Sometimes, one just needs a getaway. My fiancé and I regularly crave what we refer to as “getting back to the ‘salt-of-the-Earth’” type of experiences. The places where simplicity has lived for generations, far removed from anything that is trendy or moderately civilized. These locations relax our cores, but also challenge us to find the little hidden gems buried in the culture of Small Town, Indiana. And let me tell you, we always find some gems.
Our latest Small Town tour was planned by my fiancé (we take turns plotting the perfect itinerary of dive bars, dining, walking paths and sights that we want to always remember seeing) and it took us to the eastern part of the Hoosier state.
At first glance, Marion is the image of a factory town turned factory-less. But, nestled right across from Indiana Wesleyan University, a little bed and breakfast sparkls like the hidden gem it is. When you pull into College Inn Bed and Breakfast, don’t be surprised to see the 1956 Chevy truck, which belongs to the inn’s owner, resting its engine in the cottage-like house’s driveway. The inn is a place where all the right touches come together and one can feel whoever built this truly loved it.
The doorknobs were worn in, fresh-baked cookies tempted the taste buds and a guestbook list sat at the entrance. The book was filled with signatures from around the world marking travelers’ stays at the five-bedroom inn in ink. No one was there when we arrived so we explored the green kitchen with black-and-white checkered floors and browsed the patio eating area.
We went about our evening, trying the calamari strips and splitting a pasta dish at The Mill, a 10-year-old establishment overlooking the Mississinewa River. While the food was good, it’s not what got our attention – except they did have Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. Ultimately, it was the company that caught our attention. The whole time we were there not one person left. This was their little niche in the world on that evening and they spent it relaxing in the friendships around them. We liked it; we liked seeing people not rush to the next destination and simply appreciate the one they were in.
The next morning we awoke to the sizzling sounds of a happy kitchen. The inn owner, Jack, was standing over a skillet making what he called a “sloppy omelet.” We called it a “what-we’ll-still-be-craving-a-year-from-now omelet.” He pointed us toward our table, which was glazed with a spread of fruit, homemade jam and fresh doughnuts. We pulled out the paper, I poured my coffee and then Jack brought our food. We quickly realized the story we really wanted to experience was Jack. He’s a retired principal, but he refers to himself as a “recovering principal.” While some spend retirement golfing into the dusk, Jack took a different turn with retirement. He bought a termite-infested “shell of a house,” as he told us, and made it into something that was a soul of a house. So much so, Tony Dungy has even rested his head on a pillow in the inn. But, even the stars who have stayed at the inn don’t shine with the same excitement that Jack does. There he sat, talking to us about books, stories, movies, and the old cars he buys and restores, including that truck in the driveway. He told us the steps it took (two years worth of steps) to turn a place that didn’t have running water into the roof that sheltered us so warmly for the hours we were there.
Then Jack told us of his dreams, his aspirations, how he’s blending a successful business model with his background in education to help save failing school systems. Every word he said was delivered with a passionate energy and a matching smile.
He told us, “I always wanted to travel the world, to meet people from all over. Now, I have this inn where people all over the world come and visit.”
“Looks like the world is coming to you, then,” my fiancé replied.
“You know, it really is. I’m traveling the world by the people who come here,” Jack said.
Sometimes, one needs a getaway. But a getaway isn’t worth it, if it’s merely an escape. It’s only worth it when it’s truly an experience. Jack may not travel the world, but he experiences it every single day with the overnight home he’s built for so many heads to rest in.
[friday] editor/ Experiencer