Spend enough time raging against the dying of the light and all you end up with is a sore throat and in the dark. Some things just can’t be prevented, no matter how hard you try and how right you are. The minute you learn that fact is probably the exact minute your childhood dies.
The Chicago Cubs officially unveiled their “City Connect” jerseys today, following their crosstown counterpart’s launch a couple weeks ago. What’s funny, or perhaps too on the nose about them, is just how much they say about the neighborhoods they stand for. While the South Side of Chicago has its issues—most inflicted upon it, some self, and both almost always a result of the city’s leaders’ preference for caring for the North Side—there is a defiance to those “South Side” jerseys. As well there’s a nod to the under-the-radar vibrant hip-hop culture that is there, and amongst the White Sox themselves. There’s an edge, a vibrance. Whatever else you might attach to it, they at least have personality.
The Cubs jerseys are fine, and have some nice touches, but connect to a neighborhood that has no personality to speak of, and really neither do the jerseys as a whole. A neighborhood that isn’t even really there, at least not anymore. I always laugh when Chicago describes itself as “a city of neighborhoods,” because every goddamn city is a city of neighborhoods. I lived in LA long enough to know that those in Eagle Rock or Boyle Heights don’t feel a particular connection to those in Brentwood. Astoria isn’t Chelsea (at least it wasn’t back when I was regularly spending time there). I only needed one weekend in Pittsburgh to know that South Side Flats was a different animal than Lawrenceville.
These designations become more important these days as more and more of these neighborhoods are gobbled up by developers and begin to be the exact same. It feels like we’re not all that far away from “city of neighborhoods” being an anachronism.
This will come off as yet another old man yelling at the cloud of a forgotten era dispatched in service to the affluent white crowd that overtake every neighborhood it seems, and it probably is. The thing is that I have never had a huge connection with Wrigleyville, other than the ballpark, because it’s been slipping this way for a long time. But that process has been sent into overdrive by the Ricketts family.
It’s only been five or six years of work and effort, but walk into Wrigleyville now and the overwhelming feeling is simply plainness. Or vapidness. Or just emptiness, figuratively. It is most certainly full physically. But it’s striking how much of a suburban office park it looks now. A Shake Shack is always evidence of exactly what’s going on. Any “gesture” trying to make the area have any connection to Chicago instead of just anywhere is supplied by having Big Star Tacos across the street from the park. And the tacos are good, but are the exact kind of artsy, white people tacos aimed at those who want to say they’re eating different cultures of cuisines but would actually shit themselves if they ever set foot in a Latin neighborhood. That is until they buy a condo in that same neighborhood as it gets bullied into gentrification. And also wouldn’t have any idea that Big Star was a band. Everything else around could literally be anywhere else you’ve been. It’s just there, designed specifically and only to take in money. It could be Woodfield Mall, it could be LaGuardia Airport.
Wrigleyville isn’t alone in this part of the city, as the whole North Side becomes a playground for recent Big Ten grads. It’s just the epicenter. I only have vague memories of the place being cool, but I know it happened. A couple of decades ago it was the nexus of an unruly punk scene, where you could catch Naked Raygun or 88 Fingers Louie at the Cubbie Bear. Try and imagine that when you walk into that place now and see the nightclub crowd after a Cubs game. The famous Punkin’ Donuts was only four blocks away, for fuck’s sake. There wasn’t any hotel, and if you wanted food you hit the local hot dog stand like any Chicagoan worth their salt (emphasis on salt).
There are still vestiges of what was. The Metro is right outside the left field fairpole, and is still one of the best live music venues anywhere (brief listings of memories there: someone jumping off the balcony onto my head during a Mudhoney show when I was 14, seeing Foo Fighters before they’d released their first album and were actually interesting, having a friend sneak me into the VIP section for a Kills show and then watching her get thrown out 10 minutes in, a close friend and I trying to figure out if Wolf Alice were Arsenal or Leyton Orient supporters during a Wolf Alice show while I was zonked on goofballs). Next door is the G-man Tavern, a place that still caters to people going to shows next door and not the local residents so much, and is the best place in the country to watch Jeopardy! (seriously). And on the right day, there are just enough tattoos and sneers to scare off Kyler and Becca from Michigan State on a non-gameday. Nisei Lounge outside the right field fairpole still harkens back to a day when the pregame customers would get loaded on Old Style and then bet on every pitch from the Wrigley bleachers, before those turned into Rohypnol-ville.
It’s not all on the Ricketts family, as much as I’d like to blame them for all of the city’s problems, and my own. The Cubs turned the park into party center in the 90s when the Tribune company was either too indifferent or too stupid or both to actually put a representative team on the field. Harry Caray was once the mayor of Rush St., but the Cubs just brought Rush St. to Clark and Addison to sell tickets, as if you could actually drink with Harry (though I would have paid good money to watch any of these yuppie dipshits try and go toe-to-toe with Harry in his prime. The thud with which they would have hit the floor within an hour would have been earth-shaking). Sun, beer, and boobs is what the Cubs had to sell, and boy did they. If any team tried to get away with the game production of Arnie Harris now and his penchant for “crowd” shots they’d be sued to the seventh level of hell.
It spread throughout the surrounding area quickly, and the bars became extensions of the bleachers. But at least there was some kind of flavor running through the place, even if it was decidedly vanilla. Yuppie vomit isn’t a pleasant personality, but it’s at least a personality.
But the Ricketts killed all that off, and now there’s no flavor at all, unless “there are cash registers here” marks out some kind of personality. The bars probably ask you to drink quietly before heading to the merchandise stores. It’s not even trying to play-act as what came before. They’re just waiting lounges before they get your money somewhere else. The Cubs might have “Wrigleyville” emblazoned on their chests this upcoming weekend. But there’s no there there.