Driving from Columbus to Indianapolis yesterday, you could see the signs of America’s ongoing economic struggles, without having to look very hard for them.
It’s a straight shot from Columbus to Indianapolis, on I-70 West. That’s one of our main east-west highways, linking cities like Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Denver. When the economy is really cooking, the road is packed with long convoys of semi trucks that can make the drive a real pain. In America’s heartland, trucks are the true wheels of commerce. Yesterday, there was some truck traffic, but not that much — certainly not as much as in boom times.
Another highway-oriented economic indicator is billboards. The number of billboards dotting the I-70 roadway reflects its status as a major transportation artery. Yesterday, many of the billboards were available for lease, which suggests that some companies may have cut back on their advertising budgets or that the businesses that formerly used the billboards have gone under.
From what I saw on my road trip, I’m not surprised by the continuing bad news — like yesterday’s report of higher than expected filings of new joblessness claims.
A quick trip to downtown Indianapolis today for meetings. I like downtown Indianapolis quite a bit — it’s got a nice critical mass going, radiating out from Monument Circle, and the buildings are interesting. The Indiana State Capitol is pretty standard issue, however.
For a long time, Columbus and Indianapolis were viewed as very similar. Both were white-collar Midwestern cities that managed to avoid the rust belt fate of fellow Midwestern cities that were built around the steel, rubber, glass, and auto industries. Both had a reputation for being white bread, straight down the middle, boring towns.
If anything, Indianapolis was viewed as even more dull and predictable than Columbus. That’s why some people referred to it as “Nap Town” or “Indian-no-place.”
No longer! Things started to change when Indianapolis got an NFL team to go with its NBA franchise. Then the city started to host NCAA Tournament regionals, then the Final Four, and now, this year, the crown jewel — the Super Bowl. And, by all accounts, Indianapolis did a fabulous job in hosting the Super Bowl and wowing all of the visiting journalists and high rollers. Local people — including one of my friends — were recruited to serve as hosts, ready to direct visitors to events and help them make reservations and plans. The weather was great. The downtown zip line had the requisite coolness factor. As a result, Indianapolis got great, and richly deserved, PR.
So now, in Columbus, people are talking about what we need to do to keep up with our neighboring city to the west — the one that has left us in the dust as a destination for sports events. Let’s face it — we’ve got a bad case of Indy Envy.
The recent commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War brought that horrible conflict back into the consciousness of many Americans. In many of the cities and towns of the Midwest, however, the reminders of the Civil War are ever-present.
I was in Indianapolis recently, and the gigantic Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at the heart of Monument Circle is a good example. Although the monument recognizes the contributions of soldiers and sailors from many conflicts beginning with the Revolutionary War, the portion of the monument that deals with the Civil War is the most memorable. The devastating statistics of Indiana’s contribution to the Civil War effort, noting the hundreds of thousands who served and tens of thousands who died, are set forth in simple, precisely carved numbers on the facade. The statistics appear under the heading “War For The Union.”
As one Hoosier mentioned to me on my visit, it is no accident that the numbers appear on the side of the monument facing due south.