The time had come for another road trip across the good ole US of A. We’d taken our “family and friends” road trip in July, but hadn’t really driven around the country since 2012, and there were plenty of new things for us to explore in the Midwest. Stop #1: Indianapolis, Indiana for a taste of Americana. Not knowing anything about Indiana, we only knew we wanted to check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500.
We had been warned that although we could take a lap of the track in a closed bus, we could not get off the bus at all, and the narration was pre-recorded. Wrong, wrong and wrong! We signed up for the “Kiss the Bricks” tour which was on an open-air tram, and narrated by a real live human. Best of all, we stopped at the finish line for a photo op at the famous “yard of bricks”…and yes, we kissed them. Don’t ask me why! For those of you who (like me) had never heard of this before, let me tell you about it. The original Speedway was paved with 3.2 m-i-l-l-i-o-n bricks, and was nicknamed “The Brickyard.” When it was resurfaced, they left three feet or one yard of the original bricks. (Get it?) These are right at the finish line, and it was here that the photos were taken.
The tram went slowly, but it was neat to feel the banked track on the curves, and to imagine the empty stands filled with thousands of race fans. After the tram ride, we explored the museum which features many Indy-winning cars from the first race in 1911 all the way to the present. We talked with a wonderful volunteer named Joe who seemed to know everything there was to know about auto racing having attended the last 52 Indy 500 races in person. (You read that right!)
We continued on to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but as luck would have it, the museum is closed on Mondays. Open however, was the attached art park called 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. This park is a 100 acre plot of land complete with a lake, and containing 12 larger-than-life-sized art installations. Some of our favorites were these twisty benches that seem to come out of the ground, twist around a bit, and then dive back down, as well as a huge human(ish) skeleton made of climbable fiberglass called “Funky Bones.”
That night we headed to Fountain Square – an old, historic section of downtown Indianapolis. We spent some time walking up and down the main drag admiring the architecture and checking out artsy stores like the record shop that actually sells vinyl records. (Man, have they gotten expensive! I hope it’s worth it, hipsters!) We also had to check out all the vintage clothing stores. One was actually a Goodwill, but when you’re appealing to the upscale artsy crowd, you call the clothes “vintage,” not “thrift,” and you charge more.
There was also a Duckpin Bowling lane. This is a variation on bowling that was popular in the 50s. We had never heard of it, but at $40 a game, we decided “maybe next time.” I’m glad we held off, because as we walked, we found a retro 80s bar called Tapper’s. Just as I was thinking “Hey, there was a video game in the 80s called ‘Tapper’,” we realized that this bar had an actual 80s-style arcade with some of my favorite games from when I was a kid. Best of all, they were set on free play, with no cover charge required. After Stephanie whomped me at Centipede, I showed her Burger Time, Donkey Kong, the original Mario Brothers, and Arkanoid before moving on to the granddaddy of them all: Galaga! I’m not saying I’m great at it or anything, but let’s just say there’s a Galaga machine in Indianapolis with my name on the high score.
Sometimes we get lucky with our timing on a trip, and Indianapolis was one of those times. The Indiana State Fair was underway, and our couch surfing host lived an easy 30 minute walk away. The day we were there happened to be “$2 Tuesday,” and we love us a bargain, so off we went. Neither of us had ever been to a full-blown state fair; Pennsylvania doesn’t even have one. The fair was exactly what we pictured. We started off watching the Clydesdale judging. I have no idea what they look for in a horse, but the guys with clipboards were making lots of notes. We caught a reptile show, watched some old-timey farm machinery in action, and checked out the needlework entries (to satisfy the cross-stitcher in me). We even caught some pig racing – all before lunch!
After lunch, I let Stephanie convince me to enter a watermelon seed spitting competition. Mine went a paltry 12 feet, but Stephanie launched hers 23’11”, and almost earned herself a top ribbon. It just goes to show that you never know what hidden talents your wife might reveal after almost 13 years of marriage.
Next up was a cow-milking demonstration. Since neither of us had ever milked a cow, we decided to see what it was like. It turned out this was a hands-on demonstration, and so each of us got to milk a cow. I wonder if the cow could tell that we had no idea what we were doing.
We caught a show on hawks and falcons from a hilariously entertaining bird-of-prey expert, and then went to see some prize-winning veggies. I have no idea how they judge a plate of potatoes, or a sheaf of rye, but we could easily see how they judged the giant pumpkins. The winner weighed 1,232 pounds!
We ended our day with something new for me: A full-blown, fully-sanctioned rodeo! We had it on our bucket list to attend one together someday, but here it was being handed to us. In the time leading up to the show, they played one Country song after another. Now, as I mentioned in our post on Nashville, Country music isn’t in my top 100 favorite music genres, but when in Rome, right? I made it more palatable by people-watching, and keeping my musical judgments to myself.
They opened the show by having a cowgirl in red, white and blue sequins parade a large American flag around the field. So far, so good as they talked highly about the flag and how America is a great country with a lot of freedoms. But then they started saying that thanks to Old Glory, Americans are “free to wake up on a Sunday morning and go to any one of 300,000 churches across our great nation.”
After recognizing any current or former military in the crowd, and singing the National Anthem, they said a prayer for America and the rodeo participants. We were definitely a little thrown off not only by the prayer at a state fair, but the fact that it ended with “in Jesus’ name we pray.” That would never happen in a blue state! I was really upset, and felt all out of sorts for the next half hour. I’m not offended by anyone else’s religion, but I am stunned that in America – the land of religious freedom – an unconstitutional preference for one particular religion was publicly declared at a State-sponsored event. I was also upset that most of the people there might be so used to hearing this sort of thing, they wouldn’t even realize how many people were excluded.
Religious differences aside, it was time to enjoy my first-ever rodeo! It started with the bucking bronco. Very few of those guys could hang on for the full eight seconds it took to actually earn a score. Next up was steer wrestling. This is where you chase a young cow on your horse, leap off onto the cow, throw it to the ground, and tie up its hind legs.
Right about here, Stephanie started saying she felt bad for the animals and wasn’t sure she was glad she had brought me to a rodeo after all, and I started to wonder what PETA thinks about rodeos. I figured it can’t be as hard on the animals as it looks, or these things would have been shut down a long time ago. (Note: I’ve since heard otherwise.) The announcer and the rodeo clown kept up a joking banter the entire time entertaining us between events. My personal favorite event was the women’s barrel racing. I swear those horses were having as much fun as their riders. After the two-on-one steer roping (at which nobody succeeded), the rodeo ended with the grand-daddy of them all – Bull riding – at which nobody succeeded. Score one for the bull!
After all that, there was only one thing left to do: eat traditional State Fair fare. And what are State Fairs known for? Why, deep-frying everything of course. There were about 20 different types of fried potatoes, fried veggies, fried pickles, fried candy bars, fried Reese’s peanut butter cups, even fried cookie dough. I settled on deep-fried Oreos. They’re like an Oreo wrapped in a funnel cake, and then fried up. They were surprisingly good. I may just have to try them again. Stephanie – strong girl that she is – stayed away from the whole artery-clogging mess.
And just like that, we were done with Indianapolis; but not quite done with Indiana. On our way to our next destination, we detoured to Vincennes, Indiana to visit the George Rogers Clark National Historic Site. Who on earth is George Rogers Clark (I hear you cry)? George was the older brother of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark Fame), but more importantly, during the Revolutionary War he led a secret mission to do an end run around the British, and retake the gateway to the west. The British had recruited Native Americans to their side, and Clark marched his men for three days in the middle of winter through a nearly-frozen river to intimidate both the British and the Native Americans into backing off. And it worked! Hooray for the good guys. The beautiful memorial is the largest national memorial outside of Washington DC.
We made a quick stop at the Illinois border to see a memorial to the fact that Abraham Lincoln once passed this way on his way to Illinois. This trip, it turned out, would be full of Lincoln related national sites.
Chapter 1 of our road trip came to an end as we celebrated our first 1000 miles en route to Missouri.