Flaking Out

Snow patrols, nosebleed seats, and shopping-mall hell. Ask the Hoosierist.
Flaking Out, Indianapolis Monthly, December 2011

Q: Am I legally obligated to shovel the sidewalk in front of my house, or is this just a courtesy thing?

MICHAEL F., Indianapolis

A: Shoveling one’s walk is barely even a “courtesy thing” these days, judging from the number of people in The Hoosierist’s own neighborhood who never lay a gloved finger on the drifts in their front yards. But if you think the law doesn’t care, you’re wrong. “Businesses and homeowners are responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice to allow for safe pedestrian travel,” says Kate Johnson at Indy’s lively Department of Code Enforcement.

The city’s snow-clearance laws are surprisingly precise and draconian. If it snows, you’re supposed to break out your shovel and get busy. Like, right away. Statutes state that if snow accumulates on your sidewalk after 7 p.m., you have until 9 a.m. the next morning to clear a path.

Those are the rules, anyway. But as Johnson readily admits, it’s not as if the Snow Police go around checking. So the city pretty much confines its snow sleuthing to situations in which access to things like bus stops are blocked, when the snow constitutes a threat to public safety, or when someone complains. If you’d like to be that someone, call the Mayor’s Action Center.

Q: Who is Sam Jones, and why does he have an expressway named after him?

BRIDGET J., Fishers

A: The two-mile stretch of pavement now known as the Sam Jones Expressway bears the name of the first president of the Indianapolis Urban League for two good reasons. The first is to honor Jones, who died in 2003 at the age of 74. The second is to make sure travelers don’t make a wrong turn on their way to the airport. Seasoned fliers may remember that the road was formerly called the Airport Expressway. But that moniker became problematic in 2008, when the new Indianapolis International Airport opened. The road was cut off from the air hub, which made the expressway about as “express” as a TSA security checkpoint.

The new name takes care of all that, though. The Hoosierist wonders if perhaps the city could have done better for Jones. After all, he worked tirelessly for school integration, improved relations between the police and the black community, and helped keep the lid on local unrest after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Given all that, one wonders if the naming committee could have placed his moniker on something more high-profile than, say, a road whose sole remaining function is to connect Raymond Street to High School Road.

Q: The seats at Conseco Fieldhouse are so steep, I’m afraid that if I fall I’ll wind up on the court. And the higher you go, the worse it gets. What gives?

POLINA Y., Noblesville

A: Even geometry works against those without much money. Nosebleed seats must be on a steeper grade to provide an unobstructed view of the court; otherwise, all you’d see would be the head of the person in front of you. In general, the pitch of arena seats, says architect Tim Ritchotte of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, varies from a gentle 17 percent for lower-level sections to a vertigo-inducing 35 degrees or more on seats in higher decks. But the seating is the least of your worries up there. The Hoosierist, who has spent plenty of time in Conseco’s nether regions, knows that the real scariness is negotiating the highly vertical aisles. The best advice: Think happy thoughts, and don’t look around too much as you ascend and descend. You have even farther to fall than the Pacers have in recent years.

Q: Why can’t people ice-skate on Monument Circle anymore?

WILLIAM W., Indianapolis

A: Until the 1980s, the state allowed the water basins under the fountains at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument to freeze solid, then let the citizenry strap on skates and hit the ice. That is, until someone finally noticed that all that freezing and thawing damaged the masonry. These days too much has been invested in revamping the Circle to contemplate something so destructive. A program to allow graffiti taggers to “decorate” the structure would probably get more traction. There has been some talk about setting up a temporary rink during winter to bring back the joys of yesteryear, but don’t hold your breath. “The thing I keep in mind,” says J. Stewart Goodwin, executive director of the Indiana War Memorial, “is that there’s no money to do any of this.”

Q: The malls are all parking and shopping nightmares during December. Is there a best time to visit?

DEBORAH Q., Carmel

A: During the holidays, The Hoosierist invariably traipses to the mall at precisely the same moment as everyone else in the metro area. On one memorable excursion he couldn’t find a single space in the shopping center’s massive lot, forcing him to ditch his car across the street at a fast-food joint.

Les Morris, director of public relations at Simon Property Group, says there are ways to avoid such unpleasantness. Or at least some of it. Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. are the least-intense daylight times. If work keeps you away during this chronological sweet spot, visit at night, a couple of hours before closing. Malls usually offer extra-late hours during the holidays, with most Simon joints keeping the doors open until 11 p.m.

Of course, these rules become less and less relevant as the season progresses. After the first two weeks of December, the shopping frenzy builds like rolling thunder, reaching Category 5 status by December 24. But if you’ve waited that long to buy something for your Aunt Sally, you deserve what you get.


 Illustration by Adam McCauley.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.