On my way home this evening, in the middle of a book, on a typically quiet train, a mob of people rushed onto my car screaming and scared the living shit out of me. I jumped out of my skin and prepared to blockade myself under my CTA train seat until I realized these people were celebrating. And then I realized the Blackshawks must have won and was mostly annoyed by their lack of consideration. And then something funny happened. More people got on the train, and I saw that they were all genuinely excited and they wanted to include me in their excitement. And when I switched trains at Belmont, the whole city felt alive with this celebration. Cars were honking and people were smiling at eachother, cheering in groups, whistling and happily talking with strangers.
And I was charmed. I was charmed and I found myself smiling and feeling really good.
And when the train stopped at Addison, I wanted to get off with the crowd. Their joy was palpable and I wanted to keep laughing, keep sharing in their phenomenally infectious good spirits. I wanted to eat their energy with my skin.
But I didn’t. Because I had my computer with me and I felt foolish and it was crowded and I don’t like Wrigleyville. And besides it was late and… And it wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized that these are the moments that make up a life. And I want desperately to be a curious, adventurous, open kind of person who knows how to seize an experience. So I dropped my computer off at home, chugged some water, grabbed some cash and flew right back into the heart of the action.
As I walked among the crowd, I was struck by so many many things. To begin with, I see these people every single day. They sit on trains with me and I pass them on the sidewalk and eat with them at restaurants and most of the time they look tired and deflated and, well, small. Inoffensively genial if not stubbornly neutral. I bet I look that way too. But tonight, we all looked unabashedly blissful. These generally reserved men and women were just reeking emotion into the atmosphere. A sense of electric camaraderie charged the air. We were Chicagoans and we were together and we were high fiving and feeling things. We were breaking all kinds of social contracts and it felt like a communal release of the long-pent-up tension we’d been developing as pleasantry in bars, trains and offices all over the city.
In addition to this assumed sense of belonging, there was a reverting back to the primitive brain. These people with me at the beginning were mostly sober: they weren’t grossly intoxicated, just crazy happy. I won’t pretend to really feel that way about hockey, but I know their feeling in my heart and their effortless joy was palpable and no one seemed to care about looking foolish as they chanted like our ancestors might have chanted in long forgotten ritual and danced like they meant it in their toes, all over the streets, in public, with one another. The intensity and freedom of the emotion was overwhelming and thrilling.
And eventually frightening. Because there weren’t any rules after awhile. Once moderate no-teeth-smiles were thrown out the window, a sense of anarchy developed rapidly. This sense of chaos was certainly helped by large quantities of alcohol and helicopters circling over the city but it really emanated from the people. And it was warm and fuzzy right up until the moment it wasn’t.
I’m not stupid and I know that hockey championships often lead to riots. I was super on guard (I was mom!) and I remember the exact moment and place I realized it was time to leave. Full beer bottles were being hurled into the crowd and smashing into shards of glass. I saw a fight out of the corner of my eye. I sensed the difference between the fully inhabited, genuine emotion that drew me in and the unease of the adrenaline junkies as they started to cram into the streets. A car bumper was hoisted over the heads of the crowd and I felt the very thin line between fear and joy, the line between manic tears and manic laughter, and I hurried my way out of the mob and into a cab as cops on horses lined up with their megaphones and handcuffs.
I have to admit that I’m pulled almost irresistibly towards the fireworks that were shot from the middle of a crowd over our head, boldy defying common sense and basic safety standards: it’s the intensity of fully feeling, of being human without inhibitions and I’m not going to stick around to see where it takes us tonight, but it’s undeniably enticing. As the man who high fived me when he saw me scribbling notes on the street wisely pointed out “Good for you, you’re not missing it.”