Friday, September 26, 2003
A Hoosier Returns from New York
Ah, New York. The bright lights of the big city, the unrelenting noise, the ready access to iced coffee, the late edition of The New York Times, of being able to listen to Mike and Mad Dog on the FAN, of making the tough choice of what to eat that night given that Indonesian, French, Moroccan, Thai, and Tibetan food is but 5 minutes from your door. I returned to New York and my old haunts this past year and now that I’m back in South Bend I’d thought I report on why that’s ok with me.
First, though, I have to vaguely torture myself (and thus, I guess you the listener) with one day in my life in the Big Apple. On July 4th my better half and I bypassed the parades and worked in our apartment during the day. Around 5pm we caught a cab to see the amazing Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, a movie that was part of an essential martial arts film festival at Lincoln Center. After that feast for the eyes we took a little stroll through Central Park, where I can happily report we saw no acts of pillage or rape, but did see a couple or two smooching. Back in our tiny apartment we ordered excellent Vietnamese take-out, and then went up to our roof to watch the fireworks across the East River. There we were, a hundred or so party-makers looking out over the forbidden territory otherwise known as Queens. And what a show we saw. Not bad for one day, eh? And yet, my thoughts turned to South Bend that day as well. I recalled how the generally good citizens in my former neighborhood worked overtime on turning their streets and front lawns into a mini-war zone, given the fireworks and small arms they deployed in honor of our day of Independence. I recalled the amazing watermelon that you can buy at road-side stands; the great and heartfelt parades that bring out the best in everyone. The fireworks at the Cove aren’t too shabby either. I had, in other words, a bit of nostalgia for good ‘ole South Bend.
In fact over the past year I had nostalgia for a number of other Hoosier-related things. I’m not speaking of the usual suspects like friends and the reasonable cost of living. I’m thinking instead of such things as the weather. This one caught me by surprise because I am one of those complainers about the cold, the heat, the rain, the sleet, and thus there is much I can complain about here given the vagaries of Indiana weather. Yet in the months of January and February, while in comforts of my over-heated apartment in New York, my thoughts often turned to those times in South Bend when I would pry open my car door and see a nice patch of pristine snow next to my pedals, deposited by my boots the night before. In fact, it became my compulsion throughout the winter to log onto my computer and see if any Lake Effect had hit Michiana that day. And if it did, I dutifully sent the double Doppler images to my friends back in South Bend and signed them “thinking of you.” A petty point, I know, but I have come to appreciate that South Bend’s weather is just more significant than New York’s. And I say this even though there was this pretty amazing snow storm in NY last winter. But that paled to the tornado I was greeted with when I returned here.
Landscape guru J.B. Jackson talks about how the “sameness of the American landscape overwhelms and liberates you from any sense of place.” Maybe this idea of a transcendent, liberating sameness of the Midwest as a vast open pallette on which the seasonal dramas of the weather get played out in spectacular form helps get at the immensity and power of the Hoosierdom that I’ve been missing. Little old New York, with its petty interpersonal dramas has nothing on us. With this in mind, perhaps you’ve heard the expression that “California is like America, only more so.” Well, I think if one is to come to terms with Michiana then the best way to do this is simply embrace the idea that Indiana is like America, only less so. First off, it would make for a great license plate slogan. And yes, I’d like to change a hundred and one things about the place, beginning with Diane Rehm. But as I settle back into my Hoosier life, surrounded by good friends and a bevy of electricians and plumbers and roofers, I’m not filled with existential despair. Now, if anyone wants to shovel the snow that will soon dump in front of my house, just give a shout out. I’m not going anywhere.