As the clock struck 1 a.m. in Lawrence, Kansas, myself and three others embarked on our 8-hour journey back to Chicago to join the seventh largest human gathering in history. I’ll spare the details of our drive through the night and begin our experience as the 9:18 Metra train rolled into the Barrington station. As we boarded the train and searched for seats, we quickly realized how packed it was and how many people were likely already downtown.
We settled on four seats on the top level and eagerly awaited our arrival in the city. As I looked up and down the train I noticed that the majority of the people riding were families. I saw the innocent joy and excitement in every child with a Velcro-backed Cubs hat. Similarly, I sensed the same emotion in the parents who were getting to share a moment with their kids that their own parents never had the opportunity to share with them.
When the train finally pulled into Ogilvie Station, we exited and were immediately immersed in a sea of red, white, and Cubs blue. When we got into the actual building and began riding down the escalator to the street level, I looked around at the mass of humanity and all I could do was smile. Numerous Cubs fans came up to my friends and I and gave us high-fives and even a few hugs before we could even get outside.
Once we made our way out the revolving doors at the front, we followed the crowd down Washington all the way to Grant Park. The streets were lined with people making their way towards the lakefront, singing “Go Cubs, Go!” the whole way there. By the time we made it to our destination, the park had already filled up and was gated off, so we walked down Michigan Avenue trying to find a better place from which to see the parade. We settled on a spot over by some porta-potties, which we managed to climb on top of to get a better view.
Our elevated position allowed us to see the mass of humanity that covered the city, and it was truly unbelievable. I remember the first Blackhawks parade back in 2010 and the emotional energy it generated. Though there were similarities, this Cubs parade was just…different. It marked the end of 108 years of waiting, of entire generations worth of pent-up frustration finally spilling over the walls of the dam.
Newborns wearing Cubs gear were being pushed around in strollers alongside senior citizens in wheelchairs waving Cubs flags and wearing old tattered hats with a faded red C on the front that so perfectly symbolized the feelings across the city that day.
After seeing the buses roll by with all the players and their families, complete with the long-awaited appearance of the Commissioner’s Trophy, the party moved first to and then away from Grant Park and back into the city. We joined a gathering of people at the intersection of Congress and Wabash as the Cubs victory celebration continued. Music blared, people screamed, and smiles graced faces of the millions of fans who had waited lifetimes for that moment.
As the pandemonium continued, I took a moment to look around and it finally hit me: This was real. Millions of Cubs fans were actually celebrating a championship for the first time since 1908. At one point, an ambulance with its lights on struggled to pass through the intersection and a couple of kids climbed on top and started hyping up the crowd. A few minutes later, the elevated train passed over the intersection and the crowd turned toward it as one and started cheering even louder.
Two of my friends who came along for the trip weren’t even Cubs fans and had never been to Chicago, so they had just came along for the experience. As the revelry subsided, I showed them around some of my favorite parts of the city and then we met up with one of our other friends who had taken the train down at 6 a.m. to get a spot in Grant Park. As we searched in vain for a restaurant that didn’t have a ridiculous wait time, we got to truly see just how many had come out to celebrate.
At one point we were stopped by a man who flew in from Great Britain for a rugby match but happened to be lucky enough to experience the atmosphere of downtown Chicago that day. He stopped us and asked if he could get a picture with all of us standing behind him, “for obvious reasons.”
We eventually settled into a small pizza place up by Union Station that hadn’t exceeded fire code, finally taking time to relax and actually process what had just happened. The two kids who had never been to Chicago before were still recovering from the surreal experience of seeing the Second City throw down for the first time in forever in honor of its North Side team. Even those of us who grew up Cubs fans had a hard time wrapping our heads around the day’s activities.
After dinner came the mad dash to the train station to catch a ride out of the city. I found my way onto the 4:45 train, which was packed to the point of standing room only, and I spent the hour-long commute home in the middle section of the car, standing by the doors. I was surrounded by people who worked in the city and were trying to make it home by dinner, as well as families struggling to maintain control of their children in the train packed wall to wall with people.
People tend to be exponentially less friendly when public transportation is packed to that point, but given the circumstances, everyone was still in an exceptionally good mood even as we all got a little too close for comfort. Though the cars began to clear out more and more with each stop on the way back to Barrington, there were still no open seats when I got off at my stop.
It wasn’t until I arrived at my house that I could truly decompress from the glorious mayhem of the day. I could do little other than smile as I sat back, overwhelmed with joy that over a century of waiting had come to an end as I, along with millions, had been there to celebrate it in the best city in the world.