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  • robertfarago1

The Ghosts of Slavery (Lexington, Kentucky)

It takes some skill to spend four days in Lexington, Kentucky without visiting anything horse-related. Turns out I have that skill.

In my defense, The Ridiculously Random Motorcycle Tour could just as accurately be called The Piss Poor Planning Motorcycle Tour.

And it’s not like I spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the expression "everything's Jake" to a button-cute bartender at Jake's Cigar Bar.

The Wick in the Candle of Knowledge

The bartender's lack of etymological curiosity reminded me of a Steak & Egg waitress who served me a Paul Bunyan breakfast when I got off the night shift at CNN.

"Do you know who Paul Bunyan is?" I asked Darlene one morning. "Baseball player?" she guessed. "Yup," I affirmed. "Played for the Yankees with Babe." "You learn something new every week," she observed unconvincingly.

Last week I learned Lexington is meh. Aside from the historical and cultural touchstones I didn’t touch, I can’t say I was captivated by the charms its defenders will surely cite.

While The Athens of America was what Hemingway might call "a clean well-lighted place," so is Target. Neither is particularly interesting.

I reckon Frank’s godson Dawson nailed it: Lexington lacks oomph.

“People are happy just going along,” he remarked over an omelette at The Happy Egg. “There’s no ambition or excitement.”

The Darkness Downtown

Walking around downtown Lexington – a small, unimpressive smorgasbord of architectural styles with not-so-elegant public spaces occupied by the usual legion of pan-handling homeless – it's hard not to agree.

The city center's dominated by the hideous 31-story Lexington Financial Center, dubbed "the tallest building the world" by tongue-in-cheek progress-dissing locals.

Not that looking backwards in time is a barrel of laughs for Lexingtonians.

The slave trade was the city's original "ambition and excitement." From the 1820's until the Civil War, Lexington was home to one of America's largest slave markets.

More than two dozen dealers bought and sold thousands of men, women and children, auctioning human beings to the highest bidder at the Cheapside slave auction block.

Unlike Greensboro's Civil Rights Museum, historical markers are Lexington's only visible acknowledgement of the the city's pernicious past. They make for horrifying reading.

This site was once one of the city's largest slave jails – Magowan's. Thomas Magowan held slaved individuals in his jails until he had enough people in his market to ship to markets in Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans – the enslaved were literally sold down the river.

There's an expression I won't be using again.

A Tale of Two Cities

Leaving Lexington central, cruising through Ashland Park, it's easy to forget The Horse Capitol of the World's original sin.

Carved out Henry Clay's Ashland Estate, planned by the Olmsted brothers of Central Park fame, the 600-acre development evokes the technicolor backdrop for Disney's The Lady and the Tramp.

The ‘hood's streets curve gracefully under canopies of mature trees, overlooked by elegant houses in the Victorian, Colonial Revival and Craftsman style, fronted by manicured lawns and tidy gardens, intersected by perfectly placed paths and parks.

Need I point out that 95 percent of Ashland Park residents are white? That the city's Black population lives in far less salubrious surrounds?

As French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr observed, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Horsing Around

While I didn't visit any of the 450+ horse farms outside Lexington's inner loop, I passed them during my backroad boogaloo from Kentucky’s rolling hills to Maine’s craggy coast (which I’m many days from completing).

Serviced by winding country roads, the story-book fenced farms convinced me that Dawson was both right and wrong about his homies' lack of spirit. Right in the city, wrong outside it.

Assuming you have enough money to afford and maintain such a verdant and romantic piece of property and stock it with the finest of four-legged friends, what else do you need?

What else to do you have time to need? Take it from a Jew who owned a horse farm in The Land of Hope and Glory, take it from me: ithe beasts are Kardashian-level high maintenance.

Horse people are insanely ambitious; breeding, riding and especially racing. Lexington’s equine elite have bred Triple Crown winners. ‘Nuff said?

No matter where you go, there you are. And no matter where you go these days, someone has been there before.

Who? Where did they come from? What did they do? Why?

That's the mystery motivating my motorcycling meandering: discerning the forces that created the landscapes I encounter in my travels.

Researching these locales, I often bump into the bizarre. Clock this...

While most settlers to Kentucky brought horses with them, one of the first to make his mark on Kentucky horse racing was Revolutionary War veteran William Whitley. In the late 1700s, he built a home south of what is now Lexington in Crab Orchard—a home that included one of the country’s first clay racetracks.
According to legend, Whitley decided that American horses would race counterclockwise, as a protest against the clockwise races of England. -

Random Righteousness

Research schmesearch. It's the random educational encounters that make this trip so... trippy.

Yesterday morning my bike was beset by a cold wind. (Note: be careful what you wish for.) I pulled into a side road to switch into my warmer jacket.

Once that was done, I followed the road to rejoin the highway. Oops! Dead end.

And there it was: the historical marker above, completely cut off from traffic when the new highway replaced the old road.

A rusting plaque telling the story of courage and conviction against Lexington’s backdrop of inhumanity. A forgotten tale that gives us hope for mankind.

A story I would have missed if I'd pulled off anywhere else. (That you would have missed if you hadn't made your way here.)

Sometimes you find enlightenment. Sometimes enlightenment finds you. The trick? Every once in a while, you gotta stop horsing around.

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1 comentário

02 de jul.

Nice post! Wish you had a "like" button so I could offer support when I can't think of anything profound to say.

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