Sunday, March 10, 2013

my dog ate my law degree

(for the explanation of that title, read on)

Indiana. A state I usually encounter in the form of passing through it to get somewhere else. But on this trip it was my destination, and, while my exact goal was in the northwest corner (in the Central time zone), there was also something drawing me over to the northeast side (in the Eastern time zone).

But first I had to get there at all. I was scheduled to fly in by Southwest to Chicago Midway, via Orange County, on Tuesday the 26th. That turned out to be the day of the big snowstorm (the one before the last one). Everything looked fine until we got to OC, at which point we were abruptly informed that the next leg had been canceled. The gate agent and I had a long discussion of what to do next. Eventually we concluded that the best course was to send me home and try again the next day. He issued me a free voucher for the flight home and told me I could get the rest at the San Jose airport.

So my Tuesday consisted of flying to the LA area, sitting around the airport for an hour, and then going home, a fine combination of pointless scurrying about and Veblenian conspicuous consumption. On top of which, when I got to San Jose, it turned out he'd issued the new ticket in an incorrect manner, and it took a supervisor an hour on the phone with tech support to get it straightened out. And on Wednesday it took three more supervisors to confirm that the ticket was indeed valid, but I got on the plane with no serious delays and arrived in Chicago only 27 hours late. My rental car and my hotel room in Chicago, about which I'd communicated by phone, were still waiting for me. The storm was over, the streets and highways were all plowed and driving was easy (though walking could be treacherous), and I abandoned my plans for a day in Chicago, which I'd visited often enough, and preserved the day and a half before the start of the conference for NE Indiana, a country new to me, instead.

What drew me irresistibly was the U.S. Vice Presidential Museum, a small private foundation at the Dan Quayle Center - for yes! it is he - in Huntington, Dan's home town south of Fort Wayne. No buff of US political history trivia could afford to miss this. It's a two-story building, ex-courthouse from the look of it, with a brief panel display on each and every Veep the U.S. has ever had. Stars mark out the ones from Indiana, of whom there've been five. The effect is a not overly pushy attempt to place Dan within an honorable history. The displays include original newspaper pages with articles on the Veeps, going back to the 18C, including detailed articles reporting the deaths of every VP who's died in office, of whom there've been quite a few; reproduced photos and cartoons; and, starting in the 20C, original signed letters, some of mindboggling triviality ("Dear sir, The signature at the end of this letter will supply the autograph you requested. Sincerely yours,"). Of greatest interest were the museum-supplied placards on each VP, which were judiciously written and largely free of factual mistakes, but absolutely loaded with grammatical clangers and typographical errors. Just the way to honor a man who couldn't spell "potato". I forget exactly how they mangled the name of Nixon's opponent in the Kitchen Debate, but their rendering began with an H.

A more lengthy display, set out of chronological order on the side wall, honors Dan the man himself. There you will see the shards of his J.D. diploma from Indiana University, which his dog ate. Somehow that fate sums up Quayle perfectly for me. And, tucked in the frame where the corner of the diploma ought to be, is a snapshot of the dog that did it.

After paying my respects to Elbridge, Millard, Hannibal, Schuyler, Chester, Levi, Adlai, Garret, Calvin, Alben, Lyndon, Hubert, Spiro, Danforth, and their less distinctively-named colleagues, I drove off to Fort Wayne, a city whose utter lack of any other perceptible distinctions is possibly in part responsible for its ability to preserve one of those great packed-full-to-the-ceiling, it-goes-on-forever-into-yet-more-rooms used bookstores that used to be common everywhere. I went in thinking, "I probably won't buy anything," but came out an hour later with several bargains of the "I always wanted this" variety, from theology to musicology. It's called Hyde Brothers. If you find yourself in that part of the world, and wonder what you're doing there, which you will, this is where you want to go.

South Bend, although a noted university seat, comes up short in the bookstore department. The Notre Dame campus, however, was interesting. Though surrounded by permanent road signs specifically directing football fans to overflow parking lots, the central campus eschews gridiron-worship and instead absolutely drips with Catholic iconography. B. would have loved it. Besides Notre Dame, South Bend appears to be notable for two things: it's where Studebaker autos came from, and it makes chocolate. Chocolate being more portable than universities or obsolete cars, of course I brought some home.

East of South Bend, Indiana proves to have, as I've found in Pennsylvania and Ohio before it, an Amish country, and where there is an Amish country, there will be seas of Amish kitsch surrounding groaning boards of hearty Amish restaurants. I wound up at this one, where my dinner featured emphatically juicy fried chicken. It was pressure-fried, so, though the spicing is different, it's strikingly reminiscent of what KFC original recipe chicken was like fifty years ago, when the Colonel was still making it himself. Another great meal.

Driving through snowy Indiana countryside, much of it on back highways, little ribbons of asphalt bisecting wide fields of white, was a little spooky - it's a long time since I've driven in snow country when the weather's on. Judging from what I saw in the towns and by the roadsides, the principal retail product of the state of Indiana appears to be the firework. I'd heard that the inhabitants put the word "Hoosier" on everything, but the only example of that I went by was a small building announcing itself as Hoosier TaeKwonDo.

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