Archive for the ‘Midwest USA trips’ Category

For those of you who wonder how I do this when I travel by air, my PBW brand folding bicycle fits in a plastic Samsonite suitcase.   I carry my clothes and stuff in a small trunk bag that I strap to the back rack of the bicycle.   The trunk bag has a shoulder strap for when I am not cycling.   The only drawback to the arrangement is that I have to find somewhere to store the empty suitcase.   Tootie took this picture of me leaving for the airport from our apartment with the bike and the trunk bag, everything I need for four days Chicago to Milwaukee.

 

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Chicago Midway Airport is on the southwest side of Chicago.  It is unique in that it is completely surrounded by dense city residential neighborhoods on all sides.

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I was flying into Chicago on Southwest Airlines from Raleigh/Durham on a Thursday morning to meet my buddy Lyman Labry who was flying in from Austin, Texas.    We met in Midway Airport at about about ten thirty that morning.  Our mission was to bicycle north to Milwaukee in the coming four days.  There is an excellent bike path that runs most of the way.  Having done Chicago to Milwaukee twice now I really think this is one of the best city bike trips in America.    We had reserved a one-way rental car to drive back from Milwaukee in time to fly home Monday night.

Lyman also has a folding bicycle, a Bike Friday.   Enterprise Rent-A-Car graciously agreed to hold our suitcases at Midway airport.   We spent about half an hour putting the bicycles together, then set off.

On the left of this photograph the car rental parking garage immediately abuts the residential neighborhood of Vittum Park.

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We had chosen for this trip to ride directly north through the city from Midway Airport, rather than taking the lovely lakefront bike path which starts downtown.   Since we were bicycling on the South Side of Chicago we felt it important to check the crime rate of neighborhoods we were cycling through.     Going directly north looked safe, and this would also allow us to cycle up to Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park, about eight miles north.    We headed off from the rental car garage through neighborhoods on residential streets.   The cycling through these neighborhoods was delightful.  The land in Chicago is as flat as a pancake and almost all streets are in a grid.

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Twice we had to leave neighborhood streets to get on bridges to cross canals or rail lines.   Cycling on busy highways across a bridge was scary but we usually could ride on the sidewalk.  At the top of one bridge we could see downtown off in the distance.

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We saw several early (1893-1909) Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park, including these two.

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Our lunch of hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and baba ghannouj in downtown Oak Park at a Middle Eastern place run by a Moroccan was one of the best meals of the trip.   After lunch we continued cycling through neighborhood streets to Evanston, which is on Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago.   At this point we had cycled through almost thirty miles of continuous residential neighborhoods.

We did not want to push ourselves physically on this trip.   Lyman had had some kind of heart “event” less than a month earlier.   We had planned this trip before that, and his doctor OK’d he continue with the trip as long as he did not exert himself too much.   The doctor had given him a setup with wires connected to little suction cups to keep stuck on his chest.   This apparatus connected wirelessly to a souped up Blackberry.   The device had a cartoon picture of a heart on it which you could see pumping.  This would allow his doctor to look back and see what Lyman’s heart had been doing during the entire long weekend.

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We stopped at a Starbucks and I looked at Hotels.com on my phone.  I found a hotel in downtown Evanston near Northwestern University called The Homestead.   When we got there I was impressed that The Homestead, built in 1927, seemed to have changed hardly at all.    It was well kept up but everything seemed 1927.

They gave us a place to put our bicycles and we walked in through the back door.

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The single tiny elevator was too small for modern fat Americans.

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The hotel had a nice front porch scene in the pleasant late summer cool weather.    The women just to the left of the front door were talking loudly in some language other than English that we could not recognize.  When we ate dinner outside three hours later they were still talking.   When they got into a cab later that evening we asked them what language they had been talking in.   They said it was Turkish, they were here to drop off a relative at Northwestern.

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We cycled north on the lakefront bike path the next morning.   The Northwestern campus is right on the lakefront but did not seem particularly attractive.

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Going north we cycled through Chicago’s richest suburbs like Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Lake Forest, all spread out along the lake.    We could have gone on a parallel bike path but it seemed more interesting to ride on Sheridan Road and look at where rich people lived, and them out walking their dogs.

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In Glencoe we biked a few blocks off the main road to a small cluster of houses called Ravine Bluffs, for which Frank Lloyd Wright designed this tiny bridge in 1915 along with several houses.  The houses are examples of Wright’s “$5000.00 fireproof house”, his idea of semi-affordable housing.

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This very Friday was Lyman’s 65th birthday, so we celebrated for lunch at a Cuban/French restaurant in Highwood IL.    I got the feeling that this restaurant started out as Cuban, but changed to French so they could charge more.   Still, the salade nicoise was good and not all that expensive,  the atmosphere festive, and the tile decor fetching.  The doors were open to outside.      Everyone eating there looked prosperous and idle on this workday afternoon  (O.K., so were we!), with lots of examples of what seemed to be Ladies Who Lunch.

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Back on the bikes, after we cycled past the even more prosperous town of Lake Forest, we began to see the income divide in America.    The bike path followed an arrow straight former railroad line through poor mixed race neighborhoods in Waukegan, Illinois that went on for miles.

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The path looped around the Great Lakes Naval Base.   There were few hotels along this route and our only real choice was a Country Inn & Suites motel in Zion, Illinois, just a few miles south of the Wisconsin line.    The motel was new, clean, and friendly and faced the huge parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly.    The motel atmosphere could not have been more different from that of our lunch at the French restaurant.   Apparently there is a large Cancer Treatment Center of America hospital in Zion and people come from afar for treatment there.    There were lots of very sociable working class people staying at the motel while they or their relatives had cancer treatments.    There was always two or three people hanging out in front of the motel, smoking cigarettes.    I walked over to buy some beer at the Piggly Wiggly.  Almost everyone in the very slow moving line at the supermarket looked white, unhealthy, and poor.  Country Inn motels have a front porch, and it was relaxing to sit in the rocking chairs and each drink an IPA.

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Because we were on bicycles we could not go far in the dark to eat dinner.   We did not really like the choices available.  We ended up talking to the African American owner of Herm’s Bar-B-Que.

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Herm said since he rented his space from the owners of Al’s Tap & Package Liquor next door they would not mind if we bought takeout and ate it at their bar.   So that is what we did; I had fried chicken and Lyman had a brisket sandwich.   The three other people seated around Al’s bar, all guys about our age, were very cordial.   They told us what it had been like to work at the American Motors factory just up the road in Kenosha.   Note our bicycles in the lower right corner of this picture.

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We left the next morning for Wisconsin.   I have a particular interest in the former American Motors (AMC) factory in Kenosha WI,  about fifteen miles north of our motel in Zion IL.   My dad was the owner of Marshall Rambler in Virginia Beach, and the whole time I was growing up we drove nothing but Ramblers.   As a kid I was fascinated by cars.   Essentially all AMC Ramblers had been built at the Kenosha WI factory and my Dad was always talking about it.   This factory started making cars for Nash in 1902 and finished with making engines for Chrysler when the plant closed for good in 2010.     The factory was completely torn down in 2013.     The huge site is surrounded on all sides by Kenosha neighborhoods and we biked by it on the way to downtown Kenosha, looking for a place to eat lunch.

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Downtown Kenosha had American Motors memories on a wall.

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It was noon on a Saturday so brunch at an Irish pub on Kenosha’s renovated waterfront seemed to fill the bill.

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Wisconsin has a deeply rooted bar culture.    This pub claimed it was their tradition that bloody marys be accompanied by a small glass of beer.   I did not get a bloody but this lady got two!

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On the other side of us at the bar we talked to an older couple who said they had worked about thirty-seven years each at the American Motors plant.  They did not dwell on the fact that it was closed and torn down, but rather what great jobs they had had there, depending on one’s view of “work”.    I would have taken this all in stride except their description of excessive drinking at the AMC factory was exactly what the guys had said the night before at Al’s Tap in Zion IL.   The men in Zion had said the factory had more bars adjacent to it than “any auto factory in the world”  (their words).     These stories took place mostly in the nineteen seventies and eighties, a time when American car companies were being pummeled because of their reputation for poor quality.   The lady here in Kenosha said that her job had been wonderful because  “where else could you just tell your supervisor just to go f*** himself?”   She said that anything and everything went on in that plant; drinking, smoking pot, sex, all of it.    She and her husband remembered “covering” for a co-worker who was drunkenly passed out on the factory floor.    She also said women had to be tough to work factory jobs in those days; there was a lot of harassment going on.   Neither of them talked about any job satisfaction of making quality cars.  They did say they had always owned AMC cars.   She was a really funny person and she let me take their picture.

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We reluctantly left this pub about two o’clock.  We rode across town Kenosha and stopped for a coffee.

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It was about fifteen miles to Racine where we would spend the night.    The lakefront north of Kenosha was inviting.

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It was an excellent paved bike path all the way to Racine.

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We were looking forward to Racine for two reasons.  One was that we had made reservations for a tour the next day of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Johnson Wax building.    The other was that we Racine connections; my good friend Tom from Jacksonville, Florida; his father was born and raised in Racine.   Tom’s cousin Charlie, a judge, lives in Racine.

Racine had a Midwest factory town look.

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I biked past a wedding party across the street having their picture taken and they saw me take out my camera.

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We stayed at a hotel on the Racine lakefront.   Charlie was not in town, but gave us another invitation to Wisconsin bar culture. Charlie had relayed to us that we HAD to get a drink at Rickey’s on Main Street downtown, and ask for Suzette.

We did get a drink there before dinner.   Suzette was great.

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We had dinner at a restaurant with the linguistically awkward name of Olde Madrid.  Tapas were non-Spanishly huge in size, but the food was quite good, and one tapa each was plenty to eat.    The Spanish American chef came out after dinner and pressed the flesh.

I got up the next morning and walked around downtown Racine at seven-thirty in the morning.    Its downtown has some empty storefronts but it is unusually well preserved.   Racine more recently has built a yacht harbor adjacent to downtown.

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Lyman and I biked around Racine that morning.   Racine has a beach.   I only got my feet wet but you could almost imagine that you were at the ocean.

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That afternoon we took our tour of the S.C. Johnson headquarters,  built in 1935 and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.   The company which makes Johnson Wax, Glo-Coat, Raid and many other products is still headquartered here in an inner-city Racine neighborhood.    Wright did not like cities, so he built this building to draw attention to the inside rather than making a splashy presentation to the outside.     He wanted to create his own natural world within.

We saw the Great Workroom.  We were not allowed to take interior photos so this picture is lifted from the internet.   Wright designed all the furniture including the desks and even the chairs.

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We then toured inside the adjacent Research Tower, also designed by Wright and built in 1950.

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The tour finished about three-thirty, and we pushed off to bicycle the almost thirty miles to Milwaukee that afternoon.   A bike path goes only part of the way.   We rode most of the way on Wisconsin Route 32, weaving through a succession of towns.    The road had two lanes but a fairly large shoulder.   The wind was at our backs.    Along the way I kept thinking that these Milwaukee suburbs are the political base of so many nationally famous Republicans:  Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, but most of all Governor Scott Walker, who built an entire career by playing up fear and resentment of the people in these towns towards the more urban Milwaukee.

Eventually we were able to get off Route 32 and ride through a grid of city streets.  At some point we realized we were in the city limits of Milwaukee.   Milwaukee feels like a big city.    We rode through city streets for quite a while, finally settling on a hotel on the north side of downtown.      We walked that night to an Italian restaurant.

I got up early the next day and walked around, first towards the lakefront and the Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum.

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I also walked to the central part of downtown.    Milwaukee clearly was a wealthy and important place at the turn of the twentieth century.  The city hall was the tallest habitable building in the United States for four years, 1895-1899.   The only taller building was the Washington Monument.

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After breakfast we biked north to the Glendale area where we were to pick up the rental car.   We passed through miles of early twentieth century neighborhoods.

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Milwaukee is famous for neighborhood bars.   This is one of dozens we passed.

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On the north side of town the Milwaukee River Greenway is a great bike path that led almost all the way to the rental car place.

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We both had flights departing Chicago Midway early evening.    We put the bikes in the Prius and drove back to Chicago.  We had time for a Greek lunch near the Loop, and to walk around downtown Chicago for an hour or so.

 

 

I took this selfie sitting in front of a closed post office in Liberty Center, Indiana.  I had gone a long way that day, I needed to rest and get out of the sun.

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Trying to get out of my comfort zone, two months in advance I had bought a ticket on the nonstop Delta flight Raleigh/Durham to Indianapolis,  to arrive on Friday and fly home Monday afternoon.   I had never been to Indianapolis before and I did not know much about it.   Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana, about 150 miles to the northeast of Indy, so Fort Wayne seemed a good destination for a three to four day bike ride.  I arranged for a one way rental car Monday to drive back from Fort Wayne and Enterprise agreed to watch my bicycle suitcase at the Indianapolis airport.   The airport is on the southwest side of town.  My mission the first day was to get to Noblesville, on the far northeast side of the Indianapolis metro region.

I do not think many people bicycle out of the Indianapolis International Airport.    It was 10:00 AM on a Friday morning.   The weather all four days was sunny and warm.

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The bike ride from the airport to downtown was fine, it did not feel unsafe on a loop service road around the airport that has very little traffic.  The southwest side of Indianapolis is an unattractive combination of industry and poor neighborhoods.   I crossed the White River to get into downtown, looking for a place to eat lunch.

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I had a nice lunch at a place called Tavern on South.   After lunch I biked around downtown Indianapolis.  It is very clean and organized but has lots of chain restaurants and not a lot of funk.    There is a nationally famous bike path called Indianapolis Cultural Trail, funded by mostly by a private donation by Eugene and Marilyn Glick.    It attempts to access by bicycle path all the major attractions of downtown.   I found it confusing as the trail meanders around downtown without having a specific origin or destination.

 

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Indianapolis is a huge place.    Within the city limits there is a population of almost nine hundred thousand, and going north from downtown, you can bicycle for twenty miles and still not yet be in the suburbs.  Except for a couple of small rivers, everything is pancake flat; older neighborhoods of early 1900’s houses spread out unencumbered.   Some neighborhoods were fixed up quite nicely.

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Other areas seemed OK in the bright sun of this beautiful day until you realized every fourth or fifth house was abandoned.

 

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I passed by a nice looking outdoor beer garden.

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Mike Pence is the governor of Indiana, a right wing Republican and social conservative with a helmet of gray hair.    I saw lots of political signs during my four days in Indiana.  Most were for Republican local offices in the upcoming primary, but in the older neighborhoods of Indianapolis I repeatedly saw these signs of someone’s apparent War Against Pence.  I did not see these signs anywhere else in Indiana.

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In an area called Meridian-Kessler homes were large and well maintained.  I liked this unusual flat roof.

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The Monon Trail is a well designed twenty mile long rail-to-trail that goes through much of the prosperous part of Indianapolis and its accompanying northern suburbs.   It was full of people on this sunny day.

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I found that the real money is when you leave Indianapolis and get into the municipality of Carmel.      Considering the damage the fifty year Norfolk / Virginia Beach rivalry has done to my hometown region I was interested in the apparent efforts of Carmel to construct its own parallel universe twenty miles north of downtown Indianapolis, even though huge areas of Indianapolis that I had just biked through were clearly underutilized.    And Carmel is building on the current move towards more urban living by adopting that as a fad.

On one side of the bike path is this fake European village called Carmel City Center, apparently quite new.

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On the other side of the bike path is Civic Square.   It includes a performance hall on the right called The Palladium.  (Home of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra!)  All these buildings are built in traditional style but are actually relatively new.   I wonder what performance halls in Indianapolis remain underutilized.

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Both Carmel and the state of Indiana have done a great job with bike paths in this area.   When the Monon Trail ends and dumps me in a mix of suburban chain stores that we have all seen before,  Carmel continues with bike paths.  The lane on the right in this picture is a protected bicycle lane as it crosses the Interstate.

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I still had about eleven miles to Noblesville.   The highway was lined by housing developments the whole way.

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I passed a megachurch on the left.

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The upcoming Republican primary was clearly on people’s minds.  I suspect winning that primary is tantamount to being elected here.

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People who live in suburbs like this (which is now most of America) must go crazy killing time in their cars.  On the bike lane I passed these cars backed up in the five o’clock traffic.

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At a water stop I had booked on Hotels.com a room at a Super 8 on the fringes of Noblesville that looked close enough to downtown that I could bicycle into town for dinner.   Noblesville was clearly prosperous when it was built, and now that it is surrounded by prosperous suburbs it remains so.   Dinner that night at Matteo’s was the best meal of my trip.

All around Indiana I could tell that the Indy 500 race was still a big deal.  It is the one hundredth anniversary this year.  Upstairs at Matteo’s they were having a private dinner for people driving Indy Pace Car Camaro convertibles.    When I was downstairs eating you could hear the people upstairs cheering and clapping.   I do not know who owns these cars or how this whole setup works, but there were about twenty of these identical new blue vehicles parked outside the restaurant on the Noblesville town square.

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I had a delicious dinner of tortellini sitting at the bar between two couples about my age.    They were friendly and interesting people who lived in the Carmel / Noblesville area.   One man regularly rode a recumbent bicycle in a group with friends.   I think he said he was a doctor.   He grew up in Indianapolis.  He relayed that now that their children had moved out, he and his wife had just finished building a new house near the center of Carmel, in a location where they could walk and bicycle to stores and restaurants.   I asked him if he ever considered moving into Indianapolis.   He acted as if he and his wife had never thought of that.   Both couples decried crime in Indianapolis proper.     Both couples advised me that I should bicycle to Muncie, forty miles down the road as my next stop.  They also said I must eat at a place called Vera Mae’s when I got to Muncie.

As I left to bicycle the half mile back to the motel in the dark, the Noblesville Town Hall was lit up against the sky.

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As I was leaving the Super 8 motel the next morning,  I had hesitated to go only to Muncie on Saturday because it was barely forty miles away.  I would be leaving too many miles left for the following two days.   But Muncie did seem like a nice place to visit.  It is a college town, home of Ball State University; also the origin of the Ball mason jar.   It took me about twenty minutes to get out of Noblesville and into actual countryside.    The terrain was to be mostly flat all day.

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I passed people along the way.

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A little further on, this farmhouse was having some kind of garage sale on this Saturday morning.   They must be adherents to whatever religion requires this type of dress.

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The only major town between Noblesville and Muncie is Anderson.   While Anderson and Muncie both appear on Wikipedia as being about the same size, about seventy thousand, Anderson looks a lot worse for wear.  As I got into town on the southwestern outskirts I was already looking for somewhere to eat lunch, but instead found Good’s Candy Shop, which I learned has been there at least since the nineteen fifties.

I got a cup of caramel fudge ice cream.   The place was so clean and the people so friendly that it almost got on your nerves.

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A little further into town, at Lee’s Famous Chicken and Strips I got the rest of my lunch, a chicken barbecue sandwich and a sweet tea.

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The rest of Anderson that I saw looked pretty depressed.  I think it has lost a lot of manufacturing jobs.  I did manage to take some candid photos of people out for a walk on a pretty day.

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Downtown Anderson had a nice art-deco skycraper, empty.

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The remaining miles to Muncie were pleasant bicycling through the countryside.   On the outskirts of Muncie golf course developments suggested that this town might be more prosperous than Anderson.

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The last several miles into Muncie were on this very pleasant path along the White River.

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Once in central Muncie I looked for somewhere to regroup.    The only coffee place downtown had closed at 3:00 PM.   I instead found Savage’s Ale House.   I got a beer and pondered what to do next.  The place had a mirror behind the bar.

 

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It turned out there was a major college debate thing going on at Ball State that weekend, and all the hotels were full, or near full, and the remaining rooms both really expensive and not well located.  I looked on Airbnb, and there was a place for $ 37.00 + tax at somebody’s private home in the Muncie suburbs.    I decided that if taking that deal required me to pay for a taxi home at night after dinner it was worth it.    The email from the Airbnb lady said she would leave a key for me in a combo lock at the front door.

As I headed out of downtown Muncie I noticed in the bright light that Muncie has some really attractive banks.

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I had come into downtown Muncie on the White River trail but there is another bike path, a rail-trail that extends out to the northwest from downtown, in the direction of my Airbnb.

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I got to the house and found the key on a combo lock at the front door.

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She had told me she had animals. As I entered this little dog kept his distance as he barked away at me.

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This cat sat motionless on the stairs.

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The room upstairs was really quite nice, with a huge bed, its own bathroom and fluffy towels.   It looked out over the backyard.

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I took a shower and chilled for a while, reading The New Yorker on my Kindle.  The woman was still not home when I got back on the bike to ride the five miles back downtown so I could eat dinner at Vera Mae’s.   The restaurant was not cheap, it was very crowded on a Friday night, and both the food and service were substandard.    The cab guy home was fun to talk with after I had loaded my bicycle in the trunk of his aging Honda Accord.

I talked with the Airbnb owner briefly when I got back that night and more when I was leaving the next day.  She had just returned to Indiana from living in California and had a young son about eight years old.  She said taking a picture of her was fine, but she did not want people to think that she normally keeps a kitchen so messy.   She works with skin care and she gave me some nice powdered sunblock.

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Biking the next day was to be through Indiana farming country.    It was seventy-seven miles to Fort Wayne, a distance that I could accomplish in one day if really necessary, but Google Maps showed there were several motels in the town of Bluffton, about twenty-five miles sooner.

I decided to get some miles under my belt before breakfast.   Outside of Muncie there was this dragstrip right next to the two lane highway .

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Someone out here feels the Bern.   This is one of the only two or three presidential signs I saw on the entire trip.

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I pedaled into Albany, Indiana, population 2,100.  Sunday morning breakfast was downtown at Milton’s.   It felt pleasantly like America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.  I heard the waitress ask the couple if front of me if they had gone to church yet, or if they were going after breakfast.  I continued reading The New Yorker, on my Kindle.

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After breakfast I pedaled through the neat streets of Albany and then through the flat farmland.  Almost all intersections are at right angles, both roads razor straight for miles in both directions.

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The rural areas here look very different from those in North Carolina.   Even in North Carolina flatlands like the area Down East, the roads are not so straight, and everything is not so neatly organized.   Here in this part of Indiana he land values must be high; there is almost no wasted land; all land seems to be either intensely farmed, or else someone’s house and yard.    You hardly ever see yards filled with old junk like I had just seen last week in the North Carolina sandhills.   Virtually every house out here had perfectly grown green grass around it, mowed in a yard drawn at right angles.

 

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Even where houses had been essentially abandoned, most of the time someone came around to cut the grass.

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I went through two small towns that day before I got to Bluffton in mid-afternoon.   While neither Montpelier nor Liberty Center looked prosperous (a house divided into three apartments in Montpelier was for sale for $35,000.00 and the crowd at the mini-mart in Montpelier did not look healthy) at least both towns looked like a pleasant small town.   Unlike North Carolina towns that have been chopped up by huge highways, these places still had their essential character.

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The situation in Bluffton, where I chose to spend the night, is a little more complicated.   Bluffton at 11,000 is much larger than than Montpelier or Liberty Center.    I was perplexed at the sign entering town, saying that Bluffton was “An Inclusive Community”  The town center looks well maintained.

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I learned the reason Bluffton proclaims itself an “Inclusive Community” is that its mayor Ted Ellis decided to address the inclusiveness issue head on with support from the business community.   That is in stark contrast to the town’s history.  Even now Wikipedia claims that Bluffton is 96.7% white.    According to a 2006 article in USA Today about Bluffton,  until very recently it was known as a “sundown town”, a town in which black people had better leave before the sun goes down.  Mayor Ellis is trying to fight that image.  I am sure he is facing a lot of headwinds.     There also appears to be a lot of conservative Christians here.   Church notices were posted in every establishment that I visited in or near Bluffton.    I began to wish I had kept going to Fort Wayne, which Google Maps shows having at least three brewery pubs.   I was tired however, and also did not want to shirk from documenting what I see and visit,  as is the purpose of this blog.   I got a motel room a mile and a half north of downtown, paying an Indian-looking guy.

Other than fast food, there was hardly anywhere to eat on a Sunday night in Bluffton.    One place right in town called Billy Ann’s Supper Club actually looked creepily interesting but was closed on Sundays.  The only real restaurant I could find open was even further out of town than my motel, a Mexican restaurant three miles from downtown, on the highway near the Walmart.    I had not had much lunch, so I decided to to eat early and thus not have to bike in the dark.

After chilling in my motel room for a spell, I biked down the highway to El Camino Real.   Speaking of diversity, there were actual Mexicans working in this restaurant, so I guess that says something.

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People eat early in the Bluffton suburbs.    When I got to the restaurant at 5:55 PM it was packed; I almost had to wait for a table.    When I left at 7:05 PM it was nearly empty.   There were church notices posted around the cash register.  El Camino Real does serve beer and wine although I saw almost no one else drinking.   The place was full of families eating together; it was an altogether pleasant vibe but I thought the Mexican food was tasteless.    Does the painting on the wall indicate that baby Jesus was somehow in a Mexican town, or am I reading too much into this?

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It was still light outside when I got on the bicycle and rode back down the four lane highway to my motel, where I watched two or three hours of excellent CBS television (60 Minutes / Madam Secretary / The Good Wife).   I then walked outside to take a picture of the motel in the dark.

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I had a tight schedule the next day, in that my flight from the Indianapolis airport was to take off at five thirty in the afternoon.  I left the motel at about seven thirty in the morning, figuring I would just get breakfast twenty five miles away in Fort Wayne.

Three or four miles out of Bluffton near the Walmart, in what feels to me the middle of nowhere, they are building new housing on the prairie.

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Further on towards Fort Wayne, the terrain was much like the day before, very pleasant flat roads that cut through the farmland with almost no traffic.

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I got to Fort Wayne even faster than expected.   On the outskirts there were two houses sort of by themselves.  These people must have an interesting political relationship. One of the two houses had this sign:

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The house next door had this:

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I cruised through older neighborhoods.

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I thought this was an attractive church.

 

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After being in Bluffton, to sit in a Fort Wayne Starbucks somehow felt like coming home.   I chilled there for quite a while, eating oatmeal and drinking decaf.    The Enterprise car rental place was about two miles further in an older neighborhood on the north side.    I cruised around downtown Fort Wayne before finding a nice bike path along the river that led me to the car place.   From there I drove three hours back to the Indianapolis airport.

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One note about the new Indianapolis airport.  It is the nicest airport of its size I have ever visited.   Like the new Raleigh/Durham terminal two, it is a soaring piece of contemporary architecture.   Unlike the new RDU terminal, when you walk in from the street without going through security you can walk straight into a welcoming large hall, with the airplanes visible the other side of a glass wall.   There are coffee places, bars and restaurants there, pre-security.   You go through security to enter the two concourses on either side.   The main hall is such a pleasant public space that I like to imagine, if I lived near here, I would come out here to just to hang out and look at the airplanes.

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Since about 1997 our friends Jan and Gordon moved from Carrboro to Santa Barbara to San Jose, and then to Cleveland!   Well, they settled in Brecksville, Ohio, midway between Cleveland and Akron.    Tootie and I drove up for the weekend. The highlights were the excellent meals cooked by Jan, and the bike ride from Akron to Brecksville on the bike trail.

Start of our epic ride! Thomas and Jan were there to send us off.

Start of our epic ride! Thomas and Jan were there to send us off.

downtown Akron

downtown Akron

Along the Cuyahoga River

Along the Cuyahoga River

Gordon  has developed a passion for 1960’s Gravely lawn tractors.

A man and his tractor

A man and his tractor

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While Milwaukee is still a big and important place, one gets the feeling that it used to be a VERY important place.   You are also reminded of the huge amount of wealth created in the United States between about 1885 and 1929.    Living in North Carolina, there is not much evidence of that.     Milwaukee seems to have many times more important urban buildings built in those years before 1930 than in the whole of North Carolina.   Milwaukee in 1905 was a dynamic place.   This is the building they built in 1905  as a station for just the interurban (local – suburban) streetcars.

Milwaukee former streetcar station

Milwaukee looks like a small version of Chicago, spread out over a river fronting Lake Michigan.

River view Milwaukee

Milwaukee City Hall

Downtown Milwaukee is full of impressive buildings.    If you count out uninhabitable structures like the Eiffel Tower,  the 1895 City Hall, which looks like a church, was the tallest building in the world for four years.

Northwestern Mutual (The Quiet Company) building from 1910

Unlike Chicago, Milwaukee does not seem dynamic.   It has the gritty feel of a town that is trying to keep up with change, but it did not impress me as a place that attracts the young and the hip.

Milwaukee, like much of Wisconsin, is a pretty good place to ride bikes.  It has bike trails in the city, as well as marked bike lanes in many major streets.    Most urban bikers in most American cities are men.   One of the signs that a city has a safe bicycle environment is that you see women on bicycles.    While I do not have any photos of them, I saw on several separate occasions helmet-less young ladies on vintage Schwinns on a Milwaukee Monday morning in April.

bike lane on typical Milwaukee street

bike lane along lakefront in Milwaukee

Brady Street in Milwaukee

former American Motors factory, Kenosha

Growing up as the son of a Rambler dealer, I always liked to talk cars with my Dad.   He frequently talked about how Ramblers were unique.  He described how these cars were different from cars of the Big Three.   They were smaller, they had reclining seats, they had vacuum-powered windshield wipers!   One key difference, he would point out, was the Ramblers were only made in one place, which was not in Detroit.   That place was Kenosha, Wisconsin.   As  I left Lake Forest IL early on a Sunday morning, I looked forward to honoring my Dad’s memory on a pilgrimage to the place that I had heard about when I was young.

I also was going to go through Racine, which is the hometown of the father of my buddy Tom Constantine, and this was also somewhere I had always heard about, but never seen.

Through Illinois, there is a bike path the whole way from Lake Forest to the Wisconsin border.   This bike path then continues on and off, mostly on,  through Kenosha,  then Racine, all the way to Milwaukee.  This whole distance is about sixty five miles.   Most of this path follows a former rail line.   It is paved part of the way, and fine smooth gravel in other parts.   For early April, the weather was astonishing; high in the low eighties and brilliant sun.

When I got to Kenosha, for all my sentimental feelings about it, what is now a Chrysler engine plant is not really much to look at.   Like other old factories, it comes right up to the street.    There was hardly even a sign saying what was in the collection of buildings.  I has been continuously producing cars or car parts since 1902.

There was also a blustery wind that blew from the south, pushing me along.  Bicycling and wind have a life metaphor; riding with the wind makes everything seems happy and fun,  but riding against the wind is a true grind.   Luckily on this day I had wind with me all the way, and I knew I was going to take the Amtrak back to Chicago the next day, and not have to ride against this stuff.

Because of the lucky tailwind, and the probability of rain the next day, I wanted to get all the way to Milwaukee that day.   I also had delays with flat tires that morning.   Consequently, I did not have enough time to circle around Kenosha and Racine as much as I would have liked.   Both towns seems very clean and organized.  Maybe it is the German heritage.    Biking in Wisconsin is great, and I am already making plans to go back to Wisconsin some day, and seeing stuff I missed, like the Johnson Wax building in Racine.

Wisconsin street

I rode on that afternoon into downtown Milwaukee, with the wind at my back.

Lake Forest IL 4/09/11

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Midwest USA trips

looking back while leaving the Loop by bike

First of three posts: Four day trip Chicago to Milwaukee and environs

One of the contradictions of urban riding is that old fashioned cities usually accommodate bicycle riding,  while the newest suburbs, less dense,  are frequently the most dangerous places.   In Chicago, however, if you stay close to the lake,  both the city and the forty miles of suburbs north of Chicago are laid out in a way that seem to promote safe and enjoyable bicycling.

I had left downtown Chicago about 1:00 PM.  I circled through the various stages of Chicago; first the towers of the Loop, then row houses of northside neighborhoods, then miles and miles of close together houses on city streets.   While all this was pleasant cycling, after two to three hours and still in the Chicago city limits, I was tired.  I had gotten up early that morning to catch the flight from Raleigh/Durham, it had been a long week at work, and it was all catching up to me.    About 4:00 PM in the northern fringes of the city limits I stopped in a bar for a brew.   One tasty craft ale was all I really needed; I felt newly invigorated.     I rode off, ready for new sights and challenges.  I rode for another three hours.

As I headed into the near-Lake suburbs, the scenery changed.  This was now all single family houses, usually large ones.   Biking in these affluent suburbs was generally stress free.  I followed Sheridan Road for miles.  It was like riding on a residential street that kept going.

All the while the political boundaries kept changing, suburb to suburb.   Some areas identified themselves as villages.


Directly across the street from this sign welcoming us to Winnetka is this typical village abode. The inhabitants lived in houses of at least five thousand square feet; many had lawn decorations.  Some had fences around them.  These houses were huge.

typical village cottage in Winnetka

I looked for the inhabitants of these villages. The only people visible were pudgy fifty something guys on multi thousand dollar bikes and  fifty something women jogging.

This affluent scene along the lake goes on and on.   After considerably more riding,  it was about 7:00 PM and I had no idea where I was going to stay that night.  While I like to be picky about the quality of the food I eat, I am not picky at all about hotel quality.  Location, however, is important on a bicycle.   Bicycling back to a freeway motel at night on a dark highway after  dinner and drinks can be dicey.    It is rare in America to find a quality restaurant, bar, and small hotel in the same building, in a bikeable setting.   Dare I say “European style?”   Anyway, the Deer Path Inn in the town of Lake Forest, while maybe a little  pretentious, fills the bill.   This is a railroad suburb.  Across the street from the Inn, you can take the commuter train forty miles to downtown Chicago. It looks like the type of of small downtown that fits everyone’s memory of what a small town should look like, except that the houses that surround the downtown are mostly estates with fences around them.

The bar scene at the Deer Path Inn was lively.   Apparently, everyone wants to eat in the bar and not the restaurant.   I sat at the bar, surrounded by people standing waiting for a table.  The menu looked like something out of a country club, circa 1962.    The menu had everything; steak, seafood, hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads.   There were so many choices I did not know where to start.  The bartender recommended the lamb chops; it was a good choice.  The walls were dark wood, with pictures of hunting dogs with game birds in their mouths.  The whole place felt very Republican.