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Have pencil will travel

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On a recent trip to Kansas City, TSN columnist Kris Meltzer discovered giant stainless steel public art similar to Shelbyville’s “The Helbing.” Titled “Ferment” according to the artist, Roxy Paine, it represents the surging energy of creation, growth, transformation, decay and regeneration.
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On a recent trip to Kansas City, TSN columnist Kris Meltzer discovered giant stainless steel public art similar to Shelbyville’s “The Helbing.” Titled “Ferment” according to the artist, Roxy Paine, it represents the surging energy of creation, growth, transformation, decay and regeneration.

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Dear readers,

Several of you have wondered what happened to my traditional Indy 500 column this year. As one loyal reader succinctly put it, “Memorial Day has passed.” “What happened to the story of Wilbur Shaw winning the goat cart race by eating oats enhanced by sorghum procured from your grandpa, Brady Meltzer?”

To those of you who look forward every year to my retelling the story about Wilbur Shaw and the goat cart race that was the forerunner of the Indy 500, I apologize. Next year, I’ll make it up to you with a dramatic reading of that storied account, complete with sound effects. The reading will take place beneath “The Helbing.” You will learn who ate the enhanced oats, the goat, or Mr. Shaw. However, it will have to wait until next year. This year I broke with tradition and hit the road.

I feared that I might be getting a bit obsessed with “The Helbing.” So, like Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and many writers before them, I took to the road. Truman Capote’s traveling companion was Harper Lee. She went with him to take notes. I took my wife, Sandy, with me to read the map and keep me supplied with snacks while I was driving. I have never found taking notes to be very helpful when writing one of my columns.

Direction west, destination, Kansas City, the location of the largest World War I museum in the country. We also decided to include a side trip to Independence, Missouri, to see the home and library of President Harry Truman.

Nothing much to report as we drove through Illinois. We crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri – welcomed to the west by the famous Gateway Arch. The west isn’t just a direction of travel in America, it is a whole different mindset. The west is all about cowboys, cattle drives, and gun fights at high noon. It is about the frontier spirit, individual rights, Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett. The west is John Wayne and men like him. Men with true grit.

The second amendment to the U.S. constitution is sacred in the west. In Illinois, like most eastern states, there are laws about carrying guns. Once you cross the Mississippi, no permit is required. You don’t need the permission of the sheriff, or even a note from your mom.

I myself was packing a Ticonderoga number two pencil. I was planning on exercising my 2nd amendment rights to freedom of the press on this trip. However, I had thought of multitasking and bringing along a shooting iron. If I had it would have been an early Colt black powder pistol similar to the one that Clint Eastwood carried in “The Outlaw Josie Wales.” I would round out the look with a hat like Clint wore and chain-smoke those little cheroot cigars. I really thought about it. However, Sandy said that she wouldn’t go if I wore that getup. So, I decided to just concentrate on exercising one amendment at a time.

Just as we entered the west, the fuel light blinked and the buzzer sounded. I took the exit ramp to look for fuel. I found a gas station within minutes. Whenever we travel to big cities, I have the ability to always find exactly the same gas station. When I walk in I almost feel like I am in an episode of the “Twilight Zone.”

The cashier is behind a wall of bulletproof glass selling single cigarettes and little bottles of enhanced wine with labels such as “Night Train” and “Sneaky Pete.” At that moment, I was hoping I wasn’t going to need my six shooter that I had left at home. But it was no problem. The clerk just ran my credit card through his skimmer and we were back on the road in no time. Next stop, Kansas City.

The World War I museum was as magnificent as advertised. If you are ever in the area it is well worth the price of admission.

Harry Truman’s home and library are only a few miles from Kansas City. Also well worth the trip. If you don’t know anything about President Truman here it is in a nutshell. After retiring, instead of cashing in on his fame from holding the office of president, he just moved home. It was a nice but modest home in an area with the feel of Waldron. He spent his time taking walks and sitting on the porch.

As we were leaving Kansas City, I spotted something big and shiny next to a busy street. I was sure it was a Helbing. Imagine, Kansas City with their own Helbing. On closer inspection, it wasn’t a Helbing. It was a reasonable facsimile called “Ferment” by artist Roxy Paine. It was also a sign that it was time to head for home.