The inner city mission where I live and work is situated not too far from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play. Maybe it was a friend of a friend or through the city or food depository, but our organization is one of a few invited to come about thirty minutes after the game to pick up unsold stadium hotdogs.
So after every home game Chris and Stewart go in an old van to drive the one and half miles to Wrigley to load in a box (or two depending on the weather) of assorted grill items ie either a hot dog, hamburger, brat, or Italian sausage.
The whole neighborhood gets a piece of this action. It’s a neighborhood comprised of homeless shelters, half-way houses, people pushing grocery carts down the alleys, and old Hungarian-looking women feeding pigeons next to signs saying Don’t Feed the Pigeons! Trash and bread and bagel debris swirl at corner curbs and once in a while a drunk sleeps one off on a bus bench.
But about forty-five minutes even before a game is over, people start streaming into the mission asking for a Wrigley dog. Here’s a play-by-play: Freddy files in and when we say not yet, he asks if he can stay. No, because he’ll just be in the way. Then two or three more come in to ask to use the bathroom. No, I have to tell them, because they’ll hang out in there in order to be first in line. Then the seniors will come down in the elevator and ask if the dogs are in the house. Several of them are so cool—I want to hook them up. I write down what they want, but can’t make any promises. Just be here when they come in.
As the minutes pass and it gets closer and closer to the first pitch, so to speak, the players begin to mill around out front. There is a strategy to snagging a Wrigley dog and everyone is trying to out psyche the competition.
When the dogs finally arrive there is a lot of throwing of the elbows and hip checking getting in the door. I see them stampeding. One at a time, I yell out, but no one is listening. Please line up! The only thing to do is to get the dogs out quick. So I begin to hand out two to each hand stuck up in my face.
No, not that one, comes a gruff voice from up above. I look up at a man with a jail-house build. He demands a brat. So I dig around for a brat amongst the dogs. How can I tell the difference? The wrapping is orange, Freddy informs me. Sister, he calls me, can you give me a hamburger. I’d seen some of those earlier, but in the melee I might have given them all out. Here, Freddy, I say in a hurry, just take these, handing him two dogs.
No, sister, he insists, can you find me a hamburger?
I’m striking out here Freddy, I tell him. Take this or nothing.
But the heartbroken look on his face drives me to continue searching until I come up with a hit. Freddy leaves with one hamburger and one Italian sausage.
By now only three minutes has gone by and we’re almost out of dogs. There are still twenty or so people lined up, plus the seniors sitting around on benches. Finally I give up and toss the last of the box’s contents up on the phone counter. There’s a wild scramble, a virtual bench-clearing. I withdraw into my little receptionist dugout.
Within seconds the room is empty except for Freddy still wanting to just hang out. Sister, is there any ketchup? I get Freddy a couple of packets and a cup of kool-aid, warning him not to tell the others.
I couldn’t handle a rush on kool-aid.