French Lick Mile

Too bad if you missed this one.

This was one of the best drives if not the best drive - the Illinois Jaguar Club has ever had the pleasure of enjoying and was certainly on par with those exotic and super expensive drives like the Red Rock Rally.

Imagine: absolutely perfect top-down weather (unlike the floods of last year), verdant undulating serpentine country roads with no traffic, significant historical architecture, delicious food, attractive accommodations and the chance to schmooze and booze with almost 60 fun-loving Jaguar buddies.

The Durhams, Gluecks, and Harwoods who planned this extravaganza left nothing to chance and we have much to be grateful to them for the outstanding effort that went into this drive.

Carla and I left Chicago on Friday with the Cusacks, met up with the Jonkers an hour out of the city and took Highways 41 and 52 to Indianapolis, thus avoiding the parade of heavy trucks that inhabit I-65. Sure, it took an extra hour, but whats an hour when you can avoid the noise, congestion and turbulence of the interstate. We left a day early in order to spend the night in a refurbished 1920s era railroad coach at the Crowne Plaza Union Station Hotel and to return for another steak dinner at Moes where we joined by the Simos and Cynthia Brandenburg.

On Saturday, we met everyone else at Southern Dunes Country Club south of Indy for lunch. This is about as far as we got last year when rains flooded southern Indiana and most of us were forced to turn back.

The next leg led to Columbus, home of Cummins Engine Company and a concentration of notable mid-20th-century buildings and homes designed by the architectural elite of that era Harry Weese, the Saarinens, and others.

We stayed at the Indigo Hotel, the interior design of which mirrored the motifs of these noted architects. Dinner and cocktails were at Smiths Row, a blacksmiths shop converted to a modern restaurant with an art deco feeling. Here Brooke Bremner and David Glueck shined in their attention to detail: attractive and amusing tschotzkes for all, a crusted baked brie in the shape of a leaping Jaguar and a terrific buffet dinner. This was one mellow evening. That night, our intrepid trip planners even arranged for a midnight thunderstorm which provided just enough water to allow us to start Sunday morning with freshly washed cars.

A tour of Columbus ensued and our tour guide was so engaging that if Brooke, who called herself the time-Nazi, had not herded us together we would have had to skip a lovely lunch at the rustic Story Inn in Story, a short ride away.

The ride from Story to our ultimate destination, West Baden Springs Resort in French Lick consumed the rest of the day and this was one of the best segments of an already beautiful ride. Here the country roads wound and bobbed from town to town, through farm land and across a number of covered bridges.

It was during this leg of the trip that our famous club camaraderie emerged in helping Todd Willson whose XK-120 suddenly lost power. Although a half-dozen of us were involved in discovering the source of the problem (faulty coil) and discussing the solution, Todd was miraculously saved by a local resident who was driving by and stopped to help. It turned out he was an amateur drag racer and was able to supply the necessary coil from his personal inventory.

Over the years Ive read about the restoration of the West Baden Springs and French Lick Hotels, but this resort is remarkable for its the scale, elegance, detail and grace. West Baden Springs Hotel is noted for its vast atrium and a cantilevered roof that was the largest in the world until the construction of the Houston Astrodome. Renovated over the last ten or so years at a cost of over $500 million, this resort deserves its listing in the National Register of Historic Buildings. It is absolutely beautiful. The materials used in its construction and the ornate design are truly awe-inspiring. The elegant guest rooms are furnished to reflect the styles of an era 100 years ago. Even the casino in the adjacent French Lick Hotel is understated by Las Vegas standards and enhances the overall ambience of the complex. Dinner Saturday evening in the French Lick Hotel was as elegant as anything Ive ever experienced even in a fine downtown hotel.

Again the Bremner/Glueck touch kicked off the evening as each person was given a theatrical paper mask to wear this certainly brought out the child in each of us and was a great icebreaker, not that the IJC ever needed one. Again, perfect cocktails, great food in a lovely private dining room. What else could one ask for? On Monday, many of the group headed for home, but Carla and I decided to stay an extra day. This afforded us time to relax, swim, and take a formal tour of the West Baden Springs Hotel. This is a place I definitely want to return to. Who needs to go to Monaco when you can be here in just 6 hours of beautiful driving. Thanks again to the Durhams, Harwoods and the Gluecks for planning such a memorable and beautiful trip. Only one downside to the whole thing I cant imagine a future IJC overnighter that could be better?