Thanksgiving in Vegas

I think it’s safe to say that Las Vegas is just not my kind of town.

I don’t gamble. I don’t eat five dollar steaks if I can help it. I don’t go to strip shows. And I like my Cirques a little more Solo then the multiple Soleils currently on tap here.

cirquesSeriously:  There are a DOZEN Cirque de Soleil shows on display at different hotels here in Vegas. That’s more Cirques than there are “Fasts and Furious.”  (Which is the proper plural for “Fast and Furious” by the way.)

I mean, I know it’s been said before, over and over again but- the whole place is just…a little too much.  The glitz. The tinsel. The ostentatious casino facades.  And dear lord, with the flashing lights.  An epileptic wouldn’t last five minutes here with all the flashing.

welcome-to-vegaIt is, without question, one of the least enticing places on the planet for a guy like me.

So…how did Milo and I come to spend Thanksgiving in Sin City, of all places?

Funny you should ask…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I am sure I have mentioned previously, my wife has lots of family here in California. She was born here, for one thing, and her roots go back several generations.

cali-mapSara’s mother, for example, was born and bred in L.A. and currently lives in San Francisco. Not only that, but she’s got a bunch of cousins, aunts and uncles scattered all over the West coast.  (Her Aunt Caron and Uncle David- lovely people, by the way, salt of the earth- live in the single worst-named suburb in the country, the thoughtlessly named….Placentia.  Say it out loud.  See?)

So, naturally, when David and Caron asked what Milo and I were doing over the Thanksgiving holiday, we of course said, “Nothing,” assuming that we would be invited to their house or some similar, close-by venue to gorge ourselves on the big day.

Nothing doing.

vegas-1“Fantastic!” they said, “You’ll have to join us at our time share in Las Vegas over the holiday! We’ll have so much fun!”

At which, as you can imagine, my heart sank.

Three days, perhaps more, in Vegas.

Over Thanksgiving.

In the middle of the desert.

Probably watching football.

Lord in heaven, give me the strength.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fearing the worst, but hoping for the best, Milo and I enthusiastically agreed to go.  Family first and all that.

And thus the plan was set:

welcomeMy mother-in-law, Marilyn, would drive down from San Francisco (stopping along the way to pick up Caron and David’s daughter Courtney), grab the two of us in L.A. then speed across the sandy wasteland for a big family reunion in Vegas on Tuesday night with a bunch of in-laws, cousins and tangentially related folks, many of whom had either never met or hadn’t seen each other in years.

That was Tuesday.

Then, Wednesday night was reserved for a party at Caron’s brother’s house.

Thanksgiving would be at Caron’s cousin’s.

The rest of the time…we would be on our own.

vegas-lure

Through Saturday.

That meant about four and a half days to not gamble, throw money at strippers, watch Cirques de Soleilseses (the proper plural, by the way) or do the things that are generally expected of Vegas tourists.

Are you kidding?  This town was going to love me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Everything went exactly According to Hoyle for the drive into town and we managed, through some miracle of coordination, to meet up at the same time at this gigantic buffet dinner at the Main Street Station casino in North Vegas.

casinoNow…I’m not much of a casino guy, but having been raised on James Bond films, I always pictured them to be semi-classy affairs, with sharp looking dealers expertly flicking cards to tuxedo-wearing, scotch-swilling intelligence officers as super-sexy, elegantly dressed double agents hover behind their billionaire, villainous husbands until the British agent finally wins the mega-jackpot (or whatever it is they win) and they say things to each other like “I see you’ve played this game before, Mr. Bond” and “I don’t care what the limit is, I’d like to double my bloody wager!” and stuff like that.

So imagine my surprise when I strolled into my first casino and the thought that hit me right away was “Oh, wow.  It appears that I’ve walked into a giant, soggy, flatulent ashtray.”

shot-machine-realClassy?  Not exactly.  Unless you consider forlorn looking truckers in soiled baseball caps bent crookedly over slot machines with cigarillos sticking out of their mouths, pushing video poker buttons over and over again like it was their freakin’ jobs to be classy.

Because if you do…this was a Master Class in Class, baby.

Part of the reason for the unconscionable stink is the fact that Las Vegas is one of the few places left in America where it is still okay to smoke indoors.  The casino proprietors allow this for two reasons:

  1. If they forced you to smoke outside, you’d have to occasionally stop gambling and go outside to light up.  And they really want you to keep gambling.
  2. There is no #2.  If you’re not gambling, you might as well be dead to them so…hey, smoke up, Johnnie!

Happily, we were not there to gamble.  We were there to meet the family, catch up with long-absent and/or unknown relatives and feast at the buffet (which was mercifully upwind).  And so we did.

Main Street.jpgThe fare was about what you’d expect from such a place.  If there was a theme to the buffet, it was “Food From All Over the Damn Place.”  There was fried rice and egg rolls. Barbecued ribs and corn.  Every conceivable variety of chicken, from broiled to fried to orange.  And enough pizza and pasta to feed an Italian battalion.

For my part, trying to stay on my as-little-carbs-as-possible diet, I was thankful for the very impressive carving station and did my fair share of damage without venturing into the super-deep-fried, sugar-slathered booby trap foods that lay crouched in their various chafing dishes, ready to strike.

The extended family, all told, numbered about seventeen that night and we put a tidy dent in the buffet but really…the lion’s share of the evening was spent catching up, horsing around and marveling at each other’s dessert choices (“Did you really put soft serve ice cream on that cheesecake?”).

Buffet.jpgAnd that’s the magic of family gatherings, really.  The food was fine, but the company was what made it a truly wonderful night.

As the evening continued, I finally began to relax.

Because maybe, just maybe, where we were- here in the middle of the World’s Most Decadent City™- didn’t matter.

Maybe, just possibly…

…it was who we were with that made all the difference.

Jeez, you think I’d have figured that out by now, huh?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, when you’ve got an afternoon to kill in Vegas and you don’t pull slots, play cards or shoot craps…what do you do?

Well, if you’re smart, you pay a visit to the “Pinball Hall of Fame,” that’s what you do.

pball-hofInside this extremely non-descript building, there is an entire warehouse full of the very best pinball tables ever created and range from 1950’s classic old-timey tables to modern, double-decker, multiple-flipper tables with themes from every movie and television show of the past forty years.

Well, okay, there’s not a “McLaughlin Group” table but…almost every other TV show.

hof-oldThe entire family loaded up with quarters and spread out to try out their body-english skills.  I hit a few tables to try them out, but found myself returning again and again to what I consider to be the best-designed pinball table of all time:  the T2: Judgment Day table from 1991.

t2-pinballIf you have to ask what makes this particular table so great, you have clearly never played it.  Just take it from me that the design, the feel, the look and the action of the game (plus Arnold Schwarzenegger’s occasional interjections- “You’ll be back” and “Get out!” among them), makes this is the most satisfying body table game I’ve ever fed Milo’s college savings into.

After we had emptied our pockets into our respective machines, it was off to dinner, hosted by Caron’s brother and wife, Gary and Terri, who held this gigantic fete at their suburban Las Vegas home.

reid

“Stay away from my house!”

Getting into the neighborhood was a feat, as we had to go through the kind of security normally reserved for the White House, but we later learned that this was because their gated community also housed folks like Nevada Senator Harry Reid and uber-celebrity Paris Hilton.

Though, presumably, in different houses.

Dinner in their palatial home was perfect, the hospitality warm and the food first-rate, though we were all very conscious of not stuffing ourselves, in anticipation of the great feast day to come.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Before turning in for the night, Milo and I decided, along with mother-in-law Marilyn and cousin Brian, to wander over to the nearest Vegas Strip casino to see what all the fuss was about.  We had, up until then, only set foot in one of the presumably “off-brand” gambling dens to the north of the city and wanted to see what an old-fashioned, high-end place really looked like.circus-circus

The nearest place to our hotel?  The legendary “Circus Circus” casino, where, if you’ll remember, a nice chunk of “Diamonds are Forever” was shot, with Sean Connery and Jill St. John (with Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld!).

If all you know about “Circus Circus” is what you learn in the movies, then you know that it is this fun, crazy, (spoiler alert) circus-themed casino with elephant acts, acrobats, jugglers, clowns and the like appearing high above and all around the tourists as they play cards and pump coins into the slot machines.

Fun for the whole family!

diamonds-3Well…maybe once upon a time.  Now?  The “big top” has been replaced by a giant, indoor amusement part and the “circus” portion of the casino has been reduced to a tiny stage on the hotel’s “Midway” where, at half-hour intervals, they trot out a performer or two to juggle, perform a poor imitation of a high-wire act or clown around with the assembled, sweaty mob while trying desperately to look happy to be working.

unicycle-girlWhile we where there, two Asian girls on unicycles performed a bowl-juggling routine and, I swear, it looked as if they were doing everything they could not to burst into tears at any moment.  (Clearly, whoever kidnaped them overseas never told them that life in America could be this sad.)  Their act was essentially to loop around the stage on their oversized unicycles and flip bowls onto each other’s heads from their feet.

diamonds-4

What it used to look like.

At least, that was the plan.  And, for the most part, they did just fine.  But, as will happen, they would occasionally drop a bowl or two.  At which point, their craggy, pasty-white old helper would shuffle out onto the stage, scoop up the bowls they dropped and hand them back to the performers who, with determined, joyless looks on their faces, would go back and repeat the move until they got it right.

No matter how long it took.

circus-circus-2I got the distinct impression that if they didn’t eventually complete each move correctly, they would be roughly tossed back into their cells under the stage to think good and hard about what they did wrong.

It was, to say the least, a very depressing experience.

Woo-hoo.

The circus.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The next day was Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, and to prepare for the coming gorge, I got up early, strapped on my running shoes and went for a trot up the strip.

vegas-by-dayVegas by day is decidedly different than Vegas by night.  Not that it is any less gaudy or ostentatious, but without the shadows and with the sunlight pouring down to reveal just exactly how much greasepaint has been slapped on the old whore, it is hard to disguise what the place really is.

Here’s what it’s like to watch people walking along the Vegas strip.  It goes like this:

vegas-touristsTourist…Tourist couple…Tourist family….Casino employee handing out flyers…Tourist couple…Tourist….

….complete and utter disaster of a human being vomiting into a fountain…

…Tourist….Tourist couple…

….nightmare person staggering through life as if on fire…

….Tourist family…etc.

vegas-kids-3

Vegas.  Not Disney.

See, Las Vegas is almost exactly like Disneyland- the crazy buildings, the elaborate fountains and decorations, even rollercoasters, games, attractions and- no lie- Mickey and Minnie-type characters strolling down the street.  It is as close to Disney as you get in America outside of Anaheim and Orlando.

The big difference?  There’s no admission charge.  Anyone can walk in at any time.

So you get thousands and thousands of tourists….and the absolute ruined, sad and decrepit dregs of society.  All in the same, glitzy, stinky, crazy place.vegas-tunnel-people

Most of whom are either in the process of spending/losing tons of money or wandering helplessly from place to place begging for enough to eat because they already lost whatever money they once had. (There is an ENTIRE sub-culture of people who live in the tunnels under Las Vegas.  No kidding.)

So let us all give thanks, shall we?  Because there but for the grace of God go we.

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After my run, but before dinner, we had some time to kill so Brian and her sister Cortney and I made our way back up to the strip to see just what the inside of a real high-end casino looked like.venetian-2

We had laid eyes on what an old-school strip casino was like.  What were the new kids doing?

We soon found ourselves in the Venetian, the Italian-themed hotel/casino with a (surprise!) Venice theme that they were not going half-ass their way through.  Thus, the exterior of the place is an almost exact replica of the Doge’s palace.  The tower from the Piazza San Marco looms over the entrance.  A full-on reproduction of the Rialto Bridge (except with- I kid you not- moving walkways running the length of it) whisks you inside where you can board a gondola on their indoor canal and ride from end to end on their simply massive indoor waterways.venetian-1

What “Circus Circus” lacked in cleanliness and jaw-dropping architectural accomplishment, the Venetian made up for it in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts.

Impressive?  No doubt.  There was only one downside, really:  It wasn’t the real thing.

Sure, it looked real.  It seemed authentic.  But it wasn’t.  Not even close.  It was like looking at a football sized painting of the Mona Lisa.  Yes, it was gigantic and you wonder how in the world someone managed to make something that astonishingly huge and amazing.

venetian-3

THIS IS INSIDE.

But it (a) wasn’t the original and (b) it absolutely cheapened what it was clearly trying to celebrate.

We nodded our heads, acknowledged the effort, money and artistry that obviously went into the place…

…and then we got the hell out of there.

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Thanksgiving was everything it was supposed to be:  turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, great company, football and pumpkin pie.

tgiving-1Aunt Caron made a salted caramel confection-thing that completely wiped out my run of earlier in the day, the beer and wine flowed like….beer and wine are supposed to flow and a delightful time was had by all.

The original plan had been to try and take in some more of what Vegas had to offer that night, but the combination of our respective food comas and our experience at the Venetian scotched that plan.  We turned in early and got up with the roosters to take in a little Las Vegas history.food-coma

Because it turns out..there is actual history to be found if you just go and look for it.

During the drive from Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud why Las Vegas was situated there, of all places.  Over four hours to the nearest large city, it is just a little bit more inconvenient to get to then it should be.  So why in the world put it there?

Naturally, there was a reason.  And the reason..was natural.

old-las-vegasTurns out that Las Vegas means…The Meadows.  Because at one time, there was a natural spring in the middle of the desert that was used to irrigate the small crops the natives grew there and it was the perfect place for people on their way through to water their livestock and re-provision before heading to points West.

So…the Mormons, being the enterprising souls that they are, set up a settlement there, built a little adobe fort and set about converting the local natives.

old-mormon-fort-1

Who wouldn’t want to live here?

But it didn’t take.  The place was too remote, too expensive to run and the climate was just brutal.  So they abandoned it.

Next, the ranchers moved in.  They tried to raise cattle there (because of the availability of the water) and tend a few crops to keep the place viable.

vegas-ranchers

“We hate this place!”

But it didn’t take either.  The cattle business wasn’t profitable enough to make it worth their while and no one particularly liked living there.

Next…the miners moved in.  Lead had been discovered in the surrounding hills and when you have mineral wealth, you have a boom town on your hands.

Hey, guess what?  It didn’t take.  The mines were crap and no one liked living there.  So the mines went bust too.  Even the manufacturing boom of the World War I era only caused a tiny burst in activity in the sad, pathetic little town of Las Vegas.

vegas-mining

“This place sucks!”

Until.

Finally, in 1931, the State of Nevada decided to legalize gambling there.  And a string of little, tiny, but immensely profitable mini-casinos cropped up and business started to take off.

Soon afterwards, a slick, visionary, out-of-his-gourd gangster named Ben Siegel had the idea to build a full-on resort and casino and turn it into a gambling mecca.  Siegel went overboard with the project (and was rubbed out for getting in over his head), but the casino he built- the original Flamingo- was the canary in the diamond mine of what was to come.flamingo

Within half a century, Las Vegas went from podunk, backwards, middle-of-nowhere watering hole…to the biggest tourist destination in the country.

Good on ya, Bugsy, ya crazy bastard.  Too bad you never lived to see it.

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So we visited the old Mormon Fort (a replica of which still stands), watched a mini-documentary about the founding of the city and the struggles of those who built the town into what it was, then went to the nature preserve nearby to take in the wonders of the local flora and fauna.  Which was very impressive.old-mormon-fort-2

We were about the only ones there.

Everyone else in town was busy doing what they were expected to do while in Vegas.  After all, this is an industry town.  And that industry is:

Sucking money out of your pockets.  And they are very, very good at it.

Because the real genius of Las Vegas is not that the people who run the place were able to craft this enormous, highly profitable, booze-soaked megalopolis in the middle of the desert.  Yes, that was smart.  But that wasn’t the genius move.

vegas-kids-4You know what these brilliant people did?  They performed an honest-to-God miracle.

They turned it…into a family destination.

Yeah, you can go to Vegas for your bachelor party or for a crazy weekend away from the wife and kids.

vegas-family

“I lost all our money!  Wheeeee!”

Or…you can bring the wife and kids with you.  Let the young ones to on rides and see shows and experience all the wonders of Europe without actually going to Europe.  I mean…why spend the money to go all the way to Paris when they’ve got a one-third size replica of the Eiffel Tower right there, next to the one-third size Coliseum, the one-third size Statue of Liberty and the one-third size Trevi Fountain?

Plus…you don’t have to learn a new language!  You can go from Paris to Venice to Rome in less than an hour and not hear one foreign word.  How awesome is that?

vegas-kids-2So bring the kiddies, bring the wife, bring the parents…and bring a shit-ton of moolah. Because you’re not walking out of here with a full wallet, pal.

You’re just not.

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We arrived back in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon after another mercifully uneventful ride home.

vegas-goodbyeI had managed to spend five days in Las Vegas and had not lost a single dollar.  I had taken in all the sights I wished to see but did not fall prey to the green eyed demon.

Was I tempted to sit down and try a hand or two of blackjack?  I was.  But I resisted the siren call of the games of chance.  Why?

Partly because I’m broke, sure.  And partly because the looks on the faces of the other people around those tables did not exactly scream “We’re having a wonderful time!”.

It isn’t like the ads on TV.

slot-players-fake

What they show.

But mostly, I think the reason I stayed away from the games was:  I knew the truth of what I was looking at.  I knew the deep-down secret of Las Vegas and, as a result, was able to turn away from the lure of the casino.

I knew that, at the end of the day:

slot-machines-real

What it is.

The house always wins.

After all…those big, crazy looking buildings didn’t grow out of the sand all on their own. They were fed and watered with the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and hard-earned dollars of people exactly like me.

Well…people almost exactly like me.

lost-in-america

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Game Seven

It was never supposed to go to seven games.

world-seriesI mean, that’s ridiculous.  That the Chicago Cubs would, like some hackneyed, treacly, Hollywood-scripted team, drag out the drama of the World Series to seven freakin’ games? And then end it like that?

I’m sorry, but if you wrote it, no one would buy it.  They would laugh you out of the room. Because the whole idea is ridiculous.

It simply was not supposed to happen.  Not like that.

Not ever.

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Bit of background:

cubs-2I’ve already discussed how my love and affection for the Chicago Cubs stretches back many generations and how I have inadvertently passed this …(there’s no other word for it)…affliction on to my children.  Handing down a love of the Cubs to your kids is a twisted legacy worth of Ibsen and if you want, you can read all about it right here.

But let’s stick with the present.

Back when the 2016 Cubs were still nothing more than the most winning team in baseball and were heading into the Division Series against the formidable San Francisco Giants…Milo and I had a chat.

halloweenSee, his favorite holiday is Halloween.  And it was killing him to spend the entire Fall season, but Halloween in particular, out here in the sunny climes of California.

Like so many people who have left the North behind to come to the Land of the Never Changing Weather, he missed the chill, the turning leaves, the early bite of winter.

fall-in-la

You see those leaves changing color?  I didn’t think so.

You just don’t get that here in LA. You get…slightly less lovely weather.  For a day or two, maybe. Which is nice in it’s own way but…it isn’t Autumn, you know?

So back then, we looked at the calendar to see if we could make it back to Chicago for a visit at the end of the month and noticed…well, well, well:  the World Series is scheduled to be played over the Halloween weekend.

Huh.

cubs-1In the back of our minds…deep in the recesses of our consciousness, we were thinking the most forbidden of forbidden thoughts:  If the Cubs went to the World Series…we would really like to be in Chicago.

So under the ruse of getting Milo back to Chicago for his favorite holiday, Milo and I secretly bought tickets home for this past weekend.  We didn’t even tell my wife and daughter.  We wanted it to be a surprise.

Besides, if we dared mention the real reason for our trip well…that would be it.  It would be black cats and goats and locusts and typhoons and the baseball season would (purely because of our, personal tempting of the baseball fates) be all over.

***********************

But it wasn’t over.  The Cubs went on that week to beat the Giants.

And then the next week (right before our disbelieving eyes) they beat the Dodgers, too.

pennantSuddenly, the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a National League pennant since 1945…won the National League pennant.  They were going to the World Series.

And what do you know? We were going to be in Chicago for games 4, 5 and 6.  Which was perfect.

Because there was no way it was going to seven games.

By the way, the reason we were planning to fly back to L.A. from Chicago on Wednesday was practical. I felt okay about pulling Milo out of school for three days.  But four?  Seemed a bit excessive.

cubs-v-indians-3And in all honestly, I didn’t even bother to check to see when the last game of the Series was being played.

Do you know why?

Because there was no way it was going to seven games.

So we watched that first, awful game here in Los Angeles and were schooled in taking the Cleveland Indians for granted.  This was a team who came to play and they did so magnificently, beating up Jon Lester and dropping us 6-0.

world-seriesNot that the Cubs weren’t used to getting shut out in the playoffs but…woof.  That was no way to start the Series.  We looked outgunned and outclassed.

The next night, Game Two.  Everything was reversed.  The Cubbie bats came alive, Arrieta was practically unhittable (seriously, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning) and just like that, the Series was tied.

The bad news for Cleveland was: the next three games were at Wrigley Field.  Home field advantage for three solid days.  The Cubs had taken one from the Indians at home.  We weren’t about to let them return the favor.

hendricksBut they did.  They marched into Wrigley Field for Game 3 and shut us down completely.  It didn’t matter that Kyle Hendricks threw four solid innings of shut-out baseball. Josh Tomlin was just as solid, as was Andrew Miller in relief.

And the hero of the game for Cleveland was the ridiculously named Coco Crisp who is, apparently, and important part of a nutritious breakfast and a great way to start the day.

coco-crispBy the end of the game, Cleveland was up again, two games to one.

The next morning, bright and early, Milo and I packed up our stuff and headed out to LAX. By now, my nefarious plans had been discovered by my wife but…my daughter Gwen was still in the dark about our stealth visit.

We arrived at the airport in Los Angeles to find ourselves in a sea of Cub hats.  No kidding: Everywhere you looked, you saw the blue cap and the red “C.” Everywhere.  It was magical.

Know what wasn’t magical?  The four hour flight delay.  We were supposed to arrive at 2:50 in the afternoon (Chicago time) and we didn’t take off until after 12:30 here in L.A.

ohareFolks on our flight with tickets to the game on Saturday?  They were pissed.  And that’s the nice way of describing it. By the time we all finally arrived in Chicago, we burst out of that plane like candy from a piñata.

Gwen was suitably thrilled to see Milo and I arrive in town, but she had a bat mitzvah party to attend so we dropped her off and sped over to my father’s house to watch the game, catching the first few innings on the radio.

oh-boyThe Cubs started off with an early lead but…things soon fell apart after that.  Corey Kluber, the Cleveland ace, settled down and didn’t allow the Cubs to score another run while he was on the mound, striking out six and coasting to victory after the Indians ran the score up to seven runs.  By the time Dexter Fowler homered in the eighth, it was all over.  Cubs lose, 7-2.

It was a nightmare. The unthinkable had happened.  The Cubs had dropped two in a row at home, one against the unflappable Professor, Kyle Hendricks.  We were now down 3-1 and we knew that the odds of winning three in a row (with two in Cleveland’s home stadium) were astronomical.

It was going to take a miracle.

****************************

cubs-familyThe next night, we all got suited up in our Cubs gear, picked up my Dad and headed over to Cubs Central, the living room of my Uncle John and Aunt Mary Jane.  The entire Chicago Theis clan gathered together to see if our collective hopes and dreams would be enough to eke out at least one more victory before the inevitable and traditional collapse.

Because there was no doubt of that happening.  Was there?

cubs-v-indiansWell, not this night.  On this night, Jon Lester would show the world exactly why he should receive the Cy Young Award this year, throwing six blood-curdling innings of two-run baseball. And Kris Bryant came alive with a homer that sparked a three-run inning in the fourth, posting the only runs the Cubs would need that night.

Not that it was an easy win. It was a nail-biter right through the end as Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, handed the ball to Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning to not only take us through the ninth (his longest outing of the post-season), but even take a swing at the plate.  It was a looney-tunes game, but we won it.

chapmanNow the trick was:  Could we win two more? Against Cleveland’s two best pitchers? In Cleveland?

And if we won the game on Tuesday, where would I watch the game on Wednesd—

Uh-oh.

A quick review of my travel plans revealed the horrible truth.  If the Series went to Game Seven…Milo and I would be on a freaking airplane during the first six or so innings.  And if the flight was delayed (again)?  We might miss the game entirely.

plane-over-los-angeles-9771878Sure, there might be WiFi on the plane.  And we might be able to get live updates.  And we might even be able to watch a stream on some live broadcast website, sure.

But then again…we might not.

Besides, what was the one thing I knew without a doubt from the beginning of this entire baseball adventure?

It was not.  Going.  To seven.  Games.

Until it did.

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Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland was absolutely nuts.

MLB: APR 27 Pirates at CubsPlayers who had seemingly gone to sleep through most of the playoffs suddenly came alive, specifically shortstop Addison Russell, who drove in six runs all by himself and rocked the baseball world with an eye-popping grand slam in the third inning.

How extraordinary was that feat?  Well, with six RBI’s, Russell tied the all-time Series record for runs batted in, became only the 19th hitter to hit a grand slam in the history of the Series and was the 2nd youngest player ever (behind Mickey Mantle) to wallop a four-bagger.

So yeah, it was pretty epic.

arrieta

Whatchoo lookin’ at?

Besides which, Arrieta was on fire.  After the Cubs staked him to a three run lead in the first (again, off a Bryant home run and a completely goofy outfield flare that should have been caught but, instead, turned into a two-RBI bloop triple for Russell), Arrieta fanned nine Indians and held them to two runs over five-plus innings.

Then, Joe Maddon made the decision that caused all of Cub-ville to go “Huh?”  He put Chapman in.  Again.  With a five-run lead. With eight other perfectly fine relievers sitting around doing nothing.

chapmanAnd everybody said, “Hey, Joe?  You know we have a game tomorrow, right?  Don’t you want to save your fireball-throwing closer for Game Seven? And not tire him out when you’re up by five?”

But…Joe’s the boss.  And when you’ve brought your pennant-winning team from a 3-1 deficit to a 3-3 Series tie, forcing the final and seventh game of the Championship series well…you’re entitled to make your own (semi-questionable) decisions.

So Game Seven- impossible, improbable and mythical Game Seven- was on.

And I was going to be on a f&%$*ng plane.

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Things were dramatic on the last day at home (busted sewer pipe- hooray!) but the real drama was yet to come.  Sara drove Milo and I to the airport, bid us a tearful farewell and with a “Go, Cubs, go!” she was gone.  cubs-3

In an interesting turn, it turned out that my father’s brother, my Uncle Mike, was also landing at LAX about ten minutes before we were and we made arrangements for the three of us to meet up at an airport bar in Los Angeles and catch the end of the game, presuming it was still being played.

Little did we know.

Milo and I went to the gate, anxious to get on the plan so we could work out our on-flight Internet connection issues and figure out how we were going to watch the game in the air. Our departure time was 5:00 and the game was at 7:08, so we’d land about four or five innings into the game, we figured.

Except.

As with the plane we flew to Chicago, the return flight was delayed.delayed

For an hour.

Meaning that the game would start when we were about sixty minutes into our four hour flight. Could Game Seven of the World Series really last over three hours?  We could only hope.

On the mound:  Hendricks vs. Kluber.  The same Kluber who had beaten the stuffing out of us twice before.  We hadn’t figured out how to get to him yet and the chances were not great that we would do so at this late date.

kluber-hendricksBut the Indians hadn’t scored against Hendricks in his last outing either so…where there’s life, there’s hope.

And we are Cub fans.  Hope is our middle name.

We dialed up the on-flight internet and tried to hook into some kind of streaming site, but everything we attempted to view was too glitchy.  Finally, we just made our way over to the MLB site where they allow you to watch the game “virtually.”

mlbam_gameday

This is how we watched the game.

An electronic batter on your screen shows who is up and you get a delayed pitch count and a virtual play-by-play, everything happening on the screen about a minute or so after it happens in real life.

It wasn’t ideal.  But it was what we had.

fowlerBy the time we worked it all out on the tech side, Dexter Fowler had already put us ahead 1-0 with a solo shot to straightaway center field.  Cubs 1, Indians 0.

A girl sitting behind us in full Cub gear started peeking over the seat to get the updates once she got wind of what we were up to and that’s how we “watched” the game, getting periodic ball and strike counts as they occurred and then freezing with terror when it appeared someone or other had made contact.

baezThe Indians tied it up in the third, but the Cubs roared ahead in the fourth and fifth innings, adding four more runs that included a long-overdue home run by struggling second baseman Javier Baez.

Cleveland answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth, but when retiring catcher David Ross launched a homer to center that put the Cubs ahead 6-3, the game looked about over.  (Think of that:  Ross’s last game as a Cub and he knocks the ball out of the park. See what I mean by lousy writing?)

media-blackoutWith Lester in as a reliever by that time, it was just a matter of getting nine more outs. Then six.  Then five.  Then…

…the Captain came on the intercom and asked that we shut off all of our electrical devices.

In the eighth inning of the World Series.

And to make his point, the crew killed the Internet. Very suddenly, we were on a media blackout.

For ten, seemingly endless minutes, we had no idea what was going on.  For all we knew, bolts of lightning could have careened down out of the sky and turned Lester into so much smoking dust.

Which was pretty close to the truth.

atomic-bombWhen we were on the ground, Cub Girl behind us was the first person to get an update on her phone.  Her face ashen, she announced to us:

“The game is tied.”

Milo and I were incredulous.  “What?  Ten minutes ago, it was 6-3.  You’re telling me the Indians scored three flippin’ runs while we were landing the goddamn plane?”

“That’s what I’m telling you.”

It was like a blow to the gut.

goatOf course this was how they were going to blow it.  How stupid of me!  I had fallen for them again and they were going to teach me a very valuable lesson.

This time, instead of falling to the Marlins in the playoffs just when they were on the brink of winning the pennant…they were going to make it worse.  By spectacularly collapsing in Game Seven of the actual World Series and giving up a three run lead in the eighth inning.

How did I not know this was going to happen?

This time, they weren’t just going to break our hearts.  They were going to rip them out, throw them- still beating – on the ground and jump up and down on them.  They were going to destroy us.

laxIt was so…Cubs of them.  It absolutely had to end this way.

We tumbled off the plane and ran straight to the bar across from the gate.  I texted Mike where we were and he made his way over to join us.  My Uncle, a long-suffering Cub fan of many years, was as shocked as we were about what had happened and yet…there was a look in his eye that appeared very familiar.  It said, “This is how they get you.  This is how they always get you.”

maddonBecause it turned out that Joe Maddon had, indeed, made a mistake the previous night by sending Chapman into that five-run lead game and making him work too many innings.  Chapman, working for the third day in a row, was the one who so improbably gave up those three, precious runs.  (And I know it isn’t popular to criticize Maddon but…facts are facts.)

Back in the airport bar, we ordered up a  couple of beers and sat back to watch the inevitable disaster that would be the ninth inning of this game.

Except…it didn’t happen.  The Cubs got out of the ninth without allowing the Indians to score a run and suddenly…the game moved into extra innings.

rain-delayUgh.  Extra innings.  There was no telling when it would end.  The pain was excruciating and it was about to get worse.  Because then…

…it rained.

Out came the tarp.  And we found ourselves staring at a 17 minute rain delay, wondering so many different things:  if the game would be postponed until the next day, if the pitchers would get cold and blow this whole thing open and, more specifically, thinking “If they keep this going much longer, we are going to drink this airport dry.”

We would later hear that, at the moment we were in that bar, contemplating the possible endings of this already-legend worthy game, the Cubs were having a meeting in the clubhouse.

heywardJason Heyward, the veteran Cubs right fielder, had gathered the team together for a talk. From those who were present to hear it, it was apparently a very emotional and very heartfelt plea for optimism in the face of adversity. Heyward assured them that, after everything they had been through that amazing year, the team could rise up and overcome anything.

And ten minutes later, they went out there and proved it.

It was a storybook inning:  Kyle Schwarber, two weeks ago watching his teammates play the Giants and Dodgers on TV and now in the World Series as the Cubs’ Designated Hitter, led off the inning with a single.

schwarberAfter Schwarber was replaced by pinch-runner Almora at first, Kris Bryant launched a fly ball to deep right field that almost made it out of the park but, barring that, was enough to advance Almora to second. (As Harry Caray would have said “Another biscuit for breakfast and that ball is out of here.“)

That brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate with an open base at first and one out.  And that’s when Indians Manager Terry Francona signaled to the Indians pitcher Bryan Shaw to walk Rizzo and take a chance pitching to Ben Zobrist.harry

Ben Zobrist, who while 0-4 that night, had proved himself to be the hottest hitter of the Series.  That guy.

When I saw that they were walking Rizzo to get to Zobrist, I turned to my Uncle Mike and said, “Really?  He thinks that’s going to end well for them?”

It surely did not.  Zobrist, rather than live up to the legacy that his Cubs uniform conferred upon him, instead lashed an RBI double into the corner that scored Almora and sent Rizzo scampering to third.  Cubs up 7 runs to the Indians 6.zobrist

And they weren’t done yet.

With first again open and only one out, Francona again decided to walk the batter, this time the suddenly hot Addison Russell.  That brought up Miguel Montero who, the last time he had come to the plate with the bases loaded, had jacked a grand slam deep into the seats in Wrigley’s right field.

monteroAgain, Montero did not disappoint.  He lashed a single to center that scored Rizzo, putting the Cubs two runs ahead moving into the bottom half of the 10th.

Maddon this time asked for Carl Edwards, Jr. to step in and mop things up from the mound.  And Edwards did just fine, nailing down two outs before giving up a walk to Brandon Guyer, who promptly stole second.

That meant that the tying run was at the plate with two outs.

And we’re thinking “Here it is.  Here’s the big finish, where the Indians roar ahead and beat us.  This is what we’re used to.”  The painful, horrible, all-too-familiar feeling that lurks in the gut of every Cub fan.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsSure enough, Edwards delivered to Rajai Davis who zapped an RBI single to bring in Guyer. Just like that, it was a one run game.

And Cub fans across America promptly lost three years off their life expectancy just from the pure, soul-shaking strain of it all.

Maddon had seen enough of Edwards and pulled him for the lefty Mike Montgomery.

Can we all just imagine what that was like for Montgomery to enter that game?  “Hey, Mike.  Get one out and you break a 108-year-long curse.  Here’s the ball.  Good luck.”

With all of Cubs nation on it’s feet, Montgomery stepped up and delivered to Michael Martinez…

…who hit a dribbler to a suddenly grinning, giggling Kris Bryant.  Bryant scooped up the ball, tossed it to Rizzo at first and….

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.champs

I really, really can’t say that enough:

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Tears.  Joy.  Disbelief.  Jumping up and down. Screaming.

AFP AFP_HQ3TZ S BBO USA ILStrangers hugging other strangers.  Repeated choruses of “Go, Cubs, Go.” General mayhem.

Even now, I can’t believe it really happened.

Those Indians fought us tooth and nail and very nearly beat us.  Let’s be clear about that. They very nearly surged to a comeback victory that would have been written about for years.  Instead, we emerged victorious but…barely.  So a tip of the hat to Cleveland. The second greatest team in baseball.losers-no-more

Whenever we used to talk about the Cubs winning the Series, we would always say (half-seriously) that it would probably result in the entire town of Chicago burning to the ground.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t happen.

They didn’t burn down Wrigleyville.  They lit it up. All night long.

Because that’s it.  That’s the end.

cursesNo more Lovable Losers.  No more curse.  No more goats or black cats.  That sign outside the right field wall will now read:  EAMUS CATULI AC000000.  (Look it up.)

And Steve Bartman can finally sleep at night.

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It is a joyous day in Chicago today, I am sure.  It kills me to be so far from all the action (and Milo is furious to miss the parade).  But we’ll be home soon and will no doubt celebrate all through the off season, wearing all the Cubs World Champion gear we both hope to get for Christmas.

Because the Cubs- my beloved Cubs – have finally won the World Series.

Because next year….

…was finally this year.

champs-2