Ready for take-off 

What a season this is turning out to be for Indianapolis. In a few days, our beloved, if slightly gimpy, Colts will take the field for their first regular season game in Lucas Oil Stadium, the elephantine field house that’s all but gobbled up the city’s skyline as if it was so much forage for our sporting appetite.

In any other town, this $700 million colossus would be enough to keep the citizens distracted and agog. But in Indianapolis, it turns out this is only the beginning. In November, we’ll be getting a new, $1.1 billion international airport.

In his famous ode, the Romantic poet John Keats called autumn a “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness …” Times have changed. Between the roaring of our loud and proud football fans — a sound most comparable, by the way, to that made by jet engines — and the upward blast of airliners, this city is stoked.

It’s like those banners draped from the streetlights around the Mile Square keep insisting: This town really is “amazingly always new.”

Forgive me for suggesting there’s a whiff of something antique about both these arrivals.

It is commonplace, I know, for mega-sized corporations to celebrate their meganess by purchasing the right to slap their names across the bows of the public shrines where our favorite games are played. And so, in Houston, they play baseball in a park named for concentrated orange juice and L.A.’s basketball team does its dribbling in a hall known for office supplies — commodities, by the way, for which there promises to be a significant demand for years to come.

Indianapolis, on the other hand, has sold the naming rights to its stadium to an oil company. A purveyor, in other words, of a substance whose time has not only come and gone, but that no less a figure than the president of the United States has called an addiction that our society needs to get over. Putting the word “oil” in the name of a major public facility might have been hip back in the days when James Dean played a Texas wildcatter who got joyfully soaked with the stuff in Giant, but no more. They might as well have named the stadium after the Betamax.

Fortunately, the Luc’s elegantly retro architecture recalls an era when fossil fuels were cool, and so its almost willfully backward-looking moniker can be regarded as a kind of thematic flourish, like the sort of historical detail Disney’s set designers might add to one of their make-believe street scenes.

But this is nothing compared to the massive project on the verge of completion at Exit 68 on Interstate 70. Back in the 1990s, when paying $50 a barrel for oil was considered a paranoid fantasy and people were happy to fly halfway across the country for a business lunch, the idea of building a new airport in Indianapolis made sense.

For some reason, though, history’s momentum has a way of taking our fair city by surprise. In the 1830s, for instance, the folks in charge thought that building a canal system would be just the thing to connect Indianapolis to the larger world. The only problem with this brainstorm was that we started our canal project about the same time the railroads were catching on.

So there’s an odd echo in our opening a new airport at just the moment when the air travel paradigm we’ve lived with for the past generation appears to be shifting. Airfares have been flying higher than they’ve been in 25 years, with rates increasing anywhere from 10 to 100 percent. A cross-country trip for a family of four now costs about $1,000 more than it did last summer. And additional price increases are expected this fall, when the airlines intend to cut seat capacity on many routes and simply eliminate other routes entirely. Geoff Dixon, CEO of Australian airline Qantas, has predicted that fuel prices will create what he calls “a new world order” in his industry. In Indianapolis, the number of passengers expected to use the new facility has already been downgraded by 6 percent.

But that’s alright. What with all its new restaurants and shops — not to mention public art and plenty of parking — the place will make a dandy mall.

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David Hoppe

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