Friends: As I sat eating the lunch special (meat loaf and mashed potatoes) at a small cafe/general store in rural Kentucky that advertised "Plate Lunches," a series of seeming regulars, stopping in for a pack of cigarettes or cup of coffee or the special, paused to have a word with me, almost as if the odd site of my loaded bike out front had lured them in.
Some gave advice on where I ought to cross the Ohio River just a few miles away to Indiana. The options were either via the town of Madison or the Markland Dam Bridge. Most recommended Markland, as there was a river boat casino there, and as one said, "If you was lucky enough not to have been run off the road around here you ought to hit the jackpot with your luck." The boat was on the Indiana side, as Kentucky does not allow casinos. It has been voted down several times and most likely will lose again Tuesday. "The church-going folk are agin' it," one guy explained, "And there are more of them than us that want it. But it don't hardly matter, as they can't keep us from crossin' the bridge to Indiana. It's just a shame all our money is goin' to Indiana when we could use it here."
A tattoo parlor owner also lamented the influence of the church-goers. He was telling the guy taking everyone's money at the cash register that he was looking to open up another tattoo parlor because he knew the demand was there. "I know of eight people who are giving tattoos out of their houses, which is against the law," he said. "But the health inspectors can't go after 'em unless someone becomes infected and files a complaint, which just doesn't happen. If they get infected, they don't want to admit it. I've been lookin' all over to open another place, but its hard to find a location. People don't want a tattoo parlor in their neighborhood. You know their reputation--tattoos, drugs, whores, crime, they all go together, or at least that's what folks around here think, especially the religious types." An older guy in bib overalls sitting at the table next to me said, "Ain't nobody gonna put a tattoo on me. I get stuck enough by needles."
Conversation also drifted to the topic of tobacco. After some 100 miles of riding past horse farms in the central part of the state around Lexington, my final 50 miles of Kentucky was through tobacco country. It had been harvested and was presently hanging in partially open and well-ventilated barns, the large tobacco leaves darkening to a deep reddish brown. The "housing of the tobacco" can take a couple of months before it is fully cured. Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds buy up the bulk of the crop. It goes for about $1.50 a pound, down from two dollars just a couple years ago when federal subsidies were cut off. The price has also declined since the tobacco companies started buying it from China at a cheaper price. Carrolltown, the largest city in the area, on the Ohio River, where all the local buying and selling takes place, once had one of the three largest tobacco festivals in the world. It is still held every October, but with tobacco production way down in the area, it is no longer the grand, celebrated event it once was.
I had had so many interruptions in my meal, I was still eating when the lunch hour had pretty much past, allowing the cook to take a break and join me in conversation as she sat at an adjoining table with her meal. She had heard I was heading back to Chicago. She said she had been there once to attend a gathering of Long John Silver managers. She used to run the one in Carrolltown for 14 years until new management took over. She flew up to Chicago from Lexington, a 45-minute flight. She said she couldn't believe so many people could live in one place. She doesn't miss her days at Long John Silver at all. It was a job of many headaches. One of the biggest was having to hire a new high school kid every week or so. She was well into her 60s now. Working in this small cafe was like going into semi-retirement. As I was on my way she commented, "Thanks for coming in Sweetie. Come on by again."