NOTIONS: Variety spices our Midwestern life rather nicely

August 29, 2005

Got an invitation in the mail. It was addressed to "Bruce Hetrick and Guest."

The invitation was from a client. It said my guest and I could join him at an upcoming Marsh Symphony on the Prairie performance. I could choose between a pops concert called "The Golden Age of Black and White," a Mozart classical concert or "Big Band Night."

My guest likes to dance. So I chose "Big Band Night."

The concert was Friday night. Thousands of people came. Most sat on blankets or folding chairs on the lawn. But our hosts had rented a table closer to the stage, so we sat with six others, ate sandwiches, drank wine and talked about our lives.

When Brent Wallarab struck up the band, we listened for a while, tapped our toes and people-watched.

Some dancers were old enough to have swung and swirled to these big band tunes during World War II. A few couples, in their 20s, had clearly aced swing-dance lessons.

There was a woman so pregnant I worried the fast tunes might induce labor, a mom dancing with her little boy, and a woman in very short shorts bopping with an older fellow who had a heart-shaped red light flashing from his plaid shirt.

My guest and I danced from time to time beneath the brilliant full moon. We cuddled for the slow tunes, swung to the fast ones, and took breaks now and then to wipe away the sweat induced by the crowd, the tempo and the steamy August night.

As the band wrapped up with a Benny Goodman tune, we bade our hosts farewell and headed downtown toward our homes.

Saturday morning, I drove to the office early. The orange street banners said "Welcome Gen Con," and I smiled as a few early-morning conventioneers made their way toward Einstein Bros. for coffee and bagels.

Gen Con is a gathering of 25,000 or so people who play games-card games and board games, role-playing games, computer games and more.

Having watched Gen Conners for years (I work across the street from the Indiana Convention Center), I've developed my own Gen Con demographic profile:

Many are in their 20s and 30s.

They have a higher-than-national-average preference for black eyeglasses, grunge clothing and body piercings.

Owing to high IQs, many were maligned as brainiacs, nerds or geeks in high school.

Many are albino pale, having spent years mastering their game of choice in blackened basements and bedrooms.

Those adept at video games develop abnormally enlarged thumb muscles.

Because of the colorful characters, Gen Con is my second-favorite convention this year. (The "Star Wars" convention, which featured armed imperial storm troopers in and around my building, takes top honors.) So I left the office during lunch to meander among the gaming masses.

Late that afternoon, my next-door neighbors caught me online. Feeling sorry for my lonely working vigil, they invited me to dinner and the preseason football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears. As a current fan of the former and an age-old fan of the latter, I accepted.

Walking from the restaurant to the game, we were surrounded by an odd mix of football fans and Gen Conners.

The football fans wore blue. The Gen Conners wore black.

The football fans were mostly male. So were the Gen Conners.

Most football fans were rowdy. Most Gen Conners were deep in thought.

Many football fans were overweight from too much beer and nachos. Many Gen Conners were overweight from too much screen time and Mountain Dew.

The Colts lost before 53,000 disgusted fans. Many Gen Conners won, cheered on by enthusiastic peers.

On Sunday, my guest and I decided to attend Fringe Fest-an alternative theater festival downtown. After lunch in Broad Ripple, we grabbed a copy of Nuvo and settled on a show at the Phoenix Theatre. The writeup for "The Glamorous Andrea Merlyn Magic Show" promised magic, music and comedy from a fellow dressed in drag.

Some signs in the lobby warned us about adult content, gay/lesbian content, and other scary stuff. Other signs said the festival was sponsored by some big, oftenconservative foundations. We sat down in the sold-out house next to a little girl named Lily and the man and woman who brought her to the theater.

"Andrea Merlyn" (aka Indianapolis actor/magician Taylor Martin) did rope tricks, ring tricks, card tricks and sword tricks. He/she told ribald stories. At the end, "Andrea" made Styrofoam balls disappear from Lily's hands and emerge from her ears. Lily laughed and laughed.

Economic development guru Richard Florida says cities need rich cultural offerings to recruit and retain diverse workers. I suppose there are places with more eclectic offerings than Indianapolis, but for a Midwest metropolis in the middle of everywhere, the variety here spices life nicely.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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