2016 Keating Competition
By Hannah Alani - 3rd Place
INDIANAPOLIS – Downtown storefronts displayed their sales while people sipped warm drinks from red Starbucks cups. But four small metal wheels worked harder than anyone else to prepare for the holidays.
Whirring and whizzing at 284 feet, two pulley systems sat adjacent to each other inside the tiny lookout room at the top of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, hoisting two miles of green garland and over 4,000 colorful lights into the air.
The wheels began spinning at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, electrician Mike Reneau said. By the afternoon’s end 52 strands of lights will drape the monument, and on the day after Thanksgiving, the lights will illuminate downtown during Indianapolis’ “Circle of Lights” celebration.
Most people who come to “Circle of Lights” may not know about the work that goes into the symbolic tree-lighting ceremony. About 200 volunteers from the local #481 chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers put the lights in place, with the help of the wheeled pulleys.
The results of Tuesday’s state and national election added a bit of anxiety to a usually fun and momentous day. IBEW #481 is a democratic union, and its members have suffered from recent Republican labor legislation. They worried Saturday about how another red Indiana would affect their livelihoods.
But the lights went up like usual, Reneau said inside the lookout room.
“We all look forward to this day.”
* * * * *
The “Circle of Lights” began in 1962 and this is IBEW #481’s 54th year making it all happen.
The wheel-like tuggers are essential to the process. They spin rope attached to wheel-like “sheaves,” which raise the wires holding the garland and lights.
In the lookout room, behind the tuggers stands one worker who holds the rope as it flows into the tiny room. On the other side of the tuggers, facing the steep near 300-foot drop, a worker lays out on the ledge of the building, holding the wire in place.
In 1962, the electricians’ work on the “Circle of Lights” was much different. Workers then stood in the lookout room raised, by hand, each of the strands of lights. The modern wheel-like tuggers and pulleys are not only standard in this project, but a staple of all modern-day engineering projects.
The 4,000 lights are colored blue, yellow, red, green and clear, representing the five colors of the branches of the United States Military.
The incandescent bulbs themselves are becoming a relic of the past. While better for the environment, LED bulbs are heavier and, in the midst of ice, wind and snow, often swing and slide out of place, affecting luminance, Downtown Indy spokesperson Bob Schultz said inside the lookout room.
A group of local artists helps to repurpose the incandescent lights by turning them into holiday decorations and selling them to Carson’s for $20 each. But the celebration is still no cheap feat. To replace all of the wires, lights and cables would cost about $500,000, IBEW #481 business manager Steve Menser said.
“Pretty soon we’ll need to replace everything,” Menser said.
People down below may never look up and notice the labor or consider the costs of the ceremony, Reneau said. But he enjoys being behind the scenes.
During the rest of the year, Reneau spends his days wiring and lighting hospitals, schools, offices and other Indiana buildings. He’s currently finishing up Taylor Hall, an academic space at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“Most people, all they see when they flip a switch is that a light comes on,” Reneau said. “There’s a lot to make that happen.”
* * * * *
Just before noon, the tuggers had lifted over half of the lights into the air. Menser and IBEW #481 member Michael Rose stood on the ground together, looking up at their work.
“Our society, in a lot of ways, is revolving like a wheel,” Rose said. “The holidays. The political cycle…”
“It sure rolls over us,” he said.
IBEW #481 is a Democratic union, and in the last four years its members have suffered from Republican attacks on organized labor. Changes in “Right to Work” and attempts to eradicate “prevailing wages” – the minimum threshold for laborers for state-funded projects – are disturbing, Menser said.
The “prevailing wages” issue is important because when public projects do not have a minimum threshold for paying local union wages, cheaper laborers from other states can swoop in and do the work instead. Essentially, Menser said, local Indiana laborers are victims of outsourcing.
The IBEW #481 workers would have benefitted from Democratic leaders such as John Gregg and former Senator Evan Bayh to protect their wages and opportunities, Menser added. But the citizens of Indiana – the people whose daily lives are lit up by the work of electricians – voted to make the state red.
“We seem to always be under attack,” Menser said.
President-elect Donald Trump promises federal infrastructure projects and, under the 1931 Davis-Bacon act, local prevailing wages are federally protected. But presidents past have used their executive power to violate Davis-Bacon, Menser said.
A President Trump could potentially violate Davis-Bacon with his pipeline and highway projects. Or, with determined Supreme Court appointments, get rid of labor laws altogether.
“It’s a vicious circle that doesn’t make any sense for us,” Menser said. He looked toward the lights.
“It’s kind of like the cycle of the holidays,” he said. “Take the lights up, take them down…”
* * * * *
Standing at the top of the tower in Monument Circle, Reneau worried about the election.
“I don’t think anybody in America knows what’s going on right now,” he said.
But as the wheels continued to spin, hoisting lights into the air, Reneau took comfort in the fact that the “Circle of Lights” would bring people together.
In a few weeks, thousands will gather at the steps of the monument. The IBEW #481 workers will watch from the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel in Monument Circle.
“You’ll see the community gather,” Reneau said. “And watch the whole circle of lights.”
By Amanda Belcher
Indianapolis’ Greyhound bus station isn’t very busy for a Saturday. People filter in and out, lugging duffel bags and suitcases. Some sit on the floor, waiting for their phones to charge at a conveniently located outlet, others pass the time reading and texting while they wait for a bus.
Though everyone that cycles through the station come from different walks of life and have different destinations, they all have one thing in common. Each are counting on the large, eight wheeled vessel to take them where they need to go.
Andy Fuller sits on the hard plastic bench chair at the Greyhound station, a brown leather messenger bag at his feet.
Fuller is deep into Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a black fabric bookmark, hanging out the top of the pages. He glances upward occasionally to read the LED powered sign above him, ensuring he hasn’t missed his bus. Tufts of dark hair peek out of the newsboy cap on his head each time he lifts his eyes to the sign.
For Fuller, Indianapolis is just stop on the way—the bus he’s waiting for will take him back home to Chicago, after a short trip to Louisville for a friend’s birthday.
Bussing isn’t his favorite mode of transportation, but he finds it provides more leg room than a plane and is quicker than traveling by train. However, this is his first bus trip in eight years.
While in Louisville, he and friends stayed at an Airbnb and visited whiskey distilleries. A friend of Fuller’s knows a relative of Jim Beam, and was able to get the group a free tour. While there, they were introduced to Baker Beam, Jim’s grandson.
“They’ve given him his own bourbon, called Baker’s Bourbon. So, he autographed the bottle and talked to him for a while. He’s like eighty years old,” Fuller excitedly recalled, smiling at the fresh memory.
While Fuller enjoyed a “lowkey weekend” with the guys, he is clearly excited to get home to his wife and her family, who are visiting the couple in Chicago this weekend.
Though he was distracted from the LED sign, Fuller didn’t miss his bus, his head shot up once again as a loud beep came over the speaker, alerting him that the bus back to Chicago was arriving.
Fuller quickly stowed his book in his messenger bag and slug the bag over his shoulder, weaving through the crowd to make the trip back home.
Mattie Taylor passes the time scrolling through Facebook as she awaits the arrival of a friend. Her shoulder length brown hair falls around her face as she sits patiently, legs crossed, with a purple Jansport backpack on the bench beside her.
Taylor has just arrived from Bloomington, where she studies business and Indiana University. The friend she’s meeting, Jacob goes to Purdue University. They decided to meet in Indianapolis as a central location between the two schools for a weekend of catching up and exploring the city.
Taylor loves traveling, and particularly enjoys bus trips because they are affordable and convenient, though that’s not the only appeal.
“I like to just kind of look out the window and see what’s going on because a lot of landscape changes tend to happen,” Taylor said. “You can actually physically see the changes happening around you, while like on a plane you can’t really see.”
Along with the scenic aspect, there is a social atmosphere that comes along with traveling by bus.
“Busses force you to be more social. You’re sitting next to another human being. I know there’s a lot of different people I’ve talked to just on this bus trip because I was really confused about the bus stop,” Taylor said. “You talk to all these different people and everyone just genuinely wants you to have a good trip.”
When she travels, Taylor said she likes to get to know the culture of the place she’s in. Talking with locals and visiting all sites she can are top priorities. She also savors each trip as much as possible.
“A lot of people go just to take Instagram pictures, but I like actually staying there and feeling what it’s like to be there and imagining what it would be like if I stayed longer than I did. It’s cool to see how all of the [people in] these places live and see what their lifestyle is like.”
While waiting for Jacob, she continues checking her phone, growing only slightly impatient while Googling sites to visit during their short trip.
With a final glance at the screen, Taylor adjusts her jacket steps out into the crisp November day.
A fresh start
It’s been a long day at the bus station for Zanetta Grays.
The Grays missed the bus they initially intended to take. Zanetta and her two sons, Zalyn and Zalatheo have been at the station since 9:30 in the morning, and won’t be able to catch their bus until 3:30 p.m., which will take them to Evansville and then on to Mississippi.
Zanetta looks tired, dried vomit stains her sleeve, a casualty from one of Zalatheo’s episodes. She also looks put together. No short, purple hair is out of place and sparkly earrings dangle from her lobes, makeup intact.
The three have claimed a row of four chairs, one of which is puddled with sticky, orange soda. Crumbs from a bag of Lay’s Biscuit and Gravy flavored chips clutter the floor at their feet.
Despite the long waits and juggling two young children, Zanetta has the travel bug.
“[I like] the scenery, you get to see new things. Different place, different vibe,” Zanetta said of her trips.
Before she had Zalatheo, Zanetta and Zalyn traveled together frequently, usually by bus.
So far, she’s gone to Mississippi, Detroit, Nashville, Colorado, Kansas City. Above all, Mississippi has been her favorite.
“I like Mississippi, I like the ride and I like the countryside, it’s just a slower, more relaxing lifestyle.” she said.
Zalyn is three years old and though he’s used to traveling with his mom, he grows antsy throughout their six-hour wait, using some of that time to walk around the lobby and talk to others who also waiting on busses. When Zanetta offers him candy, he jumps out of the chair and does a happy dance.
Zalatheo, who is six months old, is fastened to his mother’s torso and rarely cries, perfectly content with a bottle of milk.
Zanetta, a single mother who is used to taking care of both boys, is traveling to Mississippi to live for a while. Her boyfriend is there and their goal is to stay while they save up money for a car.
Though she isn’t married, she calls her living situation in Mississippi ‘the housewife life,’ and hopes to tie the knot in the future.
The Grays still have four hours left to wait at the Greyhound station, which will undoubtedly be filled with vending machine snacks, diaper changes, and laughs.
The boys always keep Zanetta on her toes.
By Alan Hovorka
Four tiny wheels sailed through the air and up five concrete steps. They spun freely as they came to meet the ground.
The rider skidded to a stop and stepped on the edge of his board to pop it into his hand. Another rider followed suit. Dropping their bags, they scoped out the spanning plaza-like area of West George Street, looking for places to do tricks and record themselves. A chance to get better.
“With everything around us, people might see it as simple architecture, we see it as a place to have fun,” said Damjan Hartle, a 15-year-old Lebanon, Indiana, resident. “Everything has a sense of energy that we can release through it.”
It’s Hartle and Preston Parks’ first journey to Indianapolis for skateboarding. Their goal for the day? The same as any other: skate.
The two are products of their family histories, where skateboarding has held a special place. Coming to Indianapolis gives them an urban landscape, which is the most diverse canvas for their craft, they said.
Finding fellow skaters and a space to skate hasn’t been easy for the two rural Hoosiers. To their knowledge, they’re the only regular skateboarders in their town of Lebanon.
Hartle’s love affair with the sport came from looking at photos of his father when he was a skateboarder. His father died a month after he was born. One day he saw a skateboarder do a basic trick, an ollie, and was set on pursuing the sport. He treated himself on his next birthday by buying a skateboard at Walmart.
“(My dad) was really good at what he did, but he screwed up a lot. Did a lot of bad things,” Hartle said. “What I want to do is take skateboarding from him and not screw up the way he did. Maybe make something of myself. It’s a longshot.”
Parks, a 14-year-old Lebanon resident, spent much of his childhood watching his father and uncle skateboard.
“He would do all of these awesome things and I would be like, ‘I want to be able to do that.’ He gave me my first board,” Parks said.
They haven’t been friends long, three months to be exact. They happened upon each other during their homeroom period at Lebanon High School. Parks had a skateboarding t-shirt on and Hartle had his board.
“I went up to him and asked if he wanted my board and I gave it to him,” Hartle said.
Of course Hartle wasn’t serious about him keeping it.
After class, Parks gave it back to him and the two clicked over their passion for skateboarding and the freedom it brings.
“It’s all we do. We don’t have anyone else to stop us,” Hartle said. “We skate everyday – don’t stop.“
Part of what drives their friendship is the dynamic of always challenging each other to do the better trick, to be better. If one of them learns something, they teach the other. It’s a core piece of what makes skating successful, they said.
Without a partner to skate with, it’s hard to stay with the sport. Parks has had an off-and-on relationship with skateboarding before he met Hartle. Their friendship is the reason he’s back into it.
“If it weren’t for skating, I don’t think we would have started talking or even been friends for that matter,” Hartle said.
By Brody Miller
This night began with tears. Bernice Alford picked several drunk women up late one night from a bachelorette party at Cadillac Ranch. The bride-to-be was already crying as she entered Alford’s Chevrolet Sonic.
She didn’t want to marry her fiancé, but she couldn’t bring herself to tell him. That’s where Alford was supposed to come in.
Alford likes to begin driving for Uber at 3 a.m. It’s when people are ready to go home. They are lingering around bars or walking out of strip clubs. It’s a good time for business.
This night, she had an opportunity for a little extra business.
The woman, sobbing in the back seat, offered Alford $500 to drive to her fiancé’s house and tell him that the woman he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life with did not want to marry him.
“No, no, no,” Alford, 40, said. “Can’t one of your friends with you do it?”
“They feel too bad for him,” the bachelorette said.
Regardless, Alford was in for the ride at that point. She drove the woman around as she made efforts to solve this problem. Alford watched as the bride-to-be flirtatiously offered $1,500 to a police officer and asked if he wanted to come home with her. Alford simply put her head down and shook it.
It’s an example of one of the many off-the-wall nights Alford has experienced in her two years as an Uber driver in Indianapolis. Other drivers throughout the city have similarly nonsensical stories of the people they pick up from night to night, but the drivers themselves have taken many different paths to get here.
* * * * *
They come from big cities on the coasts and rural towns in Indiana and plenty of places in between. Some are scraping by and need the money. Some are retirees. Some just don’t want to be housewives.
The Uber drivers of Indianapolis are a diverse bunch. There are the talkers, the quiet ones and those who just want to listen to some music. Most have their talking points down after getting asked their stories several times a day.
When did you start driving? What did you do before this? What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
They are polite. Most enjoy the company. But in the long run, Uber has created an industry for those who need flexible schedules and some extra cash. It’s a growing field because it gives people the opportunity to work on their own time and not have a boss looking over their shoulders.
The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., published a study in October that said the number of independent drivers for Uber and Lyft increased by 48 percent across the United States from 2012 to 2014. In Indianapolis, the number increased by 60.5 percent.
Tim Peacock started driving six months ago. He ran a courier business for most of his life, making good money in those days, but he says he didn’t manage that money well enough.
“It’s going to be a while til I retire,” he said. “I had a little too much fun during those earning years. I was under the idea of enjoying it while I had it.”
Peacock, 58, is a white bald man with a shaved head and a southern drawl. He grew up in Shelburn, Indiana, but now lives in Crawfordsville. He wears large, dark sunglasses and a denim jacket with fur around the collar.
He has kids and grandchildren. His children went to college and got good jobs. But Peacock now needs some money. He had his second hip replacement this year, and he says he isn’t the type to want to sit at home or go fishing anyway.
So now he wakes up early and starts driving at 4:30 a.m. on weekdays and 6:30 and weekends, driving strangers across the city or business people to airports.
* * * * *
When someone is about to get a ride from Andrew, an alert pops up on their phone saying the driver is deaf or hard-of-hearing and turn by turn updates will be provided via text.
When you enter the car, he turns around and holds up a small dry erase board.
“Hi, my name is Andrew. How are you?” it reads.
He stares back at you with his kind eyes and waits for you to respond to the question. He reads your lips, nods his head, turns back around and begins the trip.
Andrew is a middle-aged man with shaggy, reddish-brown hair with a thick mustache. He wears a navy sport coat with tan elbow patches and jeans that appear to have been around a while.
While driving, Andrew has his neck tilted back and his eyes up to make sure he has a broad view of the road. When he needs clarification on a direction, he puts his hands up in a confused motion and waits for you to direct him. His car is spotless. Both hands are always on the wheel at 10 and 2.
Andrew isn’t an outlier as a deaf Uber driver. The next driver that popped up was another deaf driver named Williams. There is even a Facebook group called Deaf Uber Community.
The Communication Service for the Deaf says seven out of 10 people hard-of-hearing in the United States are either out of work or underemployed. Uber has teamed up with the Communication Service for the Deaf to create opportunities for them.
Andrew got an opportunity.
* * * * *
Alford was a human resources accountant. She began with an entry level assistant job and worked her way up. She liked her job and made what she considered good money.
Then carpal-tunnel syndrome took control of her hands. She had to eventually get surgery and took a year off work. The ability to type well never came back. Her skills dropped from 85 words per minute to 25.
Alford needed a new job in which she wouldn’t have to use her hands. That’s where Uber came in.
There are good weeks and bad weeks. She said a good week can earn her as much as $700. The worst week she can remember was last Thanksgiving when she only earned $140.
Her and Peacock both usually begin driving in the wee hours of the morning. There are certain areas Alford tends to drive around, like around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the north side of Indianapolis.
She said some drivers are scared to go to the east side because of bad neighborhoods. Alford doesn’t mind as much.
“Just cause they are in a bad area doesn’t mean people don’t have a job or somewhere to go,” Alford said laughingly.
There are certain areas she won’t go to, though. Sometimes she will drive up to a location and keep driving because it looks frightening. Other times it comes from experience. There was one man who started smoking weed in the car. She never went back to that area again and didn’t drive anyone for two days because of the smell.
The drivers often have repeat customers they continuously pick up. Alford had one couple she used to always pick up off Massachusetts Avenue. The couple would fight every single time they got in, Alford said, and she eventually became sick of being the referee. These fights would be over trivial thing such as who was supposed to feed the cat or whether one left the television on. So she snapped at them.
“I may be overstepping my bounds,” she recalls saying, “but you guys argue about everything. Don’t you have anything else to do?”
The couple started laughing, then continued arguing. The man in the relationship opened the door and walked out of the car mid-ride. Alford never picked them up again.
Alford, though, is someone who doesn’t need to continue driving. Her husband has told her she can stop working.
“I’m not a housewife type,” she said. “I tried it for two weeks. I went crazy.”
* * * * *
Peacock likes to think he knows his way around Indianapolis by now, but he said he finds himself lost at least once a day.
He thinks Uber has some benefits that normal cabs do not. He said some of the equipment in cabs are not as good, and he mentioned there can be more of a language barrier with international cab drivers.
The amount of people using Uber is rising for things like a trip to the airport or a ride home from work at odd hours, he said, but concierges at hotels still recommend cabs. Outside the Omni Severin Hotel on Saturday, there were still several AAA Indy Taxi’s waiting out front and people were still taking rides.
But Uber is creating work for those who need it because of changing financial circumstances or a need for more flexibility.
Peacock doesn’t see an end to his working days. At least Uber gives him a job that’s not too physically taxing.
“I’ll likely be one of those people who work until the day I die,” he said.
And as Peacock drives around in his Nissan Quest, he hears on the radio that there will be an anti-Donald Trump rally in Indianapolis tonight. He was surprised people in Indiana would be protesting since it’s such a red state.
Peacock primarily listens to talk radio throughout the day. He makes sure to bounce around from conservative to liberal stations to ensure he sees different sides of the topics.
He said he understands why people would protest, but he just hates when it gets out of hand.
“But what do I know?” he said. “I’m just a dumb Uber driver.”
By Grace Palmieri
Like clockwork, the man arrives on the corner of Meridian and Monument Circle, as he has for a good part of the last two years. Today, on the day after Veteran’s, he’s wearing his old uniform with “U.S. ARMY” scripted over the left pocket. Everything on him looks worn – a dark grey 101st Airborne hat, the burnt orange blanket covering his legs, a makeshift Plexi Board sign.
It says, “Have a heart. Help a vet who’s hungry. Donations appreciated. Thank you. God Bless.”
Rocky Carter sits out here in his red-rimmed wheelchair, the only form of transportation he has, almost every day. He isn’t homeless, but he figures this is his best option. After his time in the military left him disabled – nearly paralyzed in both legs – Rocky couldn’t work. These days he can’t walk 20 feet without becoming too tired to continue.
So this is how he gets by. A small plastic bucket hangs off the side of his wheelchair, decorated with a print-out American flag, asking for donations.
By now, people working around the circle know the man.
“Hey Rocky, you want a bagel? Hot chocolate?” asks a woman popping her head out from inside Au Bon Pain.
“Not today,” Rocky says. “Thank you.”
Another employee comes out to hand him a cigarette.
It isn’t just any other day for Rocky. Today, they’re installing the Circle of Lights around the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument to decorate downtown for the holiday season. He arrived earlier on this Saturday than he normally would, just so he can watch.
“I do every year,” Rocky says.
* * * * *
The military was Rocky’s escape. Whenever he grew tired of the mundanity of everyday life, the service always brought him back.
He first entered the Navy right out of high school in 1978, where he served in the construction battalion for four years. Rocky helped build an air strip near Diego Garcia used for the transfer of supplies.
In his time after serving in the Navy, he lived in Houston – the only time he’s resided outside his home town of Indianapolis – working as a diesel mechanic and a truck driver. But he soon became tired of the long hours.
“I wanted something more interesting in my life,” he said.
He jokes the decision to go back was easy because once you serve, you don’t have to go through training again. So in 1986, Rocky joined the Army, during which time he fought in Desert Storm.
Not long after, he was involved in a secret mission where everything went wrong.
“The thing was, it wasn’t too secret,” Rocky said. “I can’t say much more than that.”
It left Rocky with two unusable legs, an injured back, and a life ahead of him that would always be uncertain.
Months passed before Rocky even had a wheelchair to use. At the time, he could walk but couldn’t feel his legs, and it’s only become progressively worse. Then he found wheelchair at HVAF (Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation) in Indianapolis.
Rocky would sometimes visit there on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and he still does. They give out food and clothes and hygiene products to those who need them. The wheelchair he found was good for the time being, but it was later burned during a house fire.
Things then only became more difficult as Rocky and his wife were in and out of homes and apartments for weeks, their main priority being to find one that was wheelchair accessible. Rocky, a father to four kids, had his youngest daughter taken from them for adoption after they no longer had the means to care for her.
But still, as he sits in his wheelchair – now an official paratransit vehicle – he can see the good.
He’s always been a religious man. He owns three Bibles. He attends church every Sunday with his friend Dana, who works across the street from where Rocky’s wheelchair sits each day. He has never lost faith.
“I know the good Lord has plans for me. That’s why I’m still here.”
* * * * *
On this day, four young men who attend Indiana Bible College walk up to greet Rocky.
“Can we pray with you, sir?”
“Of course,” Rocky says, as they join hands and bow their heads.
Before they leave, one man offers to lead Rocky in a bible study someday soon. “We can take you in and get you hot chocolate,” he says, gesturing to the nearest café. “We’ll do a bible study with you if you’d like.”
Minutes later, a man drops a couple dollars in Rocky’s bucket. Gifts from other visitors sit in his lap – a Nature Valley granola bar and a box of Mike and Ike’s candy.
“Thanks, brother,” he’ll always say, shaking their hand.
There’s rarely a day Rocky isn’t here. He’ll take off holidays, and the two days a year he gets to see his daughter – on Christmas and on her birthday. But with his wife on disability and low on food stamps, Rocky needs every little bit of cash he can muster.
Across the street, workers continue to string lights from the top of the monument to the ground. Soon, they’ll light up the night.
For now, Rocky will just sit here and watch.
By Casey Smith
A lot of people like to sleep in on Saturday morning, but the school bus drivers from South Pointe High School aren’t big fans.
The drivers – three men – sat staggered along the steps at the bus’s entrance all morning, telling jokes and sipping coffee without pause. It’s to be expected after nearly a decade of friendship.
It took the buses five hours and more than 300 miles to make their way from South Point, a village in the southernmost tip of Ohio, to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The students were in the marching band – making their way onto the field at the 2016 Bands of America competition, but the bus drivers still sat outside, doing what they love most – sharing memories.
Buddy Burton didn’t start his career in transportation – and he didn’t want to, either.
The 39-year-old father of two was an electrician for over a decade, but once his daughters were born, he needed a change.
“That job – being an electrician – was horrible,” he said. “I wanted something safer, somewhere where I could be in more control.”
Burton wanted to spend as much time with his kids as he could. When he learned about the outcry for bus drivers in his daughters’ school district, he was hesitant, unsure about working with so many kids.
But he gave it a try, and within a few weeks, he felt like it might work – maybe even long-term.
“I’m a kid at heart, really, so I can pretty much fit in with them,” he said. “A lot of people think it’s stressful because there’s so many kids involved, but it’s not that bad – it’s only as bad as you make it. I had to learn that.”
The longer he sat behind the wheel, the more Burton said he learned – not about driving the bus – but instead, about how to spend each day with the same, young faces.
“You get to know your kids on the bus, and you know that a bus driver is with the kids longer than any teacher,” he said. “You’ll find out a lot about them and you’ll learn more than you bargain for a lot.”
Some things he hears are sad, and others are flat-out overwhelming.
“I’ve heard so much about their lives, what good things are happening, what bad things are happening,” he said. “Sometimes I hear just awful things – things I don’t even want to repeat – and it makes you want to reach out to these kids and just be there for them.”
And the kids can tell if something’s wrong with him, too:
“Are you okay, Mr. Burton?”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Give us a hug, we haven’t hugged you in awhile.”
It makes Burton question who’s more important – him or the kids.
“I don’t think people realize how much responsibility bus driver’s really have,” he said. “We’re hauling the most precious cargo in the world. We take responsibility for their well being, for their emotions, for everything. This job isn’t something to take lightly.”
Sixty-three-year-old Keith Roth has been behind the wheel since he was just 19 years old.
“I’ve been driving this thing for 44 years. Good grief, I’m pretty old,” he said.
Roth never had a desire to be married, and he never ended up having kids. A lot of girlfriends, he said, but no rings.
Sometimes making friends was hard for Roth – his speech impediment sometimes turning people away – but on the bus route, it was easy. He saw people every day, and most kids were energetic when they ran up the steps, excited to see him each morning.
But not all the kids greeted him the same.
Some were bad apples, too far gone to benefit from his kind words or encouraging gestures on the ride to and from school. Others had problems they couldn’t overcome on their own, Roth said, and those were the kids he tried the hardest to help.
“It’s been so bad a couple times that I saw kids crawling around on the bus floors, searching for crumbs or any food they could get,” he said. “Or kids just need someone to talk to, someone to listen to them and help them through things they don’t understand.”
Each Christmas, Roth said he wants each student on his bus to be familiar with kindness and love. He buys the students pizza and cans of soda, hoping that they’ll feel the holiday spirit from at least one person in their lives.
“You do what you can to try and make it better. Bottom line – you’ve got to love kids,” Roth said.
But not everything that happens on the road is positive.
“You’ll see accidents, sometimes there’s kids involved,” Roth said. “I’ve seen three people die in my years doing this. That’ll stick with you.”
While driving his bus in 1992, the Ross witnessed a car pull out in front of another school bus. The car, in an attempt to avoid hitting the child, spun out of control and off the road.
“I secured my bus and went out immediately to that car,” he said. “I saw some clothes and stuff moving over on the floor in the car. A little boy came up and started shaking the guy at the wheel and started yelling, ‘daddy, daddy.’ You could tell he was scared to death.”
Roth said he was scared, too. Although he was calm in the moment, the memories still haunt him today.
“It changed both of our lives,” he said. “But it reminds me about why this job is so important and why we have to watch these kids with so much passion. The world is moving so fast, and they can’t possibly pay attention to them like we can. We love them, and we never want anything to happen to them.”
On his first day behind the wheel, Rodney Bowman realized why no one wanted his bus route.
Wearing his captain’s cap he still wears today, then 34-year-old Bowman opened the school bus doors to his first entrants, only to find out that they had no desire to listen or cooperate with any of his requests.
“I had to train them since they were little and were in elementary school,” Bowman said. “We got to know each other over all these years, and eventually, the mutual respect became routine.”
At the time, Bowman was raising his three kids alone. He owned a garage, but when his parental responsibilities became too demanding, it just wasn’t working out.
“I was gone all the time, I had to close the garage down and started working at the school,” he said. “There were job openings for bus drivers, so I jumped on the opportunity. I’ve been on the road – on four wheels – ever since.”
As a bus driver, Bowman could go home and clean his house while the kids were at school. His kids were excited to have him home, and he was more than happy to have been able to do it.
He’s a fifty-nine-year-old grandpa now, but Bowman said his relationships he’s developed over the years still stick with him, and they’re what encourage him to wake up long before the sun each and every day.
“The relationships on and off the bus are my life,” he said. “I’ll see the kids at Walmart sometimes, they’ll come over to me and hug me or wave – it’s because they know who I am and know that I care.”
Over the years, Bowman said he’s driven generations of families to and from school.
“You haul mommy and daddy, then the next generation comes through,” he said. “You get to know more than just the kids, you get to know their families.”
But last January, Bowman realized that nothing could bring him any closer to the kids on the bus than the fear of losing them.
“A car came out in front of me and my bus went off the road, we were tumbling and turning,” he said. “When we stopped, I fell nearly six feet just getting out of my seat. The kids were okay, but we were all shook up.”
The tragic incident was eye opening for Bowman, and although no one was injured, it reminds him that no matter what, his student’s safety is what matters to him the most.
“These are God’s kids. God isn’t going to put someone behind that wheel that doesn’t care about them like they would their own,” he said. “I have enough faith to know we’re going to take good care of them.”
By Briana Susnak
Abdaoul Ismael started driving with Uber in Indianapolis earlier this year as a way to make extra money. While he’s made a home in Indy for the past seven years, he never stays in one place for too long.
Ismael grew up in Niamey, which is the capital of the West African country Niger. “I moved to the United States when I was really young,” he said, “so most of my life in Africa was spent helping my family.”
That sense of family was Ismael’s favorite part about growing up in Africa. The oldest of five siblings, Ismael laughs when he talks about being the one in charge and how strict his parents were when he was growing up.
“Now I know that it was just another way of them showing love to us,” he said. “They just wanted to help us be the best we could be and help us reach our potential. There was no joking around when it came to us and our education.”
When Ismael wasn’t focused on school, he played soccer with friends. He also developed a passion for traveling. He recounts the first time he left Africa at age 15 to see Paris.
“It was such a shock,” he said. “The city was so beautiful, especially being able to see it at night.” He later went traveled to Morocco, and his desire to see the world led him to study in the United States.
While Ismael wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to study, he knew he had an interest in finance. He left home for New York City, where he attended Hostos Community College in the Bronx and later Baruch College in Manhattan.
As someone who grew up speaking French, learning English presented its own set of challenges for Ismael. “The two languages are totally different from one another,” he said. “You have to fully invest in each of them to understand them.”
Ryan Lidster, an adjunct instructor in the Department of Second Language Studies at Indiana University, attests to this difficulty. “International students who are in an English language university have to simultaneously learn all of these different skills, each of which requires significant effort and different types of learning and studying,” he said.
Aside from learning English, Ismael says one of the hardest parts of adjusting to life in the United States was acclimating to the weather. He remembers arriving in New York during the winter and seeing snow fall.
“The city was also much more crowded compared to where I had lived,” he said.
While pursuing his education and career were both priorities for Ismael, he does miss his family back home and not being able to see them as often as he used to. He hasn’t been with them since his last visit to Africa in 2015.
“I can remember being with my family, and how any difficulty I had I had someone to go to. I don’t have that luxury now,” he says. “I can call them on the phone but it’s not the same as being with them in person.”
Despite the sacrifices he’s made, Ismael remains confident about his decision to move to America. He especially likes Indy because of its affordability. He plans to visit other states, including Florida, and start his own business.
“I’m absolutely optimistic about the future of this country,” he said. “A lot of people think there are issues here, but I always say, if you think things are bad in this country, look around. I’m very positive that things will work out."
Although Ismael’s future is uncertain, he knows he’ll always be on the move in search of his next adventure—whether that means he’s flying across seas, opening his business, or just helping others get where they need to be.
By Matthew VanTryon
Every single day Craig Reinhardt comes to work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he gets goose bumps. Two-and-a-half years ago, he worked for John Deere in Tampa Bay. Now, retired, he’s living his dream as a tour guide for what he calls the most iconic venue in sports.
By the end of the year, he will have given 1,000 tours to over 18,000 people from 80 different countries. But before he gives tours, before his voice fit for radio informs and entertains, he can’t help but stop himself.
“Look where I am,” Reinhardt says. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I work here. Who could have a better job?’”
He attended his first Indy500 early in the 1950s, but guesses he probably had a radio in his crib when he was eight months in 1946. The race was on, after all. He’d guess he’s been to around 25 Indy 500s, though he can’t remember them all. And every time he went, he went with his dad. Reinhardt and his dad, James, didn’t share much in common. But there was always Indianapolis.
“My father and I were not real close when I was growing up, but the one thing we had in common was the Indianapolis 500,” he recalled. “We would come just about every year, sleep in the car outside the gate, and spend a day and a half together. It meant a lot to me. It still does to this day.”
To this day, on the back of Reinhardt’s Indy 500 ticket holder, is a picture of his father.
“There are many families in today’s world that are scattered all over,” he said. “Kids and parents move around, but it is not unique that the only time a family gets together is for Memorial Day weekend and the Indianapolis 500.”
On this day, as the bus going around the Speedway stops at the iconic yard of bricks, Reinhardt stops to inform his audience.
“Guys, this is something you want to do,” he said. “This is one of the few times in our lives that we get to kiss something without having to buy dinner and a show.”
Jeremiah Stump gets out with his three-year-old son Benjamin. Stump has lived in Indianapolis since 2007 and has been to every Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 in the past three years. His wife was out of town for the weekend, so he took the chance to introduce his son to racing history. He can’t put into words what the moment means as his son kneels down with him and lays his lips on the dusty piece of history.
“I can’t even describe it. It’s history. It’s indescribable,” he said. “It’s a good family thing. Everything about it is good.”
His son hasn’t been to a race yet. Stump says maybe in a few years. But he’s already preparing.
“You should see his room,” Stump says with a proud smile. “Cars. Posters. Keychains.”
The racing tradition lives on, from generation to generation.
As the tour rolls on Reinhardt continues to tell his audience stories. The story about how drinking milk became a tradition. And the story about that tradition was broken, if only for a short time.
Emerson Fittipaldi won the Indy 500 in 1993, for the third time in his career. But he’d become invested in the citrus industry. So, instead of drinking milk, he drank orange juice.
“I’ve got to tell you, these people were not happy,” Reinhardt said with a chuckle. “They were yelling, cursing, throwing stuff. If there’s any place in the world where you don’t mess with tradition, it’s the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“A few years ago they invited Mr. Fittipaldi back to be the honorary pace car driver. They announced him. They booed him. He’ll never get over it.”
The tour rolls on, and so do Reinhdardt’s memories. He recalls how, when he was a child going to the race, they would bring up newspapers at the halfway point with the results.
“The race used to take so long,” he said. “At the halfway point, they’d bring newspapers into the stands. ‘VUKEVICH LEADS AT LAP 100!’ Huh? That’s how big and immense everything was. ‘I’ll take a newspaper!’”
Reinhardt is a big race fan — he used to make binders filled with 700 pages worth of information for his guests that were coming to Indianapolis to visit the Speedway — and isn’t afraid to call out those who aren’t true fans of the sport.
“They say race fans want to see wrecks,” he said. “No, those aren’t race fans. Those are crash fans. Race fans want to go and see a clean race. They want to see the fastest that there can be.”
As true as the fans are, so are the drivers genuine.
“In the whole IndyCar series, you will not find a friendly group of people more accommodating,” he said. “Unless they’re busy doing something, the drivers will come out and talk to you. Pictures. Autographs. ‘Do you have any questions? Can I help you with anything?’ They’re genuinely honest, caring people. They know who pays the bills.”
He admits he favors the Andrettis — his dad grew up a fan of Mario, so he followed suit — but above all, he has one wish.
“My only wish is that they all go home at night,” he said. “That’s all I care about. I would not root against of them.”
It always comes back to family for Reinhardt. He recalled a race in 2006 when it looked like the Andrettis would finally get a win — but that’s not why it was memorable.
Michael Andretti was in first, his son Marco was in second and Sam Hornish Jr. was in third. Michael’s tires gave out, then “Hornish, like he shot out of a cannon, pulls out behind him and drafts him and shoots past him right in front of where we were sitting,” Reinhardt says. “He ended up winning the race by 63-thousandths of a second.”
He remembers it because of the race. But he also remembers it because it was the first race his two sons and daughter-in-law had been to.
While Reinhardt has his own memories, he also sees other people make their own. He recalls another tour guide directing a tour and seeing a man kneel to kiss the bricks. The man stayed on the ground. The guide was worried he was ill. Instead, the man was overcome with emotion.
“Finally the guy got up and he had tears running down his face,” Reinhardt said. “This place means a lot to a lot of people. I’ve never been more proud to put on that shirt that says, ‘Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’ and that logo. It means the world to me.”
As the tour finally rolls to a stop, Reinhardt offers a word of thanks to the members of the tour and says he hopes they come to the Indy 500 in the spring. But last, he issues a word of advice about what their futures might hold. If they come once, they’lll come again. And again. And again. And then?
“You’ll retire. You’ll have a nice cushy job in Tampa Florida, making a lot of money and then you’ll retire and then you’ll move to Indianapolis, and then you’ll become a tour guide,” he said. “So before you come, is this what you want to be?”
By Taylor Telford - First Place
She leans on them and they lean back.
These are violent days, but Jane O’Connor, 60, finds solace in the people who come through her doors at Krieg Brothers Religious Supply. They are like-minded people, clutching their faith with both hands. They worry about their country, which they fear has lost its way, and for their values, which they fear are under attack.
O’Connor bought the store on Meridian Street two and a half years ago, when it was about to go under. She knew nothing about retail and had no qualifications, except that she is a lifelong Catholic. But all her life, she said, she prayed for a business, and here was God sending this one right to her.
It isn’t about the money for O’Connor. To her, the store is a ministry she simply runs like a business. Any money there is, she puts right back into the store. She has to work a second job, but she doesn’t mind. She is paid in what she learns from the people who come inside.
Right now, she said, people are scared, and when they come in to buy pocket saints and rosaries, they tell her so. They fear the “far-reaching liberal agenda”, which they believe threatens their standards for marriage and the sanctity of life. They worry about being exposed to attacks from enemies. They worry about losing jobs and homes and their sense of security.
Many, she said, put their faith in Donald Trump.
“Most people who come in are pro-Trump because they feel like he will save the Constitution,” O’Connor said. “They were fearful of what would have happened if someone liberal were in power again.”
Most of O’Connor’s business comes from the hundred-some churches that buy the supplies that line her walls — icons, altar cloths, votive candles and paper wheels to catch the leaking wax. Father Rick Nagel works at St. John The Evangelist Catholic Church, which gets supplies from O’Connor’s store. He’s seen the same fear in people who come to pray, not only about the election but the unrest it has revealed in the heart of the country.
“It’s been ongoing, pre and post-election,” Nagel said. “Some people are praying in thanksgiving and some are praying in fear. We are all praying for the conversion of our nation.”
For some, all the pieces of God in O’Connor’s store inspire rage and hate. She said the front window is shattered from when someone threw a stone, like they were trying to hit the statue of the Lady of Guadalupe that stood behind it.
Sometimes, people stand outside and yell at the towering crosses and paintings of saints in the window. Once, a middle-eastern man, who O’Connor thought might be mentally ill, got into a shouting match with God, haranguing at the cross behind the store counter. She said he railed against the Christian faith, flailing his arms.
“This is why we want to kill all you people,” he told her.
When he left, she called Nagel’s church to warn them, just in case.
Despite the ire she sees in some, O’Connor knows how faith can tame people’s fears, how it can give them strength. She saw it in the eyes of a man who came in and told her he had just been released from prison. He had no money, but he fell in love with a Bible and told her he’d come back for it when he could afford it.
She gave it to him for free.
“Just promise me that you’ll really read it,” she told him. “Promise me it’s not just something you’ll leave lying around.”
She’s sure he reads it every day.
She saw the joy in a teenage boy who came in during the dead heat of summer, when her doors were opening and she was burning incense that wafted out into the street.
“Smells like Jesus in here!” the boy yelled, and then he walked away smiling.
Sometimes, O’Connor feels like Gideon, who was ordered to fight in a holy war but felt afraid, and wanted encouragement from God. He laid a fleece on the grass overnight and told God to make dew appear on the fleece instead of the grass if he should fight. God did, so Gideon asked him to reverse it, just to be sure. God did it again, so Gideon fought.
Customers are the dew and fleece for O’Connor. She thinks God sends special people to her when she needs encouragement.
“They might not know that’s why they’re here, but I do,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor tries to give that strength back, too. She tries not to be too forceful, but for those who will listen, she preaches the values of the Catholic church.
On Saturday afternoon, she stood in the center of her store with a couple from Illinois, who looked for gifts for their son while he performed in a marching band competition. They started browsing through guides for confession — tiny booklets detailing all the things that count as Catholic sins. O’Connor jumped in to tell them how handy the booklets were.
“I keep one in my purse, because I always need reminders,” O’Connor said. “You think you know all the sins, but then there are the little things. Like, have you ever voted for someone who doesn’t uphold the values of the Catholic Church?”
The couple nodded, eyes closed, as O’Connor listed politicians she had voted against because they weren’t pro-life.
“I changed from being a Democrat to being a Republican because the Democrats lost their values,” O’Connor said.
Later, Audiel and Maria Flores, a Latino couple, came to buy candles for a wedding ceremony they were about to attend. Maria spoke little English, but Audiel swapped stories with O’Connor, telling her they were referred to her store by a friend at a neighboring church.
O’Connor wrapped up their candles with newspaper so they wouldn’t chip and asked them about the ceremony, smiling patiently while Audiel searched for the English words to describe their role in it.
He stared at the ceiling and squinted. “How do you say it?” He asked himself. “Maybe best man and lady?”
All three chuckled and O’Connor wished them luck, extolling the beauties of a good Catholic wedding. As they left, Maria and Audiel murmured to each other in Spanish, and O’Connor shouted as they crossed through the doorway and into the street.
“God bless you!”
By Carley Lanich - 2nd Place
Rogerio Tregnago’s kitchen travels with him. Hitched to the back of a purple GMC Sierra 2500 HD pickup truck, Tregnago’s Gaucho’s Fire Authentic Brazilian Food truck lands in a new corner of Indianapolis everyday.
Tregnago travels with his two associates, Komal Sheth and David Reyes, serving beef skewers, sausage sandwiches, grilled steak salad and more out of the window of a black trailer hitched to Tregnago’s truck.
Tregnago specializes in Brazilian cuisine. Born and raised on a farm in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Tregnago discovered his love for all things culinary while serving in the Brazilian Army’s food department. When he finished his service he went to school in Brazil to study food, and shortly after took a position with the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão.
The steakhouse asked Tregnago to help establish their first restaurant in Miami, Florida. A few months later, he was asked to start another Fogo de Chão branch in Indiana. Not knowing much about the state, Tregnago said he expected to stay only a couple of years. However, he said he fell in love with Indianapolis, a smaller city where he felt everyone was friendlier.
In its seventh month, the Gaucho’s Fire truck is a drastic shift away from Tregnago’s former position as a chef at Fogo de Chão. Tregnago worked at the restaurant for 15 years, alongside 67 other employees. Now there are never more than four people in Tregnago’s truck. He said he likes it this way. The trio has become close.
“We all get along very well,” said Sheth who decided to continue working on the Gaucho’s Fire food truck, despite having recently completed requirements to become a registered nurse.
“The three of us try to keep serious,” Tregnago said. “When it’s time to work, we work. When it’s time to play, we play.”
With a goal of starting his own restaurant, Tregnago said he looked to the food truck first to help spread his brand. He and his wife are now looking at locations on the south and northeast side or Indianapolis.
The Gaucho’s Fire truck serves between 60 and 120 customers on any given day and the days are long. Tregnago wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning to begin preparations for the truck. He cleans the kitchen’s trays, buys fresh meat and vegetables, and cuts the onions, tomatoes and lettuce, saving the meat for last. Meat is best freshly cut, Tregnago said.
The Gaucho Fire menu has changed several times since it’s creation. Now including more vegetables and vegetarian options, Tregnago takes pride in his Brazilian dishes.
From beneath a black baseball cap donning the Brazilian flag, Tregnago makes portions of a customer-favorite, the Brazilian Steak Sandwich, to share with other food truck drivers in a lot. Today he is parked outside the J.W. Marriott serving high schoolers between sessions of a national journalism conference. Next week he will travel north to Castleton and Carmel.
“The Northside, Carmel, Fishers, I’m everywhere,” Tregnago said.
At noon, the peak of Gaucho’s Fire’s typical lunch rush, Sheth calls out orders. As the requests come in Tregnago and Reyes, his quiet partner, fire up beef on the grill and French fries in the deep fryer. Moving seamlessly through the truck’s tight quarters, the men fill Styrofoam boxes as Sheth calls out numbers; “48, 59, 61, 65.”
The truck’s lunch rush has only just begun, but Tregnago said this is when it is easiest. He spend anywhere between five and six hours on preparation and tear down each day.
But now, during lunch hour, he gets to enjoy his favorite part, talking to customers. Some are regulars and look for the truck at parks in Carmel or at events on Georgia Street. Others just want to try out their Portuguese with a native speaker. Tregnago said he loves it all.
“I like everyone,” Tregnago said. “My customers are number one. It doesn’t matter what color or religion.”
Being on the road six days a week can be hard, Tregnago said, so he looks for balance in his life. His wife, who he met as a customer at Fogo de Chão, supports him and creates the schedule for the truck, while working a second job. He said his 6-year-old daughter likes the truck more than he does.
On his days off, typically just one a week unless the truck is busy, Tregnago likes to take his family camping and visit his friends’ farm, reminding him of his days in Porto Alegre.
But food is never far from his mind. Even with friends over, Tregnago said he loves to barbeque and grill for his guests.
“I’m not special,” Tregnago said. “I just like to cook.”