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hottest ticket in town

Our whirlwind travels, which will likely take months to chronicle in the pages of this blog, brought us to Chicago for several days during a crucial time for Chicago’s sports teams. Not only were the city’s two baseball teams squaring off for a set of interleague games, but also the Chicago Blackhawks, down 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs, staged an incredible comeback to tie the best of seven series at 3-3, setting up the deciding game 7 our last night in Chi-town.

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Long before D sat down to figure out our California road trip, he made plans to see a Cubs – White Sox game. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, man makes plans and God laughs. While some of the games in the series were afternoon matinees, the only game D’s friend, who purchased the tickets, could attend was Tuesday’s night game. On the way to the ballpark, it felt as if the city was preparing for a meteorological attack: strong gusts of wind battered the crowd as it filed towards the entrance gates, and ominously dark clouds swirled overhead.

D got to see two and a half innings of baseball before the heavens opened up and the ground crew unrolled a massive tarp to cover the infield. D and his friend initially stayed in their upper deck seats, which were up high enough to be covered by the overhanging roof, but lightning struck as the storm gained in intensity and the fans in the upper deck were asked to evacuate to the concourse inside the stadium. The game was not immediately postponed, but it was too nasty outside for anyone to leave the stadium, so the fans milled about the concourse, drinking beer and squealing every time a particularly thunderous bolt of lightning flashed on the field.

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Just as the rain eased off and D’s friend speculated that the game would resume, a garbled message came on the loudspeaker, announcing the game’s postponement – the rain may have slowed to a trickle, but lightning continued to flash and a severe flood warning went into effect for Chicago, making it unsafe to continue playing.

After the baseball disappointment, D resolved to try to get tickets for the Blackhawks game, which proved no easy undertaking. The prices on “legitimate” ticket resale sites, such as Stubhub and Ticketmaster’s Ticket Exchange, were outrageously high even before the 15% fees these sites charge, so D turned to Craigslist, hoping to find a fan who’d have a last-minute extra ticket for which he did not want to charge an arm and a leg.

When we lived in Chicago, D frequently used Craigslist to get tickets to sold out concerts and sporting events, sometimes even getting last-minute tickets below face value. Acquiring tickets to a sold out game 7 between two Original Six teams, one of hockey’s longest and most bitter rivalries, was significantly more difficult. Not only did demand vastly exceed supply for this game, but one also had to be wary of scams, as the craze playoff hockey generates offers numerous opportunities for fraudsters to take advantage of rabid fans.

One seller posted a compelling story about having to give up his tickets because his wife had just given birth and he did not want to be in the doghouse for going to the game while she was still in the hospital. The tickets were gone in a flash, only for several similar posts to appear on the site again within a matter of hours, all of them claiming identical situations and giving different phone numbers to contact. Then there were the people who claimed to have season tickets but would only offer to send e-tickets after receiving an electronic payment – an excellent way to get scammed. One fan put up her brother’s ticket for sale, but it seemed like she was looking for a date more so than trying to get rid of an extra ticket. She wrote back saying the ticket was available when D inquired and asked D to tell her a little about himself. Whatever it was that she had sought in a companion for this hockey game, she did not find it in a 30 year-old Foreign Service Officer, and D never heard back from her.

After not finding any reasonably priced tickets, D eventually wound up striking a deal with somebody who at least sounded like a legitimate person with an extra ticket. He said he was selling one of his two season tickets and using the other himself, saying “you’d be sitting next to me; I promise to watch the game quietly other than an occasional OHCOMEON! and will look for a high-five if/when the Hawks score.” Although the price was a bit more than D had been hoping to pay, he consoled himself by noting that it was roughly equal to only one night of safari at an all-inclusive luxury camp, and that he would have likely paid about as much to see several regular season games if we had spent the last year in the United States rather than Kenya.

The ticket was worth every penny. The Madhouse on Madison was filled to capacity with raucous fans, the nervous energy of a playoff elimination game pulsating through the arena. The game had it all – exciting end-to-end rushes, excellent goaltending, huge hits, and a couple of flashy goals. Chicago took a 1-0 lead into the final period only to squander it less than a minute in. Tension set in as the clock ticked down and the game, knotted at 1-1, looked to be headed for overtime.

Then, with less than two minutes to play, a beautiful passing play resulted in what looked like a tie-breaking goal that sent the crowd into ecstatic celebration. People were still waving their red towels and high-fiving each other when the referees conferred and waved the goal off. Offsetting penalties had been called behind the play as two players got tangled up in a scrum, and the play had been blown dead before the Blackhawks put the puck on net.

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The fans booed and serenaded the officials with chants of “bullshit,” but the game went on and the clock ticked down to zero, sending the game into sudden-death overtime. In hockey, the first team to score in overtime wins, and while some overtime games drag on long enough for the teams to play a full extra game’s worth of OT, a large majority of overtime games end in the first five minutes. After scoring only once during 60 minutes of regulation play, Chicago needed only three and a half minutes to score the deciding goal and send the crowd, which was still brewing with disappointment from the non-goal at the end of regulation, into a euphoric frenzy.

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High-fives were flying all around, and D’s companion enveloped him in a giant bear hug. Although D’s hockey loyalty remains with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he’s supported since he was a child, he developed a soft spot for the Blackhawks while we lived in Chicago, and was happy to celebrate alongside the exuberant Blackhawks fans. A game 7 overtime win against a bitter rival – D could not have scripted a better first playoff game to attend.

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