High Hopes

How big is our state’s GDP? Do they sanitize the Speedway bricks before kissing them? And when will Indiana legalize marijuana?
Q: I hear an Indiana legislator wants to make marijuana legal. How much do we produce, anyway? And does that law have a roach’s chance of passing? Emily L., Bloomington

A: The Hoosierist is amazed that the legislature, so busy concocting a constitutional ban on gay marriage and new ways to hound undocumented aliens—that is, when they got together at all—found time this year to consider an overhaul of the state’s pot laws. Thank Indiana state senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage) for the effort. Since state lawmakers are in a cost-cutting mood this year, Tallian floated the idea of reviewing Indiana’s weed laws, which are both strict and expensive to enforce. Among other things, you can get a year in jail and a $5,000 fine for possession of a measly 30 grams of grass. The Hoosierist is pretty sure he could scrounge up that much in the pockets of the Army surplus jacket he wore in college.

Tallian wanted to review Indiana’s laws with an eye toward reform, though not necessarily legalization. And here are a couple of things that can be said with some certainty about that effort: Weed will stay illegal here, but the state will continue to produce a lot of it. Granted, we’re no Kentucky (where grass is the No. 1 cash crop, worth an estimated $4.4 billion), but we’re right up there. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says we grow about $312 million annually, making it Indiana’s third-biggest cash crop, smoking all agricultural products except corn and soybeans.

Q: If Indiana were a nation, how would its gross domestic product compare with other countries? Patricia M., Martinsville

A: While The Hoosierist doesn’t advocate secession (who wants to flash a passport just to go to a Reds game?), Indiana’s economy would still make it a force to be reckoned with. Financial doomsayers might be surprised to learn that our state’s 2009 GDP was a shade above $262 billion, almost as much as the entire nation of Thailand. That sounds even more impressive considering that the Asian tiger boasts a population of roughly 67 million, outnumbering Hoosiers (of which there are 6.4 million) by almost 11 to one. Want to feel even better about yourself? Indiana’s economy is substantially larger than that of Finland (home of such world-beating companies as Nokia) and almost twice the size of that of Chile, with a population just shy of 17 million. If that’s not worth a few jingoistic chants of “I-N-D! I-N-D!,” The Hoosierist doesn’t know what is.

Q: As a chronic germophobe, I cringe when the winner of the Indy 500 kneels down to kiss the track’s finish line. Please tell me that they sanitize it before this happens. Alan K., Indianapolis

A: Sorry, Hoosier hypochondriacs. There’s no pre-smooch hygiene regimen. The winners and their associates simply kneel down and kiss the track’s famed “yard of bricks” in all its begrimed, skid-marked glory. And they do it with a smile. “Kissing the bricks is voluntary,” says Speedway communications manager Paul Kelly. “No driver is forced to do it. But trust me, every driver who wins the Indianapolis 500 or Brickyard 400 wants to kiss those bricks, clean or dirty.”

Kelly also points out that smooching unsanitary public landmarks is a proud tradition worldwide. For instance, hundreds of thousands peck Ireland’s Blarney Stone each year, to no ill effect. So what does a track that’s had dozens of high-performance cars racing around it for four hours taste like? Simple. It tastes like victory.

Q: Why do the Segway-riding security guards at the airport wear helmets with flashing red lights on them? I haven’t seen that elsewhere. David P., Indianapolis

A: The next time you find yourself at IND, sweating through a long security line or having your junk inspected by a guard, you can take a bit of comfort in the fact that you aren’t the most-degraded person in the terminal. That honor belongs to the airport’s roughly 50 full-time public-safety officers.

The Hoosierist knows what you’re thinking. You’ve leapt to the conclusion that the federal government, in its never-ending quest to make air travel as horrific as possible, concocted the flasher-on-your-head rule to make the PSOs as miserable as everyone else. But that’s not the case. “The flashing lights are not a federal requirement—we use them to make the officers more visible, especially during the evening hours and inclement weather,” says Susan Sullivan, the airport’s director of communications.

As if there’s any danger that someone riding a Segway won’t get noticed.

Q: Why are the IUPUI sports teams called the Jaguars? We don’t even have those around here. Julia R., Indianapolis

A: Jaguars may seem inappropriate, but at least it has more verve than the school’s old team moniker, the Metros. That tedious title was ditched in 1998, when a campus-wide contest was held to find a replacement.

If you ask The Hoosierist, naming IUPUI’s teams after a non-indigenous feline predator is certainly no goofier than the titles selected by some other in-state schools. The only two that really get the message across are Purdue’s sledgehammer-wielding palooka and Notre Dame’s iconic leprechaun.

The Hoosierist’s own alma mater, Ball State University, named its sports teams the Cardinals. What better way to inspire dread in opponents than by adopting the visage of a tiny red bird that picks all the sunflower seeds out of birdfeeders? Brrrr. But at least it’s not as bad as the Indiana State University Sycamores. The only way a tree can hurt you is if it falls on you.