Chicago and Indiana

Photos from our trip, as seen by Instagram, which we experimented with this weekend. I don’t have a way to post simultaneously to Instagram and this site, so I’ll just have to duplicate for now.

Bloomington, Indiana

The snow here in Iowa held off until my plane was due to land in Cedar Rapids. We didn’t see the ground until we were fifty feet above it. I was returning from a business trip to Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington is not a whole lot different from Iowa City. They are about the same size and dominated by big state universities. Bloomington has a good collection of unusual “ethnic” restaurants (Burmese, Turkish, Tibetan, Afghani).

A woman watches a man bowl a ball in a bowling alley
We bowled after a long day of work.

Our workshop was at the Indiana Memorial Union at the university, which combined a hotel, meeting rooms, food court, and recreation center. “Hoosiers” played regularly on the hotel’s in-house movie channel. The recreation center included a bowling alley, of which my colleagues and I made use. I could have gotten away with not leaving the building until I left for the airport today, though that would have been a little unhealthy. The Indiana University campus is pretty: an august-looking collection of limestone Italianate-style buildings. It has lots of quadrangles.

A graveyard surrounds a limestone chapel on a university campus.
This pretty chapel and cemetery were just outside our meeting room.
Sculptures with elliptical bodies and dangling tentacles hang from airport ceiling.
Neither an airport nor Indianapolis seemed appropriate for jellyfish sculptures.

On the way to Bloomington, I arrived in Indianapolis for the first time. We had a good view of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as we landed. It’s big. The Indianapolis airport is not so enormous for a large city and felt a little empty. The spacious terminal is only a few years old. There are these weird jellyfish sculptures handing from the ceiling—not ugly, just out of place—and of course the obligatory light display in one of the connecting corridors that airports of big Midwestern cities seem to like so much.

An unoccupied ticket counter in a spacious new airport terminal.
The Indianapolis airport was spacious but empty.

I noticed some changes in the Detroit airport during my layover today: signs and announcements in Chinese. On previous trips I’ve noticed signs in Japanese; I presume these signs reflect either Detroit’s actual international trade or the trade it aspires to attract.

Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois

My move to Iowa was my first foray into the Midwest. While I’ve seen quite of bit of eastern Iowa and have traveled to Missouri and Nebraska, I still haven’t been to the industrial heartland around the Great Lakes. This week’s training course brought me to Ohio for the first time. On the drive back, I got to see a little more of Indiana and Illinois.

Three thin tree trunks partially obscure a red wooden covered bridge.
Three thin tree trunks partially obscure a red wooden covered bridge.

From time to time I’ve heard it said that Ohio is not in the Midwest, but the Northeast. Garrison Keillor might agree. What’s not urban and sprawling is either eastern deciduous forest or small farms. There is definitely more New York and Pennsylvania in the land than Iowa and Kansas.

An upholstered armchair with uneven arms designed for hanging one's legs over the edge.
An upholstered armchair with uneven arms designed for hanging one\’s legs over the edge.

After class let out we took a short jaunt to James A. Garfield National Historic Site in nearby Mentor. Garfield’s house, like his biography, is much distorted by his assassination. Substantial donations to his widow expanded the already large Victorian farm mansion. The addition is mostly a spacious library for the late president’s book collection. Garfield himself slouched over a small armchair–custom designed for hanging his legs over one of the arms–in his study on the other side of the house.

We stayed Friday night in Indiana and dropped in on Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which abuts the grungy industrial city of Gary. Having lived and worked along Atlantic and Gulf coasts, I am not easily impressed with beaches. The lake beaches lack something that the ocean beaches have even in the dead of winter. Maybe it’s the crashing waves and the salt air.

A blue lake reaches the horizon, as seen from the top of a massive sand dune.
A blue lake reaches the horizon, as seen from the top of a massive sand dune.

We went to Mount Baldy, a massive dune bare of vegetation that is an environmental disaster: thousands of people climbing it and trampling its plants have turned the dune into a roving blob of sand. Driven by the lake wind, it is creeping at a glacial rate southward. In my imagination it will slowly roll across Indiana, devouring everything in its path. In fact it is so gradual that right now it only threatens to bury the parking lot behind it. The park is trying to stabilize it by planting dune grasses, but this effort appears puny. Beware!

The Sears Tower and other lesser but still massive office buildings front the lake.
The Sears Tower and other lesser but still massive office buildings front the lake.

From there we drove back to Iowa via Chicago. The corridor along Lake Michigan between Gary and Chicago is the landscape of industrial might. People sneer at Gary as a living museum of urban blight, but they at least they make useful things. Ought the gleaming financial centers that produce nothing but worthless paperwork assets be the new objects of disgust?

Speaking of gleaming financial centers, we made a quick detour along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. From the impressive museum campus, I snapped some photos of the city’s office towers. The Sears Tower, now known as Willis, appears undiminished by the renaming.