WHAT DO WRITERS (anyone, really) do with a blank page – waiting for some profound thoughts to appear before them. Ready to share their thought-provoking ideas with the world. Or somehow relaying a memorable (even poignant) story that others will relate to. Even cherish.
SIGH. That’s not most of us. Or, at least, it ain’t me.
I started this blog with the idea that I’d routinely write, sharing my ideas with others. From working in the city, living in the ‘burbs and everywhere in between, I’d confidently dash off stories or ideas that would shake things up just a bit. Or at least make people think about 30 seconds beyond the end of my postings.
Except that idea is unrealistic. Creativity comes in waves, carrying levels of energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes the story pours forth tremendously. Many times it simply drips, like an old bottle of barbecue sauce that’s been sitting in the fridge for months.
I’ve been dreading the thought of boring readers with listless prose, dull adjectives, and common themes.
Yet, isn’t that where my past stories came from? Real, everyday life? Authentic stories that hopefully others can relate with?
Yes, I will keep writing, even if I feel it’s uninteresting. I’ll push myself with a simple writing prompt…
“WRITE ABOUT YOUR YESTERDAY”
Simple enough? Yes, to begin with.
Let’s see where it leads.
Yesterday, I left my desk at 5:02 PM, giving me enough time to walk the 1+ mile trek to the Metra train station. I like to allow for a cushion of time – 5 minutes – in order not to rush as I start my commute toward the station.
I’m not a fast walker. Never was. Except now I’m of a certain age. Plus, there’s a certain knee replacement that I can always use for a valid excuse. I also know my right leg isn’t aligned with my left. In fact, the lower right leg stands out to my starboard side, rather than pointing forward like its left partner.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining. It believe it’s all part of me. What makes me – well, me.
I finished the first block and one half, as I crossed Lake Street, heading south down Clark.
And that’s where it always begins. That’s where I run into confused out-of-towners who are desperately trying to locate the CTA station.
The bus station is unintentionally hidden. Situated inside the State of Illinois building, with no decent signs pointing folks in the right direction. It’s a bit noisy there, with the El tracks running overhead. It’s also dirty with pigeon droppings at each crosswalk. Be careful where you stand, as you wait for a green light. You don’t want to wind up with bird poop on your head.
Tonight was no different from many, where an individual asked me for directions. I see the look in their eyes: they look at their phone, then the street signs, then search the surrounding area.
And the lost look stays in their eyes.
Some of them become bold. “Excuse me?” they ask. “Can you tell me where the train is to the airport?”
I point toward the revolving doors on Lake Street. “Head down there,” I tell them. “Once inside, you’ll see the CTA lines, which will take you to either airport.”
They thank me and rush off, trailing their suitcases on wheels, treasured phone still in hand, afraid to lose their lifeline.
Except yesterday’s lost stranger was a little different. There he stood with a stuffed backpack and his phone in hand. He was standing next to a sitting bus, trying to speak with the CTA driver.
But getting nowhere.
I watched his forlorn face tell part of the story. My eyes switched from him, then toward the bus driver, who sat defiantly in his coach seat, seemingly unwilling to assist. Already, I felt sorry for the poor fella, so I slowed a bit, already sensing he was lost and needed support.
He was young – probably about 22 years old, smooth skin unmarked from time or weather. His hair was dark, and his soft brown eyes showed naiveté. Already, my sense of motherhood was building up in me. “Please, please, help,” he said to me, walking closer. He held out his phone toward me, just close enough so that I could read the words on the screen.
I saw words written in Spanish. “Oh dear,” I thought to myself. “Here we go.”
It was a translation app he was using. Except the words weren’t quite making sense. My Spanish isn’t quite up to par, considering the fact that I only finished three years of the language back in 1981.
Might as well have been 80 years ago.
I reluctantly scanned his phone. My guard was up. I was downtown, after all, and I try to avoid getting too close to strangers.
“Need bus to O’Hare,” the phone read.
“Oh, are you going to O’Hare?” I asked the young man.
He looked at me but gave no answer. Didn’t he speak even a bit of English? I wondered. I recalled a few words from my first year of Spanish, hoping I wouldn’t make a fool out of myself.
“¿Donde calle?” I asked, looking into his soft eyes. Gee, I hoped those were the right words. I also worried that my thick Chicago accent wouldn’t hinder his understanding. I thought of my Spanish teacher, Senora Greensley, way back when at Morgan Park High School.
She would be unimpressed with me right about now.
Evidently, I did okay. The young man started typing on his phone and turned it toward me once more.
“Addison Street,” it read. My face must have shown my confusion. “Addison and what?” I inquired.
He punched in more details. By this time, I figured we were old pals, so I watched over his shoulder.
“Take CTA O’Hare,” popped up on his screen.
“Oh, okay! You want the Blue Line, I explained, pointing toward the building behind me. “In there,” I instructed, pointing even harder now with my finger. As if that would help the situation.
I received another blank look. I couldn’t let this kid walk away without helping him. He seemed so vulnerable, carrying his backpack, still looking lost as he took in the downtown scene around us.
“C’mon with me,” I instructed. This much he understood. He followed, as I quickly walked back to Lake Street, turned west and walked the ¼ block toward the side entrance. I thought about my Metra train that was another 9 blocks ahead for me. We’d have to make this quick.
“The signage here is terrible,” I noted, looking his way. “They need to do something about this for travelers.” He gave a half-hearted grin, and I could see relief washing over his young face. I kept up my remarks, figuring that if I kept speaking, he’d somehow understand me.
Inside the station, I pointed at the O’HARE sign. “Blue line,” I indicated.
Another blank stare.
“Azul,” I tried again. Hey, I remembered more than I thought.
Except he didn’t approach the turnstile. Once more, his phone came out. He typed his question into the app and showed me the translation.
“Need a ticket,” it read.
I glanced over at the electronic ticket booths. Did I have time to go through the screens, read all the prompts and then somehow translate them for this young man?
I did not.
I had an idea. “Here you go,” I offered, digging into my purse. I fumbled through several pockets, before pulling out my transit card. It had at least $20 value on it. I swiped the card at the turnstile for him, indicating that it was clear for him to go through.
“Azul,” I called out once more, pointing toward the sign on the wall, where an escalator took passengers to the Blue Line. I gave him an encouraging look.
He looked toward the signs, still a bit confused. “Thank you,” he called back, again showing me his grateful smile.
He really was a cute kid. I hoped he’d figure it out from where I left him and that he’d successfully find whatever it was on Addison that he was looking for. I waved once more before he walked away. A sense of pride washed over me… almost like sending my little one off to the big city for the first time. I thought I felt a tear coming on.
I headed out toward Lake Street, turning right to continue along Clark Street. My good deed for the day was done. Now, I had my own train to catch.
Memo to file: call CTA and ask if they’ll put me on retainer.
THANK YOU FOR READING – PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST