Weakly – May 6: The Miracle and the Wrigley Killing Field

[This is the fourth in a series of long-ass rambling posts about my travels in Chicago and Toronto from May 3-9. Part 1 is over here and part 2 is over there. Now, where did I put part 3? Oh, it’s right here!]

Where were we? Oh, yeah: I had gone to bed at midnight, head pounding, anticipating a hangover to rival Informex in Las Vegas 2004. That time, my publisher, a sales-pal of his, and I started drinking sangria around 4 p.m. when the show ended, and kept going until around 11. That was the time I discovered you could be hungover while still drinking. The cab-ride to the airport the next morning was no doubleplusungood. However, the early-morning flight back to Newark was filled with TV executives, and they were all coke-burnouts, so my omnipresent sunglasses and greenish pallor went unremarked.

This time around? Sure, I’d taken the ibuprofen & Gatorade combo that served me in pretty good stead back in grad school, but I didn’t have high hopes.

And then I opened my eyes at 6 a.m. and felt perfectly fine. I was puzzled. I immediately ran my hangover-diagnostic, rolling my eyes up, down, left and right, waiting for the brain-crippling pain to strike. But it never came. I cautiously got out of bed, expecting to find that

  1. I was still drunk and couldn’t stand up straight,
  2. I was dead and that a bright white light was going to stream through the door of the hotel room and take me to that great mall in the sky, or
  3. I’d crapped the bed.

Astonishingly, it turned out to be none of the above. A miracle had transpired, right there in my overpriced hotel room in Chicago! I’ve long sworn by the notion high-end gins as being less damaging to one’s health than a Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, but the two Hendrick’s at dinner were pretty sizable and (for me) quickly consumed. I didn’t recall pacing the North Shore & tonic over any appreciable length of time. And I’d neglected to mention the beers earlier at the conference, a couple of Sam Adams bottles courtesy of the nearby Massachusetts pavilion, because I didn’t want you to think ill of me.

With relative vigor, I strode into the bathroom and peed for about five minutes straight, during which time I checked my iPhone, which I’d left charging on the counter. It was there that I’d received the bad news to counter my awesome start to the day.

My pal Tom, who was planning to join us in Toronto for the weekend, had to cancel his trip. His mom (and travel partner for this junket) had taken ill the night before the flight to Canada, and he could neither compel her to risk her life on a plane or abandon her, what with it being Mother’s Day weekend and him being a decent human being. Beyond my worries about his mom’s health, this bummed me out because I was hoping to spend some time shooting the breeze with Tom during the trip. Also, he was supposed to moderate an all-star panel of cartoonists at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival during the weekend, and I knew how much he was looking forward to that. And then there was the panel we were supposed to moderate together . . .

He’d e-mailed 40 minutes earlier with the bad news and asked me to call. It was 4 a.m. local time for him, but I followed his orders. He told me that his mom had been able to rest once Tom had convinced her that she wasn’t “ruining everything” by getting sick. I’m sure the anxiety over a canceled trip exacerbated the health problems she was having. Tom was sad about having to miss TCAF, as well as dining & conversation with me and Amy.

A week earlier, he asked me if I’d be interested in co-moderating a panel with him during the festival. It would consist of the two of us interviewing one of my favorite cartoonists, Roger Langridge. Tom figured that I could focus on Roger’s earlier “alternative” work, while he would tackle Roger’s most recent project, an ongoing comics adaptation of The Muppet Show. I was thrilled to have been invited, but by the end of our conversation this morning, I had volunteered to conduct the interview solo. It’s funny how these things happen. Once we were off the phone, I wrote down in my notebook, “Pick up Langridge books!” I was only going to be home for about 10 hours between flights, and would likely forget something important; I’d need to read through some of Roger’s comics to put together some good questions for him.

Meanwhile, I still had another day of BIO ahead of me! The only appointment on my calendar had fortunately rescheduled from an 8 a.m. breakfast conversation to a 1 p.m. stop at my booth. Hungover or not, I was happy not to have a conversation about bio-manufacturing market issues before I’d metabolized my morning coffee.

Also, it’d give my skin time to settle down. Between the harsh soap of hotel sheets and pillowcases, and the need to shave every morning (I usually go 2 days between shaves), my face can get pretty scratchy and irritated in the morning. There are many little aspects of business travel that make it a pain.

So I packed, cleaned up, put on “final day” clothes — suit-jacket, dress shirt and tie and khakis, rather than a full suit — and headed out for the show. The stop for the shuttle-bus was gone, as our corner of E. Illinois St. was blocked off for some sort of Top Chef competition and taping. A cardboard cutout of Padma Lakshmi leaned against a production truck. I wondered if I could get it onto the airplane that evening. The new stop turned out to be around the block, and I shared the trip with another pal from the same Belfast-based company. His accent is easier for me to understand than Philip’s, but he’s a quiet-talker, so I was back at square one.

For some reason, the conference organizers had decided that the final day of BIO should run a full 9:00-5:00 schedule, a bizarre move considering that

  1. shows always have shorter hours on the final day, because that day is slower than molasses and it’s ridiculous to make exhibitors stand around with no one to see for 8 hours, and
  2. this would result in hundreds — if not thousands — of people streaming out to cabs and airport shuttles during Chicago rush hour.

My flight home was 7:15, and I already anticipated that I would have to get out of a traffic-stranded cab, grab my suitcase, and start running down the highway to get to O’Hare in time. Fortunately, my boss realized that it was a little unfair to have me on setup and teardown duty with my mini-vacation schedule. He paid the show organizers to take down the pop-up, pack it, and ship it back to us. This meant I could bolt by 3:30 or 4:00. I was relieved.

“It’s a pity you didn’t come to dinner with us last night,” my boss said. We nicknamed him Captain Zagat because of his devotion to finding great restaurants wherever we go.

“Where’d you eat?”

“We went for Italian,” he said. I looked puzzled; what with him being a goombah from NJ and all, I didn’t think he’d bother with Italian anywhere but home. “Yeah, yeah, I know. This is probably the first Italian restaurant I’ve gone to west of New York. But it was amazing! The only problem happened at the end. . .”

The dinner party was just my boss, my sales director, and my associate editor. The latter two headed off for the ladies’ room while Cap’n Z. settled the bill. The owner came by the table to talk to him, and he told her how this was one of the finest Italian meals he’d ever had. She chatted with him for a second, then suddenly ran away from the table.

He wondered what he’d said to cause that reaction. Then she came running back, carrying a glass of water from a nearby table. Apparently, when my sales director had gotten up, she’d tossed her cloth napkin on the table and it landed on a candle. The owner was able to douse it before the fire spread, but my team was pretty embarrassed.

I was glad I went with My Dinner With Sid instead.

As is my wont, I meandered around the exhibit hall on and off throughout the day. Most of my advertiser pals were happy to shoot the breeze, since most attendees had already blown town. I was trading travel plans with a pal of mine. He was headed back to the Pacific Northwest the next day, so I gave him the location of the lounge I hit the night before, along with the name of that amazing gin.

I told him, “At some point, I thought it was smart to get a flight home that lands at 10:30 p.m., then get a flight at 11 a.m. the next morning for Toronto.”

“You’re dumber than you look,” he remarked.

His new CEO, a smooth businessman near my age, was in earshot, and asked, “Why are you visiting Toronto?”

I thought for a moment about how to answer this. I could’ve just gone with, “I have family and friends up there, and my wife loves the restaurants.” After all, this guy represented one of our major advertisers, and I didn’t know him well enough to judge how he’d react to finding out the editor of one of the major pharma B2B magazines is also an indie-comic geek.

On a whim, I said, “There’s a comics and cartooning festival going on up there, and I’m moderating a panel.”

He brightened. “Really? There’s a fantastic comic store in Toronto that you have to visit!” he exclaimed.

I was flabbergasted, but was able to say, “You mean The Beguiling?”

“No, no! That’s good, too, but you have to get to The Silver Snail! It’s on Queen Street! It’s amazing!”

I told him I’d check it out, depending on how much time I had. He was heading out from the show, shook my hand, and left.

My pal stared at me, and said, “I don’t believe that just happened.”

“Neither do I! He likes comics?”

“Dude. That’s so bizarre.” He gathered up a few coworkers to tell them about the exchange, and all of them were incredulous. Between that and the discovery that my pal Sid went to college with my future sister-in-law, this trip sure kept me on my toes.

My 1:00 p.m. appointment rescheduled for 3:00 and, while it went well, we were often interrupted by the noise of people tearing velcro displays down, or sealing boxes with packing tape.

Around 3:30 the marketing director asked, “What time are you heading out?”

“As soon as we’re done talking,” I told her.

“Oh, my gosh!” said the VP of business development. “Why don’t you head out? We’ll talk more once we’re back in the office!” We traded cards and they left for their booth.

Here are the two biggest lessons I’ve learned in my <gasp!> 15 years covering trade shows for business magazines:

  1. wear comfortable shoes
  2. keep outgoing cards in one pocket, incoming cards in the other

The first is pretty obvious: you’re spending hours and hours walking through a lightly carpeted convention center hall. The second? Think of how dopey you look when you hand someone your card and then realize it’s another person’s card. You end up fumbling through a stack of jumbled cards, trying to find one of yours. It’s unprofessional and easily preventable: just keep your cards in one pocket, other people’s cards in the other. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

(Note: you could go with a fancy-looking card holder, but nobody trusts someone who uses one of those.)

Around 3:45, I closed up the booth, putting the remaining magazines out on the table, and headed for the cab stand. There was no line, which worried me. As it turned out, that was because every single person at BIO was already in a cab on the way to O’Hare. Seriously, the traffic was insane. I marveled at the idiocy of stretching the last day to 5:00 p.m., and was thankful that I wasn’t going to be there for it.

The 20-mile drive to O’Hare took more than hour. I put on my iPod, listened to The National, in anticipation of their new record, and watched the scenery, such as it was. The only noteworthy sight (well, the only thing I can recall) was a strange billboard for the Chicago Cubs:

It’s not opening day.

It’s opening year.


Year One? Eek! Apparently Pinella was overthrown by Pol Pot, the Cubbies are playing at Wrigley Killing Field and Carl Zambrano’s stint “in the bullpen” is just another version of the re-education camps. I can’t imagine what they’d do to Steve Bartman.

Anyway, the airport was uneventful. When I checked in at an e-kiosk, I was offered $200 to defer my flight till next morning. For a split-second, I thought, “I could change tomorrow’s ticket on Porter to a Midway-to-Toronto, and Amy could drive herself to Newark in the morning.” Then I thought, “Only if they add a zero or two to that offer.” They didn’t, so i spent some time in the Red Carpet Club (United’s version of the President’s Club), saw the news about some wild stock market gyrations, read some of that Mitchum biography, continued to marvel over my lack of a hangover, and chose not to tempt fate by having a Hendrick’s & tonic at the club bar.

I got in to EWR safe and sound, hit the ground running (well, relaxedly strolling) and walked in the door at home at 11:30 p.m., greeted by wife and tail-wagging, face-licking doggies, the latter of whom had no idea I was going to be out the door 10 hours later.

Next: Ame and Squalor Victoria

May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

May 4: Skokie, the Germans, and the Lost Ugandan

May 5: “Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city”

Weakly – May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

[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  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 — no lie — 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 Jake  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.

May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

May 4: Skokie, the Germans, and the Lost Ugandan

May 5: “Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city”

Trippin’ Baseballs

During A.J. Burnett’s start against the Angels in the ALDS, I told my wife, “He threw the sloppiest no-hitter of all time, I think. He had like 9 walks over the course of the game.”

I conveniently forgot about Dock Ellis, who threw a no-no while . . . well, you’ll just have to watch: