Ball of Paint Pilgrimage

A large part of Tuesday would be spent delivering Mac to O'Hare airport in Chicago, along with navigating in to and out of the city.  Mac and I started the morning a bit more languidly, however, with a delicious gut busting breakfast at the Iowa Farm Shed in Davenport.  The pecan cinnamon roll we shared rivaled the size of Mac's head and was undoubtedly the best cinnamon roll I've ever eaten.  Or, partially eaten.  I took the leftovers with me and enjoyed them for breakfast the next two mornings.  I've noticed that the Iowanese are mighty proud of their cinnamon rolls, and now I have to say I understand why.
It took the rest of the afternoon to thread our way from Davenport to O'Hare airport, where I dropped Mac around 5:00 and then headed downtown to visit another fine member of the illustrious O'Donnell clan, Molly, and her husband (whom I had not yet properly met), Ben.  I hadn't been sitting on the balcony ogling the sumptuous view any more than 5 minutes when Ben inserted a perfect gin and tonic into my kung fu steering wheel grip and I began the process of soothing my rush hour jangled nerves.  Ben had also thoughtfully prepared an ultradelicious steak dinner, which I thoroughly enjoyed consuming.  I was on my way soon after dinner, jonesing as I was to put some miles between me and the hideous rush hour traffic I felt sure would materialize the next morning.

The pleasant glow of the visit with Ben and Molly soon faded, however, during what turned out to be a horrible, nightmarish drive trying to leave Chicago.  When I finally reached Terrell, Indiana (just south of Gary) and located a place to stay, I found myself to be so exhausted and unwilling to address problems that I stayed in one of the worst hotel rooms I've ever had the misfortune of renting.  I definitely wasn't in Iowa anymore, Toto.    

It was a pleasure and a relief to flee the horrible hotel room the next morning and gain the flat agricultural vistas of rural Indiana.  I was on a beeline toward Alexandria, Indiana where I'd be making a visit to the World's Largest Ball of Paint - a highly significant and sought after jewel in Shiree's Glorious Crown of Roadside Attractions.

I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Greentown for some lunch and ordered a dish favored by Midwesterners everywhere: a pork tenderloin sandwich.  And I thought the cinnamon rolls of Iowa were enormous!  My sandwich turned out to be tasty enough, but I also have to say, disappointingly bland. I just keep forgetting about the seasoning ethic of the Midwest - which is DON'T!  I'm grateful I grew up in Texas where garlic and jalapenos are inalienable culinary rights.

The scenery passing outside the car window was much the same as it had been since I first arrived in Illinois a little over a week ago - field after field covered either with the stubble of dead corn stalks or grazing cows.  A cool front began to catch up with me on my journey southward, the wild winds at the front's edge stirring up swirls of corn husks and dirt as I drove along.

On January 1, 1977, Mike Carmichael had his son Mike Jr. paint a softball with a coat of blue paint (that's Mike Senior holding the picture of Mike Junior painting the softball, below).

On October 13, 2010, Shiree Schade painted coat number 22,529 on the World's Largest Ball of Paint, choosing red to apply over the previous coat of orange, because she was reminded of the colors of fire.  

I had read about the World's Largest Ball of Paint many many years ago, and had been keen on seeing and painting it ever since.  Unfortunately I hadn't found myself near enough to the northwest corner of Indiana before now to visit, but since I was at last within striking distance, I chose to devote all my resources to finally accomplishing something I'd been wanting to do for a very long time.

My appointment was set for 7:00 p.m. since Mike likes to show people the Ball himself and he works a full time job during the week.  He and his son Mike Jr. met me as soon as I stepped out of the car into the deepening gloam and led me to the shed with the aid of a flashlight, since Mike lives out in the country where light is scarce.  When I first spied the Ball through the french doors of its special building (donated along with a good amount of paint by Sherwin Williams) my excitement spilled over and I gave my new knees a run for their money, springing up and down like Tigger.

Mike was generous and friendly and modest as I spent the next hour plying him with a barrage of eager questions.  The more he talked, the more I could appreciate the pure goodness emanating from this extraordinary man.  Over 30 years ago, he took a fun project he started with his son, got his entire family and community involved and has been having fun and sharing it with people ever since.  Mike is all about allowing other people to participate and even turned down an offer to move the ball to a fancy pavilion in the nearby town of Alexandria because he wants to "see the ball.  I wanna see people's reactions when they paint it.  I wanna be here when they're here."  He's discovered a marvelous way to meet like minded folks and give something to each of them.  What a peach!

Mike carefully documents each layer and so took my picture and then had me note my name and such on his register.  I received a certificate and was encouraged to choose some trimmings to take home with me (when the ball begins to pooch down in a random spot, Mike will trim it a bit to help keep it round).  Before I made it back to the car, Mike had even scooped up an armload of whimsical plywood pumpkin and candy corn cut outs he'd made as given them to me as a gift so I could put them in my yard when I got home.  The guy just can't contain his generosity.

I drove away, brimming with love, feeling like I'd just met the Ghandi of the Roadside Realm.  And not only had I met a holy man, but I had relics to prove it. 

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