Killing Time in Kentucky

Bowling Green, KY – This town, home of Western Kentucky University, might just be one of the most photographed cities in the nation. It seems like every one I’ve met here, including the kids in the picture above, is a photojournalism student. I didn’t realize schools even offered photojournalism programs anymore, but I’ve since learned UWK is one of the few that still do.

I chatted for a while with Kohl, third from left. I turned him onto David Lynch’s Interview Project and he introduced me to 50 People, One Question. We discussed new media, long-form journalism, travel and a range of other topics. His friend told a funny story about how one of his peers, presumably a yokel, referred to Wu-Tang Clan as “ethnic music.” Then, after we parted ways, I lost a notebook full of notes, which included the contact info Kohl wrote down for me. So, Kohl, if you’re reading this: Send me your info and website link!

There isn’t a whole lot going on here in southwestern Kentucky otherwise. Yesterday I was sitting outside of Spencer’s Coffee House on the downtown square, with my laptop, when some hillbillies in a red pick-up rolled to a stop at the red light out front. “Hey man,” the guy in the passenger seat called out. “Google something for me.”

We laughed.

“What’s there to do in this town?” I called back.

“This is it, brother,” he replied. “You either Google or you drive around.”

Well, I was tired of driving and Googling, so I thought maybe a beer would be nice since I haven’t had one since I visited Madison in April. But apparently many of the bars in the downtown area were closing. In fact, the morning I arrived, the front page of the paper was headlined: Last call! Four Bars Close Over Weekend. That’s a lot of bar closings for a town like Bowling Green, coming as they did on the heels of other recent closures. Instead, I drove to a truck stop and finished the last chapters of a book on obscure social movements in pre-political societies that my buddy Matt loaned me. Interesting stuff, especially the chapters on social banditry and mafias.

What’s strange about Kentucky cities is that they’re not only surprisingly sprawly, but they lack central hubs. Louisville has cool streets here and there, but no main place where people gather, shop, dine, hang, yell or fight. You’ll need to visit different parts of the city for those things. Lexington is the same way. It also is undergoing crazy construction in anticipation of the 2010 Equestrian Games to be held there later this summer, so I didn’t stick around for long. Enough time to pump Purple Thunder full of petro and ask directions to the Bluegrass Parkway.

Mostly, I’ve been trying to kill time. I’m working on a story about the meth problem here in the region. Yesterday I met with a guy who counsels meth addicts. He’s trying to track down for me a guy who’s twice blown himself up cooking the shit.

Today I met with the Sgt. of Covert Drug Operations here in Warren County, a very nice and funny guy who has been helpful beyond anything I could imagine. This weekend I’m on meth lab call, meaning, if the drug agent on duty gets a call about a meth lab, he’s going to call me so I can tag along. Next week I interview the intel crew that does the crime and drug analysis and then go on a ride along with some undercovers later in the week.

Tomorrow I’m meeting some meth addicts.

Next week, mid-week,  I have a story in Louisville that I hope pans out. By next weekend I hope to be in Tennessee.

In the meantime, it’s lots of down time.

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