While it’s true I don’t technically live in Indianapolis, I was born – and currently work – here, and it is in this city where I spend most of my time. Given this, I was excited when I learned that the local, on-line magazine, “Punchnel’s,” was going to publish a series of stories under a “Mythic Indy” premise. I think they’ve been publishing one a week, and I’ve been reading them as they come out. All of them may be found at:
I’ve enjoyed several, but the one I’d like to recommend is “The Man on the Monon* (If You Believe)” by Ben H. Winters.**
This is the story of Louis McMaster, a.k.a. “Sweet Lou,” and his enduring, unwavering devotion to his lost love, Mary Ann. Or is it? The first several paragraphs document the rise of industry and the railroad ‘culture’ in Indianapolis (coincidentally – as noted above – my home town, not to mention the real world “sister city” of this blog’s imaginary “Bibliophilopolis”). In the following short span of words, the reader gets a good feel for the great golden age of the railroads. Winters describes:
“It wasn’t just the coal and steel cars, either, wasn’t just the heavy metals running in and out of the city on the Monon Line. It was people that got moved around too, people in their hundreds and thousands, people running North for work or South for a week of R&R on the Gulf of Mexico. It was hobos crouched drunk among the cargo, it was men in top hats and waistcoats—the sorts of things people wear on trains, you know?—murmuring about portfolios and dividends standing swaying gently in the dining car. It was ladies in long skirts and complicated undergarments, glancing up from behind a broadsheet paper to meet the eyes of a handsome stranger. It was contented people of all stripes, smoking in the smoker to the clankalank of the wheels beneath, rolling over and past and through the City with a Capital C. People fell in love in those sleeper car berths, people struck deals, won fortunes over cards, while the city shot past in the dark.”
But all this just leads us up to the time of Sweet Lou, a “fullback at North Central and roof-layer,” and the surface story is about him and his ill-fated love for Mary Ann, who at one point leaves town for Chicago (the really big city) to tend to an ailing relative. Steadfast and true, Lou patiently awaits the return of his love, and the longer he waits the clearer it is (to the reader, anyway, not necessarily to Lou) that she is not returning. It is what happens to the railroad and the city while he waits and ages that is probably the “real” story here, and only the soul-less among us will not feel the ache of nostalgia while reading. (I guess the ache is more acute if you’re older, but even younger readers ought to be able to understand the concept of change – and also the lack of it – within the story.
Read it for yourself on-line at http://www.punchnels.com/fiction/the-man-on-the-monon-if-you-believe/ or try some of the others at the other link above if you feel I’ve spoiled this one too much… 🙂
*(“Monon,” for those not from around here in the midwest is a famous local rail line – if you listen carefully during the great sports movie, “Hoosiers,” you can hear actor Gene Hackman threatened with being run out of town “up Monon line!” – you can see how impressed he was with this threat in the picture below)
** Does this author’s name sound familiar to you? Maybe it’s because of his 2009 book “Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters.”
Where on earth is the Monon line?