Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two Indianapolis Traditions Turn 25, Reflect City’s History

Tackling The Tough Issues

A quarter of a century ago, 1990, my long time dream of starting an alternative news weekly for Indianapolis came true. It was also a passion of another guy, Larry Rainey. I didn’t know him. My good friend, Teri Thompson Crane, who knew of our shared interest put the two of us together.  We visited others who knew something about such an undertaking, content, production costs, marketing, format, design and distribution,  He and I worked diligently as editor and publisher, respectively, to create NUVO Newsweekly, a tabloid weekly that would interrupt the unchallenged dominance of the famously conservative and jointly owned Indianapolis Star & News.
Cutting-Edge Style

As it is with any start-from-scratch publication, the launch of NUVO was rough and wasn’t without its difficulties and soon after, its casualties. Months later, amidst considerable turmoil, Kevin McKinney, who had critical access to funding in the early stages, became publisher and eventually editor as well. He and his staff have given Indianapolis an important alternative voice for 25 years — and counting. Given the entrenched competition and rapidly changing media technology, this couldn’t have been an easy task.  

NUVO is celebrating this unquestionable success this month.  The full story of its birth is worth telling, and I expect to provide perspective on those very early days at some point. But, for now, an unqualified happy anniversary to NUVO!

The Early Shanahans
As NUVO emerged in 1990, so did the Stone Veil. I was honored to have the first in a series of my private eye mysteries set in Indianapolis published by St. Martin’s Press. The book even had the cautious blessing of The New York Times: “The pragmatic investigator makes a good first impression,” it said.  Twenty-five years and eleven Shanahan mysteries later, I can also celebrate its quarter-century anniversary with the release of the series’ last novel  Killing Frost.

Writing the Shanahan mystery novels has strengthened the link I have with the city of my birth.  I grew up on the city’s Eastside and spent many of my adult years working downtown and living in Butler Tarkington and Broad Ripple. I also lived briefly in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Bloomington.  I worked at Merchants National Bank travelling to small town banks all over the state. I worked at Simon during the rebirth of downtown Indianapolis’ Circle Centre Mall project and later still, in state government during the Bayh-O’Bannon administration.  What I observed and experienced in my work and in my personal life became part — ‘grist for the mill” – of Shanahan’s world. The mysteries, taken retrospectively, reflect the history, or at least the feeling of both Indianapolis and Indiana over 25 years as much, I think, as the newspaper I helped bring to life.  Both chronicle the city’s history and — to a greater or lesser extent — are part of it.

I hadn’t thought of the historical aspect when I first discovered that the 25th birthdays of NUVO and the mystery series aligned, but it is clear to me that my connection to the city was at the heart of both undertakings, not to mention that for many of us the cities and towns of our youth are deeply part of who we are no matter where we are.

The Last of the Shanahans
I’ve since moved to San Francisco, writing books set here as well as in Indianapolis. But as I rummage through old photographs, the earliest issues of NUVO and in revisiting my early Shanahan books to prepare them for digitalization, I realize how tethered I am to the people and places in and around the city of my birth.

If the oldest memories die last, then most of mine will be in Indianapolis: Summers at the pool at Ellenberger Park. Cheap matinees at the Emerson Theater.  Being a soda jerk at Laughner’s Steer-In, now Harold’s Steer-In. Crab apples and switches from the tree that bore them. My grandmother’s peonies in May, and the smell of hot starch when she ironed. Riverside amusement park, where water fountains were labeled “ white” and “colored.” My grandfather’s lemonade. Winter nights on my newspaper route, delivering what would be a future rival, the Indianapolis News – Blue Streak Edition. Two little chicks my brother and I got during a supermarket Easter promotion grew up to be large, intimidating roosters that refused to let my mother into her own backyard. It was downtown on Saturday afternoons.  I remember lying about my age and sneaking into the Fox Theater to see the sad, tail end of burlesque, in this case a live show interrupted in the middle by a grainy film, Nudist Colony On The Moon. Other memories: My first visit to the Betty K Club.  My apartment at the Ambassador, where I was introduced to Purple Haze — not the Jimi Hendrix classic, but heroin laced LSD.  My little studio was behind the city’s grand, Central Library, where, in the stacks, I received my real literary education, and a place I still revere as hallowed ground.

There was much more to follow, of course – the Army for one and the whole San Francisco experience for another.  But no matter where we end up, we take with us in one form or another that which moved us  — family, friends, lovers, co-workers, experiences, what we’ve said, what we’ve done and, for better or worse, how we’ve treated others. Roads taken, and so many not taken. 

Twenty-five years ago. Good luck NUVO. Farewell Shanahan. Thank you Indy.


Teri-on-the-sandbar said...

I managed a tear at the mention of Ellenberger and the memories of Simon. You make me proud to have put together the unlikely combo of Tierney & Rainey, but look what it generated! I wish you 25 more years of Shanahan and Indy another 25 of NUVO Much love to you!

MereOnceMoore said...

Thank you, Ron. Well said.
Indy needed a little shake-up and I'm so glad it was you. It was Harold's Steer when I illegally bought cigarettes out of the machine. The last cigarette machine on the East side.

Ronald Tierney said...

Thanks Teri from one Eastside kid to another. I think NUVO will be increasingly dependent on its web site. A blog is as far as i can go.

Ronald Tierney said...

I need verification, but I remember going to the Steer-In corner way before any of the Steer-Ins. It ws drive in, the min building of which looked like it was made of ice. It might have been called The North Pole. I also worked at the Laughner's cafeteria across the street, and my grandmother lived 3 blocks away. Hope all is well in your wintery spot.

scottocs said...

Damn fine milestones, Mr. T, I've always been a fan. From Simon days & Nuvo launch to Deets & crew, Frisco novels & more, can't wait to see where your adventures take you next. Cheers my friend!

scottocs said...

P.S. You saw Nudist Colony on the Moon? Lucky dog.

Ronald Tierney said...


Thanks. And re: NUVO. Thanks for the great logo and publication design. Perfect. As far as Nudist Colony on the Moon — lots of volleyball!