The Hoosierist: Bricks & Mormon

Sam Stall talks Mormons, TV choppers, and the mesmerizing allure of Mass Ave’s Ann Dancing.

Q: I hear they’re building a Mormon temple in Indy. Do we really have that many adherents of the faith here?
Sandy Y., Indianapolis

A: The Hoosierist’s knowledge of Mormonism is limited to watching a couple of episodes of Big Love. So he was surprised to learn that Indiana’s practitioners of the faith are now numerous enough to rate their own house of worship, which is currently rising on a 50-acre parcel at West 116th Street and Spring Mill Road. Indiana ranks 26th among U.S. states in LDS population (the hip abbreviation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), with north of 40,000 members. When finished in 2015, the temple will join a roster of 134 such facilities worldwide and will exclude all non-Mormons from some of its interior—which (if a quick review of the Tony-winning musical Book of Mormon is any indication) is where all the singing, witty dialogue, and Broadway-caliber hoofing takes place.

Q: For a while, there were new sculptures scattered around town every summer. Why don’t we do that anymore?
Alan G., Indianapolis

A: The program, which never had an official name, was the brainchild of the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the now-defunct Cultural Development Commission. Though, truth be told, it was really the byproduct of large dollops of cash from the Lilly Endowment and the city. For four summers during the mid- and late aughts, internationally famous artists showed their stuff all over downtown. First came the works of Tom Otterness (bronze sculptures that look like fat, gone-to-seed versions of the Monopoly guy) in 2005, followed by Julian Opie (posters of stick-figure people and moving LED displays) in 2006, Chakaia Booker (stuff made out of old tires) in 2007, and George Rickey (giant mobiles) in 2009.

The exhibits ended when the cash dried up, but the Arts Council won’t rule out doing something similar in the future, finances permitting. If you’re really hurting to see some nationally recognized outdoor art, various blasts from the past still linger around town. Three Otterness pieces grace the west plaza of the Indiana Convention Center, and one of Opie’s works, a set of LED screens showing a woman swaying back and forth called Ann Dancing, undulates where the Cultural Trail intersects Massachusetts Avenue. But no matter how mesmerizing you find Ann’s movements, don’t stare for too long. Especially if you’ve been drinking. You’ll get motion sickness—or so The Hoosierist has heard. [Editor’s Note: @ann_dancing also has a funny, fairly bawdy parody account dedicated to her on Twitter.]

Q: Has all of Indiana’s barn wood been recycled yet? Seriously, where do they get all that distressed wood for trendy floors and walls?
Cindy P., Bloomington

A: According to Aaron Hubner, owner of the Wabash Lumber Co. and professional barn taker-downer, there’s still plenty of awesome-looking, artfully distressed lumber in them Hoosier hills. The material is getting scarce out east, where hip folk have coveted the “weathered look” for decades, but there’s a lot in Indiana, where until recently, using barn wood in your house was about as sophisticated as having a pet pig.

Hubner gets three to five calls a week from people who want agricultural buildings off of their land, either because they’re structurally unsound or they’re jacking up the property taxes. Even the ones that are still in good shape are often too small to accommodate modern machinery. And while they can’t host combines, they’re perfectly suitable for dressing up an urban loft.

That’s why Hubner will happily dismantle a barn (it takes him two to four weeks) for free (as long as the wood itself is still in good shape), in exchange for all of that grayish, gnarly lumber. So far, there’s no shortage of structures for him and his competitors to repurpose, but the supply isn’t endless. “There might be a lot of them now,” he says, “but in 20 or 30 years, most will be gone.”

Q: How much do those fancy helicopters the TV stations use cost?
Kristine H., Carmel

A: First things first. Around these parts, you don’t call a TV station’s helicopter a helicopter. Channel 13’s Bell 407 goes by the name Chopper 13 HD; Channel 8’s Bell LongRanger is Live Chopper 8; and Channel 6’s Bell 206 JetRanger is called SkyCam 6. Which makes it sound like it should be cruising over Pakistan, looking for smart-bomb targets.

Actually, a more accurate moniker for those news helicopters, given their exorbitant price, might be Live SkyCam Money Burner Showboat HD. Hourly operating costs depend on what and how much the stations fly, but according to Chris Dancy, director of communications for Helicopter Association International (HAI), they’re looking at between $250 and $500 per hour every time one of those pimped-out news wagons takes to the sky.

The big difference, money-wise, is whether the ride features a piston engine or a much-faster turbine power plant. Most news stations opt for the super-fast, turbine-
powered birds because whether they’re racing to a three-mile-long I-65 pileup or just schlepping Dave Calabro to Danville for a basketball game, they gotta make it before airtime. Expect to pay at least $1 million for the privilege. Used, piston-powered models can set a buyer back a “modest” $800,000 to $900,000, but shiny new turbine-powered choppers go for $2 million or more. That’s just for the bird itself—for special “TV” touches like a snazzy paint job, satellite downlinks, cameras out the wazoo, and (one assumes) hairspray dispensers on the seats, tack on another $100,000 to $250,000.

Not surprisingly, some stations (such as Channel 6) lease rather than buy. But either way, these babies cost more to keep in the lineup than Angela Buchman. Channel 13 says its copter burns 43 gallons of jet fuel per hour. The price of jet fuel, by the way, roughly mirrors that of “regular” gasoline. Want to know if a news helicopter is nearby? Just sniff for the smell of burning money.

Q: I assume the Indiana State Fair is the Fairgrounds’ biggest event, but the place is open all year. What’s the facility’s second-biggest draw?
Beth I., Indianapolis

A: You’re correct about the Indiana State Fair being by far the biggest Fairgrounds happening. Last August, a record 978,296 attendees surged through the gates, consuming (among many other things) 59,372 Dairy Bar milkshakes plus who-knows-how-many orders of deep-fried Oreos (served with a side of self-loathing). But unlike the city’s other gigantic amusement facility, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Fairgrounds doesn’t hunker down and mostly go dormant after its marquee season. Instead, it hosts literally hundreds of other events, from miniscule wedding receptions to shindigs that are pretty big deals themselves.

The Indianapolis Home Show, staged in late January and early February, comes in second after the Fair with about 120,000 attendees, followed by February’s Boat Sport & Travel Show, with a shade over 100,000, and November’s Christmas Gift & Hobby Show, with about 60,000. If it sounds like all of this adds up to some pretty big numbers, you’re right. The Fairgrounds claims the title of Indiana’s most popular tourist attraction, with some 2 million people visiting annually. If they included all those cows, pigs, and sheep, the head count would probably rival Disney World.

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Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue.