Continuing on my personal trail of ‘heroes’

Axl Rose and Shannon Hoon are both my musical loves. Rose sings for Guns N Roses, and Hoon, who died at age 28 of a drug overdose, sang for Blind Melon. Both are from Lafayette, Indiana. They knew each other, too, though Rose was older.

The lyrics from a song he wrote called "Change" are carved into Hoon's tomb stone in nearby Dayton, Ohio.


At the grocery store in Lafayette, I met one of Hoon's old friends, who told me "If things were getting boring, Shannon would liven them up real quick."
He says after the drugs started, Hoon changed from the fun-loving, sweet athletic guy he'd partied with and served in high school detentions with to someone distant and unkempt he barely recognized.
Today, Hoon is definitely more loved than Rose is in his hometown. Perhaps because he never dissed it, like Rose, did. (Though Rose dissed everything at one time or another, so I don't know why that's significant.)
Not much is left of either of their stomping grounds.
Rose reportedly spent a lot of time playing music in his grandmother's garage, which was located behind this frozen custard shop on the outskirts of a large park.


Indiana is all mine…

About half a dozen people along my route told me I may as well skip Indiana.
"There's nothing there."
"Just a bunch of corn fields."
"Nothing important to see."
By the time I made it over the Kentucky border, I was burnt out.
My lap top battery had officially died; I'd weathered my share of mechanical and technical problems, battled bugs and heat and humidity, tossed multiple notebooks full of interviews and been on the road roughing it long enough to qualify as a gypsy.
So when I drove into that blessed mid-70 degree state, I thought, "I don't care if there is nothing here. Indiana will be my vacation. Indiana belongs to me."
The change from the south to the Midwest is oddly instantaneous. Not just in the weather, but the culture, too.
In the small city of Scottsburg, several dozen ball-tossing, corn-fed-looking high school boys converged in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Friday night and and held a raucous outdoor party, complete with fast cars, rap music and two or three flirtatious girls.
I spent an hour or so in Indianapolis and a neighborhood a few miles north called Broad Ripple, which is pleasantly artistic and diverse.
Even just a few miles past the border, people have way different accents than those in Kentucky do. For whatever reason, they were a lot less reactive to my bright turquoise hair.
And for the record, the corn fields are beautiful.
I've got plenty of sunsets, old buildings and scenic panoramas preserved in my mind.
You guys will have to imagine.

‘I wanted to be a good boxer and a heavyweight’

In Louisville, Ky. I got to pay tribute to one of my heroes, Muhammad Ali. I visited his center and walked around the grounds. I love him because he was confident and beautiful when society wanted him to blend in and shut up. He was a boxer, but he was eloquent.

"I wanted to be a good boxer and a heavyweight — a beautiful scientific, artistic and creative boxer," he once said.

Here is another quote from the noted humanitarian and Louisville native:


A mishmash of culture and history in Lexington, Ky.

Lexington contains a weird mix of cultures and history. There are two large universities in town, but it doesn't feel especially young or urban. There are blatantly poor neighborhoods within walking distance of glass skyscrapers and cemeteries with gravestones from the Revolutionary War era.

There's a new courthouse complex, with a fountain, where this 5-year-old boy escaped the heat one August day and an old courthouse near a district called Cheapside, where his ancestors may have been sold as slaves.


"It's a very conservative culture," says Janet Scott, a theater producer who moved to the city in 2001 from Manhattan. IMG_3175
"It's the last place I'd ever thought I'd be," she tells me.
"But slowing down I found to be a healthy problem. It takes a long time not to get pissed off at the grocery store in line."

Horses are a big deal here, too, of course, and this life size sculpture at Thoroughbred Park was probably the highlight of the city for me:


A whiskey story for you

I used to hate whiskey, until a friend bought me a hot toddy containing Maker's Mark. So, while I was in the bourbon hub of our country, I decided to visit the distillery, which is located on a beautiful stretch of land with a spring-fed, limestone-filtered lake.


I learned lots of interesting stuff about the distillation process and saw (and smelled) the giant Cyprus fermentation vats, some of which are 100 years old. The distillery also uses stainless steel and my tour guide said it doesn't produce a taste difference. The vats are empty because the plant is on its annual mandatory shut down period, which lasts about a month.


Maker's Mark produces 850,000 barrels of whiskey each year, compared to 10 million at Jim Bean. Its largest consumer demographic this year has been Australia; last year it was most popular in Japan.

I got to watch factory workers hand dip the bottles with the brand's patented dripping red wax.


And a taste test, of course. The paler liquid is called "white dog" and it's what the whiskey looks like before it's been aged for several years in white oak vats — before it may officially qualify as bourbon.


They say it's sharper and more bitter, and they would never put it on the shelves. Maybe I've had too much Italian desert wine, because I still thought it was drinkable, either way!

Horse and car heaven?

Kentucky is a great place for cars lovers. I think it goes along with the horse thing. At least the parts of my personality that led me to be horse crazy, likely made me car crazy, too…

In Bowling Green, there is the Corvette Museum with plenty of red, white and blue:




And just northeast, in Elizabethtown, dealership magnate Bill Swope, 87, houses about three dozen vintage cars in a free museum located beside one of his car lots.

His collection includes a 1914 Renault taxi, completely original 1928 Packard and several other rare models. Each car runs and gets driven. 



"That's just the kind of person he (Swope) is. He loves for people to come in and see him. He is what I call an old-time gentleman," says part time museum hostess Judith Asbury, pictured with a 1956 Thunderbird from the collection.


Asbury is one of three widows that work two days at the museum "just to get out of the house." She found out about the position through a friend from church.

Good bye Nashville, for now

Nashville has a beautiful skyline. I love how this cross section shows the old and new building styles.

Old and new

There was an Old Crow Medicine Show concert in an outdoor amphitheater down by the river the night I walked around downtown.

Nashville music1

Actually, the city of Nashville constantly emits musical notes! Here is the same shot, with some blur.

Nashville music 2

And while I'm getting artistic, an iris…

Iris of nashville

which was created when I swirled the energy around Joseph and Charlie  — two local musicians you met earlier.

Iris explained

Beth Walker, another musical fashionista from earlier, made a second appearance in my evening at a local dive bar. She was there, and then she was gone.


And there were plenty of interesting people to watch, including Lemyng, 21, a student and bar back at popular local coffee shop and music venue Cafe Coco.


At a different restaurant I tried some brewed-in-Nashville beer that was excellent! Full-bodied, sweet and not at all bitter.


Nashville (or NashVegas as the locals call it!) was a style oasis for me on my journey through America's back highways.


And there is lots of bold imagery.


Joes1 (2) 
A traditional Nashville night-out experience:

Country band

A bridge over the river


A lifesize replica of the Parthenon, built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897


And a couple more 'back alley' images…

Street Stairs

Lost fairy with her light blinking out


She coasts up to us at 1:30 a.m., hair and smile topsy turvy, blinking blue sunglasses atop her head.

"What's happenin' dudes?"

"Not much," we reply. "You?"

"I'm fucking starving," she says. Then quickly adds: "I have five dollars, though."

"Hey, can I wear your hat?" she asks one of us. "I don't have lice or anything."

She takes the hat and hands over her sunglasses.

Her name tonight is Sera Tonin. Or maybe it's Augustine. She is 93. Well, 23, actually.

Her mom was a fairy, she says. So I guess that makes her one, too. A lost little Nashville fairy with her light blinking out as she flits from the drug house she's staying at to this dive bar where she may or may not be allowed in.

She's got some crazy dance moves, this bony girl — more fragile each time you see her, like a bird stripped of its feathers.

She'll tell you stories of being gang raped like a recount of a trip to the grocery store.

"I had a baby last year. I didn't eat or go to the doctor or anything the whole time." I don't know how she was OK. And it was really quick, too. Only like a half an hour."

"What happened then?"

"My sister stole her."

She wants to go to school for sociology and get her teeth fixed so the cavity-induced headaches will stop.

"I'm so tired of this caveman shit," she says.

"I can't wait to be the best philosopher there is. If I can make it to school, I can meet some like minds."

"If you get a bunch of people doing opiates that's kind of like a think tank," she adds, then laughs. "Everyone forgets everything."

The bar won't let her in tonight.

"Let's go in together," she suggests. "You can say I'm your best friend."

But it's already past last call. We head for our cars and she coasts into the night.