Wednesday I spent running around like the proverbial headless chicken, rushing madly to get everything done in time to meet to go to the ballpark for the game. In the course of doing this, I spent much of my day underground in the hotel's conference rooms—hence, I did not have access to a window or information about what the weather was like.
So it was a rude shock when I finally emerged from the depths into the main lobby, which was a glassed-in artsy model, to see the windows and skylight roof prismed in rain and to hear thunder rumbling overhead.
I walked outside the revolving door to assess the damage. It was raining approximately as hard as I have ever seen it rain, a rushing downpour that was nearly solid, like a bucket being overturned.
I called my parents.
"I think I may actually, literally cry," I said when my father picked up the phone and I explained to him what had happened. He was similarly aggrieved at hearing the news.
But the people taking us to the ballgame graciously said they would still take us to the ballpark even if it was raining. So, as the rain kept pouring down, we got into our limos (yes, we were those assholes in a limo pulling up to the park—the people I've cursed many a time trudging up from the T in Kenmore Square, watching them be delivered directly to their gate) and headed over.
By the time we'd fought through cross-town traffic and gotten to the park, the sun was out. We walked out into a damp but bright Wrigley Field while the grounds crew was still tidying up the field and the ballplayers were just emerging to warm up.
Wrigley Field was shockingly small to me. I'm used to Fenway Park, but this place made our lyrical little bandbox look like Yankee Stadium. I don't know how it could possibly have more seating than Fenway in there; it looked more like McCoy Stadium than any major-league park I've ever been to.
But there was a charm about that—from the "Hey hey" on the foul poles to the people gathered on rooftop bleachers overlooking the park, it had the feel of a neighborhood watering hole, and I got the sense watching the game there of having been taken back in time, to an era when even big-league ballclubs were small-time operations, a casual diversion of an afternoon.
Yet as homey as the ballpark was, the fans were the closest I've found in intensity to those in my own home stands, especially the college-age kids in their battered hats and jerseys, who stood and cheered furiously at the slightest development in the game, at all other times gesturing and talking animatedly to one another about the action on the field.
Chicago in general was enough like Boston—and yet also enough its own self—to make even my xenophobic self think on several occasions, "I can actually picture living here." The eerie familiarity of being among Wrigley's crowd was another point in its favor.
However, as the game got underway, I suddenly got the urge to keep score, something I haven't done since fifth grade, but I felt a weird need.
So I ducked under the stands again to purchase a scorecard. I was low on cash, but had the $2 it would take to buy a program, at least according to Boston prices.
There are, in my experience, two types of Midwesterners. There's the modern stereotype of the blonde, blue-eyed cheery individual of Scandinavian descent who speaks with hard vowels (think the mother of Stuart on Mad TV). And then, another type, one less widely known anymore, the ones I think of as Grandpa Toms, after my relative of the same name who was born and raised in Illinois (and is a lifelong Cubs fan—I called him from the park as soon as we'd gotten there to let him know where we were). Grandpa Toms are grumpy and gruff; I have also never encountered a female Grandpa Tom. Were these men in Boston they would be cigarette-voiced and have accents thick enough to add an "r" at the end of "idea" and "pizza". Grandpa Toms' accents are more countrified, however, certainly than the Bostonian version and broader also than the Dan Akroyd Chicago stereotype. Grandpa Toms twang. And they grumble.
The program-seller was more Grandpa Tom than the original.
He looked down at me from his little platform with a deep skepticism as I asked for a program. He shoved one from the top of a pile a little ways out toward me and said, "Fahve dollers."
"Um…" I fumbled with my ones. I could hear cheers from overhead and the crowd, still streaming in, was jostling me. Flustered, I asked him the stupidest question I've probably ever asked anyone—"Do you take plastic?"
"Plastic!" he demanded. "Whut the hell're you talkin' about?"
"Um." I stammered. "Is there an ATM around here?"
"A whuh?" he barked.
"An ATM," I said louder.
"Over there, over there," he said, making a shooing gesture toward an ATM a few yards away.
He was rude, but I wasn't angry at him, probably because he just reminded me of my Grandpa (although he was far more acerbic—my grandpa tends to be more subtle and witty about rebuffing people).
The ATM, meanwhile, boasted quite a long line. I got into it and waited for my turn. At this point, I'd heard several more cheers and the booming voice of the announcer, who sounded gleeful, but I couldn't make out what was being said. I thought about giving up, but now it was the principle of the thing—and it wasn't that long a line.
Correction, it wasn't that long a line for New England, where people are genetically programmed to hurry the fuck up at all times. No, the natives in this line approached the ATM lackadaisically, and in some cases, downright pokily.
I also seemed to have happened upon around half a dozen of the dumbest people in Chicago (in an instance of Murphy's law so spectacular it felt as if they'd all been somehow stationed there to be standing in front of me at just that moment). One girl entered the wrong pin, and spent the entire time the INVALID PIN message was flashing on the screen peering into the cash slot for her money, and thus I had to tell her that said money was not coming after watching her punch random buttons randomly for a little while once she straightened back up again. Another person had enormous difficulty actually swiping the card with the magnetic strip on the correct side of the reader, and rather than experimenting with a new position for the card seemed content to simply reinsert his card the same way at least five times. And so on. It was the kind of thing you see on an SNL sketch.
Finally, though, having learned from the mistakes of my predecessors (another thing none of them seemed to think of doing), I stepped up to the machine, swiped the card, dialed the pin and yanked my money out of the slot in about five seconds.
Returning to the program-seller, I asked a question that had occurred to me during the copious time I had to think while waiting for the ATM.
"I just want a scorecard and a pencil," I said. "Is that in this?" I pointed to the five-dollar book.
He reached next to him and took a different little booklet off another stack, slapped it down in front of me, and plopped a Cubs-decorated pencil down on top of it.
"Two dollars," he said.
I swear as I paid he had a twinkle in his eye, the slightest smile on his face. That is definitely like my Grandpa Tom.
Back at the park I was told I'd missed a spectacular steal by Juan Pierre, an expert sacrifice bunt by Matt Murton, and, after hits by Todd Walker (!) and catcher Matthew Barrett, the first Cubs run.
What my Grandpa Tom would say here is, "Figgers."
After that, I juggled my camera and scorecard, surprised at how much I remembered about scorekeeping. I think I did pretty well, considering I didn't have the lineups down until the third inning and had missed nearly the entire first—and the fact that the woefully inadequate scoreboardage at Wrigley didn't even tell me how many official errors had been recorded, for Pete's sake.
But what I do have is an 8 with an exclamation point in the top of the fourth, just a few little marks that instantly recall Juan Pierre's sprinting, diving catch to preserve what was at the time a no-hitter for the young southpaw Sean Marshall.
Marshall was brilliant, but was inexplicably lifted for pinch hitter Freddie Bynum following the sixth inning after giving up his lone hit of the night, represented by the single dark square in the top left corner of that frame next to Soriano's name.
Then there are the three K's, two backwards, one the right way around, for the Cubs' closer, Scott Eyre, formerly of the San Francisco Giants, career ERA 4.40, current season ERA 1.71 with a WHIP of 1.19, who was impressive on the night.
The ghost of Harry Carey made his traditional absurdist appearance during the seventh inning stretch in the form of an apparently prominent Chicago broadcaster. I have to admit, it was a little hokey. I never knew there were so many associated, ritualistic gestures required of both the crowd and the song leader.
In the end, the Cubs won, 5-0, thanks to a seat upgrade I got to sit right behind the dugout on the first base line and get up-close views of former Red Sox including Scott Williamson, Todd Walker and Damian Jackson. As the evening wore on, the air often got chilly enough to make us see our breath, but as it turned out, there wasn't another drop of rain that night.