Saturday, November 12, 2005

A City of Champions

Baseball fans from the south side waited eighty-eight years for the White Sox to win the World Series. I waited two days.

Of course I wasn’t a White Sox fan, but I rooted for them. It was one more excuse to go out for drinks on a Wednesday night. Even though it ended well, my night didn’t begin well. I figured the Sox were playing for the title so I should head to the south side. The White Sox play on 35th Street, the south side. The Cubs play on the north side. I didn’t know the subway system too well at the time and took it down to 63rd Street because I was trying to get to Hyde Park and drink around there. I got off the subway and walked to a gas station and realized if I went anywhere I may not come back alive. It was dark and I was the only white person in sight. A black man at the gas station pulled his car up to one of the pumps and approached me, “Could you spare me some change for gas? I’ll give you a ride wherever you want.” I told him I was sorry and that I couldn’t help him. Then I said, Go Sox as he walked away. He turned around and said, Go Sox, we’re going to sweep ‘em tonight! I walked back to the subway and headed back to my neighborhood. Police had blocked off the section of bars on Division Street in anticipation of a Sox win. I went into Butch McGuire’s, a locals bar with lots of decorations and a good-sized model train that ran on the tracks that were attached by small poles to the ceiling. It is usually busy, and that night obviously was no exception. I had some drinks and began talking with a few guys who said they were from St. Louis and were Cardinals fans. One of them had a Sox hat. He said he had to by default because he didn’t want to get beat up. I guess I was doing the same thing, only I didn’t have any Sox apparel on.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the Sox one out away, a die-hard Sox fan at the end of the bar began a chant, “One More Out! One More Out!” Everyone was chanting along. Then he chanted, “One More Strike! One More Strike!” Then everyone clapped and cheered and started high-fiving one another. I joined in. It just felt right. I saw the guy who had been leading the chant with his hand on his forehead. His wife and brother were hugging him as he cried.

I went back to my apartment to get my camera. It had begun to rain and fans were jumping around in the street and celebrating. The cops didn’t look too amused. In the elevator I met a man with a Sox cap and jersey. He said he’s lived all thirty-six years of his life in Chicago and that “I’ve been waiting my entire life for this.” And he added, “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure it will when I get outside and see other Sox fans in the street.”

I took photos and video of the celebration. When I returned to my room at midnight I decided it was pointless to get to sleep with all the beeping. Even on the 14th floor. There was bumper-to-bumper traffic everywhere I looked with cars beeping to the beat of “Let’s Go Sox!” The sound was deafening at times. Three guys in their early twenties had white T-Shirts that said “Go South Side” in black letters on the back. They had taken off their jackets to show off their shirts even though they were getting soaked from the cold rain. They were all too happy to worry about it. They went up to each car as it passed and either pointed their fingers and said “Go Sox” or something like that, or they gave high-fives and shook hands of the moving passengers. One cop kept pushing them back when they’d approach a moving car. They weren’t deterred. On the other side of the street I saw a young man with a broom and he swept the sidewalk over and over again, doing a dance as he swept. Then he’d raise the broom in the air and cheer out something. It was hard to hear with so many horns beeping.

I drank well the rest of the night at a bar near Butch’s. It wasn’t hard talking to and meeting people. Everyone seemed in a good mood, especially with the amount of beer and mixed drinks served.

When I visited the city in May I saw many people wearing Cubs hats and hardly anyone with Sox hats. After the World Series, it was the complete opposite. It was as if the entire city had converted. Well, not the entire city. I told Kenny, who is a Cubs fan, about my observation. “Man, fuck the Sox,” he said. “Yeah, that’s one thing about this city, people are a bit fair weather fans with baseball and the Bulls. But the Bears are different. People will always root for the Bears no matter what.” We had been to a Bulls home-opener and they were down by twenty-five points in the third quarter. You could hear almost hear a pin drop in the United Center. Fans were hunched over and seemed bored. Then the Bulls came back and tied the game in regulation and won in overtime. The place went crazy as I heard a middle-aged man behind me yelling everyone exited, “Undefeated! First place! We’re in first place!” Everyone likes a champion and Chicago is no different in that regard. Sox apparel could be seen in the darndest places. There were large Sox hats on the heads of the lion statues outside the Chicago Institute of Art as well as on the head of a giant Picasso sculpture in downtown. It didn’t look right.