Day 6: Monticello, Indiana

The route from Fort Wayne to Monticello is entirely on Route 24, a highway that drifts from four lanes to two, and from 65 mph to 35 mph. It’s a great way to see some local Indiana land and make quick progress at the same time. We spent a chunk of our evening at Indiana Beach Amusement Park, featuring the slogan, “There’s more than corn in Indiana!” We sure saw both sides of the coin.

Monticello: small town mixed with vacation resort – sort of. Campgrounds and inns abound near Indiana Beach, and it’s a very popular tourist destination particularly for folks from Chicago. We explored the town a bit, met some locals, then headed to the amusement park for something special. We had been in touch with the park in advance, but had never heard back from them, so we began by meeting with John, the General Manager. His permission went from an apologetic no, to a complimentary Father’s Day buffet dinner, to finding us a guide to travel around the park with. Kyle, a marketing manager at the park, became our third crew member and park supervisor.

We talked to whole bunch of people at the park, and got more attention than we did anywhere else – people waving to the camera, asking us about our project, very interested in our equipment. We heard a lot of positive thoughts about the park and the community, with a lot of people focusing on how “family-oriented” the park and town are. One woman, Shirley, opened up to us right away about her son who died in an accident 17 years ago – this was her first time visiting the park since, this time with her daughter and her grandson. But for the sake of our experiment, it wasn’t the best location: very few people were locals, and even the employees mostly commuted from even an hour away.

Our longest conversation of the day was around 10pm, after leaving Indiana Beach, with a man named Pops hanging around outside John’s Bakery (it happens to be the same place I’m typing this, the following morning, having enjoyed some incredible donuts and using their power outlets to transfer footage). Pops had fascinating things to say about the peaceful little community here, the KKK-spirited area he used to live in, his time as a cross-country truck driver, and his experiences as a homeless man. Nowadays he lives in just a “garage,” as a young feisty friend put it. No cable, no internet, Pops had no problem being very vocal on camera, but he was disappointed that he’ll probably never see the product.

We met a lot of people in Monticello, and everyone fell into three categories as relates to our search for a home: tourists, commuters, or with a home barely big enough for themselves. Surely there are folks who would have let us stay – our luck in previous towns has already made us optimistic about everywhere we go. But the random folks we chose from didn’t yield a home. Fear didn’t seem to be much of a factor – the means were the problem. A few people shirked being on camera at all, but most people were clamoring to be interviewed or have their picture taken, and all those people touted the friendliness of the area. But we’re starting to see a different side of America: where the friendliest people may also be the least wealthy, and where a fireworks store refuses any filming, for fear of the footage being shared with competing fireworks stores in town.

So at about 11 we settled into the Wal-Mart parking lot. We washed up in the bathroom then rearranged the car so we could lean the seats back. We cracked the windows, and embarked on a rough night of perspiration, thunderstorms, the hum of industrial lights, the growl of semi engines, and even a little bit of sleep.