John Carlson: Passing Cars, Passing Time

Sitting at the little interstate park called The Idle is more than a passing fancy. Photo by: Katie CarlsonSitting at the little interstate park called The Idle is more than a passing fancy. Photo by: Katie Carlson

By John Carlson—

There are certain beliefs and mannerisms most residents of Central Indiana are thought to share.

We’re all Hoosiers. Most of us are devotees of Peyton Manning, high school basketball and breaded tenderloins. Plus, we believe when we die, we’ll be welcomed to heaven by angelic hosts singing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” while handing us free 16-inch Pizza King Royal Feast pizzas for all of eternity.

In keeping with that belief, we’re obviously not the sort of highfalutin snobs who think some patron saint of Indy steakhouses named Elmo will be plying us with heavenly T-bones. No, we’re plain and simple folk with plain and simple taste.

That’s why when Nancy and I visited our daughter Katie and her boyfriend Eli down in Indianapolis recently, we enjoyed going to The Idle.

“The what?” you may ask.

OK, The Idle might not ring a bell by name, but chances are you’ve heard of it, and probably even driven past it. Having been featured a year or so ago on a segment of “CBS Sunday Morning,” it’s a pocket park incorporating a small section of bright orange stadium seats. These seats are positioned on a bluff near Virginia Avenue’s exit, overlooking the spot where I-65 splits south toward Louisville as I-70 splits west toward St. Louis.

What you do is go to The Idle, take a seat and … watch.

More specifically, you watch the interstate traffic going past.

Now in picturing that, even the least jaded of us likely imagines a snarky response such as, “You mean, just in case you can’t find any paint to watch drying?”

Heh-heh. Yeah.

But this particular evening as cars, semis and Harley-Davidsons came whooshing past, we four gazed enthralled (well, maybe not exactly enthralled …) while eating gourmet ice cream from paper cups. Maybe eight other plain and simple Hoosiers sat contentedly watching from the rows behind us, and they didn’t even have any ice cream.

It seemed a fine evening.

In case you had stumbled onto this place and wondered, “Why am I here?” a handy sign informed you. It read, “This is a place to be idle. To gather with friends. Or to be alone. To stare at the sky. Or to study the ground. To consider your thoughts. Or to clear your head. This is a place for humans to do what humans do. Within reason, of course. An urban gathering place.”

Seemed reasonable enough …

In truth, though, there was no way you could simply stumble upon The Idle. For one thing, its entrance was clearly marked by the aforementioned sign. For another thing, getting there required descending a winding gravel pathway snaking through a jungle of native vegetation en route to your destination.

The brainchild of entrepreneur Tom Battista, he first envisioned this unique little park back in 2013, seeing it as a laid-back place for friends from Fountain Square, Fletcher Place, Holy Rosary and Bates-Hendricks to gather. This was because the interstates had physically separated their once contiguous neighborhoods.

One needn’t sit long to understand this park was fully up to the task, lending itself to renewing acquaintances. Predictably, the endless curving traffic soon fizzled out as a topic of conversation. Instead, those orange seats, having been rescued from the old Bush Stadium, invited their occupants to chat about old times, new times, babies’ arrivals, other folks’ departures and similar matters of life and death.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but compare it to some of the lovely outdoor locales we in Delaware County are blessed to enjoy.

Minnetrista’s environs stand out in my mind as being among the most beautiful of natural sites, though for me they are mostly memories. Three too many spinal surgeries have limited my ability to prance through its fields like some guy in a Pepto-Bismol commercial who’s finally experiencing indigestion relief.

Cardinal Greenway? OK, I have so many friends who swear by its benefits, I know it’s wonderful. Here again, it’s pretty much off limits for me at the moment. However, I fully intend to become a regular user once it’s cleared for go-karts, which should happen not too many decades after city chickens finally win approval.

Then there’s Prairie Creek Lake, an obvious natural jewel. I will tell you this up front. Were I forced to choose between vacationing for a week watching bald eagles soar over Prairie Creek Lake, or watching Subarus, Chevys and Peterbilts motoring past The Idle, I would choose the lake every time.

The Idle emanates its own joy, though.

I walked to it just fine, for one thing, saving Nancy the hassle of hauling my butt slung over her shoulders. Furthermore, once down there, the uniqueness of the view and the experience naturally put a smile on one’s face.

It also seemed obvious that this place said something cool about the Hoosier mentality and spirit. Sure, in many respects we’re set in our ways. But we’re not so conventional we can’t embrace a funky new opportunity for relaxation when it’s presented, even if it did take us two hundred years to approve Sunday beer sales.

So if you’re a Hoosier who thinks the idea of sitting between two interstates watching traffic go past is a weird way to kill time, well … one could argue so is eating sandwiches made from tenderloins pounded a foot wider than your mouth stretches.

Besides, what the heck isn’t weird these days?



John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

About Beasley & Gilkison

We listen, analyze your unique situation, and prepare a course of action that best fits your needs. Contact one of our attorneys to schedule a consultation, or for more information, call 765-289-0661 or visit our Facebook page or website at






A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.