Just this morning, I found a picture of my Lambretta, a 1965 TV 175, sandwiched between the pages of an old Scootering magazine from 1995. It was the first picture I took of my baby blue pride and joy. Facing away from me in some non-descript alley in Chicago, it looked like a child waiting for its parent to embrace them after being alone too long. Instantly, it brought me back to those early days of my scootering involvement, with memories cascading around me like so many pints of spilled Guinness.
I distinctly remember Moe selling me a kick start gear for that Lammy and looking over my 1956 Lambretta LD and 1974 Vespa Super 150, crowded together in my living room, where most people would have furniture. Then we installed the gear, with the scooter on its side on a milk crate in the kitchen of my tiny Hillside, IL apartment, with case oil running among the cracks of the tiles, which never came out of the grout. But my landlord, a Harley-ridin’ leather-vest-no-t-shirt-wearin’ tough guy, didn’t care much. He just thought they were pretty funny machines. His miles of chrome seemed funny to me too, as was his 50-year-old engine design and really bad hair plugs spaced about an inch apart in a DeNiro-slicked back pompadour that just highlighted the space between the plugs.
Months later, I spent an evening laughing with a very drunken Andy Miller during the first club meeting I attended, the night we solidified the name “Second to Last.”
That feeling of excitement and apprehension was unparalleled. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the members of the club except in passing at the Holiday Club’s “Mod Mondays” or at the Ace CafÃ©, where we would swap scooter stories between drinks or drinks between scooter stories, whichever you prefer. I had just called my rather unimpressive music career to a halt, planning to move to Seattle, back to my hometown where the weather and downtown life seemed more like “home” than any of my other numerous stops in places like Berkeley, CA, Apply Valley, MN, or even at that point, Chicago. I needed that comfort that a hometown provides and found it in a scooter club.
This year at Soldier Field, I had that same sense of “something coming to an end,” much like my poor musical career, full of bands that became successful after I left them. Not that the boys didn’t try hard and give the season their all, but in retrospect, it felt like we were on the verge of a transition. It was if we had too much success in a league where there wasn’t a lot to be had and needed more than a rebuilding. We needed a new philosophy and a new motivation. Winning became hard work for our Fire.
The Fire had shipped off a number of our key players to other teams over seas and our prospects were maturing at impressive rates, destined for things greater than MLS. Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley went to PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch Eredivisie in July. Defender Carlos Bocanegra went to Fulham in the EPL in the off season. Goalkeeper DJ Countess, while he didn’t see much playing time with the Fire in 2004, is certainly on his way to international fame once his Nike Project 40 status has matured.
Over the season, I couldn’t help but drink heavily during the games, no longer confident in our ability to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, or at least from the lips of a draw. Moe and I took to drinking from a flask which contained various types of alcohol during the year and nothing that seemed to mix with the soft drinks that came our way. I took to making boilermakers with Vodka and hard charging through the match until the final whistle. Only then did I really notice the score. It was too much to take in. We lost 13 games this year in a 30 game season, six of them at home.
After the final game of the season this past weekend, which saw the Fire lose to the New England Revolution, destroying their chances for the 2004 MLS Cup playoffs, I remember only one moment of commentary from the game. Kenny Stern, our less-than-colorful color commentator, who sounds more like a counter worker at a South Side Italian beef joint, said morosely: “After the season these two teams have had, neither of them deserves to go to the playoffs.” I was hurt initially (This was our color commentator!), wanting to put a pint glass through the TV, but I restrained myself, because it was Moe’s TV. I calmed myself down with a short glass of Maker’s Mark. I brooded. I ate some of the pizza we had ordered at halftime. I smoked and ate and finished my drink. Then I began to see things clearly as the tension left my body and my hands stopped curling around the arm rests in a death grip threatening to destroy my fingers or at least, cramp them up in two distinct, angry claws.
The season was over. Done. No 2004 playoffs. No MLS Cup glory. I felt my muscles returning to normal, my tension headache leaving, and my breath finally regaining its normal rate of speed rather than that of a man close to orgasm. It was over and I had nothing to worry about anymore.
The thought of the next MLS season electrifies me now in the same way that the new scooter club I joined in 1995 did. It is an unknown quantity. It’s something that can’t be quantified or calculated. 2005 is just around the corner for the Fire as is my tenth year with Second to Last SC. The ’65 Lammy is still in my possession, but the beloved ’56 LD and ’74 150 Super, like Beasley and Bocanegra, have gone on to greater things, new owners who will hopefully enjoy them as much as their original owners, if not more so.
Our new philosophy, our new passionate breath the Fire must breathe to make 2005 a memorable and successful season is in the hands of the team’s manager, Head Coach Dave Sarachan. Just as 22LSC was reliant on its members to get it up and running smoothly, the Fire staff have a responsibility to create something worth believing in for us, a place to go to have fun, feel victory and get drunk, much like a scooter rally.
2005 is coming. And I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.