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No mean city.

Last weekend, I drove down to Indianapolis to see my friends Adam and Jane. Jane has called Indy home for almost a year, and she showed us the little spaces pocketed inside the city that make up her version of Indianapolis. We had lunch at the Spice Box, sipped coffee at the Thirsty Scholar, walked along the canal. We rested at her apartment and shopped at Indy Reads Books. We saw different neighborhoods and walked lots of sidewalks.

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Jane told us about Indy being called “No Mean City.” It’s a campaign based on telling the stories of Indy’s varied people–more Humans of New York, less I Heart NY. The kind of marketing that makes me want to ask store owners why they love what they do. The kind that feels true.

While we walked and sat and drove, Adam, Jane, and I discovered that our little group of three had been talking for about seven years. Friends for that long. Friends who can chat about everything and nothing, friends who can sit down for lunch and ask, “Okay, what problems do we need to solve?” When we asked that question, we laughed…and then we went around the table, solving problems by realizing we didn’t have answers, but we did have each other.

Walking Indy’s streets and neighborhoods, we talked about how they were all different–felt different, had separated themselves over time–but were part of the same city. Over the years, the three of us have gone separate ways; we have lived in Nashville, New York, Indianapolis, Columbia, and Versailles. We have come back to where we grew up and moved away. We have visited often and gone months without visiting. We have stayed the same and changed.

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Visiting Indianapolis felt like being in a city that worked like our little group of three does. We explored so many places that were different but on the same team, heading toward the same goal. Indy really was no mean city–it welcomed us like we welcome each other. We listened to the stories of its streets like we listened to the stories of our separate lives, almost hearing them knitting together.

When I think about place, I think about people. I think about brick-and-mortar shops I’ve loved, sure, places with good coffee and comfortable chairs or long hallways of books. But when places like that aren’t shared, place becomes people. When asked where I’m from, I could say Versailles or Nashville, Fort Wayne or West Lafayette. But what I really mean is that I’m from these people, those talks, that laughter at inside jokes from years ago. What I mean is the bookstore we browse doesn’t wholly signify I’ve come home; what does is the people I see looking at the shelves across the store, head bent to the side like mine.

We could have been anywhere, but I think Indy made us more thankful to be together because the city itself does what we try to do: bring stories together, unify what is separate, make sense of what’s ahead of us.

Here’s to seven years of that and many more. I’m grateful, friends.

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