Sunday, August 16, 2009

Adrift in Indianapolis

"It wouldn't be a trip to Indiana without me standing next to my car parked in a traffic jam for an hour on the freeway in the middle of nowhere." I said that to Friend Steven on Saturday as I made my way towards Indianapolis. And it's true. Every time I have visited "The Crossroads of America" I have ended up encountering a massive, rural traffic jam, generally caused by an accident or road construction. It is at this time that you get to see a truly unique Indiana phenomenon: because the median of the freeway tends to be flat and without barrier, when these colossal traffic jams happen people just start driving through the median to get onto the other lanes to go back the other way to the last exit to get around the traffic jam. I have never seen this in another state, not even the other flat ones, but I never realized that it would be a portent of things to come.
I am not in rural Indiana right now, okay? Let's get that straight. I am sitting in a hotel room in a town that is, from what I can see, mostly made up of corporate office parks, medical office buildings, and strip malls. Across the freeway, which is about two blocks away, this bastion of American suburban hell ends and Indianapolis begins. And let me tell you something: Indianapolis is nothing like the rest of Indiana.
Except the drivers. They are the same. Turns out that all those crazy drivers who are too impatient to wait in traffic on the freeway like the rest of us ALSO are crazy as shit and don't know where they are going. I am sure that if you live in New York City or LA or maybe like Milan, Italy you are going to totally going to come here and be like "Are you kidding? That's kids stuff." But for what I am used to it is out of control. If you are a fan of people cutting across lanes and having no idea where they want to go until they are about 50 feet from wherever that place is, then this town is for you. It's nuts. Part of the problem I think is that Indianapolis is really bad about marking their "turn only" lanes until you are already in them and you notice that it's painted on the pavement, so then at the last minute you realize that you are stuck in a left turn only lane when all you want to go is go straight, so you end up making some crazy traffic moves. The other part of the reason is that, at least this weekend, there are a TON of out-of towners around, and I will admit I made more than my fair share of contributions to this crazy driving phenomenon. But I am not alone. Not only is the Indiana State Fair ongoing in town, but GenCon, which is a GIGANTIC meeting of nerds from across the country for a gaming convention. So yeah, lots of people in town, which I am sure is contributing, but a lot of the crazy driving has been from cars with Indiana plates, and Indiana plates have the county of registration on them and an awful lot of them sport local counties. That's all I'm saying.
Aside from that though, Indianapolis doesn't seem like the rest of Indiana that I have seen. First of all, there are trees here. Lots of them all around the city. I mean, there are trees in the rest of the state, to be sure, but they tend to be concentrated in windbreaks and around the edges of farm fields. In Indy though, they are everywhere, which is cool. There are also several hills in town; the only in all of Indiana except down by the Ohio River.
All in all, Indianapolis is actually a really unique, vibrant, cosmopolitan city. First of all, one of the main drags into town in not populated with overwhelming mixture of strip malls and commercial ridiculousness, it goes straight through the area of town that is filled with the hundred-year-old homes of the founding movers and shakers of Indianapolis. So as you make your way towards downtown you are cruising down this narrow, multi-lane road lines with ornate mansions, which is pretty cool. Once you get downtown you find a downtown area that is probably the coolest downtown area of any city that I have ever seen. Sorry, Cleveland. It is open, friendly, well-marked, and totally user-friendly. There are the usual assortment of government buildings and landmarks, including the Indiana State Capitol, and they all have open squares that are filled with people. There is also a giant mall that spans several blocks on several levels. Top it off with the usual sprinkling of sports facilities and a pretty awesome waterfall/monument and you get a top-notch downtown experience. I was really, truly impressed.
So yeah, Indianapolis is pretty cool, and I have enjoyed my time here. We had an hilarious and fin time celebrating Friend Steven's birthday and rehashing the old days. All in all it was good. I am not relishing the ten hour car ride home across the plains of central Illinois but such is life. At least I will be away from the nutso drivers.

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