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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: The Indy View

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Ken Smith
Indiana Statehouse

When I wrote these sentences, I was sitting by a fourth-floor apartment window that faced many of the boxy, high-and-low buildings of the downtown Indianapolis skyline. I sat by that window for its inspiring view, but I was also pet-sitting two cats, one you may have heard of named Hank. He’s doing well, by the way.

But back to that view. To my left were commercial towers peering down upon the soldiers’ memorial obelisk at the center of Indy’s Monument Circle. The tower nearest to me was branded at the top by a neon US flag and the name of an insurance company, OneAmerica, a company so serious about national unity that they’ve left out the space between the two words of their name. To my right were low motels, a tall, shiny-blue curving Marriott, and an impersonal government office block in limestone with moody rows of dark square windows. I hear that taxes are collected by people working in that building. I like taxes—whenever the State of Indiana gets around to doing something good, every patriotic, tax-paying Hoosier has a new reason to be proud. Near the top, that building too is branded: “Indiana — A State that Works.” “Works” is underlined so you know we Hoosiers are a serious people. But the centerpiece of my view, no more than a ten minutes’ walk from Hank’s apartment, was the Statehouse, our Hoosier seat of government.

It’s a formal building, and serious work is meant to happen there. On each level, tall windows in three groups of three give the limestone facade its sturdy, reliable character. Up above, at left and right, squat green domes hold up smaller squat green domes, and at the building’s center, a proud limestone tower, also punctuated with tall windows, holds aloft a fine, full green dome, which itself at its peak hoists up a narrow ring of columns capped its own small green dome. And way up there, at last, stands the flagpole, with Old Glory waving. They say it’s 250 feet tall, our dignified Statehouse.

On the lawn around the building a good number of noble statues stand on pedestals designed for climbing during political protests—I could be wrong about that last part. On one pedestal, a bronze woman gestures urgently toward the Statehouse itself, pointing out the very office where the gerrymandering takes place. I might be wrong about that too.

I give some but not all of the credit for Indiana’s dreadful COVID-19 death rate to people working in certain offices in the Statehouse. We’ve lost about twelve irreplacable Hoosiers every time Victoria, an Australian state with the very same population, has lost just one of its valuable souls. We citizens have let our government bungle that one, haven’t we?

Some gerrymander-approving, supermajority-loving legislators are secretive types, not likely to speak with me, so I took walks. I especially liked Indy’s street murals, which flavor the neighborhoods and announce our Hoosier values. There are tributes to sports, of course, but also to the playfulness of art. One overpass is done up in big rectangles of bright primary school colors that make the cement structure look like it was built of gigantic children’s blocks. There’s a very tall Kurt Vonnegut, shown as a gentle spirit who knows that a writer needs to bear witness. One small shop has given over most of its front window to a painting of James Baldwin, along with some of his words, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” My favorite Indianapolis mural presents famous jazz musicians on the long side of an old-fashioned downtown music shop. Their faces look toward the Statehouse, and they celebrate jazz, one of the great expressions of our American spirit. To play jazz, people must learn to listen to the next person’s moods, rhythms, and melodies, and then imagine a way to interweave their own, improvising together on the fly, in conversation, as you would in a democracy.

Music: "For No One" (McCartney) by Fred Hersch