Dispatches from the road, part VI: Vacation purity contaminated
But all was not entirely well. On Friday morning after getting up, I looked out the window to my hotel, the Westin on Michigan Avenue just north of the Hancock Tower. There, as usual, was a lovely view of Michigan Avenue facing south and the base of the Hancock Tower:
Then, I panned to the left and down, to E. Delaware Place, right across the street. This is what I saw:
Odd. What was with the guy in the Yankees jersey? I then remembered that the Yankees were in town to play the White Sox for the weekend, and took no further notice of it, other than taking a picture. (A premonition, perhaps?) Perhaps even then I realized this might mean something. (And it did, but more on that later.) I even wondered if I could get tickets for one of the games, as the series was expected to be a good one. When I lived in Chicago, I used to like to go to Comiskey Park--I refuse to call it by its abominable new name, U.S. Cellular Field, as all Chicago baseball fans, even Cubs fans, should--when the Indians came to town. I went downstairs to the lobby to get some coffee and to use the free wireless Internet access to check my e-mail, generally farting around and killing some time, while my wife slept in a little longer. About an hour later, I came upstairs. Yankee boy was still there in the same spot on Delaware Place.
This is kind of strange, I thought. An hour later, when my wife and I left for brunch, Yankee boy was still there.
Odder still, Yankee boy (or someone who looked eerily like him) was back again on Saturday morning in the very same place, just in a different set of Yankees gear. I observed him while I was sitting in the lobby, soaking in the great feeling of being back in Chicago again and blasting Bill Frist for advocating the teaching of “intelligent design” in classrooms. Weird, I thought. Then a kid in a Yankees hat walked by. And then another. And another. Then a couple of giggly teenage girls in full Yankees regalia. What was going on here in Chicago? I thought I had managed to escape the Yankees and their insufferable fans by heading more than 800 miles west, to the heartland.
I was wrong. But this large number of Yankee fans seemed odd even for a weekend with the Yankees in town to play the Sox. Having lived in Chicago until six years ago, I knew there weren't enough Yankees fans there for a random sampling of them to produce this large a gathering at the Westin on Michigan Avenue hanging out for so long. I suppose it was possible that they had traveled to Chicago just to see the Yankees, but even accounting for that it seemed like an awful lot of Yankees fans. Something was definitely up.
A brief word of explanation for non-baseball fans and my non-U.S. readers is in order about why this disturbed me. If you're a baseball fan and grew up in an American League city east of the Mississippi river as I did, you must hate the Yankees. It's the law (of baseball, anyway). I grew up in Detroit, watched the Tigers take the 1968 and 1984 World Series; later lived in Cleveland during the years when the Indians stopped being a doormat (although they still lost the 1997 World Series in a typical heart-breaking fashion); and then lived in Chicago long enough to start to like the White Sox and Cubs. (I admit I was more partial to the Cubs, mainly due to Wrigley Field). It's part of my DNA to detest the Yankees and particularly their arrogant fans. True, I don't hate the Yankees nearly as much as a Boston Red Sox fan would. No non-Red Sox fan does. I just don't have that raging, burning hatred that only a century of stark rivalry and the curse of the Bambino can produce. But I hate them enough. In fact, I hate them even more now that I live within media range of the Barad-Dur of baseball, Yankee Stadium, and the annoying triumphalism and sense of entitledness that Yankees fans routinely express so colorfully.
So, there I was, wondering why there were so many Yankee fans milling about in the lobby of my hotel, when I noticed a group of them gathered around a tall young man, who appeared to be signing autographs. I didn't recognize him at all, but my wireless Internet connection and a hunch allowed me to determine quickly that this is who he was:
Argggghhh! The rookie second baseman of the New York Yankees, Robinson Cano!
The New York Yankees must be staying at my hotel! It all became clear. Yankee boy and the numerous Yankees fans suddenly made sense! My mind reeled.Then I thought back to a time two or three years ago when I stayed at the Westin for a meeting and ran into several Florida Marlin players in the elevator. The Westin must be the hotel in Chicago where Major League Baseball teams stay when they are in town to play the Sox or the Cubs. And now the dreaded Dark Lords of Baseball themselves were at the Westin, spending the night under the very same roof my that wife and I were! What to do? I decided it was time to head upstairs to the room and tell my wife about this development. I stood and waited at the elevator. It opened.
And this greeted me:
Just kidding. It was actually this man:
There he was, getting off the elevator, the Prince of Baseball Darkness himself, the very personification of the hated Yankees, their team captain and longtime shortstop Derek Jeter! There he was, the most prominent Yankee, more so than other Yankees stars because he was a career-long Yankee, not a free agent who just happened to join the Yankees, like Alex Rodriguez or Randy Johnson.
I stood there stunned for a moment. Before I could react (or pull out my camera phone for a quick picture), Jeter quickly walked past me, heading to the team bus to go to the stadium. It had happened so suddenly that I almost hadn't recognized him. A chubby guy in a Yankees cap pointed and yelled, and instantly a swarm of Yankee sycophants descended upon Jeter, buzzing like gnats, and the moment passed. I thought momentarily about following to see what other Yankees I could see, but decided that enjoying a coffee and telling my wife about what was going on was more important. As the elevator rose, two teenage girls who had also seen Jeter get off the elevator squealed back and forth about what they had just seen and literally jumped up and down with excitement. With difficulty, I held back the urge to vomit.
As annoyed as I was by the infiltration of our Chicago getaway by the hated enemies of all that is good and pure in baseball (God only knows how I would have reacted if I had seen the Dark Lord himself, George Sauron-brenner--I mean Steinbrenner--on that elevator), our Chicago sojourn was quite enjoyable. During our three days there, we hit the Art Institute of Chicago, Millenium Park to see the "Bean" (which, unfortunately, was covered by a huge tent to protect it as it was being polished) and the Crown Fountain, and other places. We did some shopping up at W. Belmont and N. Halstead (Belmont Army Surplus is a great place, by the way, having the best selection of Doc Martens shoes I've found anywhere). Saturday night, we headed to the Kinzie Chophouse for a fine meal (and a chance to regale our friends, even more inveterate Yankee-haters than we, with our tale and commiserate with them about the horrific performance of the White Sox during the first two games of the series) before heading back to the hotel.
Getting back to the hotel around 10 PM, we found a swarm of activity. This is where we discovered that there was at least one advantage to having the Yankees stay at our hotel: sheer entertainment value and people watching (not to mention blog fodder). Instead of heading back to our room, we just sat across the street on Delaware Place and watched the activity. A swarm of Yankees fans were hovering around the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players either coming or going from the hotel. Around 10:15 PM, a black town car with very chrome, very shiny, very large Pimp My Ride-style wheels pulled up, and Joe Torre got out, a couple of doormen trying to hold back the crowd as he fought his way back into the hotel. A player who looked like Alex Rodriguez (I'm not entirely sure it was him) got into a cab, and a bunch of fans actually chased the cab on foot, including two who got into a car to continue the chase. Finally, the Chicago Police arrived to control the situation, and the amusement more or less ended. I thought that would be the end of our Yankees experience.
Sunday morning, we packed up and were getting ready to check out. I was a little annoyed because we were running a little late for our date to meet my sister, her husband, my cousin, and my wife's friend for brunch. I was even more annoyed when we got on the elevator and, instead of going down to the lobby, it went up to the 16th floor, cursing myself for not having noticed that the elevator we were getting in was going up. The door on the 16th floor opened, and the people riding up with us got out.
The elevator began to descend.
And stopped on the 15th floor. The door opened. And who should be standing there waiting for the elevator but:
Argghhh! It was Jeter again, perfectly coiffed and impeccably groomed wearing a brown designer suit, an attractive woman in an expensive-appearing dress accompanying him. I wondered if she was a starlet, but didn't recognize her. (NOTE: My wife dissents about this part of the story, having gotten a better look at the woman than I did; she doesn't think the woman was with Jeter, but rather just happened to get on the elevator at the same time. She also estimated the woman to be in her mid-30's, way older than Jeter's usual proclivities when it comes to dating starlets. Sadly, my wife's likely more accurate account of the actual situation makes for a duller story than my version, which, had I had the presence of mind to snap a picture, might have gotten me a nod from the tabloids. Oh well. Maybe I need to get my glasses prescription adjusted.) They stepped on the elevator. We rode down in complete silence, my wife, myself, Derek Jeter, the woman, and our luggage. My wife and I tried not to be too obvious as we smirked at each other. Fifteen floors later, the elevator door opened, and Jeter and the woman stepped out, followed by my wife and me. We followed Jeter because we had to go the same direction anyway to get to the parking garage to pick up our car. We saw Jeter head out to the bus and watched with amusement as a mob of fans waiting behind a velvet rope accosted him. He started signing autographs, then got in the bus.
Friends, even as the proprietor of the Skeptics Circle, and a die-hard advocate of rationalism, science, and skepticism in all things, at times like this I have to wonder if there is such a thing as fate. Consider: Of all the weekends we could have taken a trip to Chicago this summer, we chose this one, when the Yankees just happened to be in town. Of all the hotels we could have stayed at in downtown Chicago, we ended up at the Westin, where the Yankees were staying. (Our other favorite downtown hotel, the Sheraton, happened to be booked solid because of its proximity to the lake and because this was the weekend of the Air and Water Show. Coincidence?) Of all the times Saturday morning I could have chosen to head back up to our hotel room, I chose the exact time when Jeter was coming down the very same elevator that I needed to use. But the capper is this: On Sunday morning, if we hadn't both been running late and gotten on the wrong elevator, we would never have gotten this "opportunity" to share 20 seconds in an elevator with Derek Jeter. It wasn't enough for me to run into Jeter once this weekend. I had to run into him twice, the second time much longer than the first! Spooky, eh?
Don't worry, though. I'm not going soft as a skeptic. I still don't think there is such a thing as fate, even when curious incidents of this sort seem to suggest that there might be, taunting me twice with the personification of the hated Yankees. It's all just coincidence. But if fate does actually exist in any form, particularly in baseball, I'm now convinced of one thing.
Fate was laughing its ass off at me this weekend.