Why the hell would you ever want to live in Indiana?

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.

Politics

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.

People

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.

This guy pulled out a gun and you can pretty much guess what he did

Was that a firework going off, or a gunshot? In many US cities, you probably don’t know.

Louis C.K. has this bit called “Of course but maybe”. This is apt for this weekend. It was a violent holiday weekend in Indianapolis. Much will be and has been written about a mass shooting of seven people in Broad Ripple and the death of an officer on 34th street the next day. Plus the death of another officer in Gary, Indiana shot in his patrol car.

The seven people shot outside the Vogue on Saturday morning were bystanders. They were waiting to get into the bars and clubs and some guy bumped into another guy and guns were drawn. Of course this is bad. But maybe if you’re standing outside at 2:30 in the morning to get into a place to buy overpriced liquor, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sketchy people are there, too. Indianapolis Metro Police say over 100 witnesses were there, and almost none of those people have come forward with any kind of information about what happened.

A matter of hours later in an unrelated incident, Officer Perry Renn was shot in the line of duty by a 25 year old guy with a prior record, a family history, and a rifle that penetrated right through his vest.

This and the Broad Ripple shooting warrants a lot of talk, as it always does. This city loves to talk, as do most others. The Broad Ripple issue is basically inciting calls of, “Oh my gosh, bad things happened in the part of town we all like.” Which is a thinly veiled way of saying, “Scary black people have managed to get near popular places for white people.” Every time Fishers has a bank robbery one only needs to go 1 or 2 comments deep on an article to find people saying, “Of course, he came from Indianapolis.” Like they’re termites.

But for all the talk, on one side you’ll hear about how these shooters were low life’s, they should have been behind bars, they should get the death penalty. It’s all very simple. Just lock them up or kill them.

On the other side you’ll hear about how these shooters were victims, they were given a shitty lot in life, they don’t have much opportunity or choice, they came from broken and forgotten neighborhoods. The solution is in education.

The truth is both sides are right about the problems and wrong about the solutions.

Proposed solutions leave a lot to be desired

We can’t build an infinite amount of jail space. We can’t become a police state. It’s expensive housing prisoners, and it’s expensive prosecuting them to the death penalty. Because we want Justice, we want our system of judicial processes to work, and we want them to work well. But that takes time and money. Time we might have, but we don’t have a lot of money. And the same people who clamor for locking people up are the same people that say we’re becoming a police state. So those people clearly haven’t made up their mind about much.

We can’t educate our way out of this problem, either. At some point there has to be a realization that some people just aren’t capable of learning advanced math, or they have no interest. Frankly, some people are just there. They exist, they muddle along, then they die. This is, sadly, most people.

But we can’t force them into a Bachelor’s degree, and we can’t force them into a trade program. Because a lot of people don’t really want to do anything. Some people do nothing, and they’re really very okay with that. I know people like that. Much to the chagrin of the rest of us who work for a living or are trying to improve ourselves, those people do exist.

But the important realization is that a lot of people have no business being at IU or any other school. They barely have much business in high school sometimes. So we can’t just pour money on to schools. We already do that anyway with little return.

So we can’t jail them and we can’t educate them. What gives? What happened and what do we do?

The answer is probably nothing. People have been murdering other people for centuries and that’s never changed. We will never achieve a murder free environment in large cities. It’s more likely that as murder rates are at all-time low, our awareness of them is at an all-time high.

Gun control can be practical

Large cities have gun violence and their solution to create more gun control laws just can’t work. It’s a lot like traffic. Cities have traffic problems and they control that traffic with stoplights, signs, divided highways, and so on. Sometimes despite that, they still have traffic. This is just part of living in a city. Rural areas throw a sign in the mud and call it a day. That works for cities, and that works for rural areas.

Gun control can’t work because people in rural areas like and need guns. On any given night in a lot of rural communities, there is only one or two deputies on duty. Those officers may even be at their homes and just “on call”.

If you’re living in a rural community and someone comes rattling your door knob, no one will come help you. Or if they do, it will be too late. So people have guns so they can protect their own property, among other fair reasons like hunting and scaring away animals that may harm livestock or crops. Cities have the opposite problem. To my liberal friends, do not look down your nose at gun advocates.

But gun advocates need to see the folly in their ways, too. We could remove all the high powered weapons, and that’s probably fair and reasonable to do. It’s hard to see value in having small canons and armor piercing weaponry in urban or rural environments. Pistols, rifles, and other “common” weapons aren’t going anywhere and shouldn’t. Common sense regulations are also fair. It’s a little unreasonable that it’s more difficult to rent a movie from Blockbuster than it is to buy a gun.

Guns will always spill over into the streets regardless of these regulations. I hardly doubt some doofus in a gang worries about forms. But it’s a reasonable first step and gives police a little something to work on in an investigation.

You actually could do something

The majority of the problem is cultural, and Indianapolis sure has a problem with this. It’s racial, socioeconomic, and largely fixable but only with a massive cultural change.

If you think about human behavior, people move to the suburbs because it’s safer (statistically and it just “feels” nice). They get all the benefits of living in a city with none of the downsides except a little traffic in the the morning and afternoon. Not a bad trade, really.

But all of that suburban flight has left a hole in our cities and that hole is sucking everything down with it. As former Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut used to say, “You can’t be a suburb of nowhere.” Carmel and Fishers need only look at Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove to see where they’ll be in 40 or 50 years.

People could just stop running away from their cities. They could buy their homes in cities, raise property values, send their kids to city schools and lift all the boats.

You could, dare I say it, be friends with people and develop relationships with your neighbors. Plenty of cities have good luck with this. It turns out rich white people don’t turn to stone when gazed upon by a poor person. As proof, look at Downtown Indy. We all notice the “homeless” people sitting around, but they don’t bother us so much because there’s all kinds of other cool, neat, and nice things and people around. It sort of “waters things down”, for lack of a better way of saying it.

People could start taking the bus, so we don’t keep referring to a group of people as “bus people”, with the inclination that they’re lazy, gross, or dirty and should be avoided. Then we could start seeing transit as part of our infrastructure and not a service to the poor like other truly world class cities. We’d increase density and have a system where people clamored to be on or near a transit line as opposed to rejecting it for fear that “bus people” might be there.

People could recognize that if you leave a group of people in an area to effectively stew in their own bowl of societal loathing and disregard, you shouldn’t be surprised when those people develop a chip on their shoulders and become agitated and upset.

People could recognize that you can’t lump people together into groups by income and be surprised that poor people begat more poor people. If you make minimum wage, you’re going to get cheap haircuts, so the person cutting hair makes less, too. So instead of fighting the idea of “affordable rental housing” near luxury condos, try for a happy medium. There is a bit of a nugget of truth to the old Reaganism to “lift all boats”.

None of the shootings that happen in this city or elsewhere are all that surprising or confusing to me and they shouldn’t be to you, either. But the causes are really on all of us.

When I was growing up, if a kid seemed a little lost, there were people around who’d help fill in the gaps. They didn’t all run off to the suburbs (if Salem had suburbs).

So stop running, stop being scared, and live amongst the humans that are our neighbors. You’ll do more than any legislator, police officer, or social service worker could ever do.