Monday, May 30, 2011

#24. Watch the 500 Festival Parade

Race weekend is arguably the most eventful weekend in Indianapolis. Large public events share calendar space with more intimate backyard cookouts. Visiting quasi-celebrities give the Indy Star’s Social Scene column material worthy of coverage. The culmination of this pomp and circumstance is the 500 Festival Parade. The celebrities and drivers abandon the hermitage of VIP suites and racing helmets to take to the streets of downtown Indianapolis. 300,000 spectators are on hand to half-heartedly wave to the middle-of-the-pack drivers and scout out the most handsome South American drivers. (Okay maybe that is just me, but I doubt I am alone in this.)

According to my mother, I have attended this parade at least ten times. I wonder if senility is kicking in at an unusually young age, because I thought that this was my second year attending. I will silence this fear and blame it on the monotony of the parade. While it is a wonderful parade and expertly executed, one can only stay interested in a finite number of floats and giant balloons.

Understanding the ephemeral attention span of the audience, Parade officials tried to mix in some unexpected attractions. The Nationalities Council of Indiana contributed a group of people dressed in ethnic clothing. The resulting lederhosen, saris, and hula skirts were a punchy addition. Because the Parade is a family event, many floats played Radio Disney hits and featured costumed cartoon characters.

Men in kilts add international flair
While these attractions broke up the repetition of heartbreakingly overheated high school marching bands, I was most entertained by Florence Henderson.  Mrs. Brady is a staple at the Indy 500, singing the classic “God Bless America” at the beginning of each race. I used to watch the Brady Bunch religiously and futilely attempted the perfect swoosh of Mrs. Brady’s hairdo. As such, my sympathetic system kicked into gear once I saw her approach. I whipped out my digital camera with startling speed to capture my former hair inspiration.

As she passed, Henderson was more adorable than ever. While she was pretty darn cute while delivering life lessons in a neck scarf, her Parade appearance topped all else. She reveled in the attention of the crowd and stood up in the backseat of the convertible, balancing herself with the aid of her companion’s head. She  beamed jubilantly and waved more enthusiastically than all of the 500 Princesses combined.
Florence Henderson aka Mrs. Brady
I knew that little could top Ms. Henderson, so I crossed Meridian in order to explore Military Park. The Indiana War Memorial Museum was open and admission was free, so I wandered inside for a bit. The interior of the building is ornately beautiful and the exhibits have been arranged with care. The mannequins were a little creepy, but other than that it was a really interesting museum that, if not for the Parade, I would have never visited.
Mannequins in the "Citizen Soldier" exhibit

If you are a history buff, enjoy mannequins and/or architecture, or are downtown, broke, and bored, go visit the Museum!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#23. Attend the Carb Day Concert

When ruminating over the magazine article "50 Things Every Hoosier Must Do!" I struggled with the decision of which task to first conquer. I wanted something interesting but not weird but weirdly interesting because (woo!) it's my first real blog post. Luckily, the calendar dictated my decision. This blog was conveniently founded days before Race Weekend, a hallowed time here in central Indiana. As such, the Carb Day concert was the most convenient and weirdly interesting choice for the first entry.

For those unfamiliar with Carb Day, it is an annual event at the Motor Speedway open to the public the Friday before race day. There are multiple events that take place on Carb Day, including:
  •  Final practice before the Indy 500,
  • 40-lap Firestone Freedom 100,
  • IZOD Indy 500 Pitstop Challenge
  • Miller Lite Carb Day concert.
This is the official calendar, but the unofficial draw is the party. The Indianapolis Monthly article accurately describes Carb Day as "tens of thousands of unwashed revelers converging on the Speedway with beer-filled coolers to jumpstart the weekend festivities." The mixture of fast cars, booze, and fans of fast cars and booze creates a hectic environment ideal for the best people watching in Indiana.

When I first entered Carb Day, I was greeted by gray skies and an admission price that had doubled from the year prior. I feared that the day would be a disappointment, but I was greatly mistaken. Despite less-than-perfect weather and shameless ticket gouging, Carb Day-goers refused to let the situation get them down.
Entrance gate to Carb Day
Once inside the gate, my friend and I entered the stands to catch the beginning of the Firestone Freedom 100. We awkwardly squeezed ourselves in front of two hardcore racing aficionados in order to obtain enviable third row seats. Despite our unparalleled seats on the start line, we quickly lost interest. Yellow flags ordered a lowered speed limit, and after maybe seven laps we left in search of more engaging activities.

Fast cars at the Firestone Freedom 100
After leaving the stands, my friend and I ventured to the infield, the core of both the track and the Carb Day festivities. Immediately we were greeted with drunken frat boys chanting as one of their peers downed a beer with the aid of an intricate apparatus that looked fit for a science lab rather than a racetrack. I knew that it was going to be an unusual day.

Beyond the beer chugging, a slew of characters made for prime people watching. The array of mullets, Mohawks, tattoos, and jorts pair nicely with greasy food stands and an overriding scent of sweat. Carb Day is a time when people put away their inhibitions and unabashedly ignore style mores that bind them on an everyday basis. The results are oddly fascinating.
Even Indy Elvis attended Carb Day!
These patrons participate in some people watching of their own

Beyond people watchnig, the primary event of Carb Day is the concert. This year, Papa Roach opened for Staind. I am not a fan of either of these bands, but at Carb Day this does not matter. The bands chosen are always popular enough that everyone in the 40,000+ crowd can embarrass themselves by singing along to the band’s oft-forgotten but inexplicably-remembered radio hits.
A string of IMPD motorcycles

This year, the concert got a bit rowdier than usual. A few concertgoers threw full cans of beer onto the stage while Papa Roach performed. IMPD police officers fired pepper pellets into the audience in order to keep the crowd in check. According to the Indy Star, Papa Roach vocalist “taunted the authorities by requesting that they fire a ‘paintball’ to his chest.” 

Luckily I did not encounter this first hand. I opted to remain on the periphery of the concert in order to avoid the numerous flashers. I do not regret this decision at all, and recommend it to anyone who attends the concert. 

Carb Day 2011 was definitely a memorable one. For whatever reason, it maintains its magnetic draw for Hoosiers everywhere and has a long future ahead of itself.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the Beginning There Was a Girl, an Article, and a Blog

Something inside of me screamed. I knew that this was my chance to get out of Indiana. Yes, Indiana, that state that claims to be the crossroads of America despite a location that is too far northeast and too lacking in civil engineering to deserve this appellation. As a senior in high school applying to college, I was finally presented with the opportunity to get out of the state that has been my home for 18 years. I applied to seven schools: three in Chicago, three on the East Coast, and one in Indiana. The last application was mostly just for a safety school and to appease my parents. Despite my acceptance letters and scholarships to out-of-state schools, I selected the in-state institution of Indiana University. For the next four years of my life, I am going to be an official Hoosier.

Considering my bitter first paragraph, one may wonder why I chose to attend Indiana University. To be honest, money was a large factor. I simply cannot justify a five figure annual tuition. I think that college is like anything else—it is what you make of it. But more importantly, I realized that sticking around in Indiana for the next few years is not a bad thing. There are some truly wonderful things about Indiana. Its seasons are beautiful and full-fledged. Its people are genuine and grounded. It provided me a Norman Rockwell childhood. I knew that there were more things that I loved about the state, but I had yet to find them.

And then, fate intervened. (Okay, so that is a bit melodramatic, but allow me this grandiosity.) While absentmindedly sorting through some magazines at my grandma’s house, I came across the August 2010 issue of Indianapolis Monthly. If you are unfamiliar with this publication, please run out to the nearest grocery store/pharmacy/newsstand (are those even around anymore?) and buy a copy ASAP. Or at least visit their website This monthly magazine is filled with skilled writing and updates on Indy area restaurants, stores, and happenings. If you are under the impression that Indiana is a wasteland filled with little more than dusty farmland and smoky bowling alleys, this magazine will shatter your illusions of love…er, Indiana.

Anyway, the cover of this issue caught my attention. A picture of a model who is a cross between Pippi Longstocking and a redheaded Kirsten Dunst holding a corn cob was odd enough to stop me in my tracks, but the cover story next to this picture sealed the deal. The article “The 50 Things Every Hoosier Must Do!” was filled with an appealing mixture of obscure (#10. Don your lederhosen in Jasper) and mainstream (#39. Sing along to John Mellencamp’s “Small Town”) Indiana traditions. Given my love for road trips, small town exploration, and open summer schedule, I knew that I had to complete this bucket list. Creating a blog about my adventures would allow me to keep up on my writing before embarking on my journalistic studies, so the situation was a win win.

For the next few months, I will be completing as many of the 50 tasks as possible and blogging about my experiences. Join me as I discover the quirky and quintessential niches of Indiana. And maybe if we’re lucky enough, we can figure out what the heck a Hoosier really is.