Over the four-and-a-half years that Diane and I carried on our relationship--before she moved to the bay area and started school at Davis--I probably travelled to Chicago 20 or so times when it was my "turn."
During that span we only went into the city a couple of times: once to see the Cubs play, and once when we actually ate downtown and went to the Field Museum and she drove me past Water Tower and Soldier's Field and such. And, during Tout Wars 2003, Trace Wood dragged me downtown to go to the Art Institute.
But, up until this past week, I had never really spent any time in the heart of the Second City.
However, since this summer's Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) fete was in Chicago, and since I have not been here to say hi to Diane's best friend and cousin Cherie, or her mother Deloras, I figured I would lump the cluster together.
So, last Wednesday afternoon I landed, took a shuttle downtown, and did a little exploring, hitting tourist spots, like the original Billy Goat for a burger, and later Lou Malnotti's with Lord Z, who was in town to draft at the FSTA Experts Football Draft the next night.
Wednesday found Steve Gardner, Chris Liss, Dean Peterson, Todd, Cherie's husband Mike, and me all off to Wrigley for a game between the Cubbies and the Reds, and we had great seats, right behind home plate, at field level, about 20 rows back. We did take the "L" with the locals, which was similarly fun, for a good way to get a taste of a city is to do what the locals do.
The game was tight--2-1--and I know Nate Schierholtz homered, but it was one of those pleasurable games with my friends in the stands. A game where I did not have to watch and track every pitch. And ,I don't mind my baseball work, but it was fun to eat and goof off and talk about everything and nothing.
Though rain had been threatened for days, the game went without a hitch, and I managed to talk Dean and Steve into walking the little over four miles back to the hotel with me, rather than be stuck in traffic, or on the subway.
And, with those rain clouds threatening we traipsed by the lagoon and through Boystown, hugging the lake past Ohio Beach, then zigging through the streets to Michigan Avenue and finally back to our hotel.
As it was, Chris and Todd, who rode with Mike in his truck, only beat us by about 15 minutes, and the rain mercifully started dropping in little chunks just as we hit our destination.
That night, Todd and I did indeed draft our FSTA "B-League" squad (that is a topic for another column), but if you weren't drafting in this town that night, you were watching the Blackhawks and Bruins go at it (as it was, I wore the Blackhawks shirt Diane bought for me a few years back, and Boston native Todd had his Bruins T on).
Mike, wanting more than just the visual of the TV in the hotel bar, popped across the street to O'Toole's with apparently a couple of hundred other hockey junkies (a cluster of whom were at the convention) and when the draft completed, just into the first overtime, I shot over and joined him.
Now, I have to say I am not a hockey fan. I don't dislike the sport, but I don't skate and I just never developed an interest (unlike hoops, where I was a fan, but the Warriors mis-management in the 90's put me so far off that I simply had to walk away).
But, I have to say it was a total gas watching those final 35 minutes or so in a bar with 8 million TVs and what seemed like 9 million humans watching and screaming.and drinking and carousing till the joyful end.
Next day the convention began proper but I had to split for the burbs as Mike and Cherie are moving into a new house in Woodstock (where "Groundhog Day" was filmed) they have been building pretty much themselves over the past three-plus years, and I wanted to see and help as I could.
That meant missing Glenn Colton's (and John Hunt's) induction into the Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame, but fortunately Todd was able to attend and represent us.
However, before we left town proper, Mike and I met up with Chris, Andy Behrens and Derek Van Riper at a killer spot--Hot Doug's--for deadly sausages.
Of course, I had a "Moe Drabowski" (ground pork and crayfish) to go with my "Steve Swisher" (Italian dog with Santa Fe seasoning) and some great home made fries.
Then it was northwest, near Algonquin where Diane used to live, and the area that was familiar to me.
It was just great, though, having time in the city, walking around, having as Diane noted a "real Chicago experience." Furthermore, it appears Mike and I will continue the experience, as we will be watching the Blackhawks game tonight at a local joint with the locals.