Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 12: O lucky man

Indiana line to Otis. 14.5 miles/153.8 total

The time is 12:20 p.m., central daylight time, my first full day in another time zone. I am embarking from the parking lot of the fireworks store just over the line from Michigan, headed through Michigan City, Indiana and down U.S. 421 to the village of Otis, near the Indiana Toll Road.

It’s very windy, temperatures in the 50s. The clouds are low and rolling in off Lake Michigan from the northwest. I caught sight of the lake earlier today and it was dark gray and rough and filled with whitecaps. Angry, “like an old man sending back soup at a deli,” in the immortal words of George Costanza. Quite a contrast to last week's calm.

I’m tempted to pick up the first empty can I see, then remember that they’re no longer returnable. This is still motel and beach resort country. The first little village I pass (but don’t go through) is called Michiana Shores.

The first official Indiana road kill is a raccoon. Then I see something I can’t identify, but I’ve decided that starting today I won’t have the category “unidentified mammals.” If I can’t tell what it is, I just won’t record it. Time to get principled about this. Then, a find! My first dog road kill of the entire trip. It’s pretty far gone, but it looks like it was a brown and white spotted smaller dog, maybe a beagle.

Just on the outskirts of Michigan City, I pass the entrance to the International Friendship Gardens, apparently a botanical garden with hiking trails. Sounds uncharacteristically pink and fluffy for such an otherwise gritty urban place.

And now, off in the distance, I can see the huge green glass tower of the Blue Chip casino and hotel. I’m walking right by the casino, so I decide to go in. Now, gambling is on the very short list of things I don't find the least bit addicting. So here’s my bargain with myself: I’ll put five dollars into the smallest denomination slot machine I see, then walk out as soon as I lose the five or win anything above that amount. (Big spender, I know.)

Well, my visit to the casino is over, and I was good to my bargain. I played a two-cent slot machine for about twenty minutes, then finally got ahead by $2.84, so I cashed out and left. But I also got a 12-pack of vanilla Coke for signing up as a newcomer (in convenient throwaway cans). I can't very well walk the next 9 miles with a 12-pack of Coke, so I give it to a somewhat startled elderly woman who's standing at the door. (Hmmm. Elderly woman at a casino. Isn't that almost redundant?)

Altogether, I count myself a lucky man. Whenever you can walk out of a casino with more money than when you entered, you’re a winner. Now, it’s on to the next casino. I doubt if that will be for some time, probably down on the Mississippi river somewhere in southern Illinois.

Heading south through downtown Michigan City. Walking down Franklin through the old city center, I notice very few pedestrians--pretty typical of most older U.S. cities. About half the storefronts are empty and the other half are specialty shops—a few art galleries, a bridal shop. On 11th street, there are what look like actual working streetcar tracks, complete with overhead electric wires. Maybe they dug a trolley out of mothballs and got it going again, in an attempt to attract tourists. These moribund cities are always trying things like that.

In the distance loom the Italianate towers and cruciform bulk of the church of St. Stanislaus Kostka. Leave it to the Polish to build an Italian-style church. Or maybe they took it over from the Italians, who maybe used to dominate this part of the city.

(I looked up Michigan City on the internet after the walk, and there's not much to tell. Resort city of about 33,000. Big dunes. Once proud shipping and industrial town. One of the points of interest they list is that on a clear day you can see the Chicago skyline from here. Not much of a claim to fame. In fact, in 1996, the mayor tried to introduce a new logo for Michigan City that featured the Chicago skyline, but many residents rebelled at this proposal, so it was abandoned. I checked the list of famous people who have come from Michigan City, and none of them are very famous. They do mention that John Dillinger was once a prisoner at the Indiana State Penitentiary here. That might just be the high point.)

Down along the south end of Franklin, which becomes U.S. 421, the houses are large, almost verging on mansions. This is where the wealthy of this city once lived. Now it merges with the commercial strip and its familiar run of fast food joints and drug stores and strip malls and major stores that could be absolutely anywhere in the country.

About a half mile after it crosses I-94, past the Gas City gas station, U.S. 421 narrows into two lanes, and becomes just a country road. I am fascinated with the variety of items by the road. Some I recognize right away, like vacuum cleaner parts, fan belts, an odd shoe, windshield wipers. Others are less recognizable. There are shards of plastic of all kinds everywhere.

Thousands of years from now when they dig up our stuff, they’ll probably call this the Plastic Age. So here’s an interesting scenario: Maybe within the next few decades biologists and nanotechnologists will develop some bacterium that eats plastic, so it can self destruct--biodegrade after whatever period we choose--ten years, twenty, fifty. We'll all be so proud of ourselves that we've eliminated the plastic that lasts forever. But the archaeologists of the future will notice that the age of durable plastic only lasted about 150 years, and suddenly died out. They’ll speculate on the fate of the Plastic People. Did they die of some disease? Were they driven into extinction by the metal and stone people, who seemed to have been there before and after the Plastic People? Were they like the Neanderthals? Maybe they’ll conclude that the Plastic People somehow lost the art of making durable plastic. All our brilliant work to eliminate nonbiodegradable plastic will be misunderstood. They’ll think we failed to thrive.

I am really out in the sticks now. It’s all dead animals. Whatever Indiana lacks in other charms it makes up for in road kill. I'm marvelling at how the raccoons seem to be committing mass suicide, then something happens to slightly ameliorate my opinion of Indiana folks. Two guys offer me a ride. That's the first time that's happened since I left home. Hoosiers, no less.


Michael Roberts said...

Wish I'd known you were in A2, as I was there over the weekend to help Caroline move over toward Ypsi. (When did you become a UM football fan?) In fact, we took an early load in her car on Sat. morning right past the Big House, all kinds of people lined up at dawn to park on the high school field and golf course.

Passing by later, once the game began, amazed at the many groups of guys sitting in lawn chairs staring at TVs set up in the back of big SUVs parked in strangers driveways ($20-$40 ..."with bathroom,")sucking canned beer, watching the game.

Watch out in some of those small Indiana towns. Still a different kind of place and time there.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Good to see you on the comment page. Been a UM football fan since the '70s some time; only been getting to games since we moved back here in '04. Sorry we couldn't connect on Saturday. Hope Caroline is doing and feeling well.