This morning I'm off to Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, which moves around the country and this year is in Indianapolis. In the past week or two I have told several people that I'm going to Indianapolis, and almost everyone has made some grimace or offered me sympathy.
But I've been to Indianapolis before, and have had a pretty good time there. It's not Chicago, but it offers plenty to do, including The Slippery Noodle, a great blues bar that will be the site of this year's Shamus Awards banquet.
The job I had in the late 1980s and 1990s took me to a lot of state capitals, and with a few notable exceptions (um, Albany?), they're all worth a visit. Here are five I particularly recommend:
1. Annapolis, Maryland. Home of the Naval Academy and St. John's College as well as the Maryland State Capitol, Annapolis is a port city that has preserved much of its colonial-era architecture. It has some excellent restaurants, a couple of great bars, an independent bookstore and its own downtown boat slip. What more could you want?
2. Austin, Texas. The coolness of Austin is no secret, and in fact the city gets a little smug about it, which almost made me leave it off the list. But in addition to all the usual benefits of the college/statehouse combo, Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the United States, and you can go watch them come and go at sunset. Can you do that in New York City? I don't think so.
3. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As noted above, the combination of college town and state capital is always a winner. Baton Rouge has much of the charm of New Orleans, without the tacky tourism or the terrible poverty. The presence of Louisiana State University means an abundance of all the quality-of-life essentials: live music, cheap liquor, used bookstores, affordable restaurants. Bring along Randy Newman's Good Old Boys as a soundtrack.
4. Cheyenne, Wyoming. There's not much in Cheyenne except the state government, but few cities have charmed me more. Visiting Cheyenne is a trip in the way-back machine; it's the closest I've ever felt to being back in the days of the Western frontier. Train aficionados should make a point of visiting the Depot Museum, an old railroad station that is small but exquisitely restored. I've never been to the Cheyenne Frontier Days, and would really like to go.
5. Richmond, Virginia. It's not just hometown boosterism; for anyone living on the Eastern seaboard, Richmond is one of the first places I'd recommend for a weekend getaway. Great restaurants, a terrific independent bookstore, fascinating historical sites, a very good art museum (currently mostly closed but reopening next year), and they're getting minor league baseball back next year. Plus, I have family there, so if you visit, say hey from me.