Typically, angry protests, phone calls and emails from constituents motivate legislators to change a law or introduce a bill.
Apparently, however, a good laugh can have the same effect on lawmakers.
Popular comedian Pat McGann, of Beverly, has left audiences laughing lately with his bit about his disdain for local signage on Interstate 57 that notifies motorists the highway leads to Memphis, Tenn., which is hundreds of miles away.
However, McGann laments, there’s no signage for much closer places—like Chicago neighborhoods or even other cities in Illinois.
As it turns out, state Rep. Mark Batinick, a Republican from Plainfield, felt the same way.
After seeing McGann’s performance at a show last winter, Batinick introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, HR 891, that calls for the Illinois Department of Transportation to make such a change.
With elected officials now standing with him, McGann is hoping to right an egregious wrong.
“That sign always bothered me, even when I was a kid,” McGann said. “And I didn’t even know [I-57] didn’t go to Memphis—then I drove to Memphis.”
Batinick filed the resolution on June 29, and he hopes it can move forward during the General Assembly’s veto session this fall.
Batinick, who was born on the East Side and has several family members living in Beverly, has traveled on Interstate 57 and the Dan Ryan Expressway countless times, often attending White Sox games or the Chicago Auto Show.
He “just always hated the sign,” he said, because it included Memphis—and, like McGann, because Interstate 57 doesn’t even connect to Memphis.
His family members are big fans of McGann, and in January, he attended McGann’s show at The Vic Theatre on the North Side.
Sure enough, McGann told a joke about living so far south that the Willis Tower becomes a small image in a car’s rearview mirror.
Then, he noted his disdain of the Memphis signage.
“I elbowed my wife and said, ‘And 57 doesn’t even go to Memphis,’” Batinick said. “And the next line from Pat McGann is ‘And 57 doesn’t even go to Memphis.’
“We just all laughed.”
McGann still can’t believe the signage completely ignores Illinois.
“There’s nothing else worth mentioning between here and Memphis?” he said. “I love Champaign, Urbana. I feel like it could say ‘More Chicago.’ ‘Still more.’ ‘Bonus Chicago.’ ‘Want more Chicago?’”
Indeed, Interstate 57, which begins on the South Side and connects to Interstate 94, ends around the southern tip of Illinois; there, it connects with Interstate 55, which leads into Memphis.
Batinick and McGann recently met and recorded a video presenting their case for the signs to change.
In a news release, Batinick channeled his inner Ronald Reagan, who in 1987 called for international leaders to “tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall that at the time separated West and East Germany.
“Illinois is home to a world-class educational institution at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign as well as an easily remembered geographic location in our nation, Cairo,” Batinick said. “We stand behind the idea that Interstate 57 in Illinois should direct people to places that Interstate 57 actually goes to in Illinois. From Effingham to Champaign to Chicago, we say, ‘Gov. Pritzker, tear down this sign!’”
McGann quipped that he wants to see other street signage in the city changed—he doesn’t care so much for using numbers, he said, and instead, main thoroughfares should be named after the jersey numbers of players on the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears.
Instead of 95th Street, McGann said, it could be named after Richard Dent, the Bears’ Hall of Fame defensive end.
And, 87th Street could be named after tight end Emery Moorehead.
For now, McGann will have to take solace in at least spurring Batinick into action.
“He was the inspiration,” Batinick said, “for my legislation.”