AMerican Road Trip Through Chicago Sports Radio

After two days, one night, six states, and two-thousand seven hundred seventy three kilometres, I was able to reach my long sought after destination – a beautiful little girl named Jasmine, in Regina, Saskatchewan – where she’s old enough for a part-time job, but still young enough to jump into my arms and call me ‘daddy’.

There was also still snow laying about.  WTF?

Toronto to Regina, via Chicago.  I like long road trips.  Yoga for the mind.  Nothing to do but keep it between the lines.  Traffic moves between 130 and 140 km/h.

Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis were the only major spots where I lost time, but I didn’t mind.  I like seeing the big cities from my view out the windshield.  8 lanes.  10 lanes.  Merge lanes.  Big glass towers.  Old brick industry.  Ball parks.  Park parks.  Highway lines and back bumpers.  Mind my place in the left lane flow, and I’ll be just fine.

Sometimes I drive in complete silence.  Sometimes I listen to audio books.  This time I stuck mainly to AM radio.  Just picked up what I could as I passed from place to place.

There’s something about AM radio that makes me feel like I’m actually traveling somewhere.  The crackle of the distance between me and the signal’s source is more tangible than FM band somehow.  AM signals never really fade – they go down fighting.  The background static just gets louder and the signal screams for dear life.

And as the mile markers blink passed me, that crackle takes me through time.  I imagine myself 80 years ago, stuck in some distant nowhere – big vacuum tube radio, picking up something from anywhere – especially on a starry clear night.

I travel the dial as I put miles behind me.  Talk radio voices – accents from places laid out like road markers on the side of the highway.  Old country music stations.  Gun advocates.  Preachers.  Politicians.  Local news.  Weather reports.  Flood warnings.  Sports.

I caught the Chicago Bulls playoff game just as they went down by 14 points with 3 minutes left to play.  Someone from Brooklyn missed an easy dunk.  I was on I-94, crossing from Indiana into Illinois.  Hit Chi-town just as the game went into overtime.  Was heading into the tunnel downtown as the 2nd overtime began.  Cleared traffic on the north side of town as the team pulled out the win at the close of the 3rd overtime period.  Every radio voice on the air said it will go down as one of the greatest playoff games ever played.  I really wouldn’t know.  It was the first NBA game I ever heard on the radio – and for that matter, I’ve never seen an actual NBA game on TV either.  Reminded me of the time I caught seven periods of overtime between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals in 1986.  I was a kid and hadn’t really taken an interest in hockey yet.

The signal faded as I approached Rockford, Illinois on I-90.  The next clear signal on the dial was a NASCAR race in Richmond, Virginia.  Listened to the first 192 laps until that signal faded, somewhere northwest of Madison, Wisconsin on I-94.  Next clear signal on the dial was a Chicago Whitesox game in Tampa Bay.  Caught an inning before that signal broke up.  Next turn on the dial made me laugh out loud – a Chicago Cubs game in Florida!  What’s with all the Chicago teams?

Baseball broadcasts lack the action of basketball or hockey.  They’re more like conversations between announcers that get interrupted by bits of action from time to time. Almost seems like an inconvenience.  Still, it remains perfect platform from which to experience a game.  AM radio, baseball, and a late-night road trip go together like nostalgia, old photographs, and painted memories.  Imagination takes the stage for a crack at the miles barraging my soon-to-be heavy eye-lids.

Further up the road, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I turned to the next clear signal on the dial, a home broadcast of the St. Luis Blues.  Guess who they were playing?  The Chicago Blackhawks!

It’s good to be home.  Turned the dial one last time as Regina’s lights came into view.  620 CKRM.  The most nostalgic of all AM radio to me.  Roughrider games.  Pats.  Childhood memories of late night polka parties, playing cards with my Grama in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan.  Willie Cole & Fred King.  Geoff Courier.  Carm Carteri.  Rod Pedersen.

I’m getting together with my buddies for a hockey pool draft on Tuesday night.  I was thinking I’d take Penguins as much as possible, but there’s something about this road trip that has me thinking seriously about Chicago’s chances.

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