“South Bend: an Expose”

I’m walking into the Hilton Double Tree in downtown South Bend, which stands across from the lot that used to hold the College Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame building still sits, completely empty for the past 11 or so years, on a 30,000-square-foot lot that also features a concrete football field painted with green turf and white lines.

I try to open the doors of the Double Tree, in order to enter and apply for a kitchen job. It’s three or so in the afternoon on a Monday. The doors stick together as I’m trying to open them and it takes about 30 pounds of force to get them open. I walk into the giant, lavish lobby, in which the ceiling is like 10 stories high or so and adorned with copious windows, and make my way over to the bar, which flanks the kitchen and serves fare cooked there. I pass a couple of cheerful or innocuous people, get up to the bar and notice there’s no one there. I start making my way toward the kitchen, still not seeing or hearing a single person. There’s a bathroom there and I do in to relieve myself. One of the dispensers is out of soap. I walk out, still not seeing or hearing anybody, and I start to walk into the kitchen. South Bend is very violent, so I decide not to go all the way in (actually I once heard a story about the manager of this very kitchen trying to lance this dude I worked with with a pizza cutter, right on the job). I walk back out toward the bar, gaze at a bunch of bottled beer in a little cooler, and think, this could probably all be mine, if I wanted.

It’s been another year in South Bend: of skimpier-than-ever uniforms at Hooters, of greater and greater prevalence and even intricacy of yoga pants (they now make bell bottom yoga pants, for your viewing pleasure), of homicidal glares from random dudes and of spending a lot of time alone, on my computer, blogging and listening to music, two of my typical practices. Car washes and fitness centers are spreading like wild fires, disabling any scabs who would attempt to say there’s completely no commerce here.

The commerce at the downtown hotels, though, seems perhaps a little slow, which is ironic since the Marriott just built a new multi-story hotel right next to the Hilton (which is especially weird since the Hilton used to be a Marriott in itself). In one quest for night life over the summer on a Saturday night I walked past McCormick’s and Cool Runnings on Michigan St., right across from the Hilton’s back side, a block which is supposed to be unmistakably the epicenter for local music, these days. There was not a single performance going on in either one and on my way there I’d passed the Howard Park Public House, where a band was packing up its gear at 10 o’clock at night.

Before Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s initiative of doling funding to establishments to set up downtown, there stood a bar called Blarney Stone, which was a sports bar which also made a regular practice of housing live music. I also remember hearing of DJ sets at the State Theater, something that hasn’t transpired since Buttigieg initially took office.

Since 2016, when downtown was fused with a bunch of government-funded businesses, places like Blarney Stone and Finnie’s sports bar have gone under, leaving a drove of new-fangled, faceless bars and restaurants whose only purpose seems to be to cater to the pretentious wannabe-Bohemians who are dense enough to consider South Bend a “cool city,” or whatever. The Morris Performing Arts Center still stands one block from McCormick’s, a staggering and almost unbelievable bastion of proof that, even in a city this size, it’s possible to forge a staunch, defiantly cataclysmic separation between socioeconomic classes. Tickets for these events typically sell for over $40 and the shows they hold are galaxies away from anything the average working-class or blue-collar individual would want to view — musicals and other Broadway-minded events, typically. I mean, I have a liberal arts degree and I can’t even stand that dross. South Bend Brew Werks has been known to house live music here and there but it’s nothing on a consistent basis. (Please let me add that their nauseating shtick of “donating to local charities” smacks of pecuniary subterfuge, to put it very lightly.) The most consistent venue for live music in South Bend is probably Simeri’s Old Town Tap, which sits about a mile and a half southwest of downtown.

As far as the public schools go, there was a stabbing incident at my old school, John Adams, recently, an event the likes of which I remember nothing from when I was there. In one case, during Mayor Pete’s tenure, a certain school ran out of food for the day, and the mayor did not even issue a single statement to the public regarding the incident, let alone issue an apology. That’s a matter of fund allocation, right? How is that not the mayor’s responsibiity. Buttigieg went to St. Joseph High for his adolescent schooling and certainly behaved, while mayor, like somebody with no interest in the public schools. I heard another tale, from my boss at Bob’s 19th Hole, about a student transferring out of South Bend public schools and seeing his self-esteem pretty much skyrocket, as a result.

We’ve just had a festival where metal detectors were required for entry, the two-day “Fusion Fest.” I would have gone but I don’t have any camouflaged clothing. Violence, spite and antipathy are through the roof downtown, as was corroborated by this local  comedian I used to be friends with on Facebook, who gave a tale of a homeless dude decapitating a goose in Howard Park. (Now our comedy club, The Drop, is closed, by the way, so I’m not sure where or if she’s still doing her routine, which included, I have to say, wanting to date an epileptic because “The sex would be incredible”).

Mayor Pete did oversee the addition of the South Bend Cubs, which I suppose is a positive in a certain sense. But South Bend has always had a minor league baseball team, in that same spot, since my parents moved me here in 1990, and there are no sports bars surrounding the stadium or establishments which seem in any way to get clientele runoff from the games, which is certainly troubling. Here is hoping that in the coming years we can place a greater emphasis on the schools and in giving locals a voice in what transpires in the realms of downtown nightlife. As it stands, in this downtown revampment project, South Bend is trying to attract people to what is basically a phantom entity.

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