Note: This piece originally appeared in the Herron-Morton Times in 2005. Many thanks to the author/ my favorite writer/high school best friend for allowing H.I. to republish. TBB
When my best friend called to tell me she had purchased a “fixer-upper” in a historic Indianapolis neighborhood, I was shocked. I simply could not imagine this fiery-eyed renegade who drives like Mario Andretti, lived alone in both London and Barcelona before she could lawfully consume alcohol, and once picked a fight, a la Robin Hood, with the high school bully, existing in a city where there’s actually a bar that will throw you out if you curse. “It’s a gorgeous Victorian with great bones, lots of sunlight, and a staircase fit for the Queen of England!” she squealed. Sensing my confusion, she added, “and you know I’ve always wanted a Victorian.” I nodded– a quasi-affirmative gesture that she couldn’t see from three states away. “Yes,” I offered, “but Indiana?” Despite all my condemnations of pretension, I could feel my New York snobbery kicking in. “You would be surprised.” She soldiered on. “And you live in Brooklyn, daahling”, doing her best Zsa Zsa impression, “try not to be so haughty.” We laughed and I conceded. “Tell me more.”
Two months later I was on a plane, buoyed by a rigorous ‘Indianapolis-is-great’ campaign and some quaint photos of the aforementioned Victorian with a byline that read, “A visit won’t kill you.” My misgivings had given way to acceptance, if not total approval. This is, after all, the friend with whom, as a teenager without a car nor boyfriend, I would sit on the roof of my house and, beyond the Central California twilight of our one-horse town, dream of a technicolor life in the big city. After college, our paths diverged as she settled in LA and I in New York.
My flight arrived a bit early and, with time to kill and an Excedrin-sized headache, I headed for the airport coffee shop. I was dumbstruck by the pleasantness of the woman behind the counter. She asked if I needed room for milk and wished me a nice day. Back in New York, I got my morning coffee from what I lovingly refer to as the “roach coach” and, after three years of daily purchases, haven’t seen anything more than the top of the vendors head. As first impressions go, Indianapolis made a good one, and I could feel my sense of resolve weakening.
My best friend arrived, in usual fashion, with the windows down and the music blaring. “Hey, chica!” She hugged me and we took off at lightning speed towards the heart of Indianapolis. I marveled at the azure sky and wide open spaces that I could see without the obstruction of skyscrapers. “Look at this,” she handed me a copy of Indianapolis Monthly‘s City Guide. “It’ll give you the lay of the land.” Perusing its comprehensive pages, I skimmed the descriptions of the various neighborhoods. There’s The Old Northside, Chatham Arch, Lockerbie Square. The list went on and I wondered if I hadn’t stumbled into an Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Merchant-Ivory-film utopia. “I live in Herron-Morton,” she told me, as we passed the esplanade on New Jersey Street. “It’s undergoing something of a renaissance.” In New York, this renaissance is often, but not always fondly, referred to as gentrification, where history and newness, assimilation and individualism intersect. Cruising along 16th Street, Herron-Morton seemed no different than Hell’s Kitchen and Alphabet City, a burgeoning community majestic in its hopeful future and reverent past.
Intoxicated by the profound combination of abandoned clapboards and renovated four-stories, I hardly noticed when the car pulled to a stop. “Home Sweet Home”, my girlfriend giggled. ‘Are you for real?’ I thought to myself. This is a hotel, not a house. We plucked my luggage from the trunk and stumbled to the front steps, where my furrowed brow betrayed my next thought: ‘A porch swing?’ It looked like something from the set of On Golden Pond. She opened the door and upon entering, my jaw dropped. I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights, because she gave me a nudge and, with a proud smirk, began pointing out the entry room, the sitting room, the parlor, the dining room, the back staircase. I couldn’t see the end of it. And that was just the first floor. My entire apartment wasn’t 1/6th of this place. “Holy Cow”, I mumbled, noting that, while it’s gauche to talk about money, I couldn’t buy a one bedroom shack in Flushing for what she paid for this architectural gem. I wanted to look around but she assured me there would be plenty of time for that later.
The next five days were filled with activities. Much to my surprise, Indianapolis, while not teeming, is a metropolis, and Herron-Morton provided a lovely vantage point from which to view it. We walked to the Propylaeum, toured the Benjamin Harrison home, had massages at the Villa Inn, took tea at the Chocolate Café in the Circle, scaled the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and photographed the old train tracks at Union Station. There were, of course, some things that required more than pied a terre. Biking the Monon trail afforded me an opportunity to enjoy the fresh air that is altogether lacking at home. Mass Ave.’s “Teapots and Treasures” is a knick-knack mecca, and when I arrived at Fountain Square’s “Antiques on the Square,” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I scored a gorgeous Roseville vase with a Zephyr Lily relief that, in New York, would have cost double what I paid, as well as iron wall sconces with a patina only time can yield and vintage table linens now proudly displayed on my desk/dining table.
As for nightlife, I was impressed with Indy’s diversity. New York may be the city that never sleeps but Hoosier night owls hold their own. Nicky Blaine’s made great dirty martinis and the array of beers at Rock Bottom Brewery made my head spin before I even took a drink. And then, there’s Broad Ripple, Indianapolis’ answer to LA’s Melrose and New York’s East Village. The Jazz Kitchen served PBR on tap and the friendly bartender told me he was hoping they might one day offer Schlitz. Aaaahh, the heartland.
Of all these endeavors, however, one shines brightest in my memories of Indianapolis. In an effort to relieve my best friend of her full-time tour guide duties, I took periodic walks through the quiet streets of Herron-Morton alone, anxious to make my own observations about the place she called home. In my rhinestone-studded belt and rose tattoo peeking out from beneath my torn tee-shirt, no one gave me a sideways glance. Instead, virtually everyone I passed, whether walking their dog, watering their lawn, or out for a run, looked me in the eye and said ‘good evening.’ There were Kerry-Edwards and Bush-Cheney endorsements dotting alternate lawns, and rainbow flags in a number of windows. Yellow ribbons, a show of support for troops in Iraq, adorned the occasional tree and couples of all ages and ethnicities sat on their porches surveying their community. Herron-Morton, I mused, is a Rockwellian neighborhood for the new millennium and perhaps, my best friend’s best-kept secret. Call it renaissance. Call it gentrification. Call it home. Herron-Morton is in its golden moment, the infancy of its evolution, when those who’ve seen fifty years from the same sturdy window meet those who see beauty in longevity and glory in things, whether people or buildings, that have stories to tell.
I flew out of Indianapolis at dusk on the 6th day of my visit. As we ascended, I looked out the window to view the wide open spaces and rows of beautiful homes that lined the streets of the city with which I had fallen in love. Ever the romantic, I could swear I saw two teenage girls sitting on a suburban rooftop, looking out over the fields of what I’m sure they considered a one-horse town. I thought of my best friend and our youthful dreaming, doubtful she ever imagined her Technicolor life would be found in a cozy little place called Herron Morton.