#41: Parking on the Hustle

August 1st, 2012

The man in the pink polo and Cubs fisherman’s hat doesn’t use his credit card all summer, he said. The Cubs take care of that.

“All my groceries, every errand — cash,” the man said, trying to flag down a slowly cruising smoker in a black SUV. “It’s a benefit of living here.”

For some, the Chicago Cubs are a religion. For others, a punchline. But for this man and his ilk, the ones who take to the side streets around Wrigley Field every home game with homemade signs promising cheap parking, easy escape after the game, safe lots, a watchful eye while you’re root, root, rooting for the Cubbies, they’re a business opportunity.

“I started about three years ago,” the man said, holding up his sign for another car before realizing it was a neighbor. They waved at each other.

“The first year, I had one space. The next year, three, and this year, five. It takes about 60, 70 minutes and I give everyone their cut,” he said. “It’s a bunch of people in the building with spaces but no cars, you see.”

He stood in the streets, like neighbors every block or two were doing on this tree-lined slip of Wrigleyville. They held signs offering prices, saying nice things about the Cubs or, in this man’s case, just declaring “EZ P.” Easy parking. $20 a space.

I guess it was a hustle, but the man seemed too dorky and kind for it to register as sneaky. If these people were going to pour into his neighborhood thousands at a time throughout the summer, darn right they’re going to give him a little scratch for groceries.

Wrigleyville is full of cottage industries around the Cubs, from scalpers to rooftop decks to the guy on the street selling paper-thin “White Sux” shirts. It’s a point of Chicago pride, harmless vestiges of Algren’s City on the Make, that busted-nose lovely lovely we hold so dear.

But just like how Ticketmaster strangles out the scalpers, developers bought up the rooftop decks and the MLB cracks down on copyright-infringing shirts, the corporations and techies are hunting even this bit of the make.

“The last two years, everyone around here got e-mails asking them how many parking spaces they have,” the man said. “A website wants to pool them so you buy them online. You go online, tell them how many spaces you need and they give you a cut.

“But my cut’s better,” he quickly adds.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said, a shot of mild disgust coming to his face. “I don’t want to park someplace without seeing it. I want to come here, see the people.”

I guess he had the Chicago “hustler’s blood” Nelson Algren wrote about, but in his pink polo and fisherman’s hat, with his goofy nature and eagerness for someone to talk to, he seemed more like the dad you would ask to park a block away from school.

He was nice. And he was calm. And he just wanted to keep his little bit of hustle among friends, doling cuts of the $20 action to his neighbors for 60, 70 minutes on game night.

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