If you take County Road 1600 east from Urbana for about seven miles, then turn north on County Road 1000 and drive for another five miles, you’ll land in Sidney, Illinois, population 1,100.

From what I can tell, Sidney’s main attractions include the homemade soft serve and shakes at the Dairy Bar (or Barn, depending on which sign you look at); the grain elevator (which is really only an attraction if you have grain to sell); and Bues Accounting. This last attraction is why I trek to Sidney—to get my taxes done. A malt at the Dairy Bar(n) is just an added bonus.

Driving to a village one percent the size of your town to get your taxes done is, I’ll admit, a bit backwards. But after just one visit to Jim Bues’ office, I could never go back to the sterile, impersonal services of H&R Block.

Mr. Bues’ office is in the back end of a brick building on Sidney’s main street. (The front half of the building, which you have to walk directly through, is in use by a person who does something crafty, from what I can tell). The accounting office is one big open space, with an original pressed tin ceiling and not original wood paneling on the walls and worn carpeting on the floor. Boxes of paperwork and files are piled everywhere, as are what appear to be the leftovers from countless yard sales and a few lunches and snacks.

Jim’s desk is piled high with papers and framed photos and brick-a-brack, like a clay jar labeled “Ashes of problem customers.” A clock on the wall next to his desk sounds out various bird calls on the hour. Everyone coming and going is full of cheer, good humor and small-town matter-of-factness. This atmosphere is, I’ve learned, exactly what I need when I’m told how much I owe in taxes.

I found out about Bues Accounting at tax time 2006, after shelling out thousands of dollars in self-employment taxes and then paying an entirely dry H&R Block employee $400 to calculate and deliver such grim news. A few days later I was bemoaning this annual spring torture at my hair salon (which is worthy of its own post). The salon’s owner, Rebecca, overheard and told me I just had to go see Jim Bues in Sidney. It was almost an order.

Rebecca is very young and edgy-tough-sweet all at once. Her haircut, not surprisingly, changes monthly. I could imagine Rebecca in an H&R Block office even less than I could ever believe I myself was in one, so when she raved about her accountant, I took notice. (Who raves about an accountant, after all? It’s about as common as raving about a dentist.)

“Everyone uses him,” she told me. “Everyone,” it turns out, translates to all of the young owners of non-traditional businesses in town, like the vintage clothing store, the music label, and my very own Caffe Paradiso. Rebecca wrote Jim Bues’ number on a small Post-It note, and I managed to keep track of it long enough to put it to use almost a year later, when I made my first appointment.

Rebecca had already warned me that Jim was one of the oddest characters she had ever met, and that he might come across as gruff and almost rude, when really he is as sweet and well-meaning as can be.

“Don’t let him scare you,” she said. I like hearing in advance that a person I’m going to meet might be challenging in some way. Not only does it give me a chance to prepare a strategy, but I enjoy challenges that involve human interactions, and I tend to rise to the occasion.

Even being prepared for Jim, though, doesn’t prepare you for Jim. It’s difficult to put into words, which is why I like knowing other people who know him—we’re not alone in that alternate universe.

When Jason and I were there yesterday he said, gruffly, “So you went and got married, eh? Now you’ve gone and made a mess of everything. Well, there’s not much you can do about it now. You’ll just have to suffer through it.”

When I finished writing a check to the Secretary of State to keep my I-corp status alive for another year, Jim said “You might as well keep that checkbook out. That’s why you work your butt off, right? So you can sign away everything you’ve made.” When I asked him how much I owed him at the end of our appointment he said “Well, I’m about to go on vacation. I could use some extra spending money.”

So why on earth do I go to Jim Bues in Sidney, Illinois, to keep my financial records in order? For one thing, when our 45-minute meeting was all said and done, he wouldn’t let me write him a check for anything. I like the bird call clock, and how the entire feel of the place doesn’t say the first thing about money—making or spending it.

He gives me good advice, too, like he genuinely wants me to make a good living doing whatever it is that I do, without getting in trouble with Big Brother. And, of course, since tax time and all money matters for me inevitably come with doses of pain, the least I can do is be entertained and have a few stories to tell—and a chocolate malt on my way back to the city.

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