On Sunday evening, down in Houston for Quilt Market, I supped with several people from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, which means that I got to be at a big, round table with some of my favorite people on the planet. I’m a member of the board and was invited to be there, but if I had had to pose as a waiter, I wouldn’t have missed that meal. However, because I also can’t miss office hours or class on Monday… I had to leave before dessert. It’s true: My flight out of Houston was 10 p.m. Sunday night. After risotto and Malbec. Gaaah.
(When people ask me how I get everything done, do you know what I say? I say, “It’s easy: I have no husband, children, pets, or plants. No one cares where I am.” That sounds awful, but it’s really okay.)
When I got to my gate at the airport, the World Series game was on, obviously. And because I was on a flight to Chicago, there were many people waiting to go home, just like me, which meant there were people whooping and hollering and drinking, watching the monitors. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live in a town that could win — could actually win — the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Telling you what happened on the plane gets at it, maybe.
There was a bald man in his early sixties (it was hard to tell) sitting kitty-corner from my aisle seat. He was wiry, pretty short, and wore a Hawaiian shirt. His voice was so gravelly I think he must’ve been a pack-a-day guy. He had a cell phone that he was having a lot of trouble with as people finished boarding the plane and we waited for the crew to close the doors. Southwest has free on-board TV and the guy was trying to get on to see the score.
While we were at the gate, during the fourth inning, the score had been 2- 3, Cubs. Now, who knew?
“Miss! Miss, can you??” The guy waved at the stewardess several times while he stabbed away at his phone. The screen was so big I could see repeated error messages of various kinds. He wasn’t being rude about asking for help, but he was insistent and didn’t seem to have a single clue about how his phone (or the internet?) worked. I’ll admit it: Those of us around him, after 10 minutes of this, were getting a little exasperated.
“Are you online?” he asked his seat mates. They shook their heads. “How about you, did you get online? Did you get the score?” He was shifting in his seat, frustrated, then would be back at his phone. He started talking about the game to people and I picked up that they weren’t Chicagoans but Houstonians, possibly wary about going into Chicago for business this week.
The truth was, I was freaking out a little, myself. I don’t follow baseball. I’ve never been to a Cubs game, never even been inside Wrigley Field. Part of the reason for this is that Cubs fans can be very loud and there are a lot of them. Remember Lollapalooza? It’s the same problem. But when this World Series thing became real, it ceased to be a Cubs thing. It’s a Chicago thing, now. We all want this.
I pulled out my phone and took it off airplane mode for a second to see if I could get the score for him. I tapped him on the shoulder and showed him. “It’s still 2 – 3. Cubbies,” I said, and gave him a polite smile. “I have to turn this off now, though —”
Too late. He was already launching into this stat and that one, the odds of this, the odds of that. He had excuses ready for the Cubs if they lost that night (something about how no No. 1 team has won Game 5 after losing Game 2, etc.) and factoids about this or that player. I listened and nodded then politely said, “Well, I hope you can get online to see the score…” and smiled as I opened my laptop to communicate, “I am working, now.”
But I felt a pang of love for that guy.
He loves the Cubs. The Cubs are part of his life. They’re something he connects with his family. Or they represent or symbolize stuff. Maybe he used to play ball; maybe he never could. Maybe he actually lives in Wrigleyville. Maybe his parents took him to games, maybe his kids like the Cubs and he couldn’t care less about baseball but he loves his kids and loving the Cubs is a way he can feel close to them. Maybe it’s something else or all of the above. All sports fans have their reasons for loving their teams, but almost all sports fans count “Sometimes they win the big game” as one of their reasons for loyalty. Not Cubs fans. Their main resource is loyalty. You have to give them credit for that.
I secretly couldn’t keep my eyes off the guy’s stupid screen the whole time he was trying. He was at it a good 20 minutes more after we were airborne. In my mind (and under my breath) I was saying, “Come on, Cubbies. Come on, baby,” willing them to win, pleading with them. You can do this. When we get to Chicago, I thought to myself, we’ll learn the Cubs have won Game 5. (Honestly, I feel like if the Cubs win this whole thing, everything is gonna be okay. Like, everything. You know?)
Finally, the man got online. I could tell because the screen said, “You are now online. Enjoy live streaming TV courtesy of Southwest.” I looked away. I couldn’t take it. Please, Cubs.
He whirled around. Every muscle in his body was vibrating as he spoke to me and to everyone in the immediate vicinity. “They did it. The Cubs. They held ’em 3 to 2. They did it!”
I yelped. “They did?! They did!!!” I grabbed the man’s shoulder across the aisle. He leaned toward me with his arm out and we did this weird cross-aisle-male-female-stranger-hug and it was glorious, celebrating the Cubs win at 35,000 ft.
As I write, the boys are in the lead. The game is not over. The Series is not over. But I’m proud of my guys no matter what. Everything is gonna be okay! Fly the W!