Updated: November 17, 2011 8:48AM
I’m Rich J.
I’m a Region Rat.
Have been all my life.
I’m not looking to change and don’t want anyone’s sympathy.
As most of us are, I’m a proud Region Rat.
There’s something special about this corner of the state.
You won’t find what we have here anywhere else in Indiana, or the country for that matter.
It’s a select club. If you’re not born a Region Rat, you’ll never be one. There’s no application process.
A Region Rat represents all that is good about this area. It’s not somethng to be ashamed of as some are now suggesting.
Being a Region Rat is all about steel and oil and carrying a union card after being accepted into a building trade.
Being a Region Rat is a badge of honor. It’s a mark of toughness and spirit and belonging.
It’s about everyone getting paid on a Friday and going out to paint the town, knowing there are no rules.
It’s about rough-and-tumble politics and burying the hatchet after the votes are counted.
It’s about living in the melting pot of the world and sharing one another’s culture. It’s about eating pierogi, baklava, calamari and blood soup.
It’s about barbecued lamb on Saturday afternoons in local taverns.
It’s all about commitment and embracing a special way of life in a special place.
We live in the shadows of some of the greatest sand dunes in the world and eat the best lake perch known to man.
Some now are suggesting that being a Region Rat is about pollution and crime and corruption.
We’ve got all that, but so do a lot of other places. The difference is that we own up to it and move on, trying to make things better.
My rat’s roots run deep.
One grandfather worked in the heavy oils division of Standard Oil in Whiting. He smoked cigars and rode a bicycle to work. Imagine that.
My other grandfather was president of the area bricklayers union and did much of his work in the steel mills, rebuilding furnaces.
His son, my uncle, too, was a bricklayer and union president. He died of a massive heart attack in his early 40s while putting on his work boots at Inland Steel. His lunch bucket rested beside him.
I, too, got a touch of industry while home from college one summer.
I had a job at Amaizo in north Hammond across from Lever Brothers.
Amaizo made starches and sugars — whatever you could produce from corn.
On my first midnight shift, I headed outside to the smoking shanty and saw something on the ground.
Wouldn’t you just know it — rats. Dozens of rats. They were so well fed in that plant that a lot of them were bigger than cats.
And when we got off work at 8 a.m., we stopped at the corner tavern for beers. Didn’t matter that you weren’t 21 as long as you worked in the factory.
Now, Jim Flannery, a nice chap who heads the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council, and some others want to do away with the Region Rats.
They want us all to become Regionnaires. Sounds like one of those fraternal organizations with those secret passwords. Kind of like the one Ed Norton and Ralph Kramden belonged to in “The Honeymooners.” Think they had a secret handshake, too.
Regionnaire? Come on, this isn’t the Silicon Valley.
Flannery says, “We need you to become a Regionnaire. Regionnaires are concerned and engaged citizens who love Northwest Indiana and aspire to be leaders in transforming the culture and perceptions of this Region for the 21st century.”
I’m not sure what a Regionnaire is since they are apparently new and I haven’t met one. But I sure don’t want them messing with our culture.
Flannery is blaming the lion’s share of Northwest Indiana’s problems on the Region Rats. He’s wrong.
NWI’s biggest problem is a lack of leadership. I think Flannery recongizes that.
Changing from Region Rats to Regionnaires won’t begin to get at the heart of the leadership problem.
That’s going to take someone who really wants to lead. Someone who understands the value of the Region Rats and what they have meant to this area.
Rich James’ column