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September 28, 2011

Hoosier empathy

I miss Indiana. I know it sounds preposterous, but please hear me out.

When I heard the Sherman Minton Bridge could be out of commission for up to three years, my first thought was probably like yours: Cool, I can live with that.

If I played my cards right, I wouldn’t be going to Indiana for three years anyway. But then I remembered how deeply neurotic I am, and I had a second thought: When somebody tells me I can’t have something, I desperately want it.

Of course, it’s not like Indiana is inaccessible. I could still go there on a Sunday or at 3 a.m. on a weekday. But with the Sherman Minton closed and all other roads swamped with traffic, Indiana just seems utterly unattainable, like a flat stomach or a literate populace.

True, at first glance, Indiana might not seem like it is good for much, other than being the gateway to Chicago. But it offers much more than that, such as being the gateway to St. Louis.

And Indiana even has some hidden gems, like the glorious O’Bannon Woods, the magical fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio, the communist beers of New Albanian Brewing Company and the world’s largest collection of anti-bridge-toll billboards. So I encourage you to give Indiana a second look, preferably before 3 a.m. or after 8 p.m., Monday-Friday.

Because the rest of the time, you should stay off the roads in and out of Indiana or risk getting rear-ended by the drivers who crawl along at 2 miles per hour, steering with their knees so their hands are free to go online and comment about traffic jams.

One surprising thing I learned from this bridge disaster was how many of my co-workers, Facebook friends, real friends and casual acquaintances live in Indiana. Imagine: Tons of people actually live over there. Think about that: They walk among us, they are Hoosiers, and I couldn’t even tell! And if that’s true, Hoosiers are people just like you and me.

Maybe even better: One thing that’s really impressed me is how little complaining these Hoosiers have been doing. (Not counting the ones who comment online — those people are lunatics.) The Hoosiers I know have been courageous and stoic, dropping nothing more than casual remarks into the conversation, such as, “Sorry I’m yawning so much. I haven’t been asleep for two weeks.” Hearty stock, those Hoosiers!

So we should do all we can to support them in their time of need, even if it means doing the unthinkable, such as building and repairing bridges. I’m confident that will happen in short order, now that the problem has come to the attention of our leaders, many of whom have been naturally more focused on destroying the world economy and scratching out each other’s eyes.

Thanks to the leadership of people like Sen. Mitch McConnell, we already have plenty of new federally funded bridges to drive on. True, we have to go to Iraq to drive on them, but you’ve got to admit Sen. McConnell is good at using our tax dollars to build bridges.

And I’m afraid we will need help from the feds to solve this problem, because our state government is busy elsewhere, building a replica of Noah’s Ark and widening roads and parking lots for NASCAR. Perhaps those poor Hoosier commuters should somehow try to connect the dots between bridge traffic and spirit guides like God and Dale Earnhardt, because those dudes know how to get infrastructure going!

Ultimately, if political polarization prolongs the problem, the original Sherman Minton would probably roll his eyes. A liberal New Deal senator who became a conservative Supreme Court justice, Minton knew how to swing both ways, which is something that’s pretty much impossible to do across the Ohio River these days.

Meanwhile, I can only lend a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on to my friends who must cross the river to survive. Hoosier commuters, I salute you. I hope your horrible nightmare comes to an end soon.

And I pine for those gorgeous Hoosier hills, which lie so tantalizing out of my grasp, now that I know I can’t go there without having to stop twice for a haircut en route. With any luck, in two or three years, I might get to see Indiana again. Especially if I leave right now.