Sandra Benedetto: Ode to Rancho Destructo, Now Condos

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Immortalized in our hearts, if not in this world,

Rancho Destructo of the Elysian cornfields of Champaign, Illinois

claims its rightful spot in the pantheon of majestic residences,

no less splendid than the temple of Angkor Wat,

no less grand than Apollonia of the Byzantines,

no less noble than the ancient Aztec tecpan.

 

Whosoever resided there before us,

and whosoever came after us,

shall share in our great loss and have our sympathies.

 

With one exception, perhaps,

who are the tenants of the summer season

in the year nineteen hundred and ninety-nine,

malefactors who degraded our stately future home,

leaving remnants of Oreo cookies and

Jell-O stickiness in every crevice,

not to mention one soiled tampon in the bathtub.

 

From those inauspicious beginnings Rancho rose like the Phoenix,

resplendent with picnic table dining and borrowed construction signs.

What worry, then, if the second floor shower sank into the kitchen?

Who can know true camaraderie if one has not

broken wet bread together?

 

Even now, these many years later,

my nose detects the scent of Febreeze, nectar of the budget-conscious,

soaking into unwashed sheets and smoky clothes,

hanging in the antechamber of my porch room

after a string of debaucherous evenings.

 

Ah, memories flood back in bittersweet torrents,

of regaling guests with musical performances

that would put Zeus’s Muses to shame —

classic karaoke versions of What’s New Pussycat

and The Young Mexican Puppeteer, to name a few.

 

Would I not be remiss if I left out dear Herschel,

personification of Rancho’s glory?

O’ gentle curmudgeon — some might say slumlord —

how can we repay you for that golden year of our youth?

Sixteen-hundred dollars monthly seems not enough.

 

Nor let us forget Herschel’s Workers; Behold!

Hipsters decades before the word crossed our lips,

they arrived within days of our urgent appeals

to set mousetraps or secure a breached door.

If only their names were as memorable as their manes.

 

The velvety blanket of time has softened all decrepitude,

much like our stained velour couch;

may we look fondly upon that which was once cause for consternation,

such as roaches landing on shoulders in showers,

or the fuzzy entity in the toilet that refused to be flushed.

 

What other life-affirming events transpired under Rancho’s encompassing roof?

Some well-kept secrets were razed with the structure,

and others belong only to The Little Boy That Lived in the Walls.

 

Let us raise a glass of watery lager and pour some out for our beloved Rancho,

a casualty of Progress, but never forgotten!

16 Comments

  1. Sandra. Rancho alum here from 1980 – 1982. Your poem could have been written from the 9 of us that lived there during that time. Herschel Klein. Mice. Not much changed. So sad to see our humble abode destructed. Rancho Love.

    1. Wow, this is crazy! So fun to hear from you, Carolyn. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Can I ask how you came across my weird little poem? If you have any good Rancho stories, I’d love to hear them and pass them on to my former housemates 🙂 #rancholove

      1. Sandra, took me 3 years to reply to your reply! I must have seen your poem during a random google search. I will share pix from that time frame if I can figure out how to post.

      2. Sandra,

        During this time of lock down, I decided, as a lark, to google Rancho Destructo. And, I come across your poem. I am proud to say not only did I live in the house from Aug. 1979 to Aug. 1980, but my roommate gave it the name of Rancho Destructo shorty after we moved in. In fact, my wife and I first met there on July 3, 1980 during one of our parties. Would be so nice to hear from you. Stay safe!

        Bob Pratten

      3. Hi, Bob, and thanks for your message. It’s so much fun to hear from the other residents. And your roommate came up with the name?! If you’re in touch maybe he’d be glad to know the name lived on. We stumbled across an ’84 yearbook after signing the lease in 1999 and the guys who lived there then were pictured in front with a Rancho Destructo sign. That’s incredible that you met your wife there, too. Have you been in Champaign recently? I haven’t in about 12 years but I hear it’s pretty different. Lots of good memories.

      4. Sandra,

        Thanks for the reply and I trust all in your household are healthy and safe. We knew the name lived on for several years, but were never sure for how long. A couple of items of note:
        * Herschel died a few years ago;
        * Just about my entire business career has taken place in Champaign and my wife and I would occasionally go to the backyard on July 3 to remember our first meeting (she thought the house should have been demolished in 1980)
        * There were six of us in the house and one was in a band – I remember at least two parties where the band played and I believe that helped cement the reputation of Destructo (along with, I suppose, many other things);
        * The sign you referenced was probably one we made in the fall of 1979;
        *The campus is nothing like it was just ten years ago with the construction of numerous apartment buildings and instructional facilities;
        * When you moved in, what year was it and was it still named Rancho Destructo?

        The memories are indeed great!

      5. Hi Bob,
        Thanks, we are well, and have our hands full with a toddler. I hope that you and yours are staying healthy, too.
        To answer your question, I moved in with 7 girlfriends in August ’99 and some of the parents who helped us move thought we were out of our minds. We discovered the Rancho Destructo name by chance when we found an old yearbook on campus, so I would guess the name had been lost for a period of time. Although, who knows! We were thrilled to resurrect it. I’m not too sure how far after we were there the name carried on. I believe another group of girls moved in the following year.
        What was the name of your friends’ band?
        I’m sorry to hear about Herschel. We didn’t have much contact with him. He had a group of guys working for him that handled tenant stuff.
        I need to get back to Champaign one of these days. My parents both went to school there in the late 60s so I grew up going to football games. It’s nice to hear that you’ve had a thriving career there.

    1. I think Mr Rush mistyped for I was his roommate at the time. It was 1988-89. I was in the room on the main floor of the living room. Thanks for the memories Sandra

      1. Thanks for the clarification, and for reading my little ode, however you stumbled across it! Many fond memories of that house. It’s fun to share the legacy.

    2. That definitely sounds record breaking! Our best was 8. For some reason I volunteered for the porch room . . . Thanks for your comment. We thought the guys who lived there in ’84 named it Rancho Destructo, based on a yearbook photo we found, but maybe the name precedes them.

  2. Classic memory. I never lived there, but attended many afterhours. During my era (’90-’95) it was rented by some Pikes, as it was around the corner from their fraternity house. Because Pikes rented it, it was also known as the “Annex”, and commonly used to differentiate which Pike house you were going to.
    “There’s a party at Pikes tonight”.
    “At the House?”
    “No, at the Annex”.
    Kegs were banned at fraternity houses, so they’d often have keg parties there to skirt the rule. I can’t imagine what weekends would have been like living there.
    Even though I never lived there, and was never a Pike, Rancho always stuck with me. I have even named my house after it…

    Was in Champaign last summer for the first time in 20 years. Took the family when I was back in the Midwest to show the kids some of my roots. Sad to see all the changes…it’s a shell of what it used to be, but times are different.

    Enjoyed the memory walk…thanks.

    Scott
    Park City, UT

    1. Hi Scott,

      Thanks for your comments! It’s fun to hear from Rancho alumni and alumni-adjacent 🙂 Its proximity to the Pike house must have made it a great alternative for hanging out.

      I’d guess that Park City offers views much different than those of Champaign. Hope you and yours are well. Thanks for taking the time to read and write!

      Sandra

  3. So I woke up today and decided to text my Pike buddies about Rancho and the Annex–good reason to connect after nearly a year. They corrected me that The Annex was not Rancho, and actually was a different building used by Pikes behind their main house. But Rancho was rented by Pikes during that time, and there were many parties there too. I guess 25+ years has weighed on the memory. Not sure why I felt the need to immediately correct…either way, this was a great stroll down memory lane.

    sc

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