Grande Opening

Sledding zones, Christmas tree fires, and the city’s first Starbucks. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: Where did the first local Starbucks open? For the longest time, there were none, but now they’re everywhere.

Susan V., Fishers

A: Some may be outraged at the cost of a Frappuccino or Caramel Macchiato, but not so long ago, Indy residents couldn’t purchase them for any price. While Starbucks has been in business since 1971, it didn’t begin its caffeinated assault on the Indy market until 1999, when a location opened inside Butler University’s Atherton Union. A second (now defunct) spot debuted in Carmel’s Merchants’ Square a few weeks later. After that they multiplied like bedbugs, until you couldn’t drive more than a couple of blocks in any direction without spotting the McDonald’s of coffee shops. Well, perhaps they aren’t that numerous. According to Starbucks regional director of operations Nancy McLaughlin, there are currently “only” 30 locations inside the I-465 loop, and slightly more than 100 in the entire state. A decent number, but miniscule when you consider that the chain operates more than 17,000 stores worldwide.

Q: Traveling along I-70 east of downtown, I drive past Pogue’s Run Park every day, but I never see people out there. Is it a recreational park? And there used to be a statue of a horse in that field. What was that about?

Karen L., Indianapolis

A: So that’s you swerving into The Hoosierist’s lane on his morning commute. If you measure the stature of a city park by its amenities, that 43-acre stretch of grassland is indeed wanting. About the only thing particularly grand about it is its mouthful-of-a-name—Pogue’s Run Art and Nature Park. Don’t plan to hold your family reunion there, because you won’t find a single picnic shelter, grill, or softball diamond on the property. Just plants, water, and, somewhat incongruously, sculptures. In 2003, the city completed a massive floodwater-mitigation project there, turning the area into a stretch of “wet prairie” with the primary function of slowing down the stormwater that formerly rushed through the area as a result of “rain events.” The spot’s only conventional amenity—and the reason it features the word “art” in its name—is a 1.6-mile loop trail festooned with sculptures created a few years back by Herron School of Art students. That vanished horse was one of their projects. Vandals recently defaced it, forcing its removal. But take heart. The Herron folks are fixing it up and plan to put it back.

Q: The city used to burn discarded Christmas trees in giant bonfires at vari-ous parks, which was awesome. Now they don’t do it anymore. What gives?

Allan T., Beech Grove

A: The Hoosierist well remembers those long-gone days when, during the weeks after Christmas, the citizenry were invited to ditch their tired tannenbaums at city parks. Then, on one memorable night, the park staff would put a match to those 20-foot-tall heaps while cheering throngs watched the blaze. Kind of like Burning Man, only without the pretentious music and naked people.

Of course it couldn’t last. Someone at the city’s top-secret Department of Outlawing Everything Awesome probably saw how much fun it was and forbade it for being environmentally unfriendly or a huge fire hazard. Which, The Hoosierist must admit, it definitely was. These days you can still drag your old tree to Broad Ripple, Ellenberger, and Perry parks (among others) and heap them up in a big pile. But instead of being immolated in a cathartic pagan firestorm, they’re turned into mulch by shredders. It’s all so sustainable and environmentally responsible—and unspeakably dull.

Q: It has been years since IPD and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department merged. So why do I still see policemen cruising around in sheriff’s cars?

Megan K., Indianapolis

A: It’s all about money. Or rather, the lack of it. “It’s not cheap to paint a car,” says Kendale Adams, IMPD public information specialist. Especially the ones the cops drive. Apparently redoing a cruiser is a bit more complicated than, say, slapping a new coat of candy-apple red on your brother-in-law’s 2002 Malibu. Police cars sport lots of decals and stenciling, requiring plenty of expensive handwork to apply. So IMPD didn’t do it, except for adding its logo. Instead, the department plans to drive its inherited sheriff’s cars as long as they last, and then replace them with new cruisers with all of the correct identification. Until this recession ends, the law will just have to deal with shoddy hand-me-down cars like the rest of us.

Q: Are there any rules covering where you can sled in city parks?

Gerry B., Indianapolis

A: Well, the parks department would prefer you stick to the “designated sledding zones.” But there aren’t too many hard-and-fast rules, other than a complete prohibition on anything with a motor. IndyParks does, however, offer a long list of “suggestions,” including having your kid wear a bike helmet. And think twice about using an inner tube. They can’t be steered, and they buck like broncos when they hit bumps, sometimes tossing their riders. Such incidents can lead to either a hilarious YouTube video (the best-case scenario) or a trip to the hospital. Especially if you’re not wearing your bike helmet—which, of course, you won’t be.

The IndyParks tip sheet gets stranger the farther down the list one reads. For instance, they suggest that you avoid sledding (or supervising children who are sledding) if you’re drunk or high. Supervising children while in that state might be a bad idea in general, actually. If that’s your idea of a fun winter evening, perhaps it’s best to avoid the parks entirely and instead buy a snowboarding game for your Wii.

Illustration by Shane Harrison.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.