David Hoppe

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:: Leaving the old neighborhood

Broad Ripple farewell

by David Hoppe

We sold our house yesterday.

Houses are sold every day. Some folks do it as a kind of pastime. They buy a place, get bored or restless and sell. Before the housing bubble burst, this was a great way to make money. Maybe it still is.

But that’s not our story. This was the first house we owned, and we lived there for 23 years. For my wife and son and I it feels now as if those years flew by. Talking to people, though, I get the impression this is a pretty long time to stay put.

We had our reasons. Chief among them was the neighborhood. We lived in a part of Broad Ripple called Broadway Terrace. It’s on the west side of College, in what amounts to a kind of enclave bordered by the canal towpath, Central Ave and Kessler. This is the “other” side of College, the side away from the Village nightlife, and although we were not immune to the occasional bit of drunken misadventure, usually just after closing time, my guess is that being on the far side of that thoroughfare made for a better night’s sleep.

Broadway Park is the heart of this neighborhood. It’s what might be called a pocket park – less than three acres. But it has tennis courts, a sandy lot for volleyball, a picnic shelter and what’s called a spray pool — a constellation of jets, some mounted overhead, that shower kids (and the occasional overheated adult) with cascades of water.

I thought of Broadway Park the other day when the Trust For Public Land’s report on urban park systems came out, ranking Indianapolis 47th among 50 cities. Only about a third of us live within a 10-minute walk of some kind of green space. Being able to have a park that close to home may seem like a lot to ask in a city the size of Indy. But I can speak from experience: it makes a difference.

The park was like our back yard. It wasn’t just green space — it was breathing space. Kids laughing in the spray pool provided our ambient sound on summer afternoons.

It was also a social space, especially for dog walkers. Neighbors might see one another two or three times a day. These encounters often led to conversations. I remember running into my neighbor, Bob Timm, on election night 2000. Both of us were accompanied by our pooches, Cumo and George. We met twice that night. The first time, early in the evening, it seemed Al Gore had things well in hand. Then, later, it seemed the vote in Florida was going the other way. George W. Bush was on top. Bob and I muttered in the dark by the edge the tennis court; it felt as if the country had just fallen overboard. Our dogs settled patiently in the damp grass and waited for Bob and I to vent.

The park, of course, attracted its share of miscreants. If you live in a place long enough, you see cycles come and go, including the occasional spasms of illegal activity. My wife and I were awakened one winter night by the colorful whirl of mars lights on our bedroom ceiling. We opened the curtains to see a pair of police cars blocking the intersection in front of our house —and another neighbor, radio personality Big John Gillis, looking for all the world like legendary wrestler, the Great Zbyszko, stripped to the waist, wearing only his pajama bottoms, frog-marching a hapless burglar down the middle of the street. I don’t know who was more nonplussed by this spectacle, the burglar, or the cops.

Time passing also means losses. Last year we walked home from our favorite Broad Ripple restaurant, Ambrosia, to find an ambulance parked in front of Big John’s house. Neighbors Tom and Alissa Prather stood by Sherry, John’s wife, while paramedics tried unsuccessfully to save him. John had lent me his copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s last novel, Timequake; just days before he’d knocked on our door to share a bit of local knowledge and told my wife, “Gosh, I’m glad we’re neighbors.”

I could go on. There was that time when my Dad died; we had to leave town for a week and Craig and Denise Bush, the couple across the street, volunteered to look after our dog. When we finally returned, there was Craig, mowing our front yard, our dog watching him as if this was all in a day’s work. Craig shrugged off my thanks, telling me he figured yardwork was the last thing I needed to be doing just then.

Or how about the mural Alissa and Rebecca Hens painted on that car port along the alley by the park? They and their husbands, Tom and Rick, got tired of looking at something ugly and made it beautiful — in one afternoon.

You take away a lot when you live in one place for 23 years. And though the time has come for us to move on, I’ll be forever grateful for this neighborhood. It’s amazing: the place is in the middle of a great city, there are lights everywhere and yet, on a clear night, if you look up, the sky is full of stars.