2019 Keating Competition entries
Erica Irish -- 1st Place
They were there for a moment and gone the next.
Lined outside their family RV at a row of fold-up card tables, David McConnell and his wife, Jennifer, are leading a group from their church in Ingalls, Indiana in a morning of service.
For the last eight years, the McConnells gathered what supplies they could from the congregants at REAL Community Church of God — clothing, travel-sized conditioner and shampoo, ingredients for hearty food — and drove 30 minutes to the American Legion Mall in downtown Indianapolis.
“I believe we are the hands and feet of Jesus,” McConnell says as he looks out over the crowd, still forming around the four tables. “Faith without works is dead.”
He admits he doesn’t know everything about Indianapolis’ homeless. And he certainly isn’t doing everything he can to help them. He recalls times he felt shame as visitors begged for money. For some peace of mind, he now empties his pockets, just to make sure he doesn’t lie about not having cash to hand out.
He calls that trust the one gift he can give.
“I see the same people over and over,” he describes. A moment later, he points to a man, struggling with a short cane. He’s wrapped in a blue corduroy coat, hood up, and several paces away on the cracked sidewalk. The man makes his way to a table lined with buttered rolls and pickles. “But I don’t remember their names.”
McConnell, at the very least, is certain of one central mission that his team — for the one day a month they visit the city — can accomplish, even without all the right answers.
“God wants us to remind people that they have a name,” McConnell said.
* * * *
It’s people like the McConnells who bring David Matthew, 43, from the space he shares with his cousin in downtown Indianapolis.
He walks on the Saturdays the McConnells visit to pick up sweaters and jeans for him and his cousin, also named David. It’s a bit of a haul, Matthew admits: 15 miles by foot from their studio apartment near the Benjamin Harrison home on the east side, followed by 15 miles back.
“But I don’t mind,” Matthew said with a laugh and a quick pat on his stomach. “I need it. I enjoy my walks.”
Matthew exudes joy and calm: It’s his duty as a newly ordained pastor, he said. Because he is currently unemployed, his daily work rests on the small kindnesses: Picking up donated winter clothes for himself and his cousin, for one, and thanking the veterans he often encounters on the streets.
That also explains why Matthew, a former state trooper in the DMV — an area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia — would rather not touch his past. He said he wishes every day to speak to the person he once was, to tell him there’s more to life: There is a needed empathy, McConnell believes, in a world far from it.
But he can’t revisit the past. He chooses to only name what, in part, gave his existence renewed meaning. That long journey started when, while conducting a routine traffic stop, a young boy shot him, twice, as part of a gang initiation.
“It was like my own personal 9/11,” he said. “It made me wake up.”
He pulls out a plain black wallet to examine the object that in many ways defines his new journey: A small rectangle card confirming his ordination as a pastor through World Community Church. He completed the program online after moving to Indiana to take care of his cousin, who lives with polycystic kidney disease.
With no job and only $791 a month coming in from social security and Medicaid, Matthew would be living on the streets if it weren’t for his cousin. It’s a process that’s humbled him, he said, as he works to scrounge up enough funds to move to live with his wife, Angelita, who currently lives in the Philippines.
Matthew admits he doesn’t have what many would consider a church yet. But that doesn’t matter.
He stares up at the ornate windows, tucked away in a reading room at the Indianapolis Central Library for warmth. Outside, dozens of men and women, wrapped in mismatched clothes and bearing for what many are the only possessions to their name in trash bags and shopping carts, move across the intersections of the mall.
“This is my church,” Matthew said. “It’s where I can talk with my people.”
* * * *
It’s been close to two hours since the McConnell RV arrived.
David McConnell looks to the side, his eyes hidden from view by a pair of Transition lenses — now darkened in the early afternoon sunlight.
“I actually think we’re about to run out,” he says with a frown as another ladle of chili is handed off, another serving gone from the inside of the sunshine yellow Igloo cooler. “I hate it when we run out.”
His gaze stays trained on the table for a moment as more people make their way to the line.
“We’ll probably be leaving here soon.” The frown deepens.
Nearby, a woman shouts out to the crowd “there’s dinner rolls,” prompting another small group to branch over to the food bar. Two young men grab small styrofoam cups and fill them with black coffee, steam rising in tendrils around their wrists.
McConnell reasons the group was able to serve around 70 people in their two hours parked at the curb. But that’s not enough, and it likely won’t ever be.
So they will return in two weeks — an earlier date to make up for a visit the church was forced to cancel last month — and revisit more after that, leaving their mark on Indianapolis in the one way they can.
A pair of young boys start to fold up an undecorated card table and load it into the belly of the RV. Around them, the American Legion Mall is alive with laughter and conversation. In some corners, men and women trade clothes, checking for wear and tear and the right sizes. Others sit in silence and reflection — on concrete benches, under trees or just on the curb — over spaghetti noodles pooled in beef and red chili sauce.
Two heavy metal doors slam shut and the RV leans into the road, headed east on St. Clair Street. A black vanity plate emblazoned with a white cross shines on its face.
Cameron Drummond -- 2nd Place
Inside the Circle Centre Mall, Austin Wethington is distracted.
The 18-year-old senior at North Central High School is perched atop a wooden bar stool as he mans the counter at the Collector’s Den, a sports memorabilia store on the third floor.
Wethington has just finished watching the movie “Stuber” on his laptop when the sound of a potential customer’s shuffling feet against hardwood echoes through the cavernous store.
His eyes dart to the door, then back to his screen. The shopper vanishes before he can greet them.
It’s a scene Wethington is accustomed to. In the two years he’s spent working at Collector’s Den he’s rarely seen people come and go from the store, with even less merchandise going with them.
A normal six to eight-hour shift for Wethington is always the same.
“Basically, just sit here,” he said.
The Collector’s Den has existed in a brick-and-mortar form since 1990, but it’s location inside the mall has recently led to a steep drop in in-person sales.
Wethington said almost all transactions take place online for the store, and the teenagers and families who still pass through the mazy corridors and tile pathways of the mall limit their purchases to smaller items.
In a store which has autographed photos of Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods adorning the walls, the top-selling products are now lanyards and pop-culture novelties like $1 bills with the images of SpongeBob SquarePants, Bella Swan from the “Twilight” series and Bernie Sanders replacing George Washington’s face.
Wethington loves the interaction aspect of his job, but as it becomes more infrequent and correlates to less sales, he and five co-workers have explored new ways to get people in the door.
Live and silent auctions put on by the Collector’s Den take place daily on the lower floors on the mall. This is where the big-ticket items go — things like autographed Bob Knight and Peyton Manning pictures.
But even then it takes special events in Indianapolis, like this week’s Future Farmers of America national convention or Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers home games, to lure people inside.
The Collector’s Den has also made it a point of emphasis to conduct more publicity stunts and athlete autograph sessions to attract customers, hosting three in the last two months instead of the usual pace of just one every six months, Wethington said.
Just a few doors down from Wethington is Michael Roberts, a 21-year-old senior at IUPUI’s Kelley School of Business who also spends his Saturday’s behind the register inside a sparsely populated store at Circle Centre Mall.
The business dynamics at the GNC where Roberts works are slightly different from the Collector’s Den, but the overarching themes remain the same.
Customers come in fits and starts, meaning Roberts has plenty of time to complete homework and peruse the Internet during his shifts.
“This is literally the easiest job,” Roberts said straightforwardly.
But these shifting business dynamics have also forced Roberts to adapt.
Emails sent to customers now feature coupons only redeemable in-person at the store. Banners displayed in the storefronts are rotated frequently and five-pounds tubs of whey protein are rearranged weekly to keep up with the trends in the nutritional supplement industry.
There aren’t many direct parallels between Roberts’ work at the counter and his studies at IUPUI as a marketing and supply chain management major. But he’s smart enough to understand the numbers and young enough to know what mall culture is like.
“The smartest way to shop obviously is online, Amazon” he said. “There are stores in malls like Finish Line. I’ll walk into there all the time knowing that I’m not going to buy anything.”
For all the old-school benefits of physically shopping for goods at a mall, it’s also an ideal environment for window shoppers.
Stuck in a set, indoor location with distractions and food readily available, the American mall remains a cherished place for adolescents to safely spend several hours without spending money.
This week’s FFA convention proved a perfect example.
FFA chapters from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands descended on Indianapolis for the convention, bringing thousands of teenagers in tow.
With frigid temperatures outside and in need of things to fill their free time, the mall becomes the main hub of activity.
Jenna Gaessler, Olivia Gregg and Madi Owen are precisely the people forcing mall business to reshape their business practices.
The 15 and 16 year olds are part of an FFA delegation from Eagleville, Tennessee, about 40 miles south of Nashville.
They came to Indianapolis for five days, Tuesday through Saturday, for the convention, have come together to the mall at least once each day.
“It gives us something else to do,” Gregg said.
“I feel more connected, like you’re doing something,” Gaessler elaborated on their decision to return each day.
Doing something and spending money are not one and the same, though.
The teenagers have made many food stops in the mall, with Chick-Fil-A consensus favorite. But by their estimation, they’ve also wandered in and out of double-digit stores inside Circle Centre Mall, loitering without buying.
The one time the trio wanted to buy something, the party game Cards Against Humanity, it was sold out.
The economic and marketing changes experienced by the stories Roberts and Wethington work at hardly cross their minds. Instead they’ve focused more on the wide-ranging game of FFA tag that has broken out amongst convention participants.
With so many FFA delegations wandering the mall passageways daily, it’s become easy to lose track of whose in the lead. Gaessler said her Tennessee delegation was tagged by Indiana in the parking garage while walking to the mall Saturday morning, followed by Tennessee tagging South Dakota in the mall food court.
“It gives us a reason to interact with each other,” Gaessler said.
Interaction has long been the purpose of the mall-going experience. It was true when anchor tenants drew people in and it remains true now without them.
Quintessential mall elements like arcades and fountains filled with pennies still exist as the stores around them cease to do the same.
Roberts and Wethington have been on both sides of this parallel.
They work behind the scenes to help correct the economic imbalances of their businesses.
But they remember when they contributed to the problem, stopping in and stepping out of Circle Centre’s American Eagle and Forever 21 without making a purchase like so many teenagers have done this week.
A family walks into GNC with Roberts leaning against a step ladder by a display of energy drinks.
They entered after seeing a window advertisement for weight-loss products, which the mother and daughter look at half-heartedly.
The father wanders to a corner of the store and Roberts asks him if he needs any help.
“Just killing time,” he replies.
Riley Eubanks -- 3rd Place
There’s a sign in Rocket Fizz, a soda shop on Monument Circle, that reads “Don’t see what you need? We are here for you.”
Customers may need that reassurance when navigating the store, which sells over 500 flavors of sodas, hundreds of different types of candies, stuffed animals, gag gifts, gum, tin signs, umbrellas and, in the back corner of the store, water.
“We had to have water somewhere,” joked Chetty Dunham, an assistant store manager who has been working at the store for three months.
But the customers received service on Saturday, just as the sign promised, even when there were scores of teenagers who are in town for the Future Farmers of America convention, which hosts nearly 70,000 people from across the country.
Dunham was working Saturday morning with Ken Vaughn and Makayla Thompson, both of whom were hired just a few days prior, right in the middle of the convention. Despite the short tenure of the staff, each employee assisted with organizing the store, assisting customers and, of course, selling product.
Dunham said a few of employees quit Rocket Fizz, which led to the three of them getting hired. This is a common problem in the retail industry, which has a turnover rate of over 60 percent according to the National Retail Federation.
Dunham previously worked at DJ’s Hot Dog Company, which is owned by the same people that own Rocket Fizz. Dunham said he wanted to work at Rocket Fizz because he had a good relationship with the owner, who he’s known for six years.
Vaughn, who has over 40 years of retail experience, said he chose to work at Rocket Fizz because he wants it to be his last job.
“I’m near the end of my career, so I wanted to do something for me,” Vaughn said.
The usual existential dread and bad service that plagues a lot of retail stores is absent from the shop: the employees take time to crack jokes with the customers and recommend their favorite sodas, even there were nearly 50 people in the shop, most of them teenagers from the FFA convention looking to satisfy their sweet tooth.
None of them broke a sweat when dozens of farmers were in line to buy a soda or candy, forcing Dunham and Thompson to work the two registers for over 20 minutes straight.
“That was nothing,” said Dunham, an assistant store manager. “You should’ve seen last night.”
Dunham said getting to talk with customers of all different backgrounds is his favorite part of the job. Human interaction was something he missed while working at his last job, which was in a warehouse.
“At my last job I was always inside my own mind in a platonic sort of way,” said Dunham, who paused and then laughed at his own joke.
Rocket Fizz is filled with jokes: they sell fake poop, they have a custom made toilet seat that they use as a decoration, they even sell a line of soda based off of famous dictators (Dunham’s favorite, the Nuclear Orange Bomb, has a picture of Kim Jong-il on the bottle and advertises a “terrorizing taste”); however, what may be the most appealing thing about Rocket Fizz is that everyone is in on the joke.
Hey, if I bought this would you eat it? one customer asked another while they held up a chocolate cricket.
Additional Keating Finalists
Seemingly oblivious to the cold, Barry DiPatrizio and Karine Johnson leaned against a brick wall for their morning smoke.
Johnson flicked an imaginary lighter. Without a glance in his direction, DiPatrizio dug through his pockets and passed it over. Around the corner, a red neon sign lit the words “Jesus Saves.”
“God shut a lot of doors on me but he opened some new ones,” DiPatrizio, 54, said.
Both men are recovering heroin addicts. DiPatrizio has been sober for around five months, and Johnson for seven. Both began using heroin, sometimes together, in 2012.
Around that time, in conjunction with nationwide attempts to curb overdose deaths, Indiana doctors began prescribing fewer opioids. For some people suffering from addictions, including DiPatrizio and Johnson, their only apparent choice was to replace the prescription pills with illicit drugs like heroin.
Statewide, opioid prescriptions decreased from their peak high of 107.1 per 100 people in 2010 to 74.2 per 100 people in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Indiana was still well above the 2017 U.S. average of 58.7 opioid prescriptions per 100 people, giving it the 10th highest rate in the country.
The Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force wrote a pain management toolkit for healthcare providers soon after the group was established in Sept. 2012. The toolkit, “First Do No Harm: The Indiana Healthcare Providers Guide to the Safe, Effective Management of Chronic Non-Terminal Pain,” is a 183-page document providing options for safe and responsible treatment – which does sometimes include the prescription of opioids, although it is generally discouraged.
From 2013 to 2018, there was a 35% decrease in opioid prescriptions in Indiana, according to the American Medical Association.
Drug overdose deaths, however, have continued to rise for almost two decades. In 2017, the state experienced an overdose rate increase of 22% – the third-highest rate increase in the country, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
DiPatrizio began taking OxyContin and Percocet, both opiates, after he was in a car accident in 1997. When doctors cut him off the medicine in 2012, he had been relying on opioids for pain management for 15 years.
“Someone said ‘Hey, why don’t you try some heroin? It’s just like the pills you take,’” DiPatrizio said.
He did, and began a years-long addiction to heroin that only ended last June. Johnson turned to heroin under similar circumstances.
In June, DiPatrizio needed open-heart surgery because of endocarditis, a heart disease that he attributes to his drug use. DiPatrizio, who had been serving time for selling drugs, was released from jail for the surgery, provided he stay put afterwards.
That’s what brought him to the Wheeler Mission in downtown Indianapolis.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” DiPatrizio said.
The Wheeler Mission, which last year celebrated its 125th birthday, is a Christian-based homeless and addiction recovery service on East New York Street. Often referred to simply as the Mission, it provides short-term shelter, meals, longer-term residential programs and an addiction recovery program.
Etched into concrete on the side of the is “Founded by WM. V. Wheeler, 1893-1929.” The “Jesus Saves” sign hangs above, as does the title of a Bible verse, John 3:16, which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Fifty-two mats were stacked against the wall in the entrance hall, ready for the influx of overnight guests that the colder winter temperatures bring. At its busiest, the Mission will sleep hundreds, and even the chapel will be used as a dormitory.
Torrey Chew, a guest service coordinator at the Mission, began working at the Mission almost a year ago. He went through the addiction recovery program himself – three times, for a total of 15 months, until he stayed clean of drugs.
Now, he helps men and women who are in a situation similar to where he once was.
The addiction program is “for guys that are really having deep issues,” Chew, 48, said. “We all do. We don’t want to admit it, but that’s us trying to do it our way, not God’s way.”
With the drug use that’s been increasing in the area for years, the addiction program, and the Mission, stay busy.
In the chapel, a group of about 20 volunteers from a nearby church were preparing for the Mission’s annual Thanksgiving Day run, the Drumstick Dash.
The dedication and love he sees in the volunteers gives him hope, Chew said.
“That’s just the love that out here,” he said. “Cause if they ain’t out here helping, that means there’s no love in the world. Why even want to have a family or bring a child into the world when this is what they’re going to have to be raised up in?”
Longtime volunteer Libby Davis first helped out at the Wheeler Mission nearly 50 years ago, on a date with her now-husband Dick Davis. They’ve been returning to volunteer, on-and-off, since then.
“Lives are changed,” Libby, 72, said. “When they come through the programs … there’s a whole process they go through, and training, and lives are changed in Christ.”
Back outside the Mission’s brick walls, DiPatrizio and Johnson stamped out their cigarettes, grabbed the empty coffee cups and went inside, just in time for Saturday brunch.
Recovery has been grueling. DiPatrizio doesn’t want to go back to using drugs, but he still thinks about it. On tough days, he turns to prayer.
Tomorrow they’ll go to church – a requirement for residents at the Mission. And Monday, DiPatrizio is looking forward to getting lunch with his 18-year-old daughter, which they do each week after his cardiac rehab.
“I’m starting my life over,” DiPatrizio said. “I’m starting from scratch.”
Rosemary-scented smoke wafted from the grill Saturday at Three Carrots in the Indianapolis City Market as manager Micah Jenkins prepared vegan-style biscuits and gravy for his waiting customers.
With specially ordered bread, a fresh stock of colorful veggies and meat replacements that even mimic bacon, Jenkins and his coworkers can create an authentic experience for both vegans and meat-eaters alike.
“It doesn’t have to have meat to be good food or nutritious food,” Jenkins said.
But workers at Three Carrots have also seen that behind the scenes, it still takes effort to sell the vegan food movement in Indianapolis, a city of people known for their love of pork tenderloin sandwiches.
“If we’re just known for tenderloin that’s fine, I guess, but if Indy wants to be a world-class city, you need options across the board, not just vegan food,” Jenkins said. “Variety makes everything better.”
The tiny Three Carrots stand in a corner of the food hall considers itself to be the first all-vegan restaurant option in Indianapolis, one that has since lead to the opening of a full restaurant in Fountain Square and is a destination stop for vegans from all over the country.
Other restaurants may face the same challenges of brand awareness and catering to specific tastes, but Jenkins said it can be a challenge to get new customers to overcome their preconceived notions of veganism.
As soon as they hear the food is plant-based they immediately turn away, and some will even make bacon jokes to him.
Jen Harrison, who has worked in different roles for Three Carrots for about a year, said she hopes people will start eating plant-based even just once or twice a week.
“That’s what Oprah says,” Harrison said.
Harrison said she had trouble going vegetarian a few years ago because more food had meat in it than she realized, like beef broth in soup. She had to learn how to cook in order to continue with her diet, but she said it’s become easier and she’s learned even more with the transition to veganism and by working for Three Carrots.
“People seem to think that you can’t flavor food without meat,” Hrrison said. “You totally can
Three Carrots does have some customers who are not vegan, like ones who have found them because the location is close to nearby office buildings for lunch.
Others, like Mel Petkov and her husband Rob Vincent, are vegetarian customers who like the additional plant-based option.
Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Petkov and Vincent said they were worried about not having many options when they moved to Indianapolis a few years ago.
They believed in the meat-based midwestern stereotype and were sure their options were going to be limited.
“I figured it was all meat and meat and a side of meat,” Petkov said.
When they finally moved, they lived just a few blocks from City Market and found Three Carrots on Yelp. It was their first vegan experience in the city, and they were excited to find some good vegan comfort food.
Though the restaurant is relatively well-known among their other plant-based friends, the couple said they feel it’s not known by the entire community because most people aren’t looking for something like Three Carrots.
But true customers know where they can come to get their fix of biscuits and gravy, buffalo wraps and
“It’s still a little bit of a secret,” Vincent said. “I don’t think people realize you can have something you like that’s vegan.”
“Good morning,” sisters Jane Jackson and Janet Bacon wave to a beeping car, as they sweep cigarette butts and stray trash from the street curb. Today was a normal Saturday for the two women, but they said doing their job for the city never held a dull moment.
Twins, Jane and Janet have been close as long as they can remember. As children, they were always together, participating in any community activities and summer jobs that involved being outdoors. Now, their passion transcends into the entire city of Indianapolis.
“We’ve been like this from the beginning,” Bacon said. “She’s my best friend and doing this together is a beautiful thing.”
Thirty-nine years ago, Jackson started her career in the Department of Public Works. As a member of the management team, she said that she enjoyed the company, but wasn’t getting the pay or benefits she wanted.
Once a position in the same company became available to clean the environment, Jackson took her chance to get outside and help her home city. She hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s peaceful out here and we’re at our own pace,” Jackson said. “I just love being outdoors and meeting so many people.”
Her sister originally started in the hotel business but felt that she wasn’t receiving the pay she wanted, either. After 17 years in housekeeping, Bacon decided to join her twin.
“I applied for the opening, but I didn’t get it the first time,” Bacon said. “I was distraught, but my sister told me to be patient. I came back around again, so here I am now.”
Always having a similar work ethic, the twins feel most confident working alongside one another, since they have been able to develop a routine throughout the years.
After almost a decade in the industry, they said maintaining a positive attitude is the most important aspect of the job, though.
“We don’t have bad days,” Jackson said. “We don’t bring our own personal issues to work because it brings your spirit down and impacts other people, too.”
With their positions, the sisters have been able to create relationships with an abundance of individuals, varying from Indianapolis natives, tourists, homeless people on the street, and even the mayor.
“Everyone knows the twins,” both sisters said in unison.
With retirement nearing, the sisters plan on “enjoying the rest of their years,” but they said the wave of technology and a new socioeconomic climate has greatly impacted the work ethic of youth, as well as the retirement plans for older generations.
“When there’s young people having babies, nobody is teaching anyone, anymore,” Jackson said. “We need to open up more community centers with summer activities and counselors for both children and their parents.”
Both said they are anxious to see what methods and ideas the youth will utilize to benefit the environment of their home city in the future. With the proper training and skills, though, they believe that the next generation is capable of creating an overall cleaner and safer Indianapolis.
Both sisters are adamant in teaching their children and grandchildren the same core ideas they want the rest of the city to adopt, as well.
“Our mother and father always wanted us to value our work and responsibility,” Bacon said. “That came a long way for us, and we still live by that, today.”
During the weary winters and the sweaty summers, the sisters are motivated by their families and faith to continue coming to work. After years of never missing a day, both said this job is everything they love and more.
For the upcoming generation of passionate environmentalists, future actors, aspiring politicians and anyone in-between, the twins offered a piece of advice.
“Don’t make yourself miserable doing something or being somewhere you don’t want to be,” both sisters said. “Doing this and being here is where we want to be. So, find your passion.”
Solo couldn’t see well.
The large black and white horse was wearing blinders, little pieces of leather that block his side view. They were intended to keep him focused on his job: pulling a cart.
But the young horse was new. He stood in Monument Circle in line with other carriage-pulling horses.
His trainer, Shelby Quillen had been working with Solo for a while now, desenitizing him to various stressors, such as ambulances and potholes. But Rocky hadn’t yet seen a mounted police officer.
Quillen doesn’t know why he spooked — maybe he was confused why the other horse had someone on its back — but Solo took off.
“He’s super sweet,” she said. “But his head isn’t quite there.”
This wasn’t Quillen’s first time behind a nervous horse. Horse driving has a rich history in Indiana, and she has spent nearly every day of the past seven years of her life continuing that tradition.
Quillen pulled back on Solo and the horse stopped. Calmly, she asked him to continue walking around the circle.
After a few laps, Solo calmed. It took nearly two years to train the now 7-year-old gelding, but Quillen has prepared him to carry out a long-held tradition in both the state and this city: horse-drawn carriage rides.
“It’s like going back in time,” she said.
* * *
Aside from basketball, Indiana known for its transportation. Hoosiers love to move.
Union Station stands as a historic relic, a reminder of trains past. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the city each year to see the Indianapolis 500.
Indianapolis also has a tradition of horses. Both its football and basketball teams come from these four-legged animals: the Colts are named after the area’s reputation for horse breeding and the Pacers after both horse and car racing.
This marriage of movement and horses is no better intertwined than the city’s horse carriages. Seven nights a week, horses and their drivers line up around Monument Circle ready to show people a different view of the city.
Even as Indianapolis has shifted from trains to cars to — in some cases — electric scooters, these carriages have remained. And they’re here to stay.
Shelby Quillen says horse abuse is not an issue in Indianapolis like it is in larger cities such as New York or Chicago.
Quillen works as the barn manager Blue Ribbon Carriages, a family-run business started in 1984. She’s been at the barn for nearly 7 years, teaching each of its new horses the ropes of city driving.
So much more goes into maintaining this Indianapolis staple than people realize, Quillen said. You can’t just get on and go. Months, and sometimes years, of training goes into each of Blue Ribbon’s 11 horses.
They must be fed, watered and cleaned up after daily. They’ve got a big job, and Quillen knows it.
“These animals are so spoiled,” Quillen says. “I treat them better than myself.”
* * *
The carriages, all lit up around Monument Circle, around Christmastime is iconic.
“You see those carriages in the circle and it’s just a staple,” Blue Ribbon General Manager Scott Ellis said.
“It’d be weird without them,” Quillen agreed.
But to pull back the curtain, you’ll have to walk.
Blue Ribbon is the only barn close enough to the city where the horses can walk themselves downtown. Still, it’s a half hour walk away, across the White River.
The tall buildings turn industrial, the cars turn to semi-trucks. Sidewalks eventually disappear completely, and bushes are so overgrown in some places it’s easier to walk on the street.
Their property is small, across the street from an Eli Lilly office building. Google maps doesn’t even have the address registered as the barn.
The horses are tucked away behind a run-down white building, and the only indicator of their existence is a mailbox and aptly named black dog called Barkley.
The driveway isn’t long, but Barkley uses his time efficiently to vet out a new visitor. The Labrador-like dog used to be a stray, but Blue Ribbon staff started feeding him. Now, he guards the horses and occasionally plays referee when they get into fights.
Quillen sometimes works here seven days a week.
“Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, it doesn’t matter,” Quillen said. “They gotta get fed.”
The 11 horses are split up into three pastures because, Quillen says, they don’t all get along. Bella, for example, hates any other female horse so she is in a pasture with other mares.
Just like humans, horses are creatures of routine. They know when it’s time to be fed, they know when it’s time to work. Quillen works each day to prepare them for that work. That’s why she tries her best to keep them in these fields as long as it isn’t too hot or too cold so they’re free to run and play.
She also invested in blankets a couple years ago, partially to keep the horses warm and partially, so they don’t get all dirty when they roll. Rocky, Quillen said, has the unfortunate combination of a light gray coat and a love for mud.
Quillen also has multiple dry erase and chalk boards inside the barn, noting if a horse looks sore or tired. If a horse is hurt or even isn’t feeling ready to work, Quillen won’t make them.
“Horses were made to work,” Quillen said. “And if they don’t like it, you can tell.”
When it comes time for work, the drivers also keep their schedule. They arrive about an hour and a half before it’s time to go to get the horses ready. Quillen pairs drivers and horses intentionally because a certain horse and driver might not work well together.
When the horses finally leave for the night, they’re carrying both carts and tradition behind them.
* * *
Each time Blue Ribbon gets a new horse, Quillen gives it a special grooming session.
These horses often come from the Amish, who shun technology and still rely on horses for transportation. Yet the Amish lifestyle is different.
It’s much more “go, go go,” Quillen said. Some of the horses need a little extra love at first.
This is where Quillen first bonds with the horse and starts to brainstorm names. She is adamant a horse is not named until its personality comes through.
Some get new names, others get modifications. Al became Aladdin and Joe became Joey. Charlie, on the other hand, stayed Charlie.
“It fit him,” she said. “He’s so sweet and he’s got puppy dog eyes.”
Some horses get new names, such as Solo.
Like Han Solo? Sort of.
“I call him Solo Cup because I don’t like ‘Star Wars,’” she said.
* * *
General Manager Scott Ellis has been working at Blue Ribbon for about five years. He has another business on the side but works at Blue Ribbon in his free time.
Ellis mainly focuses on barn and carriage upkeep, he proudly installed heated seats last year.
“We’re not getting rich,” Ellis said. “But we can pay our employees and feed our horses.”
But it’s not about the money.
Blue Ribbon knows the legacy it’s making. They stay in business for the families lined up each Christmas, shivering and clutching hot cocoa. They’re in it for the history of transportation and horses. They’re in it for the tradition.
Without them, Monument Circle just wouldn’t look right.
As each new customer steps through the door of Stout’s Footwear on Massachusetts Avenue, the general manager, Sara Klimenko, makes sure to welcome them with a smile and a personable, “Hi, how can I help you?”
With hundreds of shoes to choose from at Stout’s, the oldest shoe store in the United States, help is necessary. Clarks, Keens, New Balances, Danksos, Birkenstocks and more line the walls to create a sea of sneakers, sandals, heels and boots.
The historic store is located on Massachusetts Avenue, minutes away from Circle Centre and several other chain shoe stores like Journeys, Finish Line and The Walking Company.
But despite Stout’s close proximity to several other shoe stores, the store’s customers are loyal patrons, returning year after year for their footwear needs, according to Klimenko.
Robert Stapleton, the associate manager at Stout’s, cited the store’s charm as a reason for such loyal
customers: the black-and-white checkered floor take patrons back in time; the Baldwin Flyer System, which sends shoes upstairs for packaging; photos from the store’s 133 years of service; and the beloved store pet — a blue-and-gold macaw, Ripley, that occasionally screeches for attention.
“People remember us,” Stapleton said. “It’s not just a Payless Footwear.”
Klimenko said the store’s longevity can also be contributed to Stout’s employees and their dedication to service.
“We don't let anybody go through without talking to them,” she said. “And trying to take care of them and really caring about our customers.”
Klimenko has been working at Stout’s for just over five years.
She applied for a position as a sales associate at Stout’s Brownsburg location in 2014 on a whim. In fact, she said she tried to “blow” her interview. She didn’t want to work in retail.
Cleary, it didn’t work.
Since that successful interview, Klimenko has worked at three of the four Stout’s locations: Brownsburg, Carmel and Indianapolis.
Today, she’s glad her interview went well. While she never expected to work in retail, she said she’s passionate about creating bonds with customers and serving them.
Klimenko said it’s typical at Stout’s to have customers request a certain sales associate, and to refuse service from other employees. Some of Klimenko’s regulars have even followed her from Stout’s Brownsburg location.
“It’s a privilege for us to be able to have that relationship with our customers,” she said.
Klimenko said she has forged a particularly close relationship with one of her customers, Chris, whom she met at Stout’s Carmel location where she worked as the manager.
Through supplying Chris with Keen and New Balance sneakers over the years, the two women bonded.
According to Klimenko, the women have served as support structures for each other through the years. When Klimenko’s father fell ill several years ago, Chris was quick to stop in at Stout’s to check on Klimenko and see how she was doing.
Now, Klimenko and Chris often grab lunch together.
“She’s a very close friend,” Klimenko said.
* * *
Despite the company’s close connections with its customers and longevity, the emergence of e-commerce has taken a toll on Stout’s Footwear, said Klimenko.
To put it simply, Stapleton said, “The internet is not our friend.”
Klimenko noted that it’s been difficult to get younger generations to stop by the brick-and-mortar store due to the increase of online shopping.
But Klimenko still finds ways to draw younger patrons in. She likened the store’s front window to social media. Filled with as many shoes as can fit, the window displays what’s trendy and popular in hopes of drawing in people from the street.
Ty Baldwin lives up the road from Stout’s. He said he’s walked past the shoe store at least 100 times, but Saturday morning was his first time inside.
While Baldwin and his wife, Jana, try to shop local as often as they can, both will admit they shop online more than they would like.
“This is a small piece of Americana that [could go] away,” he said, referring to Stout’s. “You don’t think about shoe stores.”
Baldwin said he understands the appeal of online shopping: “Why shop in-person when it’s so easy online?” he asked.
Eric Walker, another customer, said that he finds shopping at Stout’s to be easier than shopping online due to proximity — like Baldwin, he lives nearby. In fact, he lives closer to Stout’s than any other shoe or clothing store.
“It’s more of a live, work, play type of atmosphere where I can do it all right here,” he said, referring to Massachusetts Avenue. “It might be a little more expensive but I’m willing to pay for the experience right now.”
Despite the company’s fierce competition with the internet, Klimenko, Stapleton and the rest of their employees continue to work seven days a week to supply the people of Indianapolis with shoes and “make them leave with a smile.”
“[That’s] really important to me,” Klimenko said. “And that is very fulfilling for me to do.”
The man looked like he might have been sleeping.
Wrapped in a huge coat, his body was hidden to the world. It was morning, four or five years ago in the middle of winter, and the sun was just beginning to break the Indianapolis skyline when Alex Cardenas saw the prone figure.
Cardenas, who collects trash for the Indianapolis Department of Public works, said he assumed the man was asleep. He stepped carefully around the man’s body as he picked up receipts and cigarette butts with his mechanical grabber.
Cardenas didn’t learn until later that the man had been out all night in temperatures below freezing. “He was dead in the morning,” Cardenas said.
1,567 homeless people live in Indianapolis, according to a point-in-time count conducted by the Center for
Homelessness Intervention and Prevention on Jan. 30th. As temperatures fall, cold weather exposure
becomes dangerous for people without shelter.
700 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the U.S. die each year from hypothermia, according to a 2010 report from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.
Sherman Duncan massaged his right foot as he sat at a table in the Indianapolis City Market. Years ago, legal trouble left Duncan without his job, his car, and his home. He’s been homeless since, unable to see his two daughters as much as he wants.
Rain earlier in the week left his shoes soaking wet, he said, and now his feet hurt. A big man in his late 20s, Duncan walks slowly with a limp.
When temperatures drop, Duncan and his uncle Leroy head to Wheeler Mission, a homeless shelter for men on East New York Street, Duncan said.
The Mission is a non-denominational, Christian social services organization that provides food, beds, showers, clothing, and programs for mental health and addiction recovery. Between Nov. 1 and April 1 when the temperature drops below freezing, the shelter admits “anyone at any time,” said Justin, Guest Coordinator Supervisor at Wheeler Mission.
Inside the shelter, dozens of men sit in folding chairs watching network TV and football. The cinder block walls are painted in a patchwork of pastel colors. A mural of Christ wearing a crown of thorns looks out from one wall with the words “lay your burdens down.”
Some men talk and watch TV. Others sit in silence. One man lays his head on the table and sleeps. The building is heated, but everyone wears hoodies and heavy coats.
“I’ve been staying here for about three years,” said Willy Hunter, who was sitting by himself. Three years ago, Hunter lost his job as a custodian and had no money to pay rent, he said. He had come to Wheeler Mission for food when he had housing and moved in full time after losing his home.
At the shelter, Hunter sweeps and cleans the trash in the parking lot. He sleeps in his own bed and has access to food and a hot shower.
Men at the shelter aren’t required to work, but Hunter wanted to. “I want to return the favor,” he said. “Even if I had my own place I would come down here and visit.”
Hunter said the number of people at the shelter swells with cold weather.
“It’s cold now,” he said. “There’s a bunch of people here, 400-some. But they still get something, a bed or a mat on the floor.”
Duncan benefits from the shelter’s services too, but it can’t fix the exhaustion of homelessness.
“I wish everybody had to be homeless for two months of their life,” Duncan said as he looked into the distance, his eyes narrow with frustration. “They would be more compassionate.”
Duncan hates having to ask people for handouts on the street. “I wish people knew it bothers us just as much as it bothers them,” he said.
It’s the way that people look past him and walk faster, he said, “like I’m invisible.” It’s easier to go to the dumpster for food than to ask somebody, he said.
Walking through the streets at night, Duncan cries often, he said. He sees a therapist at Rising House, a social services organization on Washington Street.
He prays to himself for strength, and he sings. He said his favorite song is “Is a Change is gonna come” by Sam Cooke.
Ducan put his shoes back on and sat back in his chair. He began to sing.
“It’s been a long time, a long time coming,” he sang.
“But a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will.”
The parking lot is located just east of South Street and Pennsylvania Ave. A rusted-over red arrow sign points to the lot – one of the last of its kind in the area. A rusted-over train blares past overhead with a screech.
“Every 15 minutes,” Monte Lopez, 63, says as he looks overhead with a smile.
He glances out at the parking lot in which he stands, taking note of the mishmash of orange cones reserving most of the available spaces. To anyone else, this would be any other parking area.
But for Lopez, this is his lot.
Lopez spent 20 years working for Meridian South Parking, eventually being promoted as manager. He was there when the vacant lots were transformed into sky-high buildings, as businesses moved in and downtown Indianapolis transformed itself into any other center for a bustling metropolis.
He remembers the good old days, when downtown was transformed from the quiet, peaceful area it once was. It’s what brought him to Indianapolis from his hometown of _____, Indiana.
“It’s not the same here anymore,” he says.
He ventures out from an unassuming white wooden hut decorated with “support veteran” stickers. His highlighter-yellow vest stands out against the rusted-over hut he stands in until a new car enters the lot. He waves at the regulars who park in his lot – he calls them his “super-friends.”
With late hours and the hectic “Colt Sundays,” the job requires a toughness, he says. Not physically, but mentally.
“I’m tired,” he sighs, looking out at the downtown area he once knew.
Lopez had opportunities to retire, but he says loyalty goes a long way. Asked why he does it, he pulls out a wad of cash from his jacket pocket. Chuckling to himself, he gestures to it.
“To some, this is everything,” he says. “Not to me.”
* * *
Just a block away, Autumn Keown opens up the Slippery Noodle with an urgency, wiping down the bar and pulling out fruit to begin slicing.
It’s the oldest bar in Indiana, named on the National Register of Historical Places and family-owned for decades. The family’s what kept Keown in it for the last 12 years, working as a bartender in a hectic industry.
She recalls when the company came together to raise bond money after she was arrested for drunk driving, pulling together $1,000 from customers and employees alike.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog industry,” she says, reflecting on the people of all walks of life she often encounters.
She says harassment happens at times. She has late hours that require her to be out until the earliest hours of the morning. But to Keown, none of that matters.
“You just have to be aware,” she says.
* * *
Nakia Cheatam never expected to find herself at Lucas Stadium.
The 42-year-old sports a bright yellow vest with the words “SECURITY” emblazoned on top and a beanie pulled tight over her head to ward off the cold. Eight students meander towards her with their hands in the air, clutching their phones and looking at her hesitantly.
“Have a nice day,” she repeats eight times, peeking at their bags and ushering them through the gate.
Cheatam started the gig two years ago and works every event she can. This is her second job, but the only one that really matters to her.
“I just want it until I get straightened out, ‘til I get what I’m reaching for,” she says.
She dreams of owning a business repairing cars. It was a skill her father taught her throughout her childhood in Chicago, but it always seemed like a far-off dream — especially after she got involved in drugs as a teenager for “easy money” and veered off the wrong path.
She moved from Chicago to Indianapolis to change her life for herself and her seven other kids. They were begging her, she says, and that’s when she knew. She landed her first job working security at clubs, but she got tired of the fighting and killings she often witnessed.
So when a friend told her about the opportunity at Lucas Oil Stadium, she jumped on it.
She doesn’t even like the Colts, she says, but it pays the bills. She has a dream and seven kids to take care of, after all.
* * *
The area is located on one of the busiest blocks in downtown Indianapolis, a bustling street with Lucas Stadium and historical businesses drawing scores of tourists daily.
Not many notice the three going about their days, all working on the same populated street but still a world apart in their respective industries.
One calls out to his super-friends as he claims ownership of his lot, the other cuts fruit while chatting with the locals and the third ushers people in to Lucas Stadium with a dream in mind.
They work behind-the-scenes as the backbone of downtown Indianapolis, keeping the businesses running and the traffic flowing. It’s not always easy, they all emphasize.
“But it’s worth it,” Keown says.