Hockey Night in Chicago

How one South Sider celebrated the return of the Cup to Chicago
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Monday night started out innocently enough. I got off work at the coffee shop in Beverly (on Chicago’s far south side) and rode my bike east on 91st Street to the Metra station. I was headed to Ukrainian Village, on the near northwest side, to meet a friend for a drink. My plan was to take the Rock Island Line downtown, then pedal the couple miles remaining to the bar. I love riding but I’m in no shape to ride the whole thirteen or fourteen miles. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew the hockey game would be on and thus chose a bar where the TV is only on a few times a year—for the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl and not much else.

The bike route from downtown Chicago to Ukrainian Village mostly runs along Milwaukee Avenue. It’s the most heavily used bike lane in the city, sometimes dubbed the Hipster Highway. Not only am I out of shape but my bike was built for comfort, not speed. Dozens of cyclists blew by me like I was standing still. That was all right. It was nearly 90º out and I was in no hurry.

I got to the Rainbo about a half hour early. I’d heard there might be a flash storm coming and asked Matt the bartender if I could take the bike inside. He had no problem with that since the bar was nearly empty at 6 p.m. Halfway into my first vodka-soda we could feel the wind and rain whipping around outside without even seeing it (the Rainbo’s only window is a diamond-shaped porthole in the front door.) The storm was gone as quickly as it had come. My friend John walked through the door a few minutes later. We talked about the movie he’d just finished making and what he was gonna take up next. We talked about the chances of some studio picking up the TV show idea we’d worked on a year before. He bought the drinks since he was currently flush, while I was barely managing to pay bills every month. Matt said he felt bad for the late-shift bartender, Kenny, who would be relieving him at 8 p.m., because the bar would be dead until the hockey game ended.

Around 8 p.m. John had to leave for another engagement and I decided to bike to a place on Western to meet another friend for another drink. The Blind Robin was full of red-black-and-white jerseys, their owners’ eyes glued to the flatscreens above the bar. The fans made bad-sex sounds in reaction to what was happening in the game while Rae and I talked about my impending marriage and her impending divorce. When the game ended we watched the exultant crowd around us rather than anything going on on the TV screens. It wasn’t our joy, but at least we could enjoy the sudden happiness of others. I walked Rae and another friend home then got on the bike for the ride south.

When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 I had to drive my cab through the madness of their fans’ celebration. This time around I was content to read reports about meatheads throwing bottles at the police on Twitter. Heartening to know that masses of long-suffering bros had found a cause to rally around. I saw the occasional cop car fly by as I pedaled south, but for the most part, the people in the neighborhoods I was riding through didn’t seem so concerned with hockey. I passed warehouses and darkened buildings. A lot of places were still without power from the brief but violent storm that had whipped through the city several hours before.

At 18th Street, in a fit of alcohol-inspired nostalgia, I decided to stop at Don’s Grill for a cheeseburger. Don’s is one of those old-fashioned all-night diners where you can only sit on stools bolted into the floor and the counterman takes your order, then turns away and fries it on the flat-top for you. I used to live down the street and still stop in from time to time. The three or four other patrons didn’t seem especially jubilant about the Stanley Cup, or anything else for that matter. I ate my burger and onion rings, paid, and got back on my bike.

My plan had been to get on the southbound Western Avenue bus when I got tired but no buses passed me. So I just kept going. At around 61st Street, I felt the bike chain slip. Somehow a bungee cord from my bike rack had wrapped itself around the base of the back wheel and had popped the chain off. I managed to free the cord but could not get at the chain, because my bike has a mudguard that completely encloses the rear wheel. I didn’t even have a Swiss Army knife on me. I took the #49 bus to its terminus at 79th Street, watching my bike wobbling on the bus’s front rack every time the bus hit a rut or pothole, which, on that stretch of Western, happens often.

I was still about three miles from home. I decided to walk rather than waiting for another bus. The Dan Ryan Woods—something between a city park and a forest preserve—lines Western Avenue from 83rd Street to 91st Street, so I didn’t cross paths with many people. A homeless person sleeping, surrounded by all his belongings in a bus shelter, was the only one that left any impression. I wondered whether he knew or cared about the Blackhawks. Mostly it was broken tree branches blocking my path. It was about 12:30 a.m. by now and I was pretty wiped out. This was the most exercise I’d gotten in years.

Hardboiled Coffee, where I work afternoons, was at about the halfway point of my walk home. I had keys, so I decided to try to use the tools there to fix the chain so I could pedal the rest of the way. I dug through my wallet and found a four-digit number I thought was the store alarm code. It wasn’t. The alarm kept blaring as I punched the same wrong numbers in over and over. It kept trilling as I called Gregg, the owner, and left a panicked voicemail, and as I dug through my wallet and finally found the correct password. The alarm went mercifully silent but I was covered in sweat in the darkened shop—there was no electricity on for blocks and thus no fans or air-conditioner on here—the alarm was the only thing still working. I had just gotten the mudguard off when the cops arrived.

After convincing them that I did indeed work there—one was a morning regular, which helped—I went back to the bike but it was no use. I’m no mechanic and whatever that bungee cord had done was beyond my abilities to mend. I put the bike in the back room, locked up the store, and started walking south again.

My t-shirt was soaked in sweat, my hands were covered in axle grease, but I couldn’t resist the urge to check on the Stanley Cup celebrations via Twitter. I read reports of smashed storefronts and packs of marauding bros in Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville as I walked up the quiet, tree-lined streets of Beverly to my house. Had I walked further south on Western to the Cork & Kerry and the other sports bars down that way, I’d have seen my share of ugly post-championship hangover, but I was thankfully spared all that. The only celebration I witnessed was the dog barking like a maniac as I unlocked the door. He does that every time I come home, Stanley Cup or no Stanley Cup.

The next morning I woke up late, aching all over from the alcohol and the unplanned exercise. I walked to work and told Gregg about my little adventure. He didn’t even get the voicemail I’d left him til he woke up in the morning. Good thing it wasn’t an actual break-in. Beverly Bicycles, a couple doors north of the coffee shop, fixed my chain for free. Customers came in and wanted to relive the glory of the game. I nodded along with them, but for me the memory of the night the Chicago Blackhawks won the 2013 Stanley Cup would have very little to do with hockey.


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