The road to Hannibal, Missouri wasn’t very friendly for running or biking.

Narrow highway, big trucks, rough gravel road at times, and an interstate highway bridge to cross. Despite that, it was a successful journey into town.

Mary Lynn Richards met us as we changed as discreetly as possible, roadside, in the van, just outside City Hall. She introduced herself right away, and suggested we COULD have changed at her house where we’d be staying the night…

We all had a good laugh and Mary Lynn went back to work, Tom and I went on to grab a bite of lunch before meeting cup with Michael Gaines at the Arts Council office. Michael says that the town is too small to be a country and too big to be an insane asylum.

He himself was born in an even smaller town, Bethel, Missouri – population of 108, and eventually made his way to the major metropolis of Hannibal to spearhead the Hannibal Arts Council. From the looks of it, he’s honestly done an amazing job, and as he toured us around the downtown, we saw how the arts are embedded most everywhere.

One of the stops along the Main Street was Lydia’s Cabinet of Curiosities where we met Gordon Harrison, an art conservator. He owns the shop, but his real work is in restoring paintings, some quite rare and valuable. Gordon is a young guy, likely in his 30’s, with a wife who works from home, able to take care of their two young girls. After moving here from Montana some years ago, Gordon has really connected with the community, giving talks at the Arts Council about specific periods of art history, but he’s so backed up at the shop that you won’t find him out much other than right in the back seat with a hand full of cotton balls and Q-tips working away at bringing light and color back to an old damar varnish soaked canvas.

Another thing you can quote Michael on, it seems, is that Hannibal is full up on group homes, convenience stores and churches. Not much else it seems. And yet he’s happy here too, and other than the vacation he’s about to take to Norway, he’s not leaving any time soon. After our tour of the downtown, Tom and I got a nice respite at Mary Lynn and Paul’s house for a few hours before joining Michael, Allen, Paul and Jessie for dinner at Fiddlestix.

We had a lively conversation about the health of the state and community, thanks to Jessie’s work in political science and passion for poverty research. Allen’s from a longtime Hannibal family and moved away to Chicago for quite a while, but he’s just come home within the last year.

This young professional seems to feel the responsibility of family and legacy, of community too, and now plans to carry on his family’s business in this much smaller town even though he’ll miss some of the charms of that great big Windy City.