September 26, 2011
Report Card Monday will be postponed this week because I’d rather write about the impromptu mini-vacation Mr. Karen and I had this past weekend. The main purpose of the trip was to continue our pretty much annual tradition of the past 30 years or so of seeing Kansas in concert. (I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it here, but in a strange way, I owe my job at Purple Systems to the band, as it was one of their songs that led to Mr. Karen meeting the guy who would one day be the founder of the company, which led to them becoming friends and roommates in college, which meant when the company was looking to expand, Mr. Karen got a call and since I happened to be looking for a job at the time, I got an interview and then a job.) I was unenthusiastic about the prospect of driving three hours after work on Friday to get to the venue in Elkhart (Indiana); I’d been battling a cold all week, and I’ve seen Kansas and seen them and they haven’t come out with a new album in a while, but that morning I was feeling better so went ahead and bought tickets (thank goodness they hadn’t sold out) and reserved a hotel room and we went. We managed to leave our house pretty much on time and encountered no delays on the drive, so we were able to grab a quick bite to eat after getting off the tollway before making our way downtown to the Lerner Theater. Parking was easyâ€”plenty of spaces in the free lot across the street from the venue. The theater was very fancy for a rock show; it was evidently recently restored and reminded us of the Detroit Opera House, just smaller. (Unlike the Detroit Opera House, no one told me I couldn’t take photos inside, which was nice.)
Our seats were up in the mezzanine; I don’t think we’ve ever seen Kansas from a mezzanine before. For as late as we bought our tickets, we had a great view, and the cushy theater seats were a nice change from the hard plastic or damp grass we’ve often had to put our butts down on when seeing the band perform. Steve Walsh from Kansas actually came out to introduce the opening band, District 97; I don’t recall ever seeing him do that before. We ended up liking District 97’s music enough that during the intermission after their set, Mr. Karen went and bought their album from the merch table (and met the leader singer in the process; we’d actually seen other members of the band behind the table before the concert but didn’t know who they were at that point—just saw folks young enough to be our kids if we’d had any). When it was time for Kansas, they rocked it.
When we’d checked into the motel Friday after the show, Mr. Karen had picked up some travel brochures in the lobby, and rather than just drive straight home Saturday morning, we followed the advice in one of them to stop at the visitor center (conveniently located near our hotel) and pick up a CD tour of the Heritage Trail. There was a quilt mural on the outside of the building and many actual quilts inside, so I was quite happy we made this stop. In addition to the driving tour CD and some more brochures, we got an excellent recommendation for where to eat a late breakfast. (Callahan’s, if you’re ever in Elkhart. I recommend the Greek skillet with tomatoes added and a side of pancakes.) It was raining when we got done eating, and would rain on and off the rest of the day, but we still enjoyed our explorations on and off the trail, none of which we’d planned in advance. We took a soggy stroll around a botanical gardens, visited a historical grist mill and climbed a lookout tower, bought pie and local cheese, tried not to gawk at the Amish buggies, toured a car museum with the most attentive volunteer docent ever, snapped another Big Boy for my collection, and finished the day with dinner at an authentic old fashioned home cooking diner along US 12 back in Michigan. Someday I’d like to go back and do the two-thirds of the Heritage Trail that we skipped this time.