[I did a lot of things from May 3-9. I’m going to write about them for the next few days.]
It was Monday afternoon. I sat in the bulkhead window seat of a small jet, an Embraer RJ-145. It was a packed flight, but most of them are nowadays. The plane was taxiing to the runway, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember where I was going.
The previous two work weeks had been pretty stressful, between a conference in NYC and a heavy-duty deadline week, and I had spent the morning crunching stats for a big industry survey, but surely I wasn’t so burned out that I could get on a flight and literally forget its destination. I Â don’t travel so much as to be this jaded.
I knew I was heading to the annual BIO meeting, and that I would end the week on a mini-vacation in Toronto. If I just thought about it a moment, I could surely reassemble the evidence in my head and recall where BIO was being held this year . . . “Chicago. That’s right,” I said aloud, probably spooking the guy next to me. He offered me some gum. I declined, put on my big-ass noise-canceling headphones, and started watching You Kill Me.
My itinerary for the day was: check in at the hotel, get to the McCormick Center to pick up my registration badge and set up the booth, and get down to Comiskey / U.S. Cellular to see the White Sox take on the Royals.
The driver of the Airport Express shuttle enjoyed my conversation so much that he dropped me at my hotel last among his six passengers. Once there, I realized that he passed my hotel twice while dropping off the others. Why, oh why did I talk about baseball with him?
I hustled to unpack and get a cab to the convention center. There would be no time to stop back at the hotel, so I spent a minute or two in recharge mode, then briefly contemplated the cost of a bottle of water and some cashews from the mini-bar. I decided that booth-setup duty justified a couple of refreshment charges on my hotel bill.
Our standard booth at these conferences is an 8′ x 8′ erector-set popup frame, with a cloth panel of graphics from our magazine & website velcroed to it. It looks better than it sounds (see left), and takes about 1 minute to assemble. I took care of that, stowed the shipping cases behind the display, organized the boxes of magazines under our 48″ high table, stepped back to snap a picture to e-mail to my publisher, and headed out for a cab.
“I’m going to Comiskey,” I told the cabdriver.
“. . . U.S. Cellular.”
“You go Cubs?”
“No, White Sox. Cubs are out of town.”
“Park on 35th Street?”
“. . . Yeah, I guess.”
The cabbie got on a highway, zoomed along for a while, then turned the meter off and tried to tell me something. We were going 80 mph with the windows down, so I told him, “I couldn’t hear a word you just said.”
He raised the windows, said that he’d missed the exit, and was shutting the meter off because he didn’t want to overcharge me. I’d been told that the White Sox field is in a shitty area of Chicago, so I wasn’t looking forward to finding our way through the neighborhoods. Fortunately, he was able to make an illegal u-turn on an exit, get back on the highway and bring me to the park. He asked me for $10, though the meter had run up to $17. I felt that was fair.
Which brought me to the game. Or, as I like to call it, “Idiocracy made real.”
Before I get to it, I should say that there’s nothing wrong with the park itself. It’s a bit bland, but that’s only because it was the last park to go up before Camden Yards flipped the script on baseball. It’s the 12th MLB park I’ve visited, and it’s certainly better than some of the oldies where I’ve seen games (several of which were converted football stadia, like Philadelphia’s Vet). And I had really nice seats. I posted a pic from there onto Facebook, because we live in the future.
The problem is that the fans, even in the relatively nice seats down the first base line (I got mine for $25 on Stubhub, but their face value was twice that), are drunken wrecks. And I’m saying that as a guy who spent numerous summer days in the bleachers at the old Yankee Stadium, watching Long Islanders pass out in the sun. I’ve drunkenly heckled Ken Griffey, Jr.; I almost landed on him while celebrating a Joe Girardi home run (they were rare). I’ve seen drunken fans. I’ve never seen such human detritus as I did at this game.
Oh, dear reader, you missed out on the tit-toos, the avalanche of empty and not-entirely-empty Miller Lite bottles, the cursing voices that sounded like they’re coming from an 80-year-old with emphysema, but actually emanated from cigarette-wrecked women half that age, the poorly scrawled sign drawn on â€” no lie â€” the back of a Jim Beam poster: Hieronymous Bosch would’ve had a field day with this band of grotesques.
(You also missed out on pre-game music performed by Survivor, who capped things off with their 8 millionth performance of Eye of the Tiger. And an opening pitch thrown out by Justin Bieber. That’s legit; I didn’t mention him in order to get more pageviews from 12-year-old girls. I swear.)
There was a “normal,” sober family sitting a row away from me, and I felt a little sorry for them. I thought maybe it was a good thing to bring your kids to a spectacle like this, so you could tell them, “THAT’S why you have to go to school and THAT’S why you shouldn’t drink! You’ll end up like these people!”
At one point in the 4th inning, I heard a rising cacophany among the fans somewhere behind me. It was the sort of crowd noise that accompanies a fight among two fans: not quite cheering or booing. As the noise grew, I turned around to see what was up. The tumult was caused by a single fan, walking down the aisle to his seat.
In a Cubs jersey.
Literally hundreds of people were heckling him, including fathers of kids who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old. He was a good sport, giving everyone the finger with both hands. So that was awesome, in a “decline of western civilization” kinda way. Especially because this was a Monday evening.
Once Chicago starter JakeÂ lost his no-hit bid, I got up and walked around the park. I saw a nice array of bronze statues of White Sox heroes: Harold Baines, Billy Prince, Minnie Minoso, Bizarro Carlton Fisk, and a few others. There was also a shower in the back of the center field walkway, apparently brought over from old Comiskey. During my stroll, I saw a security woman tell a couple of young yahoos that they were cut off from any more beers. I wondered what atrocity you have to commit to achieve receive that sanction. And I wondered if it was a point of pride.
After the 6th inning, I decided to head back to my hotel. I walked up to a security guard and asked which exit would leave me closest to a taxi stand. He directed me and I thanked him. Then he held out his fist. I looked at it for a second and was almost as puzzled as I was on the plane that afternoon, when I’d forgotten my destination.
It took me a moment to realize that he was waiting on a fist-bump. I’d never actually fist-bumped with someone before, but took care of my side of the deal.
No: I’d literally never fist-bumped with someone. I never really envisioned a scenario when it would come up, frankly. During the presidential campaign, there was all sorts of palaver that it was some sort of terrorist sign, but now I’m convinced that it’s just a Chicago thing. It doesn’t stand on propriety; it’s a state of mind.
I caught a cab home. As I was getting ready to crash, my phone buzzed; a pal of mine from grad school had noticed my White Sox photo on Facebook and wrote, “What the hell are you doing in Chicago and not telling me?”
NEXT: Skokie, the Germans, and the Ugandan
BONUS: Coincidentally, a writer from Toronto attended that very same game as part of his tour of all 30 ballparks. Check out his writeup! He corroborates the Bieber thing. And the human wreckage.