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  #1  
Old 02-24-2013, 02:47 PM
Billy-o Billy-o is offline
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Rockford, IL area Dopers -- what do you think of Rockford?

I recently had a job interview in Rockford, Illinois. The interview went well, so I think there's a decent chance I may be offered the job (here's hoping!). I don't know too much about the city, though, other than what I've researched online and the little I saw during the interview.

If any Dopers have thoughts on the city, I'd love to hear them. What do you love about it? What do you dislike?

Initially, my impressions are:
Pro:
1. The Klehm Arboretum and Gardens are lovely
2. There seem to be some nice ethnic restaurants in town
3. There's some decent cultural stuff in town (museums, symphony, indie films)
4. Chicago and Madison aren't far away
5. Argonne National Labs and FermiLab are close (I dig that stuff)

Con:
1. The little I saw of it was very industrial, with not much green space
2. The economy there seems not so good -- lots of closed shopfronts downtown

Further info: I'm a single fella in my early 40s, so having stuff to do on Saturday nights would be a plus.

Do any Dopers have thoughts on Rockford? Thanks in advance!

Last edited by Billy-o; 02-24-2013 at 02:48 PM..
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  #2  
Old 02-24-2013, 03:04 PM
Spice Weasel Spice Weasel is offline
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My Aunt and Grandmother both moved to Rockford. In my experience it's a very nice place to visit, particularly because there are such a wide variety of delicious restaurants. In particular you must check out Chocolate by Daniel; the best chocolate I've ever had in my life. Closest I've ever been to being high.

In the area where they live, community life is pretty robust. There is a farmer's market and they are within walking distance of a strip mall. I don't think their grocery store options are fantastic, but my Aunt got around that by signing up for one of those food-co-ups where they have local fruits and veggies delivered to their door weekly. I don't know of any green spaces right in Rockford, but there are some within driving distance for sure.

I don't know how you lean politically, but they had a hard time finding liberal friends in Rockford. There also appears to be a paucity of geeks, but they do exist at least in small quantities. In general it's your typical Midwest suburban culture. My Aunt and Uncle probably lived there a good year or two before they really felt like they had a solid social network.

One thing my Aunt figured is that they would go to Chicago a lot. But they don't go much, because it's a long and stressful drive. Within the next few years they are supposed to get high-speed rail from Rockford to Chicago, so that might change soon.

Rockford is sort of out in the middle of nowhere. There is really not much between Rockford and Chicago, just lots of open fields and small industrial spots.

Personally I don't think I'd want to live in Rockford, but I've lived in far worse places.

Last edited by Spice Weasel; 02-24-2013 at 03:06 PM..
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  #3  
Old 02-24-2013, 04:25 PM
GrandWino GrandWino is offline
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Cheap Trick is from there. That's all I got.

Oh, they have a pretty legit music festival/concert series on the river every Summer. Usually draws decent bands.
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  #4  
Old 02-24-2013, 06:06 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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It's ok. The chocolate place that olives mentioned is really great. It's changed a lot since I lived there but I have a lot of family there still. There was not a lot of culture when I lived there, and it is very conservative. Great Italian food. Decent community college. PM me if you do get the job and I can go into more detail. (I'm dying to know where you interviewed.)

The music festival is called On the Waterfront and I saw Iron Butterfly there. There are tons of bars, some fun stuff in a downtown area that they are constantly trying to revitalize. And we drove to Madison all the time.
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  #5  
Old 02-24-2013, 07:20 PM
tenacious j tenacious j is offline
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We moved from Milwaukee, where there actually were great restaurants and independent film, and current musical acts came through town. It took a while to adjust, to say the least.
I really think how you fit in depends on who you are and what you are willing to give up, as well as how hard you want to work to find the silver lining. On the Waterfront is gone, the only real sport here is hockey, the music scene is country and hard rock, and almost everyone is a die-hard conservative Christian. And no, no independent films, which is why I still let Netflix rob me every month.
That made it hard for me, especially early on. I grew tired of defending my choice NOT to eat at Olive Garden and instead venture downtown to Chocolate by Daniel, Carlyle Brewing, Abreo, and the City market. I also didn't find many who were willing to hear my politics or relate to my not going to church.
There is now a movement to reinvest, several small businesses who are in need of community support, and small shops and restaurants opening every month. I do my best to support their efforts when I can.
Are you one who walks places, or dependent on your car? Nobody here walks to anywhere. Ever. If we see someone on the sidewalk or waiting for a bus, their car must have broken down. The bike paths are for bikes and walkers, not the streets. Just sayin', because that matters to some people. It's a drive-through kind of town, but we do have good parks and paths and one great gym facility, for that part of your day if you are so inclined.
Chicago is an hour and a half, but to me too much of a pain unless I spend the night (don't count on light rail any time soon). I prefer going the same distance to Milwaukee or Madison for great museums, shopping, and music.
Sorry if this is meander-y but I wanted to try to cover the things that stuck out to me.
Let me know if you have specific questions, Diggerwam and I will fill you in.
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  #6  
Old 02-24-2013, 07:32 PM
Spice Weasel Spice Weasel is offline
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Well, I just asked my Aunt about her living experience on your behalf and she felt it was a great place to live. She said there are a ton of parks and green spaces, including the only state park, many bike trails and places for canoeing. There are a few clubs for nightlife and you can find live music pretty much every weekend. She also said there are a couple of community colleges with great arts programs. And as far as the economy she said it seems to be doing pretty well, houses are selling and there is some new construction.

Overall she said it was a nice place to live if you weren't dead set on the big city experience like you would get in Chicago or NYC. (My Aunt is the kind of person who always has to be out doing something and loves the city/culture, so if she says there is a lot to do, then there really is a lot to do.)

Last edited by Spice Weasel; 02-24-2013 at 07:34 PM..
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  #7  
Old 02-24-2013, 08:16 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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On the Waterfront is gone? Oh, man, wtf, Rockford??

Yeah, not much biking- the people you see on bikes are assumed to be people who've lost their licenses. Very little walking. Terrible, terrible mass transit. Apparently the local library was considering going all digital, getting rid of all the books. And there is a church that literally bought a MALL, a charismatic mega church.

There's also some pretty terrible parts of town, which you'd really want to avoid living by accident. I lived really close to where this documentary was filmed, so I might be biased. We joke that in 5 years my uncle's house will be the only one on his block, the rest torn-down meth houses. So definitely contact one of the locals with any locations you're looking at.

That said, I know a lot of people who still live there and I still have a soft spot for it. Great parks, a nice path by the river, a good YWCA for working out, good restaurants.

ETA: I just reread the OP and saw your concern about green space, let me reiterate that there are TONS of parks. Aldeen, Alpine, Sinnissippi, and if you're willing to drive there are even more fantastic parks along the Kiswaukee river, as well as Rock Cut, which is huge. The parks are great.

Last edited by Zjestika; 02-24-2013 at 08:19 PM..
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  #8  
Old 02-24-2013, 08:26 PM
tenacious j tenacious j is offline
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Yeah, OTW died after last year. Not enough people willing to throw away $20 plus beer/food/whatever to hang in the park behind the reserved seats for Pat Benatar, and lots of folks from the northern Rfd suburbs weren't willing to come into the city.
I hope this means they will be inspired to rebuild a better, more vibrant festival.
For now, I will save my September spending cash for the Greenwich Village Art Fair.
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  #9  
Old 02-24-2013, 08:38 PM
tenacious j tenacious j is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zjestika View Post
On the Waterfront is gone? Oh, man, wtf, Rockford??


There's also some pretty terrible parts of town, which you'd really want to avoid living by accident. I lived really close to where this documentary was filmed, so I might be biased. We joke that in 5 years my uncle's house will be the only one on his block, the rest torn-down meth houses. So definitely contact one of the locals with any locations you're looking at.
Yeah, that's the thing. There's been huge white flight because this kind of thing happens, and maybe I'm naive, but I think it's symptomatic of almost any rust belt city and shouldn't be held against Rockford specifically. I keep hoping we can be bigger than that, and proud to rebuild a vibrant city some day.

If you get the job, we can all help suggest where to/not to look for a place to live. That should make things easier. In case I didn't say it, good luck!
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  #10  
Old 02-24-2013, 09:13 PM
Billy-o Billy-o is offline
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Thanks for the replies, everyone! The job I applied for is a teaching position at Rockford College (soon to be Rockford University), a 4-year liberal arts school. I'm really excited at the prospect of living near FermiLab and Argonne National Labs, since I'm a science nerd and would love to be able to see what they've got there (plus, my students could really benefit by being exposed to those resources -- I'd love to start a collaboration).

I'm glad to hear there are green spaces nearby -- I live in a very rural place now, and would miss having some natural beauty around. But being in a rural place is part of why I'm looking to move -- I'm definitely a city boy, so having decent restaurants and good arts and culture nearby will be a welcome change.

Too bad about On The Waterfront! I hope they bring something similar to the city soon. On the plus side, some of the locals told me that the relatively new Rockford Symphony is pretty good -- it's encouraging to know the city cares enough about the arts to support both a symphony and a small art museum. And that chocolate place is definitely on my to-do list.

I'm decidedly left-leaning, so it's too bad the place has a strongly conservative bent, but that's no different from where I am now (rural Arkansas). I'll just have to turn some of my neighbors liberal through the power of my charm.

If I move there, I suppose I'll just rent a house for the first year until I learn where the decent housing is. Of course, I have to get the job first!

Thanks again for the help, everyone! I'm takin' notes.

Last edited by Billy-o; 02-24-2013 at 09:15 PM..
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  #11  
Old 02-24-2013, 09:38 PM
Kimmy_Gibbler Kimmy_Gibbler is offline
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Originally Posted by Billy-o View Post
I'm really excited at the prospect of living near FermiLab and Argonne National Labs, since I'm a science nerd and would love to be able to see what they've got there (plus, my students could really benefit by being exposed to those resources -- I'd love to start a collaboration).
I am confused. Both of these are near Naperville/Aurora, which isn't really that close to Rockford at all. (It would easily be a ninety-minute drive.)

I mean, it's great to be optimistic about Rockford, especially if this will be a good career move. Still, you should make the move with your eyes wide open: Rockford is very much a Rust Belt small town in a state with little natural beauty or interesting terrain (outside of far Southern Illinois or the Illinois River through LaSalle County. There would be Galena near you, I suppose.). (It would have a low cost of living, so there's that.) Chicago would, I think, siphon away a lot of the arts/culture. (Rockfordians always bitch and moan about how Rockford is always neglected/ignored by us (Chicagoans).) Chicago is nearly two hours away. Madison is an hour and a half.

I'm not saying Rockford is totally without anything going for it. Three hundred thousand people live in Winnebago County, after all. But anyone who thinks Rockford is abounding with the arts and sciences and the tokens of cosmopolitan living is bound to be disappointed.

Last edited by Kimmy_Gibbler; 02-24-2013 at 09:40 PM..
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  #12  
Old 02-24-2013, 10:03 PM
Billy-o Billy-o is offline
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Originally Posted by Kimmy_Gibbler View Post
I am confused. Both of these are near Naperville/Aurora, which isn't really that close to Rockford at all. (It would easily be a ninety-minute drive.)
Sure, but to me, 90 minutes isn't such a bad drive. Right now, I really live in the boonies -- I drive 90 minutes just to get a decent *drink* (really -- I live in a dry county ).

As far as it being not-so-cosmopolitan... maybe not. I know it'll lack a lot of the amenities you'd have in Chicago, certainly. Are there any glaring omissions in Rockford -- things you'd think a city that size should have, but doesn't? Somebody upthread mentioned that public transportation is pretty sketchy.
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  #13  
Old 02-25-2013, 01:17 AM
Pai325 Pai325 is offline
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My daughter lives there, and likes it well enough but has had major problems finding people to hang around with. Most of the people her age (late 20s to mid-30s ) that she works with drive down from Wisconsin or up from the suburbs of Chicago so they don't really hang around after work or on weekends for dinner and a movie. She has a house but her neighbors are all in their 40s or older with families so there's nothing there. She won't go to bars by herself, and although she's not terribly religious, I think she would try a club of some kind if they had something in the diocese, but they don't.

There is a lot of green space and lots of restaurants, Chicago is close enough for concerts or shopping, and the area in which she lives is fine so I am sure you will find someplace to live that's what you want. I hope you enjoy it!

Last edited by Pai325; 02-25-2013 at 01:19 AM..
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  #14  
Old 02-25-2013, 07:11 AM
diggerwam diggerwam is offline
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I really think it's all about where you come from. I'm born, raised and currently live in Rockford. I went to college in a small (60k) town in Wisconsin. My classmates from really small towns found the college town to be huge and exciting, classmates from the big city, found it to be a shithole college town.

There is definitely a reason why liberal, mid 40's and childfree Tenacious J and I tend to leave town every reasonably warm spring/summer/fall weekend. Part of it is just wanderlust but part of it is that we have used up everything this area has to offer. And the things we haven't tried are focused more towards families. If we could somehow sell the house and move back to Milwaukee, we would in a second.

Buying a house is cheap, but taxes are high and it's hard to sell a house in the 3rd most miserable city in the US. I would definitely live in one of the burbs near the freeway. We live in town and it takes forever, just to get on the freeway to start our weekend adventures. There are some good local restaurants.

The locals tend to be churchy and right wing, but we do have an independent mayor. If you come, you will really need to work hard to find things to do, particularly if you fall on the outside of the little box of normal. Tenacious J and I are here to help if you decide to move here, so good luck on that job search.
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  #15  
Old 02-25-2013, 08:43 AM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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... in the 3rd most miserable city in the US. ...
I didn't know there was such a list, but I went and found it. It's from Forbes. It has to be taken with a grain of salt because it also contains both New York and Chicago.

But here's it's blurb on Rockford:
Quote:
A three decade decline in the manufacturing base has hurt Rockford's economy and kept unemployment high. The metro’s recent 11.2% unemployment rate is one of the highest rates in the U.S. Another burden: high property tax rates.
Living in Madison, all I could contribute is that the most common word I've heard associated with Rockford is "shithole" followed closely by "armpit".
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Old 02-25-2013, 09:10 AM
Slithy Tove Slithy Tove is offline
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Just posting in to see if I'm the only one here who's old & local enough to have been in the audience for Rollie Sponberg's afternoon cartoon show.
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  #17  
Old 02-25-2013, 09:21 AM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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Originally Posted by Boyo Jim View Post

Living in Madison, all I could contribute is that the most common word I've heard associated with Rockford is "shithole" followed closely by "armpit".

It's not all that bad, really. Again, there are some terrible parts of town, but I'd never call the city as a whole a shithole. There's just no reason to go south or west of downtown, that's where things start to look a little post-apocalyptic.

Oh, and don't bother going to a restaurant called Maria's no matter how many people tell you it's great. How it has such a good reputation I'll never know, it all tastes like Chef Boyardee to me. Guiseppe's is sooooo much better.
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Old 02-25-2013, 12:44 PM
diggerwam diggerwam is offline
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Cafe Grecco around the corner from Maria's was also much better but alas they closed. I don't recall Rollie's afternoon show but I think I was in the audience for Mr Moustache once or twice.
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Old 02-25-2013, 01:08 PM
Billy-o Billy-o is offline
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During the interview visit, they took me to a nifty Korean/Thai place downtown called (I think) Kuma's. That was nice, and the downtown area seemed like it could be a nice place to window shop (it was hard to tell, because it was bitterly cold while I was there, so not much foot traffic).

I did see signs of possible economic woes -- there were a few empty storefronts in what should have been prime real estate downtown.

While I was there, I drove around a bit and saw some nearby towns that were really very pretty -- Belvidere and Cherry Valley. And the real estate listings had some nice properties in Freeport, though that looks like a bit of a drive.

Anyway, I really appreciate everyone's input -- it sounds like Rockford has a seedy side, but also some amenities and decent residential areas. Also, I think it's more of an industrial area than I knew, though it sounds as though some of that industry is disappearing, unfortunately. All in all, it sounds like the minuses are balanced by some genuine pluses. Based on everyone's description, it reminds me of my own childhood home of New Haven, CT. Does that sound like a fair summary?
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  #20  
Old 02-25-2013, 01:34 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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Cherry Valley is adorable, and has a really great, huge park along the river with a man-made lake. It would be a perfectly fine place to live. There are great forest preserves a little ways south, including my favorite, Kishwaukee Gorge. Freeport is a very long drive, although it's on the bypass so it would be easy.

Rockford College is a nice school, and I wish you the best of luck.

A bit of trivia, Rockford was for a very long time the Screw Capital of the World, much to the hilarious enjoyment of all high school students. Sadly, screws are no longer manufactured in the same quantity.
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Old 02-25-2013, 01:35 PM
tenacious j tenacious j is offline
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Oh, and don't bother going to a restaurant called Maria's no matter how many people tell you it's great. How it has such a good reputation I'll never know, it all tastes like Chef Boyardee to me.
Amen, holla, and damn skippy.
Not that this relates to or helps Billy, but what's up with the overrated, "highly esteemed" Italian joints around here? Never had good food at Maria's and they aren't exactly friendly to newcomers. Like much of Rockford's longstanding culture, you have to be in the club.
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  #22  
Old 02-26-2013, 03:32 PM
Billy-o Billy-o is offline
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I got the job! Woo! So it looks like I'll be packing myself to Illinois come June or July.

Thanks to you all, I have a more realistic picture of what to expect when I get there. It'll be fun to have a new city to call home! And if I find it lacking, I'll do my best to make it cooler.
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  #23  
Old 02-26-2013, 03:43 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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Congrats! That's excellent news!
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Old 02-26-2013, 03:44 PM
tenacious j tenacious j is offline
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I already feel it getting cooler.
Welcome!
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Old 02-26-2013, 03:45 PM
diggerwam diggerwam is offline
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Congrats. Give tenacious j and I a holler sometime neighbor.
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  #26  
Old 02-27-2013, 12:08 PM
Spice Weasel Spice Weasel is offline
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Awesome news! Maybe we'll have to have a Rockford Dopefest at some point.
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  #27  
Old 02-27-2013, 12:55 PM
Boyo Jim Boyo Jim is offline
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Awesome news! Maybe we'll have to have a Rockford Dopefest at some point.
I didn't know you were in the neighborhood. I'd go to a Dopefest there.

Mainly because I've been looking for an excuse to get some bread from the world's greatest bakery, Great Harvest Bread. There used to be one in Madison, but it closed, and Rockford is now the closest. But it just seemed a little overkill to drive a 120 round trip for a couple loaves of bread.
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  #28  
Old 02-27-2013, 03:49 PM
ftg ftg is online now
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Note that Rockford College has had some notoriously lopsided wins lately against Trinity Bible College. Nothing like watching a 105-0 squeaker on a Saturday afternoon.
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  #29  
Old 10-20-2013, 06:16 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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Sorry to bump an old thread, but I've been wondering what the OP thinks of his new home.
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Old 10-20-2013, 06:28 PM
nearwildheaven nearwildheaven is offline
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I had an interview in Freeport a couple years ago. Didn't get the job, although the interviewer said I was competing for it with 11 other people. I did visit Rockford while I was up there, and much of the city is a total dump. Freeport's not in very good shape either, although it at least seems safe.

Although I liked the interviewer and got a positive impression of the company, I'm glad I didn't get that job.
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Old 10-21-2013, 10:16 PM
digs digs is online now
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Sorry to bump an old thread, but I've been wondering what the OP thinks of his new home.
Me too. Come back, Billy-ohhhhh...

He's probably too busy touring Fermi Labs. They do a great job of making subatomic stuff understandable.

Maybe he's been down in the Tevatron ("big acceleration tube thing") for weeks...
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  #32  
Old 10-21-2013, 10:20 PM
digs digs is online now
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...But it just seemed a little overkill to drive a 120 round trip for a couple loaves of bread.
Yo, Jimbo -- you can drive south west instead of southeast and get what my kids call "Nun Bread":
https://www.sinsinawa.org/bakery/index.cfm
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