As a kid, summer vacation meant loading up the family car and heading somewhere for a week to play miniature golf, sleep on the fold-out couch of one of my Dad’s old Navy buddies and possibly take an unplanned detour to someplace like the Rodeo Hall of Fame. But now that the statute of limitations has surely passed, I can finally tell the story of our last family vacation.
When I was around 27, myself, my sister Megan, my brother Sean and Sean’s then-fiancée Beth all decided to go along with my parents on an annual trip they took with friends to go see the Cardinals play the Cubs in Chicago. For the trip, the six of us loaded into a single car to approximate the comfort of flying in coach for five hours with the added bonus of my Dad being in control of the radio.
The first part of the trip went off without a hitch. My Dad complaining about downtown Chicago traffic, going to dinner at an old-school German restaurant and accidentally visiting a gay bar along with my parents friends from church. Typical vacation stuff.
The next day, we went to Wrigley Field to cheer on the Cardinals as they (possibly) beat the Cubs (maybe). I really have no recollection of the game outside of the fact that I promptly cut myself off from drinking any more Old Style when I caught a glimpse of the trough in what seems to be the only Men’s Room in the entire stadium.
Following the game, my family and about 2,000 of our fellow attendees decided to head to a bar called the Cubby Bear, which is within stumbling distance of the entrance to Wrigley Field. And here’s where things start to go sideways.
While attempting to find my parent’s friends and some of Sean’s fraternity brothers in a bar where the phrase Personal Space probably only referred to a shot they made with Grenadine and Peach Schnapps, it became obvious that my parents were not that thrilled about being pushed up against someone in a sweaty Shawon Dunston jersey. So we decided to leave the Cubby Bear. As I led our group to the door, I managed to “excuse me/pardon me” my way through the thick crowd, walk down the narrow stairs to the exit and emerge onto the sidewalk off of West Addison. I waited. And waited. No one else was behind me.
Full disclosure, I was not a witness to the next few minutes of this story. For narrative and liability reasons, I thought it would be important to point that out.
Back in the bar, my Dad squeezed through the crowd towards the exit and nudged a tall, thin guy frat guy in his early twenties. This polite young man admonished my father for bumping into him and my Dad apologized for bumping into him. Frat Guy then called my Dad a “Motherf….”
(Quick aside about my Dad, who is a retired cop and is built like one of those blue mailboxes. He is a man who would, quite often, come home from work and show his children how take down a larger man by pulling back their thumb. I can’t say that his job regularly involved melees, but I doubt that any of my friend’s Dads growing up ever came home with a story about breaking up a bar fight in a parking lot following a wet t-shirt contest at a local disco. Now back to the story)
“…ucker” and pushed him. Once again, my Dad apologized and said, “We’re just trying to get to the door.” Frat Guy then pushed my Dad back into my sister Megan, knocking her down. Upon seeing Megan sprawled out on the floor, I can only imagine that my Dad experienced some sort of Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno transformation. He raised his hands in the International sign for “I don’t want any trouble” and then rapidly smashed his palm into Frat Guy’s nose several times. Frat Guy and his gushing nose tried to collapse but the thick crowd kept him upright.
I imagine the phrase “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” passed through my Dad’s head and he split for the exit. Frat Guy must have felt that he still had more to say, and took a step towards my Dad, who had turned his back to him. My sister Megan, who is five feet of dynamite, then jumped in and received an elbow to the face from Frat Guy for her troubles. While she countered with a punch to his throat, she assures me that she was aiming for his face. “He was really tall,” says the now-mother of three.
At this time I (Yay, I’m back in the story!) heard a message on the doorman’s walkie-talkie announcing that he was needed to help break up a fight. No sooner had the thought “My poor family is stuck up there because some drunken ruffians started a ruckus” crossed my mind when my Dad came barreling down the stairs. He crashed into a souvenir stand and continued running past me as my sister also emerged from the bar. The souvenir stand owner yelled, “Hey buddy, you break it you buy it” to my fleeing father, and both Megan and the man who walked her down the aisle at her wedding yelled in unison “Hey, fuck you!” My Dad then ran down an alley.
Needles to say, I had a couple of questions.
As my sister began filling me in, my crying Mother, Sean and Beth also exited the bar. Apparently, after Frat Guy once again attempted to go after my Dad and Megan, my brother Sean had put him into a headlock until the bouncers had kindly asked him to leave.
In the pre-cell phone age, if your father broke someone’s nose in a bar fight and then ran down an alley while removing his baseball cap to change his appearance for the cops, you were unable to simply text “Where u at?” So, as my Mom attempted to clean the blood off of my brother’s forearms with Bath and Body Works Vanilla-scented hand sanitizer, we decided that we should probably take a train back to the hotel before the police arrived.
Back at the hotel, my Mom paced and cried while her friends asked her if she might like to go shopping to take her mind off of my on-the-lam father. Roughly an hour and a half later, my Dad, who was completely soaked, walked into the room and simply asked, “Are you guys ready to go to dinner?”
Had he jumped into the Chicago River to throw off the police dog’s scent? Taken second place in a Boy’s Town wet t-shirt contest? Perspired through his shirt while taking The L to Schaumburg before realizing that he could no longer see The Sears Tower? We may never know.
While my Mom worried that the incident would scare Beth off from marrying Sean (thankfully it didn’t), my Dad’s reaction to the entire event was to pretty much avoid ever talking about it. Even now, I’m not sure how thrilled he will be with this story.
It was our first and last family bar fight and, deep down, I am still secretly disappointed that I wasn’t more involved. It may have been my only chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of breaking a pool cue over someone’s back.
I guess it will just have to remain a regret. Although, even at 4, I wouldn’t put it past Kate to get a little lippy with someone who bumps into her with a pitcher of Bud. So, I guess I better keep in “running down an alley” shape just in case.