This weekend, the Chicago Tribune had an article that mentioned the current economic status of Muncie, IN. I had spent a good deal of the 90s attending school there at Ball State. It is a odd mix of a college town and a blue-collar town, where the college kids try to avoid the locals, and the locals blame everything bad on the school. Last summer Nathan and I made a quick drive-thru, and took a look around where I had spent so many years. I felt like my memories had to be wrong, that things weren’t this run-down and pitiful when I had attended school. It turns out I was probably correct, and things had gone down considerably since I had moved on. It reminded me of watching ‘Roger and Me’, Muncie was rapidly turning in to Flint, MI.
Muncie was actually a sizeable town in comparison to where I had grown up. Aside from a couple of trips to visit my friend Travis in Lafayette, I hadn’t spent any real time in a town that had actual sidewalks. I spend at least a two years of my Munice life walking around late at night on those sidewalks trying to make sense of things. I had worked at a local restaurant for nearly four years so I had a decent amount of interaction with the locals, and they really didn’t like the school or the types of folks that the school brought in.
Because of it’s ‘normalicy’ for lack of a better word, Muncie was the subject of a sociological study in the late 1920’s, due to how ‘average’ the population was. Being the home of Ball canning jars has not helped it keep up with the economic times, and the closing of the Delco plant, as well as a transmission plant that did work for GM have pretty much closed the doors on the town. These factory jobs that paid $25/hr are being replaced with Wal-Mart jobs that pay $9/hr. It was reported that the number of public school students on the free lunch program is now around 51%, with that number expected to grow fairly rapidly with one in four people living in poverty.
There was a point in my when I nearly ended up a permanent resident. Everything I had seemingly wanted was there; an available music studio where I could work for 80 hrs/week, a coffee shop, a decent library, and some small degree of culture with free concerts at the school. Luckily, I made some decisions that I had doubted at the time, but have all turned out for the best. I had an opportunity to do my PhD there, but at that point I had decided that I really needed to go somewhere else for school. It’s quite likely that I had the blinders of youth on when I lived there. It didn’t matter that I was getting by on $430/mo and staying in a crappy apartment with no air-conditioning, and barely workable heating. I was doing what I wanted to do, and the environment was inconsequential.
It’s sad to see something from my youth fall apart. It makes me doubt the very memories that make up that time period. This was the time where I think I discovered who I really was, and what I was capable of doing. I’m not sure I would have ever came as far as I have without getting out of my hometown and growing up on my own.