By Junior Johnson
Through the years I’ve observed some of the most unusual and clever projects thought of and finalized in a bar with a group of friends and a few rounds of drinks. It seems the old brain is more creative in this setting. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but there’s nothing more inspiring than a plan written on a cocktail napkin with a swizzle stick. This is one of those stories.
During the 1980s I had a group of friends who’d meet regularly at our favorite neighborhood bar called Janice’s Place. I was working offshore in the Oil & Gas industry working 14/14 days. When home this was a great place to catch up on local gossip and socialize with my friends. We would always gather when the Chicago Cubs were playing on TV.
Wrigley Field was one of the best ballparks in Major League Baseball. We thought it would be a great idea to travel to Chicago and watch a game or two and hear the great Harry Carey lead the crowd in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.
This idea was beginning to take shape as we ordered another round and the Cubs were beating the Dodgers in the game on TV.
Reggie, David C., David R., nor myself had ever ridden on an Amtrak. We decided to take a daily train that ran from New Orleans to Chicago called “The City of New Orleans.”
Janice, the owner of the bar, said she couldn’t get away from her business, but would have jerseys made with “Janice’s Cubs” on the front so that perhaps the TV cameras would pick us out in the crowd. She said that everyone in the bar would watch for us on game day. Our favorite waitress Tammy said she had some money saved and could join us. Janice agreed to give her time off.
Two days before we departed, Reggie was in an accident that broke his hip and leg, landing him in the hospital.
We said we’d cancel our trip, but Reggie insisted we go. We decided we’d use his game tickets and put his “Janice’s Cubs” jersey in his seat.
We boarded the train in Jackson, Miss. to avoid distractions in New Orleans. We found the bar car and settled in for our adventure.
After dinner, we returned to the bar car for a nightcap or two when two ladies and their daughters joined us. At closing time the bartender said we could remain in the car as he locked the liquor cabinets. That was no problem because I had a fifth of Seagram’s VO in my bag. We got a few cold drinks from a vending machine and were set for a while longer.
About halfway through that bottle a Conductor appeared at the door and gave us the evil eye. He was one of the biggest men I’d seen in a while, filling the door at around 300 pounds.
David R. looked at him and asked if he could stop the train and get us a pizza. We all froze, thinking we would be thrown off the train somewhere in the middle of Illinois in the dark.
Fortunately, he must have had a sense of humor. He told us he’d be back in 10 minutes and we’d better be gone. We returned to our car grateful we were still on the train.
We arrived at Grand Central Station, checked into our hotel and dressed in our jerseys. We got directions to Wrigley Field from the doorman. He also gave us his business card and the name of a restaurant near the hotel that served the best ribs in Chicago. He said they’d give us a big discount and treat us like royalty.
We made it to Wrigley Field and found our seats on the right field side of the stadium, just past first base. We placed Reggie’s jersey in his seat and prepared to watch the game.
At the 7th inning stretch we stood and sang with Harry Carey and 40,000 people. From where we were sitting Harry was just a spot in the Press Box.
After the game we stopped at a souvenir shop and bought Cubs jackets and other gifts. We toured the Sears Tower and took in some of the other marvelous sites. We took advantage of the cards from the doorman and had a wonderful dinner.
The following day my friends chose to do more sightseeing instead of accompanying me to the game so I took their jerseys and placed them in their empty seats along with Reggie’s.
Regretfully we lost our dear friend Reggie a few months after our trip. He developed a staph infection as a result of his accident and died.
This year may be a great opportunity to make a return trip to Chicago and watch our beloved Cubs play in a World Series game in that majestic old stadium where I’m sure the spirit of Harry Carey still roams. I’d like to think that our dear friend Reggie is accompanying Harry as well.