Never quite at home in Indianapolis

It’s official. I’ve now lived in Indianapolis longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.

I’ve lived in just three cities, all in Indiana: South Bend from birth to age 18, Terre Haute thence to age 27, and Indianapolis since. I came here because I make software for a living but wanted to stay in Indiana. Almost all of those jobs are in this state capital.

Riley's rest
James Whitcomb Riley gravesite. It’s the highest elevation in Indianapolis.

But I miss the small-city lifestyle. Very little was more than a 15-minute drive from my homes in Terre Haute and South Bend. In both cities I could walk to a grocery and a pharmacy and a few other stores if I wanted. Traffic was seldom heavy when I chose to drive, and late at night I often had city streets to myself.

Indianapolis is always busy and crowded. I’ve driven in thick traffic at 3 am! Outside of downtown and a few popular neighborhoods, you can’t walk anywhere. It’s common to spend 20 minutes to an hour in the car for everyday trips. Most things are more expensive, especially homes. It took me years to adjust to these changes.

Downtown Indianapolis. Washington Street (the old National Road) passing under the Artsgarden.

Of course, there’s so much more to do in Indianapolis. In Terre Haute, there were three decent places to meet my buddies for a beer. Here, I could visit a different interesting venue every night for a month, easy. Almost everything is found in greater quantity and quality here: museums, shopping, amusement, theater, dining.

My friends who live in even larger cities are used to even better amenities, but grow jealous when I mention how comparatively little I paid for my house and remark often about the easy traffic when they visit. Clearly, it’s all relative!

Yet I wish for the easier, slower-paced lifestyle I once enjoyed. My oldest friend moved from Indianapolis back home to South Bend several years ago. I’ve never told him that I’m still a little jealous.

I don’t miss the snowy South Bend winters, though. I survived the Blizzard of ’78 there. Read about it!


23 responses to “Never quite at home in Indianapolis”

  1. ryoko861 Avatar

    You made me think about my previous town I lived in 10 years ago. It was the A-Typical suburb of NJ with the town center surrounded by homes and mini vans. I can’t believe how much the traffic has picked up after 10 years. I came back from there a couple weeks ago and was mentally wiped out from driving.
    Now when I moved out to PA 10 years ago, I was amazed at the lack of traffic! It’s since gotten a little heavier but it’s still nothing to what it is in my past hometown!
    Some people are “city” people, others are more “country”. I’m the latter. I couldn’t handle living in the city. I need my wide open spaces.
    Have you ever visited Ralphy Parkers home from “A Christmas Story”? They were from Terre Haute or around there.

    1. Jim Avatar

      A Christmas Story was set in northwestern Indiana — Hammond maybe? I forget. The house used in the movie was in Ohio someplace. The movie does mention Terre Haute — the line to see Santa stretched at least that far.

      I’m not a country person, at all. I like city amenities, city services, city neighborhoods.

      1. ryoko861 Avatar

        Oh, that’s right and Warren G. Harding school was a building in Canada! I forgot that the house was in Ohio! And the old man’s words about that furnace are still hanging over Lake Michigan!

        1. Jim Avatar

          It’s a big lake. Words can hang there for a long time.

  2. davidvanilla Avatar

    Small town for me. I think one has to be wired for frenetic activity to really enjoy living in a city.

    1. Jim Avatar

      One can avoid the city’s frenetic pace by staying home and close to home. I could, if I tried, conduct most business within two miles of home. I’d pay more and have fewer choices, though. Work would remain the sticking point, as there are no software companies within that radius.

  3. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    Indianapolis may be bustling to you (I did grow up in Casey,Il west of Terre Haute) but I fly there all the time fromPhoenix ( pilot for USAirways) and Indy feels small townish. I live in the outskirts of Phoenix but Sky Harbor is 3 miles east of downtown ( opened in 1929 when that was the country) it is 28 miles to the employee parking lot but sometimes it takes over an hour even though it’s all freeway . Some places it is 7 lanes in each direction and at a total standstill. Seems like it takes less than 15 minutes to get to our hotl by State circle from Weir Cook.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Ward, like I said, it’s all relative! I’ve never lived anywhere larger than Indy; to me, this is the big city. But I’ve driven through Chicago, Atlanta, and even Boston and know that compared to those places, we don’t have real traffic here.

      1. Jennifer Avatar

        I agree that it’s all relative – that’s just what I was thinking until I got to the point in your post where you said those very words! LOL I didn’t live in or really close to New York City (about 80 miles away), but visited alot and even drove in the city. I also lived in the Chicagoland area, so my experience in Indianapolis is that it does have a smaller city feel, but compared to those two cities. At the same time, compared to where I grew up, in a very small town in Connecticut (not even remotely a a city, it had one traffic light for the longest time and the Mayor was always the first to arrive at any 911 call – be it a car accident, fire, cat in a tree, etc…I’d probably prefer living in less of a city and more of a very small and more off the beaten path town that is within 20 minutes of a city.

        1. Jim Avatar

          One of these days I’ll move out of my current house and I can’t decide: do I move into one of Indy’s established neighborhoods, such as Broad Ripple or Butler Tarkington, or do I move out of town to something like Zionsville or even farther out? I can’t imagine myself living in a vinyl-village suburb like Avon or Fishers though.

  4. Ted Kappes Avatar

    Maybe someday there will be a job where you could telecommute. I did that for many years when I was doing web programming. There is a downside in that in a way it can feel that you are always at work and also there is little face to face with co-workers. Still I think I could get more done most days than if I had been in an office. The nice thing is I could do whatever work I had to do from anyplace that had an internet connection.

    1. Jim Avatar

      As long as I’m in management I doubt I could telecommute. But when I do work from home, I find that the refrigerator is my constant enemy. I’d gain weight if I did it all the time!

    2. Jennifer Avatar

      Just like these folks – they have technology jobs, location-independent- and live full time in their restored bus. Before that, they lived in an Oliver travel trailer – and before that, in a tiny T@B travel trailer like I used to have: Oh how I wish…

      1. Jim Avatar

        I once edited a book written by two guys living on a boat in Puerto Rico. Now that’s the way to telecommute!

  5. Scott Palmer Avatar

    I agree with you about small-town life. But as you say, it’s all relative. When I moved back to Indianapolis from Washington DC, and later moved back to Indianapolis from New York, my friends joked about Indianapolis traffic jams being “three cars at a stop sign.”

    Terre Haute is nice: I lived there one summer. I like Bloomington. But the nicest “small town” I ever lived in was Isla Vista, California, a suburb of Santa Barbara where UCSB is located. My apartment was a block from the beach (not really a swimming beach, but still a beach), two blocks from a movie theatre, three blocks from a grocery store and a used book store, and four blocks from the bus stop to ride to Santa Barbara. That was sweet.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’ve been stuck behind two miles of cars on I-70 before, so clearly we’ve moved on from the Indy traffic jams of yore.

      I wouldn’t call Terre Haute nice anymore; every time I visit it seems to have declined even further. But it has a wonderful park system that I used extensively when I lived there.

      Isla Vista sounds wonderful!

  6. zorgor Avatar

    ‘Nap Town’, and yet also the ‘Big Flat City’.

    It is all relative. My wife, coming from the third largest city on Earth… well it took her years just to allow the possibility that some people could use the word “city” to describe this town. To her Indy is unquestionably no more than a town.

    1. Jim Avatar

      An online newsletter I follow sometimes writes about Indianapolis, but the city’s name is always preceded by “flat and featureless.”

      Your wife would think Terre Haute is barely there. If you ever end up in an argument over it, you can tell your wife that in Indiana, state law decides what’s a city and what’s not. By that law, Indianapolis is a city, whether she likes it or not!

      1. zorgor Avatar

        Yes, that is what she thought of Terre Haute. She took her TOFIL test there. And yes, that’s the argument I believe I used years ago to reach the current stalemate on the point. :)

  7. 40 is the new 13 Avatar

    So my dad is also from South Bend. My great-grandpa used to have parking lots there in the 50s and 60s. My cousin Pam runs Allied Specialty Precision, Inc. They make parts for aircraft. I’ve not been to South Bend recently, but it looms large, large, large in family lore. So interesting to know it’s your hometown, too!

    1. Jim Avatar

      My parents still live in South Bend, on the south side, near Riley High School. There’s a large orthodox Jewish community in and around their neighborhood; families in black all walk past the family homestead every Saturday on their way to synagogue. I used to walk past that synagogue on the way to school.

      You wrote about the redneck side of your family; my family has one, too. Dad’s family is all from near Charleston, West Virginia. The part of the family that wanted to work left the hills in the 1950s to take manufacturing and construction jobs in South Bend. That’s were Dad met Mom, who was upper middle class and lived on Park Avenue downtown. You can imagine the hilarity that ensued in her family when Mom fell madly for Dad.

      1. 40 is the new 13 Avatar

        Oh, wow. You have some serious Redneck cred. Have you ever written about it? Would love to read that.

        Isn’t it sometimes a huge cultural chasm between the northern and southern relatives? I’ve had cousins from NYC phone my house, get my husband on the phone, and literally be unable to understand what he’s saying because of his southern accent.

        1. Jim Avatar

          I’ve written about WV and that side of my family a couple times:

          So my dad worked hard to shed any sign that he was, in his words, a “dumb hillbilly.” Listening to him talk, you’d think he’s always lived in South Bend.

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