Nothing Up My Sleeve
I haven’t had a vacation since my honeymoon to Las Vegas in 2002. The year before that, I took my daughters and my fiancé to DisneyWorld. I was overdue.
However, if you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know that I became unemployed when Circuit City closed back in March. A lack of income severely impacted any chance at a vacation this year.
Instead, my wife allowed me a one day road trip to Chicago. The Dodgers were playing the White Sox in Chicago this year, something that doesn’t happen very often. She doesn’t enjoy baseball as much as I do, so letting me take a day away from watching our four year old to go see my beloved Dodgers was one of the nicest things she could do for me.
It was a day game this past Thursday which meant I had to leave Elmwood early to catch (pardon the pun) the first pitch at 1:05 PM. I had to drop my daughter off with grandma and grandpa before heading north. By 9:00 AM, I was on my way.
Normally, the trip would have taken about three hours. However, the factory that produces orange construction cones has been working overtime lately and shipping their goods to Illinois for placement on most major interstate highways here in the state. I know this because I passed most of them on the way to Chicago.
I do not understand WHY the block off 16 miles of interstate, make you drive 45 MPH, and threaten you with a $375 fine when only about a quarter mile of that stretch is actually under construction. There are also signs that tell you that there’s a $10,000 fine and a jail term of 14 years for hitting a construction worker.
I think it would be rather hard to collect on those fines when there aren’t any construction workers out there to hit. There was one stretch of road that had no workers, trucks, or other signs of life for 6.8 miles. It did have plenty of orange construction cones.
As I got closer to Chicago, I noticed another phenomenon. Traffic starts and stops for no apparent reason. I was tootling along at about 65 in three lanes of traffic when all of a sudden, everyone in front of me decided to stop. I could see about a half mile in front of me and it was just a sea of brake lights.
I know how people are. If there’s anything to look at, such as a wreck or some poor schmuck changing a tire or a butterfly with a broken wing, people will slow down to look at it. It’s what the traffic reporters on the radio call a “gaper’s block.” I figured that there was something up ahead that warranted gaping.
We began creeping along at the speed of a glacier, gradually picking up speed and just as quickly as we had stopped, we were now barreling down the freeway at 65 again. No major wreck… no minor wreck… nothing. Before long, we repeated the process and would do so several more times as we neared the city.
US Cellular Field is easy to find. You’d think that a large stadium should be easy to find, but that’s not always the case. As luck would have it, the White Sox’ ballpark is just off the interstate with plenty of signs to direct you.
The first sign I saw for parking was in a church’s parkinglot. The sign proclaimed in large, crudely written letters that you could park there for the sum of $23.00.
I drove past with some very un-Christian like thoughts running through my head.
A couple blocks later, the actual stadium parking popped into view. There was no sign till you got up to the guy who had a wad of cash in his hand. It too was $23.00.
The un-Christian like thoughts returned.
Actually, it was only $19 to park there. Then the City of Chicago had to add a $3 tax and the fine folks at Cook County added another $1. Leave it to a government entity to get their grubby mitts involved.
I approached the stadium alone and without a ticket. Once in Minnesota I’d done the same thing and ended up buying a ticket for less than half the face value and thought this might be a good idea. I’d checked prices of White Sox tickets online and they ran anywhere from $17 to about $175 for a single game. I’d be happy with the $17 ticket, and I figured since it was a day game, I’d be able to sit just about anywhere I wanted anyway.
Sure enough, a guy approached me with tickets for sale. “How many?” he asked.
“Box seats, lower level, six rows behind the dugout,” he said, peeling one off a stack he had. “Seventy five bucks.”
“I don’t have that much with me,” I stammered. This wasn’t going the way I’d planned.
“How much you got?”
He took a step back. “Buddy, if I was you, I’d head down the street to a bar, spend my thirty bucks on beer, and watch the game there on TV.”
What a nice, polite Chicagoan!
I headed for the ticket window. “What have you got in the $25 range?” I asked the guy behind the window.
“Nothin’,” he said with a look of disdain. “Tickets start at $33.”
“What happened to the $17 I saw online?” This was definitely not going the way I’d planned.
That’s when I found out the White Sox have different prices depending on who they’re playing. He explained that the Dodger game was a “prime” game and as such, was the highest of four, count ‘em, FOUR ticket prices. If I wanted to see a game for less than twenty bucks, I’d have to come back when the White Sox were playing Baltimore or Oakland.
I paid his $33 asking price and had even some more un-Christian like thoughts. So far, I was out $56 and I wasn’t even in the gate yet.
It’s a good thing I’ve got a Dodger hat. Those were priced at $45 inside the stadium. I could have had any other team at $30. I walked on past that display.
It used to be they gave you a program. For $33, I would think they could afford that. Silly me. Programs, a piece of flimsy card stock with the lineups photocopied onto an extra slip of paper was $5. If I needed a pencil, that was another buck. Again, I walked past and began searching for my section.
An usher helped me. He took my ticket, found that it was one of the cheap seats, and I thought the poor man was going to be ill. “Take those escalators,” he said, pointing them out. “All the way to the top.”
I did this, figuring that I’d watch a couple innings from the nosebleed section, then work my way down below as I saw empty seats. It was a good and noble plan.
The only problem was that people who buy tickets in the upper deck aren’t allowed to hobnob with the people who can afford better seats. You would have thought that I’d just booked third class passage on the Titanic or something. Once you went up the escalators, you couldn’t get back down to the lower levels. Signs were posted saying that people who held level 500 tickets were not permitted access to other parts of the stadium. In other words, YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE.
I found my seat in the upper deck and wished that the game was being played on the moon. I’d have been closer if it would have been played there. The jackass at the ticket window had given me a seat in the very top row.
I took a seat three rows up instead. I couldn’t read the players’ names on the back of their jerseys, but I’m enough of a fan to know who they are by just their numbers anyway. Those, I could see.
A guy came by selling hot dogs. They might not want us welfare cases in the upper deck associating with the other people in the park, but they were more than willing to sell us food. Hot Dogs were $4.75. A Pepsi to go with it was $4 (this is for a 20 ounce bottle that costs me between $1 and $1.50 at home). There went another $9 and the cretin who was selling hot dogs had the gall to ask if I wanted my quarter back. I was never going to see him again, so I said, “yes.” It took him so long to fish a quarter out of his pocket that I finally told him to just forget it because I wanted a HOT dog, not a cold one.
Another guy came by selling bottles of beer. They were $6.75. I’m not a drinker, so I don’t buy beer, but after I got home, I checked the price of a six pack, just for this column. Here at home, six packs sell for less than one beer at US Cellular Field.
The guy next to me bought four between the start of the game and the seventh inning when they cut off all alcohol sales. Had they continued to sell beer past the 7th inning, he would have ended up spending more on beer than he did on his ticket.
I’m complaining a lot about the prices here, but that’s only because I’m poor. There’s no way I could have afforded to take a family to a ball game, gotten decent seats, and fed them. I did a little figuring and it would be very easy for a family of four to drop $400-500 on a single game. For a lot of people, that’s a week’s worth of work.
I did have a good time. Well, a good time until that guy in the Sox uniform hit a three run homer to put them ahead. Or until that other guy in a Sox uniform hit a bases loaded single in the bottom of the 13th inning to win it for the home team.
The trip back was uneventful except for the part about getting lost on the South Side of Chicago (I kept envisioning running into Bad Bad Leroy Brown). As you come out of the parking area, there are signs that direct you back to the interstate. Well, they point you in the general direction of the interstate.
I drove for nearly 40 minutes trying to find the interstate. I kept turning wherever there were signs and arrows, promising me that I’d find I-55 South, but then I remembered the brain trusts who claim that exit 54 on I-74 is the Lewistown exit (which it is if you don’t mind an hour’s drive and going through five other towns first).
The slight detour did have its own serendipity. I found a Giordano’s Pizza and I’ve heard nothing but good things about their pizza. I stopped in and ordered a small stuffed cheese. I’ll used another column someday to review their pizza, but for now, let’s just say it was interesting for me to walk into an Italian restaurant, and have to point to the item on the menu because my Spanish is so poor.
I just hope that it’s not another seven years before I take my next vacation. Although, if I save up for seven years, maybe I can afford to go to Milwaukee next time.