Thursday, August 28, 2003

Corn & Soy Blog.

The Chicago-Indy run is about 180 miles, or three hours with the Interstate equivalent of a fair wind at your back, which is almost never the case until you escape the greater Chicago hive and its thick and gooey traffic. The exact place at which this happens is a little hard to pinpoint, though it's somewhere south of a town called Crown Point, Indiana, which 15 or so miles south of Gary. This is where the suburbs finally peter out, becoming the exurbs, and then even they peter out. From there, trending southeastward on I-65, you get farms, usually of the corn and soybean variety.

It's one of the duller Interstate drives that I know. It's flat, one corn field looks very much like any other, and there aren't many other things to engage the eye. Still, doing this run in summer is better than winter, since flat greenfields are better than flat brownfields -- to use that term in its literal sense, not its real estate meaning (that is, abandoned industrial sites).

Why not get off the Interstate, hit the Blue Highways, see the real America? As far as the Chicago-Indy run goes, there are problems with that line of facile thinking. There are two feasible non-Interstate alternatives, US 41 south to US 52, which goes to Lafayette, and then to Indy (all four-lane divided highways); or the two-lane US 231, which starts out west of the Interstate, meanders to the east of it, crosses it again a few times and ultimately connects with US 52 or US 136 for the final run into Indy.

The first option would probably add two hours to the trip, while the second would add three or even fours hours, and for what? It isn't as if those roads run athwart the majestic Tippecanoe mountains, with a drive through the breathtaking Wabash Valley gorge. What you get on these US roads would be the same flatland occupied by corn and soybean farms, with the added bonus of slowing down in every one-stoplight town along the way. A red spotlight, when you get there.

That said, I would consider the US 41/52 route if I were alone, and if time weren't a constraint. You never know what you'll see on those lesser roads, even in corn and soy territory. A curiously painted silo. An ostrich ranch. An unexpected business in some small town: Newton County Taxidermy, Stuffed Dogs Our Specialty.

But this was a business trip. Gail, the magazine's associate publisher, was with me. We needed to take this trip with some semblance of efficiency, leaving Chicago on Monday afternoon, attending our first business function early Tuesday morning.

Which is not to say that we followed I-65 rigorously, and didn't see anything along the way. But that's a subject for tomorrow.


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