Monetizing the Chicago Cubs & Entertaining Angels
by S.L. Wisenberg
My husband came in the front door and said I needed to go out and amuse our neighbor, Sharon. She was trying to sell her parking space to Cubs fans and was getting bored. Before she stood with her sign, her husband John had tried his luck for about 15 minutes.
Sharon was leaning against a parked car with her sign for E-Z Out Parking, $40. In a couple of hours Game Four of the World Series! would begin. We’re half a mile west of Wrigley Field. Down the street they were asking for $60, so Sharon was trying to undercut them. But the reason fans weren’t stopping was because they were being driven. Most of the cars that passed were taxis and Ubers.
When the Cubs qualified for the Series, I thought: I need to monetize the Cubs. I had never used that verb before. It is an ugly, latinate, crass verb. But it seems the right one for what I wanted to do: rent out our basement bedroom (bathroom en suite) and our driveway. When I lived in a condo I sold my parking space but now that we have a house, we don’t dare. Our driveway has a deck on top of it, kept aloft with wooden posts. My husband is afraid that a careless parker could run into one of the poles and bring havoc and ruin upon them and us. I don’t disagree. We let our friends use it, for free.
When the Cubs made it to the Series, I looked up prices on Airbnb. People were offering whole apartments for $150. Where were the rooms for $1,000 a night? How could we offer our little basement for more than $100?
My husband speculated: People who can afford the $2,000+ (rooftop, obstructed view) and $10,000+ (in-stadium seats) aren’t looking for a cheap room in a house. They’ll stay at fancy hotels downtown. Or they’ll go back home.
Suddenly I realized: My friend Jennifer was coming to stay with us from Ohio. She needed to spend time with her 95-year-old father and had asked for the basement room. She was driving in Wednesday and staying through Saturday. Well, I thought, Saturday night and Sunday night were possible.
Then my husband reminded me that his friend from work, who shares a season subscription, was parking in the driveway Saturday night. We’ve come to enjoy the predictable ritual. After the games he comes to chat and if he’s with his older precocious daughter, now 10, she makes a beeline to the bathroom then fills up her water bottle. She knows President Obama, can run 5K, and organized a third-grade summer book group.
We’d also promised the driveway Saturday night to the guy my stepson became good friends with in the Army Reserve in Kuwait. That wasn’t a problem because we can fit two cars in our driveway if one is behind the other, and if the driver of the second one believes us when we say they won’t get a ticket because the car blocks most of the sidewalk and sticks out into the street. The people in the back car leave their key with us. The Army Reserve guy brought us a bottle of wine. In the summer the other guy and his wife bring us homemade raspberry jam and other fruits of their garden labor.
Then Jennifer texted me to ask if the daughter of a former professor friend of hers could stay with us Saturday night. The woman lives downstate and is a huge Cubs fan. Fine, we said, though my husband was grousing about the driveway, which absolutely cannot hold three cars. I told the woman that she’d have to find her own parking space. Oh, she said, she was taking the train. Smart woman.
Jennifer arrived Wednesday night bearing gifts from the Asian Indian neighborhood north of us–huge pomegranates, small cucumbers, a gigantic daikon radish, papadam (the brand with an inexplicable bunny on the package), asafoetida—as well as a pair of turquoise socks for me with dachshunds on them. She defected from Chicago more than a dozen years ago and we don’t get to talk much. We had good conversations in the kitchen then Saturday morning she stripped her bed and put her linens in the wash, and they were clean and dry for Jodie, who arrived with Cubs shirt, a heavy backpack, and plans to join her son and his roommate at a local bar, one that did not have a $250 cover charge. Later Jennifer told me that when Jodie found out she had a free place to stay, she cried.
Jodie left Sunday morning, leaving a sweet note with an offer to stay at her house sometime in Lawrenceville, Illinois. Later Sunday my husband was leaving town so I drove him to the L. On the way back I saw no parking spaces on the street, just people offering parking for $60. I parked in our driveway. I had nothing to sell.
Through Jennifer, we’ve hosted two Antioch College students who were interning in Chicago. We mentioned this to my stepdaughter once and she said, Oh, you’re giving back. My husband said, Not really. We don’t think of it that way. We were lucky enough to be able to buy a house with enough room for the kids and grandkids to stay. The rest of the time, we have empty space. A semi-famous writer has slept in our basement, as well as my mother-in-law, two Swedish NATO protesters, a friend’s nephew who was working for Al Gore, and out-of-town friends.
I grew used to this unofficial couch-surfing when I was in graduate school and traveling around Iowa and the U.S. to protest just about everything Reagan was doing. I spent some nights with many other people, some of whom I knew, on the floor a large beautiful apartment on Central Park West, owned by somebody I never met. In Des Moines for a protest, a bunch of us stayed at the Catholic Worker house of hospitality there. I remember how sweet it was when one of the residents came by to make sure I had a blanket. When I moved back to Chicago and lived in a one-bedroom apartment, my floor was always open for Iowa comrades traveling east. Through the National Writers Union, I’ve stayed with other writers in Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California during book tours. This spring when I was going to D.C. for a memorial gathering I got in touch with someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years, but who had offered his house if I happened to come to town. It was beyond pleasant to stay in the basement and meet his family.
So when a friend’s daughter was looking for places to stay in Dallas and Brownsville, I thought it would be a snap to help her, because I have a dozen relatives in Dallas and I knew somebody in Brownsville. Our friend’s daughter was traveling to the two cities with her documentary film crew. I called my relatives in Dallas. Either they couldn’t or were going out of town—and weren’t inclined to offer their empty pads to strangers. I called my mother in Houston and she suggested I contact a filmmaker she’d once hosted a fundraiser for. The woman lived in Dallas and when I emailed her, she said she was going to be out of town. I emailed a colleague in Fort Worth. Her house was going to be full of grandchildren, but she had checked with her friend (the filmmaker my mother had suggested). Finally at wit’s end I emailed an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth whom I’d interviewed once on the phone. Yes, she said, she had a couch and could find someone with the same. She had marched in Selma in 1965, and so had the filmmaker’s grandfather. There’s a nice circularity to that.
There are many things I came to understand when I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. I came to see that I had grown up in a small stable Jewish village (located inside the sprawling, ever-changing city of Houston) where for generations my family and others had hosted one another’s wedding brunches and showers; exchanged gifts for bar mitzvahs, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, landmark birthday parties, brises and naming ceremonies (for female babies); supplied food for receptions, parties and shivas. These are all known as life-cycle events. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about a tightknit, black-hatted and bewigged Orthodox community operating inside an eruv. These are moderns who are more relaxed about the rules and attend Reform and Conservative synagogues.
I purposely left that community, though I sometimes long for its rootedness. Because of the constant exchange, we never keyed the price of a wedding gift to the cost of the provided wedding meal. (Crass, crass.) Since I figured out that gifts create community, I didn’t wonder any more why someone I barely knew was inviting me to a wedding. I knew: We were part of a weave made of constant criss-crossing of give and take. It was just like a web made of colored yarn that we created a long time ago at the Women’s Pentagon Action.
In Chicago, our own driveway-basement bedroom-crop exchange is informal. I never thought until now to count up the goods that our friends bring to our house. And I’ve long admired the Catholic Workers, who say they appreciate guests because they allow the Workers to provide hospitality. I could go on about the Biblical mythical Abraham and Sarah entertaining angels unawares, but I won’t.
The traditional cry of “trick or treat” has lost its meaning, but it once presented a threat: I’m going to play a trick on you—unless you give me a treat. The kids climbed up our front porch on Halloween were a delight to see, though grabby. I don’t expect to retrieve my mini Snickers bars in the future. I guess I see the chocolate bars as payment for the glimpses of cuteness arriving at my door.
Everyone else loves Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and VRBO. Me, I have a bad rep on Airbnb because the host in New York complained about us, Much of it stemmed from the fact that she kept texting us and we were technologically behind, and didn’t text yet. I’ve stayed in two Airbnbs that were adequate. One was corporate owned, though it was advertised as belonging to a particular person with interests and hobbies, who was dying to know the same about me. All of these non-regulated systems operate like the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War. Back then, there was MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction: We don’t bomb them because they can bomb us. We don’t say anything bad about the host or driver and they won’t say anything bad about us (well, in most cases). It’s a dance, and not a friendly one.
Saturday night when the game was over we went outside. Sharon and John were coming back from an outdoor dinner and a movie, both paid for by the guy who parked his long van overnight in their parking place. (A great deal for $40.) So there’s that. Sometimes it works to monetize and sometimes it doesn’t.