South Bend, Indiana – an authentic slice of American Pie

I have three weeks left in the US, and now that the weather has improved, it’ll be easier to explore.

So far I’ve had a glorious 2 month holiday of writing, napping and cat-sitting, and it was really just the break I needed to reassess my life. Now I’m ready for a few more trips, and to catch up with friends, before I head back to a new start in England.

Now, though, let’s talk about South Bend, where I have spent the past 9 weeks.

South Bend, Indiana

After my last US trip, which consisted of jet-setting, celebrities and pilgrimages to filming sites, I wanted this trip to show me the real America.

Typically, I’ve managed to end up in a city that has one of the highest violent crime rates per 100,000 residents in the US. South Bend had 133 shooting victims in the first half of 2021 alone, and this year hasn’t started much better, with eight shootings in just my first month here.

University of Notre Dame

Only a few hours from Chicago, and very close to Gary, Indiana (birthplace of The Jacksons, and an even more violent city than its neighbours), South Bend is a city on the St Joseph River. Once a thriving manufacturing area, what mostly keeps this place ticking over now is the University of Notre Dame, one of the top universities in the country.

I am living ten minutes from downtown South Bend, and considering it is the centre of a city, there is sadly really not much there to speak of at a first glance. Even the Main Street looks grim (although there is one gem across the river, The General, a friendly student hangout with great coffee: The General Deli & Cafe)

Of course, there ARE things to do here, but a few weeks hasn’t been long enough to really discover them. It just seems a shame that downtown isn’t more enticing, or representative of the city.

Downtown South Bend
The General Deli and Cafe

I much prefer the Ireland Road area, ten minutes further south of downtown, a thriving collection of supermarkets and restaurants, aglow 24/7 with comforting neon. After years of island living, this little suburb of consumerism and cosmopolitan food choices, always available, is like Disneyland to me.

To be honest, food has really been the highlight here. This place has everything! I will miss the restaurants more than most things.

Panera Bread
The Original Pancake House
El Rancho Viejo

There is a lot of negativity out there about South Bend, and a lot of You Tube videos just slating the place. It’s true there are a lot of dying areas of the city, and it seems they are building more upscale housing and leaving the poorer areas to fall apart. It doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.

It seems most people are just trying to live their lives here. I’m used to living somewhere where poverty and pressure send people over the edge. Greater Manchester in the 80s with the coal mine closures was much the same. The only difference is, everyone here has a gun.

It’s kind of heartbreaking because this city has so much to offer, and there are many beautiful surrounding areas and places to see (probably more so in the summer).

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame
St Mary’s Lake, Notre Dame
University Park Mall

The nearby city of Mishawaka, around 20 minutes’ drive away, fills in the gaps for all that can’t be found in South Bend. It evens has a mall with designer outlets.

A new area, close to Notre Dame, is far more pleasant than downtown South Bend, at least in my opinion. Eddy Street Commons is like a little town centre of it’s own, built to serve the university community. In fact, everything here, the walks, shops and beautiful new housing, identify Notre Dame as almost a city in itself.

Again, this is only about ten minutes from downtown South Bend (it seems everything is ten or twenty minutes’ drive away from each other).

Eddy Street Commons

I do tend to see all places through rose-coloured glasses, until given reason to do otherwise, and luckily my experience in South Bend has been a positive one (so far at least)! I have seen no trouble, and everyone I have met has been friendly. There is also an obvious police presence, and they seem to be working hard to get the crime rates down here.

So, I’m definitely seeing the real America I was looking for. I love the day to day drives to the supermarket or the post office, and I still never tire of seeing yellow school buses and blue post boxes and cute little fire hydrants.

Exploring nearby states has been put on hold up until now with the extreme Midwest weather. More recently, my friend’s family member had a serious accident, and we have spent time on preparing his house, shopping, and cooking and cleaning.

Hopefully, we’ll have time to hop across the state line to Michigan, try some authentic pizza in Chicago, and meet up with friends in Kentucky, before my three months here are up.

Potato Creek State Park, Indiana

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