03/26/2013 03:03 pm ET Updated May 26, 2013

Road Trip USA: Hoagy Carmichael, St. Louis, and a Wet (and Dry) St. Paddy's Day

I'm in the final legs of my Road Trip USA. Over the last two weeks, I've been very busy, with a lecture and TV appearance in a different city each day. Earlier this week, I shared my adventures from Maryland; Washington D.C.; the University of Delaware; Roanoke College in Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; the University of Illinois in Urbana; and Westerville, Ohio. Since then, I've enjoyed sharing our gospel of smart budget European travel in Bloomington, Indiana (WTIU) and St. Louis, Missouri (KETC).


Tickling the ivories with Bloomington, Indiana's native son Hoagy Carmichael

Bloomington -- home of Hoagy Carmichael, John Mellencamp, the Dalai Lama's brother, and the University of Indiana -- is a fine little town with venerable old homes around its town square, which is crowned by a stately courthouse. I understand Indiana is completely run by Republicans who have a supermajority in their state government, but Bloomington felt like a liberal bastion.

I enjoyed bedding down in Bloomington's circa-1900 Showers Inn B&B. (Mr. Showers made coffins for the Union in the Civil War and had a booming business -- you see his name all over town.) I made a quick pilgrimage to the statue of Hoagy Carmichael (the Bloomington native who wrote "Heart and Soul" and my dad's favorite song from the 1940s, "Huggin' and Chalkin'"). After a stop at the cute little on-campus studio of WTIU for a quick taping, I met an enthusiastic crowd filling the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, followed by a meet and great on the stage.


Bloomington, Indiana, offers Rick a warm small-town welcome for a lecture raising money for the local public television station.

The next morning, my driver/assistant Keith and I drove about five hours to St. Louis. As it was St. Patrick's Day, my talk was in the afternoon. Reviewing all the PowerPoint slideshows on my laptop, I realized I only had a couple of Ireland slides. I did my best to work them into the show so I wouldn't ignore the Emerald Isle completely on its big day.

At the dinner KETC threw for its big supporters after my talk, I got a good feeling for how leading local families engaged in the arts and good causes like public television really make a difference in a proud city like St. Louis.

Keith and I had promised ourselves a celebratory beer to wrap up our time together and to celebrate St. Paddy's Day. But the rain was hurling down, we were both beat, and our hotel -- Hotel Ignacio -- was one of the most comfortable and elegant of our entire trip. So we just both stayed in.

The next morning, Keith dropped me off at the airport. In 35 hours on the road, we had driven 2,150 miles -- averaging 61 mph in our trusty Suburban. Lugging an extra bag of handout fliers for my next four lectures, I realized how much I'd miss Keith...and the car.

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