I’m a bi-coastal guy. Whatever exists between the East Coast and the Bay Area, I’ve been content to fly over.
One exception has been Indiana, home to my bro Joe.
Joe moved to Bloomington in the ‘60s to attend Indiana University. He fell in love with the community and became a home builder. Fifty years later, he’s still there.
If he and I are to get together, it is I who has to hop on a plane. Joe doesn’t do West Coast.
I first visited when Joe was an I.U. student. We attended a Big 10 football game. I returned when his wife was about to deliver triplets, then again when Joe was divorced and raising an autistic son and yet again for his remarriage to Ellen.
Ten years ago Joe got a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer with a lousy prognosis. Yet after two bone marrow transplants and untold chemotherapy, he’s still kicking.
Thoughts of our shared mortality prompted this month’s trip to Bloomington, with Cheryl joining me for the first time.
Californians tend to think of Indiana as a redneck state. Joe says Hoosiers are Hoosiers — their own thing.
His pride in Indiana University is boundless. I only wish I thought half as much of my alma mater.
Our visit was special in expected and unexpected ways. Expected: Time with Joe and his family. Unexpected: Limestone.
Every community claims bragging rights to something. Napa claims wine. Bloomington claims Indiana University and a sedimentary rock created when billions of marine invertebrates died some 400 million years ago.
A layer of the purest, whitest limestone on the planet lies beneath the Bloomington area. It’s the stuff of many state capitols, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.
Joe toured us through the I.U. campus — a feast of limestone architecture — as well as Monroe County’s limestone courthouse and an industrial ruin where massive limestone blocks had once been carved for high-profile buildings, statuary and patios.
Joe’s enthusiasm for limestone was contagious. Cheryl and I began pointing out limestone walls and fences with the zeal of tourists on a New England foliage tour.
One night’s entertainment was the 1979 movie “Breaking Away,” a fictional Bloomington story about the sons of limestone cutters competing in a bike race against I.U. fraternity teams.
The plot hasn’t aged well, but the movie’s limestone scenery is a keeper. There were shots of an abandoned limestone quarry used as a swimming hole. And the limestone ruin we’d toured that very day was in the movie as a still-functioning operation.
Joe and Ellen were fine hosts. At mealtime, we lingered long to catch up on family developments while just beyond their kitchen window stunningly beautiful cardinals frolicked at a feeder. Why doesn’t Napa have birds like that?
Making sure not to overstay our welcome, we left Bloomington for several days of sightseeing in Chicago. At the end, we planned to board the “L” for a ride to Midway airport.
I zipped through the elevated station’s turnstyle with my single bag and ran to the waiting train as the conductor announced “doors closing.”
But where was Cheryl?
I looked back. She was terribly stuck in a turnstyle, unable to stuff her bag through.
Vowing to leave no wife behind, I blocked the train door with my body and called out her name. Cheryl!!!
Summoning the strength that moms use to pull overturned cars off their babies, Cheryl heroically hoisted her suitcase four feet into the air with one arm and threw it over.
Later I learned how awesome. When I happened to pick up her suitcase, I discovered it weighed a ton.
She’d loaded it with chunks of Bloomington limestone for the trip home.