OVERHEARD IN CHICAGO
Me: “I’m not sure how I feel about taking a “girls only” trip.”
My Daughter: “It’s not like anyone’s asking you to, Mom.”
GIRLS’ WEEKEND IN ATLANTIC CITY
I first mentioned my friend Anita (a/k/a The Goddess) a couple weeks back in an earlier post. Anita is my go-to, my mentor, my friend, my partner in crime. Although we come from different cultures, we became fast friends. As a matter of fact, our differences intrigued us, since at times we made assumptions about one another. We had alternating religious views, our own unique foods at holiday celebrations, different outlooks on life. Heck, we even had vastly different hair but still managed to share hairstyling tips with each other.
But for all our differences, Anita and I also knew how to have fun together. In other words, if she came up with an idea, I was immediately on board.
And that’s exactly how it all started, back when we worked together at Winston & Strawn, the oldest Chicago law firm. We were both secretaries, working for litigators. That meant busy days and overtime into the late evening hours. Heck, a few times we pulled all-nighters in order to meet court deadlines.
When it was all said and done, though, we enjoyed the work. As well as the overtime pay. Some weeks we worked so many overtime hours, our payroll department was obligated to give us two checks on payday. It was those extra dollars in our pockets that led Anita and me to consider a mini vacation for ourselves. A treat for all the hard work we’d been putting in through the winter months. April was just around the corner, and thoughts of spring entered our minds.
“There’s an ad here in The Defender for a coach bus trip to Atlantic City for the weekend,” Anita mentioned, as she perused her daily newspaper at her desk. “If I go, do you wanna come with me?”
“Sure, I will,” my 21-year-old self said, all too eagerly. After all, what was there to think about? Mention a road trip, and I jumped at the opportunity. “Um, where exactly is Atlantic City?” I naïvely asked.
“Hmm, I’m not sure myself,” Anita admitted. “Let’s look it up in the law library. They have an Atlas map there.”
Always willing, I followed my friend down the corridor of our law firm. As always, men’s eyes followed her down the hall, since she has as many curves as Lake Shore Drive. I still didn’t know why she hung around with me. For one thing, she was eight years older than I and clearly more mature. Plus, for the life of me, I couldn’t compare with her engaging beauty. Everywhere we went, people stopped to catch a glimpse of her – yes, she is that striking.
We stopped at the law library’s reference desk. “Excuse me, José,” Anita said softly, her eyes tender and innocent. “We need to take a peek at your Atlas.”
José’s own eyes lit up at the sight of Anita before him. “Sure, here you go,” he grinned. “Anything else I can do for you today?” he suggested, as he handed the catalog to her.
He held it tighter as she tried to take the book from her hands. “C’mon, now, let go,” she giggled. Jose’s smile great broader as he flirted with Anita, while I stood watching, mentally shaking my head. How does she do it?
The next Friday evening my father drove me to Anita’s apartment; we were picking her up before heading to Goldblatt’s parking lot, where we were scheduled to board the charter bus to take us on an overnight trip to Atlantic City.
“Thanks for driving, Mr. Van Howe,” Anita said kindly, as she slid out of the front seat.
My dad held the door for her as she alighted. “Please, it’s Howard,” he insisted. As I struggled removing my own heavy bag from the back seat, Dad went on to lift Anita’s luggage from the car trunk. Anita stood by sweetly, allowing him to do the gentlemanly thing. If my father had worn a hat that night, I think he would have tipped it at her.
“Bye, Dad,” I called back, as Anita and I headed toward the bus. The coach was already half loaded with suitcases. Scores of passengers milled about, wishing good-byes to family and friends. Their excitement was contagious, as I grew more thrilled about getting away for a fun-filled weekend with my good friend.
Dad stood at his car, watching us as we waited our turn to board the bus. I turned around once more to give him a wave. “Bye, Dad!” I called over to him. Dad, standing taller than most folks, cupped his hands around his mouth, getting ready to shout to me from across the parking lot.
“Don’t get pregnant!” he bellowed, before ducking back into his vehicle.
I stood there, suitcase in hand, mouth wide open, and was at a loss for words. Anita chuckled, while several others in line peered over at me to see what all the fuss was about.
Finally, we were inside the crowded bus, bumping into others’ luggage, impatiently waiting for the standing passengers while they debated over the best seats. As quick as she could, Anita squeezed past others in order to snag a pair of empty seats toward the rear of the bus, so we could sit together. I scooted in first, leaving her the aisle seat. Our bags stored securely overhead, we settled in for our adventure, talking excitedly with other passengers, until we heard our tour leader’s voice on the overhead.
“Thank you, thank you everyone,” he announced, as he waited for us to settle in.
He held the driver’s microphone, waiting for everyone to quiet down. “I want to thank you all for joining us on a fun-filled weekend trip to beautiful Atlantic City, New Jersey!” We clapped politely, waiting to hear more.
“We promise you all a weekend to remember. Atlantic City has everything: casinos, nightclubs, the ocean-side boardwalk,” he went on. “In a few minutes I’ll pass out $10 in casino chips to everyone on board.” A small cheer came up from the crowd. “That’s right, these chips I’m about to hand out are part of your get-away package.”
We clapped again, encouraging him. “Finally, let’s all give a huge thank you to Mrs. Andrews and Mrs. Pettigrew for making tonight’s on-board refreshments,” he went on. “Can we give them all a big hand?” He motioned toward two petite women in the front seats. The two ladies stood up, each wearing a wool coat with matching hat, complete with hatpins. They turned, smiling and nodding, while we passengers politely clapped a third time, showing our appreciation for our gracious hosts.
“Anita, what kind of trip are we going on, anyway?” I whispered.
“Knock it off, girl,” Anita whispered, elbowing my side. She clapped louder and gave a whistle for the two refreshment hostesses.
We heard the start of the engine and the driver shut the front door. We smiled at one another, as he cleared the parking lot and headed down 87th Street toward the Dan Ryan Expressway, toward the east coast. The ocean. Our weekend away.
The mood on our bus was lively, as folks happily chatted in anticipation of our destination. Anita and I talked together, imaging what our hotel room would look like, the sights we’d see in Atlantic City, and the fun we’d have. Things were going smoothly for the next 30 minutes or so, while the bus headed out of the city, heading east to head down Interstate 80.
Suddenly, a strong voice broke above the general din of the passengers. “Well, I’m all about believin’ everyone’s the same!”
It was a male voice which popped out from the darkened vehicle. Anita and I looked at one another, wondering what that was all about.
“Yep, I’m all for love one another and don’t believe we’re different,” the vehement voice continued.
This time there was no mistaking where it came from – directly across the aisle from Anita. Anita nudged my arm, wanting to break the tension. “What did you bring to wear Saturday night?” she asked me.
“Um, my blue silk dress,” I answered. Except I spoke quietly, because my heart had starting beating quicker. I didn’t know what more to say. That is, I wasn’t sure what to do. In an instant, I felt cornered in my uncomfortable seat wedged next to the window.
But this man was not to be ignored. “You ask me, everyone’s got a right to be here,” he said louder than before. Several others on the bus turned around, looking at him, then Anita, before resting their eyes on me. “You see, I’m just fine with that,” he ranted.
“Girl, we’ll just overlook him,” Anita advised. She opened a magazine and started flipping through the pages, browsing for anything to turn her attention to milder attractions. I reached down into my carry-on and pulled out a novel I had picked up from the library. I flipped on the overhead reading lights for the two of us, so we could better see our reading material.
Unfortunately, the fella across from us wasn’t satisfied and clearly wanted our attention. “Ebony and ivory, “ he started singing. “Live together in perfect harmony,” he sang, taunting us for a reaction.
I was getting nervous. Who was this guy? He was big, for one. And sitting way too close to us for comfort. Plus, Anita and I had nowhere else to go, as we were packed into a small bus, that barely accommodated 45 passengers. And from the looks of it, the seats were booked full. There were no other open seats that could accommodate us.
“Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t weeeeeeeee?” he went on. “Yep, I’m cool with whatever’s goin’ on in this here bus.”
I sat back in my seat, hoping to make myself smaller. I realized my body had tensed during the episode. I flipped through my book, quickly scanning the pages, but not truly reading. I was uneasy but wasn’t sure of how to handle the situation. Did I need to say something to him? I couldn’t think of anything that would appease him. I certainly couldn’t walk away at that point. We were on an interstate in Indiana, and any escape was futile.
At that point Anita had had enough of it. Her face went solemn – a rare thing, but when it happened, you’d better stay out of her way. She leaned over towards my left ear. I could feel her long hair brush my neck. “Let me take care of this fella,” she whispered.
Anita turned toward the gentleman. She crossed her legs and turned her torso toward him, folding her arms in front of her. “You wanna say something to me?” she challenged the provocateur.
Her expression said it all – Anita meant business. She gave it right back to him, daring the fella to go on with his rhetoric.
Except he avoided her gaze. Instead, he stopped singing and simply stared forward at the seat in front of him. As if nothing ever happened. Anita watched him another half minute, waiting to see if he was going to continue his taunting.
I gripped the edges of my worn book, rubbing my thumb along the spine, I could feel the soft threads of the binding. My eyes darted to Anita, who wasn’t giving in, and back toward the window, worried that the bus wasn’t going stop for several more hours.
I’m not sure if it was Anita’s stance, or perhaps the wiseguy’s wife, who sat next to him and possibly gave him a hard side jab. But that guy shut up just as quick as he started. He settled into his seat more, and I caught a side glimpse of him, and saw his hands relax, while his fingers played with the edge of the arm rest.
Anita unfolded her arms and turned back toward me. She leaned back, resting her head against the pillow-top headrest. She slowly closed and opened her eyes, giving me a reassuring gaze. It was the smile from my friend that I was now long familiar with. I felt safe. Reassured.
I gave her a small smile back, and she went back to her magazine. I turned to the right, gazing out the bus window. The evening was dark, without much light from the summer moon. I watched the car taillights, as they sped along the highway alongside us. The bus engine made a steady hum and I could feel the vibrations of the vehicle, its wheels steadily rolling toward our destination.
The soft din of other passengers continued, as I heard muted conversations, a couple laughs, a cough from a few rows back, and the sound of the crisp pages of Anita’s magazine, as she used her index finger to swipe through the pages, searching for an interesting article.
I settled deeper into my seat and pulled my denim jacket over my chest for warmth. Our bags were packed with our favorite dresses for that Saturday night. We each had our $10 worth of red chips for gambling in the casinos.
So there it was — me and my friend, Anita. The two of us were on our way to Atlantic City.
Different. But still together.