The road to Indianapolis from Chicago (IN-9) cut through a sea of firm-standing corn stalks, and for hours I saw nothing but walls of cultivation interrupted by farmhouses and islands of clover.
Northern Indiana is lucky enough to be part of both the Rust Belt and the Corn Belt, with much of the economy embedded in steel, corn, soy and beef. Meanwhile the southern half of the state is well known for large coal and limestone mines, as featured in the sweet 1979 movie Breaking Away:
(Four townies coming of age in Bloomington, Indiana form a bicycle team to take on superjerky college kids in a big race. The superjerks call all the townies “cutters,” a derogatory name for people who cut limestone, so the four townies, including a bitter but very buff Dennis Quaid, reclaim their dignity and make the insult their team name.) What I didn’t know is that the Cutters still totally compete in the Mens Little 500 race every year! And they continue to rock it.
Thanks to low business taxes, at-will employment laws and low union membership, much of the rest of the state’s economy relies on popular industries like pharmaceuticals, insurance, automobile or rubber manufacturing, and chemical production.
Even knowing this, when I finally saw multi-story buildings poke above the corn-crusted horizon, it felt like I’d reached Emerald City.
The fact that I was most likely approaching the headquarters for WellPoint, Eli Lilly and OneAmerica rather than jewelled towers filled with purple horses and magical spas didn’t seem to matter.
Even without considering that kindly staff at the Marriott, something about this city has always smacked of the mystical for me. It’s the largest city in the U.S. not located on a body of water, the second most-populated state capital in the country, and host of the crowning event of the second most popular sport in the United States. But then its nicknames are I-Need-A-Nap-Olis, IndiaNoPlace, and Nap Town. It’s almost like Indianapolis is just trying to hide its real appeal with nerdy glasses and a low ponytail.
The first Indianapolis miracle this time around came in the form of a room at a downtown hotel for very nearly half price. (Thanks triple A!)
The Indianapolis Crowne Plaza is actually a converted old train station, and inside you can choose to stay in a renovated jazz-musician-themed ACTUAL train car. Even better, scattered throughout the hotel are plaster statues of classic figures from the 20s and 30s, frozen in time: sailor getting off the train, man getting his shoes shined, woman in elaborate dress holding parasol.
I was assigned to the Cole Porter traincar, which ROCKED, stuffed with framed records, old newspapers on the walls, and obviously pictures of Cole everywhere. Cole Porter wrote the musical Kiss Me Kate (which I’m sure you’ll agree will forever be overshadowed by another far superior Taming of the Shrew adaptation). He also wrote pretty much every other amazing, classic song you’ve ever hummed to yourself while feeling jaunty:
Night & Day (Kevin Kline and John Barrowman)
Under My Skin (Frank Sinatra)
Let’s Do It (Eartha Kitt)
Don’t Fence Me In (Isto)
The first clip is from the movie De-Lovely, about Cole Porter’s crazy life. Born in Indiana, Cole went to Yale, where he wrote no less than THREE HUNDRED songs. He then started at Harvard Law but transferred to the School of Music after just a year. After school he moved to Paris, wandered Europe during the World War I, married a socialite despite rumors of his homosexuality, and came back to America to write a string of blockbuster Broadway musicals. Along with his professional ups and downs, the following decades saw Cole continue to struggle with his sexuality and his marriage, and an accident crushed his leg, eventually leading to an amputation. Would he be comforted to know that an unused traincar in Indianapolis has a small brass plaque on the door bearing his name? It would at least be cool if he could know that 74 years after the song was premiered, a kid in Brooklyn videotaped himself barefoot in the park belting out Don’t Fence Me In.
Tune in for Indianapolis Part 2! In which we explore the secret service, traveling Philly bands, German food, and beer cups as big as my head.