Thursday, December 4

Back Home Again

CARMEL, Indiana--home of Crooked Stick GC, where in 1991 Long John Daly leapt upon national stage, though "leapt" here is figurative--sits in the half-light of a late fall morning just eight miles from here, and even at this hour one can almost hear someone scheming to deprive someone else of a considerable chunk of his savings. It's what they do up there when it's too cold to golf.

Carmel--it's pronounced CAR-muhl, which used to be the way you could spot outsiders, but that's been the standard waggish pronunciation, like tar-zhay for Target™, for so long I catch myself doing it sometimes--is the Queen of Hamilton County, which keeps repeating that it's the Fastest Growing County in Indiana as though that meant Still Plenty o' Good Arable Bottom Land Left and not McMansions and strip malls everywhere there isn't already a golf course. They don't add And The Wealthiest nearly as often, unless they're sure you're one of their kind or are interested in leasing some prime retail space. But they're entitled to that one, too.

As I recall it, Indiana was the first state in the nation to complete its portion of the Interstate Highway system, including 465, the ring around what was then mostly suburban or still rural Marion county, which the city of Indianapolis would annex in short order. This facilitated White Flight right out of the county, and the sleepy little village of Carmel, and the nearby, even sleepier, whistle stops of Fishers and Westfield, were among the major beneficiaries, doubly so since Indianapolis' Old Money has always resided on the Northside.

It's a solid Republican area--in fact "solid" seems to weak a word there--and has been, probably, since Lincoln won the War, as John Prine once put it. This circumstance was not noticeably altered by the influx of thousands of middle-to-upper class white people.

You can add to the mix Central Indiana's own Chinatown; the sharpers who ran the Water Company from the 1920s picked Hamilton County as the spot for their new reservoir(s) (at one point the plan--Caution: Army Corps of Engineers At Work!--was to flood a full third of the county). In the end Congress refused to fund the plan, and the Water Company had to content itself with the profits from land around the reservoir they rather astutely turned into a housing development before the county could take it over for a nature preserve. Fishers and Westfield were a little slower getting into the game, but now it's a race to annex the most land before it's all gone, the better to collect water and sewage charges for the rest of perpetuity.

It's been a grand enough spectator sport for the occasional viewer with a sardonic outlook and no tax liabilities at stake, wondering when the whole damn thing would blow up and who'd catch the shrapnel. Long-time readers of this blog with nothing important on their minds might even remember our coverage of the tail end of the Connor Prairie Boondoggle, in which an outdoor laboratory-type living history museum wholly owned by Earlham College, a Quaker institution in Richmond, IN, was wrested from it with the help of Indiana's Republican Attorney General Steve Carter, who stepped in when a lot of Fishers muckety-mucks thought its full commercial potential wasn't being realized. Carter had absolutely no standing to get involved, but he did have an eye towards higher office and a nose for where the campaign contributions required to get there might be located, which is at least 9/10 of the law. As a result, Earlham parted with the museum, which is now in the hands of the sort of people who spend every moment, up to two hours daily, raising funds by selling the wealthy tax-deductible dinners, and--coincidentally, we're sure--a small section of land has been set aside for a much-needed condominium development. At the end of this season the Racist Star glowingly reported that fundraising efforts had set a new record, which is about as surprising as finding that porn sites had proven popular with frat boys. Our personal involvement is limited to the fact that the move to expel the insufficiently commercial Friends was spearheaded by Berkley Duck III, Esq., whom we wouldn't have had the courage to invent.

[Full disclosure:  we used to live near the county line, and a scant three decades ago I used to blissfully bicycle my way across rolling flat-ass fields and past the sleepy train-stop hamlet of 800 people.  Now you take your life in your hands driving through the place in anything smaller than a Lincoln Navigator.]

But if we imagined that the inevitable distant explosion we hoped to live long enough to hear someday would be caused by insufficient infrastructure, shoddy home construction, empty retail space, or, at the outside, water riots, we've had to content ourselves mostly with the six-to-eight legal battles over incontinent annexation that've been going on for a decade now. That is, we did, until late last week.

Because now word has arrived that Car-MEHL has a bit of spending difficulty, unrelated to the general economic malaise.  It's  more in the vein of Predictable Result of Guaranteed One-Party Republican Rule for Generations. A little over a year ago the soon-to-be-facing-the-necessity-of-buying-airtime-for-eight-solid-months-of-campaign-ads Daniels administration agreed to pay the city $90 mil to take over four miles of Keystone Avenue (Highway 431). Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard announced that this was sufficient funding to allow the city to build six more of its beloved traffic roundabouts, which are sort of a public transportation version of domed stadiums, except with speeding morons coming at you from three directions at once. Evidently what Carmel loves about traffic roundabouts is that they are so utterly unfamiliar to anyone who doesn't (or wouldn't be allowed to) live there that a large percentage of outsiders is likely to die horrible flaming late-model-domestic-vehicle deaths, or stay the hell away after a loved one has. It's a sort of PC replacement for their long-standing tradition of arresting anyone caught driving while Black. The damn things are bad enough when you're traveling Carmel's own surface streets; now they're putting them in on a major north-south thoroughfare which used to belong to the state, which, of course, had previously stymied anything that looked like change, progress, or just vaguely European.

Or that is they were, until Brainard (who'd been reelected--there's a shocker--a year ago while promising not a cent of Carmelite money was needed) turned up asking for $58 million worth of those cents, as the project was 1/3 completed and the money 1/2 gone. And it turned out that, oh--seat belts fastened?--he sorta might have known about this all along, and that $112 million had been the low-ball figure he'd actually been given.

Brainard, to his credit--his credit as a Republican politician, I mean--insists that he never tried to low-ball the plan to his constituents, but was merely misinformed. And overly optimistic that $112 mil could be made to look like $90 mil if one simply wished hard enough, and whistled while crossing any graveyards. And he says he withheld the shortfall until now because he wanted to make sure all the numbers were in before he said anything. The city council, for its part, begins feigning shock, shock! at this wholly unexpected turn of events it had been helping to keep quiet since February.

This comes on the heels of the public collapse six weeks ago of the private-funding cover story for the $80 million asterisk Carmel Performing Arts Center. $70 mil of that public money is already spent; the $40-60 million expected to pay for the limestone façade and skylight, and other classy upgrades, which was supposed to come from private fundraising, is so far roughly $38-$58 million short of its goal. The Redevelopment Commission has ponied up a needed $45,000,000.

Now, again, the only thing that's surprising, to me, is that this was learned not thirty years after the fact, when a dead call-girl's diary was opened or a papier-mâché bridge collapsed, but here and now, about a seated government. And the most entertaining feature, thanks to the Racist Star's new practice of putting reader comments right at the end of stories, instead of making you click a link for them, and thereby having time to steel yourself, has been the die-hard Republican excuse mongering, which has included "this shouldn't be news in an Indianapolis paper!" (the old Love It Or Leave It ploy with a special reverse twist), and the suggestion--which comes, mind you, from someone standing in the wreckage of Reagan-Friedmanomics and, possibly, with a view from his office window of the fifth publicly-finanaced sports palace we've built in the last thirty years, or maybe just the spot where we've torn down one or are tearing down another--that Brainard had somehow "turned into a Democrat."  


yellojkt said...

Howard County, Maryland is also inordinately fond of traffic circles guaranteed to back up two miles in ever direction during rush hour as idiots try to figure out who has the right of way. They've had to add blinking red lights at one.

heydave said...

I feel so plain, so meager, so wholesome... wait, no, not that. Anyway, the big scandal out here in Ioway concerns the guv'ners' wife caught smoking in her state vehicle (driven by an on-duty officer). This in a state that recently banned all public smoking.

Well, except for casinos; don't be stupid.

Doug said...

My family has gathered once every two years at Hilton Head Island, SC since the mid-70s. Traffic circles used to be a quaint novelty I associated with golf and warmish biennial Christmases. Now, not so much.

Anonymous said...

...allow the city to build six more of its beloved traffic roundabouts.... ...likely to die horrible flaming late-model-domestic-vehicle deaths

Of course, I, having assiduously earned a proud "B" average in High School Higher Mathematics, firmly believe that it must futile to build traffic roundabouts in Indiana, whose legislature has passed a bill establishing the value of pi as 4. I would venture that this might have something of consequence to do with those pesky flaming demises.

Aloha to the inner circle


Anonymous said...

Man, those tax and spend liberal democrats are invading Indiana too?