Sitting on a stool behind a 20-inch Macintosh monitor, Steve Volan towers above most customers who approach the checkout counter with movie in hand. A navy-blue hat rests lightly on top of his ruffled brown hair. Clenched in his right hand is a Subway foot-long sub.
The Cinemat's laid-back atmosphere creates a comfortable smile on the lips of customers and employees alike. Soft sounds of movie dialogue resonate from the TV hanging in the corner, and a serene silence floats through the air, except when disrupted by Volan's bellowing laugh.
"What really got me involved in politics?" Cinemat owner and City Councilman "Tall Steve" Volan asks with a sly smirk and squinting eyes. "It was the cuckoos. You've heard 'em, 'Cuckoo! Cuckoo!'"
The cuckoo sound Volan refers to comes from traffic lights on major intersections in downtown Bloomington.
""I'd be up all night, 2 o'clock in the morning, and I could not get the sound out of my head," he said of working in his office on the corner of Kirkwood and College Avenue in 2000. "You could hear it through a big thick building, 100-feet-away. It was ridiculous. I vowed that if I ever have a chance to stop this I would. Ironically eight-years later, the cuckoos are still there."
Volan is a man of humor, intelligence and ambition. Standing 6'8" tall, he is packed full of ideas, and there is little his penetrating curiosity leaves undiscovered. A sheltered upbringing combined with a relentless love for city life, Volan's personality makes him a unique contributor to the Bloomington City Council.
Volan grew up in Merrillville, in what he calls "the first white flight suburb of Gary."
A young intellectual with a longing for the adventures of a city, he felt bored and restricted in the "safe" town. But what he remembers most was his complete reliance on the automobile for transportation.
"It was the kind of place that you really couldn't do anything unless somebody drove you, or you drove yourself," Volan says.
From what he can recall, his sole aspiration as an 18-year-old was to live on the 17th floor of Warren Towers at Boston University. Volan couldn't wait to relocate to an urban setting.
"And ever since then I think I've been looking for the city," he says. "I wanted to live someplace where I didn't have to be dependent on a car."
In Bloomington, Volan successfully severed his dependence on driving. His apartment on the downtown square is two blocks from his video-rental store, two blocks from the Post Office and five blocks from City Hall.
"It was actually easier and less trouble to walk than to drive, and that's the only reason why this lazy ass actually started walking, rather than driving, most places," Volan says in an ambiguously serious tone.
Since 2002 he has owned the Cinemat, a video-rental store located on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets. The store's philosophy: "We stock them broadly, not deeply."
Fellow City Councilman Andy Ruff thinks Volan's broadminded intellect is a vital contribution to the council.
"I depend on him in a lot of ways as a colleague because he's sharp," Ruff says. "And he's got a ravenous information appetite. And I know he's out there learning."
Volan's curiosity and lack of focus led him on an unusual route through college. Starting at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in 1983, he transferred to IU and completed his General Studies degree last year.
"I floundered from major to major," he says. "I tried everything ... and eventually all fell through. I didn't really know what I wanted, and I was a scatterbrain."
Eventually he realized that a General Studies major was a perfect fit, as was the City Council.
Patting his hand on his heart with an admiring smile, Ruff says Volan has "extremely high integrity" and always acts in accordance with his beliefs, regardless of the consequences.
Volan contributes his broad knowledge to the City Council, where, he says, "I get to make this city more like a city."
He plans to do just that by "improving the way that we move people around and the way we build buildings. It all really circulates around transportation. Anything we can do to de-emphasize the automobile in favor of the pedestrian is better for everyone in the city as a whole."
Emily Schlatter can be reached at .