I finally got to South Bend and into my room at the Holiday Inn Downtown about 11:45 Tuesday night. Before I left Pittsburgh, I had printed a copy of the LHA Conference Brochure off the internet, but it didn’t include times. So I knew there was a bus tour to Indianapolis the next day, although I didn’t know when it started. And Tuesday night the Holiday Inn’s wireless wasn’t cooperating, so I went to bed not knowing when exactly the bus would leave Wednesday morning. Not before 9 I figured.
I was up at 7, showered, shaved and dressed by 8:15, when I found the wireless now to be working fine, I went on line and found the conference schedule, and I learned that the busses to Indianapolis were loading at 7:45 to leave by 8. I missed the bus.
I figured I could jump in my Honda Element immediately and get on their trail. I could catch up with the busses. Certainly I could drive the 130 miles to Indianapolis in time for the fancy lunch at the old Athenaeum Rathskellar where the visionary Carl Fisher held one of the first meetings that started the idea rolling for the creation of the Lincoln Highway. And in order to get there, I would take the Dixie Highway which was another big successful project of the brilliant-idea-generator Carl Fisher who also created Miami Beach, the Indianapolis 500 and assorted other great American things.
The Conference brochure told me the routes that made up the Dixie Highway in Indiana: US 31, IN 25, IN 29, US 421, and I mapquested the trip. I got on the road as soon as I could. I headed out of South Bend on Route 31 which soon became a divided four lane highway, and just as things were getting really dull, I got a text message from my editor and good friend Kevin Conrad back in Pittsburgh. A text! Why didn’t I think of this? I could text my friend and Lincoln Highway historian Brian Butko who is probably on the tour bus! He’s guided me on so many drives along the Lincoln, I’m sure he could be of help on the Dixie Highway. But I had never exchanged text-messages while driving. It’s insanely dangerous and distracting and probably leads to many accidents. Call me irresponsible.
ME to BRIAN BUTKO: Are you on the bus?
ME: Still north of Kokomo?
BB: In tiny town of Mateo.
ME: I’m following, hoping to meet for lunch.
ME: Are you on some cool old route? This 31 is boring.
BB: No main road, not much to see.
ME: Cool. Then I’m not missing a lot?
BB: It is 2 lane at Logansport // Just passed old Char Bett drive in rest – get a pic, we couldn’t!
ME: I have no map. Town names mean little. What’s a Char Bett?
BB: Named for owners. Were stopping in Logansport Can u use phone maps?
ME: Duh. I’m 22 miles north of Logansport. Just got on 25. Much better road.
BB: Were @ Whitehouse wrestaurant – me & Kevin P
[Ah, that would be Kevin Patrick, geography professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and co-author with Brian of DINERS OF PENNSYLVANIA. He's also featured in my show called UNDERGROUND PITTSBURGH. I later found out that the busses stopped for a restroom break, and Brian and Kevin ran back to check out an intriguing little roadside eatery they'd spotted called The Whitehouse.]
ME: Back on bus now? // Still 8 north of Logansport.
BB: Yeah our illicit food stop slowed em down – pulling away now – The Whitehouse tenderloin place is a must-stop!
Meanwhile, I’ve spotted the aforementioned Char Bett and pulled over to get some pictures.
While I was doing that, my SONY camera zonked out and so I had to use my iPhone camera for the rest of the day. While I was snapping, a young man came out of the back of the Char Bett and asked, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Oh, just taking some pictures.” He then asked, “Why?” and I said “No reason. It’s just a cool little place.” “It is,” he agreed, “and it’s got a cool big house attached on back, and the whole thing’s for sale if you’re interested.” He went back in. The place wasn’t open yet, but it looked honest and genuine in a way that franchised places just can’t seem to duplicate. I got back in the car and started texting when I got back up to speed.
ME: Guy at Char Bett wants to sell. House included.
BB: Hmm, got a house… Just wanted a pic
When I get to Logansport and see the vintage Whitehouse, I have to take Brian’s advice and stop.
Butko and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on worthwhile stops, but this was a classic. I snap some phone-pictures, and I don’t know how I did it but I got this great curved shot of the Whitehouse with a distorted road. Like we’re seeing the curvature of the earth.
I go inside. The waitresses are fast and funny. They recommend the grilled tenderloin. I ask for one to go.
“Is this the best thing here?” I ask? “No,” the redheaded waitress responds, “He is. That’s Lester. He’s been at the grill here for more than 50 years!” I wish I could stay and eat breakfast but then I’ll never catch up.
ME: Now I’m at Whitehouse. Genuine.
BB: Go in tell em yer with the bus tour nuts
[I'm eating and texting and calling up the iPhone Maps app as I drive. Beware of me.]
ME: Mmm. Great loin. Let me know if you stop again.
BB: Yeah cool place. Toolin along, near Michigantown 48 mi from Indy.
ME: I was too busy eating, missed turn for 29. Backtracking.
BB: You’ll loin!
BB: Were headed for cemetery where Fisher is buried.
ME: I had to stop for gas & pee. How will I recognize cemetery?
BB: A mile past toll house & historical marker (4702 N Michigan) turn east @ 38th St, take to Boulevard Place, go south to 34th, rt into huge arched entrance. It’s one of 190,000 graves! Sec 13 lot 42.
ME: Are you there?
BB: No @ 53rd St
ME: I’m still 25 miles out.
BB: We’re nearing entrance
ME: 16th Street
BB: We’re leavin but never saw Fisher!
[I found the Fisher Mausoleum picture on the great Find-A-Grave website.]
ME: See you at lunch
BB: Yep goin to Meridian St
ME: Rathskellar right?
BB: Yep @ Athenaeum 401 E Michigan // We’re pullin up
ME: 25th. Is this what Twitter is all about?
BB: Yeah but to everyone.
I got to the Athenaeum as the tour bus riders were filing into the front door. I made it right on time. I snap an iPhone picture and it’s again slightly distorted.
The lunch was German, and we were in the same building where Carl Fisher first proposed his coast-to-coast paved highway. The Conference organizers had an actor come and play Carl Fisher, and all went according to plan.
I saw old friends, talked to Brian in the flesh, and I ate my lunch with Jerry Peppers, the New York lawyer who’s in my program and who this year succesfully got New York City to put up a sign acknowledging that the Eastern Terminus of the Lincoln Highway is at Times Square. He says he’s not done campaigning yet. He wants to get a plaque up on a building there, and if Time Square stays a pedestrian mall, maybe a concrete Terminus marker is a possibility too.
After lunch, Esther Queneau tips me off that she’s pretty sure the room where Carl Fisher had his meeting is just a few yards down the hall. She knows the old photos of the event and recognizes some of the artifacts on the walls and the big fireplace with carved figures on both sides of the hearth. I take a picture of Esther and Bernie there.
Then the busses load up, Jerry Peppers agrees to come with me in my car, and we all go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum. There we all get on another set of busses and go around the Indy 500 track.
And then some time to walk around the museum full of beautiful vintage race cars.
I love the yellow speedster that won the first 500. It has what is believed to be the world’s first rear-view mirror on an automobile. So much to learn.