Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Twilight Zone

Skokie Theater's upcoming show is a dark comedy Christmas play set in England. Rehearsals have been going for two weeks and for about three weeks my supervisor has talked about getting the cast "traditional English treats" as a surprise. When I informed her that I make a damn good scone, she was ecstatic. She warned me that in the near future she would be asking me to bake scones for around forty people. (There are only nine people in the cast plus the director, stage manager and assistant stage manager. I am not sure where these other twenty-eight people came from.)

Sadly, my scone baking extravaganza never happened. Instead, I arrived at the theatre last week and found Nikki on the phone with a "traditional English bakery" she had discovered. She placed an order for two banana cream pies, one mincemeat pie, and a steak and ale pie (the Brits do love their pies). As she recited the theater's Visa Card number into the phone she said, "And I'll be sending my assistant down to pick all that up. Thank you!" She then turned to me, the assistant. She handed me a Post-It note with the bakery's address.

"This is in Skokie?" I asked, already dreading the gas I was going to use for my unpaid position.

"It's in Bridgeport," Nikki answered.

"Where's that?"

"Right near Andersonville."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I still had to drive without being paid, but at least Andersonville (where my Uptown writing group is located) was only six miles below Skokie. I went back to my cubicle, plugged the address into Google Maps and came up with a location on the south side of Chicago. I zoomed in -- the address was located in a neighborhood called Bridgeport.

"Um, Nikki," I said, walking to her desk, "are you sure this is the right place?" I showed her where the address was located. Bridgeport was a little over twenty miles south of Skokie.

"Do you not feel safe going there?" Nikki asked. The south side of Chicago is notorious for crime. "I don't want to send you anywhere that you won't feel comfortable."

('I will feel comfortable if someone gives me gas money,' I wanted to say.)

"No, I'm fine. I just wanted to check," I said hesitantly.

"Great! You should head there around noon. I told them you would pick up the food at one o'clock and the actors will go on break at two."

I left the theatre right at noon. I merged onto I-94 and within three miles encountered bumper-to-bumper traffic. As downtown Chicago inched its way past my car Nikki texted me: "Georgia, I think you already left? Let's talk gas mileage when you get back!" So happy was I that I was actually going to get gas money out of the forty mile trip that it took a moment before I realized it was nearly 12:30 and Nikki had just realized I was gone.

Almost exactly an hour after I left Skokie Theatre and with the city of Chicago filling my rear-view mirror, I finally pulled off the interstate. The distance-tracker on my GPS displayed there was still another mile and a half to go. Strangely, I noticed that further I drove from the interstate, the more dilapidated the buildings became. By the time the congratulatory 'You Made It!' checkered flag appeared on my GPS screen, I was beginning to think a joke had been played on Nikki. Run down homes lined the street, thick steel bars covered windows and doors, a strange man with coke-bottle glasses, a severe limp and metallic wig shuffled along the sidewalk and clusters of boys about my age with saggy pants and dark bandanas stared as I drove by. The most well maintained building was what looked like a Hindu temple. It sat directly across the street from what my GPS told me was Pleasant Bakery: the traditional English bakery. Unfortunately, Pleasant Bakery looked more like Piss-Poor Bakery with its cracked and falling down faded yellow letters and holes in its facade.

I parked in the projects behind the bakery and walked the half block to the front of the building. Like the surrounding tenements, Pleasant Bakery, too, had thick steel bars lining its windows and doors and a padlock chain for extra security. The windows were so clouded that I couldn't discern any sign of life inside. I stood outside the front door for a moment and looked around. I wondered seriously whether I would even find the door unlocked or not.

There is only one word to describe the inside of Pleasant Bakery: "charming." Upon entering the building, I did a double take. Where was the shack I had entered? Where was the dirt and the grime and the crumbling inside to match the rundown-warehouse-full-of-scatters exterior? Pleasant Bakery was nothing shy of a pleasant diner.

Let's start with the smell -- that place smelled AMAZING. The moment I walked through the door I was hit with a wave of savory meats, roasting vegetables, and all other fumes associated with a meat pie or beef stew. A group of college students sat in a corner, each marveling over what the other had ordered. I assume they were writing some sort of review on the bakery because they had each selected a very different entree from one another and were setting up mock studio shots for each dish.

The room itself was simple and classic. The walls were made of dark wood paneling and the floor a beige tile. All the seating was made of half-booth-half-chair and the whole interior had a very homey feel. A counter cordoned off a third of the room. Two women in business suits stood in front of the counter, intently discussing with the cashier what they should order. Behind the cashier was a flurry of activity: men unloaded sheets of pies from large furnace-like ovens; they sprinkled powder over baked goods; some beat dough, sliced meat and chopped vegetables; others carefully squeezed swirls of cream onto desserts.

After fifteen minutes of debate, the two business women finally decided on something to eat. I stepped up to the counter, gave the theater's name and was handed three medium-sized boxes. A cook in the back asked me where the theatre was located (it's not actually called Skokie Theatre). When I replied Skokie, three of the men hooted and exclaimed that that was a long way to drive. "You have no idea," I replied.

Exiting the bakery twilight zone, I looked around the street once more. I was not mistaken -- it was a rundown ghetto. Perhaps the owners of the bakery purposefully destroyed the outside of their building as a means to prevent theft (their food wasn't cheap after all so I'm sure there is some money in there). I envisioned the cashier and some of the cooks taking hammers to the exterior of the bakery. As I rounded the corner with my boxes I stopped short. Two guys in the baggy jeans and bandanas were circling my car, staring into my back and front seats. As I neared, one of them seemed to study my license plate. The sound of the car unlocking itself, however, jolted them both out of their trance. They looked at me, almost as if surprised the car actually belonged to someone. "Um...hi," I said. Opening the door and jumping inside.

The two guys watched as I pulled away. On my mile and a half journey back to the interstate I passed Shuffling Metallic Man, another eccentric looking man-woman with a teacup sized Chihuahua, and two Asian girls who may have been dressed up as Anime characters for Halloween or that was just how they looked. In Bridgeport it's hard to tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment