Friday, September 29, 2006

We Like Sundays

The visit by the Jehovah’s Witnesses this week reminded me of the time that a husband-and-wife team, or at least a man-and-woman team of Korean sectarians buttonholed us during a visit to the Woodfield Mall earlier this year. I don’t recall the name of their group, though I suspect it was a homegrown Korean Protestant church. All I wanted to do was sit one of the mall’s benches and eat the pastries we’d just bought, but they wanted to talk about a particular religious bee in their bonnet, and it wasn’t evolution.

No, they were sabbatarians, out to persuade us of the error of reserving Sunday for Christian worship. Sunday as the Lord’s Day, they said, was a grievous mistake, a day invented by (variously as the conversation continued) men, Romans or pagans, or at least borrowed from pagans. That line of disparagement doesn’t go very far with someone like me, who holds ancient Rome in such high esteem.

So I asked him: Wasn’t Sunday as the Lord’s Day well established by the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325? If it were wrong why didn’t they change it then? He went on some more about the Lord’s Day being a human, as opposed to divine creation, but I think the mention of the Council of Nicaea there in the mall threw him off a little. At one point I added, “If Sunday’s good enough for Constantine, it’s good enough for me.” He looked at me funny for a moment, but didn’t really acknowledge that idea.

Later, they left us with some sabbatarian tracts, and at his insistence I left him with my phone number. Oops, I got a few digits wrong.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Make Mine B-Positive, Please

A Laurel-and-Hardy pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door today, an angular brown woman of some height, possibly of East Indian descent, and a shorter and more rotund Caucasian woman. I told them I was working and didn’t really have time to chat, which was true. So they left issues of Watchtower and Awake! and went about their business on the block.

True, I had no time for them, but still it was good to see sectarians show up at the door. Makes me feel like I’m still part of the global village, or something. I can’t remember the last time that happened, and I’m fairly sure that we haven’t had any young Morman missionaries ring the doorbell since we moved here three years ago. I can’t believe the Latter-Day Saints have given up on us, so maybe I just wasn’t home that day.

I can think of a number of reasons not to sign up with the Witnesses, and not just their feelings about blood banks. One jumped out at me while I was glancing at Awake! The magazine asks, rhetorically, Is Evolution Fact or Fiction? You know their answer. We ain’t cousins to no stinkin’ monkeys (I’m paraphrasing a little). What is it about Darwin and his successors that gets under their skin so much? Why doesn’t the theory of quantum mechanics seem to bother them, just to name another triumph of our God-given intelligence?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

But I Wouldn’t Want to Paint It

Speaking of Vanderbilt, as I did yesterday, I did a short real estate-related interview with a fellow alum not long ago. Someone I’ve interviewed before occasionally, and calls me back because he’s fairly sure I’m not out to bushwhack him in print. (And where do people who read even a teaspoon’s worth of real estate industry’s trade press ever get that idea anyway?)

Before I spoke with him, I scanned his bio at his company web site, and learned that he too had gone to VU. Hadn’t known that. I brought it up at the end of the interview, and he seemed pleased to hear it. “Class of ’83,” I said, and he answered, “Really? Me too.”

We reviewed the places we’d lived on campus, and it turned out we lived in the same building, called Lupton, as freshmen. Except I was on the fifth floor, “Lupton 5,” it was called, while he was on the seventh. I never knew him then, though it’s likely we knew people in common—the school’s large but not vast like, say, UT. He probably also probably saw my collegiate byline, but immediately forgot it, as most people do with most bylines.

Small world? Naah, the world’s still pretty big. But my niche is small.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Amazing Class of '10

Got a longwinded gimme letter from my alma mater the other day, part of that institution’s ongoing, and futile, effort to tunnel into my wallet. I quash any temptation I might have to donate with the following reflection: Vanderbilt’s endowment is how large already? Hm, can’t remember, but it’s measured in the billions of dollars. My own net worth isn’t measured in units that large, or even in tiny fractions of whatever the endowment is. Pass.

Not that I dislike Vanderbilt, or disliked it 25-odd years ago. It’s a fine school. Harvard of the South in the Athens of the South. Glad I went. Wealthy alumni ought to pony up on its behalf now and then.

The letter was two and half pages long, which assumes a lot of free reading time on my part. But I did read the long graph on page one about the Class of 2010, composed of about 1000 people who didn’t exist the day I started at VU, though the letter didn’t point that out. It did call the class an “amazing” one, and offered some examples. The girl who represented the US in six international chess tourneys, besides being tennis team captain and student body president; the black student body president, basketball ace and soup kitchen volunteer; the high school valedictorian whose parents were refugees from some Third World hellhole, the web site designer, the fiddle contest champ, the president of the Junior Civitans International (who?) and so on.

Sorry, that’s not going to make me give money either. Fine kids all, I’m sure, but tedious overachievement doesn’t resonate with me. It would have been better for the letter to say, “The Class of 2010 includes a lot of really bright kids, mostly stable and hardworking, but sprinkled with a few real head cases, just like you remember in your class. Almost everyone did extracurriculars in high school, and a few did remarkable things. But mostly not. That’s the way it’ll be in college, too.”


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Long & Twisty Road

Some very local geography follows. First, my subdivision features curling streets and cul-de-sacs. I guess the developer Campanelli, who cut up the farmland around here about 40 years ago, wanted something new and different. No Levittown grids, no sir. Anyway, it would take more time than I want to spend to learn all the twisty paths more than about a half a mile from my home, so I haven’t bothered. During normal driving conditions, it’s possible to get lost for two or three minutes among the twists, but pretty soon you come to a major street that’s part of the larger suburban grid, more or less.

Second, while the Midwest is known for its flatness, it isn’t absolutely flat. Not hills so much as mild topo undulations that you don’t think about most of the time.

After about two hours’ worth of heavy rain and strong wind Friday, the storm headed east, and I went to pick up Lilly at her friend’s house about a mile away. Normally, this means: back up, down to the corner, make a left on to a somewhat busy street, drive to another side street and turn left, then go a short distance to yet another left turn, then proceed to the girl’s house. Nothing to it.

As I left on Friday, the sun started to come out. The storm was really over. I noticed, however, that the somewhat busy street was busier than usual, with a lot of cars heading north (the direction I wanted to go), coming from a major street. Hm.

Around a corner about a half-mile north of home, the street was completely underwater—over the curbs and onto the lawns, though not into anyone’s house that I could see. Now where was that Hummer when I needed it? I knew there was no going through it with a minivan.

My experience growing up and learning how to drive in San Antonio kicked in. South Texas topography undulates a lot more than northern Illinois, and there are places where roads cross down into dry little channels -- “low-water crossings.” After heavy rains, the channels become mean little rivers. Signs warn motorists not to cross when there’s water on the roads, and in some places gates can be closed to bar access to the low-water crossings. No matter. Every spring when the heavy rains came, some fool would try his luck at the low-water crossing and lose. Sometimes just a car would be swept away, sometimes that and the driver and passengers too.

I never braved a flooded low-water crossing, but in the spring of 1979, when I was 17, I drove to school one morning in my mother’s Chevy Vega. It was raining fairly hard, and I could see that the road I would usually take was full of water, so I took a side road to another major road, which went behind the junior high and then lead to the high school. That road didn’t look quite as full, so I followed it until I noticed a couple of cars ahead of me, not moving.

For a moment I wondered, what are they doing? Then it hit me. They’d been stalled by the water. I stopped and slapped the transmission into reverse. I turned my head as much as I could to look out of the rear window and backed up as quickly; no one was behind me. I made to another side street and then to a less flooded main street that lead to school. I can’t say for sure, but I’ve always thought it was a near thing, not flooding the car that day.

On Friday, when I saw the flooded main street, I turned onto a side street before reaching the water. Then it was like being in a maze. The streets twisted, with some spots as water hazards, too flooded to pass, meaning that I had to turn around in a driveway and find another way. A lot of other cars were lurking around, doing the same. It took maybe 15 minutes to weave my way through to Lilly’s friend’s house. Normally the trip takes five.

Returning, I decided to stick to another major street most of the way, and that worked, until I got on the side street that leads to my street: flooded. So I had to weave around back the way I came. “Wow, look at that!” Lilly was impressed by the flooded streets. Maybe she’ll remember something of this as I do the heavy rains of May 1970, which made a mess of our garage.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Storm of the Year (So Far)

Too much excitement for a Friday. Around 4 in the afternoon, the sky darkened into a thunderstorm. Soon the TV warned us that the odds of a tornado around our part of the world -- our part of the North America, along with large sweeps of land south of us to Texas -- were way up. The rain and wind intensified into the hardest I’d seen this year.

When I felt like venturing near a window or door, I looked for… what? I’ve only seen pictures of tornadoes, and read about how it sounds like a hundred or a thousand trains. By the time you hear that, I figure, you need to be away from windows and doors. While I was at the front door, the municipal sirens went off.

Then the power went out, but returned much more quickly that I thought it would, in a minute or so. The rain kept coming down and I noticed that water was accumulating outside the glass door downstairs. That door is into the lower part of this split level, below ground level, with concrete steps going down from the deck to it. A drain takes water away from the bottom of the steps, and the home inspector warned me to never let that drain clog up. So far I haven’t. Now it looked like it was clogging bad: either leaves and other plant junk on the top of the drain or, much worse, something inaccessibly inside the drain.

The rain and lightning continued, so I waited for a few minutes before dealing with the drain. Good thing, too, since at about 5:30, buckets of tiny hail started to fall, and a huge wind blasted by. It shook the trees and slapped rain against the side of the house. By this time, we were in the small hallway downstairs between a set of interior walls, with doors closed against the nearest windows.

Not a tornado, obviously, since the house and the neighborhood and the town still stand. But not long after, I heard that an actual tornado had been spotted a few miles east of us, moving east, so maybe we got a small foretaste of it. Soon things calmed down considerably, but the rain continued.

By then, a little lake had formed at the bottom of the steps, nearly level with the threshold of the door, so I found my waterproof boots, which I haven’t worn them since snow was on the ground, took a small trash can, and started bailing. The rain was still coming down, punctuated by occasional thunder. After a few minutes, I felt for the drain, grabbing leaves by the handful. Pretty soon I was relieved to see, with most of the leaves gone, a little whirlpool over the drain. So it was the leaves—nearly all pre-coloration green, knocked down by the wind.

By 6:30 the rain had slacked off and it was time to go get Lilly. She’d gone to a friend’s house about a mile away after school that day, and I’d called them during the storm to say that I wouldn’t be picking her up until things calmed down. Usually, it’s a five-minute drive to get her at that house, but after the epic rains, it was a different sort of trip. More on that tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rise and Fall

“Follow the saga of two ordinary Roman soldiers… and their families amid the rise and fall of the Roman republic and the creation of an empire,” says the sleeve of Rome Season 1, Disc 1. Probably the story doesn’t trace the generations of ancestors of these soldiers from the time of Lucius Junius Brutus to the first century BC, so “rise and fall” must just be careless sleeve writing. Think “Rome,” and “rise and fall” comes to simple minds; never mind that it took about 500 years in the case of the republic.

Still, I’m looking forward to seeing how HBO handles the interesting times of the first century BC. Can’t get much more interesting source material than that for your historical fiction. We’re further promised that the “fates of [the soldiers] become entwined with those of Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and the young Octavian…” Which probably means that the series eventually ends after the accession of Augustus since, after all, there was no more civil warring for two ordinary Roman soldiers to do after that, not at least for a few generations.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Holiday Extras

Forgot to mention that I saw Christmas décor for sale at Costco last weekend. At Costco, that means the big items. Life-sized Santa Claus and eight reindeer sets, 20-foot animatronic snow colossi, 10,000-light strings, that sort of thing. But even if Costco sold more modest decorations, I’d have to ignore them. It’s September.

I’m more open to Halloween gimcracks, though even that seems a little early. Received a circular from Party City today offering 50% Off Reg Price This Week Only on Select Character Costumes. Starting at $9.99.

I like the stuff on the last page best. A Grim Reaper Whirlwind, Air Blown, $99.99 (Lights up with lots of flying bats!). A 12-foot Hanging Ghoul or Clown (a Killer Klown, by the looks of him), $79.99. A 400-Watt Fog Machine, $14.99, “fog juice” extra at $9.99. And best of all, Save Over 30% on a Six-Foot Coffin. $19.99. I can’t tell what it’s made of by the picture, but sturdy cardboard would be a good guess, straight from some cardboard werks in Shanghai. With proper care, it might serve a lifetime of Halloweens, and when that’s over, be a cheap alternative to pricey funeral home boxes.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ann on Ghosts

“Are you afraid of ghosts?” It wasn’t a question I was expecting, not from a three-year-old anyway. Just as we were getting socks and shoes on, getting ready to leave, Ann had asked me that today.

Where did she get ahold of the concept? Could be anywhere, but probably from some TV show, and I doubt that she connects “ghost” with “restless sprit of the dead, condemned to wander the Earth” or some notion like that. For her, it would just be a flighty character that scares the other characters. Details to follow.

“No, I’m not.” Honest answer. Can’t say I’ve had any experience with haints, except in story and song. “Are you?”

“Yes!” Well, good. What would childhood be without some fear of the supernatural?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

New Jellies

Out and about on Saturday, a warm late summer day. Included was a visit to the Cosley Zoo, a vest-pocket zoo in Wheaton, Ill., which has the great virtue of being free. It also has picnic tables. We bought fried chicken and a few other items at a drive-through and sat ourselves down for lunch at the Cosley. It was pleasant until a few bees came to join us. The adults among us weren’t too upset, but the children refused to practice a nonchalant attitude, and their agitation disrupted things more than the bees.

The day also included a visit to a Costco that isn’t our usual one, which is always a little disorienting, since no two layouts of that store seem to be quite the same. Just an impression. Haven’t done a study of the warehouses.

One item we picked up was a four-pound plastic jug of Jelly Bellies, the jellybean that Ronald Reagan made famous. The label promises all of 49 favors, which are pictured and named. The pictures are a little fuzzy compared to the actual beans, so it isn’t always clear what you’re getting in to. Or rather, what’s getting into you. We’ve experienced this jug of jellies before, so everyone has favorites and dislikes. I don’t know what it’s officially called, but there’s one I call Cigarette Butt. A vile flavor. Most of them are pretty good, though.

Today was a stay-at-home sort of day, so I spent a while inventing new flavors for Jelly Belly. I mean, they’re just not adventurous enough – blueberry, coconut, grape jelly, lemon lime, licorice, pina colada and root beer (for example) are fine, but what about fugu and belladonna? Or meat flavors like Spam, bacon fat and cheeseburger? Why offer plain ol’ licorice when you can call it Black Sabbath? What about Spud? Durian? Circus peanut? Harvey Wallbanger?

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Ignoring the Force

Just before sunset I took Lilly and Ann to the playground next to Lilly’s school, and at dusk mosquitoes attacked. Me especially, since I was parked on a bench. The kids were in motion too much to be bitten. Mosquitoes haven’t bothered me much this summer, which was a surprise, since it was a wet summer. Maybe municipal mosquito abatement has slacked off lately.

I saw a boy of about 10 talking to a slightly younger boy who was absorbed in downing the contents of some kind of drink box. Or rather the older boy was talking at him. “Do you know Star Wars? (No reply.) Do you know Star Wars? (Ditto.) Do you know Star Wars? Do you know Star Wars? Do you know Star Wars? Do you know Star Wars? When a child is ignored, he tends to repeat himself.

“I can knock you over with the Force,” the older kid finally said, motioning with his arms, but before anything like that happened, another kid distracted the both of them. Seems like random acts of playground violence would be a function of the Dark Side of the Force, but what do I know?

I know Star Wars. It was a movie, as I recall. Summer of ’77. The movie DVDs are out now, and that marketing effort probably has a lot of kids abuzz. Nice work, Mr. Lucas. Someone whose parents possibly weren't old enough to see the original movie that first summer nevertheless knows about it, to the point of badgering other kids. Now that’s a franchise.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Watching House at Home

The clouds cleared away and it was warm and clear in Chicagoland today. Not that I got to go out much, since editors nationwide need me to stay on task. Well, a few editors do, sort of, but mostly I need to stay on task because that’s the way self-employment works.

One of these days, though, I’m going to have a laptop, and on some pleasant days I’ll repair with it to the deck and work out there. Not likely this year, though.

When not working, I’ve been burning through the first season of House, MD on DVD. Entirely worth my time because of Hugh Laurie’s title character. That’s the critical consensus about the show as well, and for once the critical consensus is spot-on. Anything else good about it, and it has its moments, is mere bonus. I’ve read that the show sometimes tells some medical stretchers, and probably that’s true, but that’s the dramatic art.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Old Botswana, Keep on Rolling, African Moon Won't You Keep on Shining on Me

Lately spam message lines have shifted back to random verbage, instead of sentences swiped from news reports. Yesterday I got one that said (I’m adding punctuation), “Don’t feel bad, Botswana.” Yes, we must comfort that nation. "What’s happening to Zimbabwe really isn’t your fault, Botswana.”

Ann has taken to her preschool classes in a big way. “I want to go to school,” she says fairly often. I think it has to do with easy access to clay. We used to have some around the house, of course, but I made it go away after too many of her “scatter the clay around the house” exercises.

Meanwhile, work goes on here at the word factory. Not long ago, I got an article back for some revisions. The lead of the revised article said, “[A certain segment of the real estate industry] is on fire.” In my unedited version, I’d initially written: “[A certain segment of the real estate industry] is on steroids.”

To indicate a sudden surge in activity, of course, something like muscular growth in chemically enhanced athletes. Figurative steroids. Ah, well. Just say no to drug metaphor.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Better Yards Through Chemistry

Rainy and overcast. Been that way since Saturday. The ground is soggy, the sort of condition that’s mentioned in retrospect. “Before the northwest suburban flood of 2006, it had rained for days, and the ground was so saturated that it couldn’t hold any more water. Before the great storm broke, no one knew the soggy sod and grass were harbingers of disaster.” Imagine it narrated by David McCullough, though he usually sticks to big-picture stories.

I noticed that wet grass doesn’t keep the TruGreen ChemLawn trucks from delivering their greenifying chemicals to neighborhood yards. A house on the other side of the street is for sale—has been for a couple of months now, so it seems that the buyers’ market is for real around here—and they had TruGreen treatments today. The truck pulls up, a guy with a sprayer gets out, he sprays, and then he posts a keep-the-dogs-off-till-dry sign.

I know just a little about chemical runoffs, so my thoughts are dangerous. Is ever so little of today’s treatment going to go to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi? Or does it break down in place? Is the real danger not even to dogs or Gulf shrimp, but to the employee who sprays for two or three decades? Or will his death from an uncontrolled lump demonstrate correlation, not causation?

There’s no way for me to know. Even if I spend time I don’t have studying the matter, I wouldn’t find out for sure. I have my suspicions, though, but even they aren’t the deciding factor in not having my lawn chemically treated.

I look out my window and see that my lawn, recipient of much rain lately, is very green. Green as everyone else’s; green as it needs to be. As winter comes, it will turn brown, and then will be green again as spring returns. Maybe I’m at risk for some kind of bug that will eat all my grass roots, but I’ve lived with lawns for years and never had that problem. So I have better things to do with my money than give some to TruGreen.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Geysers? They have geysers?

ISLAND OF ADVENTURE is the headline of an article – and I’m using the term “article” loosely here – in an advertising supplement of yesterday’s Tribune. A travel ad supplement also featuring items on usual-suspect destinations like Jamaica and Italy. Usually I wouldn’t bother with it. Too many real articles in the world worth reading.

But the island in question is Iceland, and the Iceland Tourist Board must have sponsored the article, so I thought I’d take a look. Iceland’s an ambition of mine, has been for quite a while, especially since friends of mine visited last year and reported ethereal landscapes.

The opening graph is so amazingly awful that I have to quote it here in full:

“Here’s you: looking for fun, seeking something different, ready for a new adventure. Beaches? Been there, done that. Bed & breakfast slash antiquing slash wine festival? Please. You’ve got energy to spare, adrenaline to burn. If a need for outdoor action and high adventure is your fever, the only cure is Iceland.”

I like that spelling out of “slash.” I could improve it, though: Bed & breakfast… slash! antiquing… I want to slash! At the wine festival, slash them all! Sure, go to the wine festival, but don’t stay at the Bates Motel.

It doesn’t get much better after the first graph, and it’s painfully obvious that the writer may or may not have ever been to Iceland. It wouldn’t matter if he or she hadn’t. Even more intriguing is that possible outdoor adventures in Iceland are discussed in exactly two paragraphs – one of which is about the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal spa – while six paragraphs are given over to hotels, shopping, music and fine dining in Reykjavik.

The last graph gives the game away, however: “For a true escape, you need to abandon the same old, same old. Get yourself to Iceland this fall and winter and challenge yourself.”

So that’s it. Marketing Iceland in the fall and winter. Good luck to the Iceland Tourist Board with that. Must be hard enough in the summer. They should have arranged to trade names with Greenland years ago if they wanted to get any traction with potential visitors who don’t know their asses from a geyser in the ground. Which seems to be the target market for ISLAND OF ADVENTURE.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

21st-century Education

Fall made an appearance over the weekend, at least as cool drizzle and completely overcast skies. But the tired green trees aren’t playing the part yet, and various weathercasters say things are going to warm up again later in the week. I think of it as summer’s tug back to the mild tug of fall.

Ann started preschool last week. Mostly it was introductions to the teachers and classrooms. To avoid separation issues, the kids won’t be without parents for the full two hours until the end of this week. But I suspect that Ann will make the transition without much fuss. She sat down immediately at a table to play with clay during one of last week's classes, and later when I told her it was time to go, she said, “Go, Daddy.”

Lilly of course has been in school a few weeks now. One of the lessons at the beginning of third grade happens to be about the planets, and last week she and I had a discussion about Pluto. “I think Pluto’s still a planet,” I said, exercising my God-given right to have an opinion about celestial objects. “No, it’s a dwarf planet,” she answered. Ah, the new party line. Re-education camp is a distinct risk for me.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Birthplace of Presidents & 5-Way Chili

On Monday, we went looking for President and Chief Justice Taft’s birthplace and boyhood home, now a national historic site in the middle of Cincinnati, but had no luck in finding it. I’d thought about printing out a locator map before leaving home, but blew it off. On Sunday when a laptop was in our room, I had another opportunity to pin down Mr. Taft, but neglected to use the hotel’s wifi to get the information. I figured there would be signs.

Wrong. Mostly wrong, anyway. There was, on I-71 heading north from the Ohio-Kentucky line, one that told us to use exit 2 to find the Taft NHS. That was it. No other guidance afterwards, so we wandered around a while. Which has a value all of its own, if you’re open to it. We discovered, for example, that the Over the Rhine neighborhood, long ago a German immigrant community, really isn’t a place you want to linger in the early 21st century.

Ohio being the birthplace of presidents, there were other presidential sites for us to miss too. Coming into the state of Ohio on US 50, there’s William Henry Harrison’s burial site. It’s supposed to be in North Bend, Ohio, maybe three miles east of the Indiana-Ohio border. I kept looking for a sign, but must have missed it. By the time I figured out that it was behind us, I didn’t want to bother with turning around.

Finally, US Grant’s birthplace is on the Ohio River some miles southeast of Cincinnati. I’ve seen his tomb, his home near St. Louis and another home in Galena, Ill., so the birthplace would have been a nice addition. But time was short, and it was out of the way.

Ah, well, just another few reasons to visit Cincinnati again someday, besides the fact that my nephew goes to school there now, and all the other cool places we missed. But at least I got to try 5-way chili. Five way because it contains beef, spaghetti, beans, onions, and cheddar cheese in a chili sauce base. By visiting a Gold Star location, one of a local chain, I suspect I got a mediocre version of the dish. Still, not bad. But I had to wonder—spaghetti? Who thought of that?

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tobacco Road

There’s probably something in Seymour, Indiana, besides the motel-restaurant-service biz glop near the junction of I-65 and US 50, but we didn’t see it. Seymour was an overnight stop for food, fuel and rest.

On September 3, we headed southeast from Seymour on a mildly cloudy, warm day. In North Vernon and Vernon, two towns along Indiana 7, the thing to do over Labor Day weekend seems to be to hold a yard sale. We stopped at three sales and looked around and bought a few small things. Everyone else in the car wanted to stop at others, but I wanted to drive.

I suggested – seriously – that we return next year and spend more time in North Vernon and Vernon, checking out the sales. Yuriko (and now Lilly) are enthusiasts. My theory about why this might be, for Yuriko anyway, is that the yard/garage/jumble sales are virtually unknown in Japan.

Indiana 7 takes you to Indiana 56/156, part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. It’s good that the Ohio River gets a little recognition. Long and large, important to the development of the Northwest Territories, but overshadowed by Old Man River. Tough luck, Ohio, you get to be a second banana to the Mississippi.

The road meanders along the river, passing through Switzerland County, Indiana, which has to tell us something about the settlement of extreme southeastern Indiana. In fact, the county seat of Vevay sported both US and Swiss flags hanging in public areas. A minor amount of research tells me that it’s the only county of that name in the several states, though there’s a town near Jacksonville, Fla., called Switzerland. At the moment I’d rather not look into it any further. Maybe Switzerland County is really the 27th canton.

Soon after arriving at Ohio River Scenic Byway, I started noticing fields of tobacco. Not many, but enough to be noticeable. I hadn’t seen tobacco fields in years, not since I used to tool around Tennessee and Kentucky a lot more than I do now. Saw some drying sheds too (or is it curing?).

I mentioned the fact that we were passing tobacco fields to my family, and Lilly asked me how they got it into those little red bottles. I was tempted to make something up, but in the end told her what it really was used for.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Story Story

A little more than four years ago, we visited Columbus and Nashville, Indiana, both not far south of Indianapolis. Columbus is a famed architecture town, while Nashville once hosted an artist colony and still feeds off visitors who take away works of art, or at least works of craft, or maybe just cheap items all the way from China.

Yuriko bought a small watercolor at a small gallery in Nashville on that trip. It was a landscape scene of Story, Indiana, a hamlet a few miles south of Nashville, and a pretty little picture. We considered visiting Story on that trip, but dark was catching up with us, or Lilly was hungry, or something, and we didn’t go.

So for all these years, we’ve had a representation of Story around the house, but had never been there. That’s cheating to my oddball way of thinking, though I’m not sure whom or what we’re cheating (best not to articulate these things too much). So this time we turned off I-65 at Columbus and took Indiana 10 past the town of Gnaw Bone—what a great name--to just before Nashville. From there, Indiana 135 covers the ten or so miles to Story.

Actually, Indiana 135 from near Nashvile to about Freetown, maybe 20 miles, was the real treasure. The two-lane blacktop winds its way through the Hoosier National Forest, which would more accurately be called the Hoosier Bit of Forest, Lot of Hills, Some Patches of Corn, and Spreads of Meadows. The road is supposed to be popular in mid-October, and I could see the potential for intense coloration, but I was still taken with the still-hanging-in-there greens, many and lush even now.

On September 2, all the other cars that might be driving that road in October were still waiting for the leaves to change, so we had the road practically to ourselves. In this age of traffic snarls just about anywhere, that’s a fine ride.

As for Story, it was a picturesque hamlet. We got out for about five minutes and looked around. Three or four buildings’ worth of picturesqueness, as far as I could see, anchored by the Story Inn, a retrofitted old country store that now includes a restaurant that has a wine list and for which reservations are recommended. It looked a fine place, but not with little kids. A wedding reception was going on in the yard behind the Story Inn, too, which added a touch of festive background noise.

The Story Inn is also a hotel, and supposedly it has a resident spook. This I learned after our visit. I also learned in researching the Story Inn that there’s an entity called Hoosier Paranormal Research, and that made my day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Queen of the West

Labor Day is over and I was sure I was going to have polished off most of my major paying assignments by now. I was more than half right, but I’m not quite as far along as I’d like. So I’ll be brief. Or maybe not.

But it was Labor Day weekend, and the thing not to do on Labor Day or its weekend is work. The thing to do is drive to Cincinnati by way of south-central Indiana and then come back. We got a late start on Saturday and so didn’t see much that day, one or another of us had a cold the whole time, and my advice to travelers to Cincinnati, Queen of the West, is to take a good map. My fuzzy memories of an hour’s visit to downtown in 1989 were useless in navigating, and my Rand McNally Road Atlas wasn’t much better—no detailed closeup of downtown or really any part of town.

Also, we ran slap into the biggest riverfront event of the year in metro Cincinnati, both sides of the river, a Labor Day Sunday fireworks show over the Ohio River, which bollixed traffic and parking near our hotel.

Sounds like a lousy trip. But on balance, it wasn’t. There were plenty of bright spots among the aggravations:

We got to visit my brother Jay and nephew Sam, who were in town -- Sam’s now a graduate student in architecture at the University of Cincinnati, and Jay was helping him move in.

We managed to drive two lovely yet lightly traveled roads, one in south-central Indiana south of the town of Nashville, the other hugging the north shore of the Ohio River across from Kentucky.

The fireworks over the Ohio River might have been bad for traffic, but on foot that night we saw explosions framed by the grand old Roebling Bridge.

Had a delicious lunch in a seemingly unlikely place, Aurora, Indiana, and while the 5-way chili at Gold Star Chili in Covington, Kentucky, really wasn’t better than mediocre, it was good to try it, and support regional cuisine.

We chanced on Eden Park, a venerable old Cincinnati park, and took a good walk there. From there we watched a Stealth fighter fly by a few times as part of the festivities along the river.

We visited Cincinnati’s Union Station on Jay’s recommendation, because we could find that and not the William Howard Taft NHS. Completed: 1931. Interior Space: Vaulting. Restored murals on the walls: Intriguing. A fine structure all around.

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