Leaving the Room with a View
With all the views we've enjoyed of Chicago onboard Mazurka, this is our final view of the city from our temporary landlubber condo in the south loop.
I am on the goodbye tour, making the rounds to see friends before I leave. I have been in this city for 16 years, since I was 18 years old - my entire adult life. This is no easy process.
Tuesday I went to see my friend Denise Power in her condo near Lincoln Park. (Denise's story of the Obama rally is one of my favorite recent perspectives on Chicago.) From her condo, she has a spectacular view of the lake, the park, and downtown. Denise and her husband are also trying to sell their place, and while we were overlooking the city, she described to me how recently she realized she has stopped looking at the view. As if knowing she may have to give up the place soon has made her stop taking it in.
I knew exactly what she was talking about. My last few weeks on the boat, I kept telling myself I needed to study our view in Belmont Harbor, the way Lincoln Park looked in fall, the way the downtown skyscrapers shimmered at night. I will never see it again this way, I kept telling myself. But I couldn't make myself look; it was too hard to see it, knowing we were leaving. And in a way, I was already a foot out the door.
The next day I saw my friend Betty for lunch. Betty and I met a couple years ago, at a thank you brunch at Stanley's for Lincoln Park Shelter volunteers. I had been there with my volunteering husband for a few hours, had eaten breakfast and chatted it up and was just about to leave, when in comes Betty. It took less than ten minutes of talk for me to realize this was a fascinating person I wanted to know better. Betty is a writer, editor, and long-time volunteer of many Chicago organizations, who knows Chicago culture like no one I've ever met.
On Wednesday we spent a leisurely lunch at Stanley's, staying almost till supper, starting with the big topics (the move, the election, her thrice-broken arm), then moving on to the books we are working on (her book that has suddenly revealed its shape, my Mazurka book that has suddenly revealed its ending - and possibly the epilogue!), and then we got down to the random stuff that happens in our daily lives, which is my favorite part of talks with Betty.
She tells me about her electricity went out on a Sunday morning. She walked to Starbucks to wait to call an electrician. On her way inside she talked with the guy on the corner selling Streetwise, the $2 paper for the homeless. She sees him daily, and he calls her Betty St Louis, even though she's lived in Chicago a lot longer than her childhood under the arch. Betty tells the Streetwise vendor she is looking for a phone to call an electrician and he hands her his cell. She goes inside to sit by the window, opens the phone, realizes she hasn't a clue how to work it. She looks up at the SW vendor through the window and he comes inside to help her.
She finds an electrician who does the work on a Sunday morning for $65. She thinks he deserves more for a Sunday morning and he says, "Okay, $75."
"It helps being a little old widow," she tells me.
I laugh out loud. "I have never thought of you that way," I say. "You'd have to lose the edge and the wit."
A few days later the electrician comes by to check on her. He brings his girlfriend, who keeps rabbits and a rooster in her urban backyard. "They're a fabulous couple," Betty says, "They're weird - you would love them."
A few days later she is waiting on the street for a cab. A black stretch limo appears and the driver says he'll take her for the same rate. He charges her $5 for the trip; she gives him $7.
While we talk, people keep coming around to say hello to Betty. You would think she was Studs Terkel for how many random people know her and know her well. She remembers details of people's lives even though she can't remember where she met them. She epitomizes the best of living in Chicago - the warmth, compassion, and respect people can have for everyone they meet throughout the day, from the Streetwise vendor in front of Starbucks to the busboy at the restaurant to a friend you might not see again.
Eventually it's time to leave; I have to catch a bus up to Lakeview for another appointment. Betty and I part on the street. I don't start crying until she is around the corner.
On this goodbye tour, spending time with the people here who I love, listening to their daily lives, I am getting my last look at my daily life in Chicago.
The view is so extraordinary I almost don't want to look.