Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mike, the nicest guy in Indiana

Radio highlights from yesterday: Marvin Gaye, “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Come on Eileen,” and ZZ Top. Being a Hot 97 gal myself, this whole 80s and rock flashback has been very interesting for me, let alone having the radio become my new BFF. As I sang along loudly to each tune, and mind you, I now talk to myself frequently in the car, not in front of folks (yet), I remembered how bad I always was at knowing the words to songs back when I was in middle and high school. I just wasn’t disciplined enough to sit there with the radio and write down the lyrics or listen to an LP or cassette over and over again to make sure I had it right. I took the lazy way out sometimes if it really meant that much to me and bought the sheet music at the record store in the mall. Young people nowadays don’t even know this process because they can Google the lyrics to just about anything probably but back in the day, you had to buy them or at least stand there in the record store long enough with a sheet of paper copying them down without the salesperson noticing. I wonder if my mom kept those in the piano bench for us.

So as I left Ohio, I not only heard an advertisement on the radio for a restaurant that said if you spent over a certain amount of money, they’d donate 10% back to your church, but then I saw this poor guy in a van get pulled over by not one, but four state police cruisers on the highway. It was unreal. Do they always do this when there’s a call in about a rogue van on the interstate? I know. I have no clue what the issue was but it seemed excessive for one man and a van. Then down the road a ways, I saw it again. Maybe they just don’t have that much excitement going on that they jump on the chance to arrest someone in numbers. I do hope it wasn’t for speeding because I should have been hauled off to jail a long time ago. AND, what’s infuriating about these small roads connected little towns is that you’ll be on a 55mph bit, then all of a sudden, it’s 35, then 45, then back to 55, all within 2 minutes time. UGH!

So once I hit Indiana (the welcome sign alerted me, otherwise I would have never known since there’s just more corn everywhere), I happened upon this adorable little town called Decatur. I was on my way to Peru but had to stop when I saw how cool some of the buildings were and that there seemed to be some activity on the streets. I stopped in to this antique store on the main street and had a ball. My first find was this vintage hat that I will find some way to wear to the wedding I am going to at the end of September. It’s just lovely and in pretty good shape, not perfect, but neither am I. And then I found an Italian cowboy hat and it was only $10 and it came in a NYC milliner box called Dobbs. So cool. Not sure what I will do with it but it was in perfect shape (the hat, not the box). I then moseyed around the corner and saw Hitler’s image framed on a bureau next to an old radio and lamp. I thought, “that’s odd, it looks like he’s being featured as someone important in a good way.” Let’s hope not because the two gals running the shoppe were very nice and I can’t imagine why he had this kind of prominence in the store but there it was. I continued to shop and found many goodies for friends. Since I bought so much, one of the ladies helped me out to my car with it and immediately said surprised, “You’re from New York?” She was stunned that I was traveling alone with no itinerary but at the same time thought it was super cool. I assured her I would be safe and was on my way.

Before heading to lunch, I wanted to take a few shots of the amazing signage in this town. Some very funny and some so retro you hoped it would never get replaced with modern signs or neon godforbid. So in wandering around town shooting signs, I came across this Window Store, aptly named, but it took me a few seconds to realize why it was so strange looking. There were NO windows on the Window Store. Not one! Just solid entry doors. Hilarious!

Down the road a bit before I hit Decatur, I had seen a billboard on US-24 for a placed called West End Restaurant and it said it was 3 miles ahead just before the railroad tracks. Looked like the kind of place I’d like to try. So I went in that direction and sure enough, it was the easiest thing to locate right before the tracks (especially since a very long freight train was making its way thru town at the moment). I parked my car out back and walked in to find that it wasn’t all too busy but then again, it was a little later in the day for lunch. There was an older gentleman sitting at the counter so I decided to sit next to him, one stool separating us. I said hello and then took a look at the menu. Ordered a fish sandwich and lemonade and looked around a bit.

One of the fellas that worked there was having an exchange with my neighbor about what he likes to be called now. Apparently, he used to work for him years ago and used to go by Barry. Mike was the former owner of Decatur Packaging and had since retired. And Barry, or whatever he goes by now, used to work there as a young man. I found out what type of business he was in when he struck up the conversation about having employed this kid. And he told me all about this big Vegas convention show that he landed and how it was huge for his company to get bragging rights to such a big account. It had to do with packaging for drinks like Manhattans and martinis and such. I didn’t quite understand fully but I was enjoying listening to him talk about his work. Again, I had met someone who truly loved their job. I asked him where the company had been and whether someone was still running it. He started giving me directions and when I looked extremely lost, he said, “Oh, are you not from here?” Told him I was from New York City and he said, “I’ve been there a few times. Great place. My aunt owns a hospice for travelers there and back in my sophomore year of college, me and my buddies went to Larchmont and went out to a bar drinking and got pulled over by this Irish cop. We were honest that we had had a few and he started opening his ticket pad. But once he saw my Notre Dame emblem on my jacket, he flipped the cover and asked if I went there.” Needless to say, the Fighting Irish got them out of a ticket and the cop apparently followed them home to make sure they’d be safe. Gotta love those Irish cops! So I told him my father was one of those but not with the accent since while he was doing the part of the cop in his story, he put on a brogue. He asked what my last name was and then said, “Yup, that’s Irish alright.” Said it was a lovely country. He then proceeded to tell me all about his travels far and wide. He had also been to London and had spent some time in Germany (Heidelberg specifically where he had his first German girlfriend), Egypt (this came up when I told him that I was hoping to make it as far as Mt. Rushmore but hoped seeing the sculpture wouldn’t be a letdown the way the Sphinx and pyramids were). He had also been to Rome and apparently did some swimming. I guess he didn’t have trunks of his own so he had to borrow or buy some (he spoke very softly so I didn’t always make out what he was saying precisely but this part I didn’t miss). “You know they wear those bikinis there for me, when in Rome, ya know, so I put those on and if they had been one size smaller, you would have had two bottle caps and a cork.” Took me a second and then I just started laughing hysterically. This guy was hilarious! When in Rome…

Mike then asked me if the Golden Theatre was still around in NYC. Because back in the day, he had gone there to see Victor Borge, the famous Danish pianist. “He hardly ever got to playing the piano because he was always cracking jokes.” He had fond memories of this trip. I wanted to ask whether his wife that he had mentioned earlier was still around but I realized that I didn’t even ask that of Rod the previous day. I think I didn’t want to have to say “I’m sorry” if they were deceased. I hope not. But Mike did say that he married in his late 30s.

So we talked a bit about my trip and how unplanned it was but that I hoped to make it to Keystone, South Dakota. He even knew the name of the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore and said, “Can you imagine getting it so precise, a nose, being up that close?” I wholeheartedly agreed. I think that is why I find this stuff fascinating. I wish I had been a lot less critical in Giza. Of course those sights are incredible but I fear that our constant viewing of things in magazines and on TV almost make the experience of being right there in front of it a little less stunning. It’s a shame. I will try not to imagine it until I get there to see it firsthand.

So just like that, Mike jumped up, after his last cigarette and cup of joe (you can apparently smoke in Indiana restaurants), and bid me farewell. He went to the register to settle his tab and on the way out, past my stool, brushed my shoulder and said ‘safe travels.’ It was so utterly sweet. What a kind man. I was done with my sandwich and ready to get back on the road myself so I put my money on the check and the nice waitress said, “Mike took care of it.” The owner came over and said, “Mike’s a really intelligent guy,” and I responded, “I know. He just told me all about his business and his traveling around the world. I’m so glad he spoke to me. Such a doll.” And he was. I think I’ll send him a postcard from Mt. Rushmore when I get there. I’ll send it c/o The West End Restaurant, Decatur, Indiana.

Stopped in Markle, Indiana on my way to Peru. They had a smaller, but still substantial antique mall and it was great. Lots of old Raggedy Ann dolls, Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley board games. Never knew those existed. Wonder what you do in the game? Sew L’s on sweaters? Found some Pickup Stix though and I heart those. Also, apparently, you can’t swing a dead cat in the Midwest without hitting a root beer drive-in. They are everywhere! And here I thought it was somethin’ special that I happened upon one in Pennsylvania. Sheesh.

Along the way, I also saw a crucifix on the top of a barn and couldn’t help but laugh. Not at the crucifix, but at the concept of making sure it’s visible in case God was looking down one day and chose to do something destructive to only the bad people of America. This way, he’d see the cross and realize he should spare this Christian family. Good placement folks. I also saw a sign for the Dan Quayle Museum. That threw me for a loop. What the hell is that?! Then I realized that he was born in Indiana. I guess I had tried my darnedest to put that time period behind me. Needless to say, I didn’t stop in for a gander. At that point in the road, there was a detour because a bridge was out so I luckily got to pass by “The Boondocks,” a local watering hole. I had to take a photo of their self-proclaimed small town pub sign but as I did, this man had just arrived on his Harley and didn’t quite like this New Yorker finding humor in it. He scowled my way with his long, shiny, gray Farrah Fawcett (RIP) locks blowing in the wind. I ignored and carried on. You can’t have a name like that and not expect tourists to take notice. Sheesh. Down the road a bit more, I stopped for a snack at Clare Lake, just this public access “beach” with lots and lots of crickets in the marshy bits. It was very pleasant and a nice relaxing spot to take a rest from driving. It was near Huntington, Indiana.

So Peru, Indiana is a quaint little town. The only place to stay in town (from what I could see driving down Main Street east to west, was this motel with scary truckers drinking beers very quickly on the second floor banister. So I pretty much decided then that I would grab a bite to eat at the Mandarin Buffet (free WiFi) and head up north a bit closer to Gary, Indiana (like the son). I spent a bit of time though going around Peru, shooting various things like yet another drive-in joint, select saloons, the Peru Tribune, the Circus Hall of Fame, some cows. Overall, my impression: Looks like the kind of place you want to walk down Main Street and hold hands for the first time with the girl you’re smitten with. :-)


Dan said...

Now now, don't be too hard on Dan Quayle. You don't believe everything news people and politicians say about people, do you?

You write very well and it was fun to read about my Indiana through your New York eyes.

heidimary said...

i love this photo of you in front of the lake. sounds like decatur was great : )

Matthea said...

Favorite photo of the day: window store.

Michael said...


I had the pleasure of connecting with your blog as a Facebook friend [Dan] mentioned our Hoosier pass through and the kind (excepting his exception regarding Qualye :) words you expressed. Having lived for a time in the NY/NJ area,(recently moved to Decatur) I have greatly enjoyed listening to your experiences...looking forward to reading more and hope you have a great trip. Nothing about Tenderloins yet, but I'm sure you will have many more great stories. Be well, michael

Elizabeth said...

Mike/Dan: Thanks. I have a very special anger toward Quayle because he made those comments about single moms when my friend had just given birth and the father wanted nothing to do with it. I felt his comments were irresponsible. I was a teenager when he was in office so other than that, I don't really remember much about his feelings on other matters. But wow, I'm so surprised people I don't know are following my blog. Weird. I did it mostly for myself and so friends knew where I was and what types of things I was getting myself into. Enjoy!