Away Games

I wanted to sleep on the train, but the excitement and the freshness kept me awake. It was Wednesday afternoon. I had just left O’Hare Airport, deciding to take the train instead of a cab after a friendly elderly woman offered me a free ticket she wasn’t able to use.

Stop after stop, Chicago sprung to life. We passed Addison, and I knew Wrigley’s green walls beckoned close by. We passed Grand, and I knew shoppers walked the streets above the surface headed toward the Magnificent Mile.

Each stop brought me closer to the tall buildings, to the stiff breezes off the lake, to the artificial sunsets produced by the Hancock Observatory, to a refuge.

I was in Chicago for work, but it didn’t seem like work. After all, I was outside of State College, home of Penn State and the capital of this summer’s sports news. I like to joke that any day the city will burn down, and as much as I love my new job, it really feels like this, and it feels like this every day.

Covering the city, the scandal and the team has introduced me to a new feeling. It’s not quite stress. Fortunately (knock on wood) I never experience stress. It’s more like an induced obsession. Penn State blankets my life.

Here, the happenings of Penn State reverberate off the friendly green mountains, the echoes reaching everyone and everything, and never quite escape. Football, contrary to some sensational media reports, doesn’t govern daily life, but the sport hangs in the background of many scenes, like a supporting actor whose role influences the big picture. Everything about the team matters. When I check Twitter and see that Joe Schad is reporting Silas Redd will visit USC, or I receive word that the Board of Trustees is meeting at a hotel to discuss the NCAA sanctions, it feels like the world is shifting.

In Chicago, Silas Redd might as well be me: faceless, unimportant and unknown to everyone except for the media contingent gathered at the Hyatt Regency for Big 10 Media Days. I did spend time huddling around this group, writing stories, listening to coaches answer questions in the best way to suit their agendas, but I also spent a few blissful hours in the city, away from the loud sounds of a grinding tweny-four-hour news cycle and immersed into the sound of reality, which sounds pleasant, quieter and like jazz.

I hung out with my fellow sports writer friend Jesse. We walked down Michigan Avenue. I met my friend Mike for drinks. I went running by the Lake. There, adventure racers passed by going the other direction in funky costumes. They ran to generic 80s music pumping from outdoor speakers.

Everything awesome I might not notice at home, under the duress and pressure that bottles up inside the mountains, appeared vivid and alive. It all started on the train.

A young kid, maybe 16, maybe 18, was reading a book. He wore a Bulls cap. He stood for a while by the door, then after a few minutes, getting comfortable with the train’s rhythm, he sat down on the floor. The train made a stop. It was a quick one, the way all train stops are, so quick that a woman couldn’t walk from the platform to the door in time. The train started leaving.

I don’t know how he was able to do this, but he stopped the moving train. He hit a button on the inside of the car that forced the train to an emergency stop. He then hit a button that opened the door and let her in. She thanked him quickly. Without saying a word, he dove back into his book. I was wide awake.

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One thought on “Away Games

  1. Jimmy Carlton says:

    Good stuff Mark. Chicago in the summertime is something to cherish.

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