Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shelbyville, Kentucky

Friends: Shelbyville is another of a series of agreeably-sized Kentucky towns with enough of an allure to make me wish to settle in for a few weeks. I've been reading Jonathon Raban's quite good "Hunting Mister Heartbreak," one of a series of travel books this former English professor of literature has written on America. He spent a couple of months in several America cities while writing this book trying to understand the immigrant experience. He spent time in Manhattan, Seattle, the Florida Keys and Guntersville, Alabama, where he acquired a dog and joined the Optimist's Club to fully fit in.

Shelbyville is dotted with historical markers as well as a plaque designating itself a "Preserve America City." Its historic district includes a Carnegie library built in 1903. It was greatly expanded in 1997, but without diminishing its grandeur. The librarian said, "We are quite proud to be one of the few Carnegie libraries in Kentucky still serving as a library." It was built on the site of a former church that had burned down.

The other two Carnegies I've visited in Kentucky have been replaced by much larger county libraries, though the originals still stand. The Carnegie in Lawrenceburg is now the Anderson County History Museum and the Carnegie in Somerset now serves as a Community Arts Center. The Somerset Carnegie only recently gave up its life as a library. Its still retains its book drop in the back of the building.

The four-lane wide highway 27 I was traveling on by-passed the old-business district of Somerset. I was happy to slip off it to search out the old Carnegie after passing the sign to the new library on the outskirts of the now sprawling city. It was a pleasant one-mile winding road, a much-needed antidote to the main highway. When I reached the downtown plaza and looked around, I immediately recognized the Carnegie with its regal six pillars a block away. As every Carnegie, it radiated an air of prominence.

As I circled about the library I was greeted by a portly fifty-year old gent with a flourishing gray beard, Bobbie Joe. He would have been my best friend in Somerset if I had chosen to make it my home for a spell. He was thrilled to meet a touring cyclist.

"I've always wanted to ride my bike across the country," he gushed. "I even bought the maps from Adventure Cycling a couple of years ago. They keep haunting me, but I just can't find the time to do it. Though that's not entirely true, as I rode my motorcycle up the Alaskan Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay last summer. I met an English cyclist who was just starting out. He was headed to Mexico. We both rode the same bus the last twelve miles to the Arctic Ocean through the oil fields, as they don't allow commercial traffic on it. He was carrying his front wheel, as he wanted to dip it into the ocean before he set out. I followed his blog and he made it all the way. I kept wishing I were along with him. Seeing you inspires me to go home and start riding."

His enthusiasm was so contagious I was tempted to offer to stick around Somerset for a few weeks and help him train for the ride. I'd felt an affinity for Somerset the night before when I camped at its Twin Drive-in theaters. I had it all to myself, as it only screens films on weekends. The latest "Wall Street" was on one screen and "Machete" on the other. I set up my tent underneath the projectionist's booth in the middle of the field. It was littered with cigarette butts flicked out the window by the projectionist.

Danville was another Kentucky town that immediately captured my fancy with a daily all-you-can-eat $4.99 luncheon buffet. It ran from eleven to four, but I was too late for it. Its non-Carnegie library was so grand I thought it might have originally been a church. It was over 100 years old and had had three additions over the years. It had several reading rooms with comfortable couches in dark, high-ceilinged alcoves that gave the feel of a Scottish castle.

Whitley City also tempted me as a place to disappear to for a few weeks. It had a fine library, though not a Carnegie, and a discount food and thrift store that could have supplied all my needs. It was fifty cent Monday with a whole array of food items at a giveaway price. I stocked up on Triscuits, chocolate chip cookies, cereal and a half gallon of pomegranate juice--a ton of calories for just two dollars.

While I was at the library, it occurred to me that I might be able to find a transistor radio at an equally ridiculous price and be able to listen to the Bears-Packers game that night. Their cheapest radio though was five dollars and it could only be listened to with ear plugs. It didn't have an antennae, and wasn't strong enough to pick up any AM stations in the vicinity. A stronger radio could well have picked up the Bears station WBBM, news radio 78, less than 500 miles away, once the sun set.

If I weren't on a ten dollar a day budget, I might have splurged on a hotel to watch the game, but that would have kept me up too late. I'm presently somewhat pressed for time, trying to get back to Chicago by Monday to join Kathy at a luncheon featuring the Israeli ambassador to the US. I'll be visiting Israel again later this year after Turkey, so am extra eager to hear what he has to say.

I only need to average 80 miles a day the next five days to make it in time, but I will be distracted by all the Carnegies in Indiana, over 160 of them, more than any other state. I'm just 28 miles from Louisville, where I'll cross the mighty Ohio River into Indiana. It'd be easier to cross at Madison, but I crossed there three years ago and would like some variety. The Ohio is a wide river, and there aren't too many bridges across it. I'll be in trouble if the non-Interstate bridge in Louisville prohibits bicycles. Just across the river will be my first Carnegie. I could visit five or six a day if I wished.

Later, George

1 comment:

Chris St. John said...

You have a fascinating life, and I regret that I missed the opportunity to meet you while here in Somerset, Kentucky. I shall now enjoy your journeys through your well-written blog.


Chris St. John