RIVALS — Somewhere, appropriately enough, between Lexington and Louisville, off Interstate 64, south on Ky. 55, swinging through Ky. 1169 because the Ky. 55 turn is so confusing, and looking for a big 45-degree hook in the road, you find three houses in the bottomland and wonder, who is at war here?
It is neither Wildcat nor Cardinal. No sign of either on the eve of the big football game.
It is not man against dawn.
It might be country against city sprawl.
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Because otherwise, who is at odds?
Or, more precisely, was, to call it this defensive name?
Because this is a town that is clearly named Rivals on the map, and somebody must be squabbling. It's clearly not the peaceable wild turkeys who cross the road, rustling up the sharpness of the sweet smell of fresh morning. It's not the white morning glory unfurling from the wire fence that hasn't seen a man-made tool since that wire was unrolled from the spool.
And surely it's not the corn and tobacco farmers who are having a banner year in this early September heat down in the bottoms, having sucked Brashears Creek nearly dry, having made use of this fertile earth to create tobacco so high and leafy and deeply veined, and corn so tall and staunch and ready.
Don Goodfleisch is the only man out who is willing to venture a guess on the tiny burg's name. An Elvis impersonator who does weekly stints delivering an anti-drug message in the Jefferson County schools, he came to Rivals 20 years ago because "the best thing about living here was that in the morning, five cars would head out for work and the same five cars would return at night."
He says he and his pink 1958 Cadillac see a lot more drive-bys these days — lots more people wanting to live here and take the 20- minute ride to the Watterson Expressway. It's the continuing story of the rural part of Kentucky that sits next to urban Kentucky that quietly is giving way to clumps of early morning traffic, and old barns and Victorian homes dwarfed by big new houses and manicured lawns.
And the rivalry is easy to see, and we know who's winning.
But we're talking history here.
Back to Elvis, who says he heard a story about the origin of the name of the bend in the road in this slice of Spencer County. He has heard that there was a once-vibrant Civil War encampment on the other side of the creek.
Maybe that didn't set too well with some folks. But he would not bet his blue suede shoes on that.
Perry Marler, Goodfleisch's next-door neighbor, more or less, has lived in town for only 10 years, and he has no knowledge of the town except that it still has a population of "three or four houses." A lingering glance shows that that includes no standing old church, primitive schoolhouse or vintage post office.
It does, however, include a great source of Perry Marler property pride: A steel cable that, because the creek is so low, you can see.
Come on, "I'll show you," says the one-time airport diesel mechanic who left the big city to be a musician and small-machine mechanic.
And there, plain as day, in an inch of stagnant water, a thick rope of steel, which Marler explains is the cable from the Van Dyke Mill, which was both sawmill and flour mill, and that stood at Rivals from 1789 to 1959. The cable, he was told, opened and shut the trap door for the mill.
Marler also is sure that Rivals takes up both side of Brashears Creek, even if only for a few feet either way. Within seconds, he has walked around to his garage and exited with his yellow Argo, an amphibious 6-wheel, off-road vehicle, and he takes a tour down the only thing in town dubbed "Rivals." That'd be Rivals Road, which is the road through the creek.
On the other side is exactly one log cabin. And more tobacco.
The Rivals Road sign is gone. He gets out of the vehicle to search for it. He so wanted to show it off. "It probably been taken by a bunch of rednecks. They probably thought it would look good on one of their walls."
Marler is disappointed. It's the one way he can prove that Rivals exists, by state standards.
He says it shows up on his Tom-Tom, a GPS device. Doesn't show up on other navigational devices, though.
Which is such a bummer.
As for Saturday's big game, the location between Lexington and Louisville doesn't pose a huge problem for Marler.
"I don't watch any sports," he says.
He has his creek for fishing. Brashears is full of bass and catfish when it's up. He hunts. He has his drums, his cars, his family.
Oh, and NASCAR.
Don't get the one man willing to talk in Rivals started on that war.