Green Light to Go Out of Town

“Did you want to take a stand… or was it just an inevitability, ‘Man, we can’t stay here any longer?'”

Transcript for Green Light to Go Out of Town

It didn’t take a lot of, “Let’s sit down and have a Ward Cleaver moment with Beaver, you know, and tell him what’s going on in our neighborhood.” We didn’t need that. I mean, we were all kind of wise and hip to what’s going on. We knew it.

So, we left in 1979, I’m guessing, for Portage. And I kept going to school in Gary. I drove my motorcycle into Gary every day, which in hindsight, I’m thinking, “What am I doing?” But I didn’t think twice about it. I proudly rode my motorcycle from Portage to Gary every day to go to school, that kind of thing. So, that’s when I left Gary. I was part of the white flight.

I would love to go back and interview my parents, so to speak, what they thought, especially my dad. What was he thinking? He passed away almost thirty years ago. But I would love to ask them those questions now as an adult, “Did you want to take a stand? Did you want to stay there and go, ‘We’re going to stay here and, you know, we’re going to hold this off, we’re going to be fine, and we’re going to show people everything is going to be fine here!’” That kind of stuff? Or was it just an inevitability that washed over him going, “Man, we just can’t stay here any longer. I’m tired of either locking my doors three times, or worrying about my daughter, or my kids.”

There was a specific rape that I remember that happened of a girl, and a murder. Her name was Brenda Banaski, and if you say, I think, that name (I think I have her name right), if you say that name to anybody who lived in Miller back then, they’d go, “Oh, wow, yeah, Brenda Banaski.” But it was a bell for everyone, especially a lot of the white community. Like, “Oh, man, this is not the same. We’re not the same anymore.” And then other crimes happening just in our neighborhood, and double-locking and triple-locking doors, you know, which I do, you know—I would lock the door of this office right now if you let me. Who knows? “Click.” You never know. That’s part of the upbringing.

We were never vandalized or criminalized—our family, I don’t think, in Gary that I can recall, so I don’t think it was one specific, traumatic event that did it. I think it was just a cumulative effect around us, and you kind of—it was like—I hate to say like, “Being in a war zone,” because it’s such a stereotype for Gary, but it’s like when you’re in a war and you hear things dropping around you. A bomb: “Boom. Boom. Boom.” “We better get out of here.” So, it wasn’t anything personal to us. And matter of fact, after we left Gary and moved to Portage, I remember my dad’s car that he loved—it was called a Riviera, I think it was—it got stolen in Portage, and I thought that was the funniest thing. “We move to Portage, and we lose our car already. What the hell are we doing, moving to Portage? Should’ve stayed in Gary. Much safer there.”

Sure, I have mixed feelings. Which I love. I love mixed feelings. One of my favorite things to have in the world is mixed feelings. Well, kind of like, shame of being just another white family that fled a urban city, so to speak, like so many thousands—tens of thousands—of others. But we didn’t do it like, out of, I don’t think, anger. A lot of people who were raised especially in the ‘40s and the ‘50s, and they think that was their golden moment in life, and the city of Gary was a magical, industrial, miracle city—they were mad. Mad. Angry. And they’re still mad. I’ve written a book called Lost Gary, and I’ve talked to people at presentations, and they’re still mad. Decades later, they were like, “kicked out”—they were “forced to leave” their city, is how they view it. I don’t think we had that. Our family did not have that kind of anger and animosity. We just kind of did the smartest thing. We’re just, you know, surviving. Middle-class existence. Kevin Arnold moved from Gary to Portage. It wasn’t a big thought process. It was like, “My daughter could be in danger here. My kids can get better education elsewhere. We’re going to move on. I’m closer to work.” They worked in the Bethlehem Steel at the time, so it was even a closer commute for them. Everything just seemed like a green light to go out of town.

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