The Parking Permit

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On a sunny and frigid Chicago afternoon, Charles Stallwart arches his back and glances upward to read the fine print on the Ashland Avenue street sign with as much trepidation as stepping out on a tightrope walk.  His Impala sleeps in one of the thousands of ruthless prohibited zones of Chicago's brutal streets, a city which thrives upon generating revenue at the cost of human life, but Charles' safety net lies in the parking sign.  The tow zone that surrounds his car is only in effect during the winter season, simply a chalkdust outline that gets washed away by the April showers.  It is springtime, it is baseball season, and Charles is walking the last mile or so to Wrigley Field.

He has taken this Wednesday off from his retired life of volunteering at the Wheeling public library, a position that Charles inherited after his wife, Gail, passed away seven years ago.  The part-time gig allows him to stay in touch with the community events, gives him an excuse to utilize is immaculate tidying skills, and also provides him with the daily box scores of his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, the telling inspiration behind his apt career as a middle-school history teacher.  But what was once an annual pilgrimage for Charles to the Friendly Confines has since become more of a rare and special occasion, only making it to a ballgame when the stars are aligned just so, because even in retirement the hassles of daily life as an elder never cease, unlike Gail.

It is April 23rd, 2014, one hundred years to the day of the first baseball game played at Wrigley Field, and Charles merges with the massive herd of pedestrians marching eastward down the sidewalks of Addison Avenue to celebrate the anniversary, wearing his heart on his sleeve, a floppy sun hat, and carrying a neatly folded red and blue fleece blanket to insulate the chilly, metallic outfield bleachers.  There is a foggy optimism that farts from the crowd, like the smokescreen produced inside a casino from burning through paychecks, an anticipation that luck is on the upswing and a life's work is about to satisfyingly pay off.  But all the pomp and circumstance of the centurial ballgame, the ceremonial first pitch, the throwback uniforms, and the prohibition of alcohol after the seventh inning cannot salvage the disaster that is the Cubs' Titanic bullpen.  Keeping with tradition, Charles watches the Cubs blow another game in the ninth, giving up a three-run lead to lose by a score of seven to five.

After more than one hundred losing years, the contemplative post-game amble from Wrigley Field this afternoon causes Charles to ask the same question again and again, "What have we learned?"  And by the time he returns to his horseless buggy, still untouched by the authorities, he realizes that the charm of the experience has worn off throughout the years, it no longer feels special.  He unlocks the trunk of the car and tosses in the beer-soaked fleece and souvenir pack of Wrigley's gum, shuts the lid, and pauses to look around before crawling back into the driver's seat.  Charles knows that he is not heading home just yet, realizing that his parking spot has no expiration, and decides to grab a cup of joe at the Hey, Hey, Holy Coffee! shop across the street ("Where the cups win! Cups win!"), because he understands that sometimes you just have to appreciate where you are parked.

Alex Leong