Waveland and The North Side, Sweet Home Chicago

pj-bh129_sp_wri_g_20120514203124I was raised in a pretty educated house. We travelled too, from Phoenix to El Paso to Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Memphis, Miami and Detroit. But those were hit and run trips, most by air, some by car, when visiting grandparents and other relatives during the summer. Nevertheless, I thought I knew the country well. I had also already spent portions of summers working in Santa Monica restoring glorious cars and sometimes meeting stars.

I was just turned 18, a man or the world, and god I knew it. But I was really none of that at all. I didn’t know shit.

Then I started college and moved into a dorm. By happenstance, at Arizona State University, I was assigned to an asylum, er floor, chock full of similar kids, on that floor almost all from Chicago and New Jersey. The first few days were an amazing, though not rude in the least, awakening. One group dragged me, literally almost kicking and screaming, to see Bruce Springsteen rock the venerable, and historic, Grady Gammage theater at ASU almost to the ground. That was life changing in a way.

The others were the Chicagoans. They taught me the love and misery of the Cubs and the perpetual Windy City. And Chicago blues and rock. Many of the Chicagoans I met that way in college are still friends to this day. Their parents all came out, then and now as they can, for Spring Training to see their Cubbies. Being from here, I always took spring training for granted growing up as a kid. It was kind of a yawner. But the Cubs fans had a love, purpose and passion that was incredible. Anybody that went to the old Hohokam Park knows how greatly insane, drunken and wonderful it was.

Fast forward to the present day. One of those Chicagoans had parents who, when they retired, moved here permanently. To be close to their son and the winter home of their beloved Cubs. I knew them well. The father wanted to see the Cubs in the World Series before he died. He did, but not by much. He slipped into peaceful sleep right after they won the National League Championship, and never woke up. But, ain’t that a Cubs fan? This is for you Richard, RIP.

That is my own personal story of how and why the Cubs touched me, not just this year, but long ago. The stories are legion. Tell us yours.

The inestimable Wright Thompson has penned a simply beautiful piece that captures so much of the everything goodness that is the Cubs World Series win:

CUBS FANS awoke Wednesday to one last wait, with little to do before Game 7 but think, about themselves and their families, about the people who’ve come and gone during these 108 years of failure. Hundreds found themselves drawn to Wrigley Field, where workers were already breaking down the concessions and cleaning out the freezers. Some people said they didn’t even mean to come. They started off on a trip to the store and ended up standing in front of the stadium’s long brick wall facing Waveland Avenue. Many wrote chalk notes to the dead. Some dedicated messages. This one’s for you, Dad. Others wrote names. Dan Bird. Ben Bird. Eugene Hendershott. A man with a bright smile but melancholy eyes wrote the name of his late wife, Andrea Monhollen. They met four blocks from here, on Racine. She’s been gone six years.

“Cancer,” John Motiejunas said.

He looked around at the names, each one as special to some stranger as his wife’s name is to him. All these chalk ghosts longed to see a day like this one. Each name represented an unfulfilled dream. The big bright murals made the wall seem fun and festive from afar, but a closer look revealed life stripped of romanticism. “A lot of people waited their whole lives,” Motiejunas said. He took a picture of the wall and then left, walking through the light rain that had begun to fall.

There is no way for me to recommend you reading Thompson’s entire piece enough, it is fantastic and a tear jerker. And if you think that quote from the top is good, you REALLY need to see the rest.

Sports are a lazy diversion from reality in America I guess. Or they are a metaphor for everything that is awesome about America. Or it is just a game. Or, just maybe, all of the above.

It has been a long and painful slog through the swamp of an ugly political season. One that started far too early, and promises to never stop even after the election. I could insert links and cites, and yadda, yadda, yadda but what difference does it make anymore? One candidate was born a Cubs fan, and the other literally thinks he was the second coming of Babe Ruth and the world simply was deprived of recognizing his narcissistic awesomeness because he went into the business (of bankruptcy and fraud) world instead.

TWENTY MILES NORTHWEST, cars parked in groups along the winding paths of the All-Saints Cemetery. An hour remained until the 5 p.m. closing time. It’s a Catholic burial ground, out in the middle-class suburbs, and there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of Cubs flags and hats and license plates and signs. It’s one of many places around Chicago this past week where the conflicting ideas of joy and pain leave the realm of the psychological and become attached to action. People come here for many reasons, to say a little prayer, or talk to someone, to themselves, or to believe that their loved one knows what is happening tonight. Last Friday, an old man in a Cubs jacket stood over a grave and left a pennant and a Cubs pumpkin. Yesterday, a middle-aged woman named Maureen stood for the longest time at a grave not far away. A sign said “Believe.” Maureen touched her hand to the Cubs logo on her chest and smiled, looking back at the ground.

“My son,” she said.

Then she pointed across the rolling hill to the most famous grave in the cemetery, which is where she was headed next, to pay respects to Harry Caray before going to watch the game. His stone has green apples on top, an inside joke referencing a quote about the Cubs one day making it to a World Series just as surely as God made green apples.

Wright Thompson has painted the perfect picture of the Cubs fan. It touched me. And made me remember so many things, and so many people. I know them. You know them. They are us, and we they. Wright also made me forget for a bit the intellectually demeaning tornadic hell that is the 2016 election. I hope you will find the same moment of peace.

Right now, football is boring, Formula One sucks and the NBA doesn’t yet matter. So, this is yer Emptywheel Trash Talk for this week. Share your stories and thoughts. Music is Sweet Home Chicago. There were a lot of versions to choose from, but this seemed to be the right one. The original Robert Johnson version. Keep in mind, when Robert Johnson first recorded that song, the Cubs had already not had a World Series victory for 28 years. That string only ended this week. As a bonus, I also include a newer version by Eric, BB, Buddy, Mick and some dude named Obama. Have a great weekend folks.

35 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    This is an interesting post, thank you. It seems that many Cubs fans were (and are) incredibly “into” their team, for some reason, more so than I think Cleveland fans were and are. To this native Clevelander, it seems a bit weird and over the top. Perhaps it’s because Cleveland has for many decades (while Chicago has prospered) been a “loser” city overall—not just in baseball, but in economics, population, reputation, etc., and so the fans have simply lost the ability to hope, feeling that they never really had a chance in the first place (not saying that Cleveland deserved to win for that reason). But good for the Cubbies, and their fans, and I do hope that Cleveland is next.

    • Peterr says:

      One of the things that several retired Cubs players said during interviews on ESPN during the parade was that the very nature of Wrigley Field sets the Cubs apart from anywhere else these guys ever played. “The stadium is part of the neighborhood, both physically and emotionally,” said one of them. “It’s not in some suburb on the outskirts of the city, and it’s not surrounded by acres and acres of cement parking lots.”  Another player talked about being excited when he first came to the Cubs, and his wife didn’t understand his enthusiasm. “I remember the first time I brought my wife to Wrigley,” he said. “We came out of the tunnel and she got her first look at the place. She took in the sight of the grass, the ivy on the outfield walls, the stands, the old scoreboard, and the rooftops across the street, and said ‘I get it now.'”

      Another player said “You know, if the Cubs had torn down their old stadium in the 50s or 60s and built something new to replace it, this world series win wouldn’t be the same. Part of the excitement is that all those ups and downs, all those years in the cellar and the years we were this close all happened In This Place that makes this incredible right now.”

  2. Peterr says:

    The week before classes started for my freshman year, one of my dorm mates went up and down the hall banging on doors. “Welcome to New Student Week! We’ve got placement tests and departmental meetings in the mornings, meet-your-advisor social stuff in the evenings, but the afternoons are free. It’s a beautiful day, and the Cubs are in town — the L is cheap, the bleacher seats are cheap, the beer is cheap (in more ways than one!), and the Cubs are 20 games out of first place. Let’s go!”

    We went, about 10 of us as I recall.

    And the next day, we did it again.

    And the day after that, we did it again.

    And the day after that, we did it again.

    And the day after that, we did it again.

    And the day after that, we did it again, but this time it was a doubleheader.

    7 games in 6 days, sitting in the glorious sunshine of the Wrigley Field bleachers, made me a Cubs fan. I cried when the Cubs won that amazing game 7, and cried again watching the celebration yesterday in Grant Park on ESPN. Hearing the organ play at that celebration brought back all these memories, and I’d swear I could smell peanuts and Old Style in my living room as the various people spoke.

  3. Peterr says:

    Great musical choice, bmaz. Lots and lots of versions of that song, but this one carries the emotional umph of the blues in ways that many versions don’t.

    The song that’s been running through my head the last couple of days is “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” by the late great Steve Goodman. Steve was a huge Cub fan himself, who died far too young of cancer. His most famous song was “City of New Orleans,” made famous by others who sang it, but it was his song. He also wrote “Go Cubs Go” for WGN (the station that carries the Cubs), and it has become a regular part of games at Wrigley.

    The song at the link tells the story of a Cub fan lying on his deathbed, surrounded by his friends. Toward the middle of the song, he tells them of his funeral wishes (. . . Make six bullpen pitchers carry my coffin in/six groundskeepers clear my path//have the umpires bark me out at every base/in all their holy wrath .  . .”), and they can’t take it:

    The dying man’s friends told him to cut it out
    They said stop it that’s an awful shame
    He whispered, “Don’t Cry, we’ll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
    He said, “I’ve got season’s tickets to watch the Angels now,
    So its just what I’m going to do
    He said, “but you the living, you’re stuck here with the Cubs,
    So its me that feels sorry for you!”

    Steve’s got his seat with the Angels, right next to Ernie Banks — and no one feels sorry being stuck here with the Cubs any more.

  4. bloopie2 says:

    Anyhow, now that baseball is over, why aren’t we watching NFL games on Saturdays (and even Fridays)? Sure it would conflict with college or high school, but so what? I wouldn’t have to watch some college game that—be honest now–looks just like a hundred other college games and is quickly forgotten. And who can name the #1 teams going back 15 years, or 10 years? I personally don’t care to watch a bunch of children (who are not my own children) run around on the lawn. Many others feel differently, of course, so keep the schools on TV, sure, but give me the grown-up game also.

  5. P J Evans says:

    There was the guy who drove from North Carolina to Indiana? Illinois? just to listen to game 7 at his father’s graveside, because they’d listened to so many games together.

    And there was the crowd standing outside Wrigley Field on Wednesday night, waiting for the end of the game. The space around the stadium was full of people, even at that hour.

  6. Ben says:

    OT inquiry Bmaz.


    I’ve been away for a while and I note an incipient decrease in the volume of comments.  I also note you are active on All threads keeping the bandwidth down with notations like ‘tighten up your prose’ and mostly antagonistic to non-tradition comments.   Are you Emptywheel Ombudsman or something else?

            • bmaz says:

              There are a lot of dynamics that go into having usable and meaningful comment threads. Where you see one thing, other commenters see other things. We allow pretty much everybody to contribute at will here. Always have, always will. By the same token, a modicum of policing has to be done occasionally to maintain coherence. We do not want interactions to be overly antagonistic and hateful, and simply ask that comments be somewhat useful. I am sorry if that offends you.

  7. lefty665 says:

    Thank you bmaz. My Cubs story is boring. Yours is wonderful. Mine involves culture shock from leaving the east coast for the first time and going away to college in Illinois. The next spring the Cubbies filled the hole in my heart left when the Senators were sold to Minnesota a couple of years before.

    Robert Johnson and “Sweet Home Chicago” is hard to top, but Steve Goodman did several great Cubs songs. He was an amazing performer. Trivia, he and Hillary were in the same class in high school in Park Ridge.

    • bmaz says:

      Here is a good one for you in that vein:

      The Cubs family I wrote about lived in Park Ridge before moving to Arizona in retirement. The Rodhams lived down the street from them, and Hillary babysat my friend and his sister a few times when they were young.

      • lefty665 says:

        Met my first wife in school downstate. She was from Arlington Heights, a couple of  ‘burbs over from Park Ridge, and it was part of the route she and her buddies ran. Rode the Illinois Central (IC) up from Springfield to see her when I had money in my jeans, so the club car was familiar when “City of New Orleans” hit a few years later. The Cubs weren’t any closer to a pennant than the Senators had been. That made them familiar territory too. Getting to be a long time ago.

    • bmaz says:

      Normally aspirated straight sixes are awesome engines. BMW has used them throughout. Almost bulletproof if you take care of them. Like this move by Merc, and man does that engine look pretty.

  8. Ed Walker says:

    My family moved to South Bend from deep south Georgia in 1955. That year I heard my first Cubs game on the radio and went to my first Notre Dame game, and those two teams are still my only rooting interests. A year later we got a TV, and I saw my first Cubs game on WGN, with Jack Brickhouse. A lazy summer day, lying on the couch with a couple of my brothers watching the Cubs. Every year we went up to Chicago for at  least one game. My dad loved a restaurant, Phil Schmidt’s, so we always stopped there for dinner. I saw Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks, just to name a few. Daddy loved to sit on the third base side, so we could really enjoy the play of Santo.

    In 1969, I was stationed in Trukey (Bless you forever Betty Sammons), following the Cubs a day or two behind. Things were going great.  I went on a long-panned trip to Europe with a friend from the post,and watched the Cubs collapse in the International Herald Tribune. Heart-breaking, and it was probably my fault for changing the way I followed the team, jinx. When I got out of the Army, my friends and I went up to Chicago with our bikes and rode up from the Aquarium to Wrigley for a game with the Pirates. We got there late, and as we parked our bikes and walked around to the gate on Waveland, a ball came flying out of the park: Manny Sanguillen. We sat up with the bleacher bums, who offered to share beers with Billy, and harassed the Pirate outfielders. It was a great day for baseball. We shoulda played 2.

    But the losing wore me down. First in Columbus OH and then in Nashville TN, we weren’t going to games, and every year, I’d watch the standings until it became obvious that I’d have to wait until til next year. When we moved to Chicago several years ago, I went to a couple of games, but we didn’t win. Then last year! I was in Paris when we wiped out in the playoffs, but I did my part not rearranging the atoms in the universe, just watching the standings and following on the internets.

    his year it felt good, so I didn’t want to jinx anything by going to a game. Again in Paris for the Playoffs, every morning I’d get up to check the outcomes and read the stories. But I didn’t watch any clips. Because, you know, jinx. We got back to Chicago Tuesday and watched the game, starting in the late innings. I was worried (jinx), but the Cubs were way up so I figured it was safe. Then Wednesday, still with jet lag, I stayed up late to watch, jinx or no.  Cubs win!

    Wednesday I went up to Wrigley with my wife and scrawled the family name on the bricks, and took pictures with Ernie. The crowds were all talking about their favorite players, and you could date them. Us old people talk about Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau, and the younger folks talked about Hary Caray and Fergy Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg, and all of us talked about our families who had been fans for decades and never got to see a Champion.

    Yesterday I was one of the 5 million or so who turned out tor the parade. You never saw so many happy people. Ever.

    • bmaz says:

      He does! I have not always agreed with Obama policy wise, but he, Michelle and their children are pure class and awesomeness. I will miss them.

  9. Peterr says:

    Chasing home run balls that left the park is a great part of Wrigleyville life. Even better, though, is that if the opposing team hit the home run, you threw the ball back onto the field.

    [ETA: should be a reply to Ed Walker @5:55pm]

  10. quebecois says:

    Yes, formula One sucks.

    On the Cubs front, I say that they waited for that trophy so long, that they are deemed an instant dynasty…


    • bmaz says:

      I am not sure why, but I was really excited for this season of the Circus. And it has been dreadful for the most part. A little fun watching Alonso drive the the living hell out of his inadequate car, but you rarely see that in the TV coverage. Blah.

  11. Bay State Librul says:


    What a great story and story line.
    My story is I have no story. The only time I visited Chicago was for a lay over at O’Hare.
    I rooted for the Cubs, and can relate to their yearly frustrations.
    I can only say that after Boston won in 2003, the atmosphere changed around here.
    The burden was lifted and at least for me I could see things more clearly?
    I can take losses better than before.
    On another matter BMAZ, whattabout the D-Backs, stealing Hazen and Torey Lovullo from the Sox?
    Good move, I think

    • bmaz says:

      People here seem to be very high on both moves. They look great to me. Experienced in winning and yet b both young enough and on the same page to be dynamic. There is some real optimism because of that. However, the fact that the team has not cut ties with LaRussa, who is kind of a front office cancer, is troubling. LaRussa was a great manager on the field, but he is at heart a right wing nut job bigot. And that is a problem. Especially when you factor in that the owner, Ken Kendrick is a right wing nut job bigot, and an inept asshole to boot. Personally, I am not sure the DBacks will ever amount to much as long as Kendrick owns the team. He is not Donald Sterling level, but he is a lot closer to it than being a winner. This town LOVED the DBacks of Jerry Colangelo. It has been downhill since Kendrick. Hopefully your Boston guys will be wicked smaht and be able to overcome the Kendrick/LaRussa problem.

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