Here is a free tip for cocktail party commandos: realizing that one must maintain in his conversational arsenal a full bandolier of travel trivia and prejudices to be whipped out with the deftness of a swipe through the shrimp dip, i.e., "love San Francisco, hate Los Angeles; you've got to be crazy to live in New York; Atlanta swings: London is a delight in the winter; boorish Parisians; that incredible Amsterdam airport; they're ruining Samoa," here is a line for your next encounter session that is guaranteed to amaze friends and confound enemies. When the chatter inevitably turns to travel and the clich�s begin spinning, lean back, take a long sip of the Redi-mix dry Manhattan, and say—firmly—" Indianapolis is major league."
? You mean that lighted cornfield rising out of the prairie like a collection of grain elevators with windows? The screwball Indy 500? The Indianapolis of the Hoosier Hotshots and Herb Shriner? Not fusty old Indian-No-Place, where they still read James Whitcomb Riley and wish that old hometown boy Benjamin Harrison had never left the White House. Outrageous. Mega-Square. Un-chic!
Having dropped this verbal grenade one must be prepared to defend the inference that Indianapolis, Ind. is in fact shedding its oldtime image as a plow-jockey's Saturday night paradise. At first you will be pummeled with challenges, vilified and scorned. Your drinks may be watered. The cashew dish may be moved to the other side of the room, but you must persevere. If you can somehow win the case that Indianapolis is heading toward the same renaissance that blossomed in places like Houston and Atlanta, your position in the social vanguard will be secure for years to come. Failure to defend something so unforgivably gauche as Indianapolis can toss one back into the draft-beer and shuffleboard circuit faster than you can say, "I love Paris in the springtime.
Let us start with simple facts. Indianapolis is the 11th largest city in the United States, encompassing a metropolitan area of about 1.1 million people. It zoomed ahead in the 1970 national census primarily because of Unigov, an assimilation of most of the city's suburban and satellite communities that? was brought to life by Richard Lugar, the bright young man serving as mayor. Indianapolis is the 17th strongest television market in the nation, ahead of such "major league" towns as Miami, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans, Milwaukee and San Diego, which, despite the lavish attention it has received from the baseball, football and basketball magnates, ranks a feeble 34th as a TV center.
The Indianapolis 500-mile automobile race is the nation's largest single-day sporting event, and the town's beloved Pacers are the champions of the American Basketball Association, a prize they also seized in 1970 and 1972.
Indy is growing by 28.3% per year as compared with a national average of 13.3%. The city core is humming with activity, much of it centered on an 18,000-seat sports arena that will house the Pacers and now the World Hockey Association franchise just awarded for next season. The sports-hungry citizens, who swell high school basketball gymnasiums to bursting each winter, have appeared in batches of over 8,000 for every Pacer home game, played in a drafty livestock exhibition hall, and have provided heavy support for the Big Ten efforts of nearby Indiana U. and Purdue (as well as strong backing for the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds, 108 miles to the southeast). Indianapolis fans are numerous enough and affluent enough to pay the freight for big league baseball and NFL football—yet they have been spurned.
Given all this, how can the presumably profit-oriented tycoons of major league baseball and football ignore the realities of Indianapolis? The answer is quite simple. To them, as to most other Americans who are supposed to know about such things, Indianapolis is vintage bush. Creaky vaudeville jokes about Altoona notwithstanding, the capital of Indiana holds an iron grip on the title of America's quintessential hick town. For much of its history Indianapolis has been perfectly content to lumber along in a kind of Ozzie and Harriet trance, practically reveling in its reputation as America's biggest small town.
But this is changing. Progressive men are on the move and are trying to haul Indianapolis into the mainstream.
"Our image no doubt is a problem," says Mayor Lugar. He is an upright man of steady gaze and a wide mouth that curls easily into a grin. He is sitting high above the city in the corner of a massive steel and glass municipal skyscraper. His desk is laden with papers, manila folders and reports. At 41 he is a working mayor, a man whose gutsy assault on problems has been a major factor in the city's revival.
Lugar also is a sports nut. On a low table behind him a basketball and a football lie among the heaps of documents. As he speaks, the dull thump of a pile driver vibrates through the room from the street below. It is a part of the construction going on in the so-called Market Square project, a joint private-public venture that will see the new sports arena, plus a major hotel and office building, rise around the picturesque old city market, which is being restored by the Eli Lilly Foundation. "There is no question that Indianapolis is still perceived by many as a slow-moving country town," he says. "In fact, the Fantus study made that abundantly clear and we realize that it is a handicap. [Lugar is referring to a 1972 investor's profile of the city by The Fantus Co., a subsidiary of Dun & Bradstreet, which described the city's "straightlaced, unglamorous working town" image as a major liability.] However, that is changing rapidly and will soon not be a factor. Surely the arena will be highly instrumental in this change. It will offer new hope for the heart of the city. Sports, along with the theater and the arts, must be a focal point for the renewal of a city. I can think of no other regional entity that is capable of drawing so many people together, and this is what we seek. A skeleton force in our downtown area after five o'clock simply will not do—and sports can be a significant aid in this behalf.