29 June 2011

south of the border

Peru, Chili, LaPaz, Mexico......who hasn't driven up and down US 31 in Indiana and wondered if they somehow crossed the border? Or driven past this sign and said, hey, we're only a half mile from Mexico!

Yesterday while traveling, uh, south, I decided on my return trip I would make a short side-trip to Mexico. I remember doing this once before-a long time ago-and visiting this little town on Old 31, now, and maybe originally known as the Mexico Road. Mexico was founded in 1834 by the Wilkinson brothers who believed its location on the west bank of the Eel River was a profitable location to start a town. All of Mexico consists of about two downtown blocks and a handful of churches that want to let passers-by on US 31 know that they are welcome.

Do you ever get that urge while driving 31 to just pull over and visit a church? Evidently some of you do because I see this marketing plan used in a number of small towns.

There was a building that clearly was a bank on the southwest corner (1914), replaced by a newer bank on the southeast corner, now converted to the volunteer fire department's training facility. There was a small, well-kept little commercial block on the northeast corner; it has a small walk-up window like an old-fashioned Dairy Queen. The proprietor of this building came out to greet me. Not many folks stop and take pictures in Mexico, I'm sure. He asked if I knew what was going on with the building across the street. I told him I was a multi-millionaire and planned to drop some significant cash into it, then I said, no, just stopped through to take photos.

The block of commercial buildings across the street (northwest corner if you are keeping track geographically) had clearly seen better days but probably best represented the wealth of Mexico's past. What struck me was the main building, the joint venture between Mexico's Masonic and Odd Fellows' Lodges in 1889. They must have gotten along better than Kiwanis and Rotarians do today. The brickwork in the top of the building was unusual and maybe the most striking feature was the wood-crafted building sign board. Typically these were made out of some form of metal-usually zinc, or limestone. But the brotherhoods of Mexico chose to create their sign boards out of wood with raised wood details and carved wood lettering. Unfortunately a great deal of the wood details are falling victim to time and neglect. All four buildings in this business block were vacant and the curious proprietor told me most of them had some level of roof failure.

I personally don't like to see any community lose its architectural identity. If Mexico lost these, how would you know you were in Mexico?

24 June 2011

correspondence of a square peg

June 1

Dear Sir,

Please be aware that your status with our unnamed state agency will need to be updated by the end of this month. Please go on-line and insert peg into hole.

June 8

Dear Unnamed,

Please confirm that you received my peg. Be aware that I have a square peg and it does not fit neatly into the round hole.

June 12

Dear Sir,

We received your on-line update, however the peg did not fit neatly into the hole. Please try again to insert peg into hole. You may wish to review our requirements for pegs at blahblahblah.com

June 14

Dear Unnamed,

I have reviewed the requirements at blahblahblah; these are not applicable to square pegs. Could you identify exactly how you wish for me to insert my peg.

June 16,

Dear Sir,

Please insert your square peg into the round hole. If you are having problems with this action, please contact Joe Blow at joeblow.roundpeg.

June 17,

Dear Joe Blow,

I have been asked to update my status with your unnamed state agency by inserting my square peg into the round hole. Could you please assist me in doing so?

June 20,

Dear Sir,

I have no record that your square peg ever fit into our round hole. Please insert the appropriate peg into the hole. JB

June 20,

Dear Joe Blow,

Attached is a certification letter from your unnamed state agency documenting that my square peg fit into the round hole. Please provide detailed information on how you wish for me to proceed.

June 22,

Dear Sir,

See my previous response. JB

June 23,

Dear Unnamed,

Please find enclosed documents stating that a square peg cannot fit into a round hole. Also enclosed is a document from your agency that states that my square peg qualified for the requirements of the hole and that I am a certified hole-filler for your unnamed agency. Please indicate if you wish for me to pretend to be a round peg.

The problem with certain unnamed state agencies is that they cost the taxpayer more by requiring only round pegs be used.....about 100% more! If Mitch is serious about reform of state government and saving tax dollars he needs to change the hole-filling requirements of his bureaucracy.

22 June 2011

Legacy Makers

Few people made me feel more welcome when I moved to River City 15 years ago than a couple of older gentlemen and their wives. Both were civic leaders I had the great pleasure of working with over the years, and had the unfortunate opportunity to say goodbye to both in the last week.

News of the first one's passing came as a shocking sting since I had seen him only the week before and he seemed his normal jovial and mischievous self. Just before attending his funeral, word came of the second one's death. River City lost a couple of greats that week. For me, memories were brought back to mind with tidbits of wisdom sprinkled in.

Bill offered sage advice on politics.....but probably the wisdom imparted that stuck with me the most was his comment that he was so thankful he lost his re-election bid for city council 50+ years ago. I find some comfort in that. He also was a collector-of everything it seemed. Finally when his wife said it was time to clean out the basement and closets, our family was the recipient of many of his archives....well, old magazines and other "treasures". He would show up at my office with a box load of things and say "Betty tells me its time to clean out another closet". This happened every few months over the years and I have to say, we did end up with some pretty cool stuff. I think my favorite was when he showed up with a box of old cassette tapes that his son had recorded Prairie Home Companion shows on from the 1980s.

Jim had so many stories to tell....some of them true. And he wasn't from this politically correct generation, as he referred to me as the "little Hindu". I'm about as Anglo-Saxon as they come, but evidently didn't look so to Jim. I called his office once and complained about how the city fixed the flooding in the viaduct in front of our house. He asked me if it was because I didn't have anywhere for my camel to get a drink. I teared up once when I read a speech for my great aunt upon her being awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash. He took me aside and said he was going to have to toughen me up for politics.

Both were remarkable men of another generation, and different sides of the aisles. Both wanted what was best for River City and offered about all the encouragement I could have asked for. I wonder in those 91 and 83 years if there were rough edges that were worn down, if there were times when hope seemed lost, or opportunities to say "forget this". I mentioned to my wife the other day that for the last 15 years I've lived my life for everyone else and it was time to start thinking about us. She said that was contrary to the message on Sunday. Oh sure, bring God into this.....as if He's not on my case already.

Goodbye Bill and Jim. Thanks for making this outsider feel welcome and an integral part of a city that needs to live up to the legacy you left it.

16 June 2011

Sunrise on the Hill

I meet a couple of guys most Thursday mornings for coffee. It started at a local coffee shop several years ago, then moved to Marbucks a few years later. Late last summer one of the guys suggested we have coffee in my barn. He even offered his wife's baked items as a lure. I said sure and set up a couple of chairs and a makeshift table constructed from a very old saw horse and an 8' x 18" oak plank.

That first coffee in the barn was accompanied by a pretty amazing sunrise. So we opened all four large barn doors and took in the sights and smells of an Indiana summer morning in the country. We continued meeting there until both darkness and chill put a damper on things.

Well yesterday I suggested that we resume coffees in the barn this morning. I brewed the coffee and placed it in a large thermos and found a few mugs. When I walked out the back door I was awestruck looking out across the back pasture from our back porch. The warm golden sun was casting long shadows across the lawn and pasture, and a patchy fog was moving across the ground. It was sun-drenched and radiated that golden color.

I hiked up the hill leading to the barn and rolled open the large barn doors, which startled the Red Tailed Hawk that perches daily on the ridge of the barn. The breeze blew through the old oak timbers and captured the smell of hay and sweet grass. With the barn swallows darting through and the bright sun peeking between the cracks of the barn siding, coffees resumed on the Hill.

I don't know what your ideal Indiana is, but this is mine.

08 June 2011

LaPorte's front door

Anyone who has traveled into LaPorte on highway 35 knows this scene well. There are probably very few really spectacular barns that form gateways into modern cities. LaPorte is fortunate to have maybe one of the most unusual barns at their southern edge.....the edge of the prairie.

The Door Prairie Barn was constructed in 1882 for Marion Ridgway, whose grandfather had owned the property clear back to 1831. John Jeffrey built the nine-sided barn, but it appears to have been his only attempt at such a project. Nine sides? I guess there were plenty of options for which corner to, er, uh....well. Multi-sided barns are pretty rare and had just come into fashion when this was built. Round barns came a bit later with the height of their construction occurring in about 1905. The Kesling Family of LaPorte restored the Door Prairie Barn in 2001, and it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

02 June 2011

One Munster Shrine

Last Friday I had a dreary trip across Indiana beginning at the Illinois state line and finishing at the Ohio line, all on Route 6. The company was good, and for the most part, the scenery was interesting, but it was an awful gray overcast day for taking pictures.

We hadn't gotten too far into Indiana from Illinois when this happy steer put a smile on my face despite the gloomy skies above. A bit further down the road my observant driver spotted Calvary on the south side of the road in Munster. What's that doing up there I wondered. Knowing that we were on a tight time frame to make it across the state during daylight hours, of course, we stopped.

And it was the best stop of the day.

We gathered up a few photos, walked briskly through the stations of the cross (backwards I think, and we missed a few....that's the trouble with us Protestants), but we couldn't help but be drawn to the unique material the shrine was made from during the 1950s. Sponge rock from Arkansas. Never heard of it. But it was used in masterful precision. I was headed back to the car when my driver (sounds like I'm Amish) began talking to some older gentlemen who looked like they were heading off to do some important work. They planned to spend the day in the tomb switching light bulbs. What? So they invited us into the tomb below Calvary and it was one of the more impressive places I think I've been in here in ol' Indiana.

Now, my pictures (stupid camera) didn't do this place justice. It was really quite remarkable. I went online and found this link that has a little better photography than my orange blurs, and more history: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/11529 . I think what was so amazing was the use of light and stone together in the tomb. And just so that you don't think I wasn't reverent, I asked if it was ok to take pictures, and I did spend a little contemplative time before rolling the stone away and getting back on Route 6.

The one picture that turned out perfectly was the one of my hand. I was inspired with all kinds of thoughts and spiritual applications when I placed my hand on the stone, unfortunately they escape me now. I'll be sure to post more on my travels on Route 6 soon.