Lexington, Kentucky. My first real taste of the South….or (Midwestern) South as it was described to me for the first time.
I can hear it in the twang. I can feel it in the air and see it in the landscape. Lexington is a strange mix of near and far, of old and new. At one time it was called the “Athens of the West” for its cultured lifestyle. It’s the first time I’ve spent in a city with more than a couple hundred years of history. And coming from the west, that’s ancient.
Lexington was the first city to use an urban growth boundary to limit encroaching development on the surrounding horse farms. It’s home to the 10th most educated population in the country, and birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln. It’s the largest city in America not located on a body of water. And University of Kentucky basketball rules here.
It’s also hot and sticky, and rains like hell, which has become an unfortunate theme of my travels so far. This was typical of my short stay…
In the southwest, a lot comes down in a short amount of time. That’s why it floods so much- the parched landscape lets gravity do its thing to distribute the load wherever it can go, regardless of design and capacity. But I haven’t seen it fall like it did here in a loooong time. It was shocking how fast you’d get soaked in this shit. In Kansas they have the tornado sirens. In Lexington, they have a public announcement system to tell you it’s about to get wet. Real wet.
I was visiting my old Americorps and grad school road tripping buddy Greg and his partner Lily. We all actually met, again, through the RARE program I’ve mentioned so many times before. But we hadn’t seen each other since he headed to Kentucky from Oregon 5 years ago.
Greg’s an interesting cat who’s done a lot of things (e.g., wedding planner, city planner, sustainability consultant, entrepreneur) and been a lot of places (internationally and only five U.S. states to go). But Lily is what brought them out to the Bluegrass state- she’s working on a PhD at UK in ag science/food systems. They didn’t think they’d be ‘sticking’ around (har har), but it looks like Lexington is going to be their new home for the foreseeable future, and they’re fine with that.
Anyway, because of the seemingly constant deluge we did a lot of this, which was fine with me.
Miss Lily made some delicious biscuits for us one morning….
And we sat around some more enjoying a breezy relief from the sticky-ick…
It was a slow and mellow stay. They’d been traveling a lot recently, and Lily flew in from a week in Vermont the night I arrived at their place. Admittedly, I’m uncomfortable when people feel like they need to entertain me on these visits. As much as I’m interested in the places they live, I’m more interested in seeing how they live in these places. So days like these were perfect.
Greg and I went out to see some live music one night at a local dive a few blocks from his place. I had a great time and it had been awhile since I’d been to a show. We met a band from Athens, Georgia on their first mini-tour outside the Athens area. Great guys who seemed to really appreciate meeting new faces on the road. I knew exactly how they felt. At one point I wished I’d brought my camera, but sometimes enjoying nights like these is more important than capturing them.
Another night was spent drinking some beer, eating pizza, discussing the fine art of nacho-making, and hanging out at a friend’s place. There was a side trip earlier in the evening to the Apple store at the local mall, and overpriced drinks at an upscale Olive Garden-ish restaurant, but we had to do what we had to do. (The laptop is as good as new, btw….for now.)
We did find time and a very little break in the driving rain to cruise around. Usually these little tours are enough to get a decent impression of the city. Since my visits are so short, it’s really all I can ask for.
So many BIG old houses around the downtown area.
They contrasted starkly with modernist downtown skywalker-connected buildings.
Great, and sometimes odd, mural projects around the city.
The equine industry is so important here they use jumbo jets to transport horses all over the world. Maybe that’s American Pharoah coming home…
It’s also so lucrative people can afford to have thousands of acres of manicured Kentucky bluegrass go unused for long periods of time throughout the year. It’s an interesting place indeed.
Before leaving town, and hopefully what will be customary on this trip, I wanted to make a portrait of my gracious hosts. The suggestion was met with confusion from at least one of them…
And awkward laughter by the others….
But they eventually pulled it together sublimely.
All said and done, it was a great, soggy, wonderfully easygoing time in Lexington. A huge thanks to Greg, Miss Lily, and Crowder (aka, Mr. Useless) for opening up their home and showing me what (midwestern) southern hospitality is all about.