In my tent, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of Indiana, I was awake and I was alone … not lonely, alone. Traveling across the US was doing what I had intended to do and I was more than half-way. This was not a painful ‘alone’, rather a sought-after, peaceful, contented ‘alone’. In the quiet and darkness of my mountain tent, thoughts turned to a childhood throughout which I enjoyed company of a large, diverse group of people, typical of a gregarious Italian-American family setting, but where I could, at times, remain by myself without feeling the need for company. As a kid, I learned the value of being by myself from time to time, sometimes for many hours at a time and not being a part of someone else’s doings. I knew how good it was to do as I pleased without having to consider reactions, feelings, or emotions of some other person … to not seek approval nor fear disapproval of whatever it was I would be doing, whether it was singing off-key, reading, or making farting sounds with my mouth on the back of my hand. It seemed I had always been pretty good company for myself, and never experienced a deep ’lonely’, as I knew other people did at times. Liking the person, oneself, that you’re alone with, is a key to enjoying solitude, I supposed. But no outside person enjoyed my strange or illogical ideas or ridiculous little jokes more than I did. Being alone allowed time and space for dreaming. Vaguely, I remembered a day, perhaps at age five or six or seven years, when I realized how ‘unlonely’ being by oneself could be, but could not remember circumstances leading to that discovery. Being alone was a gift I gave myself from time to time. Occasionally, a friend or family member, would become irritated at my self-containment, my not feeling need for contact. And I might act slightly remorseful when that occurred, but it wouldn’t be a sincere reaction, since I so enjoyed vacations from people. Now a question in my mind concerned those few people I had known who could not stand being alone, even for short periods of time. If they found themselves in that situation, they would start the TV, and sometimes also turn on radio to produce the illusion of having company. A few past friends had that trait, which I had found so peculiar, a little pathetic in fact. Those friendships had fast faded, probably because of my need to seek distance. I wondered what kind of mental quirk had driven their need. Was that somehow similar to the incessant need to talk? This was getting too deep for me, having always felt that being in poor company was far worse than being alone, and further, that constant talking was far worse than silence.
Not having a watch was a plus. Time of night was unimportant. Getting more sleep was important. Having just experienced surging energy and positivity of Chicago, I had decided not to investigate Indianapolis or Cincinnati thinking they would pale in a comparison to that remarkable place, the Windy City, the nickname Chicago carried. Both cities, of course, were well-known. Both would have a number of interesting attractions. My decision was to bypass both. Whether that was ‘fair’ or not was not a consideration. It was my selection since I could not experience every city or town I encountered. Now on the outskirts of Indianapolis, I would head toward Cincinnati, but not explore it. An early morning start would face me directly into the sun. A later start would be better. Back to snoozing. And if any premature bird chirping awakened me, I would shoot that sweet little creature with my pointed finger and a verbal ‘ka-pow’ (since I had good aim it would require only one shot).
Eventually, Morning said “OK, you’ve had enough of that horizontal stuff. Let’s see what you can do today.” Morning had been delayed somewhat because of the thickness of my tree cover allowing dark to last a little longer. Dressed, dragged the sleeping bag out of the tent, flapped it around and draped it over the tent to air it out. Drank some cold coffee (better than last time) and ate three cookies (always an exquisite experience). Coffee and cookies, another well-balanced meal and a king’s breakfast for sure. Packed up camp. Finished a few last swallows of coffee, dumped grounds on the ground and scattered them. Put the pot away unwashed (I’d clean it next time). Tied everything onto the scooter, covered up the latrine, and then a final look to insure the campsite was OK. Since no fire was used, I felt safe about that. Time to move out.
Back to Route 421 which intersected with I-70, part of that new interstate system, and a little farther south intersected with well-traveled Route 40. , both of which were part of a dozen or more highways radiating outward from Indianapolis. I was looking for Route 52 which would take me south and eastward toward southwest Ohio, where Cincinnati rested on the banks of the Ohio river, a little over 100 miles away. New I-70 highway roughly paralleled old Route 40. My guess was that devastation of businesses along Route 40 would be enormous. Small towns might wither and die also. It was probably a dirty political game which determined a new highway’s routing, which towns might have an exit, which would be bypassed completely. Here was Route 52, which I would travel this morning. A moderately cool, slightly hazy morning, light breezes at my back. In the 100 miles before Cincinnati, there would be a dozen or more towns to pass by or through. How many would still exist after a major highway was installed? Initially, our new interstate highway system was justified on military alertness or preparedness grounds. Was that just a selling tool for the Eisenhower White House? My guess was that the military aspect was greatly compromised as politicians applied their sleaze-laced pressures to any plan.
About halfway to Cincinnati, was a town called Rushville, Indiana. I had never heard of it. There was a good indication that at least 7000 people had heard of it since they lived there. A stop for coffee. Temporarily at least, I was heading more eastward than southward in an effort to get closer to western edges of the Appalachian Mountains, which would have more variation than this flat farmland, of which I was a bit weary. Something so enjoyable, however, about some pastures, was seeing horses when they were frolicking. I would take a break, maybe have a smoke and watch these fine-looking animals. Never had much involvement with horses, but appreciated a picture they often presented. Remarkably powerful animals. A group of a half-dozen were dancing out there in a pasture, and jumping around. I pulled over to watch for a while. I was heading into Kentucky and then Tennessee and would certainly see horses there. Back on the scooter, and driving another few miles and I stopped at a small diner, where having pancakes and coffee was uneventful. Had a smoke and a stretch and was soon on the road toward Cincinnati, though I would turn southward before I reached it. That was the intent. Cincinnati took its name from one of mankind’s 100 best people ever. Of course, that 100 number is my arbitrary number, but Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was twice given total control of Ancient Rome (about 500 years BC) and twice gave power back to the Roman Senate when his task was complete and returned to his farm. This splendid man is worth researching. That is in stark contrast to most politicians of our day, who seem to be primarily interested in making nice comfy nests for themselves and screw the public. My mini-rants would occur at moderate intervals as the reliable Lambretta made its steady way across the terrain. Sometimes I’d shout my opinions out loud with sufficiently bad language to give them some emphasis, but have never had any response from anyone on the highway. I could easily have avoided Ohio completely since I was just catching a small corner of it. I decided that it would be beneficial to be able, one day, to say, “Oh yes, I’ve really enjoyed Ohio and can appreciate the splendid efforts of those fine citizens there.” Now, when would that sentence ever be used? Well, if I ever ran for Presidency of the United States, it would behoove me to have been in such an important state. Rather slim chance of my presidency, but one never knows.
Crossed into Ohio and found myself in Harrison County, named after our 9th US President. Time for a little road map and cookie break. Edith in Memphis had provided the atlas and Edith in Chicago had packed the cookies. Had previously considered taking Route 25 southward through Kentucky toward Lexington, but first I had to find my way across the Ohio River. Decided I would do that. First, savor three beautiful little cookies from Chicago. That convenient little road atlas was five or six years out of date, and showed none of the new Interstate system. Well, it would be just as easy to follow signs to Kentucky’s Route 25 or signs to Lexington, Kentucky to eventually head southward to Atlanta, Georgia. That city was about 500 miles away, but my intent was to wander a bit in Kentucky and Tennessee. We would see, we would see. Following signs took me close enough to the center of Cincinnati to encounter a fair amount of traffic congestion, fairly fast-moving congestion at that. Time for a little tension and raising of blood pressure readings. Finally, on the bridge crossing the Ohio River and magically, I was in Kentucky’s northernmost part.
After a little confusion of route numbers going through the town of Florence, I did finally find myself on Route 25, heading south into what I guessed might be Bourbon Country … except there was no real demarcation, no specifically defined area of Kentucky or Tennessee which was legally designated as a ‘Bourbon’ area, though there was at least one county named Bourbon County. In my young life, previous to moving to Arizona, I had had some monumental encounters and legendary involvements with Bourbon or US corn-based whiskies. I had done most of my drinking while under-aged and genuinely enjoyed drinking whiskey. Now, at age 21 and finally able to drink legally, I had reduced my alcoholic consumption to one or two drinks per week, not quite a teetotaler but close. Still loved the taste of the US and Canadian whiskeys, but was no longer seeking the effect of alcohol to any degree. Still, I felt a natural affinity for any area that produced it. In truth, Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US as long as it is derived from mash which is at least 51 percent corn. There are other restrictions as well. In fact, I knew that one of the better-known bourbons, Jack Daniels Tennessee Sour Mash, was not officially a bourbon, but legal niceties are cast aside when holding a small glass with a fine-tasting whiskey casting that warm, honey-colored glow.
It had taken about an hour to make a transition from traffic congestion of Cincinnati to placid, now rural, countryside of northern Kentucky. The terrain was not flat farmland which I had forever driven across. This area had more texture, and because of it, roads were not nearly as straight. And there were hills to look up into, and down from. We were in Bluegrass country, not necessarily referring to the style of music (though that should not be excluded), but rather to the grass growing in this heavily limestone soil. Excellent quality grass due to its calcium content. And that, in turn, made for strong, sturdy, healthy horses. Leaving towns behind, horse farms appeared more frequently.
Now, how could anybody on tour, any adventurer, explorer, scooterist , manage to travel hither and yon in the state of Kentucky and not get to see part of the Red River Gorge, famous for its natural arches and cliffs of sandstone. Well, I managed to miss it completely. This was a rock climber’s paradise and I had missed it by twenty-five miles, not knowing it existed. Of course, had I known and visited, I would have missed the girl scout troop. Tell you about that in a few paragraphs.
Lexington, Kentucky, toward which I was aiming, was named after the Massachusetts’ Lexington, as were towns in perhaps a half-dozen other states. This Kentucky Lexington, about 60,000 population, was notable for a number of reasons, one being its efforts to preserve thoroughbred horse farms from being overrun by urban development. However, I first knew of Lexington as a place for alcohol and drug rehab efforts at The Narcotic Farm, rather than any horse farm. This was a federal facility for treatment of drug-addicts, some well-known, others not. It was a prison, some inmates sent there by court order, others just signed themselves in. It was among the first facilities to treat drug addiction as a disease rather than a crime. I had first learned of it because one of my favorite author/storytellers, Alexander King, had ‘done Lexington’ two or three times, and talked about it in his book ‘Mine Enemy Grows Older.’ Before that, in ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ by Nelson Algren, character ‘Frankie the Machine’ goes through detox there in Lexington. I soon became aware that quite a few authors, poets, and especially jazz musicians, famous and obscure, went through the program at the Narcotic Farm. Started in the mid-1930s, there were musicians from several decades that had stayed there. From a saxophone player in Tucson, I had heard Lexington had witnessed some of the greatest jazz ever performed, with so many excellent musicians there for rehab, and encouragement to continue their music, often with instruments supplied by the hospital/prison. I asked if there were any recordings of these sessions. He said he didn’t think any recording was being done, at least not while he was there in the middle 1950s. Why are musicians so prone to this sort of thing? Or … is that not a valid question? Is addiction more noticed when an entertainer or artist or poet is involved rather than a cab driver or an accountant or a firefighter?
About 20 miles north of Lexington, taking a smoke break, I noticed a sign to Sadieville. That struck me as being an interesting name. Should I turn off and see? Hell yes I should. Field-stripping the cigarette, I got back onto Tony Lambretta and putted the very short distance to Sadieville, population 300, but … believe it or not, it had a post office, which I supposed was one of the local points of interest. On that little road was a sign which said Eagle Crek Camp, shours, $0.50, cleen (sic). Now how could I possibly pass up that opportunity? I had already driven more than 150 miles that day. That was enough. Time to camp and to read while there was daylight. Putted through the gate and into the campground, which looked clean and orderly, each campsite area, about ten of them, having rake marks where it had been groomed. Turned around and putted over to a small house with an office sign out front. Middle-aged woman came out the door from her screened porch and said “Hello, how’re you doing?” Pleasant lady. We talked for a minute or two, and she said before she took my money, she had to warn me there was a Girl Scout Troop that would be camping here and she could not guarantee a quiet place for tonight. Fair enough warning I thought, and told her I’d take my chances. She suggested any of the sites on my right since the girls would be on the left side. In less than an hour, my camp was ready, my shower was done, and a small fire had been started under a pot of coffee. Now, time to sit down, sip that coffee, and read from one of two books I had going at the time … “I, Robot” and “Sirens of Titan.” Digging into the scooter trunk, I noted the paper bag with what felt like a dozen Italian cookies, which meant that Edith had packed more than I had asked for. Maybe later I’d have a few. Don’t want them to go bad. Had read “Sirens” for a little less than an hour, and had just finished sipping two cups of coffee, and preparing the pot for morning use when two large station wagons pulled into the campground. Must be cavalry coming to the rescue. No, it was the Girl Scouts.
Yes, except there were six or eight Brownie troops or the local equivalent of ‘Almost a Girl Scout’, two teenage real girl scouts, and two adults, probably a dozen in all. I couldn’t help myself … I had to watch as they started setting up one larger tent and two smaller ones. They had brought some firewood and charcoal, and got a good-sized fire going in one of the fireplaces. Some of the group had gone off to the Eagle Creek and their voices echoed back to the camp from somewhere in the woods. I continued reading and half dozed off, and started reading again. An adult, a teen, and one of the little ones walked toward my campsite and as I stood up, the teen said, “Hello. We were wondering if that was the kind of scooter which was in the ‘Spanish Holiday’ movie.” I said, “Hello Ladies, yes, that movie is called ‘Roman Holiday’ and this scooter is almost exactly what you saw except that I installed this big metal box at the back, so it causes the scooter to look a little peculiar.” The littlest of the three noticed the Arizona license plate, sounded out A-ri-zon-a, and asked if I had come from there. The other two moved around so they could see it. Of course, questions started and I answered as best I could considering there were three very different ages to talk to. Little one said she knew where Arizona was and it was far out west with ‘real’ cowboys and it was next to Mexico and did I ever go to Mexico? I answered yes, and, as a matter of fact, I had driven this scooter to Mexico a few times. She took the woman’s hand and pulled her arm downward and whispered something, after which the woman said “What a good idea!” Big smile on the little girl as the woman in charge says “We are cooking some camp stew, will you join us for supper?” Laughing, I say “When three pretty ladies ask me to supper, do you think I could possibly refuse?” The little one says “Yippee!” and claps her hands. The teen says, “It’ll be about an hour. Is that OK”? I answer “Excellent! Thank You!” Then she asked if it would be OK if the other girls wandered over to take a look at the scooter. No problem.
For an hour, I tidied up my campsite between visits from girls across the way, and brief explanations of what I was doing on this trip. Over to the bathhouse and washed my hands again, got the flashlight where I could reach it easily, dug the cookies out of the scooter trunk (exactly a dozen remaining) and put them in my jacket pocket, secured my tent opening to prevent any occupation by visiting critters in my absence. Sat down, had a smoke, then brushed my teeth once again. Just as daylight was fading into twilight, the teen and the one I now call Little One, walked toward my tentsite, and said, “C’mon Rosano, sir. Supper is ready.”
Reaching their campsite, one of the adults introduced me to each of the others, and we gently shook hands all around. They had brought folding wood and canvas campstools, arranged now in a semi-circle, and I was directed to sit in one as they all took a seat. One of the teens made a few brief comments about our gathering, thanked the Lord for bringing them a guest to share their food, and then she mentioned that two young girls would serve. There would be a main course of their ‘campground’ stew, along with a platter of cut up vegetables and another platter of sliced meats and cheeses and bread. And the speaker said that somehow their signals got crossed and everyone thought someone else had brought dessert, so there was, unfortunately, no dessert. And through my mind goes the thought, Great! With my little sack of Italian cookies, the fit would be perfect. We were each given a small tray and utensils to put on our laps, then the two young servers went from chair to chair with bowls of soups, and then a small plate was distributed, and the platters of veggies and meat were passed. The food was simple, but nutritious, I guessed.
And as we finished, one of the adult women said that two of the little ones would gather up the dishes and while that was happening, the rest of the troop would sing a camp song to honor their guest. She explained to me that this was a newly-formed troop, only a few weeks old, and they hadn’t had much time to practice, but they would try. One of the teens had a pitch pipe and got the song started. Someone put a few more pieces of wood on their campfire. The troop did a credible job of two-part harmony on the song which was totally unfamiliar to me. It sounded okay and, of course, I marveled at it and gave a one-man round of applause. The woman then asked if I would give a talk about my scooter and my trip across America. Certainly, I would. Standing and facing the semi-circle, I talked for no more than ten minutes about the trip, mentioning Tucson, Albuquerque, Denver, New Orleans and Chicago, saying that the next city to be visited was Lexington, just a few miles away. And they could find these places on a map when they got back home. Also there was a little surprise that had been carried all the way from Chicago just for such an occasion as this little campout. Reaching into my jacket, and withdrawing the paper sack, and removing the four little packages, I asked if anyone could guess what there might be inside. After two or three incorrect guesses, I announced that we really did have dessert and it was Italian Cookies, the best in the world. They were small and should be eaten slowly. Two packages to each of the teens for distribution. The young girls ate their cookies a nibble at a time and confirmed that they were the best cookies they had ever had. Did they have any questions … about my trip or the cookies or anything? The Little One raised her hand and asked if I knew how to sing. Sure, I said, everyone knows how to sing. Some just do it a little better than others. She then said that they had sung a song for me, could I sing a song for them? Sure, but they had to promise not to laugh too much at me. She looked around and then said “We promise. Cross our hearts.” So I sang the old song “When You’re Smiling.” (The Whole World Smiles with You). That earned me a little round of clapping and I bowed deeply. “OK, next, my turn.” I said, “Do you girls know how to sing a round?” One of them spun in a circle and started singing and I said. “Close, but not quite. Want to learn?” A bunch of yesses. “Well, it’s a simple tune and it’s called ‘White Coral Bells.’ And you’ll remember this song forever and ever and that way you’ll remember the scooter and Rosano, too. So we began. Sang it once myself, then with the group all together two or three times. Then the group was divided into two parts, with me making sure an adult and a teen was included in each segment. In less than fifteen minutes, they knew it and were doing a beautiful job with it.
White Coral Bells
Upon a slender stalk
Lilies of the valley line my garden walk
Oh, don’t you wish that you might hear them ring?
That will happen only when the angels sing.
Kids are the greatest. There is nothing on earth more rewarding than witnessing children learn something useful or interesting or learning something just simply beautiful. And so quietly thrilling to hear them. I suggested they try a three-part round, but not now, not this evening, maybe tomorrow, because now it was time for me to say goodnight, that I would start early in the morning, so I should return to my tent and get ready to sleep. I shook hands with the adults and the teens and a few of the kids gave me a little hug and Little One pulled me down to her level and gave me a quick little smooch on the cheekbone. Man, I thought I’d start getting emotional if I stayed, so I waved ‘Good Night’ and with my flashlight unlit, walked into the darkness.