I knew what I was getting myself into, yet I proceeded ahead anyway. It was not entirely my fault – I sat in four of the six available rental cars before selecting one that wasn’t too stinky or strangely stained. The red Hyundai had carpets that smelled freshly shampooed and it was a reasonable size for my 5’11” frame. I was fairly happy with my choice until I did the walk around and noticed its fatal flaw – Illinois license plates.
This would be a non-issue for 99% of the population. However, I rented this car to drive from Minneapolis to Milwaukee – the city that loathes Illinois drivers so much they coined the term “FIB.”
In case you are unfamiliar with a FIB, it’s a “f*cking Illinois bastard.” Milwaukee people don’t like Chicago people for their aggressive driving and flashy ways. Chicago people don’t like Milwaukee people because they think they’re hicks who drive like snails. Chicago people come north only to buy cheap lake property and fly their Cubs flags proudly. Milwaukee people go south only for bachelorette parties and Christmas shopping. This is culture clash at its finest.
And now you know the predicament I was in. I had to decided to either take a car that’s clearly been fogged with industrial-strength air freshener or take a car with Illinois plates. Due to my aversion to strong scents, the Hyundai won. I decided to treat the situation as a social experiment to find out what it’s like for Illinois drivers inside enemy lines. The results are not entirely surprising.
Eastern Minnesota: The aggression level was minimal passing through the Twin Cities. We don’t get a lot of Illinois traffic, therefore, we can’t hate what we don’t know. Plus, it doesn’t really matter where you’re from when driving in Minnesota. Everyone is an equal-opportunity idiot who’s only mission in life is to get in your way.
Western Wisconsin: FIB animosity remained fairly low, but traffic was pretty light and I was driving the Hyundai like I stole it (read – I was driving seven miles over the speed limit). I got cut off a few times, but I cut off a few people, too. It happens in small, shitty cars.
Black River Falls: I exited the freeway with the intention of making a quick Culver’s pit stop. As I pulled up to a red light, I noticed my lane was blocked by construction barrels on the other side of the intersection. The light turned green, I signaled my intent and proceed to move into the space between two vehicles to my right. Midway through this routine procedure, the large truck behind me sped up to intentionally box me out and nearly forced me into the barrels. I gave him the wrath of the Hyundai’s horn and he simply returned a blank stare. FIB sentiment runs deep in this one.
Wisconsin Dells: Aggressive passes and tailgating incidents abound in central Wisconsin, again, mostly by big trucks and 90’s-era sports cars. I saw another car with Illinois plates driven by a very tan man wearing a very bright shirt and felt a small sense of kinship. He, however, was driving 85 miles an hour, so the moment was fleeting.
Milwaukee (suburbs): The first thing my Mom said when she saw my car was, “Illinois plates?” She then volunteered to drive us to brunch. On our way home, a bat-out-of-hell driver merged onto the highway behind us, passed on the right after his lane ended and swerved in front of us while cutting across three lanes of traffic going 20 miles over the speed limit. I’ll let you guess where he was from.
(Downtown): I was cruising along the lakefront and passed a sheriff parked at Bradford Beach. I wasn’t speeding, but slowed down out of habit. A cyclist in front of me was taking the lane, so I merged over, right in front of the same sheriff who was now tailgating me. I started aggressively stress sweating, thinking I was a sitting duck with my out-of-state plates. Once I passed the cyclist, I merged back into the right lane. The sheriff hung back for a minute, then flew past on the left, leaving me strung out in his wake.
These are just a few of the examples experienced by a native son in disguise. Granted, there was a certain amount of projecting involved in this very nonscientific social experiment. Perhaps this experience will soften my attitude toward Iowa people…unless they are anywhere near the Mall of America. Then all bets are off.