Years ago when a new kid would arrive in school, you’d always feel this sense of wonder at their arrival. It’s like an alien landed in your backyard with a presidential escort in tow. Eventually, though, you get to a point in high school, college, or even later where you meet new people who just came here to Indiana and you say, “Really? Why the hell did you move here?”
For some, it makes sense. Anyone moving from Louisville to Indy, or Columbus, Ohio to Carmel seems somewhat logical. “Probably for a job, maybe there’s family here.” To most people, even those of us in Indiana, we can’t grok why someone from California or New York would ever move here. I can’t even imagine why someone from Texas would move here.
Politically, you’d think Indiana aligns more with the Texas’ and Oklahomas of the world. Except not really. Indiana has a much more refined political sense, for lack of a better word. In Texas it’s just “YEAH! BIGGER!” with boots and cowboy hats. In Oklahoma is just blatant religious pandering. But Indiana? I feel like our lawmakers and political sense are pretty crazy sometimes, but it’s Indiana crazy. It’s a, “We don’t want to do that because we think we can do it better.” Things like educational standards, protecting the environment, and healthcare to name a few.
Sure, those things may be infuriating at times. But we do good work when we want to in buying up and protecting marsh lands. And our education standards have, at times, been the envy of the nation. I’m not so partisan that I think teachers are always 100% awesome, or that vouchers are awesome, or that public schools are always good or bad.
When a guy in a cubicle decides, “Screw this, I’m going to start my own company,” we usually cheer them on. If you imagine America as a big cubicle and Indiana as an employee, suddenly breaking out and doing your own thing seems more laudable.
Our approach to healthcare with the Health Indiana Plan is, I think, a really good middle ground that’s uniquely American for insuring everyone, sustainable and would really drive down costs. It’s only limited by money the state can’t just print.
If our politics is a little more unique and bent toward saving a little money, so too are our cities like Indianapolis. Yeah, it’s cheap. But sometimes cheap can be good. Do you really need socks that cost $25 a piece? I sure don’t. I’d never buy $25 socks. So maybe our roads don’t always need reflectors down the middle and maybe every cul-de-saq doesn’t need a sidewalk or a curb.
I’m not inclined to rush into anything if something better might be coming, and if Indianapolis’ proposed new recycling plant is what they say it is, we’d become one of the most sustainable cities in the country overnight at no extra cost. That’s a uniquely Indiana approach and one that most people can respect. I approach that with optimistic skepticism, as one should. But there are plenty of places in the US that will throw money at any problem. We’re not one of them, and being a little more pragmatic is a good thing.
Our cheapness has made it really easy to live and do what you want here. Do you realize that in most every other major US city, to buy a house is a generations-long affair? Average people don’t just “buy a house” unless they get it handed down from grandma.
Do you realize that in most every other major US city, people pay taxes on everything from their haircuts to their car, and they do it every year. And the numbers keep changing. To have the consistency of knowing when you buy a car and it’s not taxed at $500 a year ever year is worth something. Or that your house isn’t going to go from a $1,000 tax bill to $13,000 in one year. Or that moving 20 minutes up or down the road isn’t going to cost or save you thousands of dollars a year. That happens in other places and their incomes aren’t all that much higher for “average” people. Take out the inordinately wealthy in most states and you end up about the same as we are here.
And what’s more, those people that pay all that money don’t even get anything useful to show for it. Connecticut, for instance, is a big abandoned mall. Rhode Island could break off into the ocean and never be seen again and no one would really care. Their roads are just as shitty as ours are half the time. And the things they do have that we don’t, like better mass transit, isn’t really used that much by a lot of people either, relatively speaking. I still give credit to IndyGo for taking what must be the lousiest amount of funding imaginable and putting together a system that reaches 85% of Indianapolis within half a mile of their front door.
I’d rather save my money and have nothing than spend my money and still have nothing.
There is, however, a bigger reason. Indiana has a set of qualities to it that can only be described as that cliche, “hearty midwestern ethic”. I got to thinking about this when I read this part of a story in the Star yesterday about 1,000 Lowe’s call center jobs:
Easterling said many reasons went into Lowe’s decision to choose Indianapolis, after considering some 900 sites in the last couple years. He said Indianapolis adds a strategic Midwest location to Lowe’s network of customer support centers now located in North Carolina and New Mexico, and a good facility is available here.
“But the main reason is the people, a highly skilled workforce and an unbelievable work ethic,” he said. “They really have a natural sense for wanting to help that you really can’t teach. We’ve found that here in a strong way.”
To gauge that, Easterling said company officials visited several times and broke up in several groups. Some went to universities and schools. Others visited potential sites. And some visited coffee shops, restaurants and stores and interacted with people providing customer service.
Generally when I read these things I assume the reasons for picking a city are mostly out of a city’s control. Things like access to a workforce without thick accents (important for call centers), or spreading out your workforce across time zones. Those things make sense. But this? I actually believe them when they say they really scoped us out in a covert way. And they want to be here because, lo, we’re just plain friendlier and nicer, barring racists, homophobes, and extremists; but those people are everywhere.
When I lived in Connecticut it took me about 20 minutes to understand why everyone thinks the northeast is so unfriendly. When I walk into a restaurant or a store and I see the storekeeper or waiter there, I’m going to say, “Hi! How are you today?” I’m going to banter a bit. Other places? It’s a quick, “What do you want to drink” or, “What do you need?” Maybe people there prefer that, but I don’t and I think their way of life sucks.
If someone’s house catches on fire here, there will be people with blankets and food outside on your front lawn to help. In New York it takes something as catastrophic as the 9/11 attacks for people to feel unified for a minute.
So while Indiana has horrible water quality, we sometimes don’t aim very high for things (1,000 jobs are great and all, but at $12 an hour?), the weather can be a real chore, and we take our sweet time in doing things that are so obviously going to happen anyway, like settling up on same-sex marriages, it’s still a better place than most. It’s still full of better people that most. And still yet, Indianapolis is one of the very, very, few large cities in America where you could reasonably “do what you want”, get “big city amenities”, and not be priced out of it. That, in essence, is what every American city truly strives for. If you take away all the desires for fancy malls or restaurant districts, it’s about making sure people have the ability to do what they really want.
That’s why I live in Indiana.