INDIANAPOLIS -- I threw back the blinds. Behind a south-facing window was the capital city against a dusty chalkboard sky. The jagged comb of the skyline sputtered and twinkled in the night's final moments of darkness, set off against the great brick anchor that sat alongside to the immediate right. Sports Bubble Stadium. On this morning, as for so many other daybreaks, it blinked empty and alone. I brushed it aside in my mind, and kept going.
"Good Morning, Hoops Nation!" I declared with a throaty yell. I cried out beyond the Interstate ring, to the wide open east I'd left behind the day before. Good morning, good morning to the distant leagues that collect and gather past the distant sky! Howdy-do to the humble Northeast Conference, and to the state universities of the America East. Good day to the seaboard-hugging historically black schools of the MEAC! Salve
to the Ivy and the Patriot, and Salud
to the MAAC Catholics! To the sprawling ambition of the Atlantic 14, and the crawling creep of the new CAA, hello and hello and hello!
I ran down a flight of stairs, then across the long third-floor artery-way, then up the core well that scales the front of the building. Before I poured chocolate milk over my Froot Loops in the fifth-floor lounge, I tossed the curtains aside to address the west. Greetings to the Missouri Valley, father of conferences! A "fair day" to the far-flung Badlands, that strange constellation laid out before me. From that high window, I could see little more than the concrete husk of a deserted airport, but my mind took long flight paths, to the west upon west upon west beyond it. Hello, WAC! How do you do, WCC? How large will your vistas be today, Big Sky? The golden California sunshine will kiss your sweet brow soon, Big West! See you soon, see you soon!
I took my coffee in the second floor gallery, with Guido's silent player piano and the soft, faded modern couches. Through the triptych picture windows, I looked out to the north. Good morning, Horizon League, city conference of tomorrow! Hello, Mid-American, may your proud old Midwestern towns shine today!
As the sun backlit the cloud canopy, clean and white as a home uniform, I made my way out to the parking lot (I'd forgotten my toiletry bag, I'm always doing that). I looked out past the abandoned Hertz rental car area, with its rusting fences and weather-beaten signage. I raised my arms in greeting. Hello to the long-suffering OVC, and to the long and strange Sun Belt! To the ancient SoCon and the dusty and rugged Southland, good morning! May this day be full of warm Atlantic Sun and Big Southitude, of 3-point shots and 80-possession games. And God bless the SWAC... or rather, please begin to.
Swirling all around me, in every direction, I could feel it. Each league in full congress, making January progress towards March, when 23 little dances will point to one Big one. Teams criss-crossing Hoops Nation in buses and SUV caravans and airplanes (but mostly buses). Conferences now well into the long eight-week process of sorting themselves out by way of collision and struggle, shot for shot and miss for miss.
When I checked into the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Airport on Thursday evening, 90 minutes before the tipoff of a Horizon League game between Cleveland State and Butler, I noticed something new on the front desk.
"What's this?" I asked.
"We won an award," the young woman explained with a slight eye-roll. "Something about having the best renovation of the year."
It was a tall statue of pink marble, approximately 15 inches tall, a polished and gleaming protuberance emerging from a rough, unhewn base. The visual metaphor was clear -- raw natural material yielding beauty, by way of hammer and chisel, human hands. This must have been what Wreckx-N-Effect's A-Plus was talking about
when he uttered the timeless couplet, "Come and get the award/Here's a hint - it's like a long sharp sword."
The CPIA has been TMM's official headquarters for nearly three months, but we've been regular visitors-slash-tenants for over a year now. I thought about the changes I'd seen over the past 12 months that might have earned the parent organization's "Renovation of the Year Award," went through them in Powerpoint fashion through my mind.
They closed the French restaurant on the fifth floor, and replaced the happy hours in the Lounge with perpetual breakfast. They took out most of the tables out of the Outer Marker Lounge. They removed the Simpsons bowling game from the arcade near the pool, and replaced it with a weird bear-claw grabber machine called PANDA. I don't remember any new furniture except for a new leather couch in the Gallery. But overall, it seemed to be a much more efficient, streamlined, smaller operation than it was a year ago. There was definitely less stuff.
But that's when I realized that the CPIA had won the 2009 renovation award simply because it had successfully downsized after 2008, when the airport moved away.
"Some people say it looks like a whole new hotel," she told me.
"I almost didn't recognize it without all the Christmas trees," I deadpanned as I signed the check-in slip. "You all should be very proud of the hard work you've done. Congratulations."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Whelliston," she replied, grabbing the edges of her jacket in a silly curtsy and flashing a big, over-the-top dimply smile. "Enjoy your stay."