Monday, June 14, 2010

The Obvious Gift

In case I decide to forget this, please do not let me attend large gatherings without eating for an extended period of time. This might be obvious to most people but clearly I am having trouble with it.

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last week (yay) which of course means the city went temporarily insane for a few days (opposite of yay but not nay because that sounds British and/or lame). Despite the fact that a rally in the middle of downtown on a workday that draws upwards of two million people outside in 100 degree heat is the actual definition of hell, I decided to see what it was all about. In retrospect, my rationale that this was "history" and I had to walk through it anyway to get to my volunteer shift was not enough to overcome the massive disaster that is the reality of millions of sweaty people who have been drinking for four days.

I pushed my way as close as I could in the name of research and documentation. I was maybe thirty yards away from what was going on but I was too short to even see the screen that hung high above the players' heads. I could only see the damp shirts around me, a sea of red flags and heads dripping with sweat. There were discarded bottles and lunch bags at my feet and no exit in sight. I was effectively tucked into a pocket of the crowd like someone had dropped me into a fold of a blanket. A really smelly and hot blanket. I hadn't stopped sweating since I woke up that morning to do hot yoga and then a short workout. Also I had eaten four pieces of cheese and a Vitamin Water in the past 20 hours. I panicked.

As the players began talking, I pushed my way out of my sealed pocket of strangers and made my way back to the art museum. After realizing part of the street was blocked, I used this as an excuse to go shopping before my shift started. In case you were wondering, retail therapy keeps panic at bay.

The worst part of this is not that my efforts were in vain. It's that this is not even the first time I have done the exact same thing. Last year I attempted to navigate my way to the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day in Paris while running on two days of coffee and a nectarine. I may have also been wearing the same outfit.

Given the immensely important similarities of these events (I mean starvation and black dresses are definitely too weird to ignore,) here's a rundown of how they stack up against each other as Major Events in a few key areas:

1. Trash - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: I didn't notice much trash while getting myself over to the Eiffel Tower. I think partly because I wasn't looking for a place to throw up in, but also I was distracted by just finding my way around. When I was exploring four days later, however, I took a series of pictures of all the trash and broken barricades that still littered the ground. It was like the city was not prepared for their own national holiday.
Hawks: When I think "ticker tape parade" I think long strips of white paper, like ribbons or paper for adding machines. What I saw along the streets was actually just pieces of newspaper. Like someone had a tantrum with the Tribune. Along with the discarded soda bottles and Hawks flags, the streets looked like the inside of a gerbil cage. That is, until Streets and Sans came through about 30 minutes after the rally. I have never been more impressed with trash removal in my life full of appreciating the art of removing trash.

2. Drunk People - Winner: Bastille

Bastille: I would have thought there would be enough foreigners in Paris to make this an even match, but aside from a few wine drinkers on the lawn of the Champ du Mars and a few rowdy Americans on their way home after the fireworks, this was the most sober festivity I have ever seen.
Hawks: When I saw the occasional stroller, I cringed. Because that baby is probably now drunk by osmosis and sticky with beer.

3. Smells - Winner: Tie

Bastille: French people think we smell like soap and medicine. We are clearly use hand sanitizer like super clean coke-heads. But you know what the reverse is. When I am in Paris, I certainly do not stop using deodorant but I also don't mind a cloud of cigarettes and armpits quite the same way some people do.
Hawks: Even if everyone showered the minute before they walked outside, the weather that day was like was being zippered into a wet balloon next to the sun. The scent of liquored sweat doesn't do anyone any favors.

4. Push-and-shoveness - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: This might be skewed for me because I just wasn't expecting to have to push so much here. I had clearly underestimated how easy it would be to cross open bridges and streets and how hard it would be to cross blocked off streets in plain sight of policemen. Sometimes you have to push your way through even as you are yelled at and sometimes you have to about-face into a crush of hundreds of people because there is no where else to go.
Hawks: Again this might be skewed because I was expecting the worst after Paris. With the exception of trying to climb the stairs onto Upper Wacker without knowing where the line began or ended, the crowd was fairly forgiving. Or I got better at pushing.

5. Escape Route - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: This was absolutely the worst part of Bastille Day for me. Several Metro stations were closed but not even the policemen knew which ones and you couldn't tell until you actually went into them. Some pathways ended in a barricade without any signs or any way to turn around and only a few bridges over the Seine were open to foot traffic. Not one person knew what was going on. It took me two hours to make the 20 minute trip back to my apartment and I left even before the mass of people arrived for the fireworks.
Hawks: Despite the fact that I panicked inside the crowd, people let me out easily and the barricades all faced the same direction. I couldn't cross north on the East side of State St. but I could on the West side. The fences and blockades all came down within an hour of the end of the rally. Also it might be a little easier to figure out where to go when you live there.

The clear overall winner here is the Blackhawks rally. Which might be in direct inverse proportion to how momentous an event it is. I would never take back going to Bastille Day in Paris but I certainly could have lived without going to the rally in Chicago. However, both of these could have been greatly improved had I the foresight to eat food like a normal person.

All of this is to say that sometimes a great gift can be something obvious, like giving a rally-goer a protein bar before she embarks on a stupid mission. When my brother came to house-sit last summer (while I was off starving myself among the throngs) I gave him a pre-loaded card to ride the El and a map of Chicago. Things that maybe seem obvious to those of us who live here, but save visitors a big hassle. I also stocked the kitchen with food, which I totally should have done for myself too. Obviously I am an idiot.

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