Ride Across Indiana

Ride Across Indiana: 150 miles and done

On Day 4, I made it as far as Terre Haute, but declared the trip over about 7 miles short of the Illinois line due to rain.

On an old alignment of US 40 near Reelsville.

Rain at least threatened all day. As the day continued, it stopped threatening and started raining. The rain really picked up as I worked my way through Brazil and was quite heavy when I reached Terre Haute. Not only were my brakes ineffective, but my handlebar grips were too slippery to hold.

But I declare victory anyway. I still rode 150 miles, give or take, in four days.

The McKinley House near Harmony.

I deeply enjoyed riding the old concrete alignments of US 40 in Putnam County and seeing the old homes and barns all along the route. Despite the rain I had good energy and spirits.

Sonka’s, a Terre Haute institution.

In Terre Haute I rode to my old friend Michael’s. Margaret came along to get me and Michael, his wife Merrie, Margaret, and I went out for dinner and drinks at a favorite place from the years I lived in Terre Haute. Then we headed home.

I’ll have more to tell about this trip in posts to come, after I’ve had some time to process the photographs and process my thoughts and feelings.

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Road Trips

Indiana State Road 42 in Terre Haute

On October 18, 2008, I explored Indiana State Road 42 from end to end. It begins southwest of Indianapolis in Mooresville and ends in Terre Haute. This is the last article in this series.

I lived in Terre Haute for nine years in the 1980s and 1990s. When I needed to go to Indianapolis I liked to to drive SR 42 to the I-70 exit in Brazil because SR 42 was more fun over that distance. Except, that is, at the Vigo-Clay county line, where the road made two 90-degree turns around a church. I was surprised to find that the road had been curved gently on the Clay County side and the double-90 removed. This change is new enough that Google Maps hasn’t updated the route yet!

©2008, Google Maps

The church is in the photo at right; the road used to run on its right side.

Former double-90

The people who own this house, I’m sure, let out whoops and hollers when they learned that the state was removing the double 90 – because the first turn going west happened right here. While I lived in Terre Haute, this house got clobbered a couple times by people screaming down SR 42 at night and failing to negotiate the turn.

House where the left turn used to be

Shortly inside Vigo County, SR 42 curves northwest. I have old maps that suggest that this curve did not always exist, and that Sugar Grove Dr. used to run straight and connect with what is now SR 42. Sugar Grove Drive ends west of here where the Indiana Air National Guard base (and the stunningly overnamed Terre Haute International Airport) begins, and picks up on the other side as Hulman Ave., which goes through Terre Haute. But notice little Otter Road just below the center of the map image. Do you see the abandoned strip of road near it?

©2008, Google Maps

Here’s what it looks like, eastbound.

Abandoned Bloomington Road

My old map suggests that what is now Sugar Grove Rd. used to fork here headed east. The left fork is what is now SR 42, and the right fork, which is now Otter Rd., was the road to Bloomington. This road is interrupted by I-70, but you can detour over it on another road and pick the road back up again on the other side. It still goes to Bloomington. It joins with State Road 46 inside Clay County to finish the journey.

Speaking of State Road 46, State Road 42 ends there today, just past the optimistically named Terre Haute International Airport. Here it is on the map. Notice how US 40 converges. I went to college about where US 40 enters the image.

©2008 Google Maps

And here it is in living color.

West end of SR 42

SR 46 is Terre Haute’s eastern boundary. Beyond the stoplight, the road becomes Poplar St. and cruises laterally through Terre Haute. At one time, SR 42 went along for the ride as far as US 41, and so did I this day. Not far into town stands the Sycamore Farm, which has been there since about 1860. Fifty years ago, Sycamore Farm was still way out in the boonies. Eastbound photo.

Sycamore Farm

Terre Haute is a decaying town, its best days so far behind it that nobody who remembers them is left. But somebody along the way made sure its park system was well funded. Say what you will about Terre Haute, but it has wonderful parks. Old SR 42 is the southern border of Terre Haute’s crown jewel, Deming Park. This is an eastbound shot.

Deming Park

In 1971, Vigo County tore down its five old high schools and built three sprawling, boring, characterless modern buildings to replace them. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of school building Terre Haute used to build. This is the view from 25th St.; the school’s south edge is on old SR 42.

Woodrow Wilson Jr. High

This map shows old SR 46’s trip from about here to its end at 3rd Street, which is US 41. It also shows the Wabash River for perspective.

©2008, Google Maps

At 12th and Poplar stands Headstone Friends, which sells CDs and records, posters, incense, and hand-dyed tie-dye shirts. They also sell scales and rolling papers, or at least they did when I was in college in the late 1980s; I failed to check when I visited this day. This is one of my favorite places on the planet. Headstone’s has been in business since 1970, and in this location since the ’70s sometime. They’ve been burning incense in there for so long that the whole joint has a distinctive sweet smell that always makes my nose run. I bought a tie-dyed T-shirt here on this trip and all the way home my car smelled like Headstone’s, which I suppose is better than it smelling like my dog, who was along for the ride. If you’re ever in Terre Haute, put Headstone’s on your itinerary. They’re open noon to 8, Monday through Saturday.

Headstone Friends

Here’s a westbound shot from in front of Headstone’s, toward downtown. Terre Haute is not a city of tall buildings.

Westbound

At 9th St. stands the former E. Bleemel Flour and Feed building. Most of the time I lived here, this was an auto repair garage, and a dump of one at that. But in the early 90s somebody restored it. It was, for several years, an antiques store, but now it’s a restaurant. I think that’s a better use of the building.

Bleemel Flour and Feed

The section of old SR 42 between 9th and 9½ St. – Terre Haute is known for its half-streets – is rich with old buildings, like this one, which housed the former Terre Haute Brewing Company. It really needs some love.

Terre Haute Brewing Company

This was once a livery stable. It’s a steakhouse today.

Old building

This CVS drug store is neither old nor historic, but it was surprising to see its facade torched.

A crackling good CVS

I wasn’t sure when I made this trip whether SR 42 originally ended at 7th Street (old US 41) or 3rd Street (US 41). I guessed 7th Street and was wrong. On the right, just out of the photo, is the Vigo County Public Library, the very one that Steve Martin mentioned in his movie Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

Former western end of SR 42

This trip proves that you don’t have to drive the truly historic roads (like the National Road or the Michigan Road) to find plenty of good, interesting things to see and do. Just get out there and go!

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Tofaute & Spelman

Tofaute & Spelman
Konica C35 Automatic
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2013

Looking through my archives for a particular photo recently I came across this 2013 photo of this attorney’s office in Terre Haute. I remember this day of photography surprisingly well. I also remember how washed out the color was in the original scan. When you aim a camera at a big golden yellow wall, it can fool a meter into thinking it’s seeing middle gray and expose accordingly. A little Photoshoppery restored the color in this one.

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Film Photography

single frame: Tofaute & Spelman

A golden yellow wall in Terre Haute, on Fujicolor 200.

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Old brick road

Old State Road 46
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2013

State Road 46 stretches across Indiana from Terre Haute to almost Ohio, east to west across south-central Indiana.

At one time, SR 46 extended through Terre Haute all the way to the Illinois state line. It ran through Terre Haute along a series of what are now city streets.

The road was truncated to Terre Haute’s eastern edge long before Interstate 70 was built through the south side of town. That new highway cut across State Road 46’s original path just south of town, slicing the old highway in two.

A little segment of old State Road 46 north of I-70 is this brick road, left intact even though it goes nowhere because it serves two businesses. This photo faces north. To follow old 46, veer left at the first stop sign. Then at the second stop sign, take a slight right to where the red car is in the photo.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Old State Road 46

A short segment of old brick highway south of Terre Haute, Indiana.

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Stories Told

Sometimes wrong things just happen to people who don’t deserve it

When I tell stories from my life, I like to find the happy ending, the lesson learned, or the growth experienced. We all relate to those things. But more importantly for me, finding the good in a story helps me make good sense of my life.

Try as I might, I can’t find good in the story I’m about to tell. The owner of a company I once worked for did something that sent him to prison, and it laid a path of destruction through the lives of his victims and of his employees.

Sometimes, wrong things just happen to people who don’t deserve it. This is the strangest and saddest story of my working life.

I got hired as a disk jockey at WBOW in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the summer of 1990. WBOW was an AM station where bright, engaging disk jockeys played old, familiar songs, with news every hour on the hour. We called the format “full service,” but we couldn’t see yet that stations like it would all die off before the turn of the millennium. I worked part time, a side gig, and I enjoyed it a lot. My boss, Chip, the Program Director, was a blunt coach who built my skill and talent.

On the air, WZZQ Terre Haute, 1994

“We’re having a mandatory staff meeting tonight at 7 pm.” It was my boss, Chip, on the phone, and he sounded grave. “Hunh? What’s going on?” I asked. “Just be there at 7,” he said, and hung up.

I’d worked at the station four or five months that November evening when we all assembled. I was surprised to see everyone at the station file in: the DJs from WBOW as well as WZZQ, the rock station the company also owned; the news crew; and all of the salespeople, administrative staff, and management.

Our General Manager delivered news that blew us out of our chairs: Mike, the stations’ owner, had been arrested in his home state of Missouri on charges of sexual activity with boys.

After almost 30 years I no longer remember how the staff reacted in that moment. But I remember very well how this news plunged the stations into disarray.

When you choose a radio career, you can count on being fired from time to time. It’s just how the industry works. A couple bad ratings reports and heads will roll. A new Program Director doesn’t like your sound and you’re gone. Ownership changes the station format and replaces the entire on-air staff. WBOW and WZZQ had seen a normal amount of personnel changes over the years.

But after Mike’s arrest, the pace of terminations increased dramatically. Management became a revolving door. In my four years with the stations, we had two (or was it three?) General Managers, four Program Directors on WZZQ, three Program Directors on WBOW, and three News Directors.

On WBOW, most live disk jockeys were replaced with a cheaper automated music service that was delivered via satellite. Before long we had live DJs only on the weekday morning and afternoon “drive time” shows — and me, 10 am to 2 pm Sundays.

The buzz around the stations was that they were looking to cut costs as much as they could to fund Mike’s legal defense. I don’t know if that was true, but it fit what I was seeing. I assume they kept me on because they paid me minimum wage. My four-hour weekly shift cost them just $13.40.

Then Chip suddenly got the sack. I thought it was strange that the following weekend during my shift, owner Mike was in the building. He made it a point to badmouth Chip to me. I thought Chip was fired for no good reason, and I quit in protest. But a few weeks later I got a call from Mark, the brand-new Program Director on WZZQ, offering me a weekly shift. I already badly missed being on the air, so I took it.

That wasn’t the first time I met Mike. He was in the building during my weekend airshift once every month or two. He started his radio career as an engineer, which meant improving and maintaining the electronic equipment that keeps a station on the air. He liked to drive up to Terre Haute from his suburban St. Louis home some weekends to tinker with his stations’ equipment. Sometimes it was just him and me in the building. He tried to be friendly, but I didn’t like his vibe.

I remember one wicked hot day when I came to work in cutoffs and a thin tank top. I figured it would be just me and the WZZQ DJ in the building, and she would be busy with her own airshift. Who cared what I looked like? I miscalculated: the studios were heavily air conditioned and I shivered through my shift.

Mike was there that day, and he came into the studio to chat me up. I was intensely naive at just 22 or 23 years old, but there was something about his body language that made me feel awkward and unsure. He insisted on photographing me in the studio, which I didn’t want but didn’t feel like I could decline. I always dressed fully for my shifts after that.

Mike stepped aside after his arrest and a company vice president named Janet became acting president. Word around the station was that she had told the Federal Communications Commission that Mike would not be involved in operating or managing his stations in any way while he awaited trial. That made some sense, because in those days the FCC considered the moral character of its licensees. They would take a dim view of Mike’s charges. Janet was trying to keep the stations alive.

Yet it seemed clear to me, even as young an inexperienced as I was, that Mike was still involved. For example, his presence after Chip’s termination and the things he said to me sent me the message that it was his decision. And Mark, the WZZQ Program Director, gave me the strong impression that Mike was trying to guide his programming choices.

Several months after I was hired at WZZQ, Mark was fired. The official reason was that they were not happy with the ratings under his leadership, but Mark told me that his ratings were the highest the station had enjoyed in years. Mark believed that Mike was behind the firing, because Mark wouldn’t accept the meddling in his programming choices. The fellow they brought in to replace him, Ben, seemed to be a puppet for Mike’s loyal managers in Missouri. Ben made a bunch of changes in the music we played — changes that seemed to me were directed by the managers in Missouri — and ratings fell way off. They fired Ben for the poor ratings that probably weren’t even his fault. Then they brought in Jack and gave him greater autonomy to program the station. Jack brought the ratings back up.

Because I worked so inexpensively and caused no trouble, upper management left me alone. I kept my head down and enjoyed my airshifts.

In July of 1994, word came down: Mike was convicted on twelve counts of various sex crimes involving five boys. He would go to prison.

By this time, my main job in a software company was in jeopardy as that company had hit the skids. I found a new job in Indianapolis and rented an apartment there. I could have stayed on at WZZQ; a once-a week commute back to Terre Haute wouldn’t have killed me. But I decided to let radio go. My last airshift was on August 28, 1994, which I remember because I recorded it and marked the date on the tapes. As usual, I was alone in the building.

I was gobsmacked when Mike walked into the studio.

He said to me that a lot of people had come and gone over the years and I had become one of the longest tenured people at his stations. I was thinking, “Yeah, because you fired half of them and chased the rest away with a toxic workplace.” But instead I said, “Then you’ll be surprised to learn that this is my last show,” I told him. “I got a new job and I’m moving away for it.” He offered a quick congratulations but then changed the subject to his recent conviction, which he described as having gone “exactly as I wanted it to.” I didn’t, and still don’t, understand that statement. Mike went to prison for five years!

The FCC found evidence that Mike was still involved with his stations after having been assured he was not. The FCC called him out for misrepresentation and “lack of candor” — and revoked his licenses.

Mike fought it hard, appealing all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The FCC ordered all of Mike’s stations shut down on October 4, 2001. The two stations used three frequencies, as WBOW changed frequencies while I worked there and the company simulcast WZZQ over WBOW’s old frequency. WBOW’s newer frequency remains silent. It took the FCC years to issue licenses to new operators for the other two frequencies. WBOW’s old frequency got a new station in 2011, and WZZQ’s frequency got a new station in 2017.

WBOW is the sadder case to me. It went on the air in 1927 and was Terre Haute’s oldest radio station. But heritage matters less than employment. Those stations going dark brought a loss of radio jobs in Terre Haute for many years.

As recently as 2017, Mike was still trying to get back into radio through seeking to buy stations. The FCC has so far denied him at every turn.

Mike left a lot of wreckage behind him — the boys he molested, the radio professionals whose careers he sidelined or even derailed, and the jobs that were eliminated after his stations went off the air.

Like I said, I can’t find a positive in this difficult story. Those boys and WBOW/WZZQ’s employees suffered unearned consequences, and all they could do was figure out how to go on.

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The Saratoga

The Saratoga
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

Not long ago I showed this sign in my lit-neon single frame series. I found this photo from my 2009 tour of the National Road (US 40) in western Indiana that shows the sign in its context. It’s a pleasing scene from downtown Terre Haute.

Terre Haute is a blue-collar town of about 60,000 people. That’s big enough that you can’t know everybody, but small enough that after you live there for a few years the locals are largely familiar to you.

When I lived there, I used to stop by a little diner downtown for breakfast. Most days the county sheriff ate at the stool next to me. We’d nod and smile as he sat down. I worked with a fellow then who went on to be Terre Haute’s mayor now. This is how life goes in a city of this size, and I miss it.

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Photography

single frame: The Saratoga

Outdoor dining at The Saratoga in Terre Haute.

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