Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Then came 2020 A.D.
Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are. Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.
In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed…
After our tour of planes in Peru, we doubled back southward toward the city of Kokomo. No relation to the Beach Boys song, though I imagine residents got sick of the jokes thirty years ago, Kokomo’s name reputedly comes from Ma-Ko-Ko-Mo, a Miami tribesman whose name meant “black walnut”. Today it’s a big manufacturing town, a frequent generator of innovations in the automobile industry, and a bit of a tornado magnet. Famous faces from Kokomo include Survivor‘s Rupert Boneham; Norman Bridwell, creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog; Cool Hand Luke costar Strother Martin as the guard who utters the famous line; and teenage AIDS activist Ryan White. We’d never been to Kokomo and thought it was time to change that.
We brought a to-do list of small but mighty businesses to check out, but hit a snag. We hadn’t spent enough time at Grissom Air Museum. When we arrived in Kokomo, every place we wanted to see wasn’t open yet. Bummer.
To pass the time and burn more calories — one of our secondary objectives for this vacation — we digressed to Foster Park, a modest place with the standard assortment of what one would expect to find in a city park with a few extra touches, some craftier than others. Exhibit A: Willie the Whale, star of our lead photo.
Willie began life as one of the original decorations at the first incarnation of our Indianapolis Zoo when it opened in 1964 out on the east side. The creation of an artist named Richard F. Kishel, Willie once had a working blowhole and an aquarium in his mouth. Those special features eventually faltered, but he stood on display till our zoo Mark I shut down in 1987. I visited the original location once as a kid. I don’t remember Willie, but I remember reading an early-’80s National Geographic book about the new concept of open-range zoos, then went to our zoo and found myself depressed by its oppressive use of archaic tiny cages with concrete floors.
The zoo moved to its present digs and much more generous and humane enclosures in 1988. By then Willie had moved on. Over the next 22 years his environs would change as he changed ownership. His travels would take him to another zoo, a water park, a miniature golf course, and at one point a police impound in Rushville. In May 2019 Willie moved to his new forever home in Foster Park, where children and unaccompanied adults can play on him anytime when there isn’t a pandemic raging.
Other park amenities include the Kokomo Arts Pavilion performance stage, a playground, a gazebo, tennis courts, basketball courts, a softball diamond, and a skate park added last year. We didn’t traverse the entire perimeter of the park and missed a lot of that. Meanwhile where we did go, life of a sort went on.
…and then we got the heck out of there as more walkers began to arrive for their noontime workouts.
To be continued!
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