Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sweet Home Chicago

Essential Elements for a Legendary Road Trip:

- A world class city for a destination

- A 12-seater rental van

- Bleacher seats at Wrigley Field

- Copius amounts of duty-free alcohol

- 13 Dudes with battle-tested livers

- 4 rooms booked at a 5-star hotel (or the Red Roof Inn)

Essential Elements for a Legendary Stag:

- A Groom-to-Be willing to make use of the above-listed

This particular road trip/stag weekend began in the only way it could have possibly began: belatedly. I picked up the 12-seater the night before, and after collecting the city guys (myself, Dunner {Barrie is a City}, Browner, and Sneeze), we found ourselves standing around outside the Groom-to-Be's office building at 9 o'clock on a Friday morning, waiting for the man of the weekend to bust out of work for the day. With time to kill, we took in the counter-culture world of high finance by parading around in the bowels of BCE place in little more than shorts and sandals and backwards turned baseball caps, smirking at all of the 7-figure suckers who have to actually work for a living...

Foley eventually stumbled out of his office at 9:30, and by 10:30, we were locked and loaded with the rest of the lads from the 'burbs (B*Rad, Skeeter, Dinner, and The Peacock). By all measures imaginable, the fact that we were only a half-hour behind schedule was nothing short of a miracle.

By one-o'clock we were at the Sarnia-Port Huron border. As is custom, we bought just slightly more than the maximum allowable amount of alcohol; you know, just to make it interesting; and piled it all into a massive cooler full of ice in the middle of the van's dance floor (the rental company couldn't legally rent me a 15-seater van, so they just removed one of the seats, leaving an open area in the middle of the van which was the perfect locale for storing coolers full of beer), in complete full view of any half-competent border patrol inspector. I guess I must have pulled the Jedi mind trick on the border guy because he somehow let us through without a full cavity inspection, and before you could say "there's a dead hooker in the trunk", 8 cans of ice-cold duty free beer were cracked simultaneously (probably one of the sweetest sounds on the planet), and I was officially regretting my decision to be the designated driver... Because truth be told, there are few things in this world that are more enjoyable than getting completely shit-faced in the back of a van on the way to Chicago.

By the time we got to Olivet, the previously boisterous backseat boozers had fallen silent, and I only realized their level of discomfort when we pulled over to the side of the road. Just a tip to any law enforcement officials out there: if you ever happen to come across a white 12-seater rental van at the side of the road with 11 dudes in a line, pissing with near orgasmic relief, there's a good chance those individuals may have been in posession of open alcohol containers in a moving vehicle. Just throwing it out there.

After a brief stop at the Olivet gas station to fuel up ($100 tank), to catch up with Dinner's college golf coach (Coach), and to load up on Steel Reserves (24-ounces, 8.1% alcohol, $0.99, and in the words of one highly regarded Olivet alum: drink 3 and you won't remember a thing. Blackout drunk for $3? What's not to like? Check the UD definition), we were back on the road to the Windy City with a new sense of determination and vigour that was best exemplified in Dunner's willingness to partake in the inaugural mobile funnel, a heretofore unthinkable feat of endurance, coordination, and drunken stupidity. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, and it's very achievement was the reason we officially christened the van "The Bong Bus", which, for the record, is in no way related to the van with a strikingly similar name that you may or may not have come across in your various forays into the world of free porn sites.

The drive from Olivet to Chicago was a breeze, with nothing but old school hip-hop and The Eagles on the radio, crushing tins in the back (the Groom-to-Be did Yoemen's work by knocking back an even dozen Silver Bullets en route), and gas station quality coffee going down like Strychnine for the driver. The Peacock was kind enough to bring along his GPS device, and it was the craziest thing because all we had to do was type in "Lou Piniella", and before we knew it, there was Sweet Lou, walking down Ohio Street in his pink shirt like it was the most natural thing in the world. Of course, we have a great deal of experience with celebrities, so we played it completely cool by chanting his name and leaning on the horn and generally acting like a bunch of drunken idiots. It really was a thing of beauty.

The people at the Trump Tower must have lost our reservation because we somehow ended up at the Red Roof Inn at the corner of Ontario and St. Clair. Centrally located and just quite shitty enough that we would have to work extra hard to get kicked out. I have to say, the Red Roof never disappoints as a place to rest your head at the end of a long drive (if by "resting your head" you mean "falling down in a state of intoxicated unconsciousness").

B*Rad made quite an impression from the get-go by dumping a cooler bag full of water all over the lobby floor and then pulling a repeat performance less than five minutes later by dumping the cooler all over the "double bed" that he and I would be forced to share later. I put the term "double bed" in quotations because to say that it would be tight trying to fit two grown men into one of those things is like saying that Madonna has had "some sex" in her day. Understatement of the decade. The 10 gallons of water on the bed were graciously taken by Kayla (the wonderfully accomodating front desk girl from Sarnia) and her colleagues while the rest of us made room 1212 our binge drinking headquarters.

Ronnie, Rosco, and Gizzie showed up sometime after 9, and Meaghen (a longtime friend who now resides in Chicago) and her roomie swung by for a few choice beverages as well. In total, there were 15 of us in a hotel room that was never designed to hold more than two people. Cue the noise complaints.

I'm not sure who's idea it was to bring out the beer bong, but it was obviously only a matter of time before things got completely out of control. Foley will be the first to admit that he isn't exactly Frank the Tank where the funnel is concerned, but he made short work of it on this night. He also went against everything he believes in by slugging back gigantic mouthfuls from the bottle of JD that Meaghen was kind enough to bring along. When a guest across the hall politely asked us to keep it down, someone may or may not have inquired as to whether or not she was in a state of disrobement. I think it was safe to say that it was time to go.

We walked the streets of Chicago in a drunk and disorderly fashion and eventually ended up at Gino's East for some of Chicago's finest deep dish. The pie was absolutely phenomenal (my taste buds were swimming in booze by then, but I believed Gino's East to be comparable to Lou Malnati's), but the digs were even better: graffiti covering every inch of the place, and enough beer to impair a small army. Flats eventually showed up after his flight from Boston, but I really couldn't tell you what time it was at that point because the truth is, I was completely Ramsteined at that particular juncture. The only thing I know is that the mobile funnel eventually caught up with Dunner because he shut it down long before dinner was done. Skeeter was kind enough to take the entire leftover pizza back to the hotel room for us under the condition that we agree not to rip him for shutting it down so early.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. If you gave me a million dollars, I wouldn't be able to name the bars we ended up at. The first was gawd-awful and we got out of there as soon as we could. The second was more to our liking, and one of the very few things I can tell you is that Browner, Gizzie, and I had a rather lengthy and profound discussion with Meaghen's roommate about why her relationships don't ever seem to last more than two weeks. We offered her some wonderful insight ("you need to put out more"), which she mercifully forgot the instant she vomitted her brains out a few hours later. People started dropping like flies. The photos suggest that more transpired than I recall, but I only remember walking home and asking random people if they knew how to get to the Red Roof Inn.

Meaghen was kind enough to allow some of the boys to crash at her place, meaning that Browner and I actually got our own beds on this night. Both Gizzie and Ronnie chose the floor rather than their prospective bedfellows. Sneeze did his impression of a Gazelle in the dawn's early light. Nobody was arrested. By some form of divine intervention, we managed to not get thrown out of our hotel. And the Groom-to-Be drank himself to the precipice of blackout intoxication.

To quote the great Vin Scully: "Not bad for an opening act".

We woke up Saturday morning sometime after ten and began clearing the cobwebs. Coffee. Water. More beer. Whatever it takes to get you moving in the morning. With the Cubbies-Marlins game starting at 1:05, we figured we were in pretty good shape to get to the ballpark, score some tickets (we still needed 4 more bleachers), and find ourselves a good group of seats together out in the sunshine. This, of course, was before anyone actually thought to look at the tickets, at which point we realized that the game was slated for a 12:05 first pitch, giving us less than 45 minutes to get there. Indescribable stupidity on our part.

Those who needed tickets immediately jumped in cabs to get up to Wrigley, while the rest of us frantically searched the city for one of the two grown men on this planet who do not own a cell phone (we were looking for Dunner; Rosco is the other grown man without a phone). We eventually decided he must have already headed up to Wrigley so we jumped in a cab and were in the midst of pulling away as Dunner walked out of the hotel, wondering just what the hell all of the commotion was about. Our cabbie was blasting the Reggaeton as we pounded back Caesars, and as we pulled up to Wrigley Field, it became blatantly obvious that we here in Toronto had been missing out on the true baseball experience for the past 30 years. The streets were absolutely hopping mad with people, the bars overflowing with good times, and the unlicensed vendors selling every conceivable kind of semi-offensive T-Shirt ("Hard for Harden"; "St. Louis takes it in the Pujols"). We were able to score 4 more bleacher seats for $80 each, and proceeded to enter one of the great Cathedrals in all of America.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Wrigley on a number of occassions prior, but I have to say that stepping out of the concourse and taking in the beauty of that place, no matter how many times you do so, is something that you don't ever forget. There isn't a better shade of green than the grass at Wrigley, and the ivy on the outfield walls is one of the most unique features in all of sports. Those beautifully obstructing support columns holding up the upper deck on the infield make you feel like you've gone back in time. And there's no jumbotron telling fans when to clap and when to make noise - everyone just knows when to do so - and that Bill Veeck scoreboard in straightaway center is still manually operated... Sitting in those bleachers on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it's quite possible to believe that you're in heaven.

But of course, we weren't in heaven at all. We were at a bachelor party. And it just so happens that the bleachers at Wrigley might just be the perfect setting for a stag. Because the Old Style beer was cheap ($5.75) and flowing like nobody's business, and the lack of reserved seating combined with the fact that they oversell the bleachers by about 5,000 people give the place an atmosphere that is so much like that of a keg party that it's often easy to forget that there's a sporting event going on. Oh yeah. And there are plenty of girls there. I've been to a lot of sporting events in my day, but never before have I witnessed anything even remotely close to the number of attractive women at Saturday's game. It was absolutely mind boggling... Not that I was paying any attention. I think the Groom-to-Be put it best when he rhetorically asked: "(Aside from my darling future wife,) Is there anything hotter than a hot girl who likes baseball?".

In any event, we found ourselves a nice little spot to stand along the fence in right field (there was no way in hell we were getting 12 seats together), and proceeded to get completely obliterated. The sun was shining and it was about 90 degrees, so we obviously had to go shirts-off, which inevitably led to the customary biggest belly competition. Flats and Rosco decided they needed some alone time, so they squeezed into a pair of seats in left field, Rosco in his best Cubbies blue (Syracuse Orangemen T-shirt), and Flats in his Peterfile shades. Foley and Skeeter managed to score a couple of seats in center field, while the rest of us... Well, we just pretty much stood there and drank, making friends with every single person who passed us by.

In the third inning, Jeremy Hermidia hit a solo shot that landed about three rows in front of us. The drunk guy in the Sandberg jersey made a spectacular bare-handed catch, and then tossed the ball back into right field. Classic Wrigley. We were doing our best to bribe the security guards into scoring us some seats, but aside from one old overweight dude who longed for nothing more than to take his shirt off and rub himself up against us, we made little progress. The only open seats in the entire bleacher section were a couple of spots directly in front of us that were customarily reserved for the disabled, so B*Rad decided to take advantage of the little mishap he had back in 10th grade woodshop by taking a load off in a foldup chair in the handicap section. Unfortunately for B*Rad, however, the staff at Wrigley have a policy whereby it is acceptable to discriminate against those with certain disabilities, and informed him that he would have to move along, pinky or no pinky. Needless to say, the National Coalition for the Rights of those with 9 1/2 Digits have a lawsuit pending.

Round about the 7th inning, I vaguely remember being in the men's washroom and having the guy's urinal beside me overflowing with piss. This obviously resulted in urine being splashed all over my feet. The fact that I thought this to be the funniest thing in the world speaks to how drunk we were at that point. Charlie Weis was booed mightily when he was announced to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game". When Mark Derosa was called out on a bang-bang play at first base in the 9th inning, Lou Piniella came out to argue the call and in the process checked off one of the boxes on my "things to witness before I die" list. Sweet Lou, obviously still steamed about our seeing him in a pink shirt the day before, came out guns ablazing, and within seconds was tossed from the game. Cue one of the great belly-bumps of all-time (video footage found HERE). Skeeter was apparently so upset with Sweet Lou's ejection that he decided to throw a bottle onto the field, resulting in an ejection of his own. Luckily for Skeeter, he was sufficiently intoxicated that he completely disobeyed security's orders and simply wandered over to our place along the back wall, where he teetered drunkenly for the rest of the afternoon.

Apparently the Cubbies lost in 12 innings, but that didn't really matter to us. We stumbled out of that place and into the afternoon glow of Sheffield Avenue. Harry Caray's was a no-brainer, and I can honestly say that sitting out on that patio with the sun setting majestically behind Wrigley Field was one of the supreme highlights of the weekend. The Miller Lites were flowing, Foley was getting hit on by a multitude of soon-to-be-wed women, Skeeter was asleep at the table, Ronnie was flexing with his shirt off, Dunner was showing off his world-class sunburn, Rosco was flipping the bird to anything with a flash, and The Peacock was getting his first warning for receiving manual stimulation on the dancefloor. Just a perfect way to end the afternoon.

Most of us took the L-train back to the Red Roof to shower up, and when one of the room keys wouldn't work, Browner decided that the hallway would be a perfectly suitable place for a nap. Shortly thereafter, it was back to room 1212 for a few Steel Reserves, a completely homoerotic no-holds-barred Greco Roman wrestling match, and our final warning for noise. It was 8:30 pm.

From the hotel it was off to Morton's of Chicago for the big shot steak dinner. Apparently one of the cabbie's took a car full of the lads to the wrong steakhouse, and when Ronnie asked for the bachelor party, they walked him into a private room with 15 dudes who very obviously were not the dudes Ronnie was expecting. As if on cue, Ronnie began his strip tease, to the shock, horror, and entertainment of everyone present. Classic stuff.

Which reminds me of why these big shot steakhouses are so great for a bunch of guys that have been drinking for 9 hours: they're charging you so much to eat there that you can basically be as drunk and disorderly as you like, and everyone just laughs it off. You wanna drop F-bombs and derisively chant a particular friend's girlfriend's name at the dinner table? By all means. You wanna bang on the table and sing the "horse's ass" song at the top of your lungs? The world is your oyster. Just be sure to treat you waiters with respect, and tip according to your $1,300 bill. Abide by those two rules, and you can basically do whatever the hell you want. (As a rule, I try to go out for a $1,300 dinner once every 30 years, so this one was right on schedule).

In any event, the meal at Morton's was one for the ages, and it was topped off nicely with some stogies that Skeeter had brought along. Nice touch. Ronnie enjoyed the meal and the cigars so much that he puked in the tradition of Davey Hogan directly thereafter, and Skeeter was so jacked up about the prospect of a blues bar that he fell asleep on the cab ride over.

Kingston Mines is a Chicago blues institution, and it did not disappoint on this night. There was a Samuel-L.-Jackson-esque bouncer with the biggest chip on his shoulder I've ever seen who emphatically informed us that we were NOT allowed to stand in the aisles, and this ordeal; combined with our experience at Wrigley where we were being constantly told that we couldn't stand in the aisle and we couldn't stand in the handicap section; had us wondering if there were anywhere in the city of Chicago that we were allowed to stand. Luckily, however, we were able to locate the one and only place in the entire city where standing is in fact permitted.

The headliners on this night were Vance Kelly and the BackStreet Candy Lickers (great name for a band), and they ripped through two massive sets of soul and funky blues classics. Sweet Home Chicago, Purple Rain, Got My Mojo Workin, a heartbreaking rendition of the Temptations I Wish it Would Rain... There were so many highlights from this part of the night that it's tough to know where to begin. Flats showing up in his striped shirt, tie, jeans, Cubbies lid (straight bill), and knapsack needs to be near the top of the list. When he started tipping his cap to the band after every song it sent the level of comedy into the stratosphere. Drinking beers with members of Barack Obama's political team was somewhat cool. Having Meaghen and her roomie make a triumphant return to the party scene was like Willis Reed returning to MSG. Having four drunken white guys dancing alone at the beginning of the set, only to be joined by a hundred of our closest friends within minutes was an indication that the Kingston Mines dance floor really is a haven for awkward white dancers. Having the Del-Griffith-like host announce in his fantastically gravelled monotone: "Remember, if you're going to be someone else tonight, don't be an asshole!" was a thing of beauty.

But without question, the highlight of the night came in the form of the customarily reserved Groom-to-Be. Never before has a dance floor been owned by one white man the way the dance floor at Kingston Mines was owned by Mike Foley. When asking resident dancing expert B*Rad what the secret to good white-guy dancing was, B*Rad simply implored him to "get low". And low he got. In fact, the dancing styles of Mike Foley on this night resembled a crab walk more than anything else, but it was a style so wholly unique and original that the ladies simply couldn't get enough of it. And the guys? They were best served asking Foley permission to be on his dance floor. That's how much he owned it.

When Vance Kelly and his BackStreet Candy Lickers finished their set, it was 3:30 am, and the Del-Griffith-like host got up to the mic and announced: "It's now 3:30, which means it is officially last call... For food." I have no idea what time they stop serving alcohol at Kingston Mines on a Saturday night, but we left at 4:15 and the bartenders were still working hard. B*Rad, Foley, Sneeze and myself jumped in a cab at that time, and the only reason I remember that foursome is because we got the security guard at the Red Roof to take a picture of us when we stumbled out of the cab. The Groom-to-Be has absolutely no recollection of this ride.

I can't speak for the others, but the room I shared with B*Rad, Browner, and Dinner was not a pleasant place to be that night. The term "symphony of screaming assholes" doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

The next morning we were all about as hungover as you might expect from 13 guys who had spent the previous 48 hours binge drinking. Some of the guys flew home. Eight of us piled back into the van. I wanted to kill myself.

In all, it was one of those legendary weekends that I'll probably be having drunken 'Nam-like flashbacks of for many years to come. Thanks to Meaghen for showing us around her newly adopted city. Thanks to Lou Piniella for showing us how to get thrown out of a game. Thanks to the nameless cabbie for bringing a comatose Skeeter back to his hotel in one piece on Saturday night. Thanks to the people at the Red Roof Inn for not throwing us out despite the fact that we should have been tossed ten times over. Thanks to all of the boys who put in the effort to make the trip down, particularly Flats, Ronnie, Rosco, and Gizzie for flying. And thanks most of all to Mike Foley for being the kind of guy that the above-mentioned would be willing to come all the way to Chicago for.


Anonymous said...

sorry i missed it boys.

i even had an unreal dream that i actually made it there.


Anonymous said...

A tear with rum in it just rolled down my cheek.....stay low...


Anonymous said...

when's the book coming out Sean?

Vicarious living for a 3+ year sober uncle-in-law.

Thanks man!

Owen Sound

Anonymous said...

Love it ! We will have to re-visit a Nascar race.

Anonymous said...

Great story.... great story. I just have one question: Did he Davey Hogan have to pay to get in the contest?

Sean McCallum said...

Two more thoughts about that most legendary weekend.

The first is that I love the fact that the unofficial pose for the weekend became the flipping of the bird. Class acts, all the way. (We definitely owe Rosco for starting the trend. In the 10 years I've known the man, I have yet to see a photo with him NOT flipping the bird. Fantastic).

The second thought is my only regret: that we didn't get a single shot with all 13 guys. Chalk it up to the fact that we were just too drunk the entire time to think of it (I was under the impression that such a shot was discussed at dinner, but whether or not a snap was actually taken is beyond me). But really, if being too drunk to think of a group shot is your only regret, it's tough to complain.

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