So remember how we told you our hotel was (allegedly) haunted? Well, at about 11:30 last night, Rick was surfing the web in his comfy room when there was a very clear and distinct knock at his door. He said “just a minute” and got up and went to the door but there was no there. The hall was equally empty.
Thinking Mary had knocked but didn’t hear his “just a minute” he called Mary in the next room and said, “did you knock on my door?” No – she was snug tight in her bed watching “Hannah Montana.”
Ghost? Rick hearing things? You decide.
After taking fond farewell of our (allegedly) haunted hotel we drove to see the place where Mary Todd Lincoln had spent many of her formative years. Her sad story (she was committed to an insane asylum by her oldest son for a time) reminds us that it’s not just enough to be wife of a beloved president especially if that beloved part is only in retrospect.
From there it was the beginning of our epic journey, where we drove over 100 miles in the completely opposite direction of the place we would end up, to another STATE mind you, for a hot dog.
On the way we made a stop at the Ruth Hunt Candy Company in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Founded in 1921, it is the official supplier of candy to Churchill Downs. Truth be told, the average looking exterior and rather modest display case did not initially bowl us over, though the smell of chocolate nearly did and they certainly don’t do justice the candy purveyed here.
Kentucky is known for “cream candy,” which looks a little like taffy when it’s still being pulled, has the consistency of a soft but not chewy meringue, and taste like sweet cream. Ms. Hunt got her start making these in her kitchen for friends and turned it into this mini-empire, now offering a twist on the original by dipping them in chocolate – it’s called the Blue Monday candy bar.
We also tried creamy peanut butter buckeyes, light and silky raspberry and mint meltaways, and a delicious milk-chocolate covered caramel. We are relieved to discover that they ship.
But back to that hot dog. Why, oh why, you are saying (perhaps) are we driving this far for a humble hot dog. This is not just any hot dog… this is a Hillbilly Hot Dog.
Rick has been obsessed about this for awhile now and has gotten most of his office obsessed about it, with various co-workers walking around humming the theme song… “We got the weenies!”
Located in a series of ramshackle buildings and school buses, every inch inside and out covered with either graffiti or junky objectives or graffiti covered junky objects – 8-track tapes to license plates to trashed dolls. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was a junk emporium or perhaps just a really, really backwoods domicile.
We got the Hillbilly Dog, deep fried (but not with batter) and topped with their homemade chili, mustard, and onions; the West Virginia Dog, with cole slaw instead of chili; and the Steak Dog, which added A-1 steak sauce to the mix. Also an order of garlic ranch crinkly cut fries came liberally doused with two-kinds of melted cheese and the yummy dressing. We ate it too fast to tell you if it was good or not. Really, does it matter? Isn’t that purely incidental? But, just so you know… really good.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Rick bought a t-shirt and they kitchen staff sang the theme song, complete with a bell making the ding-ding-ding noises. It was everything we had driven for.
Which is good because we had a long drive back the way we came and beyond. Along the way we had more horses than cows, but there were enough to finish today’s game with Mary winning yet again 52-11. Then it was on to Louisville.
Based on our total experience with two, we are impressed with Kentucky cities. Once again there is a downtown of well-preserved and restored Victorian-era buildings. The section we’re staying in is sort of a museum row, with a number of galleries, museum spaces, and even a giant outdoor art installation across the street from us featuring giant white monkeys and the evocative statement “Everybody always thinks they are right.”
Just down the street is the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, home to the World’s Largest Bat (baseball), and exact replica of a Louisville Slugger and its 120 feet it barely fit in our view finder. We were a little too late to take the factory tour so we continued down the street to the “Happy Birthday To You” memorial.
An enterprising song collector changed the lyrics to a ditty called “Good Morning to All,” thus creating one of America’s three most popular songs (we don’t know what the other two are). There’s a plaque to mark this occasion and honor the sisters who wrote the song (Patty and Mildred Hill) on a plot of dirt with four oleander bushes under a freeway, guarding the entrance to a parking lot appropriately named “Happy Birthday Lot.” We surfed the web a bit and asked around but no one seems to know why it’s in that particular spot – we are just going to presume it has some sort of significance and move on with our lives. But whatever the reason it was a good place to stop and remark that this indeed is Rick’s birthday.
Just down the street from there is the World’s Largest Bat (vampire) and the second largest bat of all types. It hangs on the wall of Caufield’s, a costume and party-favor shop that has been in business since the 1930s – the third generation of the family now running it. The sales woman showing us around and took us into the “dungeon” featuring all sorts of truly unsettling, air-compressor driven horror figures.
We praised her bat (vampire) and she said, “Oh did you see it?” To which we responded, “Well, it’s hard to miss.” But it turns out that last Friday she was showing someone else the dungeon and they said, “That’s the most realistic bat I’ve ever seen” and she said, “Thank you,” puzzled when swoop - she discovered there was a real live bat in the room. “I ran the hell out of the room and left the customer behind, and we haven’t seen the bat since. It’s probably still in here tangled up in something.”
That makes this a three bat day; surely a record for Plucky Survivors. We hope the bat is a Plucky Survivor, too.
Dinner was at Kaelin’s Restaurant, whose owner claims to have invented the cheeseburger way back in 1934 – someone had to do it, why not him? Mary got the classic cheeseburger with American and Rick go the double with bacon, because he refusing to go into 42 quietly. Mary wishes she had gotten hers medium rare, but even at well-done their char-broiled goodness is what a cheeseburger ought to be. Again, we ate them too fast – they were so good it was hard to stop ourselves, as you can see by the picture, which we didn’t even think to take until they were half gone.
Appropriately for being on museum row, the 21C Museum Hotel is both travel lodgings and art space. The art begins out on the sidewalk, picks up in the lobby, is on display in several galleries, carries through the public restrooms, and into the rooms themselves, each of which have at least one original piece. The contemporary art is a constantly interesting mix of photography, multi-media, conceptual, paintings, graphics, video installations, and interactive. Everywhere you look there’s something new to catch your attention and usually to make you think.
The current theme is “Connections” and how the human experience is made up entirely of these but that’s why it is so difficult to forge your own identity.
Next to the elevators are two identical realistic looking heads, one with a female voice, one male, lying on a bed engaged in random, always changing conversation where they struggle to understand each other, fight, and make up. It’s supposed to prompt dialogue about what qualifies as intelligence, especially when it’s a machine.
We were smitten by an interactive video display by the elevators that generates random letters until you stand in front of it and wave your hands around and then it makes words – “my body” or “synonymous” or “thinking” for instance.
The men’s room, which is a finalist for a competition called “Best Bathrooms,” features a slightly disconcerting urinal experience, as you face a wall of water that seeming looks out into a hallway, but is really one-way glass.
The style of the hotel is industrial, with exposed steel girders and lots of expanses of untreated concrete or plain white walls, but unlike other hotels that pursue that aesthetic this one hasn't neglected comfort for the sake of style.
Mary’s room has an exposed brick wall, Rick’s a large terrace overlooking some of the aforementioned Victorian buildings – we’re sitting on it as we type. Both have plump white beds with splashed of color, 42-inch flat screen TVs, fancy name-brand amenities, iPods in docking stations, silver mint julep cups, and probably more that we haven’t even found yet. It is going to be very hard to get us out of here tomorrow.
We are hard pressed to think of a city hotel that we have stayed in that we have liked better. And certainly we couldn’t like this place any better if it were dipped in Ruth Hunt’s chocolate.