The Klan, the ‘Vette, and the Sleazy Greasy Greek

25 02 2011

Last Saturday, I drove from Princeton up to Bloomington to meet with family for the annual tradition of eating some of the best pizza in the world at Mother Bear’s and celebrating my birthday.  On a whim, I decided not to take the route that includes quite a bit of dual lane highways and, instead, journeyed along the state highways I traveled back in the day.  This was the route I took between Princeton and Bloomington back in the late 1960s when I was at IU.  According to Mapquest, my selected route covered slightly more than 109 miles and was estimated to take just over two hours to traverse.  We all know that Mapquest can be wrong at times but in this case I discovered that the time and the distance estimated were not technically incorrect but on Saturday it took over forty years to cover the distance–the distance between that young, arrogant college freshman and the semi-wise old man of today.

Passing through wide spots in the road designated by road signs with names such as Bicknell, Bruceville, Bushrod, Beehunter, and Switz City, memories came flashing back to me of some experiences on those highways.  Once I realized that, I was no longer on a state highway but had unexpectedly turned onto memory lane.  I slowed down enough to be an annoyance to those who had to get someplace other than where they were at the time in a big hurry.  Fortunately, I am one of those people who adds at least 30 minutes to my anticipated driving time on any journey over 100 miles–at my age, pit stops are no longer a luxury but a necessity.  Anyways, I knew I could meander and still arrive on time in Bloomington.

The first specific memory that came back to me was of a warm Saturday morning in late fall and my first experience with hitch-hiking.  Of course, today, hitch-hiking is a major taboo and should only be considered as an act of last resort and desperation. However, back in the 60s, it was still an bit of a societal rite of passage honored by the males of the species.  I was going back to Princeton to attend the wedding of a friend–I think the rabbit died.  As I said, the weather was nice and I figured, “What the hell!  This is a great opportunity to hitch-hike for the first time.”  I was not oblivious to the possibility that something could go wrong when dealing with strangers on the highways so I took my guitar out of the case and filled it with a change of clothes and the end off of a cue stick.  I figured that unless I ran into someone with a gun I should be able to get to the cue stick and extricate myself from the car if necessary.

Everything went according to plan coming out of B-town and I got a couple of rides, one from an old man (probably he was younger than I am now) in a farm truck with bales of straw on the back and another one from a guy that all I remember about him was that he drove a two-tone Pontiac.  Those two rides got me to Switz City.  I was making great time; I had traveled 35 miles in just a little over 45 minutes.  However, I stood with my thumb out for nearly an hour before my next ride came along.  Two guys in an black early-1950s Chevy stopped.  I asked them how far they were going; it’s not like I was going to turn down the offer but that was what you were supposed to say when hitch-hiking.  They were going someplace just north of Vincennes.  That would put me only about 25 miles from Princeton.  I got in the backseat with my guitar case and we drove south.

We each lit cigarettes and started to talk.  They asked lots of questions about why I was hitch-hiking and where was I coming from.  When I told them I was a college student at IU, one of them said, “What do you think about them goddamned hippies protesting the war?”  I was not then nor am I now the shiniest marble in the bag but I knew I needed to choose my words very carefully.  See, I was an anti-war protester and a pseudo-hippy–I enjoyed taking showers and wearing clean clothes too much to be a real hippy.  My hair was down over my collar but not down to my shoulders.  If these guys would have picked me up six months later, I doubt the question would have been asked.  As I look back on it, this was one of the few times that I was thankful for the strict dress code/grooming code of my parochial high school.  In the fall of 1967, my hair had not grown out to the length it would eventually become.

I told my inquisitors that I really didn’t know too much about it, I had to study a lot and didn’t have time for that shit.  Apparently, they bought it because the next topic they brought up was the civil rights movement.  They both went into a tirade complete with racial slurs about how the white, Christian way of life was in danger in America.  They said that was why they were American Knights of the Imperial Klan…

Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.  There I was, a former altar boy with a college roommate named Herbie Greenberg, sitting in the backseat of a car with two Klansman in the middle of nowhere.  They would never find my body.

My concerns may have been exaggerated but I was very thankful to get out of their car north of Vincennes.

The next memory that came back to me on my backroad odyssey to Monroe County was of a Sunday morning back in 1981 when my wife and I were dating.  We were coming back after a day of water skiing on Lake Monroe and a night of partying in Bloomington with my best friend and his girlfriend.  Linda and I were in her 1980 silver Corvette and driving that winding road was a real pleasure; that kind of road is what a sports car is designed for.  Without going into detail and getting myself in trouble, I will just say that I had a lot of problems keep my focus and the ‘Vette on the road. When it comes to that memory, outside of the sly grin on my face, no further explanation should be expected or needed.  To quote Forrest Gump: “That’s all I got to say about that.”

The final memory of State Highways 67/54/45 goes back to spring of 1968 when several of us were heading home for Spring Break.  Back then, going south for Spring Break was not as big of a deal as it is today (I figure a lot of it had to do with college kids not being able to get credit cards back then.  If you didn’t have the money, you stayed at home).  Five of us from Princeton loaded into a maroon and rust Buick Skylark owned by Louie Andriokas. Louis was and is somewhat of a character and a bit a an urban legend in Princeton.  Louie is the owner/operator of Greek’s Candy Store, a multi-generational family business that has been featured in numerous national magazine articles and television show features.

I haven’t talked to Louie in several years so he might have changed but back in college he was a schemer/scammer and loved to gamble.  You know the kind of guy; he always had an angle.  If there was a poker game going on in the dorm, you could bet Louie was right in the middle of it.   Because of his antics, the guys in the dorm tagged him with the nickname of The Sleazy Greasy Greek.  His reputation for being a hustler and gambler was reenforced as we motored south on that spring day back in ’68.

As Louie drove the twisty-turny 19 miles between Bloomington and Bloomfield he was talking at the three of us in the backseat as he had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right elbow on the top of the front seat so he could look at us in the backseat.

Louie has one of those unforgettable voices that is nasal and mostly monotone in nature.  He also speaks, even in close quarters, at a volume that elementary school teachers would describe as “our outside voices.”  His cadence would be most accurately compared to the rhythm produced when an LP record was played at 45rpm.  I don’t think Louie ever took a breath when he talked–he just kept talking till he finished what he had to say.

Anyways, picture us zooming down the road at least 10 miles over the speed limit with Louie spending more time looking towards the rear of the car than looking out the windshield as he spun some sort of a cock-and-bull story that, although we knew was probably not true, was still funny as hell just because of the way Louie talked.

Well, eventually my friend riding shotgun could not take it any longer and told Louie to slow down and keep his eyes on the road.

In classic Louie Andriokas form, he replied, “Goddamn, Horrall, I’ve driven this road drunk at night lots of times and it’s daylight;  besides I’m not drunk yet.”

“Shit, Louie, at least slow down then.”

“I can’t.  My brakes are shot.”

“Dammit, Louie!  That would have been nice to know before we left Bloomington.”

Without slowing down and with a bit of an incredulous tone, Louie said, “If I told you guys that, you wouldn’t have chipped in for gas when we filled up.”

Still today, I have no idea what any of us could have said that would have registered with Louie.

Two hours later after timing stoplights and lots of downshifting we came to a stop on an incline in Princeton.

I never rode with the Sleazy Greasy Greek again–

I love how memories that are deep in our subconscious can be brought back to the surface by seemingly insignificant stimulus from happenstance such as taking a different road on a whim.

Life was, is, and will be good because these kinds of experiences and memories are what life is all about.

-gw-

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History and Truth

11 02 2011

Napoleon is credited with saying, “History is a myth men have agreed upon.” I have always found this quote to be curious on several levels.  A related quote, uttered by Winston Churchill proclaims that, “History is written by the victors.”  Again, multiple levels of meaning in this quote.

I proudly confess to being a hopelessly addicted history junkie.  If I knew then what I know now I would have majored in American Studies and then gone on to Law School with the hopes of teaching Constitutional Law at the college level rather than majoring in English.  I’m still giving strong consideration to going back and getting another Master’s Degree, but this time in American History.  My wife and I have talked about how interesting it would be to blend our travel plans with research trips over the three or four years it would take to earn the degree part time.  As an adjunct faculty member I can take classes at half tuition.  We’ll see what happens over the next year or so–but I digress.

The fascinating thing to me about history or should I say histories is that in the present day we do not have the total and complete truth of events.  That is not to imply that current day historians/authors are being intentionally deceptive; I just don’t think we have all the facts.  Quite often we view the past based on the evidence we have and from that evidence we draw conclusions that may be logical but not necessarily accurate.

A prime example of this disconnect between history and truth was uncovered back about four years ago in my home county.  As part of the process to plan and build a bypass around the county seat of Salem, a required archeological survey was conducted on the land that would be used for the roadway.  This is a normal procedure and was simply a formality, another hoop to jump through, before federal and state approval and funding would be granted.  Well, guess what; that archeological survey turned out to be anything but a formality.

After surveying over 95% of the land that would be used for the bypass, the final location to be surveyed was the area for the proposed interchange between the new bypass and Indiana Highway 56 that connects to the interstate. In that less that an acre area, the archeologists found all sorts of artifacts in their core samples, including bones.  Suddenly, this mundane procedure that everyone assumed would be completed in a couple of months turned into a major archeological dig lasting nearly three years that challenged “the myth men have agreed upon.”

See, according to the widely-held belief of most Native American historians, Southern Indiana was not a location of permanent residency for any tribe.  The common belief was that Miami, Potawatomi, Kickapoo and Shawnee tribes all hunted in and passed through the area but none claimed the territory as their own and agreed that it would be common hunting grounds.

The first white settlers came into the area in the pre-Revolutionary War era. According to their accounts, Native Americans only passed through the area and did not have permanent villages or communities established.  The discovers at the location of the proposed interchanged blew that “historical fact” right out of the water.

According to the chief archeologist in charge of the dig and several university professors of archeology, this find was one of the most significant in Indiana’s history.  It completely debunked the dominant thinking of pre-European-contact indigenous peoples and would cause the experts to go back to other digs across the Midwest to reassess their conclusions.

I wrote extensively about the dig and the implications of the discoveries when I was a feature writer for a Southern Indiana paper and won’t go into all the fascinating details of what was discovered except to say that carbon-dating placed the artifacts of a settlement estimated at over one thousand inhabitants somewhere in the 13th-14th centuries.  None of the artifacts matched with tribes previously thought to be in the region.

More will be done at the site that extends outside of the area to be used by the bypass but that will have to wait for additional funding.  Only the southern-most part of the ancient settlement was excavated by the archeologists to make room for the interchange.  Literally, thousands of artifacts were unearthed and catalogued.

On another interesting writing assignment I tagged along with historian, Dana Olsen, and a independent film crew producing a documentary for National Geographic.  We were exploring an area along the Ohio River as part of research into the Welsh prince, Madoc, and the possibility of him and/or his followers/descendants establishing a fort overlooking the river in the 11th-12th centuries.  As we treked through the underbrush, I struck up a conversation with another member of our group, a professor from Ohio University, who apparently is an expert on the Mound Builders. He said something that put the whole history and truth relationship in perspective for me.

He said, “In archeology, there is evidence and there is proof.  Proof cannot be disputed; it is what it is.  Evidence can be interpreted and, therefore, subject human error and bias.”  He went on to say, “Thus far, carbon-dating and DNA are the only two things that are proof, everything else is evidence.”

When I think about history, both as an observer and a participant, I believe that most of what we take as historical fact is based on evidence, not truth.  That does not mean that the conclusion we have come to based on the evidence is in error, just subject to revision when either new evidence is presented or proof is provided that disputes the previous conclusion.

I think this litmus test of truth is something that I have been going through over the last five years in regards to my past life (I’m not using the term in the sense of reincarnation but I do find that an interesting and plausible theory) when I viewed the world and myself in a way based on the evidence I had at the time.  The fact that not all the evidence was made available to me because of my parents’ desire to protect me and the Catholic Church’s efforts to act as a travel agent for guilt trips, I came to erroneous conclusions about how things were and would be.

Without revealing all the details of the incident for reasons I’ll reveal some day down the road, five years ago I lost my temper in a way that I could not explain.  I did not lash out physically but I knew at the time that I had never experienced that level of rage in my life; my anger was over the top.  I knew I needed professional help to sort it out; my feelings were totally disproportionate to the seriousness of the incident.  After telling my wife about the incident and my quandary, she agreed that I should probably see a therapist.

It only took three sessions–I was willing and the therapist was good–to sort it out.  Up to that point, I had always described my life growing up as a Leave it to Beaver experience.  After a few targeted questions from the therapist, I had my Come-to-Jesus moment.  Hell, no!  My life growing up was not what I thought it was.  Once I understood what it was, I understood why the first four decades of my life were so unfulfilling as far as my own self-worth and my lack of an objective self-esteem. Damn, the lights went on!

For many years before the day of that epiphany in the therapist’s office I had changed the way I looked at the world, myself and the people in my life.  I think that is one of the things I am most thankful to my wife for–she helped to save me from myself.  I knew that what I was doing in the early part of my adult life was not working and if I wanted to succeed I had to change; I just didn’t know how.  I found out from Linda that changing my behavior would change my attitude and that, in turn, would start a flywheel effect resulting in personal satisfaction and happiness.  I just compartmentalized those early years along with the pain and sense of failure that went along with them.  I guess it all erupted in that incident when I went into a rage. I am still struggling with objectivity and trying not to be resentful as I view those early years but I am more comfortable with the truth about them.  You cannot correct your mistakes if you don’t think you are making any.

The last five years of my life and my future have been and will be dedicated to reconciling my personal history and my personal truth.

-gw-





Choices and Trade Offs

7 02 2011

My favorite seasons of the year are unquestionable Spring and Fall.  It’s not that I dislike Summer and Winter, it’s just that weather conditions can get so severe and last for an extended period of time in these seasons.

As Linda and I plan our glory days, we have often discussed how nice it might be be spend extended time throughout the year in at least three different locations.  Beginning shortly after New Year’s Day, the idea of being a snowbird in the Florida Keys seems, at least on the surface, to hold a lot of promise for us. Returning to Southern Indiana sometime around the first of April would allow us to start getting ready for gardening season in the spring.

After the Fourth of July, an extended stay up on the northern Great Lakes until late August would get us out of the sweltering heat and humidity  so characteristic of the Ohio Valley.  We would return home in time to begin harvesting and preserving the garden bounty and then viewing the annual show put on by the hardwoods as they prepare for winter.

I think we could get use that that lifestyle–I would at least like to try it.  If we don’t like it, we can change.  The choice would be ours.

As far as winter is concerned there are only two issues that I might miss but I have no doubt we could adapt for–watching the birds at the bird feeder along with building fires in the fireplace.  I think a traveling bird feeder or two strategically placed in our Keys yard would attract the birds but I don’t know about the wood fires on cold winter mornings.  I guess everyone has to make sacrifices.

All the little things that are so special about summer could probably still happen up on Traverse Bay or Whitefish Bay. Being able to sit outside and have coffee as I watch Venus ascend and melt into the glow of dawn is something I truly treasure–some of the best “think time” I have.

The multi-location plan also cuts into the time spent with family but we would just have to make sure that we have a lot of visitors at the beach each winter and summer.

I guess we are at a good place in life where we do have many more choices of how we want to spend our time, money and our energy than when we were younger.  Of course, like most really good parts of life, it is important not to take this freedom for granted and piddle it away.  It’s a time to learn, grow and share as we experience the things that make life worth living.  I hope that Mellenkamp was wrong when he sang, “Oh, yeah, life goes on; long after the thrill of living is gone.”  That would really suck.

One of the pearls of wisdom that my dad passed on to me is that a person can do anything he wants to do; he just cannot do everything he wants to do at the same time.

I think that is a pretty good piece of advice to follow as Linda and I get ready for our next phase.

-gw-