Indianapolis: New York Lite? (Part 1)
I make friends out of strangers, tap the bar, and hear about drug hauls by disembodied legs, in a (supposedly) boring city some call Naptown.
It’s 4pm and I’m listening to the bartender in Hooters talk about a guy who’s now banned from the restaurant over a Tom Petty song playing too loud in the background.
“Yeah, he used to come in here all the time,” she says to me and a townie at the bar who’s nursing his third Bud Light. “Then he got thrown out for getting too wild and he says how he’s got friends in this town, how they’re going to come back and shoot up the place.”
“Wow,” I say. “When did all this happen?”
“Oh, some time last week,” she says flippantly.
It’s easy for outsiders like me to forget that the threat of a mass shooting is something the average American has learned to live with. Still, I kinda wish she’d told me this before I’d ordered forty dollars worth of food.
Speaking of food, my extensive order: a bowl of curly fries, fried pickles, ten Buffalo shrimp and a dozen wings in sauces of varying heat. I’m lining my stomach because I have big plans for the Friday night ahead.
There’s something about Indianapolis that makes me think of it as “New York Lite”, a sentiment that maybe isn’t helped by the fact that I spend much of time there on and around New York Street.
Not long after I arrived, though, something did happen that made me reconsider just how applicable that ‘Lite’ really is.
Right by Wooden’s Legacy, a statue that depicts basketball coach John Wooden crouched next to five sets of disembodied legs, I hear someone yell across the street “Ayy, I just scored a soapbag full of coke, shiiit.”
From over the road, in full view of a pair of Indy’s finest, comes the reply from his associate: “Well, you gotta go sell that shit, my n*gga!”
It would appear that the hustle is alive and well in Indianapolis.
The evening begins in earnest with me taking shots of Basil Hayden’s bourbon, a bottle that I picked up obscenely cheaply at a Kroger liquor store on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, in my hotel room and listening to EDM that probably hasn’t been cool for a number of years through the AUX cord from my TV.
My night has not been well-planned, which is to say that my grand scheme is to fall out of my hotel and ask a couple smoking on the corner of the block where I should be heading on a Friday night.
They look at each other like they’re trying to figure something out.
“You up for it, Julie?” the guy finally says aloud. He’s a striking dude, like a young Steve Aoki, with his shiny black hair pulled back into a ponytail.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” his girlfriend, Julie evidently, replies. She’s a typical girl next door type, but with a bit of an edge that I can’t quite put my finger on.
“We were trying to figure whether or not we should go out tonight, and I guess you just made the decision for us. Want us to show you around?”
“Sure!” I say, conscious that I’m slurring my words a little. With that, we head to a place around the corner and sit down at the bar. I don’t catch its name, but some retroactive Googling suggests that it might have been Kilroy’s.
I remember lots of brick and polished wood, and glasses of smooth bourbon that arrived unprompted. It turns out that the guy, who introduces himself as Asian Andy (the latter part of this moniker has been changed, the former has not…), and Julie are bartenders in town and know the person who’s working tonight.
Stock photo of (possibly) our first stop…
We’re about to start sipping our drinks, which I don’t think we ever had to pay for, when Andy and Julie bang their glasses against the bar. They must spot my confused expression, since they explain that it’s sort of a bartending tradition to pay respect to the person behind the bar.
“Hey, when in Rome…or Indy, I guess,” I say, and tap my glass against the bar too.
We’re talking about my trip, what everyone does for a living, and whatnot when a guy who looks like an Indian Jonathan Van Ness walks into the bar. He’s wearing a wide brimmed fedora with a ribbon around it, a plaid shirt, jeans that look like leggings, and Doc Martens.
He greets Andy and Julie, and by extension me, with a broad white smile and an “ohmigosh, you guys” then immediately starts telling us about a failed Tinder date he’s just been on which, in spite of myself, I’m surprised to learn was with a woman.
After a minute or two, he interrupts himself to tell me that his name is Raj with such frantic energy that I almost don’t realise he’s doing it. I introduce myself and he tells me that he loves my accent, then he’s talking at pace again.
Honestly, I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit back and gather myself a little.
Passing the most boujee Five Guys ever, which I’d seen earlier that day, we decide to head to 16-Bit, a barcade full of classic video games. But, despite my best sweet talk, the woman at the front desk won’t let me in with my UK driving license.
“If you’ve got a passport too I can let you in,” she says. “Otherwise, no dice. Sorry, but it’s policy.”
We settle on heading back to my hotel, a straight shoot down North Pennsylvania Street, while Raj splits to meet a friend after telling Andy to text him where he can meet us later.
We head up to my hotel room, making a pit stop at the ice machine en route. I fill a folded up portion of my t-shirt with ice then, after some keycard fumbling, dump it into the plastic bucket on my desk.
I pour out three generous glasses (well, two glasses and a Hyatt branded mug) of Basil Hayden’s, acutely aware of the fact that I’m running out of days to drink it before I have to fly home. But now is not the time to be thinking about that.
Handing over the drinks to Andy and Julie, I’m suddenly thinking that inviting two strangers back to a room containing all of my cash, my passport, and my iPad may not have been the best idea.
I make some lame remark about not having a ton of dollars left, as if to throw them off the scent.
“Oh, no worries bro,” Andy says. “I got you.” Then, as if he’s read my mind, he pulls out maybe two thousand dollars in cash from up the sleeve of his jacket.
“Wow,” I say aloud. “How did you make that?” I ask, which might be the lamest way anyone has ever asked about someone’s finances.
“I’m a dealer at an underground casino,” he replies. “And let’s just say that the folks who play there tip well.”
It sounds like the start of a bad Steven Soderbergh movie, but it’s fair to say that I’m suddenly a lot less worried about Andy and Julie going all Bonnie and Clyde to steal my outdated iPad.
to be continued…
Thank you for reading! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Part Two now available: