Finding treasures and treats in small town settings

Bad news, the bartender said.

We were in the Fulton Pub for our first time, shortly before noon on a Friday. Those words from behind the bar came as a warning before she even said hello.

We’re out of gizzards, she said. We may have just enough for one order.

I grew up on a small farm where we raised, killed, plucked, cooked and ate our own chickens. I know what gizzards are. I couldn’t imagine them prepared in any way that would make them popular enough to set off a panic before noon.

Adding to the mystery, only one other customer was in the bar.

Judy ordered a salad and I had a pork tenderloin. I also ordered a Busch Light draft. I hadn’t seen that beer on tap anywhere in the past two or three decades.

We had ventured into the Fulton Pub as part of a quick four-day vacation that took us into small towns between South Bend and Indianapolis. The night before, Thursday, we had been to a concert in Wabash, with a hotel stay in Peru. Logansport was next, followed by Kokomo. Our final destination was to a concert Sunday night in Carmel.

We had driven past this pub maybe 50 times in the past few years on our trips to visit my mother in Lafayette. It’s a narrow white stand-alone building on the north side of Indiana 25. Usually, the parking lot is empty, except for maybe a pickup truck or two.

Mom died in October. We wouldn’t be in a hurry the next time we drove through Fulton, so we promised we would make a stop.

We felt the same way about Logansport. It was another blob between where we lived and where we were going. We once saw a sign pointing to a brewpub called The Science Project, and we knew there was a used record store somewhere nearby.

As trips to Lafayette became more heavy-hearted in the past year, we regretted that we couldn’t just stop for a beer, do a little looking around in Logansport and maybe paw through the bargain racks of $1 LPs. 

No regrets now. There was no other destination for this Friday night.

Judy and I don’t have expensive tastes and we don’t require long trips on vacations. Like many married couples, we had neither the money nor the time for globe-trotting when our children were young.

That started to change 25 years ago when our son and daughter were old enough for a weeklong church camp. One summer, we dropped them off at camp, sped to an airport and caught a plane for San Francisco and the Napa Valley. Another time, the plane took us to New Orleans and Biloxi.

But we’ve found low-budget vacations could be just as much fun. We split a nice four days between Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit one summer. This was during a time when people couldn’t think of a single reason to go to Detroit.

We find places to go. We look for history museums, walk through old neighborhoods, shop for antiques or wander through cemeteries. Nearly every city has a river, which might have a bridge, a dam or a waterfall. At night, we find a bar that has live music or we go bowling. We talk with strangers, who help us figure things out.

Mainly, I absorb these towns. I often think about what I would do if I lived there.

After Fulton, our first stop in Logansport was at the Record Farm. It was an odd retail space that took up only the front third of a downtown building. The middle third was filled with pinball machines and video games. The back third seemed to be some sort of sandwich shop.

We found a couple LPs to buy, spoke with the clerk a bit and learned that a band would be playing there later in the evening. It was close to dinnertime, so we walked three blocks to The Science Project.

There we found employees dressed in lab coats. They gave us menus in two-pocket folders. I ordered an October Sky amber lager and  the Manhattan Project, a pizza with spicy sausage and banana peppers. Beers were served in chemistry class beakers. We sat at the bar, talked with the owner and servers.

Fewer people come and go in Logansport since the major factories closed up, they said. Some move in from surrounding farm communities to work, but most folks graduate from the local high school and figure out a way to fit in. 

Baseball’s a big deal, we were told. The high school team won state championships in 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1991. Hearing them talk, it didn’t seem very long ago.

We walked back to The Record Farm, where a warmup band was setting up. The back third of the building now was a bar with October Sky on tap. Dozens of people, of all ages, were playing the video games. We found a table on a balcony above the bar and watched all the busy people.

Eventually, the featured band took the stage and we moved downstairs closer to watch. It was Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters from somewhere in southern Indiana. It was a three-piece group – a guitarist, bass player and drummer, the sort of band that creates their own songs and plays them loud.

At some point, it occurred to me that I was a visitor here and didn’t deserve to be standing in the front row. When I turned, I realized there was no second row. There were just 10 or 12 of us standing there to listen.

After we left, I checked the band’s website and saw they were preparing for a European tour. Exactly one week after he played The Record Farm in Logansport, Nick was in Dranouter, Belgium, with stops scheduled the next day in Venlo, Netherlands, and Wuppertal, Germany.

That’s a reminder that we travel in a complicated world. Many of us are wherever we are for the long haul. Others speed through, barely tapping their brakes. Some get to stop, look around and listen, wondering why they’re suddenly in the front row.

And some days, your road leads to the only bar ever that ran out of gizzards before noon.

It might have seemed like bad news, but it’s all good to me.