“You can’t go to Wrigley Field by yourself.”
That’s what the lady in Section 239 told me. That’s what her mother in the next seat over told me. That’s her friend, who was celebrating her birthday, told me. That’s what everyone told me. They might as well have put the message on the famous hand-operated scoreboard in center field.
But there I was, taking in the jewel of North Side Chicago from a seat along the first-base line. I had gotten a ticket for the August day game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on www.eBay.com. It was a steal, $5 below face value. The catch was there was only one ticket. I’d have to go by myself.
I drove down from northern Wisconsin and got off Interstate 94 near Kenosha, Wis. From there I took a series of county highways to avoid the traffic and the tolls. It wasn’t my first time doing this. I’d done it once before and knew the ins and outs of going there. However, there were people with me then.
I made my way to Wilmette, Ill. and drove to the Linden El station. It’s the northernmost El station, allowing me to avoid nerve-wracking Chicago traffic.
To me, the El is part of the experience of going to a Cubs game. If you start at Wilmette, there are a few fans decked out in Cubbie blue and there’s a sense of camaraderie. Everyone is in a good mood because they’re going to the game. The closer you get to Wrigley Field, the more the train becomes packed with Cubs fans
“Anyone sitting here?” a man asked me, pointing to the seat next me on the El.
“No,” I said as I shook my head.
He sat down.
“You’re going to the game by yourself?” he asked.
I told him I was, adding that it didn’t matter as long as the Cubs won.
“That’s true,” he said with a laugh. “Besides, you’ll have about 40,000 friends there with you.”
I looked back out the window. The best part is when the track takes a curve and Wrigley comes into view for the first time. You can tell the first-timers by the way their faces light up when they see the stadium emerge from the skyline. While I wasn’t wide-eyed this time, it still was a moment I had been looking forward to since I hit Milwaukee on Interstate 94.
The El finally got to the Wrigley stop and I made my way through the mass of people on the platform and stairs. Then a wall of sounds and sights hit me. Vendors everywhere, scalpers yelling, bars blasting music, musicians banging buckets, people riding around on bicycles.
It’s a party-like atmosphere and it’s just fun. And there’s the history too. The ancient stadium, the scoreboard, the red Cubs sign, the rooftops. There’s nothing like it at any other stadium.
I tried to make my way to my seat but could not find the right section for the life of me. I saw a small cluster of open seats and decided to sit there until people showed up. I did for several innings before I broke my personal rule in the fourth inning and went to buy overpriced ballpark food.
On my way back, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to find my actual seat. This time, I was actually able to find my lone empty seat in section 239. As I sat down, I said hello to the 30-year-old woman next to me and her mother next to her.
“It’s just you?” the 30-year-old woman named Amanda asked.
“Yeah, I got this ticket really cheap but had to go by myself,” I explained.
“No, you can’t go to Wrigley by yourself,” she said. She then told her mother I was at the game by myself.
“Oh, that’ll never do,” her mother said.
“You’re with us now,” Amanda said.
That was that. I wasn’t by myself anymore. For the rest of the game, the three of us made comments on our winning Cubs, joked around and got to know each other. By the end of the five innings I spent with them, it felt like we were the best of friends.
It also helped that the Cubs won and we got to hear “Go, Cubs, Go” blaring from the stadium speakers like we had wanted to.
After having a blast signing the unofficial anthem of our Cubbies, I got ready to leave.
“You’re just going home?” Amanda asked.
When I told her I was, she just shook her head.
“No, come with us,” she said. “Our friend is celebrating her birthday. You should join.”
After asking a hundred times if that was OK, I tagged along. After all, I wasn’t by myself anymore.
We headed over to a place called Bernie’s Tap & Grill, one of many restaurants and bars that cram the streets surrounding Wrigley. There I met about five other people, including the birthday girl. I was a little nervous how it would go since I was an outsider in their group, especially considering they were celebrating her birthday.
They didn’t seem to mind me and welcomed me in, even getting me some food and a drink. However, it seemed they were a little curious as to why I came along.
Amanda explained I was there by myself, which basically drew horrified looks and gasps from the group. Going to a game alone was a foreign concept to them and they were here to rectify my situation.
I thanked them a million times over as I spent the afternoon with them.
“Don’t worry about it,” one of them said. “This is Chicago, this is what Cubs fans do. We take people in. We want them to enjoy themselves.”
Mission accomplished. We spent the rest of the afternoon at various bars and restaurants. We talked about the game, had some good food and even took some swings at the batting cages inside a bar called Sluggers. At one point, the birthday girl even had some cake.
If this had been anywhere else, this certainly would’ve been awkward. I was infiltrating a group of friends and during a birthday party, no less. And that’s if they would’ve invited me. However, this group did invite me and everyone was quite comfortable. We became quick friends and you wouldn’t even know I was an outsider. All because of their friendliness and because they wanted me to enjoy my experience at Wrigley Field.
Their attitude is quite indicative of Chicago. People are very willing to help others and there really is a warmth to the people. It’s similar to what someone would find in a Midwestern small town, but in a world-class city like Chicago.
However, my time in that city was limited as darkness came. I had to get back to Wilmette, to my car and to home. Some people in the group were going to one of the many festivals the city has in the summer. They invited me to go with but I couldn’t. It was time to head home.
We then departed ways on the El platform. They headed south while I went north. After they were on their way, I stood on the platform thinking about my day.
In five short innings, people went from strangers to friends. I was in a birthday party, had some laughs and even took a few horrible swings.
When my train came, I thought about the ride in and how I couldn’t have predicted what my day would be like.
I was alone when I stepped off the train. Though there was no one else around me, I didn’t feel the same way when I stepped back on.
That’s Chicago for you.
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