I intended to bring you a tale of Anglophiles vs. angioplasties last weekend as I scored a free ticket to the Manchester United/Chicago Fire tilt last Saturday. However, I was reminded brutally why I hadn't been to Soldier Field since a U.S. Soccer game 5-6 years ago.
I left my Lake County home for the soccer game three hours before the event started, only to find I didn't get anywhere near the Toilet Bowl in time and that parking wasn't going to happen any time soon if at all. Since the ticket was a hand-me-down from a season ticket holder who knew better, I just turned around and went home.
I admit full culpability for this. I should have left five hours before the event, packed a meal, hired a Sherpa, taken a leave of absence, kissed my family goodbye, etc. I would've taken public transportation, but Metra has ceased running on weekends for certain lines. And so on.
I don't run into these problems so much at other local stadiums. Wrigley Field has worse parking, but I went to DePaul, so I know all the parking and public transportation tricks. Plus, there's something to do to kill time before and after games that doesn't involve sitting on asphalt for two hours. Admittedly, it requires surrounding myself with drunken fellow Cubs fans, but we all suffer for our craft.
New Comiskey (let it so ever be named, amen) is frankly a delight. Great parking, a stadium not without her charms, and even a few fine bars within decent walking distance that doesn't seem so intimidating anymore. (I passed many a drug deal in the offing between the 35th Street train station and the bus ride to the old Armory when the CPS School Board squatted there in the '90s.)
I haven't been to the United Center since a Zig Ziglar extravaganza 8-10 years ago (and, if you haven't been to one and can score free tickets, go and admire the pure crazy), but it starts to approach Soldier Field's inaccessibility and parking prices without going over the line for me. I look forward to getting down there for a Bulls and Blackhawks game this season, assuming both seasons happen.
Toyota Park is in a ridiculous place but draws relatively few compared to the the stadiums listed above, so travel isn't so bad and the parking isn't awful (though you add in the gas price...). We all agree Allstate Arena doesn't actually exist. And so on. But my nemesis seems to be Soldier Field.
I went to a Cardinals-Chargers game in San Diego last fall as part of my work for the Arizona bureau and found the entire experience a little intimidating, frankly. True, Qualcomm Stadium is relatively beat-up and the parking lot hasn't been resurfaced since Dan Fouts played there.
However, the tailgating community is like that for nearly all teams, though: a city unto itself that pops up and disappears like a football Brigadoon, complete with its own laws, social services, and ways to deal with outsiders. Between that and the sea of testosterone that comes with any football Sunday, I couldn't figure out how to join this community for a day.
With the NFL lockout nearly kaput and the Chicago Bears returning to their lakefront home, I need to figure out how to get over all these barriers now that I've come to the point in my life that I only need to sell one kidney to get Bears tickets that don't come with their own plane warning beacon. (True story: my last in-person Bears experience involved replacement players.)
Therefore, I turn to all of you who love the Bears enough to give all you own to attend games. What are your secrets to Sunday success? How do you find ways to make eight hours on the lakefront in winter endurable, much less enjoyable? Why is this better than three hours in front of the television, at least once?
How do you get into the tailgating experience? Do I need a tour guide? A passport? I'll bribe local tailgating officials if need be, like all good foreign experiences require.
I'll only do this for a Bears game, though. The next time 60,000 Anglophiles block my way, I'm telling 60,000 Zig Ziglar fans that a sweet real estate opportunity is happening in the same place and heading to Wisconsin until all my problems solve themselves.