"We're gonna put a big video billboard up right at the LSD turn. East Lake Shore Drive," he said, sipping a cold Daisy Cutter ("Good Chicago beer," he said when he ordered.).
He had texted me an hour before. "Got big news. Meet me at Tiny at 4:00."
I've known him since 1959. He's a City Hall lifer. Worked there for forty years. Knows where all the bodies are buried. We get together for weddings, funerals, birthdays, class reunions, or to have a beer at Tiny Lounge (Leavitt just south of Montrose). We like it because there are no TVs and the beer tastes good.
He sat in one of the booths toward the back, away from the sunlight.
"Goddamn Cubs," he whispered. "But, hey! Can't beat 'em? Join 'em!"
"You're talking about the renovations?"
"Very educational," he said.
"They're gonna build restaurants, a hotel, an office building, a big video scoreboard and a plaza of some kind. And for what?"
"To restore the ballpark and enhance the neighborhood?'
He spit a mouthful of Daisy Cutter across the table. "Don't make me waste good beer!" he growled. "Enhance my pants! They're gonna build all that crap, and put up some obelisks, too, so they can hang more and more and more ads. More revenue streams."
"They need the money to build a new Cubs team that will win the World Series for its legions of loyal fans."
"Fans my fanny!" he said, and drained his beer. He raised his hand signalling that we needed another round. "They don't need the money. They're the Ricketts! They're Ameritrade! They got billions! They could buy the entire New York Yankees roster tomorrow if they wanted."
"I don't know. The Yankees are getting pretty old ..."
"The point is they're doing it because they do what all rich people do. They want more and more and more dough!"
"I've met Mr. Ricketts at the ballpark. He seems like a nice guy. We were in standing room and he offered to upgrade us to box seats."
"Whatever. But what I'm trying to tell you is that the great City of Chicago wants more money, too. The Cubs are building a new team and we're building a new Chicago."
"I know. I see the signs and banners all over town."
"And if they can put in a Jumbotron to sell advertising and spite those rooftop guys who put up ads, so can we."
"Spite? Who you gonna spite?"
"The Drake," he replied as our beers arrived. My face must have expressed my confusion because he didn't wait for me to respond. "Think about it. Every time you drive down Lake Shore Drive from the North Side, what do you see as you approach the Michigan Avenue exit?"
"Our beautiful skyline and the elegant sweep of the landmark apartment buildings along East Lake Shore Drive?"
"I weep for your sweep. What you see is a big ad for the Drake Hotel sitting right on their rooftop. Why should they get to advertise their business to all those drivers and passengers that approach the curve there? A hundred and seventy thousand vehicles a day! 62 million a year! It's not the Drake's highway. It's ours."
"So the city is going to put up a Jumbotron to spite the Drake Hotel? What about forever open, free, and clear and Daniel Burnham and Lake Shore Drive's protected status?"
"Daniel Burning? Who's that? Anyway, Wrigley Field is a landmark, too, but that won't stop nothin'."
I took a big pull of beer. "How big will it be?"
"How tall is the Drake? That's how big it will be." He pulled a pen from a pocket and scribbled a drawing on a cocktail napkin. "And at a CPM of let's say $100, that's $6,000,000 a year per ad. Of course, we'll need to charge by size, fractional units and all that. And since it's a video billboard we can sell X number of impressions and customize advertising programs based on the client's needs. And rush hours would be more expensive." He passed the napkin to me. "Here's a rendering. Not as good as the Cubs, but you get the idea."
"You sound like a media kit."
"Exactly. And that's why I wanted to get together. You bought some advertising in your past life, didn't you?" I nodded. "I need to pick your brain a little."
The waitress arrived and asked if we'd like to order something to eat.
"Sure," he said, and handed me one of the menus sitting on the table. "Anything you want! Compliments of the City of Chicago."
... and then I woke up and realized that only the horror of a video board on Lake Shore Drive wasn't true. The sad story of Wrigley Field "restorations" goes on.
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