One of the advantages of unemployment and independent wealth, is the ability to see in person as many Cubs games as my Old Style and Marlboro ravaged body can drag me to. And even though I technically do have a job (renting my place out on AirBNB), and a dwindling savings account, (divorce proceedings notwithstanding), I still manage to fill up the 2004 Beetle Convertible with 87 Octane, and pay the tolls to Pittsburgh and Cincy to see my win ravaged team try and scrape out a few on the road.
I had never been to PNC Park in Pittsburgh before, and for those of you who haven't been, it's a beautiful scene. With the City skyline illuminated over the right field wall, lack of security keeping you out of the box seats, free parking at the Casino (1 mile away) and 10$ 24oz Yuengling Lagers, this might be the best deal in baseball. I caught the games last Wednesday and Thursday. The Cubs lost both, but I met a guy named Stu who owns a Zombie Store called House of the Dead; I went to Banjo Night at the American Legion where 30 or so Octogenarians played ragtime and bluegrass music for a crowd of dirty hipsters, and bewildered old timers wondering why the dirty hipsters were there; I danced on the table at the Brauhaus to an Oompah band playing 80's cover songs; and I won 45$ at Video Roulette on the way back to the car. The Casino ended up paying me to park! Pittsburgh was a whole lotta adult fun. However, I did have the advantage of my 20 something year old local cousin dragging me around, and yes, I also felt the difference in our 15 year age difference the next day.
Thursday's game started strangely, as immediately after entering the ballpark, I saw a man having a heart attack. It didn't stop me from ordering the Pulled Pork Pierogi sandwich, but that guy had a good 20 years on me, so my worry wasn't immediate. We then suffered through a 2 hour rain delay, and I predicted correctly that the fans would come back drunk. With sweeping brooms in tow, they stumbled back into the bleachers, where Alfonso Soriano, who loves to watch himself on the giant scoreboard during replays, took the brunt of the abuse hurled by the inebriated fans. The main heckler was a man who looks like Paul Giamatti, when he played Pig Vomit in the Howard Stern movie, and kept loudly slurring that the guy next to him was Steve Bartman. The guy kinda looked like Bartman, but isn't there a little Bartman in all of us? Soriano's fun to watch. He dances to the other teams walk up music. He shoots hecklers blank looks of death. And lets face it, he's the most handsome guy on the team, unless you're into the mooky Rizzo or boy next door Darwin Barney type.
The only negative about PNC Park was that you can't smoke anywhere. Do you know how difficult it is for a nicotine addict to not smoke during a rain delay? You just end up walking around the stadium looking like a crazed junkie, searching for a nook to hide from the watchful eyes of security. It's an unnecessary cat and mouse game, and a police state easily rectified by giving us a place to smoke. Quit trying to social engineer me MLB! All smokers know they should quit, and I appreciate your concern, but save the lectures. I've quit hundreds of times, but quitting's about as easy as bringing a World Championship to the North side of Chicago.
So, after two frustrating losses in Pittsburgh, it was off to Cincinnati, where you can smoke, park free in Kentucky or at the Casino, and eat Spaghetti topped with Chili and shredded american cheese. It is however harder to be a Cubs fan here. Great American Ballpark takes home field advantage to a whole new level. When the Cubs intentionally walk someone, they play chicken sounds loudly over the speaker and everyone laughs, when the Cubs have a meeting on the mound, they play random idiotic family guy lines, as if that's what the pitching coach is saying, and it makes the Cubs appear stupid, and everyone laughs. The worst of it is the Red's PA announcer, who not only mispronounces the names of the Cubs, Welington Castro for example. But when he says the name of a Cub batter, it sounds as if he's telling you your mother just died. In contrast,when he announces a Red's batter, it's like he just told you just won a "BRAND NEW CAR!!!" on the Price is Right. I realize I have a Cub fan bias, but the announcers style is like nails on a chalkboard. The names get caught on his lips like a stutterer. J--------------oey V---------------otto!!! My father was a stutterer, and a Cub fan. He's been gone for 15 years. Maybe I'll light a candle at the local voodoo shop and ask my father's ghost to haunt the guy.
The music at Great American Ballpark reinforced my hatred of modern country music. I don't hate the music as much as the vapid lyrics and that it was blasted into my ears, but the fans know the words, and sing along about God, pickups, flags, and country. They also do the wave. The old timers are resistant however, and I talked to this old guy about how in the 40's, how he and his buddies climbed over a wall in Wrigley Field while cops tried to hit him with night sticks. That guy hated the wave, as do I.
Friday night was Fireworks night, and a Reds win had the fans feeling full of themselves as we walked across the Blue Bridge to "free parking" in Kentucky. Just ahead of me on the bridge there was a confrontation between some Reds fans, mid 20's, male, white, and a small group of black guys walking the other way towards Cincinnati. I'm not sure what the fight was about, (They probably just couldn't figure out how to get past each other without touching), but after the black guys passed, one of the white guys started yelling the "N" word! A middle aged gentleman in an hilarious Bonds* jersey scolded the little Nazi and said "Don't you think that's a little racialist?". The "racialist" kept at it, continuing his ignorant, unrepeatable diatribe, at which in my legally sanctioned .07 alcohol limit, I felt obliged to step into. He called me an "N" -Lover and said that I gave away half my "White Card" when I voted for Obama. There's no reasoning with the unreasonable, so I told him I was sick of hearing his crap, he was walking too slow and to let me pass. He did and then yelled more at me from about 50 yards away. I wish I could have played the Red's intentional walk chicken sounds then, but instead I made a B line for my car where I have a can of pepper spray. Luckily, The "racialist" disappeared into the dark Kentucky night, and I was treated to a beautiful fireworks display on the banks of the Ohio River. A great end to a bummer of a night, and the pepper spray remained unneeded.
There were a handful of Red's fans who treated me kindly, but mostly I felt unwelcome to be wearing Blue in the Red's home park. At the end of Sunday's extra inning win, there were about 15 or so Cubs fans, myself included, huddled together in back of the center field standing section, looking to make a quick exit. I also went out to smoke in the bottom of the 9th, as I really couldn't bear to watch a Red's walk off win in the stadium. Luckily, the Cubs won, and me and my Cubs posse hiding in the back, like early Christians in ancient Rome, slapped 5's and scattered. As I walked back to the "free parking" casino, a group of 16 year old boys yelled at me "Cubs Suck!". I said, "We may suck, but we beat you today!". I then hustled off, as to not end up under of a pile of testosterone driven teenagers . I had an extra spring in my step after a Cubs win, but probably had a little too much confidence as I dropped 20$ down a "Press Your Luck" slot machine, and didn't even get to play the bonus! So much for "free parking". Shoulda just parked in Kentucky again and fended off "Racialists".
The moral of this baseball travel story is, if you're going to Cincy... Do park at the Casino. Don't gamble. Do keep your mouth shut. And do eat the "Chili Cheese Coneys" instead of the "Ways" which is some weird Spaghetti concoction that only people who grew up in Cincinnati enjoy.
And if you're going to Pittsburgh... Do park at the Casino. Do gamble. Do bring nicotine gum. Do go to the Zombie store. And Do Not eat the pulled pork pierogi sandwich.
The Cubs went 1-5 on this road trip, but I personally went 4-2. Four really fun nights rooting for my Cubbies in two vibrant and unique cites. And 2 nights where I wished I was home in Chicago getting shot at by the people I love and understand. Nice to be back. Sweet Home Chicago.
Here are more pics from the road trip!