Hang Tight

The mountains, orangutans, and sweet wine of Indiana. Ask The Hoosierist.
The Hoosierist: Hang Tight

Q: I understand that the orangutans for the Indianapolis Zoo’s new exhibit are already holed up on the grounds someplace. Where are they staying, what do they do all day, and can I see them?
Victoria W., Indianapolis

A: The $21.5 million International Orangu-tan Center isn’t scheduled to open until March 2014, but its future tenants—two adult male orangutans, one adolescent male, and three adult females—are indeed already onsite, cooling their heels in temporary quarters. If you want to visit them, just call the zoo, where you’ll be promptly transferred to the No You Can’t Visit the Orangutans Department. Because no, you can’t visit the orangutans.

The apes can’t entertain guests just now because their current, top-secret location in the zoo’s support area isn’t set up to handle thousands of gawking homo sapiens. Until their new digs debut, the orangutans will pass their days in relative seclusion. But don’t fret for them. It’s not as if they’re twid- dling their gigantic, hairy thumbs in a utility closet. “We provide all of the orangutans with traditional forms of enrichment, such as abundant nesting materials, objects for play, and tree branches so they can eat leaves and bark,” says Dr. Robert Shumaker, the zoo’s vice president of life sciences who has worked with one of the orangutans for 30 years. They also get to monkey around with tablet computers and (perhaps when they tire of playing World of Warcraft and updating their Facebook pages) enjoy King Kong–sized meals. Adult males vacuum up about three pounds of chow daily. So if you’re really serious about finding the apes’ hideout, just look for the building with the produce truck parked out front.

Q: Why do Carmel and Greenwood tell all those jokes at each other’s expense? Why can’t they play nice?
Sarah P., Carmel

A: These two communities have been cracking wise on each other since at least the 1980s. Greenwood residents typically tell jokes casting Carmel residents as snooty nouveau riche, while Greenwood is portrayed as a giant trailer park. This particular insult-fest is relatively new, but according to Nan McEntire, director of the folklore archives at Indiana State University, the practice of making fun of other towns is as old as civilization. “It’s a worldwide folk-humor phenomenon,” she says. “I think everyone wants to have someone to pick on.”

The “you’re a rube/you’re a snob” template is almost universal. McEntire reports that Terre Haute and West Terre Haute spar all the time: “Terre Haute accuses West Terre Haute of being a vast trailer park, and the West Terre Haute people say the folks in Terre Haute are full of themselves.” And we’re not just talking about small towns. McEntire used to live in Scotland, where the jawboning between Glasgow and Edinburgh spans centuries. According to the jokes, Edinburgh is sort of a kilt-wearing version of Carmel, while Glasgow is the haggis-eating Greenwood. Nice to know they can settle their differences with jokes rather than hauling out those big swords from Braveheart.

In Mississippi, their highest point is some dirt pimple called Woodall Mountain that’s barely above sea level.

Q: What’s the highest point in Indiana? Could it be construed as a mountain?
Richard V., Bloomington

A: The honor belongs to Hoosier Hill, which “soars” 1,257 feet above sea level. If you want to attempt an ascent, leave your pitons, oxygen bottles, and North Face climbing gear at home. Though on paper Hoosier Hill’s height sounds fairly impressive, a geographical technicality makes it less so in person. Its location in Wayne County, on the Indiana-Ohio border, already boasts a high (for these parts) elevation. For Hoosier Hill to claim the title of the state’s highest point, all it has to do is poke up just a little bit higher than the surrounding terrain. Which it does. To the tune of about 30 feet.

So while anyone who “summits” the hill (there’s a picnic table where you can recover from the journey) basically feels like they’ve climbed a very modest slope, they are in fact standing 1,257 feet above sea level—about 400 feet taller than Indianapolis’s Chase Tower, the tallest building in the state.

It could be worse. Florida’s highest point, Britton Hill, is only 345 feet tall. Illinois’s is only 1,235 feet. And in Mississippi, the highest point is some dirt pimple called Woodall Mountain that’s barely above sea level at all. Oh, well—what can you expect from a state that’s basically just a big trailer park?

Q: I’m looking for a bottle of wine for Valentine’s Day, and I’d like to buy local. But is it even possible to make great wine from grapes grown in Indiana?
Gary T., Fishers

A: The Hoosierist is no wine expert, having sworn off the stuff in college after a horrific run-in with a little aperitif called Night Train. But Jill Ditmire, owner of Mass Ave Wine Shoppe, knows all about vino—particularly the “better” varieties that don’t taste like grape Kool-Aid mixed with paint thinner. If you covet a tasty local bottle, she recommends checking out the traminette offerings at Monroe County’s Oliver Winery.

The “traminette” Ditmire is referring to is a hearty white grape that grows well in Indiana. That’s a big deal, because not a lot of grapes prosper here, including lambrusca, the feedstock for chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately for fans of dry vintages, traminettes are pretty much only good for making sweet and semisweet beverages.

Ditmire thinks that for most Hoosiers, the sweet stuff will do just fine. “The American wine palate as a whole tends to be sweeter, since most folks were raised on Coca-Cola,” she says. This sounds like the sort of remark a French sommelier might make, but it’s also painfully true. At least in the case of The Hoosierist, who washes down elegant restaurant meals (and pretty much everything else) with Diet Pepsi.

Q: Why is there a fire station in Broad Ripple? As far as I can tell, there isn’t even a full-size firetruck in there.
Cicely O., Indianapolis

A: Fire Station 32, the tiny building at the corner of Westfield Boulevard and Guilford Avenue, has been in the firefighting business since 1922. During most of that time it indeed hosted firetrucks. Of course, that was back in the day when the “trucks” were the size of Cadillac Escalades. The modern ones are much bigger, so parking them at Old 32 is like stabling a Clydesdale in a doghouse. These days, the building hosts a more-manageable EMS (emergency medical services) team. The fire department can get away with this because there are several truck-equipped stations within easy reach of Broad Ripple, which for some reason gets a lot of medical calls but few blazes. Probably because there’s always a beer nearby to put them out.

Have a question about anything Indiana-related? Send it to hoosierist@indymonthly.emmis.com.

Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the February 2013 issue.