The Hoosierist: Jelly Times

Freshwater jellyfish, food trucks, and minor league money. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: A friend of mine told me that Indiana is infested with “freshwater jellyfish.” He’s nuts, right? Please tell me he’s nuts.
Allan W., Bloomington

A: For all The Hoosierist knows, your buddy could be as delusional as the people who want to make Indianapolis the cricket capital of North America. But he’s spot-on about those jellyfish: Our lakes and ponds are absolutely lousy with them. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife reports that they’ve been found in at least 43 Hoosier watering holes, including the state’s major reservoirs and rivers. The nickel- and dime-sized critters lurk in warm, sluggish water and are most often spotted during August and September. But don’t cancel your lake-cottage reservation just yet. While the stinging tentacles of seagoing jellies can wound and even kill humans, the stingers on their freshwater relations are so feeble you can’t even feel them.

Freshwater jellies make up in quirkiness what they lack in ferocity. Their complex reproductive strategy is almost as hard to comprehend as their Latin name, Craspedacusta sowerbii, is to pronounce. They can breed both sexually and asexually, and during their convoluted lifecycle may take on several different forms, only one of which looks like a jellyfish. Search for them on warm afternoons, when they loiter near the surface. But please don’t touch. The tiny creatures stand up to rough handling about as well as soap bubbles.

Q: How much money do Indianapolis Indians players make?
Arthur E., Indianapolis

A: As with most professions, salary depends on your performance. If you’ve got a wicked fastball or can chase down a grounder like a greyhound going after a rabbit, you’re probably not hurting for cash. But if you’re a bit slow, old, or gimpy, you’re looking at strictly blue-collar money.

Those paychecks, by the way, aren’t cut solely by the Indians. The club is a Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, which reportedly covers 80 percent of the Tribe’s payroll. Naturally, there are lots of Pittsburgh guys on the Indy roster, most of whom either aren’t needed or aren’t quite ready for The Show. Low-level players may scrape by on as little as $30,000 per season, while mid-level guys with some MLB experience draw salaries in the low six figures.

And then there’s the cream of the crop—highly paid, recently drafted newbies who, like Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, are learning the ropes in the minors. Some of these folks can pull in several million per year, which must make for some awkward locker-room encounters. In most companies, there are guys who make a little and others who make a lot, but at least they don’t have to shower together after work. Most of the time, anyway.

In most companies, there are guys who make a little and others who make a lot, but at least they don’t have to shower together.

Q: How can motorcycle riders at the Red Bull GP wipe out while going so fast and—there’s no way to say this delicately—not die?
Sloan Q., Carmel

A: The Hoosierist has also wondered how these racers, who during this month’s IMS extravaganza will reach speeds exceeding 200 mph, could possibly survive a spill. Yet they do. All the time. Some survive them so magnificently that they dust themselves off, grab their backup bikes, and rejoin the race.

They avoid becoming road pizza thanks to several advantages they enjoy over the average, no-helmet-wearing street rider. Like, for instance, the absence of streets. If you’re going to wipe out on a motorcycle, a race course is pretty much the best place to do it, because it’s 100 percent free of potential bike hazards such as lampposts, telephone poles, cars, trucks, concrete curbs, and David Bisard. When a racer makes an unscheduled dismount, he just rolls or slides, unmolested, until the laws of physics make him stop.

Additional safety measures include a reinforced racing suit made of kangaroo leather (allegedly lighter and more flexible than the cow-based variety) augmented with carbon, Kevlar, and titanium. Some riders even wear special body armor that inflates like an airbag during crashes. And of course, everyone has fancy helmets incorporating the very latest in Brain Bucket Technology.

Q: I know they call it Indianapolis International Airport, but I’m pretty sure Indy has very few, if any, international departures. What gives?

Cindy L., Indianapolis

A: If you think our airport feels about as “international” as an International House of Pancakes, you’re right. The sprawling facility averages 137 daily departures and offers 32 nonstop destinations, but only two of those are (barely) outside the USA: Cancun, Mexico, and Toronto, Canada. And the Cancun run is a seasonal thing, meaning that for part of the year, the Toronto flight is the airport’s only rationale for claiming its international moniker.

The picture brightens considerably, however, if you include parcels along with people. Our airport is the eighth-largest cargo center in the U.S. and offers plenty of nonstop international links. FedEx, for example, makes regular nonstop milk runs to China from its Indy hub. So even if you can’t reach the ends of the Earth directly from here, your dairy can.

Q: Where do food-truck vendors get their vehicles?

Elaine O., Fishers

A: Pretty much anywhere they can find them. Matt Kornmeyer, founder of the Indy Food Truck Alliance, says that the national boom in mobile eateries created a lively market for used catering trucks and step vans—the box trucks used by delivery companies. Kornmeyer discovered his own wheeled eatery, Scratch Truck (serving updated comfort food), in Phoenix, Arizona, where in its former life it served as a construction-site catering wagon, or “roach coach.”

Pre-owned vehicles are in high demand because a brand-new, fully equipped, purpose-built food truck will set you back at least $15,000. A used truck can be had for a few thousand and then tricked out by the new owner (if he’s got the skills) for a few thousand more. Not surprisingly, the national market for conversion-worthy vehicles is red-hot. Kornmeyer says that people with old step trucks in their garages are getting them out, dusting them off, and posting them on Craigslist.

At any given time, there are perhaps 40 food trucks roaming Indy’s streets. That number holds pretty steady, because for every starry-eyed newcomer offering, say, Bavarian-style sushi or barbecued Brussels sprouts, there’s a formerly starry-eyed failure exiting the business. Which might be a comfort to anyone thinking about getting into this game. If you don’t succeed, selling your truck will be painless. 


Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the August 2013 issue.