Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Recommended reading


Four juicy little blog posts, new this week, from my feed reader to you.

Like David Lacy, I’m prone to waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. But David thinks of interesting things such as croquignoles. I think about work, mostly. Read Pastries in the Early Morning

In my office, several of us buy coffee from Trader Joe’s and brew it a cup in a time in little filter baskets we stick on top of our cups. It’s because we can’t stand the coffee the office provides! So when the folks at software company Basecamp bought a bag of $46 bag coffee and bag of cheap coffee and did a blind taste test, I took notice. Read The Coffee Test

I’m of Generation X. I’ve always felt that my age peers have lived in the shadow of the baby boomers. But when Gen Z reaches a point in adulthood that they are leading things, the boomers will mostly be gone. Penelope Trunk thinks they’ll do a great job. Read What leadership will look like when Generation Z takes over (and I love Pope Francis)

Matt Appling considers the basic human drive to control things — and how almost all things are beyond our control. Read In Which My Wife and I Fantasize About Becoming OCD And Discover Our Control Issues

Welcome to Thorntown


State Road 47 is a winding and lovely drive in western Indiana. It begins in the wild terrain around Turkey Run State Park. As it heads east, those steep hills become the rolling terrain of quiet farmland. The road curves frequently around old farm boundaries and around terrain challenges. But the fun ends at Thorntown as the road straightens out for the rest of its route to Sheridan, thirty minutes north of Indianapolis.

Thorntown, a well-kept small town lined with tidy homes, churches, and shops, is at the center of what was briefly the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miami Indians lived. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.” Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!”

Welcome to Thorntown

As much as I have always liked State Road 47, I used to dislike Thorntown because its 30 MPH speed limit interrupted my swift progress. When my ex-wife and I were dating many years ago, she and I passed through Thorntown on our way to a camping trip. We needed both of our small cars to haul all the gear; she followed me. As usual, I didn’t see the speed limit signs at the edge of town, but this time the law was ready for me. A police car pulled out of somebody’s driveway with lights flashing and siren blaring. I pulled over and the officer, a big Sheriff Buford type with the buzz cut and the mirrored aviator sunglasses, began to give me a chewin’ out. His face pinched, he was wondering with considerable volume if I had skill enough to read speed-limit signs when my now-ex, who by the way was lovely and slender with blue-grey eyes and a big mess of blonde hair, pulled around in front of me and stopped. Sheriff Buford seemed annoyed and waddled purposefully toward her car. He was gone for quite some time, but when he came back, he was chuckling and smiling. He told me to just take it slow through town and wished me a good weekend!

Since this happened before everybody had cell phones, I had to wait about two hours until we reached our campsite to ask just what the heck happened. She said, “When he came up, I rolled down the window, batted my eyelashes at him, and said, ‘If you give him a ticket, you have to give me one too, because I was following him!’ He laughed and laughed and I guessed when you drove off that he let us off the hook.”

This did not do anything to improve my opinion about Thorntown.

I’ve matured considerably since then. I’ve also become much better at noticing the speed limit signs at the outskirts of small towns, so I’m much less likely to attract police attention. So now I not only bear no ill will against Thorntown, but I find its entrance from the east to be quite lovely. You swing around this little curve and over a small bridge, and then suddenly the town unfolds before you, as if it had been folded snugly into the pages of a pop-up book. Just be sure to be going 30 MPH by the time you cross that bridge.

I’ve told this story twice before, in 2007 and 2010.


Kodak 35, Kodak Plus-X

Monopoly money


I was feeling pretty good about my financial situation as I headed into the summer. I was paying down debt pretty powerfully and had built up some savings. But then August was unexpectedly expensive. I replaced my car’s transmission, rented a car for two weeks, bought a new refrigerator, and had some medical and veterinary bills. Bam! Within a few weeks, my savings was gone and I had even gone a little more into debt.

I know that everything that cost me was just a matter of chance. Cars break down, 20-year-old fridges die, dogs and people get sick. It was better to spend savings on these things than to have borrowed to pay for it all. You might even say that God took care of me, providing for me through these misfortunes. But I’ve been angry about it just the same. It really hurt to get a little bit ahead only to lose it almost all at once.

PICT0733On Wednesday, the boys and I broke out the Monopoly board. My youngest is starting to understand trading and can now stick with a long game, and so our play is starting to become vigorous. We’d made some trades and we all had monopolies — my older son had the violets, my youngest son had the neighboring oranges, and I was just around the corner with the reds. When we started improving our properties, it became hard to move along that side of the board without somebody collecting.

My youngest son landed on my Kentucky Avenue. With two houses, the rent wasn’t terrible, but having spent all his cash on houses he hocked most of his property to pay me. He weathered that with good humor, but he next landed on Go To Jail and so would make another trip down Death Row. His next roll put him on Community Chest, but then he landed on Indiana Avenue, which by then had four houses and was much more expensive to visit. Cash-strapped and hocked to the hilt, he had no choice but to sell most of houses. He was ticked. And then a few tears ran down his face. And then he buried his face in my shoulder.

The irony did not escape me as I hugged him and told him it’s bound to hurt when you build things up and get a little ahead only to have bad luck take it all away.

When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t feel so bad anymore.

It felt good to retell this story today, which first appeared here in 2008.


Kodak 35, Kodak Plus-X

On blogging and privacy


I have three sons. None of them feature on my blog.

While most of this blog’s posts are about photography and history, sometimes I tell stories from my life. I try to lay myself bare in them, to go right to the places where I struggle and am scared, because I think that’s interesting. I like to read stuff like that, and based on the comments you leave, so do you. And so I’ve told you about deep depression and a time I contemplated suicide, about resentment and pain after my divorce, about struggling to let go as my sons grow up and prepare to leave home, and even about the time I got fired.


Penelope Trunk

I model these posts after the blogs of Penelope Trunk and James Altucher, who tell startling things about themselves and the people close to them as a means of giving life and career advice. It’s usually interesting — and sometimes as compelling as a train wreck. Both hold radical positions that privacy is outmoded. Because all of us have broken places and messy lives, their thinking goes, to improve our lives we must first embrace who and where we are. We’re all bozos on this bus; we are only as sick as our secrets.


James Altucher

I have a lower need for privacy than the average person. But I can’t go as far as Trunk or Altucher. I have stories I won’t tell here, no matter how interesting.

I’ve told you a little bit about my sons and even my ex-wife, such as hereherehere, and here. But I never name them, never give details about them, never show photos of them. Well, you have seen the backs of my sons’ heads a few times in photos. But you know nothing important about these people from me.

Calling my older son a chip off the old block is no exaggeration. His personality is startlingly similar to mine. But there’s one crucial exception: he is deeply private. He recently cancelled his Facebook account because mom kept posting photos with him in them. Seems harmless to me, but he is clear: that’s over the line. So’s this paragraph, probably; I beg his pardon. Point is, my sons have a right to their privacy. So does my ex.

I wrote several times last year about the brutal time in my life after my wife said it was over. (Here, here, here, and here.) I deliberately framed those stories to focus on me and experiences only I had. There are so many more interesting, even shocking, stories to tell of some breathtakingly destructive things my ex … and I … did to bring our marriage down. I learned so much from those times in my life, and I could write some really compelling posts that would really reach you. But this is tricky territory, for three reasons.

First: I don’t want professional colleagues or someone who might want to hire me to read these stories. My co-workers sometimes find my blog and say something to me about what they read. Some things that happened don’t need to be part of any at-work conversation. Penelope Trunk and James Altucher arrange their lives and careers around their blogs, which I think frees them. That’s not where I am.

Second: I don’t want my sons to read these stories. I’ve told them what I feel is appropriate for them to know. I’ve been pretty open about my part in it, actually, but I’ve done little more than vaguely wave my hands past “bad stuff” their mom did. Those are her stories to tell. Regardless, the first place they hear these stories should not be from their dad’s blog.

Third, and most importantly: No matter how balanced I would be in telling these stories, they would be from my perspective. My ex’s reality was probably different. The truth probably lies in the middle more often than I’d like to admit. And I’m not going to drag anybody through the mud here, even if it is the truth from my perspective, no matter how interesting it might be to read.

Maybe one day, when we’re all a lot older and these stories are of antiquity, I’ll change my mind and tell them. I’d like to tell them. But not now.


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