Glazed Over

Historic hassles, interstate terror, and Long’s other doughnuts. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: I know Long’s is famous for its yeast doughnuts, but what’s the second-best thing on the bakery’s menu?
Carol C., Carmel

A: This question took The Hoosierist aback, because in all his years sweating the lines at the storied bakery’s 16th Street location, he has rarely even glanced at the other items lingering in the store’s display cases. Nor has anyone else. We’re all too intent on procuring the shop’s signature item: fresh-fried yeast doughnuts, served warm and dripping with sugar glaze. And once we nab them, we race back to our cars, eager to get them home before they cool off—and before the oil seeps through the box and onto our car seats.

They’re so popular that the bakery prepares 800 dozen daily. But what about the other stuff? Hoping to find the Rhoda to the yeast doughnut’s Mary, The Hoosierist stopped by late one afternoon and procured a grab bag of items for home testing. The goodies included the Mary Ann, a chocolate-covered confection that tasted like a Hostess Ho Ho, only twice as sweet and three times as big (yuck); the chocolate brownies (meh); and some sort of flat, pecan-y thing that lost points when a nut dropped off during consumption and lodged itself between the keys on The Hoosierist’s computer keyboard.

However, one item held up quite well to scrutiny: the applesauce cake doughnut. It’s tasty and enjoys an advantage over its yeasty cousins, which must be consumed quickly before they cool and become inedible. Let those yeast doughnuts sit around for an hour, and the warm rings of doughy goodness congeal into shriveled sponginess covered with greasy flakes of sugar and fat. The cakey stuff may not be quite as good, but at least it has a shelf life. And it doesn’t leave oil stains on your car seats.

Q: I don’t see many passenger trains around here anymore. What cities can still be reached from Indy by rail?
Belle O., Beech Grove

A: The good news is that Indy offers daily intercity train service out of its Union Station depot. The bad news is that it only goes to Chicago. All you have to do is show up at the disconcertingly dark, quiet, and mostly deserted rail terminal, fork over about $25 for a reserved coach seat, and then settle in for a five-hour ride to the Windy City. If you’re feeling slightly more ambitious and really enjoy inhaling diesel fumes, there’s also the Cardinal, which makes a thrice-a-week jaunt between New York City and Chicago, with a stop in Indy. If you’d like to visit Gotham, just lay out roughly $125 and get ready to spend 22 hours or so peering out your window at (as Amtrak describes it), “gently rolling horse country, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the wild white-water rivers of West Virginia.” All this while you contemplate throwing yourself out of the train, staggering to the nearest town, and renting a car.

Incredibly, Amtrak reports that in 2012 almost 35,000 people departed Indy on passenger trains—which is roughly 35,000 more people than The Hoosierist expected. Of course, it’s not as if the local rail system is foundering. Our state still boasts some 4,000 miles of track and 40 rail carriers. It’s just that instead of people, they carry coal, corn, and other commodities—stuff that doesn’t care how long it takes to get to its destination.

Q: If I buy a house in a “historic area” like Woodruff Place, what rules do I have to follow when it comes to making changes? If I add a deck, will the Historic Preservation Police take me away?
Eldon W., Indianapolis

A: No, the Historic Preservation Police won’t incarcerate you in some immaculately restored 19th-century jail. Living in a bona fide historic area is pretty much like residing in a neighborhood with a strict covenant. Only instead of obsessing about mailbox placement, they make sure your house looks pretty much like it did back when it was built in 1870 (or whenever). “If you are a property owner, you need to meet with the preservation commission prior to receiving a building permit to make changes,” says Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services for Indiana Landmarks.

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission oversees some 14 Indianapolis neighborhoods, each with its own plan. All follow pretty straightforward guidelines meant to preserve the traditional exteriors of the homes under their purview. If you want to mess with anything from the roof to the foundation, or even add one of those prefab lawnmower sheds they sell at Lowe’s, you’ll have to run it by these folks first.

But before all you libertarian types complain that this interferes with your God-given rights as a property owner, remember that the rules only apply to the exterior. Behind closed doors, anything goes. So feel free to take that concrete fawn the historic people kept you from installing on your front porch and put it in your living room instead.

Q: Why does the I-465 exit to Shelbyville (I-74) have such an insanely high overpass ramp? It gives me the willies every time I have to use it.
Rick T., Shelbyville

A: The overpass in question goes by the unlovely name of the I-465 Southbound Ramp to I-74 Eastbound. The Hoosierist—who must traverse it whenever he visits his Cousin Mona in Shelbyville—refers to it as the terror slide, and he’s grateful that he has never navigated the 60-foot-tall monster during an ice storm. Because the only difference (to his untutored eye) between it and an Olympic ski-jump ramp is that a trained professional could probably make it to the bottom of a ski-jump ramp without wiping out.
Why is this thing so big? According to Will Wingfield, media relations guy for the Indiana Department of Transportation, the roughly 10-year-old structure had to be tall because the local water table is so high. Ordinarily, they would have dug I-465 into the ground a bit to shave some height off the ramp. In this case, however, it wasn’t possible. If it’s any consolation, there are far more intimidating ramps elsewhere. The exit to Shelbyville is what’s known as a “four-level ramp,” because three other ribbons of road pass beneath it. In Texas and California, these interchange stacks regularly hit five levels. And in China (of course it would be in China), there’s one that goes up to six. One wonders how many drivers traverse it with their eyes closed.

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Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the March 2013 issue.