Archive for April 2013
News broke last week that the owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family, are moving forward with a $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field that will bring a 6,000 square foot scoreboard and another 1,000 square foot video screen to the field–plus a hotel, plaza, and office building to Wrigleyville. It’s not going to cost the taxpayers anything, allegedly. I can hear the Wrigley Field purists crying foul, and if I listen closely enough I can hear pens scratching legal documents as the rooftop owners across from Wrigley initiate the process of slowing down progress for the sake of profits.
This is ridiculous, really, on many fronts. As many people have pointed out, the Ricketts announced that these renovations will bring enough money for the Cubs to put together a World Series-winning team. The problem with that thinking is that the Cubs have never wanted for money. To push that idea is to be ignorant to the financial history of the club and ignore the ongoing cycle of poor decisions the franchise has made.
There are better arguments to be made for the renovations. The best one I can think of is that it will cost $500M to kill nostalgia. The new billboard and video screen are going to in some way interfere with the rooftop views, and the rooftops are one of the unique draws of Wrigley. They’re fun, too–been on one 4-5 times and had more than my share of fun while enjoying the game. I can’t see how the additions won’t interfere with the rooftops since the new billboard will be 3x larger than the current billboard in center field. The construction of new buildings and a new common area around the park is going to mean that some existing buildings are going to bite the dust. Those buildings could be bars. They could be apartment houses. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that the Ricketts drive a stake into the heart of nostalgia at all costs because it’s nostalgia far more than poor decisions or a supposed lack of funding that continues to kill the Cubs.
The Wrigleyville neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of the park is a joke. It’s little more than a destination for the post-college population that is not ready to let go of the fraternity or sorority lifestyle yet, and will pay 5-6 times more to preserve it than they paid on campus. Game day at Wrigley is a social event that starts around noon and continues until 3am. Far too many people who go to the game go to get hammered and be seen. To my way of thinking, the best testament to this is how the art of scalping has evolved around the field. It’s virtually impossible to scalp some good tickets anymore because the scalpers know they can hold their tickets for a 50-100% markup for the drunk legions to buy up to and after game time. The only thing that matters is getting into the game and being seen there. After the final out, the priority becomes staggering into The Cubby Bear or Murphy’s Bleachers or Goose Island or Sluggers and continuing the rowdiness until your pockets are empty or the places close down.
The unfortunate consequence of this is that the local fan base is constantly shifting and renewing itself. The cycle of 23-30 year olds is never ending. They also don’t expect anything of the team. Who cares if they win or lose? I saw Ronnie Woo-Woo in the bleachers, heard Russell Crowe sing the 7th inning stretch, drank 8 Old Styles, and got 3 phone numbers. What’s more, we’re going to do it all again tomorrow and next week and next month. The Cubs will constantly sell the tickets because of the social cachet of the game, not because of its quality. Need more evidence? The Cubs are the team that kept Ron Santo on the payroll for far too long. But what the hell–gotta love ol’Ronnie. Who cares if he’s incoherent, a laughing stock to even his broadcast booth mates, and does his research live on the air. The fan base loved him because he was a touchstone to the past–a past that included the most epic collapse in the history of baseball. Even Harry Caray himself did a lot to promote the overly casual approach to Cubs games and the idea that it’s all about getting wasted
So I say move forward, Ricketts. Pound that stake into the heart of nostalgia. Renovate, innovate, mandate, and don’t hesitate. I’d rather see consistent quality baseball than the Illinois State University chapter of Lambda Chi puking in the bleachers. Fate itself is cooperating– Ron Santo passed away just a year into your ownership and possibly spared you the public relations nightmare that would have resulted had you decided it was time to turn off his microphone. Maybe Ronnie had the best interest of the Cubs in mind and took the flag of nostalgia with him to the ever after. Regardless, if you change the physical space of Wrigleyville, maybe you can change the demographics. Change the demographics, and you’ll refine the fan base. Refine the fan base, and you might have a lot of people at the ballpark that start expecting things of you and who will stop smirking and proclaiming “Next Year!” halfway through each summer. Then you’ll have no choice but to field a quality team year in and year out.
Whining sucks. Deal with 100 or so teenagers a day, and you’ll come to the same conclusion rather quickly. It’s worse when I’m doing the whining, which I have been doing for a few weeks now in a few different capacities.
If my latest serial wasn’t enough whining as I dove back into writing nonfiction, there’s more. I’d been dragging my feet in my Public Speaking class in regard to using some technology I’ve been trained to use and am certainly ready to use. Unlike the piece of nonfiction I was writing, I didn’t eventually kick myself in the ass and bite down hard and do three or four other cliche things to get through it. No, in my classroom somebody else gave me a kick in the ass. At the start of a group project, one of my seniors pretty much said he was going to use the new technology and that if I wanted him to show me how easy it was, he’d be glad to. What was I going to do? He was right. We started using the new technology right away, and things went better with the project than they ever had before. So thanks, unnamed student, for the kick in the ass.
So how about a kick in the ass for the third major barometer in my life behind teaching and writing? I’ve hardly been running the past few months, and have settled into a pretty good excuse: The weather sucks. I only have to tell you one thing to prove it: Today is April 20, and I woke up to snow on my balcony. I haven’t felt like fighting the cold and have been holding off on getting into any 5Ks until I could get someone to pace me on my bike because I’m just not there yet. I thought it would happen this weekend if the weather finally cooperated, but that was a hope in vain. So I’ve been moping around thinking I’m not going to get into any running until May or so… boo hoo, poor me. What I was missing, though, and resigned to let go until things got better, was the structure and discipline that racing brings to my life. Plus, the fringe benefits of feeling good about helping charitable causes, feeling a sense of competitiveness, and turning on the edginess that so often (too often?) characterizes my disposition the morning of a race. Positive or negative, all these things come together to bring me something positive immediately or later in other avenues not directly related to running.
I had enough of the sluggishness and moping about all this for the past six weeks, so late Friday morning I decided that what I needed to break this funk was to throw myself into a race ASAFP. I found a 5K nearby, got myself to bed early, got up early, and went for it. I told myself that it’s still too early and not to expect much, which was a good thing because I didn’t get much in regard to results, but actually doing it seemed to be all I needed. I feel good, if a bit sore. I wasn’t terribly off my pace, either, all things considered. My back has been bothering me quite a bit the last few weeks and I’m not fully re-seasoned for road running, nor is my breathing where it should be, but still–things aren’t often all in line for you in life anyhow and you still have to go and do what you have to get done. Sometimes you need to kick yourself in the ass to get back to doing what you need to be doing. It beats whining about it.
This is the third time I’ve written about that GDMF piece of creative nonfiction that has been weighing on me the last few months. Truth be told, it’s been the last few years, since the episode upon which the writing is built happened two years ago. I gave myself permission to get back to writing nonfiction about myself, and then wrestled and wrestled with the writing until I forced myself to kick the piece off by telling a rather direct piece of truth. I thought that would solve my problems. I was wrong.
I spent a good deal of time over vacation slogging through drafts nine and ten, and got to the point that the only thing left to write in the piece was even more truth about who I was and what I was doing at the time of the story. That had to be written so I could complete the piece and send it off to a few friends to review. It wasn’t easy. I have a student right now going through pretty much the same thing. He’s writing about a profound defeat he experienced at the elite level in his sport of choice–a defeat that he’s going to have to live with for the next year, until he has one last season to set things right. That’s a helluva long time for anybody, especially a teenager. I told him that the only way to make his story work to its fullest potential is to tell the truth. The absolute, drop-dead truth. I suspect he’s going to get to the point where he says what has to be said: “I wasn’t good enough, and everything I’ve led myself to believe over the course of the last year was false.” There are more eloquent ways to say it, but for the purposes of using that example here, that wording will do. I told him it’s going to be like birthing a football sideways. That’s a lot for anybody to announce, and not just to your friends at the local bar or walking down the hall to the cafeteria. Writing it down is even more difficult because then it stops being words in space and starts being actual text that other people will read and from which they will draw their own conclusions.
This is good all around. I’ve been there and might be able to shove him in the right direction. I’m glad I’ve been there, if only because it makes me a better teacher of creative writing. I’m careful to never ask my young writers to do something that I can’t do or wouldn’t do with my writing, so I can be honest with them, and with him in particular.
None of this helps me manage the overall issue that has dogged me throughout writing this piece: Who Cares? The process of writing the story has been enriching to me as a writer, and it has definitely help me cast the episode in a fair and proper light in my mind, but I’m entering it into a contest next month and if that doesn’t work out I’m still going to work to find a home for it. If that doesn’t work, then has this been successful? No. I want to get it published, and don’t want to be stung again with the realization my ego got in the way of the writing, and that the story is not as good or as interesting as I thought it would be, or that nobody cares about it.
I don’t have these problems when I write fiction. I’m a step removed from the story, though still working just as hard to make everything in it work and to make it tell a truth (the truth applies to me, a truth means the world outside of me). Regardless, I’ve taken my story as far as I can and will have to wait for what my peers have to say before I send it off. If it doesn’t work out as I would like, what am I going to do? What can I do? Keep writing. Which is what I was going to do anyhow. Already started a new story, in fact.
I was in Florida last week, trying to enjoy some time away and some nice weather. I was halfway successful. It’s hard to enjoy nice weather when it’s not much different down south than it was in Chicago, where I expect to wake up to 31 degrees. Regardless, vacation is usually good for writing. The rest helps, as does the extra time. I was in the same location last year and did some solid drafting of a story that’s going to be published later this year. I did some work this year, too… on the nonfiction piece I’ve been pissing and moaning about on here over the last few months. It’s been a bit like birthing a football sideways, but the truth can be that way.
Vacation is not for standing in line and waiting for whatever it is that you want to do. This becomes most aggravating to me when I’m waiting for an elevator in a high-rise hotel. Hell, any hotel. This happened last Saturday night when I was waiting on the 21st floor of the Sheraton in downtown Nashville. I quipped to some other guests that our situation would be a good reason to have a hotel parachute. I like cracking my own jokes, regardless of whether or not others get them, and in the process of cracking this particular one I remembered that years ago I actually wrote something down about a hotel parachute. I dug through some old journals and found it. I was staying at the Riu Jalisco resort in Puerto Vallarta:
July 27, 2002
I’ve already spent a lot of time at Riu Jalisco waiting for the elevator on the 6th floor. I think many people would agree when I say I’d rather spend my time doing something other than waiting. So, hotels should give guests on higher floors a Hotel Parachute. That way, they can just step off their balcony, pull the cord, and float down without hassling with waiting for the elevator.
I never got around to securing a patent or trademark for that.
The frivolity must have gotten my creative juices flowing. I stepped into a honky-tonk bar a few minutes later and had to scream over the top of the music and the crowd to order a beer. Then it hit me: Why don’t bars develop a system of hand and finger signals so customers can quickly and easily order a drink when it’s loud? Each bar could post their particular signs so as to have their own variations and flair. Customers can adapt to their surroundings.
Seems like a piece of cake. Seems like someone should have thought of this years ago. I say that a lot.