Day Five: Ribfest 2010 in Fort Wayne!

We left Oberlin behind for a three hour drive.

A long stretch of cornfields, mills and farms sped past us as we drove down the highway. We have been very excited about crossing the borders between states and when the Indiana sign popped up we had our camera ready. On previous road trips our approach has been just to scream at the sign: “INDIANA!” – this exclamation has been replaced by anticipation as we have made it our business to know exactly when the sign is coming – we wouldn’t want to miss it.

It’s been an interesting journey so far – an experience so different from any of our previous road trips. The way we are learning about each location is through the people that we stay with and the people we meet in our wanderings. It’s completely happenstance, but it's so much more informative. So much more personal. It doesn’t feel like a road trip anymore – its not so much about the place as the people. We aren’t excited to be someplace new because of the landscape or because we have never seen it before, we are excited because the people tend to be so different. And not so much in a way that lets us categorize them. People in Indiana are not x, y, z but different from each other in ways that are really just special to them as individuals.

Place is discovered through those individuals because they fit inside the geography. Joe from Roscoe was interesting because he was the only reiki healer for many miles, he had the only spiritual center in the area, he loved it there because he was “creating an oasis for people." And he fit there because of his New York history, his patriotism and his experiences as a paratrooper. Patti’s ghost hunting belonged in the town that felt like the smallest we’ve seen so far – with teenage drama that is much bigger than any we had heard of. It belonged there because the ghosts are her drama and in some ways they let her bring the outside world in. Each character fits their geography in a way that illuminates them and their location. So we don’t scream "Indiana" – we prepare ourselves for it and we can never imagine who we are going to meet.

With this in mind we crossed into our next state – debating the crimes of eating meat as we headed towards Ribfest.
We were greeted in Fort Wayne by the parking attendant first, a college student named Parker. He was incredibly friendly and had a lot to say about the festival culture of the city. As well as its abundance of churces and strip clubs.

Ribfest is a huge event. I dont think Greg and I realized its scale before arriving. There were maybe 15 rib stands, a few barbeque stands (selling grills), some sauce stands, ice cream, funnel cake, fried foods and maybe 3000 people packing tables in the main quad, listening to music - a choir trying to get to China for the summer Olympics, a couple blues and rock bands. It was crazy. People meandering from stand to stand, getting their fill of unlimited barbeque options. Stickers, free samples, the owners of the stands themselves, grinning and greating people. We talked to a man who had just started his cart and was here for his first festival - "If you gotta put sauce on it then the meat, well, it just ain't right." We talked to a photographer who had a damaged optic nerve and turned to barbeque when his friends told him he was great at it. We talked to a man who'd lost his job and started making ribs to pay the bills. Everyone had a great story and a great name. One cart, Fat Guys, was passing out stickers that said "I [Heart] Fat Guys."

At the suggestion of Stella from Oberlin, we made it our mission to approach people in red shirts. She said it seemed like a way to make our hunts more random. I love the idea because it puts everything in the hands of the energy of the world. Maybe, like Joe said, we will meet the people we need to meet and tell the stories we need to tell. And like Susan said "It's an interesting group of people you have here" - there are so many people to meet. We wouldn't want to miss someone - and this seems like a fair way to find people and an easier way to be sent in the "right" direction.

Everyone we spoke to was friendly and covered in barbeque sauce, but at the end of the day we ended up taking Mark Chappuis up on is offer for a room in a hotel. He tried to feed us too. Mark is the Executive Director of the festival, and was incredibly excited about our mission. He spoke for a while about the kindness of the midwest. He said that this festival would give us a taste of some Hoosier hospitality, and it did! Our amazing deep-fried-barbeque-friendly-conversation-too-hot-in-the-sun kinda day was at its close. The sun was still up and it was already almost 9 pm.

It took us a while to find the hotel, but once we settled in, I think we were a little lonely. As grateful as we were, we missed the idea of home.