Chicago’s Big Ten Team
There comes a time in each youngster’s life when her parents finally bite the bullet and take her to her first game. For us, that day was Saturday and that event was the Wisconsin/Northwestern football game in Evanston. Lindsay is a Wisconsin alum and Northwestern, in case you hadn’t heard, is Chicago’s Big Ten team (even though its own fans are routinely outnumbered in its own stadium). What better reason to make the trek to Evanston for Lauren’s first (semi) major sporting event?
My only issue with this plan was that I’ve been teaching (or training or brainwashing, depending on your perspective) Lauren to become an Iowa Hawkeye fan. At one point earlier this season Lindsay started to realize this and went full press with the Badgers. To counter this, I shared the basic fact that badgers are, in fact, mean animals. Lindsay was not impressed.
So there really was no plan. I hadn’t bought tickets, not wanting to commit ourselves in the event the three year old was uncooperative. I didn’t really even know where to park, with my last experience at a Northwestern game having taken place in 2008. The only thing we knew was that a former classmate of Lindsay’s was attending a tailgate “on the west side of the west parking lot at a Northwestern painted ambulance. Seemed like it would be easy enough to find.
Along the way, and it may have been because it was too early, there seemed to be far more scalpers looking to purchase than sell tickets. Not a great sign. As we approached the west lot, I decided to raise three fingers, the international sign for “I need three tickets.”
It took a few minutes but the first good Samaritan claiming to need tickets asked, under his breath, “How much you looking to spend? I’ve got them on the 30 or the 50.” This guy had no idea he was dealing with a former expat that had spent years haggling on the mean streets of Dilli Haat. My response, “Not sure – what’s it cost on the 30?”
“$75.” I knew it was too early to buy so offered him something that wouldn’t insult him (not sure why I was worried about insulting him, but as someone that’s negotiated foreign currency exchange rates on the black market in Kathmandu, it seemed like the stand up thing to do) – $50. He declined, and we politely went our separate ways. At least I had some idea the market.
A few minutes later, my three fingers still extended in the air as we searched for the purple ambulance, two women approached Lindsay and asked, “Do you need three tickets?” At first, I thought maybe it was the friends Lindsay had planned to meet (I had never met her friends and these women seemed similarly aged and were wearing Wisconsin gear). But no, they were simply friendly Wisconsin fans looking to unload the season tickets of their friends that were unable to attend. We started talking, quickly got to price, and there first offer was, “I don’t know, like $40.”
We followed them back to their tailgate (their brother-in-law had the tickets – seriously, if they weren’t Wisconsin fans, it would have seemed like a pretty obvious scam of some sort) and quickly finished the transaction. Our only plan was to resume our search for the illusive purple ambulance, but before we could leave, we were being offered food and drinks. It seems like it would have been pretty rude to have simply purchased tickets and left without a beer. I’ll never root for the Badgers against Iowa, but this type of hospitality is tough to beat.
We never did get a chance to find that purple ambulance. We made some new friends, I think Lindsay even made some sort of connection with one of the sisters. The daughter was her usual charming self, making herself at home, picking at strangers’ food as only a three year old can.
As kickoff approached, we said good bye to our newest dearest friends and walked the 50 yards to the entrance. The seats? Surprisingly good. A little low (third row behind the bench) but on the 35 yard line. Bottom line, you could do a lot worse.
We made it to halftime – about what we expected before our daughter lost interest. She watched a bit of the band, saw Bucky the Badger up close, seemed enthralled by Willie the Wildcat (I didn’t even know the Northwestern mascot had a name, but I guess it makes sense), and we made our way to the exit – well in front of the rush at the end of the game.
What did I learn at Lauren’s first game? A few things:
- Even something as innocuous as buying football tickets on the street can lead to a little adventure
- Northwestern is a great place for a first game – not too big, not too serious. It’s like Columbus except the exact opposite
- If you spend too much time trying to brainwash your kid to be a Badger fan or a Hawkeye fan, she might just become a Northwestern fan
Will we be back? I think we will – based on the current Big Ten schedule, Iowa and Wisconsin alternate years in Evanston, so as long as there’s no realignment (which rarely, if ever, happens in college football), we may have a new annual tradition on our hands to see Chicago’s Big Ten Team, which is pretty much any team playing Northwestern in Evanston.