Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Food, fiddlin’, and fun … plus caskets

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Sarah and I had quite a day of photography again yesterday. It ended up being sunnier than expected, and it was warm, so it was a good day for it. Sarah made breakfast after we got up — bacon, eggs, and toast with apple butter. It was delicious. I drank some coffee even though I have to be careful about that before shooting, since being jittery makes photography damn near impossible. I’m going to talk about the whole day in sequence, if you want to skip to the food, fiddlin’, fun, and caskets, go down to the Crazy Joe’s Trading Post heading below.

We had no real plan, and I suggested that we go past the lake and past the school buses we photographed before. This was what we intended to do yesterday before we got sidetracked on a smaller road. We drove for a while, and spotted the roofless remains of a building, with some other run-down buildings nearby, and stopped.

The stuff we found there wasn’t the greatest, being basically a brick/cinder block building, but it did kind of look like some sort of ruins. There was also a small shed nearby. Check out my Flickr page for some photos.

There was a barn nearby that looked great, but it was too close to a home/business and we didn’t feel like trying to get permission to shoot there, so we kept going. We drove around for a while, basically scoping out a few places before choosing which one to shoot. Most were too close to inhabited homes and/or had prominent no trespassing signs, which was discouraging. We ended up going back to a house. It was across the street from some inhabited houses, one of which had some guys in front of it with chain saws and whatnot, cutting down some trees.

Abandoned house — I used my circular polarizer on this shot, you can kind of tell by the unevenness of the sky.

Photographing the house was cool — much creepier than most of the other places we’ve shot, probably in part because someone used to live there. Of course, the chain saws across the street and nearby gunshots from hunters didn’t help.

But probably the spookiest thing about it was that on the front door, there was a sheer curtain, but it was only attached at one upper corner, so it kept flapping in the breeze. The sun also reflected off of it in a weird way. All of this had a very ghostly effect, as you can see.

Sheer curtain that was waving in the breeze. Chilling.

There was also a really old chair that was falling apart in weird ways, with small pieces of fabric either already on the floor or peeling off of it.

The disintegrating chair; you can also see the front room and the yellow bedroom from here.

We both got a lot of cool shots; I am not going into more detail about them here — check out my photos (start at the end and work backwards) and Sarah’s photos.

Crazy Joe’s Trading Post

After we finished photographing the house, we decided to stop at Crazy Joe’s Trading Post, which we had passed earlier and seen signs for, advertising “food, fiddlin’, and fun!” I told Sarah that those were all good things, and we should stop. Actually, the real reason we stopped was to get some soda and use the bathroom. Sarah would later describe the place as “horror movie friendly,” and you’ll see why.

We parked and got out of the car to find a big dog checking us out. He seemed friendly, and I like dogs, but I’m inherently wary of dogs I don’t know, especially when their owner is nowhere to be found. We walked to the door of Crazy Joe’s, trying to decide if it was open, and the dog just sat down in front of the door, obviously waiting for us to let him in.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to assume that the dog was allowed inside, but I also couldn’t get the dog to budge with attempted diversions. I wasn’t about to try pulling him away from the door, thinking he might freak out. Some dogs are fine until you try to move them. Sarah somehow managed to slip inside without letting the dog in, but I couldn’t seem to duplicate her success. A man said through the door that it was OK to let the dog in, so I did. Not surprisingly, it was Crazy Joe.

Sarah and I got some bottled drinks and went to the register to pay. Crazy Joe offered us samples of his new donut recipe. We tried them, and they were pretty good, although he explained that they were better fresh out of the frier. A woman who worked there, who I later learned is Crazy Joe’s sister, gave the donuts a glowing recommendation, saying “They’re almost as good as the ones from Indianapolis,” referencing some specific bakery there whose name I can’t remember. That Indianapolis bakery must make some mighty fine donuts. Why the fuck was I at Crazy Joe’s?

Crazy Joe talked to us a bit while ringing up our drinks, a bit too much, really. He asked if we were going to church, which of course we weren’t. It seemed to me to be a bit late in the day for that, since it was 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I said we were going for a drive, he asked where we were from, and I said Bloomington. Thankfully, Sarah didn’t tell him we live “close to the mall,” like she did Bob Jones. These guys already think we’re city slickers, telling them we live by the mall isn’t going to help our case. Anyway, Crazy Joe asked some question, and Sarah said that she had to use the bathroom. He responded, “I didn’t ask about that!” and told her where the restroom was.

What do men do while women use the restroom? Talk business, of course! Crazy Joe launched into a description of all the cool stuff that goes on there, live music several nights a week including bluegrass, country, rock, etc. He started handing me flyers left and right as he was talking, to the extent that he had to look at the flyers he’d given me to make sure he didn’t give me two copies of the same one.

He showed me the dining area, talking about how they had dinner and dancing, then walked over to where some instruments were and asked if I played anything. I denied any musical knowledge, afraid he might try to get me to play. He said “You don’t play anything? Piana maybe?” No. “Guitar?” No. “Washboard?” No, but maybe I could learn to play that one.

Next, Crazy Joe turned to me and said, “Now let me show you our caskets!” He walked over a little bit — still in the dining area — and pointed at two caskets, one on either side of the fireplace. “You can tell one’s for a man and one is for a woman,” he said, “because one is taller.” Only $850!

I had no idea what to do at this point. Crazy Joe insisted on showing me the inside of one of the coffins, including the wood chip lining in the bottom. Crazy Joe explained that these coffins were made by Amish people in Michigan and shipped here, and that you get your choice of “wood chips or genuine Amish horse shit!” for the lining. “We chose wood chips,” he reassured me. At this point, his sister came by and exclaimed, “Our daddy is buried in one of those!”

Sarah came out of the bathroom, and Crazy Joe showed her the piano and washboard, and then the coffins. He gave her the same line about the horse shit. Then he asked if we wanted to buy a coffin, and Sarah said we didn’t have room in the car for it. I was just going to say “No thanks,” which would’ve worked better, because Crazy Joe kindly offered to tie a coffin to the roof of our car. He got that we didn’t want one, though, and gave up on that sale.

We went to leave, and were almost out the door when Crazy Joe stopped us and said, “Wait a minute … come back here.” Reluctantly, we did, and he showed us a photo of a tower, asking if we’d been there. We hadn’t. He proceeded to tell us where this fire tower was, not terribly far from there. Finally, we left without incident.

Crazy Joe
Crazy Joe (not my photo)

Crazy Joe’s photo above was taken from his profile on the Monroe County Democratic Party Web site — Crazy Joe ran for Polk Township Trustee/Assessor. He lost. According to his brief bio on that page, Crazy Joe “traveled the Western United States looking for gold. [He] searched the Superstition Mountains of Arizona but did not find any.”

Believe it or not, after all that, we decided to go to the fire tower. That turned out to be a good decision, because the fire tower was cool as hell. Crazy Joe had mentioned that it was about 8 miles down a side road, but he neglected to say that that was a gravel road. I don’t mind gravel roads too much, but 8 miles is pretty far to go on one.

Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. Notice the “NO ALCOHOL” sign at the bottom.

As it turned out, the tower was near the Hickory Ridge trails, which you can ride on a bicycle, although I haven’t done so. We decided to go up in it, and at first were unsure if we’d made a wise move — the second flight of stairs was pretty rickety, prompting Sarah to tell me to “stop doing that!” thinking I was shaking the stairs, when they were really just swaying a little bit on their own.

Once we got past that second flight, though, the rest were more solid. It was really tall and there’s a great view from up there. Well worth the trip!

View from Hickory Ridge Fire Tower

3 Responses to “Food, fiddlin’, and fun … plus caskets”

  1. furiousball Says:

    These photos are really good amigo, the depth of the interior shots of that house are incredible. You should check out my friend Marty’s stuff, he’s linked in my blogroll (fairweather zealot), he’s a photography wiz like you, although he’s more about birds and nature (his wife is too).

    I’m the same way with denying music when I’m not comfortable. I’ve claimed to never have played piano at a party before because I really didn’t want to get stuck playing Brown Eyed Girl and Margaritaville for 10 hours (which by the party’s attendees, that’s what they would have asked for)

  2. Bud Buckley Says:

    Van sent me here and I’m glad he did. Your photos technically wonderful AND very touching. I’ve had a strange love of abandoned buildings most of my life. I was stunned to discover that one of my former students has the same feeling. She wrote me a poem about an old church by a pond, once for my birthday. We re-crafted it into a breakup song as she is now a college girl and experiencing such things. We’ve written several songs together. I listened to your Mercury and love the percussion ideas a lot. I’ll blog roll you and will certainly be back for more.

  3. Sarah Says:

    As much as I don’t want to be politically associated with Crazy Joe, there’s no way in hell that guy could be a Democrat …

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