Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dry on election day (wastin' away in Hoosierville)

[I’m back in Hoosierland, home of Hyles-Anderson College, where I once attended; a place where the Klan once had a successful run and where no piece of open space is safe from the development mafia~JB]

I flew into O’Hare around midday and was eager to make my way to the southeast, where I’d be staying. I had secured my lodging in Valparaiso, far enough away from the gray, post-industrial remnants and the diesel fumes that epitomize northwest Indiana.

I was returning to my fundamentalist roots, at least my failed attempt at becoming an acolyte of the late Jack Hyles. Having lived in the area for five years, I knew I didn’t want to stay in Hammond, thought it wise to steer clear of Gary and preferred to bypass the retail hell that is Merrillville.

If you’ve never been to this part of Hoosierland, its not the idyllic place that the basketball movie portrays it to be. The northwestern tip, bordering Lake Michigan (and part of the greater-Chicagoland area) is an ugly place, ravaged by its industrial past and held hostage by a failed national policy to ship all our products via trucks. Crossing into Indiana on the toll road, heading east, I was amazed at the wall-to-wall tractor-trailers (or BST's as Howie Carr calls then), hugging the right two lanes of the tollway, made worse by the ubiquitous construction that I encountered during my 75 mile trip from O’Hare.

What should have been a 90 minute trip easily morphed into a 2 ½ hour ordeal, made worse by my early flight (6 am, out of Portland), delay at the rental car place (don’t rent with Enterprise, at least outside of Maine) and an accident on I-294, which further delayed getting to some basic sustenance, like water. I don’t know how you are when you are traveling in a strange land, but I hate exiting toll roads, especially when they whack you every time you leave their goddawful maze of hardtop.

I finally found my hotel, tucked in behind Valparaiso’s own acquiescence to low-wage box store development. I remembered the home of Valparaiso University as being a quaint Midwestern town, with a nice Main Street, with its typical courthouse square. I used to pass through it often, usually later at night, when I returned from my second shift job as a med tech at Westville Correctional Center. My normal east/west passage for efficiency and speed, was U.S. Route 6, but on my way home, I enjoyed seeing the students out and about on a Saturday night.

Valparaiso’s changed and not for the better. Just as Maine succumbs to the Faustian bargain that is big box development, so has Valparaiso and much of the formerly quaint, non-industrial areas that I remember from my time in the Hoosier State, two decades ago. Apparently, no matter where you go, people just can’t resist the lure of merchandise manufactured by serfs in third world countries. Americans have become so hollowed out and devoid of a soul that all we seem capable of is pushing a shopping cart from parking lot, to and fro around the local retail giant, back to our car, only to do it all again tomorrow. It’s Ground Hog’s Day done horror-style.

While I had expected my travel day to be all but wasted on the details of getting to my final resting place, I did harbor a hope for a nice meal and a few adult beverages at a local watering hole, preferably not of the chain variety.

Once I was checked in at the Hampton Inn (a serviceable travel hotel with a few business perks), I was off to frequent the local supermarket, to pick up some water, some caffeinated beverages (for me, it’s Diet Pepsi) and probably a six pack of cheap beer to round out my small refrigerator. Nothing takes the edge off a day of research and blogging like a cold Bud Light.

Of course, the dolt at the desk at my hotel was unable to direct me anywhere else but Wal-mart, when I inquired about a supermarket. His line was, “There’s a Wal-mart across the street; they’re the cheapest around and that’s where I shop.” Yeah, like I expected anything more from a hotel desk jockey and yet, I registered a bit of disappointment that he didn’t send me down the street to the Wiseway.

I was too fried at this point to engage him in my own skewered vision of economics, so I nodded politely and set out to find somewhere other than Wal-mart to pick up a few items for my fridge. Not that I was on some mercy mission for the common man, as I ended up at the Seven-Eleven. I picked up my six pack of D-Pepsi, jug of water and plunked my suitcase of Bud Light (thank you, sir!) on the counter. The sweet, cornfed cutie behind the counter said, “I’m sorry sir, but you can’t buy that today, until six.” At this point, I had one of those moments that one can only appreciate, after watching countless episode’s of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. I looked at my watch. It said Tuesday and it was now 4:30 pm. I wasn’t sure if at some point, I had flown through some type of door of no return and was growing somewhat concerned that I had arrived in my own personal hell, reminiscent of the movie, Pleasantville.

Usually eloquent and loquacious, even with a total stranger like Miss Indiana Corn Princess, yet in this instance, all I could muster was, “Why?”

This 18, or 19-year-old came back with, “You’re not from around here, are you.” I was thinking at this point, “No and boy, am I fucking glad!”

Unbeknownst to me, today was primary day and in places like good ole’ Indiana, towns statewide are “dry” until the polls close. Now, in light of how we’ve fared of late at the voting station, I’m not so sure denying people a good stiff drink is having all that great of an effect on our politics, but that’s a topic for another post.

Of course, at this point, I had to offer my own two cents worth about voting and alcohol that I’m sure was lost on this teenager, approaching womanhood. In fact, like most youngsters her age, she had no sense of why Indianans can’t drink and vote, or why the goddamned state, a state by the way, where the Klan had some staying power in the early 20th century, still had blue laws on Sunday. Apparently, they don’t teach history in the Indiana schools, either.

To be quite honest, I don’t know much about this type of thing, either. I do know that Maine was rather late in repealing its own blue laws and in fact, you still can’t buy an automobile on Sunday. Apparently God wouldn’t be honored by that.

There are still a number of states prohibiting alcohol and voting to be paired; apparently it has something to do with trying to prevent crooked politicians from getting voters drunk and bringing them to the polls. Like this would make a bit of difference, with all the other ways that our election system has been tainted.

Well, that’s day one—I can only imagine the other surprises Hoosierland has in store for me.

[Coming up—the search for the "real" Jack Hyles, a game of catch and my "meeting" with the law, ala Bobby Fuller-style.]


Jonathan Braden said...

Good idea staying clear of Gary! It may be the hometown of the Jackson 5, but that place is just frightening! I'll never forget my two brief stops in that terrible armpit of the I-90. The last time (June 2005) I was there, I witnessed a less than covert drug deal go down at one of the city's millions of rest stops - it's a rest stop economy wouldn't you say?

weasel said...

To quote the great JB, "Place defines us. It is a rare human being that doesn’t long for some place, or places, usually tied to some pleasant memory, or memories that occurred in that place, rooted in time."

Perhaps while frustrating to you (and frankly incomprehensible to a Brit like me!) the no beer on election day before 6 tradition helps deep-rooted Indianians keep their sense of place? As for the clerk, screw them dumb youngsters- its not like the sixties or seventies, when any 18 year old could explain their states various quirks and blue laws with confidence, more's the shame.

The succumbing to sameness does seem to be the national trend (just look at those pictures from the 50s of Woolworths on every Main St). Our new Applebees in Thomaston seems most popular with the multi-generational blue collar Mainers while us effete transplants eat at the locally owned joints on Main Street.

What really sucks is that you were able to avoid Wal Mart but not Bud Light. Out of the frying pan of one multi-national into the fire of another, and I know how that sucks. It stinks when local stores don't carry local brews.