility," dedicated to our Illinois conference series! The Road Crew, although smooth and tight at every one of the half-dozen gigs at which I've heard them, was really cooking with gas this night. The Rialto, they admitted afterwards, was a big inspiration. 

Saturday's sessions did not disappoint, with again a good variety. I gave a presentation on some of the Illinois Women of Route 66 during the first slot of the morning and appreciated the large and engaged crowd. 

Exhibitors Mike and Sharon Ward and Steve Rider brought their outstanding displays of Route 66 postcards and memorabilia from Mesa AZ and Albany NY, respectively, and set up in the lobby of the museum. In the adjacent Renaissance Center, several vendors, including Cheryl Church, Joyce Harbin Cole, Marie Fiedler, Jim Hinckley, and Jerry McClanahan, displayed their wares.

The brief closing ceremony at 4:00 pm was well attended. We had attempted to keep up the suspense with the announcement of the mystery hosts and location for next year's MOP Con IV. Terri Ryburn came up with the clever idea to have an actual mop, signed by Debyjo, Terri, and me, to pass to each other as we talked about the three events so far, and then to symbolically pass to the 2018 hosts. After thanks and announcements, Debyjo called Terri and me up to the front. We each gave brief remarks about the conferences and then Debyjo called Ron and Deb Young to the front. Debyjo announced that Ron was the operator of Cherry Tree Gifts and that Deb was the President of Tourism in...and she motioned to me. "Carlinville!" I gleefully announced, to a nice round of applause for Carlinville.

With that, the 2017 MOP Con was officially concluded, and everyone finished packing up, some to hit the highway yet that evening. But about two dozen of us, organized by one of our favorite roadies, Dean Kennedy, drove north on 66 out of Joliet to White Fence Farm. Amazingly, only a handful of us had ever eaten there. (I had not.) The place is enormous! The chicken entrees are ordered and served individually, but the yummy sides are served family-style, and arrive at the table soon after ordering. Food to eat while waiting (and inhaling the aroma) on the fried chicken!

Each year I find more pride and enjoyment in what is now an annual major Illinois Route 66 event, but was--in my mind in 2015--a one-off. I'm looking forward to MOP Con IV in the charming city of Carlinville next October 25-27! I will always be grateful to Dr. Terri Ryburn of Normal IL and Debyjo Ericksen of Joliet IL for keeping the MOP going!

On the way home on Sunday, I eventually found out that I was not the only one feeling sad that the weekend was over. I had a wonderful breakfast--alone--at the Heritage House Restaurant in Wilmington and was driving the old road from Joliet south, stopping here and there for photos. By the time I reached Pontiac, I still hadn't bumped into friends anywhere. But at Pontiac the impromptu meetings began. The last get-together of the trip home--for me, anyway--was at The Mill in Lincoln, where Geoff Ladd had stayed well past closing time. Geoff, David Schwartz, Marie Fiedler, Jo Ann Faust Kargus, Brenda St. Clair, and I had one great last visit and photo session before we all said, "I REALLY have to get going," and went our separate ways. We all look forward to seeing each other again next event season!


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