The City of St. Louis was named after a 12th century, beatified French King, who led two disastrous crusades to the "Holy Land". One that saw him imprisoned and ransomed for half of France's wealth, and the other that killed all of his soldiers. He was of course known as the, ahem, "Peace King", and his legacy lives on in name, in a raw bluesy city on the left bank of the Mississippi River. A simple Google search couldn't come up with the Sainted King's required "holy" miracle, but I'll bet it has something to do with why the St. Louis Cardinals are always competitive in the national league, and a thorn in the side of the Chicago Cubs and their fans since the franchises first met in 1885. So with my twitter followers best wishes, and ex-wives warnings in tow, I decided to go to St. Louis to find out what it means to be a Cubs fan in Cardinals country.
On a Ferris Bueller June morning in Chicago, I donned my army fatigue vest and military Cubs hat, and hopped into my VW Convertible Bug for a reconnaissance mission into enemy territory. The 5 hour drive down I-55 was pleasantly uneventful, farms, then farms, and then a college, and then more farms, and then Wendy's, and then farms, and then St. Louis. The only local surprise was that the Airport in Springfield is called the Abraham Lincoln Airport. I racked my brain trying to think of another airport named after someone who died before airplanes were invented, and wondered what Lincoln would think about the whole flying around in a metal tube thing, but I guess that's what happens to your brain when you're listening to Johnny Cash on Pandora and looking at this for 5 hours straight.
I put the top up when I felt the air pressure drop, and spied storm clouds in the distance, and like a warning from Sainted King Louis himself, who was considered "God on Earth" in his time, I was greeted at the famous Gateway Arch with harbingerous lightning and thunder, and an iphone warning from Big Brother to avoid flood areas.
Not knowing where the flood areas were anyway, I continued driving to a place I had AirBnB'd down near Cherokee St. on the south side of town. For those of you who never heard of Air BnB, it's when your'e poor and need money to pay your rent, so you rent out your whole place or a room and hope you break even, but you especially hope you don't get bed bugs, robbed, or your throat slashed. Either way, the 33$ a night I paid to a local independent musician named Jeremy Joyce, was more than worth the room, clean bed, and the french pressed coffee he shared with me each morning over conversations about music, hipsters and where things are poppin' in St. Louis.
With the rain still falling, and the radar suggesting "delayed game", I asked Jeremy the best way to the the stadium, and he suggested a shuttle they run from Hammerstone's, a local haunt in the Soulard district, 2 miles from Busch. Needing a little liquid refreshment and some food, I figured I'd wait out the delay, and grab the shuttle with the Cardinals' fans. After all, I wanted to see the enemy up close in his natural habitat. What better place than one of the many pre game watering holes?
Thing's got off on the right foot at Hammerstone's. My second cup of Chili that day was kickin', (my first was at Wendy's), and their "St. Louis Original" deep fried beef ravioli soaked up the local Schlafly Pale Ale nicely. I made friends with some of the employees and a couple of old timers and was thinking, "Hey these St. Louisans aren't so bad. My luck was about to turn however, when these guys walked through the door.
The picture is a bit hazy, as my Iphone had taken on some moisture in the flash flood, but the front of these unlicensed t-shirt's show the band "Chicago's" logo, which elicited "boo's" from Hammerstone's scarlet laden patrons upon their entrance into the bar, and then of course "laughter and cheers" when these gentlemen spun around to reveal their true opinion that the "Cubs Suck".
Looking for a little action to wait out the rain delay, I immediately befriended these gentlemen, who I nicknamed the 'St. Louis Party Boys'. As the rain and radar began to clear up, they suggested I join them at yet another drinking establishment closer to the stadium called "DB's". A Cubs fan on Twitter suggested I go there too, but I looked it up and it seemed akin to 'Hooters', which like strip clubs, make me feel unsatisfied and somewhat saddened. But with these guys?.....Hell Yeah I'll Go!!
Unfortunately, DB's was closed, but the place across the street, Social House does the exact same thing. Naked women, serving bar food and drinks, while old guys get a last kick before the massive coronary does em in. And the 'St. Louis Party Boys' are living their last 10-20 years to the fullest. They bought me shots and a beer, and got fresh with the waitresses, all the while razzing me and the Cubs with a testosterone driven, alcohol fueled madness.
After a 2 hour game delay, and a 4 hour, ahem, pre-game drinking session, it was time for 'The St. Louis Party Boys' and I to go watch some Cubs/Cards rivalry baseball. We all stumbled aboard the shuttle, which was blasting Queen's 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love'. We sang along. We toasted. And we exchanged phone numbers with the promise that I would try and meet up with them later in their more expensive 100 level seats, when I felt it safe enough to sneak down.
As I entered the park, post storm, the St. Louis sunset evolved brilliantly, but the skie's beauty was slightly muted by the imposing folksy modernity of 'new' Busch Stadium, while the piercing hues of Cardinal Red agitated my rawest nerve, like a bull snarling into a matadors' cape . I settled into my 300 level seat uneasily with an unnecessary Schlafly beer, and snapped off a few photographs of the Gateway City's sunset.
I call this one....Flacid Cardinal Flag....
On the ball field and in the sky...Red battles Blue...
The sun had set, the Cardinals had scored 2 runs, and armed with inebriation's destructive confidence, and the 'St. Louis Party Boys' text messaged section number, I set off in the 5th inning to sneak down into Box Seats. Further into enemy territory, not hiding up in the hills on recon, but down in the trenches. Field Level.
So I did what I always do, act like I'm not doing anything wrong, and just walk to better seats. This rarely works at Wrigley. The Octogenarian gate keepers to Field Box at Wrigley all fought in World War 2 and don't take no guff. While, St .Louis's average aged usher is an idealistic "Baby Boomer". So during an inning change, I went camouflaged into the sea of red, and into what proved to be my fatal mistake of the evening.
At first, I couldn't find the 'St. Louis Party Boys', but it's hard not too miss four sizable gentlemen wearing Cubbie Blue amongst the Crimson back drop of Busch. They had also moved down to better seats, and were sitting only 10 rows or so back from the Cardinals dugout. So, I waited for another inning change, and crossed deep behind enemy lines. It was there I stepped on the landmine.
I arrived triumphantly at this scene.
But our 'box seat reunion' proved to be short lived. As I had no sooner asked why the sleeping 'Party Boy's' shirt is turned inside out, than multiple security guards descended upon us, demanding of the 'St. Louis Party Boy's' to turn their shirts inside out or they would be kicked out. But instead of succumbing to the will of 'the man', they decided to leave the stadium. I couldn't blame em'. They were a 'Party Boy' down after all, and the rain delay had us all behaving incongruously with the conduct expected of the wealthier and possibly classier, Box Seat holders.
What happened next, is unfortunately NOT a blur, being a musician and podcaster, I record what I hear, human interactions, random cool sounds, bands...all sorts of stuff. Often times, I am privy to the aggressive ugliness of my inebriated states. Hopefully, my more cringeworthy moments in this recording are just me taking AA's first of 12 steps "1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.". And like Sainted King Louis after losing most of his army in Tunis, I should have admitted defeat, and retreated to my cheap seats after losing the cover of 'The St. Louis Party Boys'. So what did I do? I stupidly continued the argument with an usher and Cardinals' fans as to my belief that the 'Party Boys' should be allowed to have "sucks" emblazoned on their bloated backs. It wasn't my fight. I was as wrong as King St. Louis attacking Tunis without clean drinking water. And it sounded like this.
(Warning *there is swearing in this recording, worse than "sucks" anyway)
Still reading? Cause we haven't even gotten to the good part yet. Soon after this unfortunate encounter, the same usher who I argued with about the "sucks"shirts entered stage right with a big bad rent a cop who demanded to see my ticket. Luckily, even though I was sitting in the 'Party Boy's' wrong seats, I had asked one of 'The Boys' for his 100 level ticket as he left. I whipped out my 'Party Boy' stub for the stadium muscle, hoping it would save me, but right behind the rent a cop, was a real cop, with a gun, who demanded an explanation. Now this part IS a drunken blur. I was talking, they were all talking, and the fans were booing, and then the real cop said something about how he was gonna take me to jail... Knowing my arrest worthiness at this current moment, and innate fear of spending the night with a large cellmate named Bubba, I agreed to leave and zipped my lips. The real and rent a cops jawed me all the way to the front gates of the stadium, trying to goad me into saying or doing something stupip so they could arrest me. But I had finally learned the lesson of St. Louis in the Holy City of Tunis as he defeatedly buried his men before dying himself, "Shut Up and Go Home".
The Cubs ended up losing this game 5-2 anyway....
The Cubs ended up losing this game 5-2 anyway....
Why does everything have to be so RED around here!!!
I woke up, hungover and ashamed, after listening to the recordings and downloading the previous nights photo's onto my computer, but I had a job to do. I needed to try and figure out why these fans of St. Louis have been treated to 11 World Championships, only behind the Yankees' 27, while the Cubs....well, we all know the Cubs story....so I cleaned myself up and tumbled out into the muggy afternoon to sweat out toxins and search for answers.
On my walk down Cherokee st., a slowly gentrifying artsy district with authentic mexican restaurants on the west end (Taqueria El Bronco was excellent, and the waitress was cute), and antiques and curiosity shops as you move east. I happened upon a Cubs logo'd item in the storefront window of Penny's Boutique.
Now, I thought through the window, and with that plastic wrapping, that these were Cub's and Red's candles, but Penny's custom embroiderer Mark informed me, that upon further inspection, you can plainly see that this is Cubs and Reds embroidered toilet paper. Yes, that's right, you can't wear "Cubs Sucks" shirts at the stadium, but you CAN wipe your butt while showing how much you hate the Chicago Cubs. Mark said it broke his heart, but a friend asked him to make Cardinals TP too for a gift, and was kind enough to email me a photo. They don't, however showcase this product in the window.
Continuing on my sweaty journey, I turned a corner and wham! I smelled beer. Well, hops anyway. I've been on a few brewery tours in my time, and I figured I was near the Budweiser factory. Sure enough, the nose knows, and within a few blocks I was standing in front of this....
Luckily, I walked into the main tourist hall just as the free tour was leaving. No waiting for Son Ranto! It was pretty typical for a large factory tour, kinda boring, and one of the tour guides inaudibly mumbled. However, I think I could watch this Bud Lite canning machine for hours.
Having watched the Cubs lose the night before, and searching for answers as to the Cardinals success, I was on the look out for any clues as to why the Cubs, who spend slightly less money than the Cards are fighting for 4th place, while the Cardinals own the best record in the Majors. That's when I saw Dale Sveum.
Not at the ballpark preparing, but on the Budweiser Brewery tour!
Here's Dale's bald head admiring a fermentation tank.
Post Tour Dale enjoying 1 of 2 free pre-game beers!
Of course, this Dale doppelganger is really just some Scottish tourist on holiday, but I had fun twittering these pics to other Cubs fans as I enjoyed my 2 free beers. After sweating out the previous nights libations, it was 'hair of the dog' time. Now off to the ballgame!!
Seeking to not repeat the foibles of the previous evening, I decided to sit in my actual seat, and not talk to anybody but Cubs fans on Twitter. The Cubs surprisingly scored 4 in the first with back to back homers off Wainwright, and that's all they would need to win. I sat reservedly cheering, snapping pics, and twittering. Sorry there's no good story here, except for my best friend "The Lovable Lou Sears" texted me that he'd give me 1000 bucks to get kicked out again by putting my head up this usher's shirt. I chose to not.
Cubs Win! Now it's my turn to win! At the Casino!!
A mile from Busch stands the Lumiere Casino, and even though I received rotten directions from a cop, I eventually wandered through a back entrance and strode in as confidently as Sainted King Louis did during his glorious battles against the Cathars of Northern Spain and Italy. The gambling plan was throw 20 bucks in some slots. Either lose the 20$ or make the 20$ cab fare it would take me to get back to the south side, instead of waiting for some 2$ bus and then walking a mile through the gentrifying ghetto. Between 'Deal or No Deal', 'Dueces Wild Poker', and 'Dean Martin's Wild Party', I found myself up 22$, and heeded a similar lesson as to the evening before. "Take the Money and Go Home".
The historical piously Sainted King Louis would most likely have disapproved of casinos, having banned Jews from lending money as usuries, while simultaneously burning 1000's of copies the Hebrew holy book, The Talmud. But I'm from Chicago, and I'm letting the casino pay my cab fare, and the only thing I burn are cigarettes. I don't make a habit of following the example of some 12th century French king anyway, even if I am in his namesake city.
After a needed nights sleep, and a little musical 'show and tell' with my AirBnB host Jeremy Joyce , it was time to drive back to the motherland, Chicago. Goodbye St. Louis. Thanks for making me a stronger Cubs fan. My resolve to beat you Cardinals has never been stronger. Through adversity and struggle will come wisdom and success. Hopefully the same can be said someday of our current young Cubs team. Maybe there's something to be learned from these confident Cardinals. Maybe these tough road trips can help the Cubs become like the Mamluks, who not only fought off St. Louis and his crusading army, but also held off the vicious hordes of Mongols coming from the east. Most likely the American League East.....
But next time I come here, I'm gonna knock that arch on its side to make it a "C". Anyone want to help me paint it Cubbie Blue?
Farm. Farm. College. Farm. Farm. Route 66 museum? Hey, that sounds cool... so after grabbing a quick 5$ Footlong, I made my way to the Pontiac, Illinois Route 66 museum. Some cool memorabilia of times gone by, when you could 'get your kicks' all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles.
But what really blew me away was the War Museum upstairs in the same building.
Rows of mannequins don the original uniforms of soldiers, living and dead, while their personal stories are told by the soldiers themselves on an automated cell phone tour. Complete with letters home, weapons, and memorabilia from bazookas to Japanese cigarette packs. It's a haunting and riveting display, and worth a stop if you ever find yourself 2 hours south of Chicago on I-55.
I felt humbled among the spirits of the people who inhabited these uniforms. These people fought Nazi's and I'm fighting Cardinals' fans. My camouflage vest, worn only for fashion and fun as I traveled into "enemy territory" felt suddenly suddenly like the costume it was. We baseball rivals from both sides of the Mississippi, are just like boys playing war, while the real soldiers are out there bravely putting their butts on the lines in conflicts they can't individually control or understand.
But even in these hallowed halls, a veteran volunteer, and another museum patron and I still had time to talk Cubs baseball. We all agreed. Marmol's done.
After badly timing my departure from the museum, my "Welcome Home" to Chicago was rush hour traffic. I never understood why it was called 'rush hour' when you don't actually rush at all. But I settled into my Uptown apartment in time to catch Pat and Keith with the first pitch of game 3 of the Cubs-Cards series, exhausted and ready to ruminate over the whole experience.
The Cubs lead the all time series against the Cardinals 1174-1116, with their first meeting in the World Series of 1885, only 20 short years after the end of the Civil War. The Missouri compromise admitted Missouri as a slave state in 1820, while Illinois remained free. Could it be that the Blue vs. Grey of the US's bloodiest conflict has been replaced with Blue vs. Red of the Cubs-Cardinals regional rivalry? The vicious slaughtering of war, has progressed into a costumed display of "Cubs Suck" t shirts and embroidered team logo toilet paper. Cubs fans can be characterized as good natured, fun, eternally hopeful, diehard, drunk and superstitious. While Cardinal fans are intense, confident, detail oriented, drunk and brash. And following in the tradition of the nobility in King St. Louis' court, Cardinal fans also marry their cousins.
Yes, I suppose, Cubs and Cardinal fans are natural enemies, but at least we're not shooting at each other like in the Civil War. Just rooting for baseball teams with players from all over the World. After all the French descendants of Sainted King Louis and the Italian and Spanish modern Cathars aren't slaughtering each other anymore either. They play soccer now.
Ok...St. Louis AirBnB host Jeremy Joyce....play us out....
Even the Stop signs hate the Cubs!
Hammerstone's is home of "The Thing". Danger Danger!
Well, that's reassuring....
Ozzie Smith tripping over a shoelace.
Stan Musial's knees double as Stop Lights.
Behind Enemy Lines
You don't have to worry about Tornados or Guns at Busch Stadium.
Help! I'm Surrounded by Red Things!!
Hey! That's a good deal!
I guess he traded in his robe for a sweater?
Where the cool kids hang out...
I hope it's a Cardinal.
Cool, but huh?
There's beer fume's in them towers!
Maybe this is why Budweiser tastes like horse pee?
Well, finish it St. Louis!
Where beer costs less than gas, you're gonna have problems...
Can't grow weed without the seed!
A Cubs win from nosebleed!
Is that hotel peeing into the river?!
Out on recon....
Route 66 hippie bus.
Where do you put the Credit Card?
Only 4 years of being a road, and you build a museum?
Under Cubbie Blue skies.