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Steve Hammer: Hoosier turned Texan

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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 NUVO.net, 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.

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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