Whenever Notre Dame students talk about South Bend, there is always at least a hint of condescension. No one ever says “South Bend” with the same sincerity as “Chicago” or “Dallas.” There is always a touch of irony or a slight smirk accompanied with it.
Maybe it’s because so many of us are from the shadows of huge cities like New York and Chicago. Maybe we’re just too ungrateful to recognize an amazing city that’s right in front of us.
If I’ve learned one thing in my two and a half years at Notre Dame, it’s this: South Bend is the greatest city in the world.
Now, some people may have metrics and stats to try to disprove this. Great, I don’t care. I’m not here from the South Bend PR department.
There’s a charm about South Bend. It’s not a big city, but it’s not small. It’s South Bend. It’s just right.
Take, for example, Studebaker. In case you don’t know, one of the world’s foremost automotive manufacturers used to be located in South Bend. Sure, Studebaker is dead now. But it had its heyday back in the early 20th century.
Would it be cool if Ford or General Motors was headquartered in South Bend? I guess. But that’s not South Bend. Studebaker is historic, yet a niche. It’s something we can get excited to insert into conversations when no one really cares. Studebaker is South Bend. It’s just right.
South Bend is obviously not a big enough market for a professional sports team. Sure, it has Notre Dame sports, but Notre Dame football is too big-time to capture the down-to-earth feel of South Bend. So, what does capture South Bend? The South Bend Cubs.
In 2022, the Cubs won their second league title in three seasons. Now, I know no one from New York or Philadelphia cares about this. But, you know who does care? South Bend.
In 2019, nearly 320,000 people attended Four Winds Field over the course of the season, according to the South Bend Tribune. In 2015, the Cubs were named minor league baseball’s “Most Complete Franchise.” It’s not the Los Angeles Rams winning a Super Bowl. But we don’t need that. We’ve got the Cubs. And they’re just right.
South Bend may not have the Statue of Liberty or the Space Needle. Who cares? We have a statue at Leighton Plaza of former Notre Dame president Fr. Ted Hesburgh with Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it a statue of a picture that South Bend beats to death and overuses? Absolutely. But it’s something we’re proud of. It’s just right.
While we’re on the topic of national landmarks, South Bend also has the St. Joseph River. This river has it all. It’s got love locks like Paris, river lights and rapids that you can raft on.
No, it’s not Colorado. And if you can’t guess by now, I don’t care. Whitewater rafting in the St. Joe River is a ridiculous thing to tell your friends. They won’t get it, but they don’t need to. It’s a South Bend’s thing. It’s just right.
One more example. I promise it’s the last one. In honor of the Morris Performing Arts Center’s 100th anniversary, let’s highlight a band that is the epitome of South Bend. You may have never heard of Umphrey’s McGee, but I guarantee you have a stoner uncle who has.
Umphrey’s McGee is a jam band straight out of South Bend. No, they’re not Michael Jackson. South Bend isn’t big-time like Gary. But they’re almost Phish. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared Umphrey’s McGee the “odds-on favorites in the next-Phish sweepstakes.” In 2006, they appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” with Huey Lewis. In 2014, they sold out Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Of course, Umphrey’s McGee is not the Grateful Dead. But they’re not your average hometown band. They’re South Bend. They’re just right.
As I prepare for a semester abroad, it’s hit me how much I’m going to miss South Bend. South Bend has its faults, just like every city. But for every fault, there’s a bright spot that is uniquely and outrageously South Bend. Maybe it’s being deemed the best city for under-30 year-olds to get rich. Maybe it’s the mosaic under a bridge by the St. Joe River right near the sign warning of sewage in the water.
South Bend isn’t perfect. It might even be weird. But who cares? It’s South Bend, the greatest city in the world.
You can contact Ryan at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.