Hello, Kitty

Mountain lions, mall cops, and a lot of road salt. Ask the Hoosierist.

Q: Do we have mountain lions? I have a relative in Southern Indiana who insists they’ve returned.
Benjamin C., Indianapolis

A: The answer is a qualified yes. Sightings are regularly reported to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and a big male was definitively photographed in Greene County in 2010. But one tawny-colored feline doesn’t signal a population explosion. The DNR’s cougar guy, Gary Langell, says male cats may travel hundreds of miles in search of new lands, and that a mountain lion was even killed while trying to explore Chicago. However, the Greene County cat—which hasn’t been seen in a while—could have been a former pet. Langell doesn’t discount the idea that western cougars might occasionally reach Indiana (where the last local specimen was killed off long ago), but he’s not expecting an invasion. Young cats are the most likely wanderers, but they can’t establish a colony unless a decent number of the opposite sex follow suit. Which apparently hasn’t happened. This hasn’t stopped civilians from reporting sightings, but it’s worth noting that the DNR has also received a steady stream of Bigfoot reports. And no one’s panicking about those.

Q: What authority does a mall cop have? If he tells you to “quit messing around,” are you under any obligation to listen?
Carl S., Indianapolis

A: It depends on what you’re messing around with. Joel Schumm, clinical professor of law on the IUPUI campus, says that security guards can make what amounts to “citizen’s arrests,” but only if someone commits either a felony or a misdemeanor involving a “breach of the peace” or the threat thereof. If an arrest is necessary to stop this breach, the mall cop can detain the perp and hold him for the real police. But he absolutely can’t get medieval on your backside if you’re committing some minor-and-nonviolent infraction. Instead, he has to call the police, who might arrest you for the extremely Mickey Mouse charge of criminal trespass—all while glaring at the mall cop for calling them for such trivia. So, to recap: If you’re sitting in front of the mall talking to your friends, the security guy can’t touch you. But if you’re sitting in front of the mall waving a machete, he can totally touch you. With his Taser, bro.

A mall cop can’t get medieval on your backside if you’re committing some minor-and-nonviolent infraction.

Q: Since it barely snowed last year, will the city have to buy as much road salt this season? Or does the stuff go bad?
Susan P., Indianapolis

A: As anyone who puttered around the Super Bowl Village in shorts knows, the city wasn’t exactly buried under a heap of snow last winter. Municipal trucks dump as much as 50,000 tons of ice-melting compound over a typical cold season, but last year our thoroughfares were as lightly salted as a low-sodium TV dinner. Which means Indy didn’t have to lay out quite as much to top off its seven enormous salt barns in preparation for this winter. “All barns are currently full, with about 20,000 tons throughout the city,” says Indianapolis Department of Public Works communications director Kara Brooks. More can be trucked in as needed. And no, the stuff doesn’t go bad. The mix—a Cargill product called Clearlane that combines liquid magnesium chloride with good old sodium chloride—enjoys a longer shelf life than Twinkies.

Q: How large is the Indiana National Guard, and what sort of equipment does it pack? Is it big enough to take on, say, the Belgian army?
Jake W., Fishers

A: The Hoosierist suspects you’re gathering data for some sort of military-oriented fantasy league. If so, count him in. Comparing, say, the Russian army to the Turks, or estimating how well the Vatican’s Swiss Guards might acquit themselves against Liechtenstein’s armed hordes sounds far more entertaining than putting together a pretend football team. So here’s the tale of the tape for the Indiana National Guard. It’s roughly 15,000 men and women strong. Space doesn’t permit a full inventory of the Guard’s hardware, but there’s plenty of infantry transport vehicles and self-propelled artillery to go around. Plus, as anyone who’s ever driven past an armory knows, they’re up to their olive-drab armpits in helicopters and camouflage-painted trucks. And that’s not even counting the Indiana Air National Guard, with its contingent of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack birds.

Run those stats in your theoretical fantasy-league computer, and you get enough firepower to rout the army of Albania (14,000 active military), El Salvador (15,500 active military), or Costa Rica (basically none). But they would probably want to avoid a confrontation with Belgium, which has its own tanks and planes and 38,000 soldiers to wield them. Plus, why pick a fight with one of the few places on Earth that’s cursed with sloppier winters than ours?

Q: Are Indiana state flags actually made in Indiana?
Eileen O., Carmel

A: This question set The Hoosierist’s muckraking heart aflutter. What if the sacred blue-and-gold banners flying over the Indiana Statehouse were actually made in, gasp, China? Unfortunately—or happily, depending on how you feel about trumped-up media scandals—our state procures its flags from a Marion, Indiana–based distributor, CVS Flags. And as the company’s eagle- and fireworks-intensive website mentions more than a few times, all of its U.S.-oriented products are made in-country. A 4-by-6-foot Indiana flag will set you back $33.50, while an Indianapolis flag of the same dimensions costs a hefty $72.40. Does The Hoosierist smell price-gouging? Scandal!

Q: Everybody keeps talking about commuter rail. Why can’t the monorail that links Methodist Hospital and the IU Med Center be extended to fill that role?
Wendy F., Indianapolis

A: The idea certainly sounds enticing: a gleaming, futuristic monorail gliding above the city grid, turning Indy into a gigantic Walt Disney World—only with vastly fewer tourists and zero overpriced souvenir shops. Unfortunately for those who love sky-based mass transit, one very important problem almost certainly relegates this scenario to Fantasyland. Cash. Or the lack thereof.

“The general rule of thumb for light rail,” says Ehren Bingaman, executive director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, “is that if you go above ground (with, say, a monorail), you double the cost.”

Surface rail is the cheapest alternative, making it theoretically the most palatable to the taxpayers who would be asked to help finance it. Also, it should be noted, the IU Health People Mover’s average speed is a torpid 17 mph. Which means (according to a Google Maps search) the roughly 40-mile journey from Noblesville to Greenwood would take more than two hours. Nothing Fantasyland about that.

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

Illustration by Shane Harrison

This column appeared in the November 2012 issue.