Jun 19, 2010

Old Friends on the Road

The Road to Indiana (Photo Note: Throughout this and the previous blog, you will note that Greg's face is never seen. This is an accordance with his request that his image not be posted online. Wedel likes his privacy. However, remarkably, none of the photos you will see with his face obscured were staged or posed. I just found ways to get his picture without getting his face. )

In the old days we used to drive. In those days of cheap gas, on Sabbath afternoons we'd hop into Greg's little red Honda Civic, and just drive to see where the road took us. On occasion we'd take longer road trips--our senior year, the three of us took a couple of days driving up the southeastern coast of the United States. During college, J and I took an epic road trip to New Orleans, then met up with Greg and another old friend, Chris Cotta, on the Florida panhandle.

And so just as in the days of old, this past Monday, J, Greg, and I jumped in the car took off for a little road trip. Our goal was a concert Greg had booked tickets for, an up-coming folk band from England called Mumford & Sons performing in Bloomington, Indiana, about four hours from Columbus. But of course, road trips aren't about the destination, but the journey itself. We left in the morning so that we had plenty of time for stops along the way. Greg had suggested we each make a mix CD for the trip, and so the music--Tom Petty, Midnight Oil, Pearljam, and even a little Guns N-Roses--along with debating, joking around, and funny stories took us back in time. Sometimes it seems like all that has really changed is the cirucmstances around us. We've got grown up jobs, responsiblities, but at heart we still feel like the same high school kids we were all those years ago.

Click on the map to enlarge. Our route took us on I-70 through Indianapolis and on to Terre Haute, then southeast through a dozen little towns along route 246/46 to Bloomington.

Our first stop was for lunch at White Castle in, appropriately, New Castle, Indiana. White Castle (Motto: "What You Crave") is one of the oldest hamburger chains in the country--perhaps one of the first fast food places in the nation. You can still go in and order a 10-sack of the little, square shaped hamburgers they've been serving for generations.

White Castle's famed chicken rings with ranch dipping sauce. Well, it wasn't exactly what I craved but it wasn't bad. I considered ordering a few of the cheaply priced burgers, but couldn't get past their unappetizing appearance. Instead I settled for two orders of the chicken rings--recommended by Greg. The concept of chicken smashed into small, flat rings was a little weird, but they actually weren't too bad. While the food wasn't particularly spectacular, the service was fast and friendly.

Reading about air travel while traveling by car. I did a fair amount of reading when I wasn't driving. The book was Up in the Air by Walter Kirn, the basis for the recent Oscar-nominated film. I have to say, with apologies to Mr. Kirn, that this is perhaps the only time I've ever found the movie way better than the book. Russ Bickerstaff at the Box Office Prophets website does a much better job than I could of explaining why. Click here to read his comparision of the book and film.

A historic building in downtown Terre Haute. Too bad the rest of the city didn't look like this. Around 3 in the afternoon we arrived in Terre Haute, Indiana, not too far from the Illionois border. I must confess that this has to be one of the ugliest cities in America. Aside from a few tasteful historic buildings downtown, Terre Haute is one soul-sapping, architecturally dreary strip mall after another. It is home to the world's ugliest Kroger supermarket--a literal off-white, windowless box, with only the Kroger name to distinguish it from a faceless warehouse. It also hosts the nations homliest Macy's department store--with's it's dirty, industrial looking exterior it exudes a vaguely Soviet vibe. The rest of the sprawl of the city matched these buisnesses' depressed air. It was distressing just to drive through the city.

But drive through we did, on to the cemetery outside of town where Greg's maternal grandparents are buried. As a favor to his mom, Greg had promised to to stop by the graves just to see that we were well-maintained.

This grave had no connection to Greg's family but I found it interesting that Homer, born in 1892, had not yet been interred next to his beloved Helena. Either he's still alive at 118 years old, or more likely, ended up being buried somehwere else.

Greg pauses at his grandmother's grave.

J at the cemetery. That's our transportation in the background, J's Toyota Corolla.

No GPS for us. We found diretions the old fashioned way. Greg plots the course for our next destination: Eugene Deb's house on the campus of Indiana State University.

Eugene Deb's house. I suppose this is the sort of thing that our students assume we teachers do for fun during the summer--visit the homes of dead historical figures. And indeed, Greg teaches AP American History at a high school in Florida and wanted to stop off to see the home of Eugene Debs, a leader in the labor movement and the founder of the American Socialist Party (I know a lot of people, deceived by the angry right-wing talking heads, thought that was Barak Obama, but nope, it was Debs). Of course, Greg also went to see both Mumford and Sons that night, and the Silversun Pickups the following night, so it wasn't all history nerd stuff!

The Smallest Chapel in the World. After checking out the Debs home, we zipped over to the little town of Farmersburg where we drove by the home of one Greg's great-aunts, I believe. On the way out of town, we stopped off here, at the world's smallest chapel. We actually went inside, and it was small--about the size of my living room, but complete with a handful of pews and a small pulpit. It was dusty, quiet, and had that vaguely moldy smell of old hymnals. (It was here that my camera ran out batteries, so the rest of the photos of from the trip will be provided courtesy of others).

After leaving Farmersburg, I took the wheel for the drive to Bloomington, while Greg navigated and J napped in the back seat. I feel like I lucked out in the driving responsibilities. While Greg and J had been consigned to the homegenity of freeway driving, I got the winding backroads of the Indiana countryside. Miles of rolling farmland, woods, and grassy meadows occasionally interupted by bucolic small towns, relics of a bygone era--bastions of what some politicians like to call the "real America." And driving through these towns, I get it. This little slice of rural America represents how we like to imagine ourselves as a nation. We started out as an agrarian society and this self-conception is rooted deep. Hard work, self-reliance, faith and family all seemed to exude from these little hamlets. (Though I disagree with the suggestion that such characteristics are limited to small towns and farmland. Indeed, as farming in America is gradually taken over by massive corporations and the little towns of of America die out as younger people head for the bright lights and big cities--or at least big-box suburbia--these old-fashioned"American" values are as likely to be found among the immigrant population in this country as anywhere else).

Clay City declares itself the Mayberry of the Midwest, a small town with big pride. And in fact, Clay City does feature a storybook town center reminiscent of the Andy Griffith Show.

An on old-fashioned gas station in the heart of Clay City, a metropolis of just over 1000 people.

In addition to the idyllic Clay City we passed through lots of other places with charming local color. One of my favorites was the sign for the Friendly Open Bible Church in Coal City, Indiana (right down the road from the much sterner Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church). Apparently the friendly folks at Friendly Open Bible Church even have a Myspace page (which, granted, it doesn't appear has been visited in two years).

Rural small-town Indiana right here in America was as exotic and fasinating to me as any foreign country. It was exciting to see a part of America that I had heard memorialized in so many of my favorite Rich Mullins songs ("I grew up around Indiana, You grew up around Galilee," he sang in "Boy Like Me/Man Like You"). "My dad, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay," he reminisced in "First Family." I half expected to turn a corner and see "all of those Mail Pouch posters thrown up on rotting sideboards of these rundown stables like the one that Christ was born in" (from the song "Land of My Sojourn").

In my short sojourn through the backroads of Indiana, I found myself captivated--in the same way that I have been in places as diverse as urban Japan, suburban Australia, and rural Thailand--by the little glimpses of a life that seems so different from mine and that is completely normal for those that live it.

Soon though,our passage through the heartland was at an end and we were entering the city of Bloomington Indiana, home to Indiana University, and the location of the ultimate goal of our journey--the concert. In the next blog entry, a brief account of a long wait, a decent opening act and a simply awful one, and a little over an hour of blistering, soul stirring modern folk courtesy of the up and coming band, Mumford and Sons.


Mai said...

I've been to Indiana. My mom's other "parents" live there out on a small acreage out in the country with horses and stuff. Sometimes we'd go to "Amish Acres" with my aunt drove horse & buggy at an Amish tourist attraction (but they're not Amish). It's quite the life in rural Indiana!!

...kinda funny: I was watching "Up in the Air" as I was blogging/blog-reading!

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