Monday, July 21, 2014

Steve Hammer: Hoosier turned Texan

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 11:56 AM

NUVO's Texas poolside news desk - ALL PHOTOS BY STEVE HAMMER
  • All photos by Steve Hammer
  • NUVO's Texas poolside news desk

I. I am officially a Texan.

I received my Texas driver's license in the mail last week, 18 months after leaving Indianapolis. It was my final act in formally renouncing my Hoosier citizenship, if not my allegiance to the state. I waited so long because I could. I didn't really need to drive, a fact that baffled all my Texan acquaintances because most people here think nothing of making a 60-minute commute or 400-mile road trip.

My new home in San Antonio is only 1.5 miles away from my office and sometimes I walk to work. Also, three city bus routes go down Broadway Street in front of my apartment; an unlimited monthly bus pass costs only $35.

A car for me was not a necessity at least until I had saved enough money to comfortably buy one with cash, which I did a few months ago, hence the need for a Texas license. It automatically makes me a registered voter in Texas for the first time too, thanks to the Motor Voter Act President Clinton got passed in the early 1990s.

Another purported freedom available in Texas is the ability to drive on certain highways with no enforced speed limits under 100 mph. I have a 4.6 liter V8 engine in my new car and I get to take advantage of the posted 85 mph limit and then some.

I was afraid this place would be too conservative for me but I have actually met very few Republicans here in the last year and a half. When I do I am taken aback just a bit but simultaneously charmed for its quaintness.

Texas politicians have been cartoon characters for hundreds of years and its no different now. The pilled-out grin of Rick Perry and vacant gaze of George W. Bush are countered by the personal crudeness of Lyndon B. Johnson and the corruption of various Clinton and Obama cabinet members and advisers.

My prediction is that eventually, sooner rather than later, the Ron Paul crowd will join with the millions of liberal Willie Nelson-style Texans and create a true centrist party, neither too liberal nor too conservative.

When that happens, there will be a freak flag flying proudly over the statehouse and the governor's mansion as an aspect of the upcoming populist and socialist transformation in the USA, when new economies will stimulate a gigantic boom for the United States of America, Obamacare is fixed properly, all Americans will be free to marry whomever they love and choose what they do with their bodies.

The nationwide political gridlock is going to be resolved more easily than most people think. The power structure is superficial enough that it won't take too much of a revolution to topple it and that revolution will be achieved the way it should be in a democracy: by the popular vote, the ballot box substituting for any New World Order paranoid fantasies of both the left and right. Just like the Berlin Wall was surprisingly easy to dismantle in 1989, Texas isn't going to remain a conservative stronghold for too much longer.

Even though my governor, Rick Perry, disgraces himself by disrespecting the president — almost to the point of insurrection — my local San Antonio politicians and voters are much more reasonable. Our Mayor Julian Castro has brought progress and economic development to Downtown San Antonio, which resembles Indianapolis in 1972. Mayor Castro is leaving, though; recently confirmed by the Senate, he is the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, something for which he is well qualified as San Antonio has become one of the fastest-growing and prosperous cities in the United States. In joining forces with President Obama, Castro is showing his patriotism and willingness to serve the people. He has the stuff to one day be president himself.

Everything you have ever heard about Texas is true. There truly is no other place like it in the USA. From here, it seems to be the center of the universe: goings-on in the other 49 states are just curiosities from another country. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington can't really tell Texas what it can do in the way Indianapolis is subtly controlled by New York City's capitalist structure.

But I keep up with Indy as best I can, through NUVO and, my friends in town and the Facebook pages of channels 6 and 13.

As much as the sight of Monument Circle under the right conditions can still bring me to tears with love for Indianapolis, I am glad to be in San Antonio and definitely feel like I made the right move in coming to Texas. My coworkers are representative of America: white, Mexican-American, African-American, elderly, young, disabled and LGBT folk all work and are offered opportunity at the company where I work,not just because it's good business and the right thing to do, but also because my job title, compensation and working conditions are negotiated on my behalf by a strong union, my union, the Communications Workers of America.

Union jobs turn lower-class incomes into middle-class incomes. They helped build the prosperity of the 20th century and their dwindling influence coincides with the worst economic times in history, now.


II. Winners never hate and haters never quit.

When it comes to money, I made up some outrageous figures in my final NUVO columns about how much richer I would actually be in coming here. So people in Indianapolis called my bluff and started asking me to be an ATM for them. It was a pretty stupid thing of me to do.

I'm doing a lot better than I was and can legitimately be labeled middle class by any economic standard.

More than that, life is good here and leaving behind my 25-plus years as a writer in the Hoosier State was like unloading a heavy burden.

Moving gives you a clean slate and I feel refreshed and renewed by most everything I do here in San Antonio.

Immediately after I stopped writing for NUVO, I read the comments of pissed-off readers, alcoholic musicians and other detractors just as I had for those many years in Indy.

Luckily for me, I was sitting in my nice new apartment in Texas, watching my bank account grow from zero to something and enjoying myself.


There were a lot of lies and tall tales from my days as a newspaperman and music columnist in the comments online.

The people who've been getting drunk and talking shit on the Internet have been doing so with gusto for nearly 20 years now and my leaving town didn't interrupt that even slightly. These days it seems directed at Abdul mostly. The people talking smack about him on the Internet don't realize they are promoting him every time they say his name.

Meanwhile, he cashes the checks. He's made himself a local folk hero in the past few years and seems to be having a great time, although I disagree with him at least 80 percent of the time. Good for him. I wish him well.

Other media folk such as David Lindquist, Dan Carpenter, Conrad Brunner, Scott Hall and Ruth Holladay were all very kind and generous towards me both in print and life. I had talked smack about the Indy Star for my entire career, but even a lot of their people were nice to me too, such as Amy Bartner, who's just awesome, as is Michelle Pemberton.

You wouldn't believe how exhilarating San Antonio is and how its challenges are just as pressing but very different than those of Indianapolis. It's the home of NBA dynasties, military bases, NSA facilities, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and a shyly hipster culture.

Unlike in Indy, my adventures here are private to myself, my wife and my circle of friends. It's much better that way. We get to go to the symphony, the botanical garden, the Riverwalk, the Alamo and the WNBA games. We shared the city's triumph when LeBron James and Chris Bosh got stomped upon by Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker in the NBA Finals.

San Antonio is very laid back in comparison with Indy for very many obvious reasons ranging from its weather (always hot) and its economy (also hot). About 20 of us who were working for the company in Indy made the move to San Antonio over the past three or four years. We agree the quality of life is higher when you get promoted to the middle class.

My thoughts return to Indianapolis on occasion and all the things I experienced there.

I remember how rough it was for us when we were living at 48th and College and my wife's car kept getting broken into, how crackheads would knock on our door at 11 p.m. asking us for money and how skinny dudes at the bus stop in front of 220 N. Meridian would always ask me for cigarettes.

I almost always say no to homeless people asking me for money, either because I don't have it or because stopping to interact with them would disrupt whatever I'm doing at the moment. I always say "Sorry" as I pass and I really am. Someone who is a better Christian than I am would stop and minister to the needy.

I've been known to hand out bus fare at the bus stop because such requests are usually legitimate at least in some regard. I've slipped a few bucks into the hats of street guitarists, dancers and horn players because they're entertaining everyone for free like public radio does.

I remember an autumn afternoon in particular. We were walking towards her Honda Civic with the goal of getting lunch at the Illinois Street Food Emporium. It was a 10-yard walk from our venerable old wooden door to her car. A man about 6' 3", one of the neighborhood homeless and drug addicted citizens, stood between the car door and me.

He was wearing a white T-shirt that was soaked about midway down with brown stains.

"In Jesus's name, please help me," he said. "I need $15 for a colostomy bag. For the love of God, please help me out. He had a scared look on his face despite the alcohol and/or whatever other controlled substances that were in his bloodstream.

I had no cash and my wife was getting frightened. Just then another car came down the street. Since the man was standing in the middle of 48th Street, the driver had no choice but to stop.

"Ask this guy," I said. "I would like to help you but I don't have any money. Maybe he does."

He knocked on the window of the car that had stopped. My wife was in the driver's seat, keys in the ignition.

"Go," I said. "Drive away now."

Ever since that day, I have been ashamed of my reaction to that man. He was in an hour of obvious distress where he had no good options and an abundance of bad ones. I was hoping the driver of the other car was in a better position to take care of this man who, for whatever else he'd done in his life, was now in a wretched condition.

I believe I let myself down, I let down God and I let down my pride. I escaped the scary situation, but I could have at least called the IMPD non-emergency dispatch and had someone check on his welfare.

I ask for forgiveness for many things in my life and that is one of them.

San Antonio has a huge problem with feral cats and a kitten one day appeared on our stairwell outside, sick and shivering from a horrible abscess on its neck, sepsis starting to kick in after 24 hours or so, about to die a horrible and lonely death.

I called the Alamo Heights Police Department and they dispatched an officer who examined the kitten, drove a few blocks to the station to get a cat carrier, came back and took it to an emergency vet, who saved its life with simple antibiotics. In response to my commendation letter, the chief of police said the cat was being put up for adoption once it recovers and would likely find a good home since it is so sweet and friendly.

I wonder what the moral equivalency is of those two situations. I didn't help the man at 49th and College who was begging for help with a medical condition but who also posed a potential threat to myself and my wife. I did, however, help save the life of a small cat.

I can only hope that my failures will be mitigated by the laws of the universe and the justice meted out by a merciful God "when the seal is broken and the book of life is read," as an old gospel song puts it.


III. Riding the bus in San Antonio.

If there are any of my readers from the 1990s and 2000s still reading NUVO still out there, some of them will remember my uncomfortably personal revelations in print, among them about the relationships I stumbled through as a single professional of the Clinton Era. I met various unstable women and sometimes wrote about my escapades with them. I was a single man in the eyes of the white man's law until May 1, 2013 when the beautiful Katie, my darling Katherine Ariadne, became my lawfully wedded wife at the Bexar County Government Center in San Antonio. We had always considered ourselves married since 2006 anyway, in the eyes of God and ourselves. We'd been calling each other man and wife so long that the ceremony was just a formality.

I am no longer a self-revelatory journalist so my private life is as it should be, private, except to say we are very happy in San Antonio and have delighted in the botanical garden, the symphony, the Riverwalk and all the many joys my new city has to offer.

Instead I offer a few anecdotes about life in San Antonio.

When I first got to town, I lived at an Intown Suites hotel in a shady part of town and rode the bus about six miles to work every day. I rode the IndyGo so many times to work at 220 N. Meridian that I have developed a love for the bus and for public transportation in general.


Sometimes I took notes and transcribed conversations I overheard.

I remember a sweet looking woman of about 25 or so on the phone: "Hi mom, I love you. Listen, I have some good news. I talked to legal aid and they think they can work out a plea. You know how much I don't want to go to jail. Tell Dad I'm not going to go to jail. They were trying to tell me I was disrespecting a public servant. It ain't true. I respect the law. I gotta go Mom, I'm on the bus. I love you. I'm not going to jail. I love you."

Another one I wrote down was "We're not in Arkansas anymore," she said to the man sitting next to her. "So you should know better than to talk to me like that. I'm the one with the job now. So don't call me 'bitch.'"

A different time: "I haven't paid taxes in 15 years," he said, grinning, two gaping holes where his front teeth once were, his shoulder-length hair getting in his eyes. "People lie on their taxes and get caught. I just don't pay them so they leave me alone."

Tweet, Feb. 21, 2013: "Lady next to me on bus has big bag of Popeyes chicken and is reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I would call that a #win for Thursday night plans."


My job is pretty mentally draining and I like to sit and relax during lunch so I usually go to the Subway across the street from the office during my meals break. I've gone there so many times that I've gotten to be pals with the young ladies who work there. Their names are Brenda, Graciela and Ashley and they're all cute as buttons and pretty good sandwich artists, as sandwich artists go. Graciela know exactly how I like my cold-cut combo: lettuce, tomato, brown mustard and jalapeño.

Brenda happened to get me in line the other day and Graciela was telling her how to make my sandwich. Brenda, who looks incredibly like Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, asked me in a sarcastic tone if it was okay that she made my sandwich.

I looked at the two of them and smiled.

"Everyone who knows me pretty well knows one thing about me, " I said. "And that's that I love women. So you two ladies can discuss me and my sandwich for several hours and I will just stand here. Talking to you two ladies has been the highlight of my day so far, which has otherwise pretty much sucked. Whichever one of you wants to make the sandwich is fine with me."

They both laughed, appreciating my sincerity.


IV. Basketball and its role in the upcoming socialist revolution.

Indiana returns to me whenever I see a basketball game, on TV and in person, or see highlights of the Pacers on SportsCenter.

In or around 1971, when I was 6 years old, I was introduced to Indiana Pacers basketball through my friends in first grade talking about the heroics of George McGinnis and Mel Daniels. Enthralled, I listened through the static as Joe McConnell called the play-by-play for the American Basketball Association Pacers on AM radio. Eventually I talked my parents into taking us to the State Fair Coliseum to see them play in person. The Coliseum was a dank place that was hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. In previous days, the Coliseum had hosted speeches by President Kennedy, a Beatles concert and thousands of other events. It had a dark side too: a natural gas explosion during an ice-skating show killed dozens of people in 1963 and a plaque honoring their memory. Tickets were under $3 and popcorn and soda was cheap so even a lower-middle-class family like ours could afford to go to games.

It began a lifelong obsession, passion and love for basketball in my life that continues to this second. I have been to at least 1,000 NBA and WNBA games in my life and would be at them all if I could. I love seeing the players finish their warm ups and prepare themselves for tipoff. There is no greater moment of optimism than the kind that comes immediately before the tip. Even the most lopsided of games are tied at the beginning, 0-0. Each person has a legitimate basis on which to say they have not yet been defeated.

That's what keeps me coming back to the sport, no matter how far I stray from it: that sense of anticipation and hope I feel at every basketball game I see.

For the most formative years of my childhood, ages 6 through 9, the Pacers were the most dominant team in the ABA, the outlaw, anything-goes league whose stories are the subject of fascination even today. It was a bootleg league that came along at exactly the right time to exploit the explosion of basketball talent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was true run-and-gun basketball. Final scores like 160-158 weren't that uncommon. It even looked different than NBA basketball. The ABA's trademark red, white and blue ball allowed fans to watch the rotation of each shot attempt in a different way than the pumpkin-colored NBA game ball. The league's very existence was an act of political protest, a middle finger extended by growing cities such as Indianapolis and San Antonio to the establishment that we deserved our own heroes, not the ones forced upon us by the TV networks and New York and Los Angeles hype centers.

It carried over to my adulthood, when the city suffered through losing season after losing season until Larry Brown and Reggie Miller arrived in the late 1980s. When Larry Bird returned home near the end of the century, the legacy of the Pacers franchise was ensured for at least another generation or more.

I still follow the Pacers very closely despite the presence of the Spurs, who have the hearts of the people of San Antonio in a way the Pacers only had when they were ABA champs in the '70s. Thousands greeted the Spurs at the airport in the middle of the night after playoff losses as well as win. The NBA hasn't seen a team with the natural camaraderie and poise as the Spurs in several generations.

But back to the Pacers. We San Antonians were quite puzzled both by the Pacers' near-perfect beginning and near-catastrophic end to the 2013-14 season. People here seem to root for the Pacers, especially when they were playing Miami, but at other times. Both cities have a well-deserved reputation for excellence in the NBA. San Antonio happens to have five more titles than the Pacers but in other ways they are similar franchises.

I'll leave it to the pundits in Indy to opine on the options the Pacers have moving forward, with the exception of the matter of Lance Stephenson.

I called Ron Artest a hero for starting the infamous brawl in Auburn Hills in 2004. I defended his actions both then and now. If I was at work and someone threw a cup of beer on me, as was done to Ron-Ron, I might be pissed off enough to throw a punch myself and I'd hope some of my buddies would join me in the brawl too, if it really came down to it.

But what Stephenson did in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals was a disgrace to the uniform he was wearing and the franchise whose proud traditions he was representing. His blowing in the ear of LeBron, his obvious flagrant 2 in Game Five and his general assholery in nature makes me glad the team unloaded him.

Ron Artest was a working-class hero. Stephenson is a clown. Artest was a warrior; Lance was a chemistry-destroying, stats hog, selfish player who doesn't deserve to wear the same uniform that McGinnis, Miller, Clark Kellogg, Chuck Person and Rik Smits all wore. There seems to be a feeling down here that Larry Bird feels that way too, although if the Pacers re-sign him then I am wrong.

click to enlarge atandt.png

Back to the Spurs for a moment. Their near-perfect performance in the 2014 NBA Finals was, to me, the living proof of the superiority of socialism over capitalism. The Spurs, themselves, seem to be a true collective, unselfish, giving, the definition of working together. The players have varying degrees of talent but all are equally rewarded for their efforts, just as in how a true socialist America greed would be lessened and doors of opportunity would be opened to all.

For the Spurs, pride and swagger comes through mutual accomplishment and clarity of purpose. The 2014 Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat seemed to represent the very worst faces that capitalist society has to offer. Bloated by money and greed, with too much wealth going to too few both on and off the court, they eventually imploded when confronted with true teamwork and an uncommonly selfless attitude, as embodied in the Spurs and, for that matter, the growing progressive movement in Texas.

I am and always will be a diehard WNBA fan and look forward to becoming a season ticket holder in San Antonio next season. My team now is the San Antonio Stars, led by future Hall of Fame guard Becky Hammon and rising young star Kayla McBride out of Notre Dame. The WNBA is not everyone's cup of coffee, I understand, but it most certainly should and eventually will be more popular than it is right now.

Again, the emphasis here is on unselfishness, not ego, money or glory. The women of the WNBA come in all shapes and sizes and, to my viewpoint, seem to have a higher quality of integrity and honor than their millionaire male counterparts.

The not-so-secret fact is that even scrub players on WNBA teams can double or triple their salary by playing overseas during the fall and winter. WNBA pay ranges from $38,000 to $107,000 and superstars can earn more than $500,000 in China, Russia or Israel.

Compared to the NBA, the women are playing for much lower financial stakes but have all the zeal and competitiveness of the men and then some. Long live the WNBA.


V. And in the End, the Bee Gees are better than the Beatles.

If you've made it this far in this Unabomber-length manuscript, you are either a very dedicated reader or a very fast scroller.

After 20 years of producing columns every week on topics chosen only as I sat down at the last minute to write about, I am happier to live in a world where I don't have to do that anymore, where nobody stops me on the street to tell me how much they like or don't like my columns. I greatly prefer anonymity from even the low-grade minor celebrity status I once held in Indy and I enjoy making a stable, union-bargained living wage for a company that demands a lot from me.

My original intent when sitting down to write was to pen a screed about how the Bee Gees, for whose music my wife and I have developed an unexpected affection for while in Texas, are a superior band to the Beatles in nearly every quantifiable way. Their songs launched an empire and are beloved by millions still today.

Screw the Beatles, the Bee Gees are better.

Admitting to a love of the Bee Gees is a dangerous thing to do. They are so unhip that championing them is a bold and revolutionary act. But in a very real sense the brothers Gibb were undercover street poets, voices of the proletariat whether they intended to be or now. Like the Beatles, almost all of their music is positive and life-affirming although, also like the Beatles, some of their songs suck really badly.

They certainly weren't punks, the Bee Gees, their music was far tougher than it let on. No fools were they; in fact until their end they were always one or two steps ahead of their enemies. We all would do well to heed the words and deeds of the Mighty Brothers Gibb.

But that is merely an aside as I finish this communiqué from the tech fields of Texas. I miss Indianapolis and may someday return there to run for mayor. Time is gradually erasing the hardships I had there, both the ones I endured and the ones I caused.

I hope to get back home someday but a friend of mine, also an Indy expat, told me that Indiana is best viewed through the rear view mirror.

Reluctantly, I agreed.

See you guys soon.

Steve Hammer, July 2014

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