Friday, April 24, 2009

a man who knows his parts

The man is Jack Barker.  At his shop in Essex, Illinois, some six miles from Route 66, he churns out a whole lotta fun, using scrap metal that he welds, hammers and bends into animal, human and fanciful forms as they occur to him.  And watching Jack for awhile in his shop, it's easy to see how much occurs, since he pretty much gets one idea after another.  The man has tools, and he knows how to use them!
In the beginning, he told us, his friends were afraid to be seen helping him haul the big things around.  Fifteen years later, people around town have gotten used to seeing the yard continue to grow.  We particularly liked Jack's way with metal shavings from nearby factories, which he's incorporated cleverly into beards, hair and the fur on buffalo and camels.  It's unlike anything we've seen before.
He, on the other hand, had never seen anything quite like the Big Ball o' Tape, which toured the yard in its Radio Flyer, before stopping at an Indian princess' feet for a great photo op.
Speaking of ops, the day started back near Kankakee, so we could gawk at a big Lincoln.  Not a Muffler Man, but a huge fiberglass Abe holding a sign that gets changed when the owner has something to share.  Today it was bashing the bailout.  Tough shooting conditions for Don, what with I-57 non side, a fence on another,  and mud all around, but as usual, we got more than we bargained for.  The owner pointed us out back, where an ice cream cone toting Lincoln was down for the count.  Hot dogs in his pocket too.  Or was he just glad to see us?

Music In the Van--Elvis Costello's Starbucks Artist's Choice Compilation, Bettye Lavette "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise"
Don's Found Money Count--$3.96!!!

Oh, and we started the day on a really amazing note, circling a baby-poop brown Gremlin (still functional) in the coffee shop parking lot... always a good omen. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

down in the basement with bart

That would be Bart Powers, from Munster, Indiana.  Turns out he also knows quite a bit about The Munsters, old cars, architecture, music and a great many other topics.  But he suffers from agoraphobia and depression, so he doesn't get out all that much.  Bart works fairly obsessively down in the basement, starting with pencil sketches, and then painting in a way that brings to mind M.C. Escher, graphic novels and album art from the 70s.  Some of his more detailed pencil and marker work might keep a school supply store in business!
He admitted our impending arrival had kept him awake all night, but he was surprised to see we were "professionals, not 20 year olds with a VHS camcorder."   He seemed to enjoy Don's witty repartee more than your average bear--they both love guitars and Allen Sherman, and they talked Corvairs a fair bit as well.  We all riffed on some TV and movie trivia, though I fell flat on the lead in "Vanishing Point," which I later remembered to be Barry Newman of  early 70's "Petrocelli" fame....
Bart's house is about two blocks from the Illinois state line, which tells you we crossed most all of northern Indiana to get there from Toledo.  Most surprising was the thriving Amish town of
shipshewana, which we saw thanks to a detour on US 20.  We also stopped for lunch in downtown South Bend.  The Thai food was fine, but the trip down an old elevator to a bathroom straight out of a David Lynch movie was even better.  
Oh, the other main attraction today was Goshen.  At first Mike had it confused with Gomorrah, but with some lifeline help, he did confirm it had biblical roots.  Something about Moses and the Exodus' starting point.  The one in Indiana has a claim of its own--a bulletproof guard tower on the courthouse square that was built to protect the Maple City from gangsters back in the day.  Apparently, it worked, because no banks were robbed, and the courthouse lawn is well-tended and just right for playing some catch.

]Music In the Van--"Heading West"(we were), a Starbucks Compilation with Pattty Griffin, Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, etc., "St. Mary of the Pines" James McMurtry, "Trouble" Ray Lemonmtagne
Don's up to $3.16, and he also picked up some really good beer from the Great Lakes Brewery, "Edmund Fitzgerald Porter" (yum)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A rabbi, a sculpture, & some Weasels walk into a bar

How cold was it this morning in Cleveland?  Cold enough that it was snowing when we left the coffee shop and opted not to go see the shoe tree in a cemetery that we'd read about. We're just not that tough!  So we took our act indoors to the home of Rabbi Sidney Rackoff, an 89 year old who took up sculpting twenty five years ago.  Sidney greeted us warmly and invited us in, though his 91 year-old wife Regina wasn't quite so sure.  "How do I know you're not going to kidnap him," she asked.  We volunteered to show her how cramped the van is, and convinced her that we may be a pain, but we're hardly a threat.
Sid's made some fabulous metal pieces over the years, some quite large.  He displays them in front of office buildings and schools, gas stations and gardens.  People see them that way, he figures, many more than would see them in museums or high dollar galleries.  It's not about the money, clearly.  It's the joy of making and sharing his art, the person to person experience he's had with a wide swath of Clevelanders who in one way or another have helped make it possible.  Regina apologized profusely for not feeding us, but the time was needed for chasing the two of them all over town to see his handiwork.  Sure enough, as promised, people at the sculpture sites came out to hug the artist and say hello.  Very cool, very good for the soul.
We left Cleveland thinking that overall the town's had a bad rap.  There's some amazing architecture, cool, funky neighborhoods and nowhere near the desolation of say, Detroit.   Our route out took us down the Ohio Turnpike to Toledo.  Destination Tony Packo's.  If that sounds familiar, it might make you a Mash-a-phile.  Corporal Klinger mentioned it on the show eight different times.  That's fine, but the lure for us can be attributed to Burt Reynolds.  Back in the late 70's he signed a Packo hot dog bun, and launched a tradition.  Celebs as varied as Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Dole, Frank Zappa and Joan Rivers (along with 500 or so others) have inked one of the fake buns that decorate the old restaurant's walls.  Apparently their standards of "celebrity" are slipping.  Caleb, the most agreeable manager ever, offered to let us into the club too.  He's now the proud owner of a Big Ball T-Shirt, and we took home plenty of Packo-bilia...

Music In the Van--John Hiatt's new one (can't remember the name)
Don had a nice run finding money in inner-city Cleveland, but he never told me eactly how much.  Must be getting close to $3.00 for the trip by now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the other michelangelo

This one's last name is Lovelace.  He paints Cleveland, scenes of the life on its streets, and the aspirations he has for it.   Michelangelo picked up the name early in life because he was always drawing stuff, even though no one around him thought art was a real option. Yes, he did attend the Cleveland Art Institute for a year, but he couldn't afford to finish.  He met the Rev. Albert Wagner, Cleveland's most notable outsider artist, and found the inspiration he needed.
Michelangelo's subject matter includes everything from P-Funk concerts drive-n movies to cdrugs, crime, city politics and the Obamas.  We managed to get everything we needed done with him just in time for the big Cavs-Pistons playoff  game, which he and the rest of the city were anxiously awaiting.

That game was being played downtown, just a few blocks from the House of Blues.  We'd weaseled our way in there earlier in the day to look over the art.  Like all the HOBs, it's decor includes lots of work by people we've met over the years--Jimmie Sudduth,  Ab the Flagman, Missionary Mary Proctor, the Baltimore Glassman, et al.  Their collection also includes some top-notch paintings by Peter Wood, a local boy who's now based in California.  Tracey Glenn, the lady who handles tours and classes let us wander at will and pepper her with stupid questions.  For that, and the inadvertent groping she endured due to her "microphone problems," Tracy definitely earned her commemorative shirt.

We had entered  Cleveland via Lakeshore Drive, where the houses of what we presumed to be "Robber Baron Row" left us more than a little slack-jawed.  As the rain alternately stopped and started all day, we did actually manage to catch a glimpse of Lake Erie with sunshine on it. Then it rained some more, much as it had earlier in a beautiful stretch of Concord Township. That's where we found, despite some bad directions from a website we won't name, a Flintstone House nestled back in the woods.  If a car with no floor had been parked in the garage, we wouldn't have been too surprised.  No Rubble on this one, it was Bedrock's best, to be sure.

Music In the van--"Days Like This" Van Morrison, "Bootleg Sesssions, Vol.8" Bob Dylan
Don's found $2.61 to date, and still can't figure out what weird stuff was going on with the camera today.  We just hope it doesn't do it tomorrow!

Monday, April 20, 2009

a drizzled wizard is still a good thing

PR Miller doesn't watch TV, doesn't even have one.  The so called "Junk Man of Akron" figures he can find entertainment anywhere he wants to, so why depend on others to shape his pleasure centers.  I'm kind of paraphrasing there, but this guy throws out lots and lots of of free-form verbiage, with considerable theatrics. so there are plenty of phrases to para.

And lots of products that he brings forth from the things others throw away.  He's trying to get us to realize that the earth has just about had enough!  So if his art can help get the message through to kids that we're choking the planet, then his "Grizzled Wizard" persona is time well spent.  We visited him first at his studio across from the Firestone HQ near downtown, and then at his equally art=packed house, where the yard yielded more of the colorful giant scrapflowers for which he is known.  Also saw a cool frog he'd made at a library nearby...

You'll notice a certain wet, gray shade to the photo, which I snapped between downpours on this chilly AM.  Mike had sung a stanza or two of "Rainy Days and Mondays" to get us going (and scare us a bit) before we gave ourselves over to the PR Experience.  It came complete with a lunch trip to Luigi's, an Akron institution which features a giant pizza the Junkman made in 2003 on the outside.  Luigi's is also known for a 1949 Mechanical Bandbox above the front door that comes to life when the jukebox is played.  Or did anyway, until it jammed up, and awaits the repairman.  We ate heartily nonetheless, gazed up at the nearby building where Chrissie Hynde calls home, and even stood in the crotch of Akron's Y Bridge while discussing what exactly a "hectare" is.  (10,000 square meters, it turns out.)
Then it rained like heck and we called it a day.

Music In the Van--"Sugar Mountain Live (1969)" Neil Young

Sunday, April 19, 2009

can you get a merit badge for this?

Rain.  That's what they've been telling us is on its way with a vengeance.   So we awoke with a mission.  Shoot stuff before we wouldn't be able to.   After yesterday's "issues" (and thankfully, we did find a place to imbibe last night) the realities of guerilla TV-making were rearing their ugly head.
After a Starbucks stop we resumed the Appalachian road regimen-- hills and curves and potentially stomach churning drops.  Hey, no problem.  We made it without incident to the Miners' Memorial Park near Reinsersville, Ohio, better known as the home of the Big Bucket. A 13 ton coal bucket from a machine called the Big Muskie.  (Yes, it even put Kansas' Big Brutus to shame.)  That's it above, being occupied by a Boy Scout Troop and the Big Ball.  We played some catch inside it, proving once again we're only ready for "the minors."

Lunch was taken in Cambridge, a town we realized we'd stayed in 6 years ago.  We didn't stop at the Hopalong Cassady Museum then, and we didn't this time either.  Sorry, Hop.  But Ruby Tuesday's did have a vegie burger on the menu and a right plentiful salad bar.  A new option for eating has arrived!

On the way up to Wilmot, we remembered to pimp the good folks at Hampton Inns, who've been doing some work to restore old roadside attractions.  Why not help us a little bit too? One of the places where they'd assisted was the World's Largest Cuckoo clock at Grandma's Alpine Inn.  We were primed for some oversized animated timekeeping, but when we finally found it, the giant parking lot was empty and a "for lease" sign told the tale.  Eventually, someone came around to ask what we were doing, but they clearly didn't really care to talk about it, except to say we could "tell PBS it's for sale."  Wonder how the Hampton folks feel about that...

Still no rain, though, so we trudged on to Canton, took a spin (actually two) past the Pro Football Hall of Fame ("underwhelming" was the term we could all live with) and flew on to North Canton.  We'd seen a tip about a UFO shaped office building, and sure enough, a saucer seemed to have landed atop a bug eyed base with very few markings except a "psychological services" sign on the back.  Kinda suspicious don't you think?  We didn't think too long, although Don did point out that if they wanted to turn it into a revolving restaurant someday, that might be an option...

Music In the Van--Cat Power, "Dirt Farmer" Levon Helm, "Madman Across the Water" Elton John, "Nashville" Solomon Burke
Don's money count (apparently I've missed several key finds) --$2.65

Saturday, April 18, 2009

oy ve!

This cheery, upbeat image doesn't completely encapsulate our entire day.  But it is a good one, at which we invoked our pal Erika, who we know has seen The World's Largest Picnic Basket in Newark, Ohio and put it into the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things.   It is the working headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Company, which apparently sells enough of 'em to build this behemoth.

OK, now the bad parts.  The first came much earlier, outside Dayton, when Don realized he'd left his personal pillow at the hotel.  His woobie!  And even though they're mailing it to his home, that means another week of possible sleep impaction (psi) and all the attendant issues.
Actually though, that was just a warmup for the flat tire our swanky Town & Country developed in the wilds of southeast Ohio.  And no manual to explain where the spare was or just how to deal with it... Points to Mike for his mechanical aptitude, and a nice guy in Deaverton who pronounced us "SOL" before trying his best to help make some repairs. 

B.F. (before the flat) we'd been hanging out near Crooksville with The Old Man of the Mountain aka Rick Crooks.  He's a sculptor, making animal forms (some real, some not) from salvaged parts that a country guy like him can easily come across.  The twist is that Rick's blind, has been since an accident at age 16.  His wife Patty told us he's the most patient person she's ever known, a guy who thinks he can do anything, and usually does.  His mom Alma had contacted us, which we believe may be the first time that tactic has been successfully used on RVRR!

Rolling along on a temporary tire we'd decided to trust, we made it to Carbon Hill, and Paul Johnson's Pencil Sharpener Museum.  The count is currently 3, 283, ands as he adamantly tells you, "there are no duplicates."  Metal, plastic, stately, silly, Presidents, superheroes, cars and trains-- Paul's collection fills the walls of a specially built structure that this 84-year old veteran of WWII says has helped keep him alive.  His quest now is for 4,000.

After a Wal-Mart intervention that more or less got the van road-ready again, we took off for Athens.  More bad news--the hotel's full of teenagers at a basketball tournament (turn up that noise machine, Don) and the Bennigan's next door had lost their liquor license!  

Pray for us.

Music In the Van--"1,000 Years of Popular Music" Richard Thompson
Finding money today got lost in the day's traumas, but I think Don picked up 12 cents while shooting the Big Basket

Friday, April 17, 2009

when balls collide

Let me explain the picture above.  It's proof of our day-ending visit to the World's Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria, Indiana.   Mike Carmichael has been painting layer after layer over a baseball core since 1985, some 2,300 layers, including the Jayhawk blue one we helped with. We chose the color in part because of Mike's un-nerving resemblance to former KU b-ball coach Roy Williams.  He, however, is more into Sherman-Williams, dadgummit.
Mike's not just a painter, he's also a numbers guy, who tracks all the different colors each layer has been, and all its vital stats.  The appearance of our Big Ball o' Tape inspired him to do some measuring on it as well.  Ours is lots smaller.

Prior to the Ball-A-Rama in Alexandria, we'd spent some time in Warrington with Billy Wilcox.
The topic was wire, which Billy incorporates into animal forms that can be seen around the area, in places like Greenville and Knightstown (where all the restaurants seem to have died). He showed us around the remains of what had once been a sculpture garden out back-- until his partner left him holding the bag on a whole lot of bills.  The conversation covered everything from Billy's days as a Boy Scout to the importance of keeping your tetanus shots current. I took home a wire "r" and Don got a nifty small fish.   Mike weaseled something too, but I'm not sure just what.

The worst part of the day was a soul-deadening stretch of suburban driving on US 31 south of Indianapolis, followed immediately by more of the same on US 40.  Genericana at its most tedious, but at least we'd seen Big John before that.  BJ is, or so the store that owns it proclaims, the World's Largest Rocking Chair.  We played our first catch of the trip in its shadow, a nice spot for as Don put it, "sunny and chair."

Music In the Van--Eric Clapton & JJ Cale "Road to Escondido", Golden Smog "Pecan Pie"
Don found only 2 cents today, ironically, I noticed a quarter in the driveway at the Ball o Paint's place.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Geodes, Bakers and a little French Lick

That old Indiana magic started again at the Providence Grotto in Jasper, with the charming and chatty Father Angelo showing us what his predecessor Father Phillip had done with rocks for "the glory of God."  We've seen grottos in many shapes and sizes, but none where geodes prevailed the way they do here.  No blueprint or even sketches, just a twenty year explosion of building walls, planters, fountains and shrines that sprawl across the grounds of this Catholic-run nursing home.  Father Angelo mentioned that he's hoping someone might come along to maintain and watch over the place, much as he did fourteen years ago.  With health care costs the way they are now, Don said to add his name to the waiting list,  he might be just the guy for the job.

Jasper is only half an hour away from French Lick, the home of basketball's Larry Bird, so we decided that we'd head there for lunch.  While we were admiring a Romanesque bust of #33 across from the big new casino, a guy in a black pickup gave us 4 copies of the 2004 French Lick High basketball yearbook.  We tried to give 3 of them back, but he said he had thousands, so what could we do?  Eat large sandwiches at a place on Brick Street...

Last stop of the day, Smithville--where The Big Ball's arrival was being anxiously awaited by John and Cheryl Baker, owners of an attraction called Baker's Haunted Train.  John started it all in 1976 by purchasing not one, but two small train stations, then bought a few railroad cars to hold his very own railroad museum.  He, however ran afoul of Bloomington's zoning folks, and "pinheads" on the planning commission.  The legal battles have taken their toll, so scaring people in the train cars and mazes around them has been their main moneymaking mode for the last few years.  We particularly liked the Petticoat Junction-esque water tower/swimming pool out back.  And the fact that these people actually watch our show!

Music In the Van--Bob Dylan's Starbucks "Artist Choice", Herbie Hancock "Rivers (The Joni Sessions") And no, Don didn't find near as much change today... details tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

getting back to the erie canal

That guy with the heads on the bench is Kevin Titzer, an Evansville native who makes some pretty great stuff in the workshop his grandfather built, using hand tools, lots of tiny nails and a dark sense of humor.  Most of the materials come from the nearby Ohio River, at a spot where things wash up for him to bring home and recycle.  The heads he then makes might strike some (not us) as disturbing.  Ticks, bees and stigmata were some of the themes in the ones we saw here. Originally, he told us, he felt strange making art when most of his relatives lived blue-collar lives, but he's come to see that it's just another way of working with your hands.  

Kevin and his girlfriend MJ were terrific hosts, pouring strong coffee, and serving up pie that she made from an old family recipe.  Though we meant to bring a dessert of our own (as seen here yesterday) we had to admit that it never quite made it.  When all this gets to TV, perhaps you'll see why.

Much of the time today was spent reliving Don's previous trip to the Evansville area--in 1972 when he attended the ill-fated Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival .  It was supposed to be the Midwestern Woodstock, but with 300,000 people and 2 port-a-potties, things didn't go so well. The crowd eventually burned down the stage, though Don was gone by then. 
In his honor, we drove down some of the same roads near the Wabash River, including one that took us to the charming little town of New Harmony.  Supposedly the Archangel Gabriel left a footprint there in 1838, but it's not on public display anymore.  Not one, but two utopian communities failed there, though it's still picturesque as all get out.

Our last stop of the day was north of Evansville, in the tiny town of Buckskin, home to the Loneliest Museum in America.  That's what someone called James Henager's uh, somewhat random collection of Memories & Nostalgia.  Sadly, he had no Erie Canal Fest souvenirs, but there was a Brewer & Shipley 8 track tape, a scary Smokey the Bear TV clip, and lots of Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassady and other western movie memorabilia.  Also, things from the baseball film, "A League of Their Own".   His display of old automotive oil filters didn't leave us breathless, but we agree that history shouldn't be stuffy, and since he's put it together upstairs from his cabinet shop on virtually no budget at all, why complain?  And Don's $2 in the donation box may be the first such bill the museum's yet seen.

No music in the van today, just stories about who Don saw at the festival-- basically it was Cheech & Chong, Ravi Shankar & Pure Prairie League (separately, not together.)  And eating some Dinty Moore Beef Stew.  He wasn't a vegetarian then.  Oh, and another fine change-finding day--75 cents behind the newspaper rack!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

here's how it all begins

Pretty provocative, huh?  And really pretty vague.  But tomorrow, when our newest adventures in TV Weaseldom actually begin, it will all start to make sense.  Or not.

Big news, so far--Don found 76 cents in a Starbucks chair!  And our swanky Town & Country van (thanks to Jake at Avis) has back windows that actually roll down.  With new HD cameras and just enough knowledge to be dangerous, Indiana here we come.

Music in the van (besides some Heep on XM radio)
Randy Newman "Harps and Angels", Neko Case "Middle Cyclone," 
Alejandro Escovedo Tribute "Por Vida"