February 2, 2012
It’s strange to walk down the middle of the downtown streets I’ve known all my life, streets that normally see the most traffic of the city. Familiar landmarks are still there, but look completely different due to the Super Bowl decorations and temporary structures. We can stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Street, in front of Conseco—er, Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. We can hover around the Old Spaghetti Factory on Meridian. It all feels very surreal.
A young father pushing a stroller with twins in it points to a Madonna banner. “Look, girls! Madonna is going to sing at the game!” He gets two yawns. Phineas and Ferb maybe. Or iCarly. Now, that might excite them.
A hulking black man in a brown work jumpsuit is handing out CDs, accompanied by a band mate with a canvas bag crammed full of CDs slung over his shoulder. Very shrewd. Here is an international, moneyed audience that just might take the CD back to the hotel and pop it in for a listen. It made me think we could take advantage of the annual event held in Speedway and pass out true crime CDs to crowds at the track. “Interested in local history? Would you like to learn about Indy’s first serial killer?” Hmmm, maybe not.
Further on an official helper in the familiar blue-and-white scarf is answering questions and distributing fan guides while a gray-haired woman nearby hands out fliers. It turns out she wants to save my soul, not help me locate restrooms. Also a very shrewd move, staying within the distribution-perimeter of an official worker—she appears to be sanctioned and gets spill-over protection from the security guard standing close by. The proselytizers always show up at big events like this. If you go to Georgetown Road the night before the 500, you will encounter a young man bearing a full-sized cross trudging up and down between 25th and 16th Streets, begging you to repent your sins.
An older gentleman with a guitar and harmonica takes the stage on Meridian St. With uncut gray hair, flannel shirt and old jeans, he looks like a relative of actor Steve Railsback. The crowd of young people with babies is unsure what to make of him, especially when he launches into a strange rendition of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” His next song is an original one, he says after finishing to scattered applause, but we don’t wait for it. No need. He’s on the big screen TVs everywhere you turn in the Village.
About a hundred people are standing in front of a shoe store. What event is this? Is it free? Soon the crowd surges forward and a hundred cell phones are raised high. Is it one of the Mannings? Tom Brady? No, it’s the Mile-High Messiah. Tim Tebow and his entourage walk quickly away from the crowd. No autographing Bibles today.
A series of screams makes us turn to the west. It’s the zip line. The screamer is a young man hanging upside down the whole way. People stand in line for as long as 8 hours to be hauled 800 feet 96 feet above the street. T-shirted young men in a tower pull the lines quickly hand-over-hand. Wait a minute. A girl is stuck on line #3, close to the tower at the end of the line. A worker gears up and climbs out to her. He rigs up a tether line, then monkey crawls back to the tower. As the workers haul her in she waves to the crowd below. “It was fantastic!” she burbles to her rescuer. Ah, it’s a meet-cute, not a lawsuit. Good for him.
People everywhere are sneaking cigarettes. My favorite is the girl in the pink trench coat nervously smoking one in an alley on Monument Circle. Who is she hiding from? Or is she anxious about a rendezvous? She looks like a spy in her trench coat (although it is a memorable shocking pink), hair in a French roll, dark eye shadow, miniskirt, and heels. What kind of intrigue is going on in Indy this weekend? The passing of international secrets? Scientific formulae? Dr. Who plots?
I am amazed at the number of young parents with babies. Well, you got to start them early, like Archie Manning did. No babysitter available? Or they’ll get one later, at the hotel, before they go out for the evening. Or maybe this is a family outing. We used to take Eoin everywhere with us, too. A little boy throwing a temper tantrum in front of the King Cole Building makes me smile, too. Been there, done that.
John asks if I want to see a taping of Jimmy Fallon—there’s a crowd in front of the Circle Theatre waiting for tickets. Naw, that’s OK, I tell him, we’ll just tape the show tonight. Meanwhile a small jet keeps buzzing Monument Circle. Is it an AWAC sentry? What’s going on? Is there a threat? It’s circled over a dozen times now but other people don’t seem to notice it. We duck into Arby’s for lunch, cross our fingers it doesn’t crash nearby, and call it a day.