Calumet Roots

Hitching rides and learning about people

2013-07-21T00:00:00Z Hitching rides and learning about peopleBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
July 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

There are a number of words that dance around our collective lexicons that are unique to the Calumet Region, or close to unique. One of these is Monon.

The name evolved from the Louisville, New Albany, and Chicago Railroad. That name had its roots in New Albany and Salem. But the jury seems to still be out on the origin of the name Monon.

According to one source, it is from the Pottawatomi word meaning, ironically, swiftly moving. In time, the Monon ran up to Dyer and, eventually, Hammond.

The Monon was one of the most memorable lines that travelers of my generation were likely to encounter. It was the original railroad with square wheels. I doubt that it was ever on time.

Indiana University students like myself went miles out of their way to avoid ever taking it. It shook, rattled and rolled, as the old song went. As a practical matter, students avoided the Monon at all costs. Most of them arranged automobile transportation, usually through that rare student who had a car or access to one.

Going to and coming from Bloomington was a regular speedway. On those rare occasions when I drove, I almost always exceeded the speed limit by 50 percent. But I usually did not drive, because I could not line up a car, nor afford the gas that powered it.

I began my final year in Bloomington with $80 in my pocket for everything. I handled the food bill by waiting on tables and washing and drying food vessels.

Since I wanted to come home every weekend to connect with my affianced, I hitchhiked. I worked out a rather effective system.

First of all, I dressed up as the ultimate Joe College. I wore a suit and tie and, depending on weather, a top coat. On my suitcase, I had a big IU sticker.

All in all, I was a rather respectable sample of IU manhood. Then, since I didn’t want to be bored silly sitting in a car all the way up from Bloomington, I decided to make each encounter with a driver worth his time and mine.

I decided that I should learn from every experience. Thus, I became something of an expert regarding the driver of the vehicle. One I remember particularly well is the fellow who sold china. When I started, I was totally ignorant of china except that it was expensive and brittle. By the time I was through, I was a poor man’s expert on china generally, and especially, the cost of china.

One night I was picked up in the rain by a pair of grandparents and their tiny grandson. In trying to interest myself in the grandparents, I focused on the youngster, who had an amazing skill of speaking. He spoke far beyond his years.

In delving into how that was possible, the grandparents told me the little boy went with them wherever they went, with no room for baby talk. I thought this was a great idea, and so when I had a son a few years later, I employed the same rule with him.

As it turned out, though, Scott David McKinlay was born talking. He set the standard for his two sisters. Sitting down for the dinner meal meant, for me, keeping my mouth shut. Our dinner table was a forum.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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