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Birthday 43: a Road Trip for Comics, Art, and History

Freimann Square Park!

Freimann Square Park, an eminently photogenic city block in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

It’s that time of year again! As of today I’m now 43 years old and trying not to obsess on the fact that I know at least three different guys who died at that exact age, including a near-forgotten high school acquaintance who popped up in last Thursday’s Obituaries section of the local paper.

…CUT. Forget that paragraph. Maybe we’ll set that aside for another, drearier time. Let’s start over.

For the last few years, my wife and I have spent our respective birthdays together finding some new place or attraction to visit as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on this most wondrous day, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. My 2015 birthday destination of choice: the city of Fort Wayne, some 100+ miles northeast of here. It’s home to several manufacturing concerns, one major insurance company, a selection of buildings with historical importance to the locals, and a small comic book convention I’d never heard of before this year. We checked out the area, we found ways to enjoy ourselves, we got some much-needed exercise, and we took photos.

First and foremost was the convention in question, my primary objective: the Appleseed Comic Con, held at the Grand Wayne Convention Center. We’ll cover that in Part Two of this four-part MCC miniseries.

Appleseed @ Grand Wayne!

The Grand Wayne Convention Center was much larger than we expected. The con itself, a bit smaller. But we’ll get to that.

Fort Wayne boasts a population over 250,000, naming rights taken from a 1794 fort established by notorious Revolutionary General “Mad Anthony Wayne”, and a downtown that seemed to contain more parking garages per capita than any other Indiana city we’ve visited. For our time in town, all-day event parking was $4.00. Too bad Chicago hasn’t had any garages posting such rates since the nineteenth century.

Across the street from the con: another addition to my marquee collection, though digital models like this seem rare.

Embassy Marquee!

We passed on the Gordon Lightfoot tickets, but if you’re a fan, the line forms here.

We experienced the con for a while, then excused ourselves for a self-guided walking tour of downtown Fort Wayne. The folks on duty at their Visitors Center were friendly and engaging, one of them was a fellow geek, and we picked up a few handy tips that bore fruit later. I had a few ideas in mind for potential lunch stops, but had trouble making up my mind.

Two different restaurants seem to headline their tourism brochures and booklets: one of them, Coney Island, has been in business under the same family ownership since 1916. I’m told they’re renowned for their old-school hot dogs and hamburgers, presumably just like the carnies at your favorite childhood amusement park used to make. That sounds right, anyway. We wouldn’t know for sure because the place only seats about fifteen people and was packed to capacity.

Coney Island!

I imagine the cigar store was less crowded. We didn’t think to check there.

A few blocks west is the city’s other celebrated establishment, the old-fashioned Cindy’s Diner, which has been serving the city on one corner or another since at least 1953. It’s been picked up by its foundations and physically relocated more than once. They’re open till 2 p.m. every day and sell breakfast and sandwiches from open to closing time. That’s my understanding, anyway. We wouldn’t know for sure because the place only seats about twelve people and was packed nearly to capacity. We saw one (1) open stool, but I didn’t feel like fighting my wife for it. She’d win and I’d starve, and no birthday boy deserves such an unfair fate.

Cindy's Diner!

Cindy’s Diner, home of a really distinguished blue-plate special, probably!

After being turned away at two doors in a row, we took refuge at Toscani Pizzeria, which had more seating than Cindy’s and Coney’s combined, and they were less than half full. We opted for sandwiches rather than pizza, but their portions were generous, dense, and easily worth the price. We forgot to take photos, but we did take leftover cheesy breadsticks with us.

From there we walked three blocks east to their History Center, paid admission and learned a bit more about our surroundings. Those’ll be Part Three of this series, but here’s their view of the Fort Wayne skyline from a second-story window.

Fort Wayne Skyline!

Admittedly, the trees muddle the effect, but Fort Wayne is one of the few Indiana cities to contain at least one verifiable skyscraper.

More artifices are presently in the works. Construction sites occupied a few blocks and promised bigger, better, brighter tomorrows.

Cranes

The cranes in Fort Wayne are plainly not in vain.

We walked and walked and walked, remembered how out of shape we are, vowed to prepare ourselves before it’s time for more walking on our next vacation, and strolled past a few random buildings upholding architectural character of bygone eras.

City-County Building!

Their local City-County Building.

Allen County Courthouse!

The Allen County Courthouse. We’re suckers for domed buildings.

Anthony Wayne Building!

“Mad Anthony” Wayne had quite a few large objects named after him, even though he was from Pennsylvania. None of those objects kept the “Mad” modifier that our grade-school teachers insisted was crucial to his legacy,

Freimann Square Park was a pleasant surprise, sitting next door to the Fort Wayne Art Museum and containing sights of its own, including a pleasant, forceful fountain in the center.

Fountain!

Yay nature and greenery! Curiously, Google Maps misspells it as “Friemann”, but Fort Wayne tourism officials insist on “Freimann”.

Nearby, volunteers from local charity Fort4Fitness were cleaning up after a Saturday morning relay race that had just wound down. One forthright citizen struck up conversation with us and cheerfully offered details about what we’d missed and added his welcoming remarks to those we’d received at the Visitors Center. Really a friendly city.

We didn’t come across many shopping opportunities downtown except for a selection of pop-up boutiques holed up in an unused building for the day. We peeked inside and found mostly fashions for other demographics, gourmet popcorn, and a very special snack shop that also had a presence at the Appleseed Comic Con. More about them in Part Two, too.

Pop-Up Boutiques!

I’d read about pop-up boutiques happening in other large cities in other states. I have no idea why Indianapolis seems to have none of these, unless they’re simply flying below our radar.

That was basically our Saturday, except for a disastrous dinner experience that occurred hours later and nowhere near Fort Wayne. We’ll set that and the issue of my lifespan aside for now. Sunday, my actual birthday, was packed with church, a birthday party for a younger relative, special pizza dinner, the Mad Men series finale, and birthday gifts from the greatest wife of all times, with whom I hope to spend the next 40-50 years, at least 25 of which I promise not to waste on hairline obsessing, youth recapture, or peer mortality rates.

To be continued! (I mean both this series and my birthdays, Lord willing. Maybe I should see if Fort4Fitness has local chapters.)

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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