Flintstones and Jack-O-Lanterns in Griffith, Indiana

“Time is measured by the movement of hands, but history is measured by the fruit of their labors.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Checking out one of Griffith’s most beloved seasonal tourist attractions, today I got to stop by the pumpkin buried lawn of the Berenie family (917 Miller Street, Griffith).

Every year the Berenie’s grow and harvest their own pumpkins on a large plot of land at the corner of Arbogast and Miller Street. Annually carving out a new theme into their monolithic, orange vegetables, this year’s family friendly motif was none other than the Flintstones.

Fortunate enough to catch the carvers in their “pre-carving phase”, I got to watch as they graphed and plotted the endearing sprites onto the bulbous faces of the pumpkins. Wilma Flintstone stood in a perky salute with her hands on her hips, Fred Flintstone cruised in his stone-age automobile with a delightful grin, and the rambunctious Hoppy the Hopparoo (an apparent hybrid of dinosaur/kangaroo) flashed an adorable, dopey smile.

Daring to snag one of the carvers for an interview, I was able to speak with Ms. Berenie at the front of the lawn who welcomed the break. Frustrated in her attempts to draw the Flintstones’ iconic, stone-carved letters, she assured me that as long as there was paint thinner to go around, she’d eventually get it right.

Curious as to how they decide what theme to run with every year, she informed me that it all depends on the pumpkins. Before they even give way to fleeting inspiration, the family pays close attention to both the quantity and quality of the pumpkins to determine which theme will work.

 

 

Baffled at just how much effort goes into the mere grid sketches, I had to ask how much more difficult is it to do the actual carving. Admitting that carving is definitely the most tedious part, they tackle the challenge by carefully utilizing tiny knives to sculpt every minute detail, and occasionally wires where mistakes are made (though, she assured me, this rarely happens).

While they aren’t quite done with the finishing touches yet, Ms. Berenie assured me that most of the pumpkins will be ready for display this coming Sunday. So, if you happen to be in town, indulge in a moment of regression and catch a glimpse of these wonderfully nostalgic Jack-o-lanterns!

Boz Hotdogs – Griffith, Indiana: Cheese Dog

“If time is money we are only getting poorer.”

Daniel J. Mitchell

Still in denial over the brisk fall weather, I thought it would be a good idea to venture out in my customary attire: shorts and a t-shirt. Feeling the cold sting of regret with every pedal, I pressed on in some sick attempt to hold onto summer. While I didn’t allow Mother Nature to win, I eventually had to call for a truce and settled for a close to home eatery in downtown Griffith.

Just off Broad Street and not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, Boz Hotdogs (formerly known as Bozo Hotdogs) has been a hometown favorite of Griffith ever since I can remember. A short walk away from Central Park and across the street from the Griffith YMCA, Boz Hotdogs is quite literally in the heart of the community.

Ordering my all-time favorite, the cheese dog, I was served a succulent frank smothered in mild nacho cheese accompanied by crispy, golden fries. This sufficiently filling meal in all its splendor surprisingly cost a mere $3.16, drink included!

After inhaling my entree, I stopped by the counter and had a chat with a girl named, Missy. Filling me in on some great fun facts about the place, she said that before Boz, this building was home to an ice cream shop called Tasty Freeze. It later became a “Bozo Hotdogs” back in the 80s, but was forced to convert its infamous ending “O” into a smiley face when transitioning to the new title, “Boz”. While their more popular dishes include the Italian Beef and the Nachos, Missy said most of their orders come in on Mondays for their famous $1.99 hotdogs!

Lincoln’s – Highland, Indiana: Bunny Girl

Although I’ve taken the Highland bike trail to the Calumet River many times, today I saw it as a great opportunity to visit one of my favorite sandwich shops, Lincoln’s.  Right off the bike trail on Highway Avenue in the heart of downtown Highland, Lincoln’s has been a revered local favorite of Northwest Indiana for quite some time.

Literally at the halfway point between my traditional Griffith to Calumet River route, Lincoln’s was absolutely no trouble to get to. However, they are a tad bit hidden behind some trees lining the downtown sidewalks which can make it difficult to spot.

Parking my bike on a rack just a few paces to the right of the place, I strolled into store faced with the traditional lunch rush. Although not as busy as I’ve seen it in the past, the 12-1p crowd can sometimes keep you waiting about 5 minutes or more depending on the day. Not an insane wait unless you find yourself in need of a quick grab and go.

Ordering my traditional demasculating sandwich, the Bunny Girl, I was just thankful that they didn’t shout the name across the counter after I ordered it. Ham, lettuce, tomato and mayo piled on a warm flakey sub roll, the Bunny Girl has been my absolute favorite since I was a little boy. I also took a scrumptious helping of Ham and Bean soup, however I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want uninviting tunes on the journey home. Thick with carrots, ham and of course, BEANS, this piping hot soup was still inviting even on a mild fall day.

The staff was very kind, courteous and surprisingly bike friendly, offering to refill my water bottle with ice, keeping my to-go sandwich under the heating lamp and even bagged my leftovers in paper and plastic so I wouldn’t bath in mayo the rest of my ride.

Though I had been here dozens of times throughout my life, this was the first experience I had visiting on bike. I must say, it was definitely well worth the trip. The food was, as always, delicious, the staff extremely hospitable, and the location perfect. The only advice I have to give to anyone planning on venturing up is bring a backpack. Trust me, you won’t be able to finish all the food there…

Grindhouse Cafe – Griffith, Indiana: Pulled Pork

Not giving up my quest to seek out Northwest Indiana’s best delicatessens, I systematically interrogated my fellow bloggers to get the scoop on any good eateries.
That’s when I got the word from Melissa, currently working on her new blog, Nothin’ But Eats, that the Grindhouse Cafe in downtown Griffith was the place to be.

Curious and hungry, I mounted my bike and set out for this hip new hangout. Just off Broad Street and yet another location not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, this cozy corner shop wasn’t at all hard to find.

Although there were no bike racks outside the place, the giant windows looking out onto the street gave me a good sense of security.

Faced with Grindhouse’s monolithic menu, I was a tad bit overwhelmed by the amount of choices. Fortunately, thanks to Melissa, she had already recommended I try the pulled pork. So, as suggestible as I am, that’s what I ordered.

When the food was brought out to me, I had to double check to make sure what I received was actually a pulled pork. Unlike any pulled pork sandwich I have ever had, this delicious beast was comprised of smoked tossed pork topped with an amazing red slaw, all sandwiched between a crispy croissant. Although I’ve never had a pulled pork quite like this one, I assure you, Grindhouse has set the bar pretty high for the next unfortunate barbecued pig to stand in my presence.

After wolfing down this edible work of art, I tried to keep my mouth empty long enough to socialize with some of the cliental. Given some inside tips from two ladies stopping in for a bite, they enthusiastically recommended I try the chicken salad, and iced tea next time I visit. Coming here for quite some time now, one the ladies told me she even rewards her son for good grades by taking him out here for a sandwich and a latte.

Wanting to learn a little more about the people behind the counter, I spoke with Gabe, who runs Grindhouse with his sister Kate.

This brother and sister duo went to the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (Le Cordon Bleu), and later decided to bring the fruits of their labor back to the town they were raised, Griffith, Indiana. When they learned about some open real estate in the area through a network in the Imagine Griffith team, Gabe said that he envisioned this corner of downtown Griffith to be the ideal location for their unique cafe. With lots of windows, natural lighting and a decent amount of dining space, it made for a casual, relaxed environment where people could just sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

When I asked Gabe what specifically made Grindhouse distinct from other cafes, he told me that the biggest difference had to be the food. In most cafes, coffee is the main focus and the food becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Wanting to alter that perception, Gabe and Kate strived to create a place where you can get coffee and quality cuisine as well.

Noticing the daily specials, I further inquired him about the possibility of seeing new menu items in the future. Always enjoying to explore and invent, he told me they’re constantly making new additions to the menu. Preferring to keep things fresh, and fearless enough to take a chance, they like to rotate the items as often as possible. Just recently they had served a special frozen lemonade known as the Cactuar (the name of an infamous Final Fantasy enemy), that was so popular they’re considering making it a permanent beverage on the list.

With my stomach finally rested, I thanked Gabe for the good conversation, while my growling belly thanked him for the food. I certainly owe a special thanks to Melissa as well for referring me to this wonderful hangout. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I get to pay Grindhouse another visit.

Griffith Central Park – Griffith, Indiana: Half Mast

Using up what’s left of the sunlight, I decided to take a casual ride down to Griffith’s Central Park. Just off Broad Street and not too far from the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, this local treasure was always a good fallback destination whenever I was short on time.

Just a stone’s throw away from my grandparents old house on Elm Street, I had often spent most of my childhood playing in the park. While the jungle gym has greatly evolved since I was a toddler, and its decor more sophisticated, this new beauty still felt like an old friend.

Tykes ran around the playground laughing and screaming, a group of friends gathered around the sand volleyball courts still pumped up from the London Olympic games, as a father took pictures of his kids scaling the M4A1E8 Sherman Medium Tank. With all that had changed aesthetically here over the years, somehow the people remained the same.

Drawn to the memorial in the park’s far corner, I noticed that the American flag stood at half mast in remembrance of 9/11. Walking over and peering into the reflective granite of the monument, my visage was cast onto its shining surface. As I looked at my image brushed onto the dark rock, I couldn’t help but feel grateful knowing that without the sacrifice of our veterans, there wouldn’t be a reflection at all.

Griffith Public Library – Griffith, Indiana: Fear Itself…

This year I signed up for a special topics class in literature and culture at Purdue University Calumet. Before taking this class I was made well aware that the “topic” would be determined by the assigned professor, and much to my chagrin, his selection was horror… how “special”.

While I appreciate the impact that the horror genre has had on our culture, I would rather not investigate how it impacts me. Procrastinating even watching a clip from the mildest of fright films, it wasn’t until just last weekend that I braved The Mothman Prophecies (said mildest film).

I’m pretty sure this elusion to scary movies originated during my middle school years. Back in the day when LAN parties were still cool, and Halo 2 was still new, my reputation as a hardcore gamer got me invited to a high school Halo tournament. Spending the night at the tournament host’s crib to help set up the next day, my adolescent self couldn’t have felt more awesome as the only fourteen year-old amongst five kids who had driver’s licenses.

When one of the “bros” suggested we go out to Blockbuster to snag a movie, the first title that was unanimously voted on was The Grudge. Never having heard of the movie, I only assumed it would be the best darn action film only a testosterone packed overnighter could provide. I was wrong…

Forced to watch undead, mutilated corpses maliciously stalk their victims in the “sanctuary” of my host’s dark basement, this first experience with a horror film wasn’t the best. If that wasn’t enough, when it came time to crash, my sleeping bag was strategically placed at the foot of the stairs with the light of the moon eerily crawling down the steps. Paralyzed in fear the duration of the night, it wasn’t until the sun rose that I cried tears of joy having survived till morning.

Now, ten years later, I was about to do it again…

Biking to the Griffith Public Library just off North Broad street, I took in all the sun, warmth, blue skies, generally anything happy before I ruined it after having to watch The Ring. The Griffith Branch had always been my designated library as far back as I could remember. However, all of that’s going to change once they move to their new location on 45th Street sometime in November. Not that I’m too sentimental towards the old branch, it’s just going to be weird biking a different route so soon.

When I arrived at the Griffith Branch, I idly rummaged the video shelves, praying that The Ring would be checked out. Apparently, I wasn’t praying hard enough. Grabbing the movie and heading out, I dreaded every pedal drawing me closer to home.

Making sure I still had an ample amount of daylight left, I popped in the DVD and turned on the lights. I don’t know if any of you have ever watched The Ring completely alone with nothing but a border collie to keep you company, but it is not something I would recommend.

Jumping and twitching every time a car passed by, gasping with every phone call and gripping my dog so tight that I had a hand full of black and white fur, I felt my suppressed middle school self emerge from his tomb with vengeance. Once the movie had finally finished, I immediately ejected the disc and looked outside as the sun started set.

Boy, was this going to be a long night.

Griffith Historical Park – Griffith, Indiana: Sea Legs

I’ve never been really good at math, but today’s equation wasn’t too hard to grasp: endless shrimp = very short bike ride.

Visiting Red Lobster early this afternoon, I found myself face to face with unlimited refillable shrimp and an increasingly limited stomach. Of course it has taken years of training, but I have successfully conditioned myself to ignore the primal instinct telling me to stop eating allowing for hours upon hours of hazardous gorging.

Teriyaki, popcorn, fried, and coconut, I was literally overwhelmed by the number of choices. Experimenting with the teriyaki shrimp on the side of the coconut (something I knew I liked), it really surprised me how delicious this new Asian zing was smothered on a shellfish.

After a few more refills of the teriyaki splashed shrimp, I once again was faced with another math problem; how much pressure could the seams of my pants take before ripping in proportion to the amount of refills I decided to ingest? Needless to say, it was time to go.

When I got home I sluggishly took my bike out to the Griffith Historical Park and swung around to the edge of the Highland path off 45th Street. Too drunk on seafood to take in the scenery, the entire experience was like riding on a wobbly boat just begging for the relief of a shark attack…

On the return ride home I was halted by two trains, which I looked at as gracious gifts from God, giving me brief moments of solace in between the nausea.

I considered it a great accomplishment having made it home without regurgitating my well spent $14.99.

Now safely in the house, laying down on the couch, I stared blankly up at the ceiling. The swirling white texture of the walls made me think of my leftover mashed potatoes.

…Mashed potatoes. Those sound good.

Crown Point Downtown Square – Crown Point, Indiana: Square Route

With the Southlake YMCA’s two week annual maintenance shutdown finally over, I decided it was time to get back to the gym. Still preferring to spend more time outside, I figured the ten mile ride there and back would be more than sufficient  for my cardio, leaving the tedious strength training for indoors.

Mounting the bike, I hit the Erie-Lackawanna Trail in Griffith and journeyed on towards Crown Point. The great thing about this path in-particular was its consistency. One long stretch of asphalt with practically no interruptions breaking the pace (save for two or three busy roads to cross), it was an ideal route for my cardio workout.

Riding past Merrillville and spelunking through the thin cement cave under Route 30, I made my way to one of the most beautiful portions of the trail I had ever seen. Running behind the Lake County Government Center, flanked by gorgeous fields of green, smooth wooden fences and vibrant colored flowers, it was almost like stumbling into the fanciful summer meadows of Narnia hidden right in Northwest Indiana’s backyard.

The path curved around the natural landscape gently massaging the shallow hills. Traversing  a comely bridge extending over a creek, I came across the Charles & Mable Swisher Park. Just a small plot of groomed grass and four benches, this concealed little oasis was a perfect, tranquil spot for an impromptu picnic. It was too bad I ate before I came. Maybe another time.

So caught up in the beauty and peacefulness of the whole experience, it wasn’t until this point that I realized I had forgotten my YMCA membership card. Taking this misfortune in stride, I figured if I’ve already come this far, I might as well drop by and visit the Crown Point Downtown Square.

Reaching the end of the Erie-Lackawanna Trail, I hopped immediately onto West Street and moseyed on towards the bright orange tower of the Crown Point Courthouse peeking over the tree tops. It wasn’t long before I was in the heart of the square, with cars zipping by and visitors casually touring the novel, local shops. With the picturesque courthouse now in plain view, I made my way around its side to the Historical District on South Main Street to get a glimpse of my two favorite buildings: the old Lake County Criminal Court, and the Sheriff’s Building, where the notorious John Dillinger made his famed escape in 1934.

It wasn’t too long ago that Director Michael Mann came to this very location when filming his own Dillinger story, Public Enemies. I still remember standing out in the bitter cold just to get a peek at the action. In retrospect, it isn’t something I would consider doing again without a bucket full of hot chocolate…

My heart rate lowered to a lazy pace as I leisurely took in the rustic and gritty architecture of these yesteryear masterpieces. It wasn’t until I finally let out a long and content yawn that I knew it was time to get my legs back on those pedals.

Bidding farewell to the marvels of the downtown square, I started on my journey home.

Perhaps I would go to the gym tomorrow…

Oak Ridge Prairie – Griffith, Indiana: Wet Dog

Rain drops tapped on my door, mockingly inviting me to come out and play. Peering outside the window, I watched helplessly as my Labor Day weekend was washed away by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

Angry that I was probably not going to be able to do anything outside this holiday, I accidentally let a four-letter word slip within the earshot of my border collie…“walk”.

Her ears instantly perked up and eyes bulged with enthusiasm. Not letting me get away with breaking my unintentional verbal contract, she whimpered and spun around, demanding I honor the agreement.

Convinced that she would change her mind after one minute in the soaking rain, I threw on my coat and consented to her impulsive request.

After walking… uh, make that swimming, three blocks in the downpour, I wondered if my border collie was really this desperate to escape the house or deliberately sticking it to me.

When we arrived back at home and dried off, I couldn’t help but feel a little tickled by our odd and wet expedition. Inspired by my border collie’s fearless and adventurous spirit, I decided that if she wasn’t going to let the rain ruin her day, neither was I!

Biking out into the puddle-ridden streets, I pedaled over to Colfax Street and down to one of Griffith’s most precious gems, Oak Ridge Prairie.

Entering the park (free of charge on bike), I sailed through the meadows of goldenrod and leafy, green grass glistening like royal jewels as they were anointed by the soft touch of the rain. The wildlife remained concealed in the protective shelter of the woods, although their voices could still be heard resonating through the fields.

At the end of the road leading to the park’s main area, I was faced with an old childhood friend, the Oak Ridge Prairie sledding hill. Though not christened with its majestic coat of white, this magnificent monument still stood proudly even as it sweat pools of muddy globs.

Temporarily reflecting on fond memories of sliding down the slopes and idiotic attempts of “snowboarding” with my sled, I shook my head and continued forward on the slippery path, still that eight year old boy who never learns.

Following the trail under the natural umbrella of the forest preserve, I carefully navigated my way down the trail smeared with dead leaves, cracked acorns and hazardously placed moss. Needless to say, I do not recommend advancing through this portion of the trail in the middle of a downpour unless you feel confident in both your balance and the strength of your helmet.

The water, still relentlessly seeking me out, streamed down the spouts of the trees’ leaves, drenching me twofold compared to riding out in the open.

Upon reaching the end of the wooded path, I smiled, relieved, as the last of the rain clouds dispersed. Walking my bike into a U-turn on the slick surface of the trail, I took a deep breath of the moist air and prepared myself for a cautious journey back through the park.

I don’t know what my border collie was thinking…

Calumet River – Hammond, Indiana: Over The River And Through The Woods…

Coming home after a day of frustrating traffic, bad parking spots and annoying colleagues, I poured myself a glass of ice cold milk (contemplating a margarita instead) and wondered why I even bothered to crawl out of bed this morning.

Once again having to crash another one of my daily pity parties, I listened to that sweet loving voice inside my head telling me to hike up my big boy pants and BE A MAN FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Without a single dignified retort to that admonishment, I proceeded out onto the bike paths to begin reevaluating my masculinity.

Cruising past the rustic railways of Griffith’s train-ladened kingdom onto the Broad Street bike path, just across from Griffith Historical Park (something cool to see if you get the chance), I soon found myself en route to the meticulously shaved, emerald green grass of the Highland trail.

Venturing all the way down the trail past Highland and into the border of Hammond, I reached a curious, rusted steel bridge extending over a turquoise stream. Testing my balance on the bike the way moguls challenge an Olympic skier, I carefully made my way over the springy wooden planks of the bridge, slowly preparing myself for the gravel road on the other end. Fortunately the crusty rock of the trail had been firmly padded down due to yesterday’s light rain.

Following this detour around a vast manmade pond with the eclectic Indiana Welcome Center prominently stamped in the distance, I arrived at Kennedy Avenue. Just across the intersection was an identical steel bridge leading straight onto the Calumet River Nature Trail, a personal favorite of mine. Though forced to walk my bike up a few rocky slopes to this isolated overpass, I found myself instantly back in the zone as soon as I reached the clandestine wilderness lurking on the other end.

Absconding to an oasis filled with the exotic symphony of cicadas and tranquil harmony of song birds, I lost myself in the arms of this blemished Eden. Trees rustled restlessly in the warm midday breeze as I rode through a canopy of grasshoppers jumping exuberantly into the golden kiss of the sun.

As I neared the end of the trail, my journey finished amongst a graveyard of gnarled dead trees protruding out of the swamp like vicious claws thrashing towards the sky. This bleak, dead marsh, forged by the flames of a long ago fire, was the definitive ending to this routine trip (especially in the Pre-Halloween season).

Spine-tingling screams echoed through the damp air as hawks scoured over the wooly amber waves of grass. Crickets chirped meekly, like gentle taps sounding in the distance. And the dark painted wings of butterflies floated in the wind, wraithlike ashes whispering tales of the old fire. Even under the bright, protective light of the sun’s gaze, this place had a foreboding presence that always seemed to haunt me whenever I passed through…

The road now merging with the loud, bustling traffic of Cline Avenue, the roar of engines and machinery distracted me from the fleeting fantasies of my romanticizing antics. Leaving the supernatural forest behind, I made my way across Cline Avenue to Griffith Boulevard and back to good Ol’ Broad Street. Though I was able to pedal on home from this point, the great thing about Broad is it’ll lead you right back to Griffith Historical Park if you happened to drive there from somewhere further away.

This is certainly not one of my more creative nor adventurous rides. But, for those of you who find yourselves a little too caught up in the urban rat race, it might do you good to simply run into the forest and see just where your mind might take you…