Coming closer to Louisville, it was like the lawless wild frontier on the Interstate. The rain had finally stopped and the sun came out, as did many a crazed and impatient driver. I was following my tried and true 10 mile an hour rule, i.e., as long as one drives less than 10 miles over the posted speed limit one is both safe from the law and from all but the most impatient drivers doing brazenly chaotic moves to get around frustratingly slow moving cars. It did not work. On this day, cars were whipping around me like I was the proverbial little old lady out for her once a week Sunday drive. Not only did they zoom by me as if were standing still, drivers around Louisville on that day and subsequent days did crazy, unpredictable things: running red lights, turning right from left hand turn lanes, passing on the shoulder, cutting in front of others regardless of speed or distance, and creating situations that required attentive and defensive driving. It was a relief to finally navigate to and park at our B&B a bit before reaching Louisville.
Although our B&B was not far from recently built corporate buildings and office parks–including massive Papa Johns and Humana compounds–it was up a windy forest lined road and seemed to be in another time and place. It had originally been a farmhouse and, as with many B&B’s of a certain age, was charming and brimming with antiques. Our room was a spacious and comfortable chamber one flight up and to the front of the house. The remote location was about a 10 minute drive to restaurants and a bit further to the Louisville tourist attractions, but it was a peaceful and quiet place located on acres of gardens and forest, a perfect place to end the day.
Many B&B’s feature magnificent breakfasts, and this B&B provided us with ample and fabulous food every morning, but our first breakfast was a bit out of the ordinary for reasons other than the food.
We had a coffee maker a few steps outside our room to conveniently make and have our coffee before spiffing up and going downstairs for breakfast. We were having our morning coffee and relaxing in our room–patiently perusing our email with the free but typically slow B&B wifi–when the spouse said, “There is a woman outside with a gun! Come look!” Well, every Wild West Shoot-em-up movie I have ever seen responds to guns with, “Get down!!!” not, “Come to the window and look!” If I could look out the window and see her, she could look in and see me. No thanks.
Happily shots were not fired and all was quiet when we went down to the formal and antique filled dining room, table elegantly set with antique Spode and sterling flatware. Two couples occupied chairs facing each other with an empty chair next to each couple and one empty one at the head of the table. A young couple was sitting quietly and stiffly but what I noticed first was the older couple across from them, impressively large handguns holstered at their hips. I know the game of musical chairs and was quick, I grabbed that empty chair next to the young couple–kitty corner across from the armed pair–before my shocked husband had a chance to step into the room and realize he was condemned to a breakfast sitting alongside lethal weapons. We became the second stiffly sitting couple at the table and were soon joined by an elderly widower who sat at the head of the table, next to us and some distance from the pistols.
Guests all seated, the host came in and announced breakfast would be served shortly. The armed couple clasped their hands above the table, bowed their heads, and muttered their prayers. I could only hope they were not praying that their guns were loaded and their aim was true. The man was wearing a tee shirt that was top to bottom, back to front, and side to side filled with gun toting and gun loving NRA messages. It was not enough to wear his opinions, the conversation that immediately followed was dominated by his views with interjections made by his wife. The rest of us sat in stiff and restrained silence as we politely listened to him talk about his gun club activities, NRA participation, shooting skills, and various opinions and fun facts pertaining to weaponry and the God given right to use it. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were proselytizing, unaware perhaps that much of what they said did nothing to bring me closer to their point of view. I am not against safe, regulated, and responsible gun ownership. Marksmanship, skeet shooting, teaching gun safety, OK. But some of the other things, such as concealed carry, allowing guns in innocuous public places, resistance to regulation, ownership and collection of assault rifles and armor piercing bullets, and allowing young children to shoot are a bit harder to accept. Apparently they taught children as young as 7 to hold and shoot their own weapons, “…but we keep our hands on the weapons for younger children.” How much younger than 7 he did not say. I remember my daughter at 7, she was into rainbows and butterflies at that age; picturing her as a 7-year old clad in a pink and purple fluffy dress, white tights, ribbon barrettes, and a gun in her hands is utterly beyond my powers of imagination.
Our host came in to serve and asked, “How long is the NRA convention in town?” Fortunately, the response was that it was ending that day and our armed guests were checking out after breakfast. Eventually we asked a few polite questions, “How many people are in the NRA?” (Answer: about 5 million) “Will they have shooting in the Summer Olympics?” (Answer: yes, followed by details about the events), and the tension began to subside. The widower and I gently and cautiously began to guide the conversation to more neutral topics, talking about sites he planned to see in Springfield and sites he had seen on his travels. Somehow the topic of slavery came up, perhaps in our discussion of the Springfield Lincoln sites, and someone said, “Did you know the first slave sold in American was sold by a black man?” Our gunman said, “And they blame us for slavery.” Up until then I had kept my opinions to myself, avoiding any topic that could be perceived as controversial but–amazed by the comment implying the action of one black man erased the evils of slavery perpetuated by thousands of white slave owners–I politely replied, “I think there is plenty of blame to go around.” My widower friend came to my rescue and said, “I think we can all agree that slavery was bad,” and quickly changed the subject to more neutral ground.
The young couple said little, but they did say this was the first time they had stayed in a B&B. Trial by fire, it certainly was not beginners luck in their case. But they may as well find out now, a B&B is a roll of the dice as to who will be joining you. Sometimes it is an interesting group, sometimes a pleasant group, and sometimes it is a stiff and less than comfortable group, but there you all are, strangers sharing a breakfast table and attempting polite conversation. I come to breakfast at a B&B not knowing who and what I will find, but never have I felt the need to be armed amidst the scraping of silver and the rattle of plates.
After our breakfast adventures, we enjoyed a beautiful morning at the Falls of the Ohio River. The Falls of the Ohio are across the river from Kentucky, in the state of Indiana, and are largely responsible for the city of Louisville being where it is. The drop in the river at that location creates rapids that are impassible. Ships either wrecked or were halted at that location for sailors to portage their goods around the rapids. A settlement naturally grew up around the point that paused or ended those river journeys. The Army Corps of Engineers has since built locks, but the water dangerously tumbles and swirls in all directions on the Indiana side. Also of interest, it was where a glacier ended and there is a rock shelf dotted with fossils. The shelf is accessible to tourists with warnings to stay clear of the dangerous waters and signs posted prohibiting the gathering of fossils. Nothing prevented us from hunting and gathering fossils with our camera lenses, and we spent a great deal of time examining rocks and finding fossils.
After our visit to the Falls, we visited the Frazier History Museum which had a great exhibit on the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as one on the history of the Prohibition. With all the distilleries in Kentucky, prohibition was a very big deal in Kentucky and it put a lot of people out of work. Apparently those who could continue to make “medicinal” spirits–and the doctors who were willing to prescribe it–did quite well financially, but many historical distilleries closed permanently or were reopened under new ownership when prohibition was finally over. We briefly visited the second floor, which had an extensive exhibit of guns and rifles as well as some knives and toy soldiers, but interrupted our visit to see a performance by a costumed storyteller. When we arrived the theater was filled, they put some chairs in the front for us and we settled in front row seats for the performance. Before beginning her story, the storyteller welcomed those who were with the NRA convention. Fortunately she was a really good storyteller and I got lost in her story about Norse gods, not thinking about all the guns that could be behind my back.
We found the Mussels and Burgers bar and restaurant and I had a huge bowl of huge mussels before touring the Louisville Slugger museum and factory. At the museum, we bought our tickets and were assigned a time for our tour, leaving us plenty of time to look around the museum. A large group was beginning our tour just as we entered, and we probably could have asked to join it, but we contented ourselves with wandering around the exhibits and awaiting our turn. When it was time for our tour to begin, we were surprised to find that we were the only two on the tour. A nice young man patiently stepped through the complete tour, patiently pausing to answer questions and add some narratives. At the end of the tour we were treated to miniature souvenir Louisville Sluggers. We had been warned that the customized and personalized bats being sold were for display not for use. Although many usable as well as souvenir models were available for purchase, we contented ourselves with the little but free souvenir bats. I have since learned that they do not allow the souvenir bats in passenger’s carry-on bags and that the Louisville airport has a huge display case of confiscated bats. I imagine they eventually return them to the museum, rotating the same bats between museum and airport in an endless loop.
The following day we went to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum. A nice employee was entering the museum at the same time as we were and gave the spouse a pass; it was about to expire and she did not want it to go to waste. We got there just in time to join the historical walking tour. Our guide had lots of stories, history, and information. When we were by the track, he described the crowds, the different luxury boxes, the costumes, and the thousands who arrive first thing in the morning for a long day on the infield at the Kentucky Derby, a race that does not take place until the end of the day. Clearly the Kentucky Derby is Louisville’s Mardi Gras. In the museum we saw a movie about the Derby and wandered through some interesting exhibits, including an extensive exhibit on the recent Triple Crown winning American Pharaoh. The museum cafe offered a nice but not extensive menu, fine with us as it is better to do a few things well then a lot of things poorly; often the case in cafes that offer multi-page menus filled with multi-international cuisines. The spouse ordered a mint julep, complete with souvenir glass. I tried it. A little sweet for my taste but it went down so very easily. Hmm, I have mint in the garden, and now we have bourbon, there may be some hot summer day mint juleps in our future.
We finished our day at The Farmington Historic Home which is thought to be based on
plans designed by Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln knew the family and had stayed at Farmington for several weeks before marrying Mary Todd. Unfortunately the home was closed but the grounds were open and we walked around the lovely gardens. It had been a hemp plantation, a very labor intensive crop, and the family were slave holders. Lincoln observed the institution of slavery while visiting this plantation and it may have shaped his opinion of slavery and guided some of his future decisions. Across from the mansion
was a monument in remembrance of those subjected to slavery surrounded by rugged stone benches, a place to sit and contemplate the past. Although the house was closed, we could peek into the windows. It was a rather modest house for a plantation and the rooms looked farmhouse simple. In present day, the grounds consist of formal flower gardens and well ordered vegetable gardens.
We searched for other historical homes in the area, and found some interesting ones, but they were also closed on Monday. We could tour gardens of these homes, or we could go enjoy the gardens at our B&B. We chose the latter and ended our Louisville visit at the peaceful B&B. We had a perfect end to the day with our best meal in Kentucky, discovering Brasserie Provence in a shopping mall.
Five is the New Ten
The following morning we had a nice breakfast and were joined by a retired doctor who lived about 100 miles south of Louisville. He was a weekly guest at the B&B as his barbershop quartet rehearses every Monday night in Louisville. He, and only he, joined us our second and third mornings and we had lively conversations both days. No discussion of guns, but lots of discussion about music and musical instruments. After an enjoyable breakfast of great food and engaging conversation, we loaded the car and set out for home.
The Interstate around Louisville was congested but speed limits seemed only a suggestion. I followed my rule of thumb, driving no more than 10 miles above the speed limit. Even with cautiously exceeding the limit, coming into, driving around, and leaving Louisville it was as if I were driving at a crawl. People zoomed by me and, worse, did unpredictable things requiring me to drive defensively and continually expect the unexpected. We made our way through a construction zone with shifting lanes and unpredictable traffic, finally making it safely across the bridge into Indiana. At last the road opened and, save having to get around a few trucks, the press of traffic lessened. I kept my speed between 60 and 65 in the 55 mile hour zone, less than 10 miles above the limit. I saw a police car by the center median and glanced down at my speedometer. Phew, it was under 65 but I immediately let off the glass and slowed to 60 as he pulled out. I was continuing to slow as he pulled behind me and put on his lights; I was genuinely shocked to realize he was pulling me over. He motioned for me pull off to the left by the center median, the most dangerous place to stop. When I handed him my drivers license and registration, I said I had been keeping my speed below 65. He insisted I was going 70. I was not, I know I was not, but he responded by putting the radar in front of my eyes displaying a “70” on the screen, falsely attributing it to me. He also told me he had been clocking and ticketing anyone who went even one mile over the 10 mile grace amount all morning. Nice guy.
I could dispute it by going to court or I could pay it. When I got home I read that I had a third option. It would be “forgiven” if I pay a fee that is more than the fine (money order or cashiers check only), send a copy of my spotless driving record from my home state (documentation fee $12), and complete a form to plead no contest to the citation. Then, if I behave for 6 months, it will be forgiven and they will not file the citation. My take is this, either he had a faulty radar, he was clocking someone else, or he saw out of state plates and saw an opportunity to take advantage of a tourist. It is, essentially, a random tourist tax by the state of Indiana. Even if I were to drive the many hours there and the many hours back to dispute it in court on a date of their choosing, it is my word against his. I was not going 70 mph but my knowing that is no proof in the court of law. So, the world is not fair a fair place and my vacation is costing me a bit more. But point taken, if radar guns add 5 miles per hour, my 10 mile rule has now become a 5 mile rule.
Not a pleasant end to our trip, but I have since gathered the documentation, completed the forms, paid the fees, and sent it Certified Mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope for the receipt. I drive a bit slower, and have already been dangerously tailgated and honked at going at or near the speed limit, but will try not to let one tourist fleecing alto-Kentucky speed trap overrun the memories of an otherwise enjoyable trip. Although it took me longer to get here than usual, it is good to be home.
More about our Kentucky trip in A Kentucky Sampler: Lexington Softball, Fiber, and Bourbon and The Bourbon Trail and Beasts of Fiber