"I'm a bicyclist too," one of the librarians at the Waterloo Grove Carnegie in the northeast corner of Indiana told me. It was the second of the six Carnegies on my route across northern Indiana on Highway 6.
"I hope you were able to get in a ride yesterday," I said. "At last some warm weather. It was the first time this year I was able to ride in shorts."
"I sure did," she replied. "It was a perfect way to spend Easter. My partner and I rode 62 miles. We're training for the 101 Lakes Ride on May 10. It passes through three states and is 110 miles. And later in the year he and I are planning on doing the Ride Across Indiana, known as RAIN. Its a one-day, 157-mile ride from Terre Haute through Indianapolis to Richmond."
"How many Carnegies does it pass?"
"I don't know, but I'll have to look it up. I search them out myself. I've got a doll I take along and take a photo of at each library."
"I've seen nearly twenty in the last few days biking from Pittsburgh. Searching them out makes for a good bike ride."
"Anything makes for a good bike ride," she wisely corrected me.
We talked biking and Carnegies awhile longer at the bike rack outside the red-brick classic building until she had to excuse herself to tend to the construction going on at the library.
It had celebrated its 100th anniversary the year before. It was in the process of being rewired and having its boiler replaced and getting an addition. Despite her enthusiasm for Carnegie libraries, hers had no recognition of Carnegie on the outside of the library, just his portrait hanging in a corner inside. I thought maybe the 100th anniversary banner still hanging over the entry might cover something relating to Carnegie, either his name or one of the phrases often seen on his libraries reflecting the era when they were built--"Free Public Library" or "Open to All"--but all it covered was brick. There was nothing inscribed on the building identifying it as a library, though there was a recent sculpture out front of a boy and a girl each enjoying a book in their own way.
My first Carnegie of the day in Butler, just across the border from Ohio, had "Butler Carnegie" over its entry despite no longer serving as the town's library. It is now the DeKalb County Museum, open on Fridays and Saturdays noon to four, though closed for the month of May. It was right on Highway 6, known as Main Street through the town. Four of the Carnegies on my route across Indiana had "Main Street" addresses, not unusual, as one of the few stipulations Carnegie gave to a town requesting a library was that the library be built within a block or two of the town center on land provided by the town. Such a central location was often intersected by a "Main Street."
Kendanville's Carnegie had likewise been replaced by a new library. It was now a vintage furniture and curiosities shop, though not doing so well, as a sign on the door said it was closed until further notice. It was a block off the town's Main Street in a residential neighborhood. The intricately bricked, Prairie School-influenced, building could easily be converted into someone's home, as have a handful of the libraries. There are no inscriptions on its exterior that might be confusing to passersby if it did turn into someone's dream home.
The Ligonier Carnegie was closed and undergoing a significant renovation and addition. Even with the construction going on, it had a most stately presence. It had more than a full block to itself, surrounded on all sides by grass and trees, with no other buildings diminishing its dignity. "Carnegie" in bold gold lettering was directly over the entry flanked by columns and above that "Public Library."
Flanking the stairs to the entry were a pair of griffins, a mythical creature known for guarding treasures. The librarian said they are also a symbol of knowledge. They had been added about fifteen years ago. The stairs too are a symbol--of one's elevation by learning. The stairs were one of the requests of Carnegie for all his libraries, along with a lamppost or two out front, symbolizing enlightenment by learning.
Of to the side in a nicely landscaped garden was a touching sculpture of a barefoot girl reading a book entitled "Booked for the day," almost as worthwhile a way to spend one's day as riding one's bike.
The temporary library in a small shopping mall only had a portion of the library's holdings, but it did have the Carnegie portrait hanging. I am always happy to give him a nod.
I was denied that part of my Carnegie ritual at the other two of his libraries on my route. I was told he hung in the office of the director at the Syracuse library. He was gone for the day and his office was locked. The library had had two additions, one in the front and the other in the back. I at first thought it was a new library, as the additions, especially the one tacked on to the entry that took away the steps, made it no longer look like a Carnegie.
It doesn't deny its heritage though, as it had a stack of very worthwhile glossy twelve-page brochures entitled "Syracuse Public Library, 100 Years in the Making," free for the taking, tracing the history of the library. It included a portrait of Carnegie and acknowledged him as the "Patron Saint of Libraries."
I was sent to the basement of the Carnegie in Milford to give Carnegie a greeting, but his portrait was not to be found and the two librarians on hand didn't know where it had disappeared to.
The cornerstone did have "Carnegie Public Library" engraved on it, but not the date of its construction in 1918.
"Do you keep that password year round?" I asked.
"No we change it every few months. We don't allow anyone under eighteen to use our computers, so we have to have a password. We change it to keep it from becoming too well known. We don't want teenagers coming around the library after it closes and accessing the WIFI."
I didn't know it at the time, but I was on the fringe of Amish country, perhaps explaining the sensitivity of underage use of the Internet. It was growing dark and as I pedaled along a county road a couple miles south of Highway 6, I was passed by a couple of horse drawn carriages with bright headlights. And that evening in my final night in my tent in a soggy forest I heard the rapid staccato clatter of horses pulling a cart passing by.
The next morning I was joined on the county road by children bicycling to school, some accompanied by their mothers, all wearing reflective vests. I was ending my journey as I had begun it, with a touch of Amish. As usual there had been a scattering of Amish at Chicago's Union Station at my departure point, and a handful too on my train. They all looked rather stern and sullen, and those out of their community a bit nervous, out in the world of heathens. None of the bicyclists responded to my waves or dared even to look over at me. It was a pleasant sight though biking past farms without a car or truck or tractor in sight.
Another of the distinctive joys of being out in small-town, rural American are the local ice cream parlors, the anti-Dairy Queens, with a character of their own.
So too is tuning into non-big city radio stations. Their on-air voices are less regulated and molded by the corporate interests trying to draw as big an audience as possible so they charge as much as they can for commercials. They are allowed to have a personality of their own, and don't sound like all the rest of those on the radio dial in the metropolises, who seem as cloned as the franchises taking over the world and spew nothing but scorn and cynicism.
An older guy on a station out of Akron kept saying, "Things today aren't like they were in the '50s." But he didn't agree with a recent article by Phyllis Schlafly that men should earn more money than women. She argued that equal pay would make it hard for women to find husbands, as men don't want to marry women who earn more money than they do. He said that wasn't true in his case at all, as having a wife who earned more money than he did allowed him to continue his career in radio. He was an entertaining old coot with many regular callers. He began his show with a gigantic sigh saying, "We made it to Friday," an all too common sentiment in the world of wage-slaves.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, I picked up a young woman out of Canada with a refreshingly wholesome chirpy outlook who spoke a Canadian version of Valley Girl, gleefully and giggly blurting "fer sure," "no way," "how cool," "neat stuff," and on and on. The only distraction was her having to give the temperature in Fahrenheit and Centigrade. A story that grated on her was a petition by Americans to send Justin Beiber back to Canada and to take away his green card.
The most entertaining commercial of the trip was a drill sergeant barking to his troops to keep them in step promoting a metal recycling company in Cleveland, not a business one often hears advertised on the radio. His spiel was: "Who pays more for your scrap? Steel, copper, aluminum. West Side Metals, we pay more." It was a ten-second spot that turned up every half hour or so on a sports station.
I also supplemented my listening pleasure with an audio book on my iPad of the "Fifty Craziest Stories in Cycling" by English cycling expert Les Woodland. Many were about the Tour de France, but one was about a contest by a British cycling magazine challenging its readers to see who could bicycle the most miles in a year. The first record holder did 34,666 miles in 1911, which included 332 centuries. The record stood until 1937 when someone did 36,007 miles. Five years later an Australian did a staggering 62,657 miles. But even more staggering was someone doing 75,065 miles in 1939 and then continuing on to see how much longer it would take him to get to 100,000 miles.
I thought I was doing well to average nearly 90 miles a day for my six day ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago, culminating with a final 115-mile effort arriving at my apartment at 9:30, passing up a final night of camping on the outskirts of the city in Indiana's Dunes. I hadn't lost much of the conditioning I had gained in the Philippines. I will have no worries about my ride from Paris to Cannes next week. I won't have to make it as direct as possible, but can swing over towards the Alps and preview a bit of the upcoming Tour de France route. Target number one will be Oyonnax, 267 miles from Paris north of Lyon. It is one of nine first time Ville Ètapes. Five of the nine are in England, where the first three stages will be conducted. By the time I'm in Oyonnax it will be two months until the start of The Race. It was exciting when the countdown reached one hundred days a month ago. To be on The Race route checking on the preparations will be even more exciting. I'm ready.