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Q: Why do people toss pennies on James Whitcomb Riley’s tomb in Crown Hill Cemetery? Please don’t make me read his poetry to figure out the symbolism. Bobby Y., Indianapolis
A: The Hoosierist holds a soft spot for Indiana’s most successful poet, mostly because we share the same October 7 birthday. However, most agree that while Riley was a superstar in his day, his schmaltzy poems about life in Indiana’s rustic hinterlands have aged about as gracefully as Pan Am Plaza. Folks of a certain age can still recite a few lines from “Little Orphant Annie” (perhaps because until the 1960s, state law mandated that Riley’s work be taught in Indiana schools), but it’s unlikely they remember a single word from his other hits, including “The Raggedy Man,” “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’” and “Old Persimmon Head Kevin.” Especially “Old Persimmon Head Kevin,” because The Hoosierist just made up that one. But it sounds like the sort of thing Riley would have written.
While his fame may have slipped a bit, he was still a huge deal at the time of his death in 1916. Newspapers all over the country eulogized him, he lay in state at the Indiana Statehouse (an honor previously afforded only to Abraham Lincoln), and he was interred in a beautiful tomb on Crown Hill Cemetery’s highest point. Children from across the nation contributed pennies for its construction, which is why even today visitors leave pocket change (along with dollar bills and the occasional fiver) on the poet’s granite monument.The loot is gathered by cemetery staff, says Crown Hill public relations coordinator Marty Davis, and given to a worthy cause: the Riley Children’s Foundation. Of course, those pennies don’t go quite as far as they did in Riley’s day, but every little bit helps.Q: Can you step out onto the street and hail a taxi in Indianapolis?Louise R., Indianapolis
A: Well, you can try. There are no laws against taxis cruising for fares, and no restrictions against pedestrians trying to flag them down. It just doesn’t happen much. It’s so rare, in fact, that a cabbie who sees you pointing and waving from the side of the road might mistake you for one of those goofballs who dance around in front of cash-for-gold stores. While catching a cab is undeniably awesome, the economic climate and Indy’s sprawling geography work against it. “You can try to hail a taxi anywhere, but the drivers aren’t used to that,” says Fred Laughlin, vice president of management services for Indianapolis Downtown Inc. He says it usually makes more financial sense for them to park in a taxi zone and wait for the fares to come to them.
Most of the big downtown hotels have designated areas where cabs line up, just like at the airport, awaiting customers. If you’re pretty much anyplace else in the city, you need to get on the phone to summon one. Standing along, say, Keystone Avenue and waving frantically is a fool’s errand, because very few Indy cabbies cruise around looking for riders. “It’s just not economical, especially with the price of gas these days,” Laughlin says.
Q: What ever happened to the H.H. Gregg twins?Ruth P., Bloomington
A: If you watched local television for any amount of time during the 1990s, you’ve probably already conjured a mental image of this diminutive duo. Greenwood natives Gavin and Taylor Curd filmed roughly 30 commercials for the H.H. Gregg electronics chain. The tow-headed kids used their elementary-school charm (they looked like clones of that Jerry Maguire kid) to move a lot of TVs and washing machines for the store—so many that the company kept them on the air for five years before ditching the campaign in 2000.
The commercials stopped at the turn of the century, but the Curd twins certainly didn’t. They earned degrees from Indiana University and today run Curd Brothers Inc., a real-estate appraisal company they founded in 2005. The little boys from the commercials are 29 years old. “We’re old farts now,” Taylor says.
Perhaps, but it hasn’t stopped people from recognizing them. The brothers routinely get called out when they go places together, though less often if they’re alone. Not surprisingly, being fondly remembered hasn’t hurt their real-estate business. “We’re easily recognizable, and when we go into people’s homes, I feel like it gives them a sense of trust, because they’ve seen us before,” Taylor says. Which makes a lot of sense. Who could possibly be more disarming?Q: The amount I pay each year in state taxes always seems a bit surprising (in a bad way). How does Indiana’s income-tax rate compare to that of other states? William N., Indianapolis
A: The Hoosierist feels equally unsettled by Indiana’s taxes, mostly because they always come as a nasty surprise. First his accountant informs him just how large a strip of hide the Feds plan to take off his backside. Then, before that figure has a chance to sink in, he mentions the state’s tab, too. It’s like someone stomps on your foot, and then follows it up with a banana-cream pie to the face.
But if you feel that Indiana’s state taxes are exorbitant, the professionals have some advice for you: Quit whining and count your blessings.
Indiana generally takes a flat rate of 3.4 percent of taxable income. So if you made, say, $50,000 in taxable lucre last year, the state takes in around $1,700. Which sounds like a lot, until you compare it to most other states. California residents fork over a breathtaking 9.3 percent. And things aren’t much better in New Jersey (8.97 percent) or Vermont (8.95 percent). Of course, a couple of states, including South Dakota, have no income tax at all. But enjoying that would entail moving to South Dakota, a frozen wasteland that’s even more mind-numbingly desolate than the stretch of I-65 between Indy and Chicago.
And the experts have more good things to say about our state’s revenue-gathering policies. “Due to the efficiencies madeduring the Daniels administration,” says Indiana CPA Society member William F. Murphy, “the option of refunding money back to taxpayers is a very real possibility.” So, no need to pack your bags for the Badlands just yet.
Have a question about anything Indiana-related? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Shane Harrison
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue.
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