The Spring Birthday 2021 Trip, Part 3 of 8: Had Myself a Ball in a Small Town

John Mellencamp mural, Seymour, Indiana.

A very special 2019 creation on the side of a guitar shop by muralist Pamela Bliss, whose work also adorns several buildings in downtown Indianapolis.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

For the past several years my wife Anne and I have made a tradition of going somewhere — anywhere but home — for each of our birthdays. Last year my birthday trip was among the billions of traditions ruined by the pandemic, all of which paled in significance to the millions of lives lost (and still counting). This year is a different story. Anne and I have each received our pairs of Pfizer shots and reached full efficacy as of April 24th. This past Friday and Saturday the two of us drove out of Indianapolis and found a few places to visit in our eminently imitable road-trip fashion…

After our lively nature walk we headed west down the highway to the city of Seymour. Hoosiers know it best as the hometown of rock star John Mellencamp, who entered the Top-40 music world under the flashier stage name Johnny Cougar, then spent years working his way back to his own while bucking dictates from record-company execs every step of the way. When I was a kid, he was one of my favorite Indiana success stories.

I won’t pretend I’m an unconditional Mellencamp superfan who has all his albums or memorized every song. I’ve never even seen him perform live. (The closest personal connection is my aunt used to know his brother in high school. Her impression of him pre-fame was “just a little guy”, and she may have mentioned an attitude.) But I do own seven of his albums (Scarecrow is the best) and “Small Town” has been my official All-Time Favorite Song for decades, to this day trouncing any and all stiff competition from 36 years’ worth of contenders and counting. Growing up in a disrespected capital city frequently nicknamed “Naptown” and “India-no-place” by jerks from other states and cynical locals, I appreciated the reassurance that of all the reasons for me to feel tiny and inadequate about my place in the world — a list unto itself — my city of origin doesn’t have to be one of them just because of shame-heaping from outsiders. Also, his backing bands ruled.

Seymour had a mural painted in his honor in 2019 on the side of This Old Guitar Music Store. Of course I had to check it out.

John Mellencamp's initials.

In October 2019 Mellencamp painted his initials under the guitar bridge before the mural was even finished.

Our plan wasn’t simply to zip in, spot the mural, and zip out. We drove into town along their heavily commercial highway, veered off into their downtown area, and did a bit of walking. In a fun moment of synchronicity, we were about a mile into town when Sirius XM’s ’80s channel began playing “Paper in Fire”.

The Blish Mills Grain Elevator in Seymour, Indiana.

From blocks away you can see the old Blish Mills grain elevator looming over ten stories high. They were built in the 1930s for a company founded in the 1850s that went out of business in the ’70s. The silos were too expensive to demolish, so the town’s open to suggestions. (Personally we like the idea of turning it into some kind of roadside attraction, a la Minneapolis’ Mill City.

Seymour city sign.

A new Seymour sign dedicated at Burkhart Plaza in July 2020.

Seymour Indiana sign.

A smaller sign commemorating Seymour’s 1852 founding and origin as a stop along the Ohio and Mississippi Railway.

shopping in Seymour, Indiana.

Of all the small downtowns we’ve visited over the years, theirs might be the first we’ve seen with the gun shop on their main stretch.

We’d originally planned to grab lunch at one of their diners, but stopped short when we looked off to one side and saw rows of tents and booths. We wandered over and stumbled into a surprise street fair. On this lovely Friday in May the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus were holding their first annual Frühlingsfest (“spring festival”). Some folks were selling arts, crafts, and other wares. The Knights had Frühlingsfest merch at the ready. Carnival concession stands and food trucks stood side-by-side serving anyone with an appetite within reach.

We’d had no idea any of this was on the calendar, but we were happy to indulge. This being a workday, attendance was light. This being a pandemic, a few folks wore masks. Both factors and the festival’s spread-apart layout ensured personal distancing, whether intentional or otherwise.

Seymour Indiana festival.

Some of the food vendors on hand.

Rolling Pig Pin food truck.

After perusing every single lunchtime option, my first stop was at a food truck called the Rolling Pig Pin out of Crothersville, fourteen miles north of Seymour on I-65.

Monte Cristo sandwich!

Among their options was a Frühlingsfest exclusive, a Monte Cristo with shredded turkey and a side of berry sauce. Tasted fine, but the shreds kept falling out every time I went to dip the sandwich.

chocolate cotton candy whoopie pie!

Much more to my liking was their chocolate cotton candy whoopie pie.

carnival bratwurst.

While Anne grabbed a fried fish sandwich, among her street-fair favorites, I whetted my remaining appetite with a standard carnival bratwurst topped with hot mustard and sauerkraut. It’d been a long, long time since I last spotted one of these in the wild.

By the time we finished our meals and finished soaking in the welcoming, sunlit ambiance, our free time and our energy levels were running low. (We to return home in time for an evening engagement.) On our way back to the car, in my capacity as Birthday Guy I authorized one detour before takeoff — to the local record shop, 13th Floor Music. A Seymour staple since 1995, they’re the sort of physical-media purveyors I’m finding myself looking up more and more whenever we travel. They had me at their Facebook page’s proclamation “OLD SCHOOL OR NO SCHOOL.”

In addition to the standard CD and vinyl racks, they had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of clearance-priced CDs stacked by the register, and dozens more in a shelf near the door, surprisingly alphabetized. I was tempted to dive in, but I have a personal rule about not spending hours on shopping scavenger hunts whenever Anne is with me. She promises she’d understand, but I know from childhood experience that watching someone else look for reasons to spend money isn’t terribly entertaining. I contented myself with two recent releases I’d been looking for — the new album that just came out in early May from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (the last band I saw live in the Before Times) and last year’s compilation of Billie Joe Armstrong’s pandemic-hobby cover tunes.

Maybe next time we’re in town I can see about taking some of that overstock off their hands. Seymour also has a couple of museums and art-related organizations worth checking out, but by and large their pandemic-era hours of businesses were narrow and missed our window. That’s a phenomenon we’ve encountered a-plenty over the past year in cities of all sizes.

13th Floor Music in Seymour, Indiana.

The purveyors in question.

13th Floor Music in Seymour.

Their front window with signage and decals in equal measure. Masks required, which was okay by us.

Capitol Records Tower music display.

Fun marketing artifact in the foyer: a merchandise rack shaped like the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood.

13th Floor Music mural.

On their back wall, one more mural for the road.

To be continued!

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