McHENRY – This was madness. About two dozen people filled the McHenry Public Library on Thursday, oblivious to the brackets and buckets and buzzer-beaters that had arrived with the start of the NCAA tournament.
Some people in the library gathered at tables, chatting softly between stacks of hardcover books. Others sat in silence in front of desktop screens, guiding computer mice with human hands.
Library associate Zach Terrill sat beneath a black-and-white sign that read "QUESTIONS?"
Uh, yeah. I had one.
Why in the world was nobody here watching basketball?
"I'm just not that interested," Terrill, 23, said with a smile and a shrug. "I think it's kind of crazy. But people think that other things are crazy, too, that I don't think are so crazy."
Yes, good point.
But this seemed crazy.
As a sports-obsessed kid, I always felt as if a few events deserved their own special holidays. Baseball's opening day should have counted for one. The same held true for the NFL's wild-card weekend, and any day in which I had a fantasy football draft.
But no 2 days were more exciting than the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament.
That's why the 12-year-old buried somewhere inside of me could not believe my eyes as I traveled around McHenry. Legend has it that plenty of people – teenagers, adults, you name it – have lined up excuses to skip school or work and binge-watch the tournament. So who were these people with no excuses? What were their excuses?
A TV flickered on the countertop at Main Street Cafe, near the railroad tracks.
It wasn't showing basketball. It was showing "Days of Our Lives," and dramatic music was playing.
"I'm not a March Madness person," explained Krisse Hensley, who has owned the cafe for almost 4 years. "I'm not a basketball person. It's not my cup of tea."
Before long, Hensley grabbed a pot of coffee to give a customer a refill.
Down the street, it was same story, different building.
The men and women of McHenry Township Fire Protection District Station No. 1 enjoyed a rare moment of peace. No alarms, no sirens, and certainly no shot-clock buzzers or referees' whistles.
Perhaps some of the firefighters would glimpse some of the games during their break in the station's day room, deputy chief Rudy Horist said. But now was not the time for distractions.
"Whether it's March Madness or the Super Bowl or the Olympics or anything else," Horist said, "when we're on duty, that's our main focus."
In fact, March Madness seemed kind of dull when compared with a day in the life of emergency responders.
Last year, Horist said, the McHenry fire district responded to 4,658 emergency calls. After 2 months this year, he said, the district was more than 100 calls ahead of the previous year's pace.
In other words, firefighter madness.
"You tend to develop fast eating habits," Horist said. "It's not uncommon, they'll sit down for lunch and 5 minutes later a call will come in. They'll come back, and they'll try to eat lunch again, and then another call. … It might be two o'clock when they're going in to reheat their lunch for the second time in the day."
All of this talk about lunch was making me hungry.
Besides, it was time to go watch some games.
Thankfully, Ben Fredrick offered a tournament update before I headed out of town. The McHenry County College student was at the library to get work done, in theory, but he spent much of his time refreshing basketball scores on his web browser.
"It's not looking good already," said Fredrick, 26, glancing at the Dayton-Ohio State score. "I can tell you right now, I'm not going to win a billion dollars."
You and me both.