Stuck in the middle with you

Friday, April 1, 2011

So how is it that Indiana invariably seems to end up in the middle of things? Literally and figuratively ...

Bisected by the National Road. Crisscrossed by I-70, I-74 and I-65. Confused by the future of the ever-popular I-69.

Crossroads of America. Middle of nowhere. Center of attention.

For a long time now I have subscribed to a theory that among our various Greencastle/Putnam County/DePauw University connections, we could almost always find a local link to a major story. Kind of like the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon mind game in newsprint form.

Earthquake in Indiana? Epicenter's in Roachdale, of course. Vice presidential choice is an unknown Indiana senator? Yep, and Dan Quayle is a DePauw grad. American hostages held in Iran for 444 days? Of course one of them is a DPU graduate.

Take the Final Four. We were smack in the middle of it last year when the best-finals-ever were in Indianapolis. And again this year with Butler bearing the Indiana standard down to Houston. Butler coach Brad Stevens is a DePauw grad and his dad Mark is a physician who lives in Greencastle and has privileges at Putnam County Hospital.

But jumping into the middle of something else, there is a statistic called the Center of Population. And for much of the 20th century, it was an Indiana fixture.

Indiana was the mean center of the nation's population (aka, the point at which an imaginary map of the U.S. would balance perfectly if identical weights were placed on either side and each resident weighed exactly the same).

That Center of Population gravitated from 20 miles east of Columbus in 1890 to Bloomington in 1910 to Spencer and Owen County (even spawning the Spencer High School nickname "Cops" for Center of Population) in 1920. In 1930 it moved to three miles northeast of Linton in Greene County, and in 1940 to two miles southeast of Carlisle in Sullivan County.

The Center of Population then fled the state for Illinois and Missouri, taking up residence in 2010 near the tiny town of Plato in Texas County, Mo.

Just as I was beginning to mourn the loss of our dear old COP status comes word that Indiana is now home to something equally centered -- the median U.S. population center. The U.S. Census Bureau says the median population of our 309 million Americans is located in -- wait for it ... an Indiana cornfield.

The median center means that if the nation's population were divided into quadrants with one line running north and south and another east and west with equal numbers of people in each section, the crosshairs of that intersection would be in the middle of a cornfield near Petersburg in Pike County of southwestern Indiana.

More than corn in Indiana indeed.

So of course when television set out to do another sitcom in a "fly-over state," they chose Indiana.

And not only did ABC blatantly title it "The Middle," they set it in the fictional town of Orson. If you watched some of the early 2009 episodes that began with a glimpse of an Indiana map, you would have seen that Orson is suspiciously centered in what looks -- from a Rand McNally point of view -- to be Putnam County. Greencastle even. Newer episodes now open with the title card showing a two-lane blacktopped road framed by farm fields on either side.

While I find "The Middle" quite entertaining and usually worth a couple of laughs each Wednesday, the rest of my family, not so much. They feel as though the sitcom is making fun of Hoosiers and mocking our way of doing things.

But you've gotta love that the sitcom family's last name is Heck (as in "What the?"). And that Brick, the youngest boy in "The Middle," ends each conversation by repeating the last word in a whisper. (Whisper!).

Symbolically, the softer he speaks, the more he's the center of attention. How perfectly Hoosier.