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The International Writers Magazine: USA Travel

Ari Kaufman

was sitting at PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh last week watching a baseball game, gazing out at the majestic skyline framed by the Allegheny River, and I was quickly reminded as to why I enjoy this city so much that I penned a travel piece about it last fall. Then suddenly it dawned upon me that if so few people know about the beauty of Pittsburgh that I felt the impulse to enlighten them with information, then there must be more cities that necessitate such imperative endeavors.

In early July, I made my “final move” to another Midwestern gem: the capital city of Indiana, Indianapolis. This will thankfully put to an end a year of my life in which my circuitous forays have seen me "live," albeit often for a very short time, in such places as Vermont, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, South Florida, Orlando, Cleveland and my Nissan Sentra. But finally, I have a new lease on life (as well as a downtown apartment with a view) in friendly, clean, pristine, affordable, compact and thriving Indianapolis. No, I'm not kidding. This city is all that and oh, so much more.

 “Indy” is so fantastic a town in fact that Maria’s father, after an extremely brief tour proclaimed, “This city is as beautiful as I have seen. It combines the cleanliness of a small town with the architecture and sophistication of Rome and San Francisco. Congratulations and a job well done, my friend.” Coming from my soon-to-be-father-in-law and a world traveler, I was overjoyed and inspired.

These remarkably praiseworthy words established, space afforded to me in this book or on any website for a tolerable travel piece will not suffice for all the information I feel required to share about a city in which I have admittedly only spent a handful of days, some of which were interrupted by obligations such as baseball games and job interviews.

However, I will do my best to add onto the NY Times' noble attempt at characterizing my new hometown. While the Times travel section should be commended for stepping out of their coastal elite comfort zone and venturing into Middle America, they naturally leave out far too much information. While the Times piece naturally begins by pointing out past stereotypes of Indiana’s state capital in a pedantic manner, and mentions numerous dining options in and around the city, I for one, prefer to spend my time and money exploring a city's soul, its sights and sounds, rather than doing things I can normally do at home, like eating fine food. But to each writer his own audience, I suppose. Instead, I will focus on the edifices and splendor that encapsulate the fastest growing city in the Midwest outside of Chicago, since you can easily read all other numerical and critical information about Indy from its city website.

To me, Monument Circle (aka the “Soldiers and Sailors Monument”) are the centerpieces, both figuratively and literally, of the city. You can see nice photos and read a quick summary on the internet and in magazines, but these do the architectural and historical marvel little justice. The circle that sits in the center of downtown, shadowed by numerous office buildings, restaurants and hotels, is capped off by the aforementioned monument dedicated to pre-20th century American war heroes.

You can take an elevator to the top, look around the museum's basement or simply lounge at the base, peering out at fountains, waterfalls and the city to all sides. This area is rather popular at lunchtime on weekdays.
Traveling to the immediate north, the War Memorial Plaza truly begins with the War Museum, patterned after one of the seven wonders of the world, in classic Greek decor. Inside the museum is what impressed me most. Without going into details, the local and national mix of history was as well done as anything I've seen in New York or Washington, and the free admission doesn't hurt matters.
The Plaza then surrounds you as you walk north past "North Street," making your way to what reminded me of "The Mall" in Washington, minus of course, the reflecting pool and Lincoln Memorial. Instead you have numerous monuments to the deceased American war heroes, a huge Central Library at the extreme north edge, and a view looking back at the city to the South that is as manicured and awesome as you will find in the state. (The view from the benches atop the museum, looking north toward this area is fine, too.)
The nicest thing about the city of Indianapolis - as anyone will first tell you - is how geographically compact it is. The very affordable apartment I found with a view of downtown is in the extreme northeast "quadrant" of the downtown area, where 99% of the city's life is located, from malls and sports facilities to convention centers, the capital, canal walk, hotels, steakhouses and this beautiful war memorial plaza area.

To walk from the northeastern part of downtown in this city of nearly one million people (when you count the suburbs and exurbs) is about one and a half miles. Yes, fewer than two miles. During that time, depending upon which way you amble, you will pass this plaza, or perhaps the city's circle center mall, which has indoor walkways connecting it to all the city's finest hotels and the famous convention center. Many hotels, offices, restaurants and museums overlook the pristine canal, which was built more than 100 years ago, never used and refurbished a little more than a decade ago so that folks can ride paddleboats along its tepid streams.

Due to its set up, location in the state and the county for that matter, Indy has become a Mecca for business and sports conventions. Considering the logical placement of the state capital, sports facilities (best minor league baseball stadium in the nation, RCA Dome connected to the Convention Center, Conseco (basketball) Fieldhouse), numerous chain and non-chain dining options, abundance of hotels, canal walk and the museums that enshroud the state park along the river, it is obvious why this has always been an attractive venue.
Again, time, space and energy permitting, there would be so much more to share: the antebellum mansions in the “Historic District” along North Meridian Street a few miles north of downtown, Butler University and its legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse which was the site of the final game in the classic movie "Hoosiers," the state fairgrounds, renowned Children’s Museum, Arts Garden and Crown Hill National Cemetery. Even commuter college, Indiana-Purdue University-Indianapolis, which hangs along the western edge of the city, surrounded by the Indy Zoo, the NCAA Hall of Champions and its headquarters, the White River (namesake of the state park) and nationally-recognized swimming and tennis facilities (both of which host annual national competitions) is an intriguing area to sightsee.
 But I would urge the readers of this piece, like me, to take a trip somewhere perhaps "out of their comfort zone." I'm not asking you to go see the covered bridges of rural, western Indiana nor the Hoosier State’s Amish Country in the Northeastern region, but simply to venture to the centrally-located, friendly, clean, cosmopolitan, capital city that lies three short hours southeast of Chicago.
As I left that baseball game in Pittsburgh, the ex-New Yorker-turned-Pittsburghian asked me where I lived. This question has puzzled me over the past year so much so that I often simply said San Diego, as I was raised there. However, this time, I proudly said "Indianapolis." He smiled and said, "Ha. I love that city. That's my favorite city, even more than here in Pittsburgh."
 I suppose I can confirm that I am now "home."

Podcast on Indiana War Memorials here:

© Ari Kaufman October 2006

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