News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

March 22, 2010

The Off Season: Making myself at home in ‘Nowheresville’

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Every time I hear someone whine about the Wabash Valley and Terre Haute as being a desolate entertainment wasteland, that “there’s nothing to do around here,” that they’re bored, my head begins to hurt.

It’s no secret that I enjoy the peace and quiet my life in the sticks affords me, but that doesn’t mean I never get into town to see the sights, either. My wife and I don’t exactly reserve Saturday nights for a weekly tub bath and scrubbing out our overalls; we’ve both worn shoes for years. Our idea of fun isn’t a night of cow tipping or taking city slickers on snipe hunts, either.

I’m not suggesting that Terre Haute is the cultural center of the universe, but it’s a quantum leap from the pathetic “Terrible Haute” that seems to be an image in so many local minds. I have also discovered over the years that people who are easily bored are usually boring people, and no matter what the menu holds, they don’t seem to have the energy to eat.

I realize that our idea of fun is pretty tame. We enjoy the theater and the symphony and programs at the library. We think that some of the very best area attractions are offered at Indiana State and Rose-Hulman and St. Mary-of-the-Woods; many don’t charge a dime to get through the door.

Just a few weeks ago, Joanie and I had a good time chatting with Todd Nation at his Wabash Avenue book shop, BookNation, during a signing I was doing there. Todd has been instrumental in helping the renaissance Terre Haute’s downtown area is enjoying these days, and so, for a “First Friday” offering (stores and museums and galleries stay open later on the first Friday of each month and offer special programs), he had me in to scribble my name in a few books.

I imagine that roaming through a bookstore, perhaps even buying a book to sit down with, is pretty tame stuff to some. Boring…

From BookNation we drove past the Swope Art Gallery and the Gopolan Contemporary Art gallery, their lights blazing in the early March evening as folks wandered around in the lobbies enjoying the artwork and one another. But who really wants to see some of the finest art in the Midwest? Pretty lame stuff, I suppose…

We didn’t stop on Seventh Street; we were headed to the party for the “Big Read” at the Vigo County Public Library. Mostly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Big Read is a program designed to help combat a nasty trend in this country: Fewer and fewer Americans are reading for pleasure. As a people, we apparently are losing our collective imaginations, but in Vigo, and in many surrounding counties, folks could get a free book and enjoy book chats and discussions, lectures and re-enactments. This year, Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” was chosen; last year it was Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” and the year before it was Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon.”

Anyway, the party was fun. For $5 we had plenty to eat, listened to live music, enjoyed a quick original play, and were handed a free CD. We had great company, learned a bit about frontier-era tools and meandered through the library to look at nice art. Dry as week-old bread to some…

We love the Indiana State University Speaker’s Series. What Mark Edwards and his team have been able to do on a pretty tight budget is incredible, and if that program goes away because of allocation cuts, then we have a sad set of priorities. In just the past few years, Joanie and I, and thousands of other folks from the area, have been able to listen to, even meet, Dave Barry, Andy Rooney, Nancy Grace, Frank Deford, Garrison Keillor, Amy Tan, Stephen Jay Gould, Tim O’Brien, Vincent Bugliosi and Robert Ballard.

This year alone, we sat in comfy old Tilson Music Hall and listened to authors Mitch Albom (“Tuesdays With Morrie”), Jeffrey Zaslow (“The Last Lecture”) and Bryan Burrough (“Public Enemies”). Civil rights activist Andrew Young came, too, a walking piece of history. For absolutely nothing but a little shoe leather and a few bucks in gas, we’ve met Pulitzer Prize winners, the man who threw Charlie Manson in the slammer, even the fellow who just happened to have discovered the wreck of the Titanic. What a drag…

I have written many times about my love for the local symphony orchestra, despite having no musical ability. We have wiled away many a Saturday night at Tilson listening to wonderful musicians perform Gershwin and Stravinsky and Mozart and Brahms. That place, and that music, have become a part of our lives. I don’t think I’ll forget seeing Aaron Copland on his 80th birthday, or Joshua Bell play the violin at 17, or Lorin Hollander play encore after encore. Hardly enough to get some folks out of the recliner…

We head to the Community Theatre, too; we have had our favorite seats near the front of the old theater on 25th Street for years, and we’ve laughed, along with others, at “Arsenic and Old Lace,” tapped our feet to “Annie, Get Your Gun,” were maybe even pushed into thinking a bit during “Inherit the Wind.” Hardly beats a good sit-com…

I could go on and on. We’ve dined at good, local restaurants with friends and laughed until the waiters kindly started to turn the lights off; we’ve met Mark Twain (well, a reasonable facsimile) at Rose-Hulman, and even wandered that engineering school’s gallery to see the work of our old friend, Salty Seamon. We’ve seen Stiffy Green at the county historical society, visited Eugene Debs’ house, watched Division I basketball at the Hulman Center; and seen the canvasses of Edward Hopper and Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benson at the Swope. We’ve watched movies at and marveled over the old Indiana Theatre, shopped ‘til we’ve dropped at local malls, and picnicked at Deming Park…

We certainly don’t ignore what’s going on in other towns up and down the Valley, either.

Please, don’t tell me there’s nothing to do around here; that’s so boring.

Mike Lunsford can be reached at hickory913@aol.com, or you can contact him c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Mike will be speaking and signing at programs at the Clinton Public Library, The Cunningham Memorial Library at ISU, Union United Methodist Church in Brazil and at Union Hospital during the week of April 12-16. Details are available at www.mikelunsford.com.

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    March 12, 2010

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