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August 3, 2016


The Hamster and I are not racing fans. We never watch racing on TV, and we pay little attention to who wins even the biggest races. When Helio Castroneves was on Dancing With the Stars we had no idea who he was, and complained to no one in particular that the show had too many nonfamous “celebrities.” The only reason I know anything about racing at all is because I used to be a sportswriter and felt an obligation to at least keep up with the basics.

Still, when we decided to include Indianapolis in this trip, the first thing that came to mind was Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also known as the Brickyard, the home of the famous Indianapolis 500.



There’s an impressive museum there that houses dozens of cars that have won the Indy 500 over the years, including the very first winner in 1911, as well as last year’s winner.



And we got pretty lucky, because we had exactly enough time to wander through the museum before the next “Kiss the Bricks” tour, a guided tour of the track that drives you around the track on a small tour bus and then lets you get out at the finish line.



It’s called “Kiss the Bricks” because the racetrack was paved with bricks for decades, and the original bricks are still underneath the asphalt that covers the track now. At the finish line, there’s a thin strip of original brick exposed, and it’s a tradition for the winner of every race to kneel down and kiss the bricks.


The tour was short but very informative. We learned about the origins of the tradition for the Indy 500 winner to drink a jug of milk, and that each driver in the race is asked ahead of time what type of milk he’d like if he ends up in the winner’s circle. We learned that the guy who developed the racetrack is the same guy who developed Miami Beach. We learned that there’s a professional golf course that overlaps the Brickyard, with 14 holes just outside the track and 4 holes on the infield.


This is one of the outer holes of the course, just beyond the safety fence that keeps Indy cars from flying completely off the track and onto unsuspecting golfers.



We also thought it was pretty cool that the museum is located on the infield as well, which means that we got to drive down under the stands to get there, and we were surrounded by the track in every direction.

Another perk of the museum was that it attracts racing fans from all over the country. By the time we left, Sam had found a few more state license plates and has now seen 46. (He’s missing only Hawaii, Nevada, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We’ve also seen Ontario, Canada, and Chihuahua, Mexico.)

Meanwhile, the weather this morning was so beautiful that we drove with the top down for the first time on this trip. But by the time we left the Speedway it was close to 90 degrees. This made a significant impact on our day and our moods, but I’ll get to that later.

Next up was the historic Lockerbie Square neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis. A mistake Sam made entering in the coordinates into the GPS sent us almost half an hour in the wrong direction, but we corrected the mistake and were soon glad that we visited the neighborhood. It’s adorable, with the most charming houses and blocks we’ve seen outside of Savannah.


After a few minutes soaking up the charm of Lockerbie, we headed downtown for a bunch of monuments. As a city, Indianapolis has kind of a fun spirit, but a lot of its beauty comes from stunning but somber memorials to those who died in various wars. The biggest of these is the Indiana War Monument,  which looks a bit like the Washington Monument’s overweight brother.



It’s got more steps than Rocky can handle, so we were pretty winded when we reached the top of the main stairs. At that point, visitors can enter the monument and head up to the observation deck at the very top for panoramic views of the city–but not on Mondays or Tuesdays. Grrr. Still, we had pretty impressive views from the top of the main stairs.

At this point I was reminded of Paris. Directly to the north and south are parks and stately government buildings, reminiscent of the views from the Eiffel Tower.



The French influence is also evident at the state capitol, especially in the design of the corners of the roof.



The capitol is beautiful, and significantly larger than Ohio’s. But there were two other things that made our trip there particularly enjoyable. First, we got a metered parking spot right in front of the building. More interesting, though, was when we met this man:



He was sitting in a pickup truck nearby and got excited when he saw us taking pictures of the capitol. He bounded out of the car while declaring “Right on!” and then proceeded to tell me about his heritage (he’s part Cherokee and part German), his upbringing (his mother was a good mom but a wild woman), the fact that law enforcement removed his ankle monitor yesterday, and also that he paid attention in school, so he knows that the statues just under the roof are of Daniel Boone and his family and Geronimo and his family.


The Boones are on the right, and the Geronimos (?) are on the left.



Did I mention that he introduced himself as Wolfman? Sorry, I probably should have led with that.

When I finally shook free of Wolfman, we walked a couple of blocks to the “ndy” statue so we could be the “I” in Indy, as the slogan says.



A couple more blocks brought us to Monument Circle to see another gorgeous (and French-inspired) monument to the fallen:



This one also has an observation deck with incredible views–or so I’m told. This one is also closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so we didn’t get to see for ourselves.

Frustrated and exhausted from the heat, Sam was pretty cranky and rude. I was frustrated and overheated myself, and let him know pretty clearly that I didn’t appreciate his attitude. The day almost ended there, but our next stop was indoors, so we headed back to the car for some air conditioning and a short drive to White River State Park in hopes of perking up our day.

Within the park are several well-reviewed museums, but the only one that interested us is the NCAA Hall of Champions, which is basically the college sports hall of fame. It was pretty underwhelming, as the museum part was incredibly basic and the interactive part had many nonworking exhibits. However, while perusing the biggest NCAA honorees throughout the years, Sam saw the name Dick Butkus and completely lost it. He was laughing so hard that I was glad we hadn’t had any victory milk at the Brickyard because it would’ve been coming out of his nose. The whole rest of the day he’d randomly start giggling and say “Dick Butkus.” From that moment on he was in a good mood. He even gave a moving press conference in which he thanked Dick Butkus multiple times.



Our final activity was thankfully right next door. A canal runs through a swath of downtown Indianapolis, and it’s surrounded on both sides by Canal Walk, an absolutely breathtaking walkway with footbridges, benches, restaurants, and all sorts of wonderful touches.

We were too hot and tired to explore on foot as we had originally planned, so I caved in to Sam’s begging and rented one of those ridiculous, touristy family bicycles that look like an old-timey car.



Sam was thrilled, and we both had a great time enjoying the scenery from our silly car-bike.

Canal Walk features multiple fountains, and the walls beneath every footbridge are painted with murals, each more impressive than the next.



Our only complaint was the throngs of people staring at their phones as they chased after Pokémon, oblivious to the beauty surrounding them.


When we returned the bike we had a little surprise: my brother, Sam’s Uncle Steve!



Steve is a comedian based in Los Angeles but he’s on the road pretty often, so it’s especially rare and serendipitous that we happened to be in the same city at the same time. We hung out for a bit in the park before heading our separate ways.

We headed west out of town, stopping only to grill a couple of steaks at a rest stop along I-74.


What, you thought we’d eat candy bars and chips for three weeks?



Even as we mock the Pokémon Go players, Sam has been on a hunt of his own, checking for and finding geocaches in some pretty odd places. He tends to look for them while we’re not doing anything else, like when we’re sitting down to dinner, and apparently rest stops are a hotbed of geocaches. Tonight he found a particularly cool one at the rest stop: a hole at the base of a tree that contained a small plastic container of toys. He took a little toy truck and a superball, leaving the rest of the loot for the next person who finds it, and then promptly lost the superball in the grass before we made it back to the car.

We ended up at a particularly disappointing Ramada in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for the night. Not that I expect much from a Ramada, there are crappy motels and then there are crappy motels. The first sign that a motel is extra crappy is that the doors to the rooms are on the outside of the building. Every motel I’ve ever stayed in has either put the door to my room indoors, or outdoors. The Ramada in Crawfordsville has both. So whoever is planning to break into our room and murder us tonight has a choice of how to do it.

Once I saw the outside doors, I knew I had to lower my expectations, but I was still hoping at least for a vanity around the sink that doesn’t have garbage on it from the previous guest.



What’s that on the vanity? Look closer: it’s a French fry.


And there you have it: the French influence is officially everywhere.

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