Sunday, December 8, 2013

Every Day I'm Shuttlin'

As many of you know, one of my jobs is as a shuttle driver for Heartbeat Theatre. Recently, I have been lucky enough to start working as a House Manager and Box Office Associate, but, as one of only three people who passed the insurance test to drive the shuttle, I am still primarily a shuttle driver. This job typically consists of driving the shuttle (which is actually just a minivan so none of us had to get a commercial drivers license) from Heartbeat Theatre to a parking lot about six blocks away. Once there, the shuttle driver sits in the van anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. Your job is to wait until a patron parks in the lot and then you drive them to Heartbeat (or one of the other two theaters in the Rogers Park neighbourhood that we help out). During the performance the shuttle driver hangs out inside Heartbeat Theatre and once the show is over you drive the patrons back to the lot.

Pretty simple, right? You're probably thinking, "How do you not get bored with the same routine night after night?" The answer is: yes, there are nights when I am so bored with shuttle driving that I literally just stare at my cellphone and watch the minutes go by. Back when the sun stayed up until 8pm I would sit in the van and read. I use some of my shifts to catch up on phone calls from the week and recently I have started bringing my laptop and working on various personal essays. However, there are those nights when the act of shuttle driving is more active than it should be...

Blame It on the Maintenance

The shuttle van is old. For the past year I have been telling people that the van is from the 90s, but I recently learned that that was incorrect (which I will get to later). The back door has a button on the handle that passengers inside the van must press before they can pull the door shut. This constantly confuses people and they will tug with all their might at the door, totally disregarding me in the front seat saying, "You have to push the button. No -- the button. It won't release until you -- oh I'll just do it." Then there are those who press the button and, because the parking lot is not a flat surface, the door starts to slide shut on its own. Most people will turn to me triumphantly and beam as the door takes about two minutes to slide shut. When the patron realizes the light inside the van is still on they will look from the door, to the light, to me like a dejected puppy. I get out, open and shut the door, and then explain that the van is too old and was not made during the time of automatic doors.

The middle seat in the van has also given each shuttle driver a fun experience from time to time. I believe the minivans that are created now have seats that fold down and create a flat surface. The shuttle van, however, still has good ol' seats that click into tracks on the van floor. When you want to take the seats out you have to somehow lift, pull, and slide the seats through the hatchback. Putting them back in is equally as complicated and tedious and sometimes you think the seats are securely in their track, but they're not. No worries, though! The shuttle driver will realize this error while driving patrons around. If only one person is sitting in the middle seat and is sitting on the end of the seat rather than in the middle -- well then that person is in for a treat when the van hits even the most minor of bumps and WHOOPS! The seat has flipped sideways, trapping the more-often-than-not very old person between the now perpendicular seat and one of the van doors. This also happens when someone is trying to slide out of the van and the flipping seat acts almost like a springboard and launches the person out. I now keep one hand pressed down on the seat when people slide out so that it happens less often. There's sadly nothing I can do when the seat flips while I am actively driving. Usually I just say, "Welcome to nonprofit theatre!"

Perhaps the biggest maintenance issue of all has been the windshield wipers. Last December, I drove the van from Heartbeat to the lot for a special event we were having that night (an interactive stage reading). The performance was sold-out and we even offered dinner service an hour and a half before the show. It was snowing, but the kind of snow that actually sticks to your windshield, so as I drove up Morse Avenue I turned on the wipers. It was obvious that the wipers were on their last legs because they dragged heavily across the glass and made an obnoxious squeak as they moved, but, like I said, Heartbeat is a nonprofit theatre so you basically have to use something until you literally cannot use it anymore (or, rather, you cannot gaffe/duct tape it anymore).

I was halfway between the theatre and the lot when the windshield wiper on the driver's side flew off. One moment is was there and the next it was just gone. I immediately pulled over and retrieved the wiper from the road. The black blade had snapped clean off, while the metal rod that keeps the blade in place was still attached to the van. I called the theatre, explained what happened, and was at a loss as to what I should do. Water was collecting pretty significantly on the windshield and the metal bar was bent so much that I didn't think the blade could snap back into place. "Just make it work," the Box Office Manager told me. "Just pick up the people in the lot, come back here and we will gaffe tape it."

Now, I will admit that this is the one time I have ever been unhappy with Heartbeat Theatre. I mean, there I was, driving a van that would be full of people very soon, it was snowing, the sun was setting, I was holding a windshield wiper in my hands, and the solution was to tape it back on?

I arrived at the lot and people immediately began walking towards the van. I got out, holding the blade in the air. "Can anyone fix this?" I asked. "It flew off on Morse and I don't know how to get it back on." One of our regular patrons helped me snap the blade back onto the metal bar, but warned that it was in no way a permanent fix. I told him that the Box Office Manager would be meeting me outside with some tape to secure the blade into place. He gave me an incredulous look. I smiled. "Welcome to nonprofit theatre!"

Flash forward to October of this year -- ten months after the windshield wiper blade flew off on Morse Avenue. Now, both blades have been gaffe taped onto the van. The blade on the driver's side has started to bend dramatically and it leaves 1.5 inch-wide streaks of water in places where the blade no longer touches the windshield. The other blade is missing a piece of rubber and makes an excruciating metal-scraping-glass sound as it moves pathetically across the windshield. All three shuttle drivers have expressed concern over the dilapidated wipers, but to no avail. "We don't have the money," is the main explanation we are given. While this excuse is annoying and made most of us think to ourselves, "Well then you drive the van when it's dark and raining and tell us how safe you feel," it did not really upset me until one night when it began to pour.

It was one of the last days of sold-out show. I had shuttled so many people to and from the lot and the theatre that I knew it was going to take at least two trips to get everyone back to their parked cars (and there was a second evening performance that night). My first group squeezed in and as I pulled away from the theatre it was immediately clear that the wipers had finally given up on the van. The wiper in front of the driver (me) only cleared away water at the very top and bottom of the windshield. The other one took water off in random patches and continued to damage everyone's eardrum with its piercing scrape. The rain fell harder and harder. After just two blocks I apologized to everyone, pulled over at a gas station and wiped the windshield off with my sleeve.

As the van continued down the road I kept my eyes glued to the windshield. I have always known that windshield wipers are useful because they enable you to see more clearly in the rain and snow, but never before had I realized how detrimental they are to actually being able to see. In my mind I always thought, "Water is clear. You can probably see through it well enough." I was wrong - so so so wrong. Lights and shapes blended into each other and the entire van was eerily silent as all the passengers realized just how little I could see. I kept my eyes peeled for pedestrians who may decide to cross the street without regard for moving cars (which happens often). In the six blocks between the theatre and the lot I pulled over three times to clear the windshield with my sleeve. There was one narrow road that I had driven on so many times that day that I drove down it through pure memory.

When I finally reached the lot, you could physically feel the tension in the van release. Everyone thanked me profusely and two couples got out to inspect the windshield wipers. A young man removed the driver's side windshield and replaced it with the noisy one -- it made a horrible sound, but at least it cleared some water off. He handed me $10 and his girlfriend told me that it wasn't safe for me to have to drive like that. Another man handed me $20 and said, "Get new windshield wiper blades." I called the theatre from the lot, explained the situation and said that we were now down to one blade and a man gave us $20 to get new ones. There was no excuse now. During the second show that night I drove to Auto Zone with the man's donation and the company credit card. I bought new wiper blades and found, to my utter disbelief, that the van was actually a 2000. Who knew! (Although this does mean it is almost fourteen years old now...)

Blame It on the Passengers

Again, you would think that driving a minivan in between a theatre and a parking lot that is only six blocks away would leave little room for people to demonstrate any sort of eccentricities, but sometimes that seven minute car ride can feel like a half hour.

First of all, Heartbeat has children's shows during the day on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes, the kids who go to see these shows are not thrilled about life in general (this usually happens when the adult that is with them makes the child leave their Gameboy in the car) and they throw temper-tantrums during the entire ride. Then there are the kids who openly fight with the adults in the car, or bicker with their siblings and for some reason feel the need to drag me into the fight. 

My favourite child passenger, however, was a little boy who climbed into the backseat with his mother. I usually take a back alley to get out of the parking lot, but since it was under construction (due to an four foot wide hole in the ground -- an actual hole that went down about six feet) I had to take a right out of the lot, a right onto the next road, and then one more right after that. As I pulled onto the third street, the little boy sat very straight and narrowed his eyes at me in the rear-view mirror.

"We just made a U-turn," he said.

"Because we just made three rights? Yes, we did."

His voice was stern. "I know where we are."


"Yeah. You just made three turns and now we're back on Clark..." He continued to stare at me.

"Honey," his mother said, putting an arm around him, "I think she knows what she's doing."

"I know where we are," he repeated.

"We're headed to the theatre," I assured him. "It's all one-way streets so I have to make all those rights to turn around."

"We're on Morse now," he said, still not breaking eye contact.

"Yes. We are. You're very good."

"I just want you to know that I know."

My next group of paranoid passengers came about two weeks later. Two men pulled into the lot, parked, and got into the van. Since I was shuttling for both Heartbeat Theatre and another theatre in Rogers Park, Steinbeck Cabaret, I asked which show they were going to. Before either man could answer, a cellphone began to play the theme song from The Twilight Zone.

"One moment," the taller of the two men said, "it's my wife. Hello?"

His earpiece was turned up so high that I could hear everything his wife said. "There is no shuttle," she said. "There is no shuttle!" I looked around the parking lot to see if I could see another car. Every now and then an unobservant patron will park in the lot and immediately call the theatre to say that the shuttle is not there. Usually I will be looking at these people and waving at them while they talk on their phones, totally oblivious to the van that says "HEARTBEAT THEATRE" in giant red letters.

"There is a shuttle," the husband responded.

"What?" the wife snapped. "No there is not. What do you mean there is a shuttle?"

"There is a shuttle."


"Right on the corner of Morse and Ravenswood. Just like the map said."

"There is no shuttle."

"What theatre are you going to?" I asked.

"Heartland," the shorter man responded.

"Heartland?" there was no Heartland Theatre in Rogers Park, but there was a cafe by that name. "You mean the restaurant? You're going to go there before the show?"

"No, we're going to the Heartland Theatre."

"Hmmm...there's no theatre by that name. What's the show?" He gave the name of a show. I hadn't heard of it.

"What's happening?" the wife demanded.

"We're trying to figure out where we're going," the husband responded.

"Where are you?!"

"We're in the shuttle."


"Honey, there is. We are in a van."

"Hello!" I called. The wife didn't respond. "What do you mean you're in a van?" she asked.

"Are you going to the Kentwood?" I asked. There is a third theatre in Rogers Park that Heartbeat sometimes shuttles for. Kentwood is not a typical theatre with a regular season, but instead just a theatre space that companies can rent. I was unaware that there was a show going on at Kentwood, but assumed that I had just not looked closely at the Shuttle Schedule, which normally lists all of the theaters we are driving for.

"Yes!" the shorter man responded. "The Kentwood."

"Huh. I didn't realize they had a show."

"What did she say?" Miss Paranoid chirped. "She hasn't heard of the theatre?"

"I've heard of it. I just wasn't aware that there was a show going on right now."

"Do you drive there?" the husband asked.

"Yes." I began to reverse out of my parking spot.

"Where are you? Are you by the Metra tracks?"

"Yes, dear, we are by the Metra tracks, on the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood. Just like the map said."

"What kind of car are you in?"

"It''s just a van. It's a shuttle."

"I promise I am taking you to the theatre," I said.

"See, honey? The nice young lady promised that she is taking us to the theatre."

The wife was silent. "That's not funny," she said.

We began driving down Morse. As we did, the wife asked for street-by-street updates of where we were. It was then that I realized she legitimately believed I was trying to kidnap or in someway harm her husband and his friend. The husband tried to joke around and say that we were suddenly entering Evanston or jumped onto Lake Shore Drive, but it was clear that the wife was having none of his tomfoolery. The shorter man kept handing me one dollar bills each time the wife snapped about wanting to know why they weren't at the theatre yet.

When we finally arrived at Kentwood, two older women immediately walked to the van and greeted the men. They did not even glance at me. A young girl came out of the theatre and I rolled down the passenger window. She introduced herself as the House Manager. "So...who are you?" she asked. Finally all the puzzle pieces clicked into place.

As I said before, Kentwood is not a regular theatre. Therefore, each time a show is put on at that space, it is an entirely new theatre troupe. Sometimes the theatre troupe contacts Heartbeat and asks for us to shuttle for them. They have to pay us for this service. The current theatre troupe at Kentwood did not know anything about the shuttle service and therefore did not pay for it. When the two couples researched the parking situation at Kentwood, they were directed to Heartbeat's shuttle site because Kentwood had not updated their website since their last show (which Heartbeat did shuttle for). Therefore, when the two women were dropped off at the theatre and mentioned the shuttle, the current theatre troupe must have told them that they did not offer that service. Then, when the wife called her husband and learned that he was in a van -- well it is easy to see why she freaked out. She knew there was not supposed to be any van and yet there he was, being driven around by some crazy young girl.

The House Manager told me to refuse anyone else who showed up at the parking lot since they were not paying for the shuttle service. Luckily, no one else arrived for Kentwood and when I picked up the two couples they were talking excitedly about the show they had just seen. As the four passengers left the shuttle van, the shorter man gave me a few more dollars since he knew I did not have to pick them up and the wife of the taller man turned to me before she shut the door. "I am sorry I thought you were a kidnapper," she said in complete sincerity. "It happens to the best of us," I responded.

So there you have it! Just a little taste of the surprisingly eventful world of a shuttle driver. I have left out other fun tidbits such as drunk people throwing glass bottles from third-story windows at the van, crazy people who try to come up to me in the parking lot and make conversation, patrons who thought I was actually a taxi, and a near-miss T-boning by a CTA bus. Needless to say, this job has given me a whole new appreciation for the people who make their living as a shuttle driver. Always remembers, dear readers: tip your shuttle driver! They have to put up with a lot of shit.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The CTA: A Travel Guide (Part I)

The Chicago Transit Authority. Also known as the CTA, or, if you are talking about only the train system, the El (for Elevated). The CTA comes in various coloured lines: red, purple, brown, pink, green, yellow, blue, and orange. Like the plethora of Chicago neighbourhoods, each line is unique in its route, service, people, and reputation. Let’s go through each colour before beginning your CTA journey:

First, a small map to help you visualize:
Red Line: If there is a “main line” in Chicago then this is it. Spanning from the northern tip of the city – Howard – to the very end – 95th/Dan Ryan – this line runs straight through the center of Chicago (and is one of the few lines that runs underground). One of two trains that operates 24/7 this line is possibly the most diverse line. You start at Howard (aka Sketchville where there are signs in shop windows of a little child saying, “Don’t shoot me. I want to grow up!”) and then travel south picking up bohemians (Rogers Park), college students (Loyola), businesspeople (Fullerton, Belmont), international transplants from Asia (Argyle, Chinatown/Cermack), Yuppies (Bryn Mawr, Berwyn), drunk frat boys (Addison), tourists (Chicago thru Jackson), and homeless people who just want somewhere to sit, sleep, and be safe for a few hours. There are some people who deem this line one of the more dangerous lines (because there are robberies and altercations sometimes, but come on – we’re in a city) and avoid it after 5 p.m. However, those of us who travel the Red Line every single day – and have, at one point in time, been on the train between all the 24 hours of the day (it’s the fastest/cheapest way to get home at 4 a.m.!) – we simply describe it as eclectic.
Blue Line: The other 24/7 train line of the CTA. Full of college students and young families who do not really want to live in the suburbs, but also cannot afford to live in the city. This line primarily stays in the western half of the city except when it travels east to enter the Loop. (The Loop is what the city center is called – i.e. downtown. It’s called the “Loop” because all of the train lines meet there and loop around the downtown – except the Red Line, which runs straight through.) This line is most known for taking people to and from O’Hare, being 24/7, and, most recently, head-on, unexplainable-it-must-have-been-an-equiptment-failure train crashes. 
Green Line: This line has the worst reputation of all the colours. It runs from Oak Park to Chicago’s Southside (not the geographic Southside like Hyde Park and 95th/Dan Ryan, but the bad Southside that’s known for lots of violence). Like the Red Line, most people do not enjoy riding this train after dark and there is normally a separation between white people at the front of the train and all other races at the back of the train. Clearly this has nothing to do with segregation, but is instead fear-related (the closer one is to the conductor the safer they feel). I once walked into the very last car of the Green Line to ride from Oak Park back to the Loop and the people I was with stated, “Are you crazy?? We have to go to the front where the conductor is!” Personally, I have never had a problem on the Green Line, but then again I have never taken it south of the Loop. It is also the one line where I have heard first person accounts of being mugged. This line is as diverse as the Red Line, but the Southside aspect seems to make the general public forget that it also travels to Oak Park (aka Yuppieville). 
Yellow Line: The Skokie Swift. This line takes passengers to a from Skokie, a boring suburb most known for Orthodox Jews and a gigantic outdoor mall. It was deemed “swift” because it picked up at the Howard stop (end of the Red Line) and dropped off at the Dempster station without any stops in between. The line has since gained two more stops (whoa!), but is still known as The Skokie Swift. It is also only three to four train cars long, thus making it look like the "special train."
Orange Line: This is the Midway train. It takes passengers from Midway Airport at the southern end of Chicago, travels north to the Loop, and then heads southwest to a few of the neighbourhoods-that-are-almost-suburbs. From what I have been able to tell, people mostly take this line to transfer to another line or to go to Midway Airport. (Also, as a side note, for a train whose primary purpose is going to and from the airport, it should copy the Blue Line and be 24/7 because anyone who flies out right when Midway opens or comes in super late has to either take a taxi or bus.)
Pink Line: Chicago’s newest El line. I honestly do not know much about this line except that it takes people directly west like the Green and Blue lines, but it stops much sooner than those two colours. I like to think it’s main purpose is to take people to Pilsen, a neighbourhood of Chicago set in the industrial area that is slowly becoming an artist-haven.
Purple Line: The line that runs from the tip of Evanston to the Howard station. This line also runs “express” to the Loop during the morning and late-afternoon rush hours. This is an amazing train if you catch the express because it runs parallel to the Red Line, but skips about 14 stops. Deemed a “safe” train because it is full of Evanstonites (i.e. business people, Northwestern college students, and the generally wealthy/well-off). This train is also one of cleanest and has the best air-conditioning in the summer.
Brown Line: Also known as “The White People Mover” and the “Whitey Express.” This train travels through Chicago’s more affluent  neighbourhoods and, like the Purple Line, is typically very clean, polished, and full of less weirdos. This train is perhaps the slowest train, which is either due to all of the twist and turns it must make or the fact that most of the passengers are AARP members (or a combination of both). This train is sardine-packed during the morning and late-afternoon rush hours (re: affluent), sparse on the weekend nights, and ends at an inconvenient 1-2 a.m. 
Do’s and Don’t’s When Riding the CTA:

Do wear your headphones and sunglasses. This way people will not talk to you. If they do, you can either a) respond accordingly or b) act like you can’t hear them and are in your own little world. It is also an excellent way to eavesdrop on interesting conversations.
Don’t talk loudly on your phone, talk loudly to your friend, or listen to loud music. This will cause other passengers to wish bad things upon your person, possibly accost you, and maybe even smack you in the face with their yoga mat (I may or may not have “accidentally” hit a man in the face with my yoga mat when he was yelling into his phone to his “bitches” who didn’t realize what a “fucking fine ass motherfucker” they were dealing with. Everyone on the train glared at him -it was clear we were minutes away from tossing him onto the electrified tracks - and sometimes you’ve just gotta hit these people with a yoga mat. Namaste, asshole.)
Do bring a book. It’s going to be a long ride. (My every day 45 minute to an hour commute on the El has caused me to become a reading fiend! I have gone through six books in two months. I haven't done that since entering Summer Reading Programs in grade school.)
Don’t freak out when you smell smoke. CTA trains catch on fire more often then you’d expect and the conductor has a nifty little spray bottle for leaning out the window and extinguishing these. Or you’ll have a fun adventure of being ushered off the tracks by the fire department.
Do brace yourself when the train starts to move and starts to stop. You do not want to be that person who topples over onto everyone else and then acts surprise that the movement of the train would cause them to do that. It’s embarrassing. 
Don’t be the jackass who takes up two to three seats to take a nap. There’s a special place in Hell for those people.
Do wash your hands after riding the CTA. There are some disgusting people on that train and possibly the source of the next worldwide pandemic. Disgusting acts witnessed on the train include but are not limited to: puking, peeing, snot wiped on the poles, spitting (everywhere), and the discarding of food. For a comparison of just how unsanitary the CTA is: I will (and have) walked barefoot on the streets of Chicago, London, and Aberdeen, Scotland. I will NEVER go barefoot on the CTA. Also, a friend contracted pinkeye from the CTA and I often get large welts from some sort of bug who has clearly learned that the El is the Country Buffet of succulent morsels. 
Don’t step onto a train before the other passengers have disembarked. There is a special place in Hell for these people, too.
Do expect the CTA to run swiftly and smoothly whenever you are not in a hurry and to stop frequently due to track maintenance, fires, hooligans, and because the conductor just feels like it whenever you are crunched for time.
Don’t play the Which Ball is the Cup Under? game. There are people who make their livelihood from these games and you will not win. Ever. The answer is: there is no ball. However, if you say that, then somehow the ball will magically appear. The real game you’re playing is: You Lose and the Ball Man Wins. 
And finally...
Do appreciate the CTA. Sure, it smells funny, people will preach to you, hit on you, pester you for money, and even try to sell you things, but all CTA riders should appreciate that the CTA even exists. No matter where you are in Chicago you are always at the most a two-block walk from a train or bus stop and, even with the recent increase in transit fares, Chicago has the cheapest public transportation system in the U.S. You can also travel several miles without having to do anything except get on and off a train or bus. Months ago I was driving in the car with my boyfriend and as he drove I immediately pulled out my iPhone to start playing a game. Bernardo* (I can't remember if I have ever given my boyfriend an alias on this blog so for now he will be dubbed Bernardo until I can remember what his original alias was) commented, "We can't talk? You immediately have to pull out your cellphone?" It was then that I realized how accustomed I had grown to the everyday equation: traveling = sitting and staring at your phone or reading a book. While this habit is a bit rude when riding in a car with another person, what a lucky way to pass time on your commute! Instead of sitting in traffic and having to pay attention to the other cars around you, CTA riders can mentally checkout and leave the hard-work to the train drivers.
In summary, the CTA is like a family: you've got your weirdos, your snobs, the smart ones, the high school dropouts, the hippies, the embarrassments, the ones you actually like and are friends with, and the crazy uncle who everyone is a bit leery around and generally tries to avoid, but in the end you've got to love them because they are always there (although they may not be terribly punctual) and, honestly, what other family do you have?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Recap: The Good, The Bad, and A Promise

Hello dear readers! Have I really not written a blog since May?? Man, has time flown by this summer! Although it is only August I feel like I am starting a completely new year in Chicago this month. Things have been quite hectic during the warmer months of Chicago. Thankfully, as Fall approaches I believe that the chaos of my own life will cool with the temperature: I have moved to a new apartment, fully settled into all of my jobs, gained some new responsibilities, and, in general, feel more relaxed and confident than I have in months. I know this sounds cheesy, but I will include a quick recap of the highlights from the past four months and hopefully you will  understand why I have not written a single word since May:

Grad School: To Go or Not to Go, That is the Ever Looming Question

Let's just get this section out of the way because this single...what should we call it? Event? Area? Anxiety-laden-organism-consuming-my-mind-and-body-like-a-flesh-eating-virus was the axis around which the rest of my life orbited and, at times, seemed spin out of control.

Towards the end of March I was fortunate enough to be accepted into two graduate MFA programs: one at Columbia College in Chicago and the other at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA. Both programs were a tremendous honour to be accepted into especially for someone as young as I am. I was able to attend Columbia's Admitted Student Day and quickly learned that this was not the program for me. The students that I met were very into metaphysical writing and the class I sat in on was based on the "un-paragraph" (which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which has that one chapter with absolutely no punctuation, indentation, or capitalization). I am a very traditional and realistic writer so right away I knew that this program was perhaps stretching the nonfiction genre further than I wanted to go, but I was also put off by the students' obsession with the faculty. The Creative Nonfiction MFA is only three years old and the faculty consists of three professors. One professor (the head of department) is a woman named Jenny Foster*. The students talked about how much they loved Jenny and her classes, how "cute" she looked while pregnant, and how they loved having brunch at her house. They talked about Jenny so much that I felt like Jan from The Brady Bunch when she exclaims, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" All of this combined with the fact that Columbia was able to offer me a total of $0.00 in scholarship ultimately led me to decline their gracious invitation into the program.

And then came GCSU. GCSU is one of the top Nonfiction MFA programs in the country. It is a wonderful liberal arts college that is located about an hour and a half south of Atlanta. I visited this campus and found it very charming, Kalamazoo College-like, and predictably Antebellum. I met with the director of the MFA program as well as a few current MFA students and knew that this program would be a great fit for me. Their writing followed a more traditional path and the Nonfiction Department encouraged collaboration with the Theatre Department. I was a bit nervous about transitioning from the thriving scene of Chicago to the small town of Milledgeville, which makes Brunswick, GA look like a metropolis, but I had high hopes that I would settle in nicely. GCSU also has a wonderful habit of funding as many students as possible and thus was the source of my stress for the past four months...

At the same time that I was informed of my acceptance into GCSU I was also told that I was a strong candidate for the MFA program's Graduate Assistantship -- a position that came with a full tuition waiver and an attractive stipend. For one month I was given weekly email updates saying "you are still in the running" and "as soon as you move-up on the waitlist we will let you know!" Clearly, this began to take a toll on my nerves since my going to GCSU rested on landing this assistantship (because everyone knows an MFA degree is not a money making degree and even the director advised against paying for grad school). During this month I wrestled with desire to stay in Chicago and my feeling that grad school was the smarter and more responsible choice. I was also plagued by "Do I tell my jobs? Do I not tell my jobs? Will I be able to give the standard two weeks notice? Will I be letting them down?" When the final word came back that I would not be awarded an assistantship because all the other people who were the top picks had said 'yes' I was both devastated and relieved. Obviously I was sad to not be "good enough" to have been offered the assistantship right away, but I was also happy to not have to leave Chicago and the life I have built here quite yet.

However, the director of the program said he "still really wanted [me] to join [the] MFA program" and set himself on a mission to find an assistantship in another department for me. I applied to a few and the director would often write to his colleagues about me, singing my praises, and copy me on the emails. One of these colleagues was the advisor to the school's newspaper, The Colonnade. The assistantship with The Colonnade sounded very promising and a position that was right up my alley! The advisor to The Colonnade emailed me to thank me for my resume and cover letter and said she would begin her "search in earnest" the following week. That was at the beginning of April. I never heard from this woman again even though I followed up with her multiple times.

Needless to say, by mid-July the process of applying for assistantships, constantly being told they were already filled but the vacancy posting had mistakenly been left up (this happened with five assistantships), being ignored by the Colonnade woman, and just an overwhelming feeling of not being good enough began to take a serious toll on me. I was irritable, depressed, quarrelsome with anyone close to me (i.e. parents and boyfriend), and had a general feeling of "my life is going nowhere!" I became so stressed that I am quite sure I took a year or two off my life. The MFA director was incredibly encouraging and always repeating, "Don't give up! There's still time (classes began on August 19th)! We want you here!" (Although, the thought 'Then why was I fourth on the Graduate Assistantship waitlist?' constantly gnawed at me.)

On August 1st I was officially offered an assistantship with the Nonprofit program that would begin January 1st. The MFA director said that his department normally does not allow students to begin mid-year, but he was willing to make an exception for me. Given everything I had just gone through and the extreme emotional/mental toll I had been feeling, I decided to say 'thanks, but no thanks.' Everything just felt too 'up in the air' and I was a little tired of feeling like the runner-up. The director said that he understood and deferred my acceptance until Fall 2014, when I will hopefully be more prepared for the assistantship search. Until then, I am extremely happy, calm, and relaxed to be spending another year in Chicago. Which brings us to...

The Living Situation: Get Me Out of this Hell Hole

As many of you know, I moved in with a girl from my college back in November. Fiona* was two years younger than me at Kalamazoo College and we had maybe spoken a total of four to five times. It's a long story as to how we ended up living together in Chicago, but let's just say it was a spur-of-the-moment-she-seems-nice decision. Not to go into too much detail quite yet, this ended up being an unwise decision on my part. Fiona and I were not well-suited to be roommates whatsoever and it was immediately clear that Fiona needed a "mother figure" in Chicago. I am probably one of the least maternal people out there. Friends and family would say to me, "She's just looking for someone to hold her hand and guide her through this." My response: "Time to push Baby Bird out of the nest!" We also differed greatly in the cleanliness department. For example, I like dirty dishes to be cleaned within 24-48 hours. Fiona didn't mind them festering for nearly a week and often forgot what dishes were hers. She even went to California for three days and was kind enough to leave her dirty dishes in the (extremely shallow!) sink. I also believed in flushing the toilet whereas Fiona had a bit of a problem with that and it was sadly not for environmental reasons (and this only happened with non-pee items!).

But I am getting ahead of myself. I need more time away from this experience to fully give it justice in a written form because as of right now it will simply be a rant (and a few of you did receive my special piece on "The Back Incident" so you already know a good bit about what I was going through -- to anyone who would like to read this, please email me at or message me on Facebook). A few positives did arise from this living situation: I learned the art of patience, I made great use out of having three jobs, and I was able to foster some new friendships because I needed people to hangout with while trying not to go home until after midnight or 1:00 a.m.

Yesterday, I officially moved out of the Uptown apartment I shared with Fiona and am now a resident of the wonderfully eclectic Chicago neighbourhood: Rogers Park. Rogers Park (RoPa) is also where Heartbeat Theatre is located so it is nice to have at least one job I can walk to.

I am again living with a friend from Kalamazoo College, but this time it is someone who I knew fairly well in college and hung out with on multiple occasions. In the week we have lived together, I can already tell that Bianca* and I are going to get along great. For starters, she flushes the toilet and I cannot hear her chewing from 20 feet away -- a giant leap in the right direction!

Positives and Promises

I want to end this post on a positive note. While this summer has been an emotional rollercoaster ride and the past nine months have made me feel like I was serving a prison sentence in my own apartment, there have been a handful of positive moments. I feel very settled in my three jobs and have thankfully found greater purpose within my marketing association (i.e. my day job). The people I work with are great and while I am not ecstatic to have to catch a train at 8 a.m. Monday - Thursday, I do like being with the organization (and there is a rumor going around that I may be asked to travel to New Orleans for a large annual conference that we host every Spring so fingers crossed!).

Heartbeat Theatre continues to be an amazing community of artist to work with and while I am only paid for Front of House work, I am very active in their storytelling group and volunteering with their special events. The Chicago Theatre is perhaps my least favourite of my three jobs, but that has more to do with some of my coworkers than the job itself. If the marketing association were to ask me to go full time then I would drop the Chicago Theatre in a heartbeat, but until then I do enjoy seeing the shows for free and making the occasional bartending tips.

I turned 25 this year and in honor of my milemarker quarter-century birthday I got a tattoo! It is a modified image of my father's art studio logo, which I got because, to me, it represents family, traveling, art, and being a military brat. I got it on my back and I won't lie -- that thing hurt like a bitch! Luckily, it healed quickly. Right after getting the tattoo my boyfriend took me on a surprise trip to Galena, IL for my birthday, which was a really wonderful time (even though I wasn't able to use the jacuzzi in our room because a fresh tattoo cannot soak in water -- drats!).

And lastly I want to make a promise that I will keep up with this blog more regularly than I have in the past. I know that I have said that before, but as this is the start of a new "year" in Chicago anda lot more. I have been writing for pleasure fairly steadily since graduating from Kalamazoo in 2010, but I have fallen off the bandwagon this year. Now that my work, living, and social life have reached a comfortable plateau I believe it is time that I treat my writing more seriously and remember that this is what I want to do for a living. I plan to start submitting more pieces for publication so maybe this time next year I will have a story in physical print and not just online!

Here are photos of the tattoo! My other blog-related resolution is to start including photos in my posts. The arms on the man (clockwise) are: glass blowing, photography, pottery, painting, and cinematography.

I am making some resolutions: eat better, exercise more, read more, and write

Thank you for continuing to read my scatter-brained blog. I hope most of my posts are entertaining and not bordering on a journal entry. I'll make sure to write again soon!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's In A Name?

                Last week a woman at my marketing office sent an email to everyone on our side of the building and suggested we throw a mini wedding shower for one of the girls who will be getting married next week. This did not have to be anything fancy; just a way to say “congrats!”, we’d all chip in for a gift card somewhere and we were invited to bring baked goods. I messaged the woman back and said, “I would love to bake something!” She responded that she was actually going to buy the baked goods, but, as it was going to be Diana’s birthday on our chosen shower day as well, I was welcome to bake a birthday cake. An avid baking enthusiast I welcomed this job. I already knew the cake I would bake, too: Gooey Butter Cake, a recipe someone had once made for a cake competition I entered and I had always wanted to try it myself.
                The day came and I took my normal two-train commute to my marketing job. Chicago was finally experiencing summer heat and I felt overdressed even in my light spring coat. By the time I reached the train I was a sweaty, uncomfortable mess, but, since my hands were full with a cake pan and coffee mug, I couldn’t remove my coat. The train was, as usual, crowded and I found the cake so dense that it felt as if I had a baby in my arms. I was stuck standing next to a door getting direct sunlight and by the time I reach my stop (45 minutes later) I was in a foul mood and cursing having accidentally volunteered to make a cake for Diana, who, truth be told, I wasn’t quite sure who in the office Diana was.
                A dose of The Daily Puppy helped brighten my mood as did all of the wedding decorations a coworker had put up the night before. Since the bride-to-be sat across the aisle from me, the carpet around my desk was riddled with fake rose petals, small metallic hearts and Cupids, and glitter – lots and lots of glitter. When the bride arrived we all stood around and ate handmade artisanal doughnuts from one of the most popular doughnut shops in Chicago (Glazed & Infused – so good that I did not change their name). There were pistachio doughnuts, maple glazed with bacon doughnuts, toffee pecan, bar mixture (a chocolate doughnut covered in icing, M&Ms, pretzels, and potato chips), banana nut cream, and so many more. They were amazing.
                The day then continued on as normal. When 3 o’clock rolled around I began to wonder if my cake had been forgotten about. I was pretty sure I knew who Diana was, but I didn’t know how to go about just bringing the cake down from the staff lounge without seeming like a total creeper. Diana and I had maybe talked once since I started this job two months ago. I thought about whispering to one of my coworkers about the cake, but that, too, felt awkward. I have only been with this company since late February, but my interactions with people didn’t really span outside of the four who shared a wrap-around desk with me. Finally, I sucked up the courage and emailed the woman who first initiated the party planning.
                “Now is the perfect time for cake!” she emailed back, “If your team is ready then just give Cody a nudge (or email) and I am sure he will get the ball rolling.”
                Cody is one of my supervisors and sits right behind me. I thought about emailing him since we often email each other casual questions and comments even though I could reach out my arm and touch him. Instead I leaned over our connecting desk.
                “Cody,” I said, trying to keep my voice down. Diana sat across the room. “Should we do the birthday thing now?” Cody stared at me as if I asked if we should feed the horse now. “Do you know what I’m talking about?” I asked. “Should I email you?”
                I then noticed that Cody was slightly tilting his head and pointing his index finger to the left. Diana sat to the left of us, but about three yards away. I looked at him curiously and wondered why he was being so secretive. Suddenly it hit me – Diana. The woman whose name I did not know and had just assumed by deduction that she was Diana – she was not Diana (I mean, her name could also be Diana because I know that it starts with a “d”, but that’s all that I know). Diana – the real Diana – was my other supervisor who sat right next to Cody. Luckily she was so enrapt in her email that she had missed mine and Cody’s entire interaction.
                Immediately my face flushed. I know Diana! I speak to Diana every day! Diana has taken me out to lunch, she’s read one of my published stories – I know Diana. For some reason I had grown to accustomed to hearing Diana referred to by her first and last name, Diana Stanley, that when I was told it was just “Diana’s” birthday my mind did not even try to connect the dots.
                Needless to say, I felt like an absolute moron. I quickly ran upstairs, grabbed the cake, recruited a few more people, and returned for the birthday festivities. I had been told that my coworkers were awkward at acknowledging people’s birthdays and never was this more accurate than when I was standing a couple feet away from Diana, cake in hand and her back to me, and everyone else just stared. I waited for someone to start singing “Happy birthday to you…” but it never happened. The office was dead silent except for Diana’s typing.
                “Happy birthday, Diana!” I finally cheered. Cody and I began singing, “Happy birthday to youuuu.” A few people joined in, but quickly abandoned the tune, leaving only Cody and I to soldier on. Diana was both surprised and overjoyed especially since no one had mentioned it was her birthday (Obviously or else I would have realized which Diana that email was talking about). If I do say so myself, the cake was amazing and within an hour there were only two squares left.
                All in all it was a successful day of celebrations. Next time I volunteer to bake a cake, however, I will make absolutely sure exactly WHO I am baking it for. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bring Out the Ark!

Well, dear readers, a State of Emergency has been called for the state of Illinois, specifically the Chicago region. It’s kind of funny that I would live through roughly ten years of Hurricane Seasons and hurricane floods on the coast of Georgia, and yet this is the first time I have experienced flooding that has caused a State of Emergency.

The rain began last week with little drizzles here and there. I wore my rain boots for the first few days, but stopped when there were no real puddles that needed to be waded through. Yesterday, however, I finally brought my Van Gogh rain boots back out from the closet and it turned out to be perfect timing. From up on the 58th floor, my office-mates and I watched as what looked like a smoke screen rolled billowed towards Chicago from the West. The screen turned out to be pouring rain and our views turned to sheets of white as the storm engulfed the Loop.

As the rain finally let up, we all began to notice that it was incredibly dark outside. It was 3 p.m. and already it looked to be nearly 8 o’clock. Lightning suddenly ripped through the sky, followed shortly by a thunderclap and the sound of water once again tumbling from the clouds. An interesting note to make is that thunder sounds different when you are closer to (and sometimes inside) the storm clouds. Instead of the typical BOOM, the thunder sounds almost like a dump truck full of metal that was relieving its load.
My Van Gogh umbrella fell victim to the Chicago winds last week, but thankfully a coworker has a stash of spare umbrellas for just such an occasion. I waited until downtown Chicago was no longer “in the red” on and bolted for the bus stop. The bus made it two blocks in 15 minutes before I finally decided that I could walk to my next job faster than the bus could drive. I thanked my coworker over and over for her umbrella as I walked eight blocks in increasingly heavier and heavier rain.

By the time I left my second job the rain continued to come down, but not quite as heavily. I went home, packed my bag for my weekend trip to Georgia, and went to bed. Around 3:30 a.m. I was awoken by a flash. This obviously gave me a momentary heart attack before I realized it was coming from lightning outside. The sky lit up and rumbled for a few minutes as I tried to drift back to sleep. Suddenly, a powerful lightning bolt brought daylight into my entire room and was immediately followed by a crack so loud that it not only shook my room and my nerves, but it set off a car alarm.

This intensity of thunder and lightning continued for some time. After about 10 minutes the owner of the disturbed car silenced their alarm and I was able to go back to sleep. Three and a half hours later I was showered and placing the last few necessities into my bag. My roommate (shockingly) left before I did (she’s usually not up until noon) and it was the first time I thought to take a peak outside and see how hard it was raining. I lifted my bedroom blinds and my heart stopped. The curb along my one-way street could no longer be seen. A rippling pool of water covered the whole block, leaving less than half a foot of the sidewalk free of flooding.

I had obviously been checking periodically to see how the weather for my flight would be and each time a red exclamation mark warned me about flashing flooding in Chicago – but I didn’t think they were serious! This was Chicago for god’s sake! A major metropolitan city! Who expects one of the United States’s major cities to experience flash flooding. That was the kind of stuff people out West on prairies experienced. Not the land of gangs, CTA clusterfucks, and the Cubs.

As if on cue to add to my slightly strained nervous, the skies opened up once more with monsoon-like rain and Zeus-is-pissed lightning. I sent my coworkers an “I think I’m going to be late email” and began to brainstorm the best way to get to work with a rolling suitcase in the middle of flash floods. Walking to the train might not be so bad. But would everything in my suitcase be ruined? I certainly couldn't hold an umbrella in this weather. A taxi? How much would that cost? My car? My car!

I dashed to the window and pulled up my other blinds. Typically, my car was parked directly outside my building, but I had lost my parking space over the weekend and was forced to park a block away on a cross street. Small sedans on my street no longer had visible tires and even the rims of a CRV were completely covered with dark brown water. I went to the windows in the living and in the 3rd floor hallway, but I couldn't see my car. Sunnyside, my street, was a lake – a fact that was only highlighted as an SUV drove down the block, creating waves that went over the roofs of each parked car it passed.

Screw getting wet, I thought. Odie needs me! (For those of you that are unfamiliar with my unnatural obsession with my car – his name is Odysseus, but his friends call him Odie.)

I placed my electronics in plastic bags, my hairdryer in a Target bag, and my passport in a zip lock bag (I take my passport even when I travel domestically). I put on my spring jacket on first because it was still a bit chilly outside and layered my rain coat on top. I shoved my feet into my Van Gogh rain boots and left the apartment.

Rolling my suitcase was a joke. I made it as far as the sidewalk before lifting the bag to my chest and sloshing through the flood water. A fire hydrant on my corner was more than half submerged and I was forced to walk on the curb as I crossed the street when it was clear that the water was deep enough to flow into my mid-calf boots.

I waded through the waters, keeping a watchful eye for passing cars. The last thing I needed was a waterfall over my head. Taxis trolled up and down the street, looking for those of us unfortunate enough to be walking in this weather.

Finally, I saw my car. Apparently the cross street was higher than my block because he barely sat in an inch of water. I breathed a sigh of relief and finally headed toward my train.

Since arriving at work the rain has yet to let up and word on the travel-street is that O’Hare International Airport is cancelling flights left and right. As stated before, Gov. Quinn has issued a State of Emergency and photos abound a flooding all over Chicagoland. Engineers have opened the flood gates of the Chicago River so that it can release some of its stress into the lake, a geyser erupted out of a too-full sewer by the Ravenswood Metro Stop (Google that!), the Chicago Sun-Times has started a live stream of #CSTstorm photos (one which I contributed), and a sink hole swallowed three cars (and one very surprised driver who is doing just fine at Northwestern’s hospital) on the south side.

Of all the times to leave Chicago! Luckily, I have two friends who live either on or just passed the street where Odie will be spending the weekend. I have asked them to alert me to any flooding on this street and then I will…well most likely panic since I’ll be in Georgia and heck if I can remember where I put his spare key (and his primary one is currently in my suitcase since I was worried I would need to drive him to safety this morning). Fun times!  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Oh What A Night

            The other night I walked to my usual train stop. It was cold and I practically waddled down the sidewalk due to all of my layers. My face still burned from the cold so really that was no help. There are two entrances to the Wilson stop and for some reason I decided to use the big one where the CTA personnel are stationed instead of the smaller, less frequented entrance. As I stood and waited for the Walk Symbol to let me cross the street I began twisting back and forth. I have a bad habit of dancing subtly to the music from my iPhone, but during nights when the weather channels says “feels like -3” I also do this just to stay warm.
            As I twisted, a figure on the ground caught my eye. Outside the Dollar Store window storefront, about ten feet away from me, a man was laying on the ground. People lying on the ground is obviously not an unusual site in any city, but he was on his back, which did seem odd. Normally, people on the street curl up in the fetal position or at least cover their head in some capacity. The man was also without any blankets or boxes or trash bags, which automatically labeled him as “not homeless.” His left leg was to the side of his body, bent at the knee, his calf parallel to his back, and the toes of his foot just grazing his shoulder.
            I thought about going to the man and asking if he was okay. Like I said, he had none of the typical makings of a homeless person. He wore dark jumpsuit pants with two white stripes running down the side; the kind sports players wear when they’re working out. His upper body was encased in a thick jacket, puffy vest, and a hood covered his head. Everything about him said ‘not homeless,’ but I hesitated approaching the man. Unfortunately, this particular corner of my neighbourhood is full of the most unstable people. Between the Dollar Store and Currency Exchange, the corner of Wilson and Broadway is rife with unsavory characters yelling at one another, yelling at passersby, mentally unstable people hassling the presumably stable, and so on and so forth. This corner is also known for a good bit of violence, but since my parents read this blog I won’t go into any further detail on that.
            I stared at the man and his unnatural leg. I thought about the times when I had been yelled at by crazies on the street and decided not to approach him. He was underneath a four-paneled, brightly lit window. If something was wrong, surely someone would have noticed.
            I crossed the street and walked into the train station. I paused at the door and looked across the street to the man. He hadn’t budged. I went up the stairs, beeped my card, and climbed the next set of steps to the train platform. I walked to where I could see the sleeping guy. A tall, lanky, hooded man stood over him. He looked like he was talking to the man. Good, I thought, someone is checking on him. I crossed to the southbound side of the platform and joined a super PDA couple in one of the CTA’s heat lamp areas.
            A fire truck from the station a few blocks from the train stop came tearing out of its garage. It blasted through an intersection and under the train platform. I texted a friend to see what she was up to and ask what time we were meeting for the improv show that night. My CTA Tracker app said my train would be approaching shortly. Mr. and Mrs. PDA were obviously anxious to have the hot box back to themselves so I crossed back to the northbound side of the platform.
            The fire engine was parked outside of the Dollar Store. Three policemen stood over the sleeping man and Tall And Lanky was nowhere to be found. Three firemen sprang from the truck. Two of them greeted the policemen while the third grabbed an emergency box from the side of the truck. Damn that man is drunk, I thought about Sleeping Man. Obviously the poor guy had gone on a bender and was now so wasted he couldn’t even rouse himself for the emergency responders.
            The fireman with the box put his hand on Sleeping Man’s throat. The other five men stood and observed. The man with the box walked back to the engine and put the box back in its designated spot. The cops said something to the other firemen and they nodded.
            I heard the rumblings of a train and looked south to see the lights of my train approaching. I took a small step back from the edge of the platform and looked back at what was happening on the street. The fireman who had been carrying a box had his back to me and was towering over Sleeping Man. The platform vibrated as the train began to slow down. The fireman shook out a white sheet that I hadn’t seen him holding earlier. He draped it over Sleeping Man’s body just as the train blocked my view.
            He’s cold, was my immediate thought. He’s cold and they’re covering him up with a blanket.
            The train doors opened and I waited as a few people exited the car. A man got onto the train in front of me and stood on the far side of the car, the one that gave a perfect view to what was happening outside the Dollar Store. I stayed on the opposite side of the car and strained my neck to see what was happening. The doors closed and the train began to pull away. I could still see the three cops and three firemen standing on the sidewalk. By their feet was nothing but a white blur.
            I arrived at Heartbeat a bit shaken. I am one of those people, I thought, someone is in trouble and instead of cause a scene I just look the other way. I am one of those people who let Kitty Genovese die!
            Now, it was pointed out to me soon afterward that not only was the man obviously dead before I even happened upon that street corner, but I had also done what any young woman would have done – do not approach the strange man who could most likely be drunk and/or deranged. Some people *cough*myboyfriend*cough* would quip, “That wouldn’t happen in a small town,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Had that man been lying on the ground on St. Simons Island I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to going over to him. Hell, I’m sure someone would have even witnessed the moment of his collapse and come running. However, a lot of things happen in big cities that do not happen in small towns. People are more likely to trust others in a small town. Like that elderly couple in Vermont who opened their door to two young men one night and were then brutally murdered. The point is, big city or small town, crazy shit happens. (We could also get into a gender discussion because I feel that a woman lying on the ground would garner great attention and concern than a man on the ground, but that is a discussion for another time.)
            I told a few of my coworkers of what I had witnessed. I was somewhat amazed that most of them guessed the man was dead by the second sentence. I continued to receive encouraging ‘you’re not a horrible person’ texts from my closest friends while I completed my shuttle driver duties.
            Once the play started, I set up camp in the box office so that I could kill the next two hours until I had to drive patrons back to our parking lot. Jenny and Christine began emptying all the trash bins to take to the dumpsters out back. As they made their way to the door I asked if they wanted some help. Jenny, the Front of House Manager, said, “No. Someone should stay in the theatre just in case something happens.” They left and naturally I logged onto Facebook.
            I had just begun looking at my newsfeed when I heard the stage door fly open. Now, Heartbeat is not a large theatre. Our house seats 95 people and the handicapped row is literally on the stage. Our seats go up from the stage like stadium seating. Patrons use the side door before and after a show, but in the curtain speech we ask that they please use only the stairs located in the middle of the theatre because if they were to use the door they entered through then they will be in the play. Sometimes people totally disregard this and just use the side door anyways – even if it’s being used as part of the set!
            This is what I assumed had happened when I heard that very door fly open. However, instead of the naïve-bathroom-seeking patron I was expecting, one of our ushers came tearing around the corner. “Call 911, a patron is having a seizure!” she exclaimed. Instinctively I grabbed my cell phone even though her words did not compute. I don’t remember this part of the play, was all I could think.
            “What?” I manage to get out. “They’re...what? Are – are they stopping the play?” I unlocked my phone. As I did I remembered that iPhones are built so that you can call 911 from the Lock Screen. Wow, I suck at emergencies.
            “No. I don’t think anyone knows,” the woman responded.
            A dispatcher picked up the other line and I began stumbling through a description of what was happening:
            “Hi, I’m at 6978 N Morse Avenue – Heartbeat Theatre. A patron has had a seizure.”
            “Okay, ma’am, where is the location again?”
            “6978 N Morse Avenue. We’re right off the Morse Red Line stop. Big black and white marquee.”
“How old is the person?”
“Umm...I’m not sure. We have old peop – 50. Let’s say no younger than 50.” I paced around the lobby, poking my head out the front door periodically to look for Jenny and Christine.
“Man or woman?”
“This is actually all happening inside the theatre. An usher just came out and said that a patron was having a seizure.”
I heard movement in the lobby. Our two ushers were supporting an older man and helping him to one of our couches. A woman stood to the side of them and I recognized her as one of my shuttle passengers. “Male,” I said into the phone. “The person with the seizure is male and,” I lowered my voice and turned away from the group, “I’m gonna say about 70 years old.”
Finally, I saw Christine outside the door. I rushed over, still on the phone with the dispatcher who was having a very hard time understanding the address I was giving her. “A man had a seizure,” I explained quickly to Christine. “I’m on the phone with 911 and the paramedics are on their way.” Christine’s eyes went wide and she rushed back down the ramp yelling, “Jenny!”
Within five minutes the fire department had arrived. The man was stable and alert and the older woman with him seemed almost humoured by the whole situation. In true Chicago theatre form, the play was still going. The paramedics, the sick man, the older woman, and the ushers all stood just outside the entrance to the theatre. Jenny put her head in her hands and turned to me. “I want to tell them to be quiet,” she said, “but I feel know.”
“Doesn’t feel quite appropriate?”
“I know,” she sighed exasperatedly. I did agree with her, though. The paramedics certainly seemed to be unaware of where they were and even our ushers began to converse at a normal speaking level.
As the paramedics wheeled the man out on a kind of stretch-turned-wheel-chair, I approached the older woman and asked if she wanted to be taken back to her car so that she could meet him at the hospital. She said ‘yes’ and we left for the van.
Once inside the van, however, I longed for the noise of the paramedics. How awkward was this going to be? Was she going to cry? Should I give her words of encouragement? Was she the type of person who got angry and lashed out at people instead of feeling sad?
To play it safe, I opted for neutral ground. “Do you know how to get to the hospital?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she responded. “I’ve been there many times. This isn’t the first time this has happened?”
“No?” I prepared for waterworks. Some sort of ‘I’m just so worried about him’ montage.
“Oh no. He has seizures all the time!” she said in the same manner someone would joke, “He gets lost all the time!”
“Is he epileptic?” I asked. Having dated someone who was epileptic I felt maybe we could find common ground.
“Nah. Just forgets to eat, that moron.”
“Ah.” This was certainly not where I envisioned the conversation going. “How long have you two been married?”
“Married?! HA! He’s my boyfriend.”
“Oh!” I did not do well at disguising the shock in my voice. “I’m sorry, I just assumed you two...were married?”
“We should be.” Her tone turned catty. “We’ve been dating for seven years! He’s a widower. I don’t know though. We’ll see if things change after tonight.” She added a smug chuckle and nod to herself.
By the time we reached her car I had also learned that the man had children, whereas this woman did not, and he had had a seizure on their very first date: “One minute we’re enjoying dinner with friends and the next – there he is on the ground!” (I felt she wanted to add, “That rascal,” but maybe thought it a bit disrespectful since he was currently in the back of the ambulance.)
The end of that night could not have come soon enough. I was exhausted, somewhat bewildered, and feeling a bit cursed. As I rode the train back to my El stop, I peered out the window to where the man had been laying on the ground. Nothing was there. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Police tape, chalk outline, flowers? I guess I was just hoping for some sort of remembrance to say, “A man died here tonight.” I didn’t know the man. I could not even tell you what ethnicity or age he was, but it made me sad to know that someone could just drop dead, anonymously on the side of the street, and four hours later there was absolutely nothing to mark what had happened.
I’m sure someone on St. Simons Island would have placed a wreath over the spot. In such a small town, something like that would have made the nightly news and be featured on the front page of the Brunswick News for the next two days. In Chicago, however, there wasn’t even a whisper of it. If you didn’t see it, it was like it had never happened.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cupcake Whores (Warning: Very Explicit Language)

Working part time as a barista and shuttle driver has allowed me to nurse and grow a love of people-watching. During my shifts as a shuttle driver I simply sit in Heartbeat’s parking lot (located 6-ish blocks away from Heartbeat) and wait for someone to park their car and get into the van. Sometimes I will sit in the parking lot for two hours and not have a single “shuttlee.” While this may sound boring, the hours go by swiftly thanks to the characters on the street. This is going to sound super voyeuristic, but it is fascinating the things people will do when they think no one is watching.
One man crossed paths with an attractive young woman. A few steps after they had passed one another the man turned, stared at the woman’s ass, and gave an approving smile. He turned around just in time to run into a large low-lying limb. He let out a guttural yell, threw his hands above his head, and kicked one leg into the air. Regaining his balance, he looked to make sure no one was watching. I pretended I had been staring at my lap the whole time.
On another occasion I watched as three teenage boys walked in between a few parked cars that were located diagonally from the van. They circled each car carefully until a white BMW caught their full attention. The boys peered into the car’s windows and even looked under the car. After about ten minutes of this they finally thought to look and see if anyone was watching them. Their eyes stopped on the shuttle van and I smiled and waved.  
Caribou, however, provides more fascinating people-watching because I can actually hear their dialogue. After working at Caribou for a month and a half I have observed one thing: people choose to meet in a coffee shop for almost anything, even meet-ups that should be in a private location. Last week we had a mini birthday party in our lounge with the fake fireplace. One couple came in every night for a week and interviewed a new nanny every day (and they brought their child with them, which was an unfortunate choice because he tried to destroy something each night). A man came into the store the other night, ordered a cup of decaf coffee, and then sat and stared at the wall for an hour. Literally. He did not pull out his phone, he didn’t not scribble notes or even drink his coffee. He simply sat and stared. He thanked my coworker and I for the coffee and then left.
One afternoon I got off of Caribou at 5 p.m. and decided to kill an hour and a half before I was to meet some family members for dinner at a restaurant down the road. I took a seat in a back corner of the store and pulled out my laptop. I gave my best friend a call to catch up. As we chatted, a man who looked to be in his late twenties entered Caribou, wheeling a suitcase behind him. He paid for a drink and took a seat at the table directly in front of me. I finished my call with my friend and plugged earphones into my laptop. An attractive blond woman entered the store and bee-lined to Suitcase Man’s table.  She sighed heavily and let her purse drop with a loud thump onto the empty seat. It was clear that she was pissed.
I began searching for a song in my iTunes. I sampled a few, but couldn’t decide which Broadway musical I was in the mood for. Between each song I heard snippets of the couple’s conversation:
“How was your trip?” 
Drowsy Chaperone? No.
“Good day at work?”
“Not really.”
Tarzan? Nah.
“I’m glad we finally got some snow.”
“I just want to know how the FUCK you could lie to me like that.”
My interest was piqued. In my freshman year of college I took a Playwriting class. The professor gave us a weekly assignment to listen in on conversations and transcribe what we heard. The exercise was meant to teach us how everyone has their own specific speech pattern. Without thinking, I started a new page on the Word document I had previously been working on and began typing the dialogue that began to transpire.
“You laid in the same bed as me,” the girl said, her voice not rising, but full of vehemence. “You looked me in the eye. You looked me in the eye as we laid in bed together and you lied to me.”
“I didn’t lie to you.”
“Well you didn’t tell me, did you?”
“Well no –“
“I would have liked to know when you were coming home on Sunday.”
“I didn’t come home on Sunday.”
“Yeah. Would have been nice if you had texted that to your fucking girlfriend.” Angry Girl was all about emphasizing her words. Suitcase Man simply sat and took the anger. I found myself automatically siding with him, the weaker party.
“We’ve been dating for over two and a half years,” Angry Girl continued, “and you’ve boiled it down to this. Literally you are horrible. I can’t believe you did this to me. You just had to say, ‘Tasha, I’m having a really hard time. I feel like I’m not getting enough love and attention.’”
“I tried.”
“Yeah, grabbing my boobs is one thing, but maybe try opening your fucking mouth.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What’s her name?”
Oh shit! I momentarily left the confrontation to type this information to my boyfriend who had started Instant Messaging me. When I returned it was like being thrown into an episode of Days of Our Lives.
“My mother had just died,” Angry Girl said. “I was going to therapy. It was nothing personal. I went over to his place after the funeral and cuddled. Okay, yeah. I liked it. You weren’t there; I needed someone.” (She began speaking faster and angrier so I began to lose what pronouns she was using at times.) Suitcase mumbled something and Angry Girl responded, “I was always attracted to you. I was never thinking about other guys.” Suitcase mumbled some more. “You were dressing up nice for work!” Angry Girl retorted. “You were flirting with her and she was baking you cupcakes. I mean, if you’re just eating another woman’s cupcakes that’s just fucking disrespectful.”
“The cupcakes didn’t mean anything.”
“When we first got together you told me how cheating was a big deal to you. Your dad cheated on your mum and they got divorced; your brother cheated on his girlfriend who he then proposed to; and then your girlfriends cheated on you – I mean what the fuck? Now you go and start dating someone else while you’re still dating me?
“We weren’t dating.”
“Sorry – fucking. You started fucking some other girl while we were still fucking.”
            “Everyone cheats on each other.”
           “Everyone cheats on each other? Pieces of shit in your head. Literally all you had to do was open your mouth one time.” (Suitcase mumbled something inaudible.) “You’re moving to North Carolina?” Angry asked. “When?”

“I dunno. Two months probably. I’ll stay at Rob’s place until I go.”
“Where are you going in North Carolina?”
“You’re just going to up and leave? Things get a little hard and you just move?”
“It’s what I do.”
“Which is why you moved here from LA.”
“What the fuck, man? You are seriously fucked up. You just run from place to place.”
“I will put your stuff in trash bags and leave it at the front desk,” Angry responded.
“I’m traveling for business tomorrow.” Suitcase’s tone became suddenly defensive.
Angry crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Okay.”
“You have all of my suits. I need those for presentations.”
“I’ll put them in a garbage bag and leave them at the front desk when I get around to it. Probably won’t be by tomorrow, though.”
“I need those suits. You can’t just hold my clothes hostage.”
“I could throw them out the fucking window, but I thought I’d be better than that.”
“Come on, just let me come up and grab a few things. That’s all I need. I need my suits, Tasha. I can’t go on a business trip without suits.”
“Go buy one.”
Now Suitcase was really pissed. “I’m gonna call the police and tell them you’re holding my stuff!”
“If you can afford to take this girl to Mexico, you can afford a new outfit for work.”
“Goddamnit, I didn’t take her to Mexico.”
“No, you two just kept planning your business trips at the same time. I wanted to go to Mexico, you know. I asked if I could go and you said it was a ‘guys only’ trip.
“I didn’t want you to go.”
“Well it’s fucking obvious why now. It was just you and your whore.”
“You can’t hold my stuff hostage for a fucking week!” Suitcase was getting so upset I wondered if he was about the get physical. “Just give me one piece of clothing!”
Angry studied her nails. “Okay...I’ll have to see what I can find,” she said nonchalantly.
“Can I have my computer, too?” Angry didn’t respond and continued to look at her nails in an approving manner. “Please? You’re really being horrible.” (Ha! Hello, Pot, this is Kettle. I believe you’ve met.)
“Are you kidding me?”
“Hey,” Suitcase threw his hands in the air, “I’m the one being civil here.” (Stupid, stupid man.)
You’re being civil? This is civil? You just feel bad that you were caught!”
“I’m a fucking piece of shit. I get it.”
“You’re dating another girl.”
“We’re not dating!”
“You went to Mexico together.”
“That wasn’t a date! It was just a trip – you say you were attracted to me, but how was I supposed to know? You didn’t want to have sex! You were always pissed off.”
“I was going through the worst fucking tragedy of my life. I lost my mother and my best friend, I mean that’s something the really only happens once in your life so I’m pretty sure things were going to get better if you had just waited.”
I was finally so invested in this conversation and relationship that I fought the urge to get up and just call the guy an asshole to his face. I thought about texting one of my coworkers to bring Angry Girl a free drink.
“Everyone’s parents die,” Suitcase said.
“Not when you’re in your twenties! You seemed so much more than just sex when we began dating.”
“We drifted apart.”
(The next few moments of the conversation were to low and hurried for me to hear, but I caught that Angry Girl found out about the affair because she didn’t know when Suitcase was coming back from his business trip. She went into his email to find his flight itinerary and instead found a plethora of emails from Tori Murphy: aka Cupcake Whore.)
“I thought about putting your laptop in the sink,” Angry said, staring daggers at Suitcase. “But I decided to take the classy route.”
“I threw away all of your corks, though. We were collecting them to make a table together. I threw yours away.”
They were silent for a while. Angry was still leaned back in her chair, arms crossed, staring at Suitcase, who sat hunched and staring at his hands in his lap. “I hate you,” Angry finally said. “You suck.”
“And unlike me, your girlfriend is ugly and has an eating disorder.”
And with that, Angry agreed to grab a few of Suitcase’s clothes from her closet while he waited in the lobby.
Two days later, Angry Girl walked into Caribou and searched through our rack of cards. I waited for her to come up to the counter and thought about giving her a free drink. I knew that the gesture would probably reveal what a creeper I had been in listening to (and transcribing!) her break-up, but I decided it was a risk worth taking. If our roles had been reversed I certainly would appreciated a free drink! Unfortunately, she decided she couldn’t find the card she wanted and left.
It’s a shame I never got a good look at Suitcase’s face. I’d like to cough into his next drink or give him 2% milk when he asks for skim. Taste my vengeance!