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As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Next Stop Chi-Town

Rule #54 – Never stop learning.

     Someone wiser than I once said, “You can learn something from every experience – even if what you learn is that you didn’t like the experience.” It’s the best reason I know to push your own comfort zone. I mean, after all, if you don’t challenge yourself, how can you grow or improve?
      Day two of my baseball trip, and I already know that I’m glad I’m not teaching teenagers anymore. There – I said it. I love kids – really – as long as they go home to their own folks at night. The obvious exceptions are my own kids and my fantastic, ninja-Jedi grandson with his own ultra super powers.
       What prompted this spontaneous prayer of gratitude, you may ask? I was sitting in Milwaukee Airport, waiting to meet the Jay Buckley Tour bus. There I was, passing the time with a number of summer campers, all assembling and waiting for their own bus to take them to camp. It looked like “Meatballs” meets Best Buy, with all the technology plugged into the walls. So much for unplugging.
       I didn’t have to deal with this situation for long. The tour company sent out a list of all who were meeting at the various pick up points. I made my way to the baggage claim area and found the baseball fans waiting for our bus to pick us up. It arrived right on time.
        It is amazing how a shared passion brings people together. I never saw any of these people before. They weren’t strangers, just friends I hadn’t met yet. The bonds of baseball brought us together.
My I.D. tag
      We started the two-hour drive to Chicago with the required tour check-in. Both tour leaders gave us the schedule for the next few days and some tour basics. We swapped stories on the drive down. There were lots of Brewers, Twins and Cubs fans already on the trip. I was the lone Oriole supporter.
        Night one was spent near O’Hare Airport. We got to check in and then head out for some dinner. Some of our group wandered over to Shoeless Joe’s Grille. I stuck close to home and ate at Harry Caray’s Rosemont location. After all, this IS a baseball trip, right? It had draft Guinness, so the place is great in my book. 
A Holy Cow - Harry Caray's catch phrase

Caricature of Harry Caray over the bar - Rosemont location
     Day three started with breakfast the next morning, also in Harry’s. What a buffet! The atmosphere of the restaurant was like stepping onto the set of “The Godfather”. I was convinced I would go to the bathroom and find a gun taped to the back of the tank. We all got a chance to meet other tour members before we boarded the bus to head to the day’s game.
Dining room at Harry Caray's Rosemont location
            The bus rolled out of the lot around 11 am to make an afternoon White Sox game. The weather didn’t look like it felt like cooperating. Well, Self, if nothing else you get to see “new Comisky” park. And see it, we did.
Are you ready for some White Sox baseball?

Welcome to U.S. Cellular Field
Press boxes and more
     It wasn’t a far walk to the main gate at U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a, New Comisky. We actually parked very close to the footprint of old Comisky Park. The new park is on the elevated line and took over the parking lot from the old park. It has plenty of fan-friendly upgrades, too. It was at this park that I was introduced to the latest in techno-items, the charging station. Yes, right outside of a food concession and close to the restrooms I found the charging station, complete with cords for any type of phone, tablet, or whatever you have. Lots of folks were using the station too, while gulping down the ballpark food and knocking back a brew.
Concourse - first level - U.S. Cellular Field
            The heavens opened up while at lunch, and we got a good rain. But it stopped just as quickly as it started, and the game was delayed only by 20 minutes. The concourse at U.S. Cellular sees wider. There was a good sized crowd for a Wednesday afternoon game, but it didn’t seem “crowded” at all, even with all of us hiding from leftover showers.
            Now, color me spoiled if you must, but I’m used to an usher being available to help you find your seat. The ushers I’ve met will also make sure your seat is cleaned and dried before you get incriminating wet spots on your pants. Not here. The ushers stood at the head of the aisle. Yes, they made sure you belonged in that section, but that’s as far as it went. This was not necessarily bad, just different.
View from the seats - Giants bullpen pitchers on their way to work

Chris Sale on the mound
      The game started without any more rain delays. Chris Sale pitched for the White Sox and Tim Hudson started for the San Francisco Giants. The seats we had were fantastic. We felt up close and personal with the team. It was also nice to see players that I knew from following my hometown teams. Often, a player gets traded and you, as the fan, lose track. I got a chance to catch up with Hunter Pence, Michael Morse and Adam Dunn. They all seem to be doing well for their new teams. It made this fan feel good; all three fellows are good people.
            After the game, we drove the bus into downtown Chicago at rush hour. And I thought D.C. had crazy rush hour traffic! Chicago can hold its own any day in the worst-traffic-around department. 
Harry's Downtown - iconic sign
       Dinner was at Harry Caray’s Steakhouse, downtown. We had a buffet mixer, where we ate well and got to know others on the tour. 
Cartoon of the great Cubs broadcaster
     The restaurant itself is an homage to the great Cubs sportscaster. Pictures of Harry and players, Harry and movie stars, and Harry and politicos were all over all the walls. The main bar boasts that it is exactly 60 feet, six inches long – the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. Décor here is 1920’s Chicago, too. I walked around the restaurant thinking to myself, “Insert Al Pacino here; Marlon Brando there…”
     It was soon time to head back to the hotel, time for a few more drinks in the bar, and time to get ready for an early bus call.
     We are heading to Minnesota in the morning. That drive takes eight long hours. This will be a good test of my bus riding tolerance.
     See, Self, you are learning more each day! Today, I learned I loved cheese curds. Whodathunk?

These are cheese curds - deep fried white cheddar

I was there!
Photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprint without permission.

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