Thursday, July 12, 2012

Painted Rainbow Bridge

Broad Ripple is a special place. Its inhabitants like to think that they were into the quirky and oddball before it was cool, and they're probably right. Case in point is the now iconic Rainbow Bridge, passing over White River (itself a local landmark that winds through the bulk of Central Indiana) and leading into the heart of Broad Ripple Village, one of Indiapolis' strangest and most diverse neighborhoods, famed for its art, cuisine and vibrant local culture.

At the footsteps of the quaint Fire Station #39 – the oldest firehouse still in use by the city of Indianapolis – the Rainbow Bridge once separated the surrounding area from Broad Ripple proper, and crossing it was a sign that you were entering a place of wonder, diversity, and bold décor. A place where all were welcome.

Eventually Broad Ripple grew beyond the bounds of the White River and the bridge is now more at the center of the village than an entry to it. But that hasn't stopped its legacy. In fact, it is now more important than ever and acts as a de facto meeting ground for local events, protests, art fairs, parades, night time revelers and lovers.

The bridge is old, and even decrepit by some standards, but the paint itself never seems to wear out, painted regularly by the community. Such upkeep is necessary because, not unlike Broad Ripple Village itself, the bridge attracts free spirits and hoodlums alike, many of whom are looking to make their mark in one way or another. Graffiti used to "personalize" the bridge in one's name is common, and jumping off of it at midnight into White River even more so – the colder the weather, the better. In fact, local celebrity and Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAffee was arrested for public intoxication after diving into the river.

Rainbow Bridge has come to mean a lot to the citizens of Indianapolis, for better or for worse, and the endorsement of its flamboyant decoration by local administrators shows no sign of weakening – but even if it did, the community would find a way to keep things the way they like them. They always have.