He walked down the street in a Blackhawks jersey, hat kicked backward. As he crossed the intersection, he hoisted to the honks of the cars a silver spray painted Stanley Cup he made out of a five-gallon water cooler bottle and a plastic bowl.
“You make that?” I asked.
“Made it, bro? It’s the real thing!” the young, bearded man said, pumping it in my face and giving a slight sports fan werewolf wooo.
We shared a laugh and he moved on as I muttered “jackass” under my breath.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
I’m not minimizing the accomplishment, nor am I mocking the sports fans who thrilled at that amazing series that came down to a pulse-pounding 17 seconds (I watched the last game). But the thousands who swarmed to Chicago for the parade in the Hawks’ honor brought with them a certain type of sports fan I’ll never understand, the type that whoops and hollers and says things like “We did it!” in Toews jerseys not more than a week old.
The downtown fervor around the Loop for the victory parade started when, well I noticed it when the scuzzy bar across the street from my office was packed as I passed by on my way to work. At 8:30 a.m.
We sometimes watched the crowd from the window.
“You going to go drink?” Chris our designer asked in his smiling German accent.
I laughed and tugged my rolling suitcase to the elevator. For I had to pass this throng to get to Union Station to catch the Van Galder bus to my cousin’s wedding.
As I dragged the roller cart through the Loop, I created a code to determine who belonged and who didn’t, who had a reason to be here and who was just a gaping interloper, here to get drunk in Chicago at 10 a.m. and back home in the respectable ‘burbs by bedtime.
The guy wobbling against a bridgehouse wearing a Blackhawks flag as a cape and failing to make the flame from his lighter meet his cigarette didn’t belong.
The homeless guy rolling himself a cigarette on a stone bench along Wacker did.
The group of young, beautiful people trying to make a human pyramid as a white guy with a kicked cap yelled at a busty young blonde, “You smoked him! You smoked him!” did not belong.
The older man with the Boeing ID card trying to get through an intersection did.
Anyone in a tie or wearing workboots belonged. Anyone walking around shirtless didn’t. Anyone saying “Whooo!” didn’t belong. Anyone with a lanyard did.
“How long have you been here?” I asked one of the people selling Blackhawks gear off a series of banquet tables in the plaza area of Two North Riverside Plaza, the old Daily News building.
I expected the answer to be something ridiculous, like 5 a.m.
“Three weeks,” he said. “We’ve been here since before they won the cup. We’ve only been here (gestures to the hats and jerseys and Chinese-made T-shirts below him) today. We set up over there (gestures across the crowd of pigeon-chasing children and Potbelly diners filling the plaza with red and black) the last couple of weeks.”
Inside Union Station, below the escalators off Canal, by the Amtrak stop where there always seem to be Amish people heading somewhere, I chatted in a newsstand with the woman selling snacks and water to a packed room of people in red.
“We’re used to being busy,” she said as she rang up my $4 bottle of train station water and my $4 bag of train station trailmix. “But not like-”
“The Blackhawks had a parade,” the young man ringing up a customer at the next register chimed in without looking over.
“Yeah, there was a parade,” she said. “I saw it on TV and whoo.”
I don’t understand sports. To me, watching an event doesn’t give me the same feeling of ownership and community it does for them. They watched the Blackhawks win an amazing series and felt a part of a massive “We.”
I went to see Man of Steel but didn’t think I had any part in defeating Zod.
As the young wild ones rallied through the Loop, cheering and giving those same werewolf “Whooos” to passersby also in red and black, I felt a little angry at myself. They were young and stupid. They were happy to flood the Loop and day-drink to celebrate a team they watched, yes in jerseys less than a week old.
But they’re young. They’ll grow out of the stupid, the bandwagoning and the daytime drunk.
“Who am I to judge the young on being dumb?” I thought as I stood on Canal, waiting for the Van Galder that would take me and my rolling luggage to my cousin’s wedding.
And after the bus rolled up and I waited in line to get on board to leave this championship city, I saw a man of maybe about 60 walk down the sidewalk.
As he moved, he pumped and hoisted a tin foil wrapped Stanley Cup he made out of a five-gallon water cooler bottle and a plastic bowl.