I can feel our annual trip to Indiana coming on. Stories of earlier trips are rushing to my mind. They’re disasters, of course. But what other stories do I tell?
Every summer, or so, Dr. M and I, and sometimes our kids, leave the fantasy world of Hollywood and travel to a place where they grow corn. Our vacation home is a tiny log cabin on Chickadee Trail. Nearest municipality: Michigan City, Indiana, about sixty-five miles south and east of Chicago. Michigan City is the proud home of the Indiana State prison, where John Dillinger was a nine-year guest, and out of which three prisoners recently escaped. Our hope is that they’re recaptured before we arrive.
(Dr. M informs me that when she was a child – the cabin has been in her family her entire life – there was a sign outside Indiana State Prison that read: “Please do not pick up hitchhikers.”)
Tomorrow, I’ll regale you with a medley of “arrival surprises”, unexpected challenges that have greeted us over the years when we showed up. The cabin is unoccupied fifty weeks of the year (Vandals: Please Ignore), so we never know what condition we’ll find it in. In our experience, the least likely condition for us to find it in is perfect.
Maybe this time.
Whenever we’re in Indiana, we like to scour the area’s newspapers for interesting things to do. (I also enjoy reading the local Crime Report column. Big headline: “Missing Ladder.”)
Sometimes there’s a county fair in the vicinity, where you can eat “elephant ears” and see miniature horses. (I have no idea why those things even exist. It’s like geneticists are just fooling around.) Sometimes, there’s a small circus playing, where a girl leaves the crowds breathless by twirling two-dozen Hula Hoops at the same time.
Sometimes, we run into an encampment of re-enactors. Last summer, we not only enjoyed Civil War re-enactors, we also met a guy impersonating obscure president, Benjamin Harrison, and another guy who not only dressed as, but who boastfully claimed, “I am Farragut!”
We’ve seen Tall Ships. Well, not really tall, but Medium Height Ships. We visited a “fur trappers’ encampment”, where men were decked out like Nineteenth Century courreurs du bois (runners of the woods). Indiana people, I don’t know, they seem to have time on their hands for some serious obsessions.
Anyway, on one trip, as we neared the end of our stay, we read this:
“'Lovin’ Spoonful' To Play At Hammond Fairgrounds”
That was big news! Not only are we fans of The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Daydream”, “Summer In The City”, “Do You Believe In Magic?”), but I once worked with the band’s original leader, John Sebastian. When I was casting the lead role for a sitcom I created called Family Man, Sebastian was one of the two finalists for the part. (The role ultimately went to Richard Libertini.)
I remember John Sebastian being friendly and easygoing and kind. (Even after I didn’t give him the job.) He’d frequently call me when he was in town, and we and our spouses would go out for dinner. It seemed as if like Sebastian, I don’t know, actually wanted to hang out. Rock ‘n roll icons don’t call me that often. So I’m a little goofy about writing about it.
Anyway, the guy’s in the neighborhood – Hammond, Indiana – which is something like, twenty miles from Chicago. It seemed like a fated arrangement. We were scheduled to drive into Chicago that night. We could stop off at Hammond and take in the show. Maybe go backstage and say hello. Have a late dinner together at one of Hammond’s finer eateries.
This was really exciting!
The Hammond Fairgrounds? We had no idea. It could be some vast open field, a gathering place for some massive outdoor concert. Who knows? We could be walking into another Woodstock.
We load up the car, lock up the cabin and we take to the road. It’s raining. But nothing can dampen our spirits. (Or at least mine.) We’re catchin’ The Lovin’ Spoonful in Hammond, Indiana. Maybe there’ll be commemorative t-shirts!
The drive to Hammond is about forty-five minutes. The rain’s coming down harder. We have considerable trouble finding the fairgrounds. Younger family members lobby for ditching the concert and going straight to Chicago. They are gently overruled. Finally, we spot an illuminated Ferris wheel in the storm-darkened sky.
Hammond Fairgrounds, here we come!
We park on the road across the street, and we get out of the car. By now, the rain’s pelting down in sheets. We’re soaked to the skin in thirty seconds. I find this hilarious. (Though no one else does.) I’m certain John Sebastian thinks it’s funny too.
A concert in a downpour. Rain-soaked memories. Maybe it would inspire another hit.
"I’m soaked to the skin
Singin’ to you
Raindrops drippin’ off my nose
And fallin’ on my shoe…"
Okay, maybe not that, but adversity often spawns creativity. The downpour triggers talk of getting back in the car, but I say we have to stay. We owe it to John Sebastian. Hey, I didn’t hire him, and he was still nice to me. That’s worthy of some loyalty, isn’t it?
The fairgrounds are instantly disheartening. Cheesy games and rickety rides. And there’s nobody there. It all seems a little sad. Big star performing at a place like this. Hopefully, the concert venue would be more impressive.
We slosh through the monsoon, heading towards the mellow strains of, “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?”, with its steady rhythm and its signature harmonies. The recognized song rekindles my enthusiasm. This is gonna be fun.
We arrive at the concert area. I look around. Maybe five hundred seats. Less than twenty people in the audience. Sure, it’s raining, but this is pathetic.
The bleak turnout makes it even more vital to offer moral support. We wipe off the seats, and we sit down. We won’t stay long, I assure my rain-soaked family. We can barely see the stage through the deluge.
“…Make Up Your Mind” ends to scattered but, at least from me, enthusiastic applause. The lead singer steps up to introduce the next number, and as he’s speaking, I think I hear him say, “When I was the Lighting Director for The Lovin’ Spoonful…”
At which point, I immediately suspect that the band we are being entertained by is The Lovin’ Spoonful
in name only.
I pick up a waterlogged program off the ground. I start to read. Yup. It was just as I thought. Some of the players had connections to the original Lovin’ Spoonful, though not necessarily musical ones. Lighting Director. Back-up drummer. Ticket manager. Now they were the band.
There was not one original members of The Lovin’ Spoonful on that stage.
John Sebastian was nowhere in the vicinity.
The drive to Chicago was quiet that night. Silent recriminations, and a dripping from the hair.
A torrential rainfall. No John Sebastian. And a band of no-name replacements. You just have to laugh, I told my family.
But they weren’t in the mood.