#654: The Cubless Cubs Game

July 1st, 2016

The crush of meatflesh oozing out of the Red Line at Addison.

The bars. The crowds. The water bottle and bootleg T-shirt vendors hawking wares and the how-are-they-not-arrested scalpers yelling “Tickets! Tickets! I got extra!” from their pre-arranged Wrigley stoops.

Slow cruises of suburbanite SUVs trickling slowly, slowly down Clark looking for that holiest of Grails, a cheap parking spot by the field.

The smell of booze and pre-event jitters, to be replaced later that night with the stink of horse flops from the Chicago Police Mounted Patrol Unit’s rides.

The cottage industries that surround the ballpark were ready to go, from the street vendors and screaming scalpers to the bars to the neighbors-turned-parking-attendants. They were ready as they are 81 home games a year for a crowd of fans to slurp into the neighborhood by train or car and then hollow out to suburbia once their deed was done.

It was the perfect scene for a day of Cubs baseball at Wrigley Field.

But it wasn’t baseball. The economic driver of stadium, neighborhood and booze, cops, scalpers and bootleg street-sold T-shirts was the music of James Taylor with special guest Jackson Browne.

Like a diesel car converted to run on sunflower oil, the neighborhood accepted its new folk-rock fuel.

The scalpers offered folkie tix instead of views to the current leader in the National League Central standings. “Browne” and “Taylor” replaced “Arrieta” and “Rizzo” on the bootleg shirts. The pre-stadium drunks pre-emptively warbled “Fire and Rain” instead of “Go Cubs Go” or “Take Me Out…” as they ambled to the field.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised the area adapted, that the rooftop owners still sold tickets and the bro bars still sold overpriced beer.

The first concert at the stadium was in 1922, although they didn’t become a regular feature until Jimmy Buffett kicked off a regular series in 2005. (I know what you’re thinking: “Did he play ‘Margaritaville’?” He played “Margaritaville”!)

I should be surprised that I was surprised, that a street vendor’s bills still need to be met more than 81 home games a year, that life around this strange, magnetic park, a place made of nostalgia and ivy, existed for a night without the team.

It felt odd to hear singing from the park that wasn’t the national anthem, or to hear cheers not for runs.

But it was weirder still to see all the trappings of economy around this stadium knowing good and well the Cubbies were 725 miles away, playing their game to a different crowd.

What’s with all the baseball this week?

A man called Piano Legs

And, just for fun, how Chicago invented the ray gun

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