It was a Monday night, exactly one week ago. I was sitting at my desk, just like I am now. I'm not hungry, but I keep dipping my hand into a bag of sunflower seeds I pulled out of the pantry. They're flavored with "Frank's Red Hot" sauce. They're not bad, they're not good. I don't eat sunflower seeds, but I've watched enough episodes of the X-Files to know how Fox Mulder cracks them open and drops the shells all over his wooden floors while he's thinking.
But I don't have wooden floors, I have carpet.
So I eat them whole, gnashing my teeth against them trying not to choke when I've grabbed too many. I don't even taste the supposedly "red hot" infused flavoring. I don't hate them, but I don't particularly like them. They just exist and I'm just going to continue eating them. I've got tomorrow off from work and I've been toying with the idea... I'm just going to leave, run away for awhile, go see something new. I just want to get somewhere, then turn around and avoid the interstate - take back roads and just drive.
Cleveland? Been there and too far.
Indianapolis? Been there too.
Columbus? Nice city, boring drive.
Lexington? I don't care about UK basketball.
Louisville? Yeah, why not. Been to the city, but never to really see it. I live in the state of Kentucky, but hell if I ever go south of the Cincinnati metro area and really I don't consider myself a citizen of the commonwealth when Ohio is ten minutes away.
For a brief moment I have a purpose, something to do. I realize the futility of the sunflower seeds, roll up the bag and leave it on the desk. I don't really have anything to complain about in life. I have money, a good job, family and not one, but two electric guitars. There's people, close to me, who are worse off than I am, but I need to get away for a moment. Why? I'm not really sure and still a week later don't have much of an explanation.
I packed up my camera gear, laid out some fresh clothes and took a shower. I passed some time browsing Roadtrippers to pick out some interesting Louisville locations to visit. Finally, I set an alarm and laid in bed. I was overcome by nervousness. Not excitement, nervousness. Not the same kind of nervousness I had when I was skydiving or the kind you get before a job interview - a feeling of impending doom. Should I really make this trip? What if something happens? But then, on the flip side of things - I'm going 1.5 hours away to Louisville, not around the damn world. I still can't sleep even as I keep my eyes closed while listening to every Robert Ballard Nat Geo special on Netflix. At 7 AM the sun starts creeping up, no point in still trying to sleep. I head out to defrost the car.
First stop is the gas station. Easy enough, grabbed coffee while the car filled up.
Next stop is the bank, I need some cash. It's just up the road, but so is the damn high school that you'd think houses a ten time super bowl winning NFL team if you asked any local. I hit the ATM and then internally struggle with myself as I decide whether or not to politely wave or flip off the elderly crossing guard who is screaming at me to "hurry up" and ignore the stop sign because she is in control of the intersection.
Stop three: McDonalds. Drive through is too packed, I park, I'll eat in and maybe I'll just convince myself to go back up the hill and go home. Another cup of coffee, three hashbrowns and two breakfast burritos convince me to go through with the trip.
I'm on the interstate, heading south, over the bridge as the city disappears behind me and I-71 and I-75 split back into separate entities.
|- The Sparta, KY coliseum known as the Kentucky Speedway.|
I stopped in Sparta. I needed more coffee and I wanted to see the speedway. There's a coliseum there, a massive monument to automobile racing. Even in its off season, empty and closed state - it's just an impressive structure. The seats can hold more human beings than there people in the town.
I go to the gas station, get more coffee and resist buying a painting of two birds for sale in the convenience store "gift shop."
I get back on the highway and don't want to stop until Louisville. After Louisville, it'll just be all back roads. I have to stop again, three cups of coffee is weighing on me and I stop in La Grange. I ignore the immediate interstate exit businesses and decide to follow the signs to downtown La Grange.
|- Main St. La Grange.|
In LaGrange, the train tracks run straight down the main street. They're not like quaint streetcar tracks though, they're freight tracks. I stop into one of the shops that is just opening up. I purchase four postcards for a dollar and some more coffee.
"We get about twenty to thirty trains passing through a day," says the lady at the counter.
I walked up and down Main Street to the courthouse, watching the public works employees hang Christmas wreaths from the light poles, but a train never came through.
|- Oldham County courthouse.|
|- La Grange storefront.|
|- Locomotive on display in La Grange.|
Back towards the highway, La Grange becomes more like a typical suburban town:
|- Closed movie plex in La Grange.|
Thirty minutes later I'm in Louisville, veering off the highway and snaking through the roads beneath the freeway that form an underground network of streets that make up the Louisville riverfront.
|- The "Belle of Louisville."|
Two river boats: the "Belle of Louisville" and the "Spirit of Jefferson" are docked on the cold bank. Aside from the workers doing some sort of construction on the boats, I'm the only one walking along the pier by the muddy river on a Tuesday morning.
Above me the highway is loud and offers a slight view of the mid sized city skyline that it separates from the shore.
I retreat back to my car and its warmth under the gray morning sky. There's two places I want to see in the city and I go off searching for them, punching their directions into my phone. I dodge morning traffic hampered by construction and rush hour while the sun fights to come out.
I'm looking for a shop, a place I read about online. It's supposedly a Louisville gift shop of sorts, described as featuring a "wax Colonel Sanders."
I find it, park my car and walk in the door, but it's the wrong door - or the shop I was looking for is under construction. Nope, I'm definitely in the wrong store. Some sort of natural home goods and hardware store. There's people inside, setting things up and they greet me in a friendly manner. I don't know what to say. Do I just nod and duck out the door then clearly let them see me duck into the shop next door, where I meant to go?
Nope, I utter the greeting I planned to say in the store I intended to find - like Captain Picard greeting an alien species.
"Hi. I read about your store online and decided to come down to see it."
"Oh, well, hey, we're still doing the finishing touches, but yeah we're open."
I put on an acting performance and pretend to browse, except there's no products; just construction stuff for getting the store open, two workers building a table, the nice lady who greeted me and myself: some awkward foreign traveler from a nearby city who is suspiciously pretending like he's supposed to be there.
"Cool. Have a nice day," is all I can muster as I walk out and into the right store: "Why Lou Two."
|- "Why Lou Two" storefront.|
"Why Lou Two" is the second location of two Louisville themed gift shops. They feature local art, local oddities and unique gifts such as in-house made t-shirts showcasing the city. It's like an NYC tourist trap, except it's unique in its Midwest surroundings and features local artwork instead of the stereotypical "I heart NY" shirts.
"We're practically neighbors," says the clerk when I tell him I'm from Cincinnati. It's the nicest thing I've heard all day and in that one sentence I love Louisville.
There's a wax statue of Colonel Sanders clutching a bucket of his famous friend chicken in the corner next to the pony ride machine. A ticket booth from the city's late "Fontaine Ferry" amusement park sits in the corner, repurposed as the "Creep Closet" featuring an interior of oddities.
Then, I went to find Jerry.
|- Jerry Lutz and his collection.|
He was standing near the street corner, by his truck talking to someone else. I started photographing his yard and it's contents - things he's collected since he was eight.
"Take all the pictures you want son, that's what it's all about," he said before agreeing to pose for a portrait.
He pointed out a few things, all while mentioning how he had to get going.
I left Louisville for Jeffersonville, Indiana across the river. I looked for some place to eat - some local diner or truck stop, but eventually wandered in to a local chain chicken restaurant that was trying its damnedest not to infringe on the "Hooters" trademark. I ate chicken fingers washed down with coca cola as the only person in the restaurant aside from two business casual clad gentlemen discussing basketball.
|- Louisville as seen from Jeffersonville.|
Jeffersonville soon became "Just Indiana" as I took some road out of town, briefly stopping in the parking lot of a truck stop porno theatre for directions. One truck pulled up and a gentleman confidently walked inside while my GPS rerouted to avoid the highway.
|- Indiana adult "theatair."|
I kept pressing, determined to find something - anything of interest worth pulling over the car to take a look at. I wanted to find people, people to talk to, but I just kept going.
Then I found the Jefferson Proving Ground - a closed military base. At its peak, the base employed nearly 1800 employees and tested over 175,000 rounds of various munitions every month. In the early 90's the army began to scale back and start closing the base. By 1995 with its closure, half the land was turned into a wildlife preserve, the other half given to the Indiana National Guard as a bombing and practice range.
Residents purchased the former on base housing and businesses have opened up down the long wooded road leading into what once was the base.
|- Entrance to the former military base.|
|- Plaque an abandoned Jefferson Proving Ground HQ.|
|- Abandoned baseball backstop at the Jefferson Proving Ground.|
|- A shuttered hanger near the base's former airfield.|
I got back on the road and headed for US-50 to take me back to Cincinnati. Maybe I was just tired, maybe uninspired, but nothing seemed compelling enough to stop and photograph. The sun was fading, it was cold and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.
I'm not sure what it was as I pulled off the road to inspect an old cemetery along US-50. I felt awful, like I was incredibly far from where I was supposed to be, not just an hour from home. It was 5 in the evening, but the shortened daylight of a midwestern winter made it seem like it was 9 o clock. I felt guilty, as if I had let something behind, but didn't know what.
Guilt. Guilt along the road in an uninspired afternoon.
The skyline of Cincinnati appeared ahead and grew larger with the moon rising beside it and above the Ohio River. I crossed the bridge by the arena, decided not to stop for dinner and pulled into my apartment parking lot at exactly 12 hours past the time I had left. I went inside, briefly tried to explain to my roommate where I was all day and took a shower.
I sat down at my desk and opened up the bag, grabbing a handful of buffalo sauce flavored sunflower seeds.