Every vacation ends with a homecoming. Inevitably we have to return to reality, relinquish the perks of living outside the box for a week, resume our routines, and readjust to our not-so-exotic environments. Sometimes when we’ve run ourselves ragged to the point of exhaustion, it can be almost comforting to slip back into familiar robes and roles and ruts.
At the end of our 2020 experience, “home sweet home” didn’t have quite the same ring to it. More of a Chopin dirge than a ring.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Then came 2020 A.D.
Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are. Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.
In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed…
As fun as the City Market Catacombs tour was, it was an oasis of activity in an otherwise largely deserted city. Although my day job is downtown, I hadn’t seen this side of it in over a month. Headline news one weekend in May brought deep, deep unrest and the sort of destruction that tends to be reserved for Super Bowl winning towns:
[One Friday) numerous folks had flocked downtown for a peaceful protest against police brutality and/or racism in the wake of recent tragic murders and deaths nationwide involving police. (Here’s a link to Indianapolis’ own. It’s absolutely, jaw-droppingly unconscionable that major cities seem to be collecting these cases.) By all accounts the part of the evening when the organizers organized things organizationally went well. Then folks lingered after closing time, after the time frame that the organizers were accountable for, and things stopped being peacefully organized. Rioting ensued. Some businesses took damage, including my own workplace. Pepper spraying and sirens abounded. Local reporters live-tweeted their photos, video, and firsthand accounts of the bedlam as best they could from within while choking and trying to keep their eyes clear.
Saturday was the sequel, and of course every sequel has to double-down on the qualities of the original. Our mayor commended the organizers and protesters for their manner and conduct in the name of free speech and assembly for their second round. The mayor also asked them to please disperse by 7 p.m. The official version of events is that around 7:05 not only were folks still hanging around, but a disturbing number of them appeared to be making a concerted, suspicious move on the City-County Building. Rioting ensued again, far worse this time. Dozens of businesses, including the local comic shop I’ve been going to for years, took millions of dollars in damage from rioters. Once again our local reporters were in the thick of things as much as possible because The People had a right to know.
Thing is, other states might be inured to riots. Maybe the good citizens of California and Michigan are used to them and don’t give them much thought. Maybe they think of riots the way a lot of Hoosiers think of tornadoes. I’m sure Florida residents who stock up on window boards for hurricane season think we’re weaklings about this, but Indy isn’t used to this much smashy-smashy. At all.
So the city once called “Naptown” is now grown-up enough — and allegedly hosted enough egregious sins within the ranks of its law enforcement — that now we get to have riots, too. If this is what it means to be in the Big Leagues of major American cities, then that station upgrade sucks.
Yes, the tragedies being protested and systemic forms of racism are horrible things that should have been left behind in history’s dustbins long ago. Yes, the right to peaceful assembly is right there in the Bill of Rights. Yes, lives are more important than things. I wish I didn’t have to type things that feel obvious.
But riots? We’re still processing that.
Small business owners and franchisees alike are still covering up frames that were formerly windows. Some of the affected have insurance. Not everyone does, and not everyone has full coverage that will cure the damage in an eyeblink. Some possess the serenity to roll with this either way, even some of those whose livelihoods were devastated…
When were were allowed to return to the office the day after I wrote that entry, the damages surrounding us were hard to miss.
When we were allowed back at the office, we were asked not to walk around downtown for the next couple weeks. At all. Again, in case of recurring temper explosions. That meant no fetching lunch from what few restaurants were still open despite the pandemic and The Purge. That meant no long walks for exercise. That meant I had to switch my weekly comics fix to another shop. Sure, a lot of little things in the grand scheme, but the little things add up. And that situation did other downtown businesses no favors.
After the restrictions were lifted, I took my first downtown walk in a good while for a simple lunch run. I already posted photos from that excursion, by which point many businesses were still in cleanup mode — waiting on insurance, or on overworked window replacement companies, or on economic miracles to save them. Things were calm enough that at the food court I was worried less about rioter ambushes and more about poorly masked COVID-19 deniers roaming the nearest food court. Not quite back to normal — more like back to the interim normal.
Our vacation fell the week after next. On the way to the City Market I made a point of swerving toward Downtown Comics, my Wednesday appointment haunt for years. They’d previously shared video of their aftermath, then quickly set to work on their own interim plans as shown in our lead photo. They covered the former windows with ordinary plywood, covered that with white boards, then invited artists to come on down and cover it in superheroes and pop culture references. I’d seen photos of the phenomenal community effort, but this was my first excuse to come see it in person.
(All the glass was finally replaced a few weeks later. I’m not sure what happened to the original art. I trust it’s in worthy hands.)
Later as we left the City Market, we saw a group of protesters with signs lapping Monument Circle. We couldn’t read the signs from our distance, but we could guess the contents. I couldn’t tell you if their efforts continue to this day. If they are, I’m guessing local media hasn’t found new related stories to tell.
As of July 11th numerous business were still covered in wood and gloom. I took a couple more photos before we returned to the car, abandoned the snacking idea, and sped home.
As of late August, downtown was still a relative ghost town, businesses were still reeling, and the general vicinity was growing increasingly less safe as time went on. Since then we’ve returned downtown for leisure exactly once, on the occasion of Anne’s birthday dinner. City officials and local businesses wish we and hundreds of thousands of other Hoosiers would keep on coming. I wish we could save everyone. I wish it were safe for us to do so.
A small part of me wishes we were back in those smaller towns and cities we visited over the past week. We may have spent those days masked and paranoid, but we learned to handle it. We enforced the scientific protocols for ourselves. We survived the experience. The fear of Coronavirus lingers and won’t subside anytime soon — not at the current, ever-escalating infection rates, that’s for sure — but we’ve learned to negotiate that defensive unease day-to-day. In its own way, it pales in comparison to the sorrowful sensation of having your own hometown break your heart.
To be concluded.
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