From north to south, it’s our greatest street
The historical marker says that Meridian Street is one of America’s greatest streets. That may be true, but it’s not until you take a trip down Keystone Avenue that you realize just what an amazing street it is.
No, you won’t find millionaires’ mansions on Keystone, but it’s much more representative of this city. On Keystone, you can see the city’s good and its bad sides, its beauty and its ugliness and the areas that need improvement.
Most of my life has been spent in close proximity to Keystone. I grew up a block east of the 4300 block of South Keystone. I worked for many years at the Indianapolis Recorder, a block east of 29th and Keystone. And now, I live just north of Glendale, right off Keystone.
When you drive from 96th Street and Keystone, the northern boundary of Indianapolis, to where the street finally dead-ends near Southport Middle School on the far southern edge of the county, you see just what a wonderfully diverse and interesting city we actually have.
If you make that trip, as I have quite a few times in the past week, you’ll travel through rich areas, business districts, some of the worst slums and some of the nicest middle-class areas. The street has an identity crisis, just like the city itself. Depending on where you are, it’s called Keystone or Rural.
For that, and many other reasons, no other single street seems to represent all demographic subsections quite as accurately as Keystone does.
God is alive and well along Keystone Avenue. There’s the United House of Prayer for All People, just south of 38th Street. A bit farther south is the Good News Ministry. At the corner of Prospect and Rural is King’s House of Prayer, which isn’t shy about proclaiming its beliefs. (A recent sign on the side of the building: “JESUS HATES JACK O’LANTERNS.”)
And then you eventually drive by Rosedale Hills United Methodist Church, where I dutifully attended Sunday School all through my childhood.
Free enterprise is alive and well on Keystone. While chain operations seem to have taken over the city, on Keystone you’ll find any number of mom-and-pop operations, from King’s Ribs to family-run automobile service places to Marty’s Restaurant to Key Cinema.
There’s the Rural Inn at Michigan and Rural, where I used to cash my paychecks from the Recorder and where I’d buy a micro-sized bottle of Jim Beam every week because it was all I could afford.
Much has changed on Keystone over the past 15 years. The drive-in movie theater at Rural and Southeastern is long gone. The Keystone Market at 30th and Keystone, where my Recorder co-workers and I used to walk for lunch, is gone. Mr. D’s grocery store at Keystone and Hanna is now a thrift store.
The 24-hour diner that used to sit at English and Rural is gone too, an empty shell that once served up biscuits and gravy and gallons of hot coffee around the clock.
But Keystone itself lives on, twisting and turning, changing names a few times along the way, but literally serving as a north-south artery carrying the lifeblood of the city, the ordinary folk like you and me.
But my beloved street has a dark side, too. At 17th and Rural is a small memorial of stuffed animals, signs and letters commemorating the life of Alexander Eugene Anthony, a 13-year-old boy who was killed there by a stray bullet last week.
At a protest held at the site, one of the city’s greatest spiritual leaders, Bishop T. Garrott Benjamin of Light of the World Christian Church, said that this city doesn’t deserve a new football stadium while our children are being slaughtered. He was right.
He was also right when he said similar things after an earlier shooting in September and at a thousand other sad occasions. Bishop Benjamin always speaks the truth.
Yep, a trip down Keystone Avenue reveals the truth about this city, not just the version of the truth the mayor or the tourist bureau would have you believe.
Keystone is messy, sometimes battered, sometimes ugly, sometimes full of potholes. But it’s the heart of the city and home of thousands of hard-working men and women who ask nothing more than to just survive each day.
On Sunday, the street looks its best, with families taking walks, young couples walking arm-in-arm and with life seemingly back to normal.
But you can go just a few blocks east or west of Keystone at any number of points and see where our government has failed us. A good friend of mine once lived at 25th and Olney and visiting her was like taking a trip into Beirut.
Until our leaders, and our citizens, get this violence under control, Keystone Avenue and all our other great streets will be in crisis. We should be ashamed of what has happened. More than that, we need to take the streets back from the criminals.
Mayor Peterson and Gov. Daniels should take up residence at 17th and Rural and see for themselves the conditions that led to the death of young Alexander Eugene Anthony.
Prosecutor Carl Brizzi runs endless TV ads saying how tough he is on crime, but I’ve never seen him on Keystone.
We should insist that not one more penny be given away to billionaire corporations, or spent on massive sports arenas, until our children and all of our people are safe.
Our words of sadness should be translated into action and it starts with our leaders.
There’s a war on terror and a war on drugs but our leaders seem to have surrendered on the war on poverty. Until we come to terms with that harsh reality, life along Keystone Avenue, and every other street in the city, will be a continual story of sadness and survival.