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On Queue

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OK I admit it. My name isn't really Dave Rosello. But when you're taking a day away from work to idle 17 hours in freezing weather for opening-day Cubs tickets and the reporters keep you out of your sleeping bag in front of Wrigley Field for a quote, you get a little peeved.

When my buddy and I set up lawn chairs in front of the main gate at 4 PM the day before the tickets were to go on sale, we were seventh and eighth in line. A security guard with an orange jacket and a walkie-talkie built a corral of sawhorses around us. "I'm not doing this for you," he said. "We want to be ready if the antilights people decide to do something stupid."

This was news to us. The City Council's passage of the lights bill that day suddenly made the line of fans in front of the ballpark a sort of captive pool of sources on the issue. Somehow none of the reporters saw any reason not to expect an intelligent opinion of the first person in the line, a man who had set up his blankets 27 hours early for tickets to see a last-place team.

Within an hour, a Tribune photographer was parking his truck on the sidewalk. "How can I make it look like there's more of you?" he asked us. Then he climbed on the roof of his truck to get a wide-angle shot. When he took down our names for the caption I said I was Dave Rosello, an allusion to the easiest out in the Cubs lineup of the mid-1970s. My buddy identified himself as Hank Sauer, the Cub slugger from our grandfathers' generation. We figured a copy editor on the sports desk would catch it.

Chuck Goudy arrived for a live remote, and then, as often happens, there were more reporters and cameramen than witnesses. More trucks pulled up on the pavement and others set up in the McDonald's lot across the street. We were pulled off our lawn chairs to pose in front of signs and led to the pay phones to banter with radio gab hosts. "Are you buying tickets for the night games?" they asked us. We tried telling them we were in line for opening-day seats. "Well, what are your views on lights?"

Jerry Pritikin, the "bleacher preacher" who slaps Cubs logos over opposing fans' baseball caps in the stands, distributed a batch of "Cubs Vine Line" newsletters. The cover promised a Don Zimmer centerspread. Pritikin lost his Frisbee on the roof over the front gate just as the next wave of cameramen appeared. He posed with a sign that said "Cub Fans Will Have Faith in 88"; the 8's were made of Cubs logos. When the camera lights went off, Pritikin folded his sign and left.

A woman who announced her name as Tidbit put on an oversize Minnesota Vikings hat and rushed to the front it of the line whenever the doors of a news truck opened or a tripod was tilted our way. "How about some cheering?" a cameraman suggested. Tidbit threw her arms up, cheerleader-style, and whooped.

Meanwhile, the couple behind us in line declared that they were Cardinals fans who waited in line every year to buy tickets only for the Saint Louis series. The wife, Ellen, also mentioned that a woman in tight jeans in front of us would never make it through the night. "She was in line last year and got real drunk. She was leaning against a ticket window with drool coming out of her mouth, reading a copy of Fatherhood by Bill Cosby. By three in the morning she went home."

At 10 PM, we took turns crossing the street to Slugger's bar to watch ourselves on the news. The streetlights on that block of Clark Street weren't working so the street was dark. As the woman in tight jeans ambled south on Clark, a man who had shared her sleeping bag stood up on his toes to watch her. "I feel responsible for her safety," he said. "Sort of."

A group of skinheads and girls wearing black miniskirts strolled by in the freezing wind, slowing to yell, "You're all insane." Drivers wailed their horns or rolled down windows to shout "No lights."

At 3 AM, a reporter from City News Bureau showed up and asked a few questions. "Want a really interesting angle?" tantalized the Cardinals fan. "We're from Indiana, and we're only here to buy Saint Louis tickets. . . ." The reporter interviewed Hank Sauer and Dave Rosello, then phoned in his notes and came back. He roused the woman in tight jeans, who stood, swayed, and mumbled that she lived a half-block away. A wet dark circle had formed on the front of her pants. She staggered away from the barricades and disappeared into the parking lot, leaving her blankets behind.

"Hey," someone shouted at the woman in the Vikings hat. "Why they call you Tidbit?" Much softer than usual, she replied, "I used to be really small for a long time."

In the next few hours, there was time to look through the mesh gate and watch the rats cavort by the scorecard stands. There was time to remember when opening-day tickets could be bought after an hour's wait; when, as a grade school kid, I could buy one ticket and after the game push up a row of grandstand seats from the right-field line to the left for the sweepers and earn a free ticket to the next day's game. Once I thought I could see an entire summer's home games that way. Now the seats are spring-loaded to snap closed for the sweepers as soon as a fan stands.

There were cold hours to think about how the brown ivy on the outfield walls would turn green in June, when the team began to wilt. From somewhere along the line of sleeping bags, someone said, "I bet the wind's really blowing out now." The wind had us pinned to the mesh gate; days later, layers of skin on my face, wind-burned, would fall in flakes.

My buddy Hank Sauer headed up Clark Street to warm up in the all-night Mexican restaurant. Ronnie Wickers, jacketless, dropped into Sauer's lawn chair and covered himself, face and all, with the sleeping bag. When I returned from a trip to the car for more blankets, I roused Ronnie from my chair. He moved into Ellen's recliner, and when she returned he linked arms with a passerby and strolled off, his pinstriped Ronnie Woo Woo jersey flapping. Ellen then complained to her husband that her chair had been broken.

"All he did was he lie on it, same as you did," her husband told her. "Maybe it froze."

By daylight, the line had wrapped around the corner, along Addison, up Sheffield, and onto Waveland. People walking to the el with briefcases stopped to say they'd watched us on the news. We bought the morning newspapers. On page ten of the sports section, a Tribune reporter quoted a fan's view of the lights issue: "Instead of the outfielder losing it in the sun, he'll lose it in the lights." The quote was attributed to Dave Rosello.

The Sun-Times, meanwhile, ran a shot of Tidbit on page four. Now she waved her picture in front of the reporters who showed up at 6:30 AM. "My God," said one of the Cardinals fans, "you people are reading your reviews."

Meanwhile, a reporter from WBBM-AM queried my buddy, who gave his name as Hank Sauer again, "Hank, is this your first year at Wrigley Field?"

When the tickets went on sale, a cameraman stood in line behind the fan who had waited 27 hours. The camera panned the other ticket windows, and a cop who had crashed the line shielded his face. "Not me, not me!" The woman in tight jeans tottered back from home and reclaimed her place in line.

When we had paid for our bleacher tickets, we packed up our blankets and lawn chairs and thermoses and headed for the car. As Tidbit staggered from the ticket window into the sunlight and read the face of her tickets, she squealed, "Guess what? These are general admission tickets! See you in line in April."

Along Clark Street, in front of Slugger's bar, the string of streetlights that had been off all night flickered a few times, then glowed.

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