Sunday, March 30, 2014

Indiana Day 2, Indy and Roadside Wonders

Our first stop on our second day in Indiana was Indianapolis. We had wanted to have a nice lunch there, but on this particular unlucky day there was an NCAA Elite Eight match between Kentucky and Michigan in town. The restaurant we had been hoping to go to was swamped, and parking was pretty unfortunate considering it was a Sunday afternoon. We took a little walk, peeked at the capitol, and then hit the road towards home.

There was a sign near the capitol about the National Road which I found interesting:

"The National Road is a true American icon, conceived by George Washington, authorized by Thomas Jefferson, and traveled by Abraham Lincoln.

In 1806 construction of the National Road was approved by the US Congress to open the western interior of a young nation to commerce and settlement. It was America's first federally funded interstate highway, extending from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling on the Ohio River. The road was so important that Congress authorized its extension into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in 1824 to link the capitals of the new states. The road reached Indiana in 1827."

We were driving through little Danville about 30 minutes out of town and stumbled upon the Mayberry Cafe, devoted to the timely Andy Griffith Show. There was show memorabilia all over the walls, the servers wore deputy badges, and a replica of the show's police car sat out front. I whistled the theme song for Lydia about 10 times during the drive home just so she'd know how catchy it is.

Lydia had a fire lit in her soul when she laid eyes on the majesty of Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site earlier this month. Since then it's always, "when can we see another covered bridge" or "why isn't this bridge covered?!". We really had no choice but to visit Parke County, Indiana, the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World".

I was pleasantly surprised by how organized Parke County's tourism effort was. There was a visitor center that had brochures available outside despite being closed for the day. There were maybe three different driving tours that would take you though the back country to see the different covered bridges. There were enough signs that we could have almost done the whole tour without the map we picked up. It was well done.

Phillips Bridge. According to the county website, "Also known as Arabia Bridge. Little Arabia was an area on top of the hill bordered by Big Pond, Leatherwood, and Big Raccoon Creeks. The name may have come from Syrian Moslem immigrants who settled nearby or as a term of derision for residents who were thought of as little more than cattle thieves."

Melcher Bridge. This gif really captures the drama of covered bridges.

We swung by the world's largest wind chime in Casey, IL.

Directly across from the wind chime was this sign indicating that the world's largest rocking chair would be coming soon, cruelly snatching victory out of the hands of Fanning, MO.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Indiana, Land of Architecture and Ice Cream

It's getting to the point where I've been everywhere that a 5 hour drive from St. Louis on the interstate can get you. One of the few remaining major cities on that shrinking list was Indianapolis, so that, friends, is where we went.

The hotel situation in Indianapolis proper was on the expensive side, so we made Columbus, Indiana our headquarters. This made sense especially because many of our 1000 places to see before you die in the USA and Canada destinations were in the southern part of the state.

The morning after our arrival we set out to explore Columbus. Columbus is a city of around 45,000 people, and I would say that it has more cool architecture per inhabitant than any place I've ever been. Local rich guy J. Irwin Miller decided that he wanted to live in a city that looked awesome all over, so he set up a program where he would pay for the architectural fees if the city agreed to choose from a list of architects that he selected when it came time to build things. As a result, many of the churches, banks, schools, and so forth are way more excellent than they have any right to be. The city has a couple structures done by Eero Saarinen, who also designed the St. Louis Arch.

After some car touring we stopped at Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor. I would say that this place alone was worth the drive to Indiana. It opened in 1900, and they have done such a fine job keeping the place authentic that it felt like a time machine must have been involved.

According to an IN.Gov page here Zaharakos features:

"two Mexican onyx soda fountains from the 1904 World’s Fair, a Tiffany-style stained-glass and marble lamp from 1905 and a 1908 self-playing Welte Orchestrion (think of a self-playing piano on a much grander scale)."

Even the ubiquitous plastic straw had been eschewed in favor of a thick paper old-timey one. This has to be the first time I've used a paper straw. I liked them so much that I considered buying some in the gift shop. Then I remembered I'm a cheapskate. I had a Gom Sandwich, which was a cross between a grilled cheese and a sloppy joe. Ridiculously good.

Somehow I didn't get a picture of the orchestrion but it was very impressive.

File:Welte Concert Orchestrion (style 6, no198, 1895) (1).jpg
Wikipedia had a picture of a similar one. It was like a mechanical orchestra. It had a paper roll with music on it that the machine could read like a self playing piano. The invention of radio and the electric record player in the 1920s removed the need for these giant machines.

There were several similar (but smaller) machines in a side room that appeared to be coin operated. So cool!

I was also impressed with the fancy soda fountain equipment on display.

On the way to Madison, IN we stopped for a sign indicating an antique store. It was located in a ghost strip mall that was quite spooky.

We arrived at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site about a half an hour too late, and it was closed. Ho hum.

Lastly we drove all the way out to Story, IN, which was really in the middle of nowhere. We decided that there must not be a heck of a lot going on in the state of Indiana if this little place got it's own entry in the Book. Well, we marked it off our list anyway!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ballpark Village Opener

We heard that Third Eye Blind would be having a free show at the grand opening of the long delayed Ballpark Village, plus it's hard for me to resist a grand opening of a gas station let alone a downtown landmark. Luckily we took the metro downtown because there was a Blues game happening and it was really crowded. 

We walked over and were not pleased with what we saw: the line to get in pretty much wrapped around a city block. I'm not a big fan of waiting. Luckily Ryan and Trevor were already inside and gave us a tip. It turns out that Ballpark Village is full of separate bars and restaurants that each have their own entrances as well as their own exits into the common space that we wanted to be in. So we just strolled on in to PBR, and waltzed right into the mix. 

I thought PBR meant the place was going to be all about Pabst Blue Ribbon, but in fact it was all about Professional Bull Riding. Fancy that. The place was full of go-go dancer type women dressed like cowgirls. The common area was packed mayhem. It was way too hot in there as a result, so after a quick peek around we decided we'd rather go for a walk in the fresh air, Third Eye Blind be damned.

There were several performers like the kind on street corners that pretend to be statues. These guys were way cooler than that though. They were sepia toned old-timey baseball players straight out of Field of Dreams. It was a nice touch.

On the train ride back we got to see some new-to-St. Louis college kids share booze and pal around with a couple of hobos. It alternated between heartwarming display of humanity and uncomfortable sort of tongue-in-cheek urban safari for rich kids.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Little Fun in Metro East

Lydia had been cooped up all day with her mysterious illness, so I figured she probably needed some fresh air. And where is the air fresher than East St. Louis?

During our drive I exclaim "wait a tic, I do believe there's something on our St. Louis Magazine's "101 Things Every St. Louisan Must Do" list nearby!" And there was.

Many many times I've taken I-55 to Edwardsville, or Springfield, or wherehaveyou. I've noticed a couple of awesome buildings in East Saint that I always thought were awesome but I'd never seen up close. Turns out they look better far away, but they are still pretty badass.

I've wondered many a time what type of church this was. Turns out it's Lithuanian Roman Catholic, which doesn't make any sense to me. My guess was some sort of Eastern Orthodox.

On my dream list is to dig this building up, move it someplace awesome, and make it into a theater that plays only Bill Murray movies.

We finally arrived at the Mississippi River Overlook. It's pretty new, and pretty fancy. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere, and the road to it is pretty rough, so I don't think I'll be making a second trip.

The view was very nice though.

We enjoyed a meaty dinner at Fast Eddie's.

 We stopped by Alton's Argosy casino and then went on back home.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Some Chop Suey on the North Side

Lydia wasn't feeling well, so I took her to urgent care. The earliest opening we could find was at a place in North County. North County is quite a bit different than the parts of town I usually play in, so why not eat someplace new?

I had been interested in the St. Louis chop suey tradition for some time. There was a story about it on NPR which only furthered my interest. According to the story (here), St. Louis had a Chinatown in the downtown area that was demolished in order to build Busch Stadium. This sent Chinese restaurateurs into black neighborhoods where "rent was low and demand was high".
Well we strolled into Yet Bun II Chop Suey and took a look at the menu. Many of the items seemed commonplace for a typical Chinese place but there were some exceptions. Tripe sandwich, cheese fries, and Jack sandwich were some unexpected additions. I couldn't even find chop suey on the menu, but I ordered it anyway. It consisted of chopped beef and vegetables with a dark sauce served over rice. It wasn't super exotic, but delicious. We also got a St. Paul sandwich.

The place even had the protective Plexiglas shield like in the NPR article. So authentic. After finishing our order the guy let me choose a free Vess soda. Peach sir, peach.

The St. Paul sammich is like a St. Louis delicacy, which brings to mind the horseshoe of Springfield, IL fame. Does every city have it's own sandwich? A St. Paul is basically a Chinese omelet on bread. It was an egg foo young patty with mayo, onions, and maybe some lettuce. It looked and sounded kind of gross but tasted pretty good.

As for the origin of the St. Paul sandwich's name, an NPR humorist theorized: "You know how this got its name? St. Louis fixed himself an egg foo young sandwich, and somebody asked him, "Who made that monstrosity?""

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A St. Louis Fort Night

We've been working diligently on St. Louis Magazine's "101 Things Every St. Louisan Must Do". We've gotten to the point where they are becoming more difficult to cross off our list because they are farther away or time restrictive (Skip Work for Opening Day is #1, which is on my calendar!).

Today after work I got home a little later than planned, but I wasn't about to miss a chance to follow the path of the perfect St. Louisan. No sir. To the Mystery Mobile!

By the time we arrived at Fort Belle Fontaine the daylight was fading fast. We'd burned valuable time finding the place, as it's a bit remote.


As we entered the grounds there was a guard station with a stop sign, and a guard came out of it. She curtly handed me a clip board with a visitor sign in sheet through my car window. "We have to sign in?" I asked. A weird "Yeah" was the only response. Ok... Signed in and continued. There were lots of little buildings spread around, one labeled "school", "administration", and several little living quarter buildings. What the heck was this place?

The place had a mysterious dearth of signage. Was some sort of training camp? Insane asylum? Weird religious organization compound? I saw a sign that read DYS but with no explanation as to what the heck that meant. Well DYS stands for Division of Youth Services. Turns out we were cruising around the grounds of a juvenile delinquent rehabilitation center. So weird.

We finally got to our destination after successfully navigating the winding roads of the Hamlet of the Flies. Well it turns out the fort was made of wood in the early 1800s, and so doesn't strictly... exist. There were a couple of historical signs that I took pictures of but it was too dark and so their contents will remain a mystery, except that the fort was the first west of the Mississippi. What is worth seeing is large stoneworks which struck me as pretty fort-like to the point I was confused that it wasn't the fort itself. There were a whole lot of stairs, and some spots where fountains at least used to be. It seemed a bit opulent for a spot in the middle of nowhere facing a river.

These giant cakes are hidden like Easter eggs all over important St. Louis area sites to celebrate the 250th anniversary of St. Louis.

The fancy stone part was build in the 1930s as one of those quasi make-work projects created by the WPA.

Eleanor Roosevelt visited the site in November, 1939 and wrote about her visit in her six-a-week newspaper column My Day (here).

Saturday, March 15, 2014

St. Patrick's Day

This year for St. Patrick's Day I skipped both Dogtown and Downtown, with their crazy crowds and difficult parking. My friends invented their own little bar crawl in Soulard so I took part in that. It was pretty awesome.

One friend of a friend makes his own beer, and had a little soda-keg of a bright green variety in the back seat of his car. So we stood around outside next to a parked sedan with it's door open, creating our own little block party until the beer ran out. It was fun and free.

A beatbox and flute battle broke out at one point.

Earlier in the day I went to a cool lunch mixer thing with a Japanese buddy of mine. Everyone there was either from Japan or was learning Japanese. It really made me want to brush off my rusty Japanese skills!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Museum of Transportation and De Soto, MO

Lydia and I went to the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis. It was a lot nicer and more interesting than I had anticipated. Our Groupon included a free ride on the miniature train, but it was closed for the day because it was too cold out. Weak!

Especially interesting to me is the fact that St. Louis was the biggest auto manufacturer before Detroit, so there were a solid number of locally manufactured vehicles.

It was a tad chilly outside.

There was a cool little exhibit about the evolution of dashboard displays.

We had seen all the treasures that the museum had to offer, but I just wasn't ready to go home. Where should we go? We took a peek at a map and decided on a place that we hadn't yet been to: De Soto, MO. Why the heck not?

The drive over there was hilly. Hilly billy.

The city was interestingly set up, with sort of two main drags on either side of a railroad track. It was fitting after we had just spent all of that time scoping out old trains. We popped in to an antique store on the strip. These days I like to just stroll through antique stores and rarely buy things. I had just about escaped when I saw a case of treasures from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. I usually pride myself in not buying pointless things but I ended up acquiring a smashed penny from the fair for $10. It was even smashed on to a 1904 Indian Head penny! I'm a nerd.

The antique store had some old-timey candy displayed, so we tried some Valomilk.

NPR did a story on Valomilk in 2012 entitled: "Valomilks: A Sweet Treat That Runs Down Your Chin".

On the way home we saw a sign for a Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site.

Wowza. So covered.

The signage said that a big reason for covering the bridge was so that horses wouldn't look over the side and freak out.