The Hoosierist: Butt of the Joke

Bad habits, mall monikers, and regrettable art. Ask the Hoosierist.

Q: Recent surveys place Indiana among the fattest states and high on the list for smoking. Are there any surveys that rank the state high for something good?
Beth G., Bloomington

A: The Hoosierist spent an hour Googling hopeful phrases such as “states with lowest death rates” and “states with fewest gun crimes,” only to come up empty. Men’s Health once declared Indianapolis the nation’s most sexually satisfied city, but that hardly atones for the mountains of negative stats that portray our state as a sweaty, writhing clot of chubby, poorly educated losers. But then The Hoosierist had an epiphany. Remembering that an IU basketball coach with a losing season still looks like a winner if he beats Kentucky, he decided to see how Hoosiers stack up against the Bluegrass State. Graded on that curve, the land of basketball and insanely high cholesterol counts looks pretty good. For instance, while Indiana is the 15th-fattest state, Kentucky is a pants-splitting No. 5. When it comes to smoking, Indiana’s extremely worrying No. 6 rating looks downright reasonable compared to Kentucky’s No. 1. And though our 14.2 percent high-school dropout rate is a scandal, we’re Rhodes Scholars compared to Kentucky’s unconscionable 19.7. So relax, Indiana. Remember that we don’t have to outrun the bear. We just have to outrun our chain-smoking, UK sweatshirt–wearing buddy. And we do. Just barely.

Q: Is it true that average citizens can ride along on IMPD patrols?
Penny Y., Indianapolis

A: The Hoosierist fondly remembers riding with the cops back when he was a young, eager reporter (well, a reporter, at least). Especially that time when, during a particularly uneventful night shift, he nodded off and smacked his head on the dashboard—something they no doubt still laugh about down at the station. If you’d like the same experience (riding with the cops, not bouncing your forehead off the dash), give the police a call. “Any citizen can do a ride-along,” says IMPD public information officer Michael Hewitt. “You just have to be 18.” And not a convicted felon. Oh, and you have to sign a waiver. Several hundred people avail themselves of this program every year, from folks interested in law enforcement to members of neighborhood-watch groups to dilettantes who want to see what the cops do all night. Just don’t ask the officer you’re riding with to name the town’s best doughnut shop. They hate that.

Just don’t ask the officer you’re riding with to name the town’s best doughnut shop. They hate that.

Q: That statue of John Wooden at Meridian and Georgia streets sure looks strange with all those disembodied legs surrounding the legendary coach. Isn’t someone in charge of vetting Indy’s public art?
Kayla G., Indianapolis

A: The short answer, as you might have guessed from the glorified pigeon roosts littering our public areas, is no. Not that someone wouldn’t like to have that job. Companies and private organizations struggling to decide if the design they’re considering should be cast in bronze or just cast into the nearest trash receptacle can contact the Public Art Selection Committee at the Arts Council of Indianapolis. This panel of local experts can look over your scheme and offer its professional opinion. It has already assisted with various public pieces, including a sculpture at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. But it’s all voluntary, which means if White River State Park or a private company wants to put up some rusty eyesore—or if the folks in charge of Georgia Street decide to show one of Indiana’s most beloved sports icons crouching among a bunch of mannequin legs like a lunatic hiding in a department store—the mistake is theirs to make. And ours to look at. Forever.

Q: My car is in the shop, and I need to make a very large-scale Walmart run. How much crap is an individual rider allowed to drag onto a city bus?
Craig T., Indianapolis

A: There’s a short list of items you can’t ever take, including explosives (watch the movie Speed to see why), fuel-storage containers, and car batteries. Also knives, unless you need them for work (so if you’re a ninja and you have to grab a bus to your next melee, apparently you’re good to go). But when it comes to packages that are merely bulky or numerous, an IndyGo customer-service rep told The Hoosierist that your belongings are supposed to fit into your “personal area” (that is, one seat), but what you get away with depends on the driver’s mood and whether the bus is packed. You definitely won’t get a break if your load blocks the aisle or obstructs the driver’s vision. So if you’re dropping by Walmart to pick up, say, a DVD, you’re fine. But if you’re also buying a flat-screen TV, you’d better hail a cab. The IndyGo system already has enough problems.

Q: What’s the significance of the Castleton in Castleton Square Mall? And while we’re at it, who’s the Lafayette in Lafayette Square, and the Glen in Glendale?
Steven C., Carmel

A: Castleton is easy. It’s named in honor (or perhaps more accurately, in remembrance) of the tiny agrarian suburb of Castleton, a good portion of which got buried under miles of asphalt parking lots when the mall opened in 1972. And Lafayette Square sits near Lafayette Road, so figuring out that one doesn’t take a detective. Glendale is a bit trickier. The Indiana Historical Society says there used to be a Glen Drive running past the open field that would one day become the shopping center. So someone probably tacked a “dale” onto the street name. But here’s the freaky part: “Glen” means “narrow valley” and “dale” means “broad valley.” So technically the name means “narrow valley broad valley.”

Q: I hear the huge new sewer tunnel they’re building under the city is a big deal. Exactly how big is it?
Susan P., Indianapolis

A: The Hoosierist doesn’t deploy the word “mammoth” very often in his prose, but he’ll make an exception for the Deep Rock Tunnel Connector. This seven-mile-long, 18-foot-diameter tube is being bored through solid bedrock at a depth of more than 250 feet be-neath the city. When finished in 2017, it will help solve a nasty sewage-disposal problem that’s plagued Indy since, well, forever. We currently use an antiquated “combined sewer overflow system” that collects both rainwater and sewage in the same pipes and guides it to treatment plants. That is, unless it rains. Even a quarter-inch of precipitation can overwhelm the system, forcing it to dump untreated sewage straight into White River and other waterways.

The gargantuan new tunnel will serve as the city’s de facto large intestine, sequestering overflow waste until it can be processed. Which is necessary but also not much fun to think or talk about. Suggested nickname: The Poop Chute.

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Illustration by Shane Harrison; photo by Jonathan Scott

This column appeared in the December 2012 issue.