After I graduated college and the lease on my tiny studio apartment ran out, I moved back to Indianapolis via what can best be described as total and utter defeat. I spent the summer before traveling and attending an artist workshop in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina; I biked across the entire state of Iowa; I worked at a tiny bookshop, snuck into neighborhood pools, drank cheap beer, and barely made enough money to get by. My meager graduation savings were spent with abandon, and my bank account regularly dropped below hospitable human levels. But I was open and uninhibited and free to do whatever I wanted -- for exactly three months. That’s when, with the swiftness of a single-sentence email, I found out the dream job that would have kept me in Bloomington no longer existed.
A few weeks later, my friends threw a party. Not for me specifically, but it ended up being a true Bloomington sendoff. A bathtub was filled with ice, and, if memory serves me correctly, 90 (!!) cans of beer. I woke up the next morning, sticky with sweat, and not sure how or when I had commandeered my spot on the couch. I tip-toed around the few people left passed out on the floor and walked home to pack up my car with the last of the things from my apartment. I then drove back to Indianapolis and unloaded it all into my childhood bedroom.
I couldn’t ignore the appeal of a larger city
From a certain angle, Indianapolis seems like not much more than clusters of strip malls connected by long, winding highways. Outside of the state, mentions of the city are usually greeted with “Oh, I drove through there once.” I guess you could say coming from the area earns you a certain amount of humility and hunger, a yearning to make up for what your city is perceived to lack. We even struggle with what to call ourselves: "Hoosiers" -- referring to anyone from the state of Indiana -- is too general, and, seriously, very dorky. "Naptowners" is good, but it's too much of a local dialect thing that can only be pulled off by genuinely cool people (or radio DJs). Meanwhile, "Indianapolitans" is just plain unpronounceable. Plus, I don’t think I've ever heard anyone say it out loud.
Our few small claims to fame include being the origin for a few celebrities, some sports teams, and an annual automobile race that I’ve admittedly never attended in spite of 24 years of residency, on and off. Indianapolis is a city gripped with a quiet, Midwestern unpretentiousness. With over 800,000 residents, it's far from a small town. In fact, it's the 13th largest city in the US, but something about it has never quite felt like a city.
I realized growing up there that it seemed to lack an epicenter, a cohesive nucleus that defined what it meant to be from somewhere. Twenty years ago, Downtown Indy was ostensibly barren. Our teenage years were spent driving around aimlessly, hoping for something, anything to do. But as I came of age, I began to notice the city’s personality. Perhaps this lag in understanding is in part due to its proximity to Chicago, the massive metropolis that rules the Midwest. Maybe Hoosiers have developed a sort of inferiority complex because of it. After all, Chicago, being so imposing and vibrant and harsh and loud and cold, hardly ever seemed to embody what I considered that meek, compliant Midwestern-ness. Which is exactly why I currently live here, after spending my entire life in Indiana.