Last week, I had the great privilege of visiting New York - for the very first time! Woo Hoo and Fuck Yeah and holy mother of GOD they don’t call it the city that never sleeps for nothing.
I did not sleep. Well, that’s a lie. I slept a little - a very little. When I stumbled into JFK Airport at the end of the week, I was not my usual chit-chatty and friendly self. I shuffled along with my bloodshot eyes looking down at the dirty floor, hoping my flight was on time. I just wanted to get on the plane and take a nappy-poo, but I was wearing my Chicago Blackhawks hoodie and that brought the hockey fans out of the woodwork (or plastic-work or steel-work or whatever the airport is made of).
“Stan Mikita! Remember Stan Mikita?” (That exciting exclamation and question came on my first day in NYC; I was at the Empire State Building and was wearing the same hoodie)
“Hey hon, what time the game start tonight?”
“ Sharks are going down, amiright?”
“Hell yeah – BLACKHAWKS!”
I was exhausted, but I couldn’t be so tired that I was hallucinating which airport I was in, could I? I was in New York, but damn if there weren’t a whole lotta Chicago sports fans wandering around. (*And last year when I was on the way home from Seattle, that time wearing my Cubs hoodie, I experienced a similar response from strangers. Heck, the PSA agent was downright friendly to me AND told me that my fly was down, which was pretty nice of her. I didn’t want to walk around representing my team and my city with my gut poking through a gaping hole in my jeans!*) I had heard somewhere (probably the internet and everything on the internet is true so…) that New Yorkers aren’t very friendly. I did not find this to be the case at all.
A man bought me a bottle of water at the Hudson News store saying, “It’s the least I can do since you’ll be missing the game,” and the flight attendant didn’t charge me for wine on the plane. She just grinned and said, “Real Hawks fans drink free.” See? Friendly!
I am a real Blackhawks fan. I am. I’m also a Cubs and Bears fan. I even cheer for the White Sox, (IF they aren’t in a crosstown battle with the Cubs) the Bulls, the Fire and the Wolves! GO TEAM CHICAGO! Chicago is my team, my city, and my home.
But here’s the thing – I don’t live within the city limits anymore, and I haven’t been watching sports for years. I’ve been in the ‘burbs since 2005 and I don’t even just keep a game on as background noise while doing something else, like laundry or writing or driving or whatever it is I do when I could be listening to a game. But I didn’t tell all the chit-chatty and friendly water and wine buying folks that, or the PSA lady who saved Seattle from seeing something gross that couldn’t be unseen.
Nope! I smiled, laughed and listened while Chicago sports fans from other cities talked about their experiences singing at Wrigley Field, meeting Michael Jordan and what they think the Monsters of the Midway should have done differently last year (some good ideas too, I think. Would have taken some notes to pass on to McKenna and McCaskey, but I was just sofaking exhausted. Next time maybe?).
Once I was settled in on the airplane, Chicago bound with a belly full of wine, I pondered my current (and really at this point longstanding) lack of interest in the specifics of Chicago sports, actually any sports at all – the players, the politics, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I hadn’t thought much about this at all, but seeing as how sports teams were making me feel at home away from home, I really got to thinking – hard.
What made me stray? When did I stop caring? I used to know many of the player’s names and who was playing and when. I’d go to the games and feel a lot of pride and enthusiasm for Chicago teams, even if I didn’t really understand the rules or a good 99% of what the hell was happening on the playing field. I’ve never been a sports fanatic, but I am a huge fan of Chicago and feel warm and fuzzy about our teams. There is nothing like going to the games live! It’s a big experience, and I cherish the memories of going to them.
I have always liked the idea of sports more than I actually like the actual playing of sports. I grew up around sports and even played on some teams myself. I swam, did gymnastics, played softball, cheered and danced on teams. I loved being part of a team. My pondering led me to a surprising conclusion – yes, I may have strayed, but no, I did NOT stop caring -at least not completely.
It’s been a rough couple of years in the wide world of sports. The Penn State nightmare, the deceitful and disappointing behavior of Lance Armstrong and alleged violent acts against women by other star athletes makes me sick, and have soured others on sports and athletes. There are the Michael Vick and O.J. Simpson stories too, disgusting and true tales about athletes who shine on the field, but lack personal integrity and respect for life, that make it hard to be the kind of die-hard fan I was in 1982 with the Cubbies or during the Super bowl Shuffle era with the Bears.
No, I didn’t stop caring, but I did grow up and see things more clearly. As a child, being part of a team, taught me to work and play well with others, to share and grieve, to celebrate and excel. But I learned else very important from being part of a team - yes, the team’s needs were important, but that I was important too! My needs, thoughts, feelings and actions affected others – always – but there is a time when you have to go it alone, still being a part of the team, but also letting your own self shine!
Which brings me back to my pondering in seat 25 C. I am one of some 7 billion humans on the planet, but my Blackhawks hoodie brought a few dozen other humans in my circle, even if just for a short time, making us all feel part of something. No matter who we root for in sports, most of us are rooting for each other as human beings! We want to be a part of something, to feel that we belong, and that we are cared for. It was sort of intense for a thinking type such as myself.
I know this is some deep shit for a Monday morning, but there is a point to all of this. The reason I was in NYC? To be part of the team that came together to produce the audio version of my book. I went to New York to read it and the team worked their magic. We all played a part. I sat in a booth for a good many hours, sweating like a whore in church, burping a lot, drinking the water equivalent of what must have been at least Lake Michigan, and reading every last word, some of them many, many times.
So a huge thank you to the team at Penguin Audio - Patti, Diane, Sarah, Kelly, Danielle, Richie and Robert (Jenny and Tracy too!) all of you’s guys, for everything! And thank you, strangers turned teammates – the Chicago sports fans in NYC! You reminded me that although I sit on my ass, day after day, alone, writing things for strangers and friends, we are all human beings and really are all on the same team.
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And P.S. Buy my book. Please. Buy it. It comes out in April AND NOW YOU CAN GET THE AUDIO VERSION TOO!