Gary, Indiana isn’t really known for being a nice place.

I didn’t want to go to Gary for ruin porn. I knew of it as a symbol of what happened to company towns when the company goes bust. I’m fascinated by the idea of an era when company executives build great civic works. I’m curious about the American past where people spent their career at one job. Until they didn’t. Until there were no jobs.

I didn’t really think enough about that last part. That there are no jobs in Gary, Indiana. That there have been no jobs in Gary for a long time.

The train still stops in Gary. It’s so close to Chicago, it could be a bedroom community. It’s got the Genesis Convention Center, home to more than one year of the Miss America pageant and pet project of one Donald Trump. There are lots of historic buildings. And an abandoned train station. The train station was a big pull.

From the new train station, Gary looked fine. But it was like a movie set, with just the fronts of buildings cleaned up to look nice so long as you didn’t look too hard. Everything is abandoned in Gary, not just the train station and the Sheraton. You could see clear through all the buildings downtown because they’d been stripped. Not just bashed up for fun, stripped of copper wire and beams. Anything you could get cash for. And this skeleton of downtown was surrounded by acres of new public housing.

For once, we didn’t walk around for long. Taking pictures felt rude, since there was no way to tell myself I was just capturing the landscape or the architecture. We got back on the train, feeling pretty ashamed about the state of America. People moved to Gary to find good jobs, move up, raise families. That promise wasn’t fulfilled. Comparing what we saw in an afternoon to the ridiculous plans of bringing back a city with a convention center or a casino seems like a cruel joke.

 

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