The bus made a stop at a Love’s/McDonald’s/Subway in St. Paul, Ind.  (As odd as Megabus’ routes are, it is not inconceivable to think I’d be going to St. Louis by way of St. Paul, Minn.).  I’m sated (Quarter Pounder with cheese and two apple pies) and, unfortunately, wide awake.  Still no personal lights on the bus, and dawn is two hours away, so I’m blogging again.  I was quite proud of the fact that I managed to post my entry at 11:59, so I did manage to post an August entry in here.

Currently en route to Indianapolis.  The Cincinnati leg of the journey included two stops in the city itself.  One was at the corner of Fourth and Race, and the other was on W. University Ave. on the University of Cincinnati campus.  It was quite fascinating to pass through Over the Rhine, the neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati, which was an impoverished, crime-ridden ghetto during the late 1980s to mid-1990s, when I was living and working in the Queen City.

Now the word is gentrification.  I am all for making the neighborhood safer, and for making it attractive for people who work downtown to want to live there, especially if they can save some fuel money by walking to work.  The question remains: Will this come at too high a cost for longtime residents to be able to afford to live there?

Many of the landmarks I recognized during the time I lived in Cincinnati are gone.  This means quite a few of the actual buildings are gone, many of them now serve different purposes.  As the bus went north on Vine St., I saw the building that housed a dive bar called the Bank Café is now a restaurant.  During my many journeys northbound on Vine St., I passed (but never entered) a store named Glossinger’s.  Its Pepsi sign, hanging over the sidewalk, advertised:

WINE          BEER       CIGARS
Also gone were many of the storefront churches that clustered, sometimes several to a block, in Over the Rhine.  I particularly noticed the absence of one such place, where a wooden folding chair always sat in the front window.  Above the chair was a sign that said, “This seat reserved for you!”, above an arrow pointing to the sign.
A sad commentary was a little store at Vine and Liberty that had a Realtor’s sign in its window, but it was too obvious that the place was closed, and had been for some time.  A sign reading THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE still hung above the door.  When I had lived in Cincinnati, it was a place to buy money orders, cash checks, and send or receive Western Union funds.
For personal reasons, I grieved the loss of the St. Francis Bookshop, across Vine St. from St. Francis Seraph Church.  The Saint Anthony Messenger paid me $35 for a poem I mailed them in 1996.  It was called “I Want to Live Above the Catholic Bookstore,” and I had written it on the spur of the moment, when I walked past the St. Francis Bookshop one day and saw a FOR RENT sign in the window above the store.  (Sadly, now there is one in the store window itself.)  I took out my small pocket diary and ballpoint pen, and wrote the whole poem in less than five minutes, right there on Vine St., using a newspaper vending box for a desk.  It took me another year and a half–by which time I had moved to Columbus–to type up the poem and mail it to The Saint Anthony Messenger.
As the bus reached the top of the hill at Calhoun St., I saw the outline of St. George’s Church, and I still need to remind myself that both steeples are gone forever.  Above is a video clip from WLWT-TV, Channel 5, showing the 2008 fire that destroyed both steeples.
At this very moment (4:38 a.m.), we are sitting in downtown Indianapolis, discharging and taking on passengers.  The only prominent landmark I could see was the headquarters of Eli Lilly and Company.  The only businesses that seem to be open are bail bond offices.  Haven’t seen an all-night diner, or even a convenience store.
There were more nightclubs and late-night restaurants open in downtown Cincinnati than I remembered during the years I lived there.  They seemed to be full, and many people were walking from club to club.  (I saw two young women in dresses who were carrying what looked like very uncomfortable dress shoes, walking barefoot up W. 4th St. and crossing Race.)
We are now heading out of downtown Indianapolis.  Still no sign of life other than the bail bondsmen, many of whose offices are brilliantly lit and staffed.  I guess there are enough people being arrested that it is worth staying open 24/7.

Literally, a Post From the Road

This time, I am blogging while in motion.  It will only be August for another half hour, and I have neglected this blog most of the summer.  Tonight, I am riding on the upper level of a Megabus heading west toward Cincinnati and Indianapolis.  My final destination will be St. Louis, arriving there about 2:15 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time.  This being Megabus, I will not be going the direct route, down Interstate 70.  I will be on this coach all the way to Chicago, due to arrive there at 6:45 a.m. local time.  Once the bus leaves Indianapolis, it will turn north and head up Interstate 65.

Just like I did when I made this trek in 2011, I will have an hour or so to wait at Union Station near Jackson Blvd., and then I’ll be southbound through Illinois on Interstate 55.  (I wish I could throw in an allusion about rolling up the Interstate “like a rocket sled on rails,” but C.W. McCall’s immortal song refers to Interstate 44, which does go through St. Louis, but mostly crosses Texas and Oklahoma.)  I guess I could throw in a line from Edward Albee’s Zoo Story: “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

And my mission is the same.  I am visiting my friend John, whom I met 34 years ago this month at Circle Pines Center in Delton, Mich.  John is in a wheelchair and requires full-time care because of his multiple sclerosis, and is in an assisted living facility near the Delmar Loop.  We communicate by text messages and Skype calls, but this time it is different.  John will soon be moving to Madison to live closer to his brother, so the next time I visit him it will be in Madison.

I am also reuniting with a mutual friend of John’s and mine, Alex, whom I also meet at Circle Pines.  We were there for OPIK ’79, a Midwestern get-together of members of Liberal Religious Youth, which was the Unitarian Universalist church’s youth group at the time.  OPIK (rhymes with topic) was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky.  The reason it took place in Michigan in 1979 is a long story that will only further bore the reader.

I am also making my first visit to the Gateway Arch since 1993.  On that trip, the Mississippi River was running wild as part of the Great Flood of 1993, and from the Arch I could see Laclede’s Landing completely underwater, and the whole area around the Arch looking like Venice.

I am also celebrating the end of another semester of moonlighting at the Columbus State bookstore, which was 2½ hours per night four nights a week, and eight-hour Saturdays.  I will receive a decent paycheck on the 13th, but I was coming home, eating not very well or healthily, and then falling into bed, only to repeat the cycle the next day.

Right now, it’s time for a confession: Writing in the blog tonight was Plan B.  I don’t want to overextend this laptop, because I left the power cord in Columbus.  I put it on the coffee table where I wouldn’t forget it, walked by, looked at it, and proceeded out the front door.  I remembered it when I unzipped my knapsack.

My first plan was to write in my diary, but the driver has disabled all the reading lights, so I can’t see the page (at least not until after daybreak) to write in there.  Right now, we are on Interstate 71, headed toward Cincinnati, where this coach will make its first stop.  Odd to be going to Cincinnati and not ending the journey there.

This blog is beginning to sound like the “traveling tapes” I used to make whenever my parents and I took a road trip–even if it was only the 11 miles to Belpre.  (I made longer tapes–on multiple cassettes–when we went to Richmond, Va.)

I’ll log off for now.

Meandered to St. Louis and Back

The last time I was in St. Louis was in June 1993.  I went with a Cincinnati friend who had an interview at St. Louis University Law School, so I came along to see my old friend John Bilgere.  We saw firsthand the Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993 during the trip, watching the Mississippi River running wild and viewing a completely flooded Laclede’s Landing from the observation deck in the Gateway Arch.

The most recent journey to St. Louis just ended.  Due to modem issues, I was unable to post contemporaneous entries, so now that I’m back at home, I can recount the highlights of the trip.  I took pictures (officially christening my new Kodak EasyShare C143), wrote diary entries, and jotted down notes throughout the entire time I was on the road.

I’ve logged literally tens of thousands of miles on Greyhound since I was a teenager, but this was my first trip anywhere on Megabus.  I have seen their brightly painted blue and yellow double-decker buses downtown and around the Ohio State campus, so I finally decided to try them for this long overdue trip–the first time I have seen John since 2001.

Megabus is not for the impatient traveler.  Besides the reduced price, I thought it would be fun to take a circuitous route to St. Louis.  I have hitchhiked there (from Marietta, in the summer of 1981), and once did a ride-share with someone going from Cincinnati to Kansas City, but otherwise have gone by Greyhound.  All involved straight shots down Interstate 70.

Not this time.  When Megabus emailed me my confirmation and my schedule, I saw that I would be going to St. Louis by way of Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago.  Never take a child who says “Are we there yet?” on a Megabus.

I enjoyed the trip thoroughly.  This was the first time I had ever ridden in the upper deck of a double-decker, and I was amused that I, at 5’8¾”, was almost too tall to stand up straight in the aisle.  I felt like I was being carried in a sedan chair as the bus climbed north up High St. through the Short North and the Ohio State area, just as the bars and nightclubs were starting to get busy.

Megabus passengers, at least from what I’ve seen on this little safari, are much more polite than the ones I’ve experienced in my many trips on Greyhound.  If someone had an MP3 player, the volume was low.  Cell phone conversations were in stage whispers.  I was able to doze, write, and read without interruption.  This was a far cry from my 1987 bus trip to California, when four or five guys (whom I knew by sight from O.U.) weren’t happy that the bus was quiet, and decided to serenade everyone by loudly playing the theme from The Andy Griffith Show on their kazoos.

One way Megabus keeps their prices so low is that they have no physical ticket counter and no bus stations.  I picked up the bus Saturday night at the corner of N. High St. and Nationwide Blvd., and, as dawn was breaking, our bus came to a stop on S. Canal St. in downtown Chicago, near Union Station.  It was a warm morning, but I would have had to take shelter in Union Station itself had it been cold or rainy.

There was a billboard on the garage across the street.  Advertising deals on a new condominium  in downtown Chicago, it said, It would suck to miss this!  The same could be said for Megabus, especially if you’re between buses.

The layover was not a boring one.  As I stepped off the bus, I saw a police officer putting two sawhorses across Canal St. where it intersects Jackson Blvd., and saw people standing around on the sidewalk.  I explored the inside of Union Station for awhile, which didn’t take too long, since many areas were restricted to Amtrak ticket-holders only.

Once back outside, I saw that the street was blocked because of the third annual XSport Fitness Rock-N-Roll Mini-Marathon.  After hearing for years about the health-restoring power of running, whether jogging or all-out marathon racing, I become more and more committed to walking.  I took some pictures (both still and video) during the race, and I guess running is the origin of the expression “No pain, no gain.”  I watched the videos after I downloaded them onto the laptop, and almost everyone looks like they’re in agony.

Many people seem to be westbound this weekend.  When it was time to continue the trip, Megabus had two buses at the ready.  The Megabus coach was going straight to Kansas City, without taking on or dropping off any passengers anywhere else.  They called in a charter (not a Megabus) to take passengers who were going to St. Louis, and it was a direct trip south on Interstate 55, except for a lunch break in McLean, a village just outside the Bloomington-Normal city limits

Mike Nevins met me at Union Station on Market St. in St. Louis, when my bus arrived–on time.  He spoke about the condo where he will be living this fall.  (His wife died this spring, and he is moving from their house into a condominium that would accommodate a childless widower much more practically.)  Mike also presented me with a signed copy of Night and Fear, another posthumous collection of Cornell Woolrich’s short stories, which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction.  He gave me a brief tour of the Delmar Loop, which is “One of the 10 Great Streets in America,” according to a 2007 report by the American Planning Association.  I hadn’t been to the Delmar Loop since 1993, so it looked completely different than I remembered it.  (I was relieved to see that Vintage Vinyl, where I spent plenty of money on my 1993 trip–on everything from Dave Brubeck to Pink Floyd to Bach’s Mass in B Minor–is still alive and well.)

My friend John has changed significantly since I last saw him in 2001.  We met at a Unitarian youth conference, OPIK ’79, in August 1979 in Delton, Mich.  (OPIK–rhymes with topic–was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky, the states where most of the attendees lived.  The reason the 1979 conference took place in Michigan is a long story I will not go into here.)  I was 16 years old and full of piss and vinegar, and grateful to be away from my father, stepmother, and stepsisters, and meeting entirely new (to me) people.  John and I picked each other, almost by default, in a workshop where you were supposed to pair off with someone you didn’t know previously.  And we’ve been friends since.

John developed multiple sclerosis last year, and initially it was the relapsing and remitting variety, but now it seems to be more degenerative.  He is in a wheelchair, and is living in a skilled care facility a few blocks south of the Delmar Loop.  We caught up on our lives in the last decade, although we have filled the gaps by phone calls and correspondence–both by U.S. Mail and email–throughout.  I knew about his deteriorating physical condition, and he knew about the end of my marriage and my new life as a single father.  The place where he lives is more hospital than apartment, and he is grateful for chances to go out to physical therapy, doctor appointments, and visits with his family.  It was a far cry from the spring of 1982, when he came to visit me in Marietta and spoke of wanting to see Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.  He had learned in school that Martha, thanks to the art of taxidermy, was at the Smithsonian Institution.

“Why don’t we go see her?” I asked.  I made a blizzard of phone calls, beginning with  friends at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office, and found some generous friends of friends² who let us sleep in the living room of their D St. NE rowhouse.  The next morning, we marched out to U.S. 50 on the outskirts of Parkersburg and put out our thumbs.  That night, John saw the Capitol dome for the first time.

Our last road trip was the last time I saw him, in November 2001.  He, Rich, and I went down to Hodgenville, Kentucky and saw the site where Abraham Lincoln was born at Sinking Spring Farm.  (John is like me: Both of us have been to where Lincoln was born, and where he was assassinated and the room where he died–he for the first time on our 1982 hitchhiking trip–but not to Springfield, where Lincoln is buried.)

I restrained myself and did not buy anything at Vintage Vinyl, mainly because I wasn’t sure how I’d transport LPs.  As much as I love them, they are clumsy and would not fit in my backpack.  I filled a few pages in my notebook with titles of albums that struck my fancy, and explored the Loop until I walked down to Skinker Blvd. and walked to the MetroLink stop there.  (The MetroLink, St. Louis’ light-rail system, was not there during my previous visit.)  I rode the train to Union Station, and found I had several hours to kill before the 1:15 a.m. departure of my Megabus to Columbus (again via Chicago).  I decided to walk toward the Gateway Arch.

Even as I walked easterly toward the Arch, I was wondering how foolhardy this was.  I was worried that downtown St. Louis would be deserted on a Sunday night, even a warm summer Sunday night, and walking alone with a knapsack would broadcast “out of towner” to any potential thief.  For a block or so down Market St., I felt like a big red neon arrow was following me, but it turned out downtown was anything but deserted.  I knew the Arch would not be open, and I have made two or three trips inside on its tram to the observation deck, but I wanted to see it at night and get a few pictures.

The second of Taylor Swift’s two Scottrade Center concerts was last night, and I had to thread my way through the blocks-long crowd of concertgoers who were leaving.  Most of them were teenage girls, and younger, accompanied by their parents or other adults.  I felt a lot better than I did during my 1992 trip, when I ran into the crowds leaving a Danzig concert at the American Theater.  I saw quite a few kids ask their friends or parents to photograph them by Taylor Swift’s trucks, which were all decorated with the artwork from her current album, Speak Now.

A very small portion of the post-Taylor Swift crowd as they left the Scottrade Center.  Many were behind me when I took this picture, and the crowd (and the cars) stretched far beyond my range of vision.

The Taylor Swift crowd was much better behaved than the crowd leaving Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Colorado Rockies.  I’m glad there was enough down time between the two that the groups did not cross paths.

I slept most of the way northward on I-55 on the return trip.  I had seen the terrain during the trip the day before, and it was dark out, so there wasn’t much to see.  During my Chicago layover, I was amused by the juxtaposition between all the white- and blue-collar people pouring out of buses and Union Station to head to their jobs, and the excruciating, though comparatively carefree, hurrying and rushing of the runners on Sunday morning.

Once the bus was southbound on Interstate 65 toward Indianapolis, the driver got on the speaker and told us that we’d be heading straight to Columbus after Indianapolis, which meant a straight shot east on I-70.  I was pleased, because I knew that meant we’d pass through Henry County, where my stepmother’s parents lived after their retirement.  (During our visit in 1978, I decided to hike from their house in Spiceland to New Castle, nearly eight miles north on Indiana State Road 3.  I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic; I just wanted to get the hell away from everyone.)

The only diversion in the small town was watching teenage boys trying to puncture Spiceland’s water tower with their BB guns.  I guess we all need a Sisyphean task to make life truly worthwhile.  One time I actually heard a BB make contact with the water tower, and we all waited to hear the sound of water trickling.  (The BB bounced against the metal and flew off, of course, but what did we know of ballistics?)

I told John this story at another Unitarian youth conference, this one in Western Pennsylvania.  Years later, when he came to visit me in Columbus, he said he had a surprise for me.  It was a picture of the Spiceland water tower that he had taken on a previous journey on I-70!