The Wrigley Rooftops and Social Equality

Maybe it’s crazy to look for hidden benefits in all of the recent economic strife, but I try to do it anyway. One of them — and I realize that it may be pie in the sky as opposed to a silver-lined cloud — is the possibility that the bad times may lead to an increase in social equality. I don’t mean direct economic equality really, because we’re not likely to have that, but rather, an increase in the spheres of human activity in which people from disparate backgrounds can meet and interact as equals.

Yes, there have always been havens for the very rich, but it used to be that a far greater proportion of the population had to go down to the post office and wait on line together, or leave from the same train station, or get sick, get better, or die at the same hospitals. It’s only been very recently that anything approaching a significant number of people had the means and inclination to opt-out of public or quasi-public institutions via the purchase of previously exclusive goods or by gating themselves off from the masses in ways both figurative and literal. To put a baseball spin on it, the great grandstand of yesterday has all but disappeared as more and more of us have aspired to luxury boxes and club level seats, usually paid for by corporations rather than ourselves.

I don’t know if such a dynamic has a quantifiable impact on our health as a nation, but it does seem like we’ve lived in an unprecedentedly decadent, and socially-isolating age. On one level I suppose access to the finer things is the very promise of modern capitalism. When I think about it, however, it strikes me that the aspiration for exclusivity flies in the face of the democratic ideals which have made modern capitalism possible. And when I get in such a frame of mind, stories like this make me feel better:

Break out the sunscreen and come hungry for a hot dog or two. Because of the struggling economy, seats on one of those cool rooftops across the street from Wrigley Field can now be yours for a dozen or more Cubs games this season.

The recession has forced companies to scale back-back-back on corporate outings and entertainment, so the owners of one rooftop are getting creative in their efforts to keep people coming by. And they’re going old school to do it, using that tried-and-true method of season ticket deals and inviting regular Joes back up for the fun . . .

. . . The rooftop phenomenon started a few decades ago, when neighborhood residents would tote grills and coolers up to their roofs to watch the Cubs with friends. It brought back memories of an era when fans could peek through knotholes in fences or watch games at the Polo Grounds from behind ropes across the outfield.

Then someone realized there was money on those roofs. Small, friendly get-togethers gave way to corporate bigwigs and bachelor parties shelling out as much as $200 per person for the view, food and drinks. Ratty lawn chairs were replaced with bleachers — two and three decks of them, in places.

I suppose its naive to think that the Wrigley rooftops will ever return to the relatively non-commercial entities they once were — if indeed they ever were — but maybe this is symbolic of something bigger. Maybe the bad times which we’re currently enduring will beat out of us the notion that the professional classes and the moderately well-off are the class-apart we’ve allowed ourselves to believe they (we) are. Maybe some 20 years down the road, when the owners are looking to renovate or replace the stadiums they built in the past two decades, they’ll feel compelled to build in more grandstands and fewer club level seats.

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  1. tadthebad said...

    I vaguely remember Reagan in one of his speeches talking about this same idea, something about coming together with your countrymen regardless of profession or socio-economic status.  If only…

  2. themarksmith said...

    That’s an interesting thought. It’s interesting how history can move around in circles sometimes. Still, I think it will take a longer recession to actually turn the tide on such a thing. If we recover quickly, luxury boxes/club seats will continue to be major parts of new stadiums.

  3. kendynamo said...

    wait, seriously?  the advent of the luxuary box in stadia also brought private doctors, schools , postal services and means of transportation to the country, for the first time? ever?  sorry, i dont buy it.  ive been on this earth a scant quarter century or so, so i can’t speak from experience, but I call BS on the notion that things were significantly more socially progressive in the 20th century than they are now.

  4. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I guess it depends on how you define “socially progressive.”  I’m not making a claim of greater political equality in the past, and racial segregation obviously blows a giant hole in much of the 20th century.

    I’m simply saying that, in the past, there were more instances in which people of different economic strata came together more often on a more equal footing.  Fewer VIP rooms.  Fewer corporate comps. Fewer gated communities and private schools. Fewer for-profit surgical hospitals. That kind of thing.

    I don’t know that one can even quantify the impact of those sorts of things on overall civic health—let alone quantify what civic health actually is—but the increasing materialism and desire for increasing exclusivity of the last 10-20 years troubles me. That’s all I’m saying.

  5. kendynamo said...

    yeah i dunno, i mean i obviously can’t speak from experience but i just feel like the uber rich have and will always find away to segregate themselves from the grubby, teeming millions.  i mean, private schools, limos, gated communities, these don’t seem like recent phenomena to me.  and if they are increasing in number, doesnt that mean they are becoming less exclusive?  there are clearly more luxury suites now then their were 30 or 50 years ago, but that doesnt mean that only those who can afford these costs get to enjoy them.  i certainly don’t make enough to buy one of those boxes but because there are so many of them ive been able to go watch a game from a luxurious vantage many times.

    i see your point, and i have no idea how to quantify it either, but i get the impression that the opposite is happening.  man, its not often i take the optomistic side of an arguement.

  6. Rob said...

    Don’t get me started on the airport security lines that first class passengers can circumvent.  TSA is a government entity, and it really burns me that we allow people to buy preferential treatment.

  7. Chris H. said...

    I think I’m with Ken Dynamo on this one.  I think the fact that there are more luxury boxes, private schools, etc. means that more people have access to them (else why have so many more?).

    Decades ago private school was for the truly rich (or religious educations), but my upper-middle-class parents were able to send me to a private high school, and I know many middle-class-to-upper-middle-class folks that have done the same.

    I also don’t buy “increased materialism.”  Didn’t they say that about the 80s?  I don’t really think it’s significantly different.

  8. Vaux said...

    It is true that a larger number of Americans are rich than every before.  However, while that means that a larger number of people have access to the so-called “exclusive,” it also means that the quality of life for those who _don’t_ have such access is diminished from what it once was.  The more of society is rich, the less the policy makers and directors of society care about the well-being of the non-rich.  We see this phenomenon outlined quite sharply, for example, in the continued and sometimes accelerating decline of urban public schools.

  9. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I’ll also add that at this moment in time, we may be experiencing a testing of just how much richer we all are. How much of this heightened consumption, if you will, is based on credit and virtual wealth that is quickly disappearing?  How much of that access has been purchased with home equity, easy credit, and bravery inspired by job security that turned out not to be the case.

    I don’t wish to oversell this point—this whole social equity/town square thing is a bit of an idiosyncratic hobby horse of mine—but I can’t help but feel like, however painful current times are, we’re experiencing a reversion to a norm after a 25 year deviation.

  10. Melody said...

    I’m with you, Craig—I absolutely believe there’s been more stratification of wealth, and in fact I’ve read many articles showing that the gap between rich and poor in America has widened significantly over the past decade.  See the end of this post for one link, or google “gap between rich and poor” and find 700,000 more examples.
    I do lament the apparent reduction of public spaces and entities in this country—since when did “community” and “public” become bad words?  Instead, even Obama rushes to reassure the business community that he retains faith in the free market, just wants government to “right the ship and then let the free market work its magic.”  Bullshit! 
    When the public square was public, free speech was a real right.  Now the public square isn’t public, it’s a mall, owned by a corporation, which can legally restrain speech all it wants.  We’re selling off our public spaces, we’re renting out their names, we’re teaching the next generation that it’s not great accomplishments or inspiration that gets your name on a building, just cold hard cash.  Is that the kind of world we want to live in?

    for example:

  11. nilodnayr said...

    FYI to this earthshattering article but in previous season you could get $75-$100 single tickets to rooftops for many games.  Regular Joes (in the know) have always been up on the rooftops.  The only thing new are the season tickets and anyone shelling out a couple grand for a handful of games probably isn’t a regular Joe.

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