Our first full day of Staycation began bright and early. Mary had signed us up to participate in a volunteer project - cleaning up the planter beds along Massachusetts Avenue. "Mass Ave" runs Northeast out of downtown Indy, and is lined with shops, galleries, restaurants and bars. (Also the Three Dog Bakery, Beans' favorite store.)
The planter bed cleanup is an annual event, sponsored by Indianapolis Downtown Inc.
At 8:00am we met the other volunteers at the park adjacent to Starbucks and Elements, where Mass Ave and Alabama intersect. Shovels and rakes were neatly stacked at one end of the park, along with a row of wheelbarrows and a box of cotton work gloves - all those things that urban apartment dwellers don't own.
We enjoyed a bagel and cup of coffee with the other volunteers while we waited for instruction. We didn't have to wait long. Shortly before 8:30, a young woman waved her arm in the air and shouted "Anybody who's ready to work, follow me!" We joined a group of 10 or 12 people and got our orders - grab a shovel or rake, a pair of gloves, a garbage bag and head out. New perennials had been laid in the beds where they should be planted. Flats of petunias were also set at each bed, to be used as a border along the curb.
We started with the planter bed right outside Starbucks. Soon we were joined by our neighbors, Ann and Alan, and several other people. It took us about an hour to do the first bed, our work punctuated by good-natured banter and a lot of laughter. After the plants were in, we hauled mulch from a big pile across the street. The end result looked pretty good.
With one bed done, we moved north along Mass Ave, past other groups at work, til we found another bed that had not been done. Our group expanded as more volunteers arrived, and we could look up and down Mass Ave and see groups working at planters all along the street.
A highlight of the morning, besides the fun of getting our hands dirty and doing some gardening, was meeting Gus. Gus was a young African-American man, in his mid-30's, who worked with us on both beds, and heard us comment about something new we had seen when we first moved to Indiana. When we were done for the day, he walked along Mass Ave with us and asked how long we had been in Indiana. When we told him we'd lived here about 10 years, he commented that at the same time we were moving to Indiana from Tennessee, he was moving here from Zimbabwe.
Gus and his wife had moved to the US from Zimbabwe in 2000. They came with very little money and a TV-fueled vision of an easy life in the States. What they found here was a much harder life than they imagined, but one that has been both challenging and successful. Gus got his MBA from the University of Indianapolis and he and his wife have recently started a laundry business. He talked about the differences in culture between Zimbabwe and the US. The biggest difference, he said, was that people in the US are persistent. His favorite American phrase was "Failure is not an option" - an idea that he and his wife repeated to themselves many times as they launched their new business.
We enjoyed a buffet lunch of cold cuts and pizza at picnic tables in the Rathskellar's Biergarten. Gus introduced us to two young women, also from Zimbabwe. We compared notes on good places to eat cheap in Indy. One of the women, Amanda, said she loved to eat "street food" wherever she traveled. She told us about a guy here who sells Mexican food out of the back of his car, late at night, near 38th St. and High School Rd. She also told us where to find the best fish tacos - a small hole-in-the-wall place on New York St. at State Avenue. We'll be checking that out later in the Staycation.