Wednesday, May 27

The Petri Dish Of Moranity

INDIANAPOLIS is a city with a long-standing inferiority complex, and some damn fine reasons behind that. It's the Hollow Center of Manifest Destiny, the cardboard sleeve than convinces the unwary shopper that his candy bar is 33% larger than it actually is; it's the temporary acclamation accorded the inspired pairing of Smoke with Mirrors. It's not a little clearing in the Eastern Woodlands that grew up big and strong. It's the geographic center of a sort of palsied rhombus scribbled when the Powers that Were Being in the early 19th century decided the Old Northwest would look better on maps in several colors, not just one big splotch, a pinhole in a map poked by later 19th century regional wise men who decided, from the state's one real White enclave on the Ohio, that a new, alabaster city should serve as the State Capital, one that was equally inaccessible to everyone at the time, because we used to be much better at compromise. It turned out to be a malarial swamp. I suppose you were ahead of me on that.

At least we got a damned regular grid out of the deal. And don't get me wrong. I live here. I spent my carefree childhood roaming her pastures, rills, and unguarded commercial properties; I've spent most of my adult life here, occasionally glimpsing the outdoors. I'm home here, consarn it, and scarcely ever troubled by thoughts of arson. Any more.

Indianapolis used to be the largest city in America not on a navigable waterway, but that was back when trees were an occasional impediment to overland traffic; I haven't checked recently. Some typical American visionary once managed to get a sternwheeler all the way here up the mighty White River one presumably monsoonish summer, but the thing pegged in the shallows and never made the trip back. It was, one supposes, dismantled and used to build a Chili's.

Because my fellow citizens loooove the chain restaurant, something which induces that sense of inferiority in the rest of us while leaving them almost magically untouched. One of several current politically-assisted financial crises of the moment involves the City Market, a venerable old space that was part of the original plat, a collection of food and produce vending stalls which has suffered through hard times ever since the suburbanization of the 1950s made getting the hell out of Indianapolis an even better idea, and cheaper. This has been seriously compounded by the fact that politicians--that would be "the same people who jumped at the chance to convert farmland to interstates, tract houses, and convenient Chili's locations in the first place"--have sought to solve the problem, guaranteeing that it would eventually get much worse, except at an exorbitant cost befitting our compensatory levels of civic boosterism. A series of politically-connected idiots chased out long-time tenants, herded any who remained into a dark, dank corner for two years while they spent millions redecorating the place to bring it more in line with the contemporary Mall aesthetic, and managed, somehow, to go broke while alienating all the remaining tenants. (I am not making either of these up: the actual, proximate cause of the wipeout was losing a suit to a former tenant they'd high-handed and then refused to talk with despite the threat of legal action; posting bond to appeal the judgement would now empty the checking account, so the City's stepping in to help out. And one of the reasons given for construction cost overruns was that "the plumbing was in much worse shape than we imagined". In a hundred and thirty year-old building. Why didn't you just go with the assumption that there wasn't any?)

And the crisis came to light recently, and Mayor Gomer took time from his busy schedule of planning Chinatowns and trying to land the lucrative North American Cricket franchise to do his usual thorough job of assessing the situation, asking his handlers what he should say, and getting back to the Golf Channel. And his solution, essentially, was (hold on!):

Let's turn it into one big Chili's!

Because every challenge is an Opportunity, dammit. An opportunity to rebuild what went before with substandard materials and pocket the difference.

The news engendered a little discussion at the Racist Star that I was foolish enough to look in on. And some sensible person, apparently an out-of-towner, said something to the effect that, Gee, the market is this traditional collection of small vendors, and maybe this city has enough Chain Restaurants already, what with the six we have on every corner, and the Farmer's Market in Broad Ripple is thriving an' all, like all around the rest of the country, so maybe there's a more creative solution. And this person was then told to leave town if he didn't like it here, at least fifteen times consecutively, before I gave up counting.

Chicago, of course, is a great restaurant town. Cincinnati is a great restaurant town. Louisville is the gateway to Bluegrass culture, and Northern Kentucky stands with KC and Virginia as the great regional centers of barbecue. And in Indianapolis they'll fight you for dissing the Whopper.

So it's really not that surprising that the other source of major cultural influence is the fucking yammering radio (you happen to get the Bob and Tom Show, now also in convenient video form? That's us.), and that any and every drive-show hyped, commerical-tie-in, gawker-and/or public-urinator-generating Event--raft race, public beer bust, simulcast Lame Playlist synced to Yet Another Excuse To Make Shit Explode Overhead--becomes, not Somewhere to Go and Something to Do, but a sort of instant Tradition. Yesterday came word that the big Labor Day Celebration of Loud Noise and Flashing Lights would go Silent and Dark this year, due to the economic difficulties of Jeff Smulyan's Massive Communications Empire Founded on Buying Shit Then Having To Sell It Back, and the local news hairdo pool commenting on it acted as though vandals had melted the Liberty Bell.

This same weird combination of poshlust taste, the personal restraint of a shirtless Libertarian, and suburban lawncare fascism attends The Monon Trail, an abandoned stretch of railbed which has been converted into an asphalt greenway for Walkers, Bikers, Roller Skaters, and the occasional mugger. Y'know, I'm all for such things politically; I just don't want to be anywhere around them myself. It's like being on the first quarter-mile of the trail in one of our jewels of a state park; it doesn't matter what the scenery is like, the total effect is that of being in a crowded Mall with all the stores closed and the children all coming off massive sugarbuzzes Cold Turkey. I hike occasionally in the second-largest city-owned nature preserve. Miles of trails that come within shouting distance of the Monon, with which it shares a parking lot, but there's a constant stream of exercisers on the asphalt runway, and the only people besides myself who venture into the woods are the ones who find leash laws unfairly restrict the Constitutional rights of their dogs.

Not that I'm complaining about their absence. But, as I suggested, the Monon is occasionally visited by felons, rapscallions, and ne'er-do-wells, and when this occurs on the stretch south of 38th Street, which is either a sketchy area or Darkest Africa, depending on who's telling, you can be sure the Racist Star's commenters will remind you Just Who Lives Down There Anyway. And yesterday brought news that some guy my age had been on the Trail when a gang of Yoots rode past him and one shot him in the belly with a pellet gun. Which generated these, among others:
"Too bad he wasn't carrying a gun! Those pellet guns look realistic. He could have shot his attacker in self-defense by mistake. And wouldn't that be too bad?"
"...of course, after they 9mm a couple of thugs the preachers and the ACLU will cry foul."
Neither of which, mind you, comes as a revelation, or even begins to snake the clogged sewer line that is the Racist Star's typical comments section. It's just that I read this the day after hearing the nets react exactly the same way to news of another North Korean "A-bomb" test, and Rush Limbaugh--also courtesy the nets--react pretty much the same way to the announcement of a nominee for the Supreme Court. And it occurs to me: we're all Indianapoli now. I suppose I always suspected it.


Sator Arepo said...

Driving around the outer loop of Dallas always has the effect of producing my endless Clark Griswold-stuck-in-the-roundabout schtick:

Hey! Look! A Chili's!

dg said...

Here in Oakland, we have the San Francisco Chronicle comments section, (at least for now) and it is pretty much the same. Indianapolis I can sorta get, but the bay area? Is it merely an unwritten universal prohibition against decent people, or even ordinarily cranky people, posting newspaper comments, or is it actually against some physical principal, like perpetual motion? Because the Chron has the most amazing cesspool of raving bigots and authority worshippers. They seem slightly more literate than YouTube commenters, but even more hateful. It makes one dispair of the human condition.

My favorite Chron comment was the suggestion, after the BART cops shot Oscar Grant in the back, that BART should close all the Oakland stations to keep "thugs" off the trains so that "people" would be able to ride them.



Bill said...

Well, I feel a little better hearing that the Cleveland Plain Dealer comments section is not alone in it's pastiche of racism, ignorance and unrestrained narcissism. Maybe "feeling better" is too strong a term.

My favorite recent thread had to do with some repairs to the storm sewer system that would prevent the dumping of raw sewage into Lake Erie during heavy rains. The vast majority of the comments were of the "Waaah, it's going to make my commute 15 minutes longer for a week! That's not faaaaiiiiir!1!!1" variety. What's a little fecal matter in the drinking water compared to My Inconvenience after all?