Park invites Hoosiers to ‘watch the wheels go ’round’ above the South Split

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- There’s a John Lennon quote embedded in the sidewalk of the entrance to The Idle off Virginia Avenue approaching Fountain Square.

“Sitting here watching the wheels go 'round and 'round.”

Lennon’s lyrics epitomize the mindset of anyone who walks down the path of The Idle, a pocket park on a bluff wedged in between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-65 approaching the South Split near downtown Indianapolis to overlook the heart of the Crossroads of America that beats to the monotonous rhythm of passing traffic.

“I think it's special because people move really fast through life in the city, and while all the traffic’s moving really quickly here, I like to sit and kind of wonder where everybody’s going,” said Christina Jordan who came from Boulder, Colorado, to sit in The Idle and marvel at the motorists hurrying hither and yon. “Too many people just don’t take a moment and look at what’s going on around you, and even though it's only just traffic, if you close your eyes you can kind of pretend that it’s the ocean and you can draw some mountains in your head behind there.

“It's our version of the ocean in the oceanless Midwest.”

Tom Battista, owner of Bluebeard on Virginia Avenue, knows the road after spending decades on it as stage manager for Jimmy Buffett.

Battista envisioned what the park could be, launched a $40,000 fundraising campaign through Patronicity and over the course of five years, rounded up volunteers to build it and petitioned the federal government to set aside some land to sit and watch traffic from a safe distance.

Driving by on the South Split, you can see two rows of orange seats, rescued from the old Bush Stadium, below a partial canopy to block the sun, anchored by gabions, wirework containers filled with building debris to symbolize the neighborhoods in the Holy Rosary and Fletcher Place and Fountain Square neighborhoods that were destroyed to build the freeway interchange.

Often, drivers will see people in the park watching them maneuver the exit and merge lanes below.

“All these cars going by are probably looking up here going, ‘Wonder what those guys are doing up there right now?’” said Ray Bridges of Greenwood, making his first visit to The Idle. “Gives them just a second to pause and see the seats and see maybe someone sitting up here and thinking, ‘Well, that’s kind of different.’

“It’s a little different, but a little different is okay.”

Park goers agree that sitting on the side of a highway watching traffic go by is an acquired taste but a uniquely Indianapolis form of recreational amusement.

“You probably wouldn’t build it in a place where you have mountains and beaches just because people are going to go to the mountains and beaches,” said Jordan. “There’s some people who kind of rag on the Midwest but people here are really good and I love the Midwest and I think that’s why I came back to this park because it kind of brings the Midwest together with the crossroads.”

“We’ve got Mount Highway,” said Bridges as he swept an arm across the landscape. “We are the Crossroads of America. Right there goes south to the rest of the country. Right there goes west to the country. Right up there goes east to the rest of the country so this is really the heart of the nation right here.

“How many places in the country have stadium seats in the middle of a highway?”

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