Thursday, May 08, 2014

Cockpit Carl and Screaming Sammy

Earlier this week, I had a business meeting out in Chicago.  It was too early in the day for me to fly out the same day, so I arranged to fly in the day before.  In the past few years, I’ve had the chance of spending a good amount of time in Chitown, but as fate would have it, I could never coordinate my trips with dates when the Cubs were in town and playing at Wrigley Field . . . until this trip. 

While I grew up a baseball fan, going mostly to A’s and Giants games, I’ve had a list of the ballparks in which I would like to watch a game.  The list isn’t very big: Yankee Stadium (the old one), Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field.  Back in the late ‘80s, I lived in The Bronx and was able to attend two games at the old Yankee Stadium – once from the bleachers where I got Bo Jackson (who was playing for the Royals) to do a goofy pose for a photo and once on the lower level on the third-base side.  A few years back, my family and I were in Boston about two weeks after the baseball season ended, so we missed our chance to see a game but went on a tour of Fenway Park.  While I’m glad we did it, I still want to see a game at this historic park.  And of course, there’s Wrigley Field with the ivy-covered walls located smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood.  But I’m getting ahead of myself – sorry!

On my flight out to Chicago, just after we took off, the pilot comes on and says, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m Captain Steve Dauntless and assisting me here in the cabin is my First Officer, Douglas Bornhoffer.  We’re going to climb to 30,000 feet and find some good stable air for our flight out to Chicago today.  So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”  First off, I’m not sure why they tell us their names.  It’s not like we have trading cards of the pilots and first officers that we’re all waiting to trade or we’re all playing “Fantasy Fly Boys”, and we’re hoping we get the right guys so we can rub it in our friends’ faces.  Also, in all the flying I’ve done, when the pilot has come on and made the introduction, I have yet to have one of my fellow passengers look over at me and say, “Oh my gosh!  I can’t believe how lucky we are!  We’re flying with Captain Dauntless.  Do you know what his ERA is?”  At that last comment, I would have a look of confusion painted on my face, and my fellow passenger would say, “ERA! It’s his End of Runway Accident record.”  My only response at that point would be, “Well, I hope it’s zero.” 

The second thing I find odd in these little feel-good announcements from Cockpit Carl is the need to tell us our cruising altitude, which is generally 30,000 feet.  I would be impressed if the guy came over the PA and said, “Ladies and gentlemen.  Most pilots like to cruise at 30,000 feet, but as you’ll notice in the next two or three minutes, we’ll be climbing so high that nothing on the ground is going to be evenly remotely recognizable.  I do that just to keep a little mystery in the flight.  Oh, and I’ll be deploying the oxygen masks just for the heck of it.  Don’t be alarmed, it’s your choice, really.  The air can get a little thin at 55,000 feet even in a pressurized cabin like ours.”  Telling us the cruising altitude is silly.  There’s nothing that tall that we need to be careful to avoid.  The tallest building in the US is under 1,500 feet.  Mount Everest is just a tad over 29,000 feet tall.  And I’m going to take a wild guess and say, anything over about 20,000 feet is probably difficult to gauge anyway.  With that in mind, the next flight you take, bring an altimeter along and announce aloud your aircraft’s altitude in 5,000 foot increments.  Your fellow passengers will thank you, I’m sure.  And if you don’t make it up to 30,000 feet, demand to speak with the pilot – they love to have their performances critiqued. 

A little over three hours later, we landed safe and sound (always my preference) at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  After picking up my rental car and making it to my hotel, I fired up the Internet (God bless Al Gore for inventing that!) and mapped out the best way to get to Wrigley Field from where I was staying.  Knowing that Wrigley is located in the middle of a neighborhood and parking is a premium, I chose to catch a train out in the north suburbs that would take me within a few blocks of the park. 

When I arrived at Wrigley, I chose to purchase a bleacher seat.  The folks at Wrigley make a big deal out of their bleacher fans, so I thought this would be the quintessential Wrigley Field experience – and it was.  Upon entering the park, I was handed a pink t-shirt and was asked to wear it at the end of the second inning for a breast-cancer-awareness promotion and photo.  Gladly.  I chose to make my way to left field because there seem to be more right-handed batters than lefties, so the odds of catching a home run ball were higher.  One can dream. 

I found my seat and sat down to watch the end of warm ups.  I noticed a lot of the people around me were “regulars” – you could tell by the way they talked to each other and interacted with the ushers.  As I sat on my metal bleacher seat, I realized I had come woefully unprepared for an evening game in early May in Chicago.  The cold metal beneath my hindquarters quickly seeped its way up into my body through my jeans and thin underwear.  (The only reason I added the detail about my underwear was that if I had finished the sentence at “jeans”, some smartass would invariably say, “What, you were wearing jeans with no underwear?”  I know I would have said it if the roles were reversed.)  I had only brought a thin fleece jacket and an ASU tuke (beanie) – not exactly the right outfit for 45 degrees with a mild wind blowing in from Lake Michigan.  The ironic thing was that the official organ player was playing Beach Boys songs to make everyone feel like spring had arrived.  I almost exploded when he/she busted into “Surfin’ USA”. 

As the players cleared off the field and before the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by a cancer survivor, the field crew came out one more time to tidy everything up for the game.  The last thing they did was spray down the dirt in the infield with water to keep the dust down, and surprisingly, this took six dudes with just one hose.  The lead “hoser” – the one who actually held the end of the hose and guided where the water was sprayed – was dressed in a Cubs polo shirt and chinos.  The other five cats were dressed decidedly more casually, and they held the hose in three- or four-foot increments between one another – apparently, this is a very heavy hose (although it didn’t look to be more than twice the size of a standard garden hose).  What struck me most was the fact there was a disparity in the “uniform” of the lead “hoser” and the other “hosers” – obviously, there’s a pecking order, and this lead guy is the big cheese.  I’m not sure what he does better than the other guys in handling the hose and directing the water spray.  The ability to spray things is innate for practically every male on this planet – we’ve been doing it since birth. 

As the game began, I quickly realized something: the game of baseball is mind-numbingly slow and so boring that I believe we all lost a few IQ points for sitting there watching the contest between the Cubs and the White Sox.  Ironically, I grew up playing baseball, and I loved it.  Well, I might not have LOVED IT, but it was the only sport at which I had a modicum of talent and could hold my own on the field without embarrassing myself.  Basketball, football, soccer, etc. – none of these sports held any fascination for me.  Weird! 

Near the end of the second inning, a woman came to our section and reminded us to wear our pink shirts for the photo.  What made me laugh was this statement: “Come on all you White Sox fans.  We put the Cubs logo on the back of the shirts on purpose so you wouldn’t have a problem wearing this for a photo opportunity for a good cause.”  While the two teams are in different leagues, the cross-town rivalry is alive and well, and the “pink shirt” organizers knew their audience.  Kudos to them!  My mom’s a survivor and so are a number of phenomenally brave women I’ve been lucky enough to know in my life. 

The bleacher fans were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Despite their “niceness”, I couldn’t take it any longer after the fourth inning.  The combination of the sports equivalent of watching paint dry and the cold assaulting me at every turn, I decided it was time to get back on the train and make like a baby and head out.  As I was leaving, I looked down and noticed that the ivy on the brick wall on which the bleachers sat was completely dead.  Apparently, this stuff doesn’t grow well in subarctic temperatures either. 

My train ride back to my car was moving along smoothly for the first three or four stops.  Suddenly, without any prelude, one of my fellow riders screamed at the top of his lungs – it was a sound one would expect coming out of the mouth of a 13 year-old girl watching “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (which would be odd because that movie is rated “R”, and no responsible adult should take an impressionable girl to watch such a thing, but that’s another topic for another day).  As I looked in the direction of the scream, I noted it was coming from a 40-something dude who proceeded to tell the entire train car the differences between what a heterosexual man and a homosexual man . . . prefer.  After he was satisfied that we were clear on this subject, he “educated” us on the correct terms for castration as it applied to the different genders (given the degree of detail he shared with us, I’m pretty sure he paid attention that day in biology class).  His stop came just in time – there was a guy on the other end of the car who didn’t seem to be following Screaming Sammy’s lecture, and I was afraid we were about to get a demonstration.  After Sammy left the car, the rest of the ride was practically silent.  I could tell my fellow riders were glad to see the back of this guy, but truth be told, I was beginning to be nostalgic for my days in New York City on the subway.  I still remember the guy who got into our car in Harlem and walked around asking for money.  When he didn’t get the amount he was seeking, he started playing a saxophone.  Of course, he hadn’t taken a single saxophone lesson in his life, and he WASN’T a child prodigy.  After about ten seconds (that seemed like ten minutes) of unmitigated noise, sax man said, “I won’t stop until you give me some money.”  And we all dug into our pockets for as much loose change as we could find. 




The rest of my time in Chicago was fairly uneventful.  And the plane ride home was okay except for the toddler who sat behind me with restless leg syndrome and a mother who was absolutely oblivious.  I can’t blame the kid because, well, he’s a kid, and his mother obviously stayed for all nine innings of the game the night before and lost too many IQ points to be a responsible adult. 

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