Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kang like T.I.—But in the Chi? Daffy (Pt. 3)

[Continuing on from where we left Part 2...]

Saturday, March 1st
I awoke after 8:30 and rolled over to see TJ lying on the other half of the air mattress, looking through something on his phone. “They may call off the game, because of the [approaching] storm.” I responded with a barely intelligible “Oh yeah?” I’d almost drifted back to sleep when the meaning of what he’d said hit me. “WHAT?”

Since he was the first one up, TJ cleaned up and then headed out to Wrigleyville to catch up with Weatherman while the rest of us slowly pulled ourselves together. Fire, showing true Chirish hospitality, had coffee and doughnuts waiting for us. And though he didn’t have aspirin or Advil, he had vitamin packs that he said would help replenish our systems. I wasn’t going to question it. In the state I was in, he could’ve handed me a rolled up twenty and said the lines of white powder on a small mirror were a healthy aspirin alternative, and I would’ve accepted it without contest.

Before we left I added a can of Mountain Dew Kickstart and a shot of Milagro Tequila. Hashtag: “Chicago Breakfast.” Leggo!

We cabbed it to Goose Island Wrigleyville, where Tennessee and his girl were with some friends of theirs. A waitress showed us to a table upstairs, and before we had even sat down, TJ, Weatherman, and GG walked in. They hadn’t even known we were there; the synchronicity of booze-loving minds is amazing. Our party of 11 ordered up beers and food. When Swag suggested mimosas, Weatherman and I were game. When the waitress came back over to us, he and I each ordered one. Swag ordered two.

As we ate, drank, and loudly debated various ramblings, Alex texted some of us to tell us she and E-Bomb were on their way. Nearly an hour later, they still weren’t there. When I casually looked over my shoulder in the direction of the stairway to see if they’d arrived, I instead saw a familiar stocky blonde guy in a Penguins tee striding towards us. It was Dupa.


…When I glanced around at the tables of bewildered diners staring at us, I abruptly remembered that being in public requires a tad more decorum.

My unfiltered reaction, though, was caused by the fact that our Polish homie had kept his planned attendance a secret from everyone but TJ. He’d played it up brilliantly the day before, repeatedly commenting on all of our Facebook check-ins, pictures, and statuses about the trip with the same one-word response: “Stupid.”

Alex and Ed finally caught up with us, and shared their tales of running around Boystown the night before. Among those accounts was one about Alex getting taken to the wrong hotel by her cab driver. I laughed heartily. (Remember that later…) Dupa worked on getting caught up, asking the waitress for a beer and a menu item named the “Black Earth Burger,” which he instead called a “[D.E.F.I.] Burger.” She gave him a blank stare, since she didn’t know my name, and the joke had sailed over her head. I laughed heartily some more. He also asked for poutine style fries; when we got our bill later, the final entry on our list of damages was, “POUTINE THE FRIES.” At that point, Chicago was starting to feel like my spirit animal.

We moved the party across the street to Sluggers. There we met a cute waitress with a spectacular bottom, Fire’s buddy German, and a phenomenon called Old Style. While the rest of us ordered up various drinks of credible pedigree (Vodka Red Bull for moi) and rounds of shots, Dupa ordered a pounder of the Chicago delight that was—and probably always is—on special just down the road from Wrigley Field. The look of anguish on his face as he tasted it was really brutal, as a friend. I almost didn’t laugh at him. …Heartily.

When Swag returned from the batting cages on the second floor (yes, really), we introduced him to a guy in the bar wearing a University of Miami hat. You see, Swag is an impassioned Florida State fan, who bristles at the mere mention of “The U.” So while this guy meant no harm and jokingly chided him about their differing collegiate affiliations, Swag was seething with rage over someone daring to wear Miami gear. You in Chicago, the land of FSU. (Don’t try to find the logic. The rest of us gave up years ago.)

The NHL officially stated that the game would go on as planned, so those of us staying at Fire’s—including Dupa—cabbed it back to that location, so we could fortify ourselves for the weather we were going to endure in the stands. For me, that meant a thermal shirt, Pens t-shirt and tossle cap, gloves, and heavier socks being added to my standard attire. When someone asked Dupa, who had come from 70 degree temps in Houston, what he had brought in preparation, he said, “Ski tech.” I did not laugh heartily; I muttered jealously.

Fire poured us out shots (more Milagro for me), and the seven of us toasted to the night ahead.

The plan was to use the Hilton Chicago, where TJ and Fire’s boy Kerrigan had a room, as a base camp. It was within walking distance of Soldier Field, making it a perfect place to meet up before and after the game. Those of us who had clothing more comfortable to wear in a bar took our bags to the hotel, so we could change following the game. Everyone squared away their (physical) baggage in Kerrigan’s room, and we hit the hotel bar. …Well, most of us did. Dupa made a quick pit stop in a lobby bathroom to vomit. Old Style’d.

Count this as the first—and, in all likelihood, last—time I ever have to wait in line to get into a hotel bar. The place was packed to the limits of the fire code with Penguin and Blackhawk fans trying to numb themselves up before the Lake Michigan winds could. I downed a couple of Miller Lites in an effort to do the same, but it just wasn’t working. Try as I might, I just couldn’t fight off the effects of soberness. I even switched to a Jack & Coke. Nada. Damn it.

It wasn’t helping that we were standing right next to an emergency exit, which people were regularly using to give themselves a more direct route to the stadium. Each time they did, Chicago’s “Windy City” reputation reached into the bar and punched each of us in the balls. Swag was clearly getting fed up, and when a round middle-aged guy in a Hawks jersey headed for the doors, our buddy asked mockingly, “Where ya goin’?”

“Uhh…the museum,” was the smart ass response he got (and probably deserved), as the guy continued on his way outside and met up with a friend standing on the sidewalk. Unable to handle not getting the best of this stranger, Swag fired one last salvo; he cracked open the door, stuck his bald head out into the pounding winds, and yelled, “FUCK YOUR MUSEUM, BRO!”

TJ and a few others had waited until the last minute to throw on their heavier gear, so while they went upstairs to do that, Canada and I each downed a Jack & Coke at the bar. After the drink we wandered out into the lobby, waiting to meet up with everyone. It seems the hotel was hosting a formal event of some sort, as men in tuxes and women in expensive dresses sauntered past us and up to a ballroom. Maybe it’s a good thing I couldn’t get drunk. Otherwise I might’ve let them have it for thinkin’ they were better’n me.

By this point, the blizzard had moved into the area and had put down about a half foot of snow. Our black, gold, and red battalion marched dutifully toward Soldier Field, with Canada bringing up the rear in boots so worn that they had no tread. Not ideal for the conditions, to say the least.

Kerrigan, his wife, Cap, TJ, Dupa, Swag, Canada, and I were all seated together in the next-to-last row of the stadium. The wind was coming from left to right, pelting us with snow and dragging it across our face like icy razor blades. And we were loving it, thanks to our adrenaline—and the hand warmers that Cap passed out. I probably would’ve loved it even more if I had been drunk and not feeling as much of it as I was, of course. But the atmosphere in the stadium was electric, and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. People weren’t just excited to see their teams play; they were excited about the game. The moment captivated all. Have you ever attained consciousness during a dream, where you understand that it’s just a dream, and felt the calming peace of knowing nothing can harm you, nothing can be taken from you? For at least a brief moment, 63,000 people dreamt that dream together.

After the first period, we had our first casualties. Dupa announced that he was soaked through, and had to leave. Apparently Mr. I-live-in-the-third-world-heat-of-Houston-now had decided against wearing the outer shell of his ski tech. Stupid.

Swag went with him, as they told us they’d wait for us at the Hilton bar. Canada and I got more beers. At the second intermission, more casualties. Tennessee and his girl abandoned their seats on the other side of the stadium, and Canada abandoned ours. I waited in line for 20 minutes to get into the men’s room, and then got more beer.

As the third period got underway, my lack of thermal underwear (not that I don’t own them, I just didn’t bring them; looking back I have no clue why) meant my thighs were frozen. As was my beer, which had turned into a Bud Light slushy. TJ asked if I wanted to bail, too. Hell no. I was the only one of my Pittsburgh brethren still standing. The Pens were being easily handled on the ice, and I knew I was going to have to hear about it for the rest of the weekend. I would’ve amputated my own frostbitten leg before I would’ve handed Blackhawks fans an opportunity to add material about Pittsburghers not being able to handle Chicago weather to their impending stand-up comedy set list.

With five minutes left, the stadium PA alerted all that the north gates—which we’d come through—would be closed after the final whistle while postgame fireworks were set off. That was all the nudge we needed, and the five of us remaining in our group jumped up and headed down the long staircase to the concourse.

Cap, somehow, assumed the role of our group’s navigator as we walked from the stadium. I didn’t realize it at first, but he had not been our navigator when we walked to the stadium. This would be a bit of a problem; we quickly found ourselves in a part of Grant Park that I hadn’t seen three hours earlier. As we began crossing a field with our sights trained on the distant lights of the Hilton’s block of Michigan Avenue, I suddenly felt my foot slip on a hard surface as I planted it in the snow. “Odd,” I thought. “Why would grass be icy?” After a few more steps, I distinctly heard the sound of ice cracking.

“Wait…what are we walking on?” I got no responses. “AYO! ARE WE WALKING OVER WATER RIGHT NOW?!”

TJ: “I mean…technically it’s not water right now…”

Apparently, these four white Chicagoans found my sudden murderous rage very comical. I failed to agree. (The next day, TJ would explain that we had merely been on a retention pond, and the water below us wasn’t more than four feet deep. But for all I knew that night, I was walking across Lake Michigan.)

Once back at the Hilton, we caught up with Weatherman, GG, and their boys in the lobby. The line to get into the hotel bar had doubled, as had Weatherman and GG’s level of intoxication. Once it thawed some I was able to turn on my phone, which had shut down in the cold of the stadium. Swag and Canada finally responded to our texts, informing us that they had gone back to Tennessee’s room at the Courtyard Marriott instead of the Hilton where we were all supposed to be. Yayy… I went up to Kerrigan’s room and retrieved my bag. When I came back downstairs, Weatherman and GG had already departed for the Marriott. TJ, Fire, and the rest of their people were going to go to dinner in the area. I decided to catch a cab to the Marriott.

As we parted ways, TJ and Fire told me to tell the cabbie I wanted to go to “the Marriott River North.” I recited that phrase over and over in my head, as I stood in a very long and slow-moving line at the cab stand. It took almost 45 minutes for me to finally get into a cab. “Marriott River North,” came out of my mouth aboard a sigh of relief.

The roads in Chicago weren’t exactly clear, and even though my cabbie was driving a small SUV, he slipped and struggled in a few places as he carried me across the city. I could just feel the bemused gods toying with the idea of getting the cab stuck in the snow, and stranding me in the middle of a giant, foreign city. When we got to the Marriott I felt my shoulders relax for the first time in hours, and I started putting together thoughts on how to get myself back on the righteous path to drunkenness.

Swag had texted while I was in the cab, and told me he, Canada, Dupa, and Tennessee were in room 1225. I found my way to the 12th floor, but was at a loss when the door numbers on the odd side of the hallway went from 1219 to 1227. I retraced my steps; the rooms on the even side were all there: 1220, 1222, 1224, 1226… The fuck?

I dialed up Swag.

Swag: “Yo.”
Me: “What room did you say you were in?”
Swag: “1225.”
Me: “Why don’t I see it?”
Swag: “What?”
Me: “Man, I’m looking at these room numbers, and there’s no 1225. The rooms go to like 1219, then there’s nothing on that side again ‘til like 1227.”
Swag: “I’m pretty positive it’s 1225.”
Me: “I’m standing outside of 1224.”
Swag: “Well, I’m standing in the hallway looking at 1224, and I don’t see you, sooo…”

I was in the wrong Marriott.

There’s frustration, and then there’s being sober and alone in a new city you know nothing about, with a phone with a dying battery, barely defrosted from three hours of watching your favorite hockey team get embarrassed in an 8°F snowstorm and another 45 minutes of waiting for a cab in an 8°F snowstorm, carrying a duffel bag like you got lost on your way home from a rec league game, wandering through hotel hallways fantasizing about a magical liquid that eases the pain and makes you forget bad experiences, only to learn that the hotel you were dropped off at isn’t the one you wanted to go to.

There wasn’t a single person or thing on the planet that I didn’t want to strangle the life out of.

Google Maps was the first to get back into my good graces. If only that cabbie had heard of it. It informed me that the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, where I was taken, was only 0.3 miles from the Courtyard (Marriott) Chicago River North, where I was going. I started walking, and along the way shot off a text to TJ: “I hate your city right now.”

My rage subsided when I finally reached Marriott room 1225, and found everyone having a quiet conversation while Dupa slept (*sigh* Houston makes you sofff). Weatherman and GG’s room was just down the hall. I stopped by to share my tale and found GG ready for bed, while Weatherman was making himself Makers & Cokes.

Swag, Canada, Dupa, and I formed a new plan. It was around midnight. We’d cab it back to Fire’s, drop off Dupa and my bag, and go get properly drunk in Old Town. We went out to the street to hail a cab. It would be another hour-plus before one finally stopped for us. All I heard in my head while we waited was, “Man, fuck this town.

Eventually, while we were repeatedly failing to flag down a cab, two cars approaching the intersection collided…somehow. We hadn’t been watching, but they suddenly pulled over across the street from us. A furious young brother hopped out of the trailing car. I can only guess that the other driver had changed lanes into him, maybe. He yelled at the other car as he approached it. I reveled in someone feeling the same anger that I’d felt for most of the night, and waited for a gun to be pulled. Then he yelled for his girlfriend, in the passenger seat, to call the cops. So much for murder. “Man,” I groaned. “I was hoping I’d get to see a homicide. Would’ve made this whole night worth it.”

Back at Fire’s, we shared our various miseries with the Chicago boys, who couldn’t fathom the issues we’d run into with taxi service. They hadn’t had any trouble getting cabs all night. We were all too cold and tired to bother going back out to the bars. I sat in Fire’s recliner sober and angry, and realized I hadn't even had dinner that night.

Man, fuck this town.

[To be continued...]

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