|Posted by Kristen Geil on January 2, 2012 at 10:10 PM|
As many of you know, I recently left the nest for the first time in 22 years and moved from Lexington to Chicago to get me some more of that education stuff. You can imagine the anxieties I experienced associated with moving- making friends, living without my parents' purse strings, and cooking for myself without burning the apartment down- but one constant source of impending depression was the realization that I would no longer be living in the nation's college basketball mecca.
Being a lifelong Lexingtonian, I was spoiled by my easy access to obscure television channels showing the game, scintillating Herald-Leader sports articles by Jerry Tipton, copius tailgating, and the completely unique and (mostly) memorable experience of being a 21 year old during a UK Final Four run. My good friend Ally once paid me the best compliment of my life when she told me I am more "more Kentucky" than anyone else she knows. What on earth would I do in Chicago, where pro sports rule the landscape and no one else has the WBA's YouTube channel bookmarked?
Well, I started small- I found the local UK alumni bar and went for a football game.
Folks, I present The Pony, home of a mean Bloody Mary and a 14 inch grilled cheese appropriately dubbed "The Clydesdale." Since my first visit there in October, I have returned multiple times and- get this- seen someone I know EVERY SINGLE TIME. Whether they actually live in the city or are just visiting for the weekend, it's comforting and exciting to realize that the UK fan base isn't limited to the Bluegrass State. Drew Franklin can wax poetic about Jack Dempsey's in NYC all he wants, but I dare him to come experience The Pony's friendly yet frantic UK lovin' atmosphere and tell me it doesn't remind him of Two Keys on gameday.
Now, being in a different time zone from the Cats has both its pros and cons. Pro: Late night games are earlier, meaning I can get to bed at a decent hour (I'm only 22 years old, I swear). Con: Early games are earlier, meaning an 11 am tipoff is a regular occurence. Pro: For these 11 am games (see especially: UNC and UL basketball games), The Pony offers a two hour, $15 All You Can Eat Breakfast Buffet, complete with bottomless mimosas and certain draft beers. For the UL game, my friends and I got there at 9:05 am and got the last seats in the house- at the bar. That's the kind of dedication I would expect in Lexington, and nowhere else.
Other evidence that BBN likes the Windy City? The evening of the UK-UNC game, I was at a random bar in Chicago. Across the room, I made eye contact with a guy wearing a UK sweatshirt. Three goggles were exchanged, leading to a shared bourbon shot and a recap of the day's glory. If that's not magic, I don't know what is. UL fans would have just sized up each other's flat bills and continued sipping Crown Royale from their respective corners.
Oh, and speaking of the three goggles- they are rapidly becoming one of my go-to barometers for judging potential Chicago friends. I decided I liked the DJ at my New Year's Eve party because he obligingly threw up the three goggles. Potential dance partners that night were considered based on if they would perform the gesture. Other ways I know I can be friends with someone in Chicago? If we can have a heart-to-heart about where we were during that one game in 1992; if we share similar concerns about the health of MKG's mom; and if we can coordinate a victory dance routine integrating the John Wall and the Wobble.
Of course, every now and then my transplanted UK fandom hits a road bump. There have been several times I've been on the subway in a UK t-shirt, only to have some nasally-accented smart-mouth cheekily inform me that Calipari is a cheater or that Terrence Jones is way overrated. Luckily, years of living in Lexington have given me more informed rebuttals than Calipari has favorite Orange Leaf toppings.
Kristen Geil says SHUT UP.
Also, after spending nearly six months in Chicago, I'm a little disappointed that UK doesn't play more away games in the area. Considering that Calipari has a solid recruiting history in the city and a close relationship with Bulls' player Derrick Rose, I'd expect him to schedule a game at the United Center's "Madhouse on Madison." I have no doubt that our fans would love a road trip to Chicago and would fill the arena for the occassion. So Jay-Z and Drake have been to Lexington? I bet you anything Kanye West would come to a UK game in Chicago, if for no other reason than to one-up HOVA. Not to mention, NBA scouts would love it as well.
So, even though I have pledged to myself I will quit real life for a week and return to Lexington if (when) UK gets to the Final Four this year, being temporarily separated from the madness isn't as bad as I expected. In fact, being passionate about UK basketball has helped me adjust to life in Chicago while greatly increasing my appreciation for my hometown. For the next year and a half I live here, I will consider myself UK's Official Ambassador to Chicago, and wear my UK gear with pride. If you happen to be in the city and spot me on the street, throw up your three goggles and we'll bond. See you in March, Lexington.