2020 Road Trip Photos #28: Kokomo-a-Go-Go

Barack Obama alley art!

Flashback to calmer times. Alley art by Jules Muck, a.k.a. Muckrock.

I like art. I like very specific kinds of shopping. I like taking walks around non-bland areas. Downtown Kokomo held opportunities for all that and then some.

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…

Full credit where it’s due: the idea for our next road-trip stop came from Hoosier blogger Tony Troxell, proprietor of Geeking in Indiana. He’s a fully licensed and bonded geek, a networker non pareil, and a most proficient proponent of local geek businesses and events of interest to fellow hobbyists statewide. If someone from Indiana is selling or making nifty stuff for our peoples in Indiana, he’s there. We’ve never spoken in person even though we live in the same state, but a few of this site’s past experiences happened thanks to his alerts to the public at large.

(I once recognized him from a distance at a con in Fort Wayne, but he was a bit far away and speeding the other direction. I figured we’d catch him later. This plan failed.)

Years ago he spread the word about a concentrated block of businesses along Sycamore Street in Kokomo nicknamed “Geek Street”, where readers, listeners, and watchers can add to their multimedia collections and maybe make a friend or two along the way. Once upon a time I could count on our local shopping malls serving this purpose. Then every mall in Indy watched helplessly as their chain bookstores, music stores, and Kay Bee Toys collectively went out of business, to be replaced by more shoe stores, sportswear peddlers, abandoned storefronts, and crime. In recent years I’ve averaged maybe one indoor mall visit per year, usually to buy Christmas stocking stuffers and my next year’s calendar, because Anne and I are “still using a paper calendar for all our scheduling” years old.

I loved the concept of an entire city block devoted to recapturing the magic of the magic that malls once held for me, born the son of a mallrat. A video arcade would’ve made it even better, but I’ll take what I can get. For a couple of glorious hours, we enjoyed the long-lost joy of our kind of shopping. Value-added bonus: we found also art here and there around town along our path.

Kokomo sculpture!

See? Art! A 2016 creation by Ray Katz called “Astral Projection Yellow”, loaned to the city since 2019.

After driving a few laps around in vain for a parking space, eventually we found a free garage and left the car behind. We made a quick stop across the street to avail ourselves of the facilities at Kokomo City Hall….which I’m learning after the fact may not actually have been open to the public on account of pandemic. Nothing was locked. We saw no signage to the effect of “GET OUT”. No one tasered us. We also weren’t the only civilians in there. It’s nice to know we weren’t alone in our accidental defiance.

When the Earth Moves!

In front of City Hall is a 2013 sculpture by artist Dave Braun called “When the Earth Moves”. It was made from local factory parts and stands in the center of a fountain that was turned off on this pleasant July afternoon.

Apropos of me, our first stop was the local comic shop. Comics Cubed has been around for years serving discerning readers of graphic storytelling, or “funnybooks” in ye olde layperson lingo. A quick online health check confirms so far they’re surviving the pandemic and keeping up a lively Facebook page where they post weekly videos and cheerfully offer to pull specific issues for their clientele every New Comics Day.

Comics Cubed!

This caption would be a great place to quote lyrics from a song about New Comics Day, but first someone needs to record one.

I was dismayed when we approached and saw the CLOSED sign. I admired the front window art and whimpered a little at the door. On a lark I tried the knob. It opened. Anne and I looked at each other. We went in. The owner was alive and well and gregarious. Comics Cubed, we learned, is the kind of friendly neighborhood shop where the regulars know when he’s there and when he isn’t, so signs are beside the point.

While the owner and Anne chatted at length about travels and whatnot, I scoured the place for goodies. The summer of 2020 was not the most bountiful of times in the comics biz, but I snagged two items, one of which I’d never heard of before — Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s grimy beachfront crime drama Goodnight Paradise, sold by publisher TKO Comics as a boxed set (an extremely rare format for comics). I remembered their names from DC/Vertigo’s Unknown Soldier (Dysart’s Valiant series Harbinger was also aces), but this collaboration was entirely new to me when I laid eyes on that shelf. I love it when a shop surprises me with obscurities. I also threw in a Wonder Woman trade from G. Willow Wilson’s recent run, the first WW comics I’ve bought since…uh, great film notwithstanding, it’s been a while.

Next on our walk was a stop for art. All along one alley next to a pizza place, a California artist named Jules Muck (who also goes by the name Muckrock) painted a series of heads from inspirational figures of varying walks of fame and life. Our lead photo featuring President Barack Obama was one among many adoring that corridor.

Brick Bruce Lee!

Bruce Lee, star of such films as Enter the Dragon and every positivist meme quoting his beloved “be like water” soliloquy.

alley art Rosa Parks!

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

(Indianapolis residents may call Muckrock as the artist behind the controversial bunny mural that was outside Jonathan Brooks’ Beholder restaurant for a while till residents complained about the image of PG-13 bunnies writ large and prompted a Plan B. All her Kokomo visages were rendered strictly all-ages.)

Freddie Mercury & Mister Rogers!

Champions turned mural neighbors: Freddie Mercury and Mister Rogers,

Next along our path was Kokomo Toys & Collectibles, which, well, res ipsa loquitur. We didn’t go inside because we both stopped collecting action figures years ago, and haven’t had any real toy needs of late. And I hated the idea of walking in and buying nothing. It’s legal, but in this economic climate, I feel like it would’ve been mean to walk in, raise expectations, and walk out empty-handed.

In my defense, I still bear boredom trauma from my childhood, when every single independent toy shop I ever walked into was stocked from front to back with nothing but educational toys, of the sort that filled doctors’ and dentists’ offices. They took the basic concept of fun and ruined it. I’m sure Kokomo Toys is better than that. It’s not them, it’s me.

Kokomo Toys & Collectibles!

Maybe I’m wrong and the greatest knickknack was lying in wait inside. Maybe next time we’re in town we’ll rectify that.

Next door was a used bookshop called Chapter 2 Books, just like the places where I used to fill up on paperbacks in my teenage years. I could count on old, musty, packed nooks with names like the Book Rack and Book World housing every nearby reader’s leftovers. 90% of them would be romance, granted. Sometimes the SF sections would have a few choice oldies. Meanwhile in the Mystery section, I could always, always find prolific and dependably crafty authors whose voluminous works I hadn’t gotten to in toto yet.

Chapter 2 Books!

Yes, once again my nostalgia sense kicked in.

I wasn’t in a mood for SF, and their graphic novel selection was a bit slim. I blame locals for not trading in enough awesome esoterica. The winners of my money: beaten-up but eminently readable copies of Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight and Ed McBain’s Romance, another installment in his seemingly infinite 87th Precinct series and literally the first time I’ve walked out of a bookstore with the word “romance” printed on any of my purchases, ironically or otherwise. As we checked out, the very nice clerk also strongly recommended we go browse the toy shop. One day, ma’am. One day.

Chapter 2 mirror!

Chapter 2 also displays this phenomenal wood sculpture with a tiny mirror in the middle. Easily one of my Top 5 favorite selfies.

The last store on my to-do list wasn’t open on our first pass — this time for real, sign up and door locked. We killed a bit more time walking around the town square. The businesses around the perimeter were either closed or just Not Our Thing. But it was a chance to burn more calories and spend time together.

It was also a chance for a but of confusion. As we rounded one corner, a white jeep pulled up to the curb next to us with three people inside. One of them asked if we’d each like some roses. We were all like “sure why not” and were each handed one (1) rose while a lady in the backseat used her camera to film us accepting them. Then they pulled away and drove off into the afternoon-set, presumably congratulating each other for a job well done.

They didn’t introduce themselves. They made no sales pitch. They didn’t advertise anything and didn’t name a single business, organization, deity, commune, cult, or demon overlord that drove them to perform this random act of flower distribution. The flowers had no strings attached, physical or deal-making. In the grand scheme I suppose these healthy, long-stemmed freebies made up for the poor rosebush showings that visually disappointed us in Mitchell and in Vincennes. They died on our kitchen windowsill a week later. They were nice while they lasted.

Over the next two days after, we scoured the internet in general and Instagram in particular for any sightings, explanations, or video footage of the two of us, entirely in vain. If someone out there has a clue what just happened there, please let us in? Much obliged.

Pass and Stow bell!

On a more explicable note, Kokomo has themselves a tiny Liberty Bell, a reminder of another bygone vacation.

By the time we retraced our footsteps, the final shop was unlocked. American Dream Hifi is a vinyl record shop of decent size, filled from front door to backroom with music in all formats, but mostly vinyl LPs. While I finally have a turntable now, I’m still nervous about buying and transporting records across long distances in the summer after a childhood incident in which my mom had to pay for an old Alfred Hitchcock spoken-word album that I’d checked out from the local library and left in her car till the sun warped it. I’m not ready to forgive myself for that yet, or to have it happen again on my dime. Thankfully ADHF had used goods to peruse in other formats.

American Dream Hifi!

Like the store in High Fidelity except it’s one guy and no pretentious pontificating. Or like Empire Records minus Rex Manning Day.

My big finds: beat-up DVD copies of the British meta-adaptation Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Alex Gibney’s 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side about U.S. cruelties in Iraq. (If you don’t know Gibney’s name on sight, you may have seen the trailer for his latest exposé, Totally Under Control, which will cover exactly what you think it does, because what else is there to cover right now?) I wish it could’ve been a larger haul, but a lot of the displays were unalphabetized and caused parts of my brain to override my sense of shopping. Also, all their used cassettes and most of their CDs were country or classic rock, nothing I’m seeking at this time. But hey: movies!

By this time we were beat and ready to head out. We returned to the car and sped away, but pulled over one last time before leaving town. Breakfast had been so large that we skipped lunch, but now it was far too late for lunch, but we needed something to tide us over. The obvious answer was ice cream.

A few miles down the road we veered off to a purveyor called the Cone Palace, serving Kokomo since 1966. The drive-thru line was long and discouraging. The lobby was nearly empty, its seats all but unused. We popped in and got all sugared up for the drive home. Geeky or not, it was time to treat ourselves.

Cone Palace cone!

While I inhaled an entire extra-chocolate shake, Anne enjoyed some strawberry watermelon soft-serve. Then we ran out the door before others could flock in and breathe on us.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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