MARCUS: Airport conversations reveal concerns

Morton Marcus
September 18, 2010
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Morton Marcus

The main waiting area at the “new” Indianapolis airport is a comfortable space. Even though it is a huge cavern, there is a remarkable personal scale that is missing from most airports. The management wisely limits announcements to a minimum and provides no noticeable music. There are a variety of eating/drinking establishments and a surprising selection of quality retail shops.

As I wait for a friend to arrive on a delayed short hop from Chicago, I occupy myself overhearing the cell phone conversations of others. This is not snooping nor is it difficult since most cell phone users project their voices for the hard-of-hearing as far as Pittsburgh.

“No, Naomi, it’s not true, no matter what you heard,” says a well-modulated woman out of my line of sight. “I don’t care what they are saying in Indy, Bloomfield is not about to privatize its parking meters around the square.”

“Listen to me, Henry,” implores a gentleman who is wearing a jacket and tie, unlike every other man in the waiting area. “It’s the best he can do for Indiana. He wants to stimulate our economy, but there’s not really much a governor can do. So he’s running for president.

“I’m not joking, Henry. Mitch is putting himself out there for the Republican nomination in 2012 in order to bring money to Indiana. There will be investigating reporters, pollsters and publicists parading from Munster to Madison. They’ll invest in pork tenderloins in Portland and Princeton. They’ll seek a pattern in the state’s economy over the past seven years that they can attribute to the governor.”

“I know what I know,” says a man sitting behind me. “Ever since Terre Haute was named the City of the Year, investors have been all over the town. I’ve heard the Chinese intend to buy Terre Haute. Existing private property will be retained, but governments will sell all their assets to a consortium from Shanghai.”

Without waiting for that conversation to end, I take a walk around, inspecting but rejecting the $3.75 blueberry muffin offered by a local vendor. Refreshed by my self-denial in the cause of thrift, I sit in earshot of a young blond.

“Yes, Mother,” she intones with the semi-sarcasm of a recently emancipated teen. “No, Mother. I am trying to get back to Phoenix. [Pause] No, I will not spend the night with Aunt Magna in Shelbyville. [Pause] Yes, if necessary, I’ll find a room at an airport hotel. [Pause] Bye, Mother. Please, don’t call me until tomorrow; I can take care of myself.”

No sooner does she say these words than the young woman turns to me and asks, “Is there a hotel here at the airport?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet and I hope never.”

“That’s a shame; I could use one. Why never?” she queries.

“There are plenty of rooms at several hotels just a few minutes from here,” I answer. “They were very convenient to the old airport entrance. There’s no reason to use the valuable land at the airport for new hotels that will drive out existing facilities nearby. Why not seek those enterprises that prosper near airports and add to the success of the airport itself? This is a grand opportunity for Indianapolis to demonstrate good land management.”

She looks at me as if I’m an out-of-focus 3-D movie.

“Appropriate land use,” I insist passionately, “is key to our future as a metropolis. Central Indiana is at a critical point in its development and must carefully examine its allocation of land.”

I don’t know what triggers it, but she grabs her things and leaves suddenly. It’s the story of my life.•


Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.


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