Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Southern Indiana

I had the rare treat of a riding through a series of round-abouts on American spoil as I headed into Greenfield on West McKenzie Road to start my day.  They were the first, and what will probably be the only, round-abouts of this trip.  I could have had a bunch more if I had dropped into Indianapolis via Carmel, just to its north, as Carmel is the American capital of round-abouts, hosting international conferences promoting them.  I had the supreme pleasure of Carmel's round-abouts two-and-a-half years ago when I biked there for a hard-to-find book on the Giro d'Italia at its library.  It wasn't a Carnegie, as Carmel had long ago outgrown it.  Its Carnegie had been transformed into a restaurant.

Not only did Greenfield share an enlightenment to round-abouts with Carmel, though on a much, much lesser scale, it also shared having its Carnegie transformed into a restaurant, the only two I have come upon. I am always saddened when a Carnegie no longer serves as it was intended, but it is also fascinating to discover what new use it has been put to.  This restaurant by no means turned its back on its heritage, but rather honored it, taking the name "Carnegie's."

The building looked as magnificent as it must have been at its unveiling and still bore the identity of Public Library. About its interior, I can not say, as  I could only take a peek inside, as it was only open for dinner, and I was there at the top of the day.

There were tables out front for outdoor dining.  It appeared to be the finest dining establishment in town, and elegant enough to attract diners, bibliophiles or not, from Indianapolis, twenty-five miles to the west. 

I was sorry not to be able to share the delight of it with Tim, as he had doubled back to Indianapolis for a day-long Kurt Vonnegut-fest.  My thoughts were certainly with him, trying to imagine the experience he was having and the wacky characters drawn to the event.  Tim also missed out on the first domed Carnegie of the eleven so far on our itinerary, the next one down the road in Shelbyville.  It had a plaque out front stating Carnegie's guiding philosophy in dispensing his fortune, which at the time was the largest in the US.

The plaque had a position of prominence in front of the former entrance, replaced by one at street level to its right in the first of two additions greatly expanding the library.

Shelbyville also was a step above most Carnegies with a larger and more serene portrait of its benefactor, forsaking the standard portrait that the Carnegie foundation offered to all the libraries in 1935 on the hundredth anniversary of Carnegie's birth.  I spent a pleasant hour warming up while reading and snacking on handfuls of energy-rich dry Cheerios that Tim had rescued from an Aldis dumpster the day before.

It was better than forty miles to the next Carnegie in North Vernon, the longest stretch between Carnegies since I crossed into Indiana, the land of Carnegies.  Its 166 are the most of any state except for New York, with 172, of which 66 are branch libraries in the boroughs of the city that shares the state's name.  

A not uncommon feature of the American landscape these days are homes that have seen better days.   I look at each and think they were once someone's pride and joy...and may still be.

Half-way to North Vernon I took a break at a service station, plopping down against one of its side walls for a sandwich.  It was barely forty but I could retain the warmth generated by my exertion for the time it took me to eat.  Evidently I bore the look of a forlorn figure, though I felt just the opposite, privileged to be spending my day biking roads I'd never biked.  

While I was still spreading my peanut butter a thirty-year old guy approached with a ten dollar bill in his hand.  "Here, this is for you," he said.  I was so surprised, I couldn't react in time to refuse it.  It is best anyway, to kindly accept such generosity, so such good-hearted people aren't discouraged from such acts.  A couple minutes later when he returned to his car parked near me he asked, "Are you looking for a job?"

"Not yet," I replied.  "I'm headed south."

He wasn't the only sensitive soul looking out for me.  Earlier a lady called out to me from her car, as I sat at a picnic table in the cold eating, that the local church offered lunch if I were hungry.

After I resumed riding another good Samaritan drove past me and then pulled over--my own private good Samaritan, Tim.  It was after four and he was heading to our meeting point in North Vernon with his radar out looking for me.  Though we both have cell phones and GPS devices we don't know how to track each other with the chips we're carrying, though the NSA probably does.  He gave me a quick report on his day of Vonnegut.  There weren't as many devotees as he had hoped, no more than twenty at any of the events, and only two entrants to the Vonnegut look-alike contest, which Tim wasn't one of.  The highlight of the day for Tim was meeting a librarian from the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. who amazingly was also a Carnegie enthusiast.  He had been to Carnegie's hometown in Scotland, where he funded the first of his 2,500 libraries and had been to quite a few in the US.  Tim will be in D.C. for Thanksgiving and hopes to see him again then.

It looked as if Tim and I were on schedule to meet up in North Vernon before dark, that is until a few miles down the road when I came upon a sign saying it was a few miles further than we realized.  Once again I was going to have to bike past nightfall.  At least this time I had my tent and sleeping bag and could make camp if the riding seemed too treacherous.  

North Vernon sprawled for a couple of miles.  Since Carnegies are always built within a block or two of a town's center, one of Carnegie's stipulations, that is always my destination.  With the town center not evident here, especially in the dark, I stopped to ask at a Walgreen's after I feared I had passed it.  Neither of the two people in the store knew where Walnut Street was, the address of the Carnegie, but at least knew where the library was.  When I doubled back to it, I made the unfortunate discovery that it was a new library and not what I was looking for.

So it was the phone to the rescue again.  If Janina hadn't encouraged me to finally join the twenty-first century, we would have had to wait until the next day to connect when I had access to WIFI.  Tim had been awaiting me for over half an hour.  He was there at the Carnegie, now a city office, just around the corner from the Walgreens.  If it had still been light I would have noticed the pillared building or perhaps spotted Tim's car with its pair of large roof ornaments out front.  

It may have been for the best, though, that I hadn't found Tim and ended up at the new library, as it was on the fringe of a forest where we had the best camping of our trip so far.  We also thought we might have the bonus of a stash of food, but the nearby grocery store had one of those dreaded industrial dumpsters that are attached directly to the store and provide no access to us foragers.  It would have been suspicious to park his car at the library or the grocery store overnight, so he availed himself of a nearby Walmart, which Tim ordinarily avoids, as it maintained around-the-clock hours.

The next day got off to a dandy start with a visit to the Carnegie with the sun rising behind it.

Then it was a fine hour's ride through forests and fields to Seymour and its grand Carnegie embellished by a fully integrated addition that didn't look tacked on as many do.

Light fixtures similar to the original ones flanking the now sealed off entry surrounded the building and the new entry on the opposite side of the building featured pillars similar to those out front.  The transformation of the former entrance was accomplished tastefully with landscaping.  We sat in the sun and ate breakfast by the new entrance with the library's WIFI all to ourselves on a quiet Sunday morning.

When I arrived at the Scottsburg Carnegie a couple hours later, Tim was seated on a doorstep across the street in the sun googling whatever had lately captured his curiosity while a trio of high school students were engaged in a photo shoot--a chubby guy with a camera shooting a cute girl in a slinky black dress walking across an intersection and posing in various nooks of the library while another girl held a large round white reflective device to enhance the lighting.  They too recognized the beauty of the Carnegie.  It was built on a diagonal so it could directly face the town square.

In front a plaque gave its history and identified its architects and its style of architecture--"Renaissance Revival."  The town raised $7,500 to supplement the $12,500 given by Carnegie, giving them a budget of about double that of most Carnegies to make theirs a little extra special.  Towns did vye to make theirs the equal, if not the better, of their neighbors.  This one was commissioned in 1917 towards the end of Carnegie's library beneficence, so the town had many to compare itself to.

We were nearing the tip of Indiana.  Only one more Carnegie awaited us before we crossed into Kentucky at Jeffersonville.  If the winds weren't contrary I could make it before dark.  Unfortunately they didn't give me the assist I needed, so I fell five miles short.  Tim had made it to the library and was awaiting me.  We had agreed that if I couldn't make it, I would give Tim a call and let him know if I found a suitable campsite for him and his car to join me, otherwise we would be on our own.

Luckily I did, in a corridor of bushes behind an x-rated video and peep show store that had a large parking lot for 18-wheelers to overnight at.  Tim could either park in the lot there or at a nearby cheap motel or possibly drive into the overgrown gravel roadway that the bushes were taking over. He chose the bushes and agreed that this was another classic campsite.  I had found a couple of tokens on the road near the store good for a few minutes of peeping, but neither of us felt inclined to put them to use.  Nothing could beat our campsite.  We went to sleep excited about crossing the Ohio River the next day into Louisville, where a cluster of nine Carnegies awaited us.

1 comment:

dworker said...

Wow George. I know most of these towns, and have cycled some of them. Did you know that Susan had lived in N. Vernon for 11 years. She was living there when we met. She will be happy to here of the kindness of the folks there.
I am riding to class here, as it goes below freezing. It is my goal this semester to ride my bike to class every day this semester, and never take the elevator. Really it is easy enough, as long as I don't get black ice. That does slow me down. The early winter is coming in on you too. At least you'll have a strong tail wind. carry on.