Thursday, August 25, 2022

Flashback 2011: Why go there when it's nice right here?

   I started packing up my office at the paper Wednesday, dragging boxes home to put in the basement next to the unopened boxes from the 2004 and 2017 moves. It's melancholy, challenging, work—nobody cares at all about this stuff, other than me, and sometimes not even me. This move also has an air to finality to it. I've had a newspaper office downtown for 22 years, and while I'll still have the right to sign up for an afternoon at a workstation at The Old Post Office or at Navy Pier, it won't be the same. 
      What to save?  Most writing is online, of course. But not everything about a column is written. For instance, the distinctive, fly-on-the-ceiling column bug at right, in color yet, caught my attention.
     Look at that guy, hands in pockets. Amused smirk. Bright red tie. Jesus, I've worn a tie once in the past three years, and that was to the wake of a friend. I used to wear a suit every day to the office, just in case I unexpectedly found myself in the mayor's office or at a ball at the Palmer House.
     I read the column. Usually, I'm struck by the sameness of the voice in the columns. I sound  the same now as when I was 17. But this column has more ... brio than I seem to manage lately. The work of a man who hasn't been staring into the hellmouth of Donald Trump and his carnival of demonic dupes for seven years. Or isn't 62.
     Reading it I began to wonder if I'm not a little ground down. Ironically, I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo this summer and had exactly the same reaction as 11 years ago: "Where are the animals?" 
     One aside in particular, "Maybe donors ate them," made me wonder if I've lost a step. I'm not sure I'd come up with that now. I hope so. And those who stroll out of Millennium Park during concerts are still shut out of the park by the Barney Fifes. They should issue wristbands or something. My parting entreaty related to that fell on deaf ears. 

     Grumpy? I suppose, in middle age, a certain grumpiness can set in. “Hey,” my wife will say, cheerily — too cheerily, as if trying to build a cheeriness momentum that will sweep me along — “want to get together with the Prattlers on Saturday night?”
     And I’ll think, “God no! Why on Earth would I want to do that?” Sometimes I don’t just think it, sometimes I actually say it, even though my wife then gets that pouty face and we end up going anyway, with me getting no credit for going willingly, since I really didn’t.
     To be honest, it isn’t that I’m against being places. That’s not the problem. A restaurant, a play, a concert. Even with others. All’s good.
     It’s going to these “places” that’s a bother. Getting in the car. Getting on the train. Having to show up at a certain spot at a certain time when I’m happy here, doing nothing.
     I see that attitude can be a drag, however, so I try to fight against my essential nature. There’s a glorious city of opportunity stretching in all directions. Let’s go! If we must.
     So yes, I’ll accompany the family to the Lincoln Park Zoo, as I did last week, even though most of the animals went missing the afternoon we spent there. Maybe donors ate them. Honestly, mobs of people were gazing at empty ponds and barren savannahs while the animals were off napping. Smart animals.
     The Lincoln Park Zoo, by the way, is not free. It’s free if you walk there. If you drive a car, it’s $35 to park your car. Thirty-five dollars. I spent $35 to gaze at trampled down grass where exotic animals sometimes loiter.
     Not a word of complaint. I’m trying not to be that guy, trying not to be Mr. Complaint.
     Or Wednesday. I was working at home. My wife had another cheery idea: “Hey,” she said. “Let’s go to Grant Park for the concert.”
     My inner reaction was the standard, “Why would you possibly want to do that!?”
     “If you want to,” I squeaked, then checked the weather, hoping for rain. Clear skies.
     It was the passive aggressiveness of “If you want to” that made me just shut up and go.
     So now we’re on a blanket, 6 p.m., eating our picnic. I’m happy, because I’m not going anywhere. I’m already here. Grant Park is beautiful. The Gehry Bandshell, beautiful. Happy folk are all around snarfing up supper.
     Is my wife content? Of course not. We just got here and she wants to go somewhere else, to get coffee. More precisely, she wants me to fetch a complex coffee concoction involving steamed milk and shots of hazelnut. My face must have gone slack listening to her precise instructions, because she said, “I’ll get it,” and flounced off with my older son. Now I am truly happy, lying on a blanket, reading Seneca, undisturbed. This is working out fine.
     They are gone a long time. I get a phone call. It’s her, with panic in her voice. They’ve closed the park; I have to come claim her.
     It’s a challenge, hopping from one green patch to another, trying not to step on legs, blankets, bottles of chardonnay, babies. Eventually I come upon a scene like when they close off New York City in “I Am Legend.” On one side of the barricades, a mob of indignant would-be picnickers, trying to get in. On my side, a crush of people such as myself, summoned via cell phone. In between, two security guys — a tubby man in a black shirt and a uniformed rent-a-cop — insisting we get in line to identify our people on the other side.
     Apparently, the lawn has reached its limit — I certainly believe that, it’s mobbed — so in order to get in, you have to be claimed by someone inside, which makes no sense. If it’s packed beyond safe capacity, then what does it matter if you are returning or not?
     My wife and son are in front. After 20 minutes, I move six feet to the front of the line, point them out, and we hop to our blanket.
     This is the funny part, the 15-year-old, who up to that point has been bored, torpid, listless — those with teens add your own adjectives — languid, blase, becomes excited, his eyes sparkling. “That was like ‘Schindler’s List!’ ” he says. “But without the danger.”
     Now, there are a lot of objections to a statement like that, but I didn’t make any them. We were back on our blanket, the concert was beginning — show tunes, as it turned out. I admired my wife’s selective description. “A concert,” she said. I expected Mahler, not some pap from “The Lion King.” Of course, had she been candid, I never would have gone. But now that I was there, I was happy. To be honest, I could have happily stayed the night on the blanket. I’d be there now. But the show ended and we had a train to catch, so we gathered our things and headed home.
     Oh, and Millennium Park folk: Figure out a better crowd-control system, because someday you’re going to have a knot of geriatric WFMT listeners trampled to death, and you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned.


  1. Had the same experience at the zoo last May. Where were the animals? In past visits we went in the morning when it was a lot cooler and there was much to see.
    We went mid-afternoon this time when the animals must have been thinking something like, “What are those humans doing outside this time of day?” The only cost was bus fare and the donation we made.
    Still a nice time walking around such a beautiful place. Not Botanic Gardens but still beautiful.

    1. "Mad dogs and Englishmen, go out in the midday sun." Noel Coward

  2. Saying the zoo is not free because you have to pay to park is the same as saying the beach isn't free for the same reason. If you go to a ball game or a concert , you pay to get in and to park.

    Free concerts, free museums, free movies. all sorts of free stuff in Chicago. Parkings not one of them.

  3. Great column. I feel the same about the going anywhere. And how about that tie. Given that you wrote about the demise of men’s hats, I am sure you are interested that the same seems to be happening with ties. I saw a picture of the President of Poland visiting Ukraine. Zalenskyy was, of course, in his At War no-suit combat colors look. The Polish President was, however, wearing a suit…but no tie. I was recently at a wedding. The young men wore suits. But about 75 percent were tie-less. I though that fascinating.

  4. When the boys were youngsters, we had an LPZ membership. When I dropped that in front of friends, they invariably responded, “Oh, you get in for free!” Heh.

  5. Your adventures with trying to retrieve your wife and son from the barricades reminded me of an experience I related to another on-line group back in 2012 (and which I have been able to retrieve in one minute, thanks to the Internet, which forgets nothing):

    I had an adventure with the ticket-window maze last month, that thing that they set up in the Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago at the end of each month to deal with the overflow crowds all trying to buy their new monthly passes at the last minute.

    I was there in the morning, when the maze was completely deserted, and me and some other guy approached it at about the same time. We both walked past the maze and stood near its exit, just to one side of it, with me in front and the other guy standing just behind me, and we waited for one of the three or four open ticket windows to clear their current customers.

    Suddenly a woman in the end ticket window starts gesturing at me and saying something loud but unintelligible. I figure it's my turn so I take a step towards her, but she promptly waves me back, yelling "Move to the front of the line!"

    Me: "Pardon?"

    Ticket Lady: (Gesturing at the maze) "MOVE TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE!"

    I exchange glances with the guy behind me, who looks as baffled as I am. Slowly we both move, in synch, about five feet to our right, putting us at the opening of the still-empty maze.

    Ticket Lady: "NEXT!"

    Ah. That would be me.

    Like I've said before, if we didn't have rules, we would have anarchy.

  6. Grant Park lawn seating now has capacity limits, because it's so popular. I find that circumstance to be unutterably sad. What next? Checkpoints and reservations and tickets? TIMED tickets?

    What happened to you, Mr. S, would only happen to me once. After that, I would probably never attend another concert. And I could quote Yogi Berra, who famously said: "Nobody goes there's too crowded."

    Everybody has their limits. That would be mine. I'm too old and cranky for that kind of crap, and restrictions of that sort not only flabbergast me, but are among the reasons I no longer miss living in my beloved Chicago. My condolences.

    1. The reentry system that Neil described would have been infuriating to me, as well. But the biggest problem with it was not being aware of it beforehand, IMO. Once you know that, when filled to capacity, you must be welcomed by somebody inside to reenter, the solution is simple. Don't leave. Many of the concerts are only an hour and a half long. There are bathrooms, food and drink available within the friendly confines of the Pritzker Pavilion area. Not going to a concert there because of the reentry policy would be biting one's nose to spite one's face -- IMO, again. Didn't you attend zillions of Cubs games, Grizz? Pretty sure the actual Friendly Confines has an even harsher policy: there IS no reentry. Once you're out, you're out.

    2. Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? The harsh policy didn't affect many of the Die-Hards. bleacher regulars. When you become a bleacher regular, you inevitably make a few friends at the gate...and I spent 32 summers there. But why the hell would you ever want to leave a Cub game in the first place? Everything you need to survive is, water, pop, beer, organ music, and baseball. Not necessarily great baseball...but it's still baseball.

    3. Why would I want to leave a Cubs game? Maybe because over the course of the game, the thought “this place sucks” might cross my mind at some point. It certainly did on the two occasions that I had the misfortune to attend games there; there will be no third. Cubs games at Wrigley Field are easily the most overrated experience in the whole panoply of bread and circuses. Pick any little league diamond in any suburb hosting a game and it would be a more enjoyable experience. The baseball would probably be better too.

    4. When were you there? Must have been after Wrigley stopped being a joyous experience...and became like the inside of a pinball machine. But, hey, if you didn't go back, then it freed up a seat for someone who appreciated sitting in it. So sorry that wasn't you.

    5. 1979, and again in 2002, aged 8 and 31. Maybe the place has more appeal for people in their 20s, 40s or 50s.

    6. Or their 70s. Some fathers take their sons to brothels at 13. Instead, my father took me to the centerfield bleachers on August 20, 1960...which might have been even worse...because I was hooked for life.

      I readily and unashamedly admit to having been of those mopes who became addicted to sparsely attended Wrigley and the "hapless Cubs", as they were called then...when they were at absolute rock-bottom. Roger Kahn said it better than I ever could, when he wrote: “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.

      You missed the early 60s... the truly bad old days Still, the place wasn't all that much different in 1979. By 2002, it was...pardon the expression...a whole new ballgame. But by then, I was already long gone. As was the matinee-only somnolence of the House That Juicy Fruit Built.

      Wrigley is one of those places that I miss most about Chicago. But I find myself missing the lost ballpark that was, not the one that is. And I don't care if I never get back.

    7. Since you can't go to the games anyway, Grizz, you're lucky with regard to that -- even if you lived here, you couldn't go to a game in the "real" Wrigley, nor be surrounded by the brand of bums that used to populate the bleachers. As you note, it hasn't been the same for decades, but the vibe of the stadium and the surrounding neighborhood since the Ricketts crew took over is nothing like what it used to be. Nor is the price to enter it, nor the cost of the refreshments one purchases inside.

      I was never a regular like yourself, but we'd go to 10 or 12 games a year, maybe. I most enjoyed when they weren't very good and you could think "hey, nice day, let's go to a game", get tickets cheap and, often, move to better seats if you felt like it. Not being a bleacher creature, except on rare occasions, I based my seating preference on which half of the seats got Budweiser carried to them and which got Old Style. Ashamed to admit that, at the time, I chose the Budweiser. I forget at what point I'd had it with the advertising plastered all over and the price-gouging and the crowd, but it was a long time ago. We live a couple miles away and I've gone to less games this year than you have! : )

    8. You can't go to less than zero. My last game was for the 100th anniversary in April of 2014. Sat in the upper deck by the left-field foul pole, with the northeast wind off the lake howling into our faces. Left after just five innings. Did not see anybody at all from the olden days. My Wrigley is gone.

      Day-of-game tickets for Opening Day ended after a near-stampede in '78. Think "Who concert." Scared the living crap out of me. Thought I was gonna die. All day-of-game tickets ended after '84. I miss Old Style, which is rare in Cleveland, and Oscar Mayer Smokie Links, which sold for a buck in the bleachers.

      I was on "The Corner" (Waveland and Kenmore) the night the Cubs beat the Dodgers for the pennant in 2016. Saw people I hadn't seen in a couple of decades. How did we get so old? Some of the former Creatures didn't make it there that night. Too sick, too feeble, or just dead. It's not Wrigleyville anymore. It's become Rickettsville...a pricey Midwestern Disneyland. I can live without it...and I have.

    9. My mistake. I figured you probably went to a game during your recent visit. Even I have been to a few games since 2014...

      I could have run into you on that night in 2016, but we were over by Clark and Addison.

      "All day-of-game tickets ended after '84." What does that mean, Grizz? I used to stand in line at the main windows on Clark for day of game tickets long after that. I haven't bothered in years, but if the game's not sold out, you can certainly buy tickets for that day's game, right?

    10. My mistake. I meant that all day-of game tickets at the bleacher window ended after the historic season of '84. I bought day-of-game bleacher seats for almost 25 years. There once were boarded-up windows at Waveland and Sheffield, remnants of a bygone era. People lined up at dawn for day-of-game tickets.

      But the crowds got bigger and rowdier in the mid-80s, and there were problems. Advanced tickets were made available, starting in '85, in response to neighborhood concerns about the increasing unruliness of the ticket-buying throngs. I suppose are still a few walk-up windows at Wrigley's main gate, just as there always were, but maybe not so many of them anymore. There's a reason for the dwindling numbers.

      In recent years, physical baseball tickets have been superseded by computerized printouts that needed to be scanned upon entry, mostly because of issues with scalpers and scammers (counterfeit tickets became rampant). Over the last couple of seasons, your "ticket" has been on your phone, which is scanned at the gate.

      This new technology has alienated a lot of old-timers, including me...a confirmed "late adapter". It feels like sci-fi. There must still be a walk-up window for last-minute sales and out-of-town tourists. But maybe I'm the wrong guy to ask. I haven't even been to a game in Cleveland since before the Plague. And I can't remember the last time I bought any major-league baseball tickets at a ticket window, from a real person. It's been years.

    11. Well, clearly there’s some deeply embedded nostalgia for the place that you guys have, but I’ve just never gotten the appeal. Part of it is just a matter of taste, of which mine often diverges from that of the masses (I prefer wall to wall carpeting at home, in restaurants, etc., whereas most people these days seem to prefer hardwood flooring or tile, which I just don’t get). For example, the visibility of the tenement buildings just beyond the outfield walls (now largely obscured by signage) has long been regarded as part of Wrigley’s charm, but I’ve always considered them to be an eyesore. Compare that to the lush, pristine landscaping and lovely aquatics that adorn the outfield at Kauffman Stadium in KC; it’s like comparing the cover of Led Zeppelin’s album Physical Graffiti to that of John and Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band, or the Incredible String Band’s The 5000 Spirits or Layers of the Onion. Two of those covers are simply more pleasant to look at than the other.
      As it happens, I’ve been to Kauffman, as well as Camden Yards, PNC Park, and Jacobs Field (or whatever it’s called now), and found them to be beautiful parks, and all that they were cracked up to be. But Wrigley? Never understood the hype.

    12. And as for going to a game in June, I would have had to go on Father's Day, which was most likely a circus. Sons taking fathers to the Cub game, or vice-versa. Wrigley drew over 40,000 that day. No thanks.

      Plus, I already had the Botanic Garden, the Illinois Railway Museum, and the Garfield Park Conservatory on my schedule. A ballgame would have been more than a bit too much. And that's not even including the scary Red Line.

    13. Well, Bruno...I guess you wouldn't like Fenway much, either, despite its most-recent upgrades. Wonder if they ever got rid of those enormous cat-sized rats? My next ballpark...either D.C. or Milwaukee...will be my 20th. After Wrigley, PNC in Pittsburgh is my favorite. Just two hours away. I go there for my Cub fix. And you can even ride a modern version of a streetcar to the ballpark

      As for the "tenements" on Waveland and Sheffield, whenever those gentrified structures change hands, they go for big, big the millions. And the rents are beyond ridiculous. Truth is, the Cubs organization now owns many of them, if not most...and the top floors and the rooftops are now party suites...almost a part of the park.

      San Diego was the place that most recently copied this idea...when they incorporated an old industrial building into their new ballpark. Baltimore was the first city to do so, back in the early Nineties. But Wrigley and its environs are, as I said earlier, now resemble a Chicago theme park. Dizzyland. Rickettsville. Cubbietown..

      The product between the lines has nearly been superseded by the "Total Wrigley Experience" that engulfs its customers. Yetch...and please pass me the barf bag.

    14. It's a ballpark in the middle of a neighborhood. The buildings outside are part of the charm of not being surrounded by parking lots. If I want to look at "lovely aquatics," I'll go to a waterpark. Or a national park. Or Las Vegas. For watching the action on a baseball field, Wrigley still can't be beat. I've been to 3 of the 4 spots you mentioned, as well as plenty of others. There are a lot of new ballparks to choose from, and most of them are wonderful, indeed. But if you value the tradition of attending a MLB game in one where they've been playing since 1914, you've only got 2 choices. The changes at Wrigley have not been to my liking, for the most part. However, even as a traditionalist, it's hard to argue with the appeal of a video screen showing replays. Of course, the things I don't like about the current version of Wrigley are the kinds of things that you love about all the other ones. As you say -- "a matter of taste."

    15. And then there's the ivy. The frequency of Cub games on cable TV (MLB Network, FSN, and ESPN) fluctuates greatly from season to season, depending on their win-loss record, but I still watch them whenever coverage is available. There's nothing like seeing that ivy as a backdrop...or even the bare brick wall in April. Even on a flat HD screen.

      All that lush greenery is a tonic that enhances feelings of well-being. Soothes me. Relaxes me. Reminds me of younger days and happy times with my crazy adopted bleacher family, mostly in the sunshine.

      Bogie will always have Paris. I'll always have Wrigley.

    16. Well uh, yeah, I guess.
      Maybe what it all comes down to is that I don’t find the idea of a ballpark in the middle of an urban neighborhood to hold that much allure in the first place. The suburbs are my natural habitat; you guys can have the ivy and the bungalows, I’ll take the forest preserves.
      And yes Jakash, I must admit that I do find ballparks that are surrounded by parking lots to have a certain charm, mostly because they ensure that I won’t have much trouble finding a place to park my five speed, manual trans propelled horseless carriage.

    17. LOL. Hey, I like the forest preserves, too, but there are some pretty good parks in the city to go along with Wrigley's ivy. Also there's this thing they have called Lake Michigan about a mile away that you can see from the upper deck, if you like water attractions, Bruno. ; )

      Referring to the other thread, we rented a Geo Metro convertible in Florida once. It was quite fun to drive and swell for heading out to Key West. (Once you got over the feeling that you could slide right under a semi in front of you without having your head even scrape anything...)

    18. stumbled onto this just now. fascinating . I love baseball. been to hundreds of games . my first one was at Wrigley 66 or 67. sat in the 2nd row of the left field bleachers in 84 to see sutcliffe beat the padres.11-1 paid $100 for that ticket

      what I remember about day of game tickets was they held them back. you could NOT buy them in advance. even if the game was sold out weeks earlier.

      but what I loved was in the 70s after the 6th inning you could enter the park for free . I worked at 4519 n. clark st. and if the game was good id bike down and catch the end.

      I wasn't a bleacher creature either. liked to sit by the bullpen which was on the field down the line and you could be like 10 feet from Jenkins , Holzman , Sutter , or switch over and see Nolan Ryan , or Bob Gibson .

      been to a couple games there this year, treated a friend of mine to a game. even though he's a mets fan. im not a cubs fan anymore . but I still hate the mets.

      best time I ever had at a MLB park was watching my youngest son pitch in the catholic public league all star game. just to brag

  7. Years ago my wife and I ventured to Lincoln Park Zoo on a Friday with our two young girls. The air show was that weekend. I pay no attention to these things, so I had no idea. The Blue Angels were practicing directly over our heads, which was sweet, until we realized that it scared the hell out of all of the animals, who retreated to the safety of their enclosures. The only animals we caught a glimpse of that day were the cows, and that was only because we went into the barn. Lesson learned.


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