It was the last day of a conference in Indianapolis and I was starting to crack. Three days of breakfasting and lunching with strangers, cheerful collaboration during workshops, and shoptalk between sessions were getting to me (see the name of this website).
That morning I unintentionally shut down the conversation at a table when I was asked about working in New York. I told them I worked less than a mile from where a terrorist had just killed eight pedestrians and bicyclists, and that my coworkers had been a lot more freaked out when they heard the office had bedbugs than when the attack happened. Evidently terrorism is not an acceptable topic over breakfast.
I decided to skip the last session and go for a walk. But my wish to get away from people was too successful–the streets of downtown Indy were devoid of any signs of life. It was all anonymous government buildings, faceless convention hotels, and impersonal restaurant chains as far as the eye could see.
The only interesting thing I found on my walk was a sign warning about loud noises to deter “pest birds.” What the hell are pest birds? Do they mean pigeons? In New York pigeons have as much a right to hang out downtown as anybody else, and noise doesn’t deter them from shit. The situation looked so dire that I decided I’d actually be better off just going to the airport.
After a short taxi ride from nowhere to nowhere, I entered the Indianapolis International Airport and was happy to see several restaurants. And even a wine bar! As I approached the security line I asked a guard if there were more choices on the other side, and he assured me there would be. Success! I’d spend my last few hours in Indy eating and drinking in style, all comped by my employers.
Perhaps I looked too pleased because I was pulled aside as soon as I passed the scanner. The TSA agent pointed to a digital image of an awkwardly drawn silhouette with a yellow rectangle over its crotch and told me I would have to get a pat-down. Figuring the chances of them finding an errant slice of Kraft in my underwear were slim I consented.
The sixty-something-year-old agent was weak on foreplay. “Sir, I’m going to run my hands over your groin and your backside first in a north-south direction, then in an east-west direction,” he warned. It always takes me a moment to tell my left from right so I couldn’t even follow what he was saying. Who is the south in this scenario?
“First, do you have any body parts that are unusually sensitive to pain?” Dude, I may not be from Indianapolis but it’s my fucking groin, what do you think?
The procedure actually involved more than the map-like description implied. The agent also stuck his gloved finger in the waist of my pants and circled all the way around, something I would’ve dubbed “around the world” if I worked for the TSA.
“Think of it as an appetizer,” I told myself, dreaming of compensating for my humiliation with a nice dinner and a few glasses of wine.
Considering that I was two hours early, I had time to explore my options. I walked the entirety of the terminal and among several stores selling Colts sweatshirts and mugs only found two restaurants: a coffee shop and a Champps. Like a Twilight Zone episode, I found myself back in downtown Indy.
Champps’ sub-Dennys identity is designed to slip away from your consciousness as soon as your flight arrives, but I remember them because the first time I encountered one I felt personally insulted by the double P in the name. Their website professes, “We’ll never forget where we came from. It’s a big part of who we are and the food we proudly serve.” Tellingly, not once do they specify where that is exactly.
The idea of going back out to the wine bar was out of the question–once around the world with the TSA was enough. I sat down, ordered the fish and chips (the only dish on the menu without meat) and the first of several glasses of wine to drink away my last few hours away from civilization and pigeons.