Wednesday, July 25, 2018

From Devastation to Elation – Houston Celebrates Its first World Series by Gabe LaBounty

I had been saying it for weeks. As the entire city slowly merged into one unified Astros fan base, I told all of my friends who talked about a potential Astros World Series win that we would have to go to the parade.
No matter where I found myself during an Astros’ playoff game, people who never watched baseball tuned in. While working on a project in the computer labs, the Astros took down the Red Sox with everyone in the room at least partially paying attention. From the upper rafters of the Toyota Center, where I was watching the Rockets play the Spurs in a preseason basketball game, I watched as the Yankees took the fourth game of the series. And I was at a friend’s apartment when Springer plucked the final baseball of 2017 American League play out of the air. The World Series was all anyone could talk about the next day, and at every gathering of more than five people in the city, someone found a way to get score updates. Ellen DeGeneres sent her camera crew to my school (the University of Houston) to give box seats to the most rabid Astros fans, and my friend Tahj and his roommates won by serenading her with an original, improv-ed baseball-themed song to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
It was an amazing series. The marathon known as Game 5 ended at 12:40 at night, and everyone was half asleep the next day, still transfixed by the magical World Series we all seemed to be a part of. Game 7 was an eruption of tension and pure joy. Less than thirty minutes after the final out was recorded, while many Houstonians were speeding to their nearest Academy to snag some overpriced champions gear, the Astros announced the World Series Parade would be that Friday.
In my twenty-one years, I have only lived in the city of a current champion twice. Once in 2000 when the Stars took the Stanley Cup, but I was four. Once more when the Mavs beat back peak LeBron in 2011; however, my family and I were in Los Angeles watching a baseball game when they won. Now, I finally had the opportunity to see a championship parade, a key part of any sports celebration. I did not have any classes on Friday, so I knew I had to go. I had no idea what a mistake that would be.
Harris Country closed all the public schools the day of the parade, and everyone at least expressed an interest in going to the parade. By noon, two million people were trying to get into downtown.
I headed toward the parade with a large group of people, but as the madness ensued only me and two of my friends, Ty and Colin, made it to the familiar downtown streets. I was the only one among us who had taken the Metro into downtown and knew how to get to the parade route. The route itself ended at City Hall and went in a rectangle in the west end of downtown. Large, non-descript buildings and parking garages filled the west side of downtown, and to be honest, I didn't know where to go. 
I am not sure what I was expecting when the first Metro rail car pattered by. As we peered into the windows, the entire length of train was stuffed with people – there was no room to even jump in. Everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder. Jammed into the metro car like crayons into a colored pencil box, this was certainly the most patrons this relatively new system had seen at once. The last time I had seen this many people in a confided area was when we rushed the field after our football team beat Louisville in overwhelming fashion. In our joy we pressed our bodies onto the field, but once we got there we all realized what a terrible error we made. (Consider an analogy here, also a sense of the volume and/or emotions—my default image is cranky, rush-hour New Yorkers but I assume you were seeing something quite different!) One train went by, then another, still without room for anyone else.  People were even jammed into the cars going the other direction, away from downtown. I figured they were expecting the car to eventually turn around. My friends and I decided we had to get on the next car since the Houston police were not allowing drivers to even think about approaching downtown. 
We made an arrowhead formation and managed to secure a place on a packed train. From this moment until the end of the parade, I found the general feeling among the fans was not of bliss but of annoyance. Kids were everywhere, followed by their exhausted parents. The crowding was absurd, and it seemingly set everyone off. Snappy responses and primal instincts kicked in for the millions of people who had already seen their city go through so much this year, from the lows of Harvey to the highs of a world championship.   
After the car labored through its familiar route, we got off at Central Station Capitol and I was immediately disoriented. We had arrived at the beginning of the parade route only minutes before its start, but baseball was the last thing on my mind. I saw bold men climbing lampposts and even a few from our group climbed an abandoned U-Haul truck to try and see better. It reminded me more of a riot than a parade.
Breathable air was scarce. We spent ten useless minutes attempting to reach the front of a crowd, only to figure out the parade was not going down that street. I must have said “excuse me” while nudging my way through the total of humankind on Earth just to fight my way back to my two friends.
We had broken away from the crowd of acquaintances who were slowing us down. They split paths, attempting to get to City Hall where Travis Scott was playing some of his new music and where the speeches would be. I knew this to be a fruitless, impossible task as a million people were blocking our path. Short of walking all the way around downtown, there was no way to cross the parade route.
Without signal, without direction, and without hope we sat on a curb in the heart of downtown, confused. I amused myself by taking jagged pictures of downtown Houston and its buildings and savoring the feeling of standing on the center of a street in downtown, something one can only do during the curfew of a natural disaster or World Series parade.
After five minutes of sorting things out, we decided to try and at least get a glimpse of the parade. I led us southbound, eventually to a parking lot where we approached the route. The UH cheerleaders walked past, and I realized they were the beginning of the parade, so Ty and I walked up to the front and Collin stayed about 60 feet behind us. I climbed onto a truck to at least get decent pictures — and at this point, everyone next to us was frustrated with our elbowing into the front of the crowd. It seemed everyone at the parade route had obviously never walked around downtown or had to sacrifice a foot of personal space to anyone. 
I did not care, because no less than five minutes later George Springer rode by with the World Series trophy. I got a glimpse of Josh Reddick, hoisting a WWE belt in the air for all to see. Other players I could not recognize filled the next few cars. General Manager Jeff Lundow, the mastermind of entire Astros championship, who started the franchise on its path with little fanfare, got very little applause or attention, and why should he? How many fans can identify their general manager, especially if he is in business casual? Craig Biggio was in a blazer and Jeff Bagwell was in a T-shirt, and they got the loudest applause on our little street corner. Altuve was also by himself, and he looked like a conquering hero.
The parade tapered off slowly and we decided to find something to eat. We were on Polk Street and I suggested Sparkleburger, which is a shack on the east side of downtown that sells cheap, great hamburgers on a surprisingly large menu. I had gone a few times before and deduced it would only be a half mile walk. Only two blocks away from the parade we stumbled upon the Toyota Center and the shouting and ear shattering noises were gone. It was a normal, peaceful downtown day in Houston, with a pickup game occurring on a court in the shadow of the Rockets arena. We all discussed the possibility of the next parade being the Rockets and continued our march toward food. Obviously starting now, after quickly getting lost and collecting my bearings were arrived at Sparkleburger, waited 45 minutes for a delicious burger, and avoided a $40 Uber (that  Uber would have gone three miles, maybe) by calling a friend to come pick us up. 
By the time I got back to the dorm, I felt disgusting, but I had at least eaten. I was exhausted, and I could not believe had not expected the day to be absurdly uncomfortable. The tradeoff was worth it, and I would recommend everyone go to the championship parade whenever a local team wins a ring. Just be prepared for the madness.

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