Friday, May 21, 2010

Finding Jesus Again

I spent Wednesday night in Bloomington, Indiana, famous as the hometown of the fictional Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H. Yes, it was that exciting.

Actually it wasn't a bad drive, across Illinois and Indiana. I left Macomb, Illinois that morning, figuring to get some coffee in the next town ... and this time I didn't have to get off the highway to find an actual town. I found a Bob Evans restaurant only about an hour from my hotel, right on the highway. Had their spinach, bacon & tomato "biscuit bowl" -- the named ingredients, mixed with scrambled egg and something approximating hollandaise sauce, served in a thin curved bread bowl made of biscuit mix. Not bad, as those things go.

Since I had plenty of time, I changed my route to take in a few unanticipated counties, scooting north around Springfield and east to Champaign-Urbana, where I bought a long-sleeve University of Illinois T-shirt. It being the end of winter hereabouts, the long-sleeved shirts were on sale. Lucky me. And this one is actually warm, unlike the long-sleeve T-shirts I've bought in Texas and Louisiana. I could've gotten an orange one, but honestly, it was just a little too orange; so I went with the navy blue, with orange lettering. Not an attractive colour combination, but you can't tell these people anything.

I also wandered around Indiana a great deal more than I'd planned, and still got to Indianapolis, where I'd figured to spend the night, before 3pm.

All of Indianapolis is under construction. It's about 24 miles from one side to the other; it took me 56 minutes. Do the math, then think about the kind of mood I was in. At least it wasn't raining, but I did have the top up. Lucky that: didn't have to smell all those exhaust fumes.

So to Bloomington, where the University Motel is so proud of its rooms that their best rate was $90 a night. I opted for the budget motel on the south side, and skipped dinner. Hey, I can afford to miss a meal now and then.

Bloomington is only like four hours from the Cincinnati airport, where I had to be at 3.30 yesterday afternoon. This gave me still more time for expanding my peregrinations to include unexpected counties, including a slow drift along country roads through picturesque farm country, then along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, which, let me tell you, isn't very scenic. It's all smokestacks, convenience stores and casinos, with occasional views of the river. I'd've been much better off taking Highway 56, which goes north from the river, then rejoins it farther upstream. That highway has the signs telling trucks not to take it. I regret not having taken it myself.

I got to the airport early enough that I could go buy gas -- I didn't really need it then, but I knew from the internet that gas taxes are about 12¢ a gallon cheaper than they are in Indiana, and about 6¢ a gallon less than in Ohio, so I figured I might as well. And since I still had bird crap all over the car from Kansas City, where I parked under a tree for 3 days, I figured it was time for a car wash. So, for the first time in my life, I hit the "yes" button on the pump when it asked if I wanted a car wash. Nothing happened, so I hit "yes" again, but it turned out that the first pressing of the button had registered, and the second bought the most expensive ($6) version of the car wash.

The car wash was out of order. Some kind of electrical problem. It was probably designed by Jaguar. Went inside and got a refund, and found out there was another station with a car wash about a mile down the road. So I went over there, but you had to have a code for the car wash. So I went inside and started telling the guy that the other station's car wash was out of order. He asked me how much it was, and I told him $6. So he gave me a code for the $6 car wash.

My first thought was, Ooh, got a free car wash! Then I thought, well I'll have to go back to the other station (which I had to go by anyway, on the way back to the airport) and give the first guy his $6 back. Then I drove through the car wash and came out with bird crap all over the car. So instead of doing the honest thing and stopping off to give the guy back his $6, I thought, Well: I'm certainly glad I didn't have to pay for that! I'd've been royally p.o.'d. See Hamlet, III, 1, 122.

To the airport in the nick of time, where the wife's flight was half an hour late getting in, then to our hotel way out in the boonies north of Cincinnati, near King's Island, an amusement park like Six Flags. I can see the giant roller coaster out the window of our room. Dinner last night at the Outback Steak House next door, then early to bed. Nothing else to do.

This morning, after taking my little kumquat to her conference at the Great Wolf Lodge (next to King's Island), I came back and looked on line for Sights To See Without Going Into Cincinnati.

What I came up with were a castle, and Jesus.

The castle was started in 1929 by a guy named Harry Andrews. The blurb on RoadsideAmerica.com made him sound like a pederast ("Three facts, however, seem pretty clear: Harry built an imposing European-style castle by himself, Harry had a low opinion of the modern world, and Harry really enjoyed the company of young men."), but I think that says more about the writer than the subject. Harry used to take local boys down to the river and taught them to fish and such, and was a scoutmaster, and gave them Sunday-school lessons. I don't think that was all that unusual in the 1920s in places like rural Ohio; I think it was viewed as the duty of every adult. (And no, I'm not naive.) Harry and his group of boys formed a sort of club, which they called the Knights of the Golden Trail. Then Harry decided that knights needed a castle. So Harry did what anybody would've done: he built a castle. And this is it.

He was still building it when he died in 1981. He left it to the Knights, which operate it now as a museum dedicated to Harry's memory.  It's quite impressive, worth every penny of the $3 admission: four storeys, from dungeon to tower, plus beautiful gardens, moat, and crennelated barbicans stretching the length of the property, which I would guess to be about 6 acres along the Little Maine River. I spent about an hour going through the rooms and gardens.

After that I found Jesus. What more can I say?

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