Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Lap Around Indy

[ed. See also: The Guide for Indy 500 Virgins (don't be that guy)]

For one weekend every year, the corner of Georgetown Road and West 25th seems like the center of the universe, the perfect place for Tate to tell people about a world far beyond our own. Or try to tell them, for no one stops to have a conversation with him, not on the afternoon before the Indianapolis 500.

“I wouldn’t be here if y’all came to church,” Tate explains to no one in particular. He’s armed with a portable microphone and a street preacher’s shield of self-righteousness, holding his phone out before him as if he were trying to cast out a demon dispatched from the Verizon call center. This is how I find him, and it takes me a moment to realize what he’s doing: videotaping hecklers on the other side of a temporary fence. One of them is wearing a shirt with an arrow on it pointing up to his face, holding a sign that reads He wants to see boobies.

I can’t blame the goons, not entirely, not even the one with the bullhorn who attempts to trump Tate’s appeals by invocations that begin, If you believe in drink….This is Indy after all, and the corner of the Coke Lot is a perfect place to party and preach.

If the assumed association is not unwarranted, the Coke Lot is innocently named for the Coca Cola Bottling Plant that sits to the west of the open field. By the time the race starts, it is surrounded on three sides by thousands of cars, trucks, RVs, campers, and tents, a transient city dotted with the flags of state schools, sports teams, and, inevitably, the Stars and Bars. American flags, too. Lots of them. Patriotic displays are not in short supply at Indy. On race day, the crowd of more than 350,000 will be treated to God Bless America, America the Beautiful, the National Anthem, a tribute to Pearl Harbor veterans, a fly-over from two World War Two fighter planes, a subsequent fly-over by four jets, an enormous flag pulled behind a car that drives fast enough to keep it flapping around the 2 ½ mile track, an annual launch of innumerable red-white-and-blue balloons, and, my own favorite, the temporary release of a bald eagle. From where I was sitting, high atop the final turn, we strained unsuccessfully to see the chevron of wings but had to settle for the facsimile thereof on one of the four jumbotrons before us.

These tributes to Manifest Destiny are earnest and essentially staid, but the informal celebrations on the eve of the race have a temper and tang to them epitomized by one shirt I saw on Georgetown Road, the main drag at Indy. “Back to Back” it said on top, “World War Champs” on the bottom, with Old Glory in between.

Flags at Indy are worn as much as they are waved. A group of young men in matching red, white, and blue tanktops, all wearing sunglasses, popped up like a roving gang of post-teen patriots in search of Spring Break. Nearby, a rival gang broke into an impromptu chant of USA! USA! when a comely lass with a stars and stripes crop top sauntered by, chaperoned, alas, by her parents. In a 2014 article from the Indianapolis Star, helpfully titled “14 ways to survive the hedonism of the Coke lot,” the author appoints “Beware roaming packs of hooligans” as the pole sitter, with “Sex is unavoidable” coming in at number 11, ostensibly with an eye toward those handsome hooligans who are not above coupling. “When you have lost interest in watching people push over portable toilets with a sleeping sinner inside,” it commends, “take a stroll through the lot around 3 a.m.—you’ll be surprised at what you find.”

While I was asleep by that time, I can attest that the art of catcalling seemed to degenerate throughout the day. In the afternoon, it was still refined by good humor and clever gambit. I came across a troop of men dressed in clerical shirts, tab collars, and khaki shorts. But for the fact they all appeared middle-aged, watching their gamesome attempts to find converts among the co-eds made for a guilty pleasure. As night fell, however, such efforts began to shed ingenuity for brute efficiency, cleverness for candor. Long past midnight, they’d ceased to be passably menacing and, instead, were merely pathetic. “Come hang with us,” a young stumblebum cried out to a gaggle of girls so plaintively he might have been on the verge of tears.

It needn’t be said, but like Georgetown, seduction at Indy is a two way street. Just a stone’s throw from the corner contretemps of Tate and the unbelievers, a blue and white barber’s chair had been set up. A lady with a microphone beckoned, “You want to ride the chair,” and young women came forward, one-by-one, and mounted the chair, which was already reclined, as if for a shave. Instead of a razor, the would-be barber wielded two bottles, pouring them at once into an open mouth before the chair was spun to calls of encouragement, which grew whenever the passenger lifted her top. The episode concluded when the chair stopped and a girl staggered forth soon to be crowned, amid cheering, with a lei.

If it defies easy classification, the event appeared to be an advertisement for something called The Indy Blue Crew. The name is not, as I assumed, a subversive appropriation of the Blue Laws that are still in effect across Indiana, but instead describes a tailgating club that is attached to the Indianapolis Colts and occasionally colonizes other events in The Hoosier State. Notwithstanding one woman’s reaction to the spectacle—“I don’t like that”—the largest single-day sporting event in the world is a fine place to spread the good word of some group or, for that matter, turn a buck or two.

by John Paul Rollert, Harper's |  Read more:
Image: TJ Foreman