A Sad Place that No One Cares About

It rained all day on June 4th. The sky was a dull gray, as was the landscape. We walked past the decayed shells of former industrial plants. The heavy industry that had not been abandoned belonged to oil companies, mostly BP. Much of the housing had been abandoned and was boarded up. The air smelled foul. It felt like a sad place that no one cared about.
I have walked in impoverished places but I have never walked in places that felt this devastated. As we left Illinois and entered Indiana, we walked by abandoned, toxic industrial areas that get used up and forgotten. The rain came down steadily and it seems that my camera does not appreciate a good shower so it stopped functioning. As a result, there are very few photographs from this day of walking.
Our lunch break was at a college, and it was sponsored by the Libertarian Party of that part of Indiana. Among our hosts were Buddy Bell’s parents. They made sure that we had a good meal, that our wet clothes were put into a dryer, and that we got pairs of fresh socks. Brian Terrell, Maya Evans, and Kathy Kelly spoke about the effects of drones on the civilian populations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. This led to some spirited discussion about U.S. foreign policy and military policy.

Plans for a vacated building…

Signs of times now gone.

Ceylon shelters Maya from the rain.

Ceylon and Maya in their wet, wet world.

After lunch, we returned to the wet world outside, which seemed to be slightly less wet. We walked through Whiting and on roads without shoulders, where we had to walk on sharp wet gravel. It was a challenging walk. It didn’t feel too good. After a while of walking in this land of decayed industry, we entered a town called Marktown. At a town park, we met a man named Thomas. He is part of a group called “Save Marktown.”
Thomas told us about how people in Marktown feel besieged by Big Oil, especially by BP, which owns a large amount of land. Their land is surrounded by tall fences and large no-trespassing signs with messages threatening dire consequences for violations. According to an April 18, 2013, article in The Chicago Tribune, BP wants to buy Marktown, raze all of the houses and other structures, and turn all of the land into a giant parking lot. Thomas described Marktown as a closely knit and walkable community. He said that people in Marktown felt that the rest of the world has abandoned them. They feel that environmental regulations have not helped them. “There is a lot of environmental degradation in Indiana,” Thomas said. Thomas said that the Save Marktown group will try to use historic preservation rules as a way to save their community from what Thomas described the “massive no-good project” (a pipeline, but not the Keystone pipeline, to carry dirty tar sands oil from somewhere in Canada). Please like “Save Marktown” on Facebook. Marktown needs your support.

A library in Gary.

A man tends to a garden.

One of many forgotten and broken down buildings, with an overgrown and neglected lawn.

Baseball stadium and a reminder of the years when the domestic steel industry gave people lifelong employment.

After leaving Marktown, we walked along the highway. After a while, we discovered a police car from the Gary, Indiana, police department driving slowly on the other side of the road. We wondered what the police officer was doing. After a while, I figured out that he was slowing down the traffic by his presence. At the end of the day’s walk, we left the highway and so did the police car. We were headed to vehicles to take us back to Chicago to spend another night with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. A few people, including me, went to talk with the police officer. I thanked him for being there to help us out. He smiled broadly and said, “You’re welcome.”
The next day, we began our walk in Gary, Indiana. All I knew about Gary was the song about Gary from “The Music Man.” The musical, however, was set in River City, Iowa, and it features such delightful songs as “76 Trombones,” “The Sadder But Wiser Girl,” “Goodnight My Someone,” and “Marian the Librarian.” The main characters are Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian. Harold Hill is a con artist who plans on selling loads of unnecessary musical instruments in River City. He claims to be a graduate of the Gary Conservatory, class of ’05 (as in 1905).
The musical is a romantic comedy and, as a comedy, it contains a happy ending with a couple (Harold and Marian) joyfully in love.
In real life, where is the happy ending for Marktown or for Gary, Indiana?
No, I never did find the Gary Conservatory. As we were walking on our third day (June 6th), we found a very economically depressed city. All of the glory that Gary had was in the past. We walked past closed and boarded up businesses, including strip clubs. The buildings were decayed but they looked as if, in the past, they were beautiful and could still be restored, if only there were the money.
Fortunately, the rain of the previous day had stopped.

From left: Elijah, Alice, and Senji.

The people whom we encountered in Gary were friendly and were curious about our cause. One young man, Elijah, picked up a sign and walked with us. He told us that he is from Chicago and has lived in Gary for three months. He works as a taxi driver and has three children under the age of five.
Officers from the Gary police department escorted us through the city. At one point, we were walking down a highway, and the police closed off an entire lane of traffic for us. We walked through downtown Gary and then out of the city and into the Indiana Dunes National Park, where we had our lunch.
At this point, the police left us, having escorted us through Gary.
“Thank you,” we told the police officers.
“It was fun,” said one of the police officers. 

We continued walking through the forest, stopping to take pictures of flowers and turtles. It felt good to be back in nature. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the urban decay of the past few days. When we told those who asked, “What is a drone?” about the drones and their costs, both in terms of money and human lives, they said that we didn’t need to spend all of that money on the drones. The money could be well spent right here. Right here, where the decay is. Right here, where the jobs have fled. Right here, where people live in sad places that no one cares about.

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