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An ode to the 219: IDS Region Rats explain why it's the best part of Indiana

From lemon rice soup to miles of train tracks to Route 30, the northwest corner of Indiana has its own culture. Just outside of Chicago, it's the cause of much debate between residents and those who wish they were residents (looking at you Chicago suburbs).

As soon as residents of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties leave, they'll let you know right away where they're from.

The Region. Northwest Indiana. Right outside of Chicago. The 219.

It's more than a place, it's a lifestyle. And to many of our staff members, it's their home. We asked them write about their favorite part of living there. Here's what they had to say.

Laurel Demkovich, managing editor from Hammond

My drive from my apartment in Bloomington to my house in Hammond is approximately three and a half hours (three if you’re quick, four if you make an obligatory stop at Fair Oaks Farm). Driving through hours of cornfields and windmills, it’s easy to feel like the ride will never end. 

But then, somewhere between the last windmill and the “Hell is Real/Jesus is Real” billboard, I open up Snapchat (NOT while driving, obviously), I take a selfie, and I see it: the yellow-y blue “The Region” filter. 

I know I’m home.

I begin to think of all the times I’ll use it during my stay in Northwest Indiana. I’ll probably need to snap a photo of my friend across the booth sipping her Green River milkshake at Schoop’s. I’ll swipe until I can find it, knowing the photo of me stopped at a set of train tracks won’t be the same without it. And there’s no way I’ll be adding a photo of the Buscias at Pierogi Fest to my story without it.

And while Munster’s proudly shows their red and white Mustang-lettered one, Hammond’s has their city seal, and Portage’s has bright yellow bubble letters, nothing compares to the Region’s own. 

It makes everyone from Munster to East Chicago to Valparaiso to yes, even Lowell, feel like they’re a part of something. 

That something is the crowded, diverse, mostly friendly — and sometimes dirty — Region.

Matt Rasnic, creative director from Portage

It is no question that the Region is the most geographically diverse part of Indiana — the shores of Lake Michigan, the peaks and valleys of the sand dunes and the breath-taking view of the Chicago skyline. Nowhere else in Indiana offers more than views of barren farm fields. 

With no surprise, the Region is home to the Midwest’s best national park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This park offers a variety of activities such as hiking and skiing. What makes the Dunes stand out from other Indiana parks is that it offers beaches on a real lake, Lake Michigan.

Kids who grow up in the Region experience something no others do in the state: a fun summer vacation. As other kids spend their summers making cornhusk dolls the Region kids get to spend their break on the beaches. 

So do yourself a favor and take a weekend trip up the best part of Indiana. While you’re there eat some Region food, drink some Region coffee, visit some Region parks and enjoy some Region hospitality.

Hannah Reed, arts editor from Dyer

Being a Region Rat comes with many recognizable characteristics — the Chicago accent we carry, the fact that we refuse to say “cornhole” and our love for Portillo’s. 

But there’s one thing in the Region that often gets overlooked: the coffee scene. 

From Grindhouse Cafe in Griffith to Dagger Mountain Roastery in Valparaiso, our small, independently-owned coffee shops line the streets, waiting for residents and students to enter and chat or do homework. And we do. We meet up for coffee and we sit in shops for hours — sometimes even from open to close. 

You may think that people do that everywhere, and that’s true. In Bloomington, you’ve got Pourhouse and Soma, sitting with their doors open, waiting for us to enter. But it’s different in Northwest Indiana. There’s no distraction of a double cranberry vodka from Kilroy’s on Kirkwood or the call of your friends to ditch your homework and go for a hike at Griffy Lake. 

In the Region, it’s just you, your coffee and all the things you’ve been putting off for the entire semester, and that’s what’s so magical about it. In the Region coffee shops, you’re free to work for hours without worrying about what you’re missing, because you can’t really be missing out on much if your friends head to the cornfields without you. 

Dylan Wallace, sports editor from Crown Point

The Region is about 40 minutes away from Chicago. By car or by train, it’s an easy trip to the Windy City. That’s why when people ask where us Region Rats are from and aren’t familiar with towns likes Crown Point, Valparaiso, Munster and so on, we just say Chicago.

Now, that’s to the chagrin of many people, but they need to understand that Chicago means a lot to the Region. As an avid sports fan and someone who grew up in the Region and attends IU with many Region students, Chicago sports is where it’s at. 

Despite living in Indiana, Indianapolis is two hours away from us and it’s not as close, convenient or exciting as the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s been some tough stretches with every single one of those teams in past 10 years, but that doesn’t kill the undying love for our Chi-Town teams. 

With Bloomington being about three hours away, we didn’t get to experience the exciting college sports life that the cream and crimson provide. Credit IU for college sports, but in no way will the close proximity of Indianapolis change the ways of us wannabe Chicagoan Region Rats. 

Hey, Chicago, what do you say? 

Region Rats are here to stay. 

Lauren Fazekas, arts editor from Chesterton

I didn’t begin appreciating the Region’s South Shore Line until I was riding on a packed train car full of flower crown queens and rose-colored sunglasses, elbow to elbow with my best friends and 100 other colorful festival-goers. 

We were all gearing up for a three-day bender in Chicago for Lollapalooza. It was the summer after I graduated high school and the train ride was the first leg of a wild journey that included a free visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo, a dance-party in the middle of State Street and a once-in-a-lifetime performance by Paul McCartney.

The train, which runs from South Bend to Millennium Station in downtown Chicago, is one of the Region’s most precious resources, and if it wasn’t obvious enough, a resource most utilized by the area’s young people. With 19 stops that can connect you to the Windy City, the South Shore Line is truly a privilege the rest of Indiana can’t fully grasp. 

Without access to the railway, I would never have been able to mold my experience of living in Northwestern Indiana with the exciting opportunity of getting to know the third largest city in the United States.

Lydia Gerike, news editor from Portage

Region kids can say they're from Chicago. I will stand by this until I die.

It may be difficult for many of you to take this in, but it is a fact of both geography and culture that we all must come to accept. 

I get Chicago radio and TV stations. My hometown clocks run on Central time. I could tell you about former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich being kicked out of office in 2009 for corruption, but I just had to Google search Mitch Daniels, who was apparently governor of Indiana at the same time. 

I didn't even know basketball was considered a diehard Hoosier tradition until I came to IU. 

Saying I'm from Chicago, or at least near it, is doing a favor to everyone else. It's so much easier to understand exactly where in the world I live when people can use a major metropolis as a reference point.

When I tell people I'm from Indiana, they think I'm from the middle of the state. Or that I live in a cornfield, which some of the Region basically does, but it's a cornfield close to Chicago.

Kathryn Jankowski, social media editor from Valparaiso

By the time I decide to go to County Line Orchard every year, it is too late, and all the apples are rotten. 

Luckily, they have more to offer than just apple picking. 

Region Rats love County Line Orchard because there is nothing better than getting hot apple cider, riding on a tractor and leaving with a package of pumpkin and cinnamon donuts from the bakery. While this is true for some Region dwellers, it is not true for me. 

County Line Orchard donuts are overrated.

I have had the exact same donuts in many other locations and the only thing that is missing is the rich fragrance of all things fall that lingers inside the orchard bakery and store. Without this aesthetic, the donuts lose their cultural power. The donuts just lose their aesthetic without all of the warmth and joy. 

I will admit, I still get excited when a fellow Region friends mom sends us a package at the beginning of fall. They aren’t bad, there is just something missing when you have them outside of the orchard.

Stefan Krajisnik, sports editor from Dyer

As one walks northbound alongside McNutt Quad through the IU Tailgating Field, they may notice numerous cream and crimson flags flying on a football gameday.

But among all those flags, one stands out to Region Rats: the one that reads “219”. 

To some it’s a number, but to others it’s home — or at least home away from home.

Even if you are just tagging along with a Region friend, you will be provided with plenty of food, games and music.

In terms of music, one end of the tailgate can be playing country while the other is playing rap. So, no matter how you’re feeling, you’ll get the vibes that you want.

However, what makes the Region tailgate so special is that all are accepted. Take it from my roommate Austin O’Campo — who comes from Decatur, Indiana, but has attended each tailgate this year — who describes the tailgate as “an energetic and friendly environment with great food.”

He also said it resembles a cult, but at least it’s a welcoming one.

So, on behalf of approximately 100 Region kids who go to the tailgate, thank you. Thank you to everyone who organizes it, who takes part in it and who makes it fun.

And to the non-Region kids that walk past the 219 flag, just know that it’s more than just a number.

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