Last Friday began, bright and sunny, to an alarm at an early hour. My days have lately taken on a routine: wake to alarm, ready self for work, call the temp agency, hear that they have no last-minute appointments, then wait for them to call back with that last-minute work that will help me pay the gas bill AND still be able to go out to dinner. Though Friday was no exception to this pattern, ending with no call, a part of me was secretly thrilled.
You see, on Friday, I had an alternate plan. My friend, a nanny, had charge of one baby instead of two. This meant she could move about town freely, and I could join her. We both found ourselves in the sad state of never having seen our beautiful city by boat, so an architectural boat tour it must be! After a few hours of reading and an episode of the Daily Show online, I dressed to meet my friend downtown. For some reason I felt festive, and dressed to the nines. I bounced out of the house and enjoyed every minute of my walk to the El, ipod and all.
I waited on the Damen platform in the sun, basking in the fall that was due to us through all of September's heat. A train came shortly, and I made my way to a standing perch halfway down an aisle.
I soon began the business of observing people and trying to avoid being observed doing this. The fellow in the seat in front of me, dressed in fatigues, was my first subject, on account of his terrible gum smacking. Ugh. Next I scanned the ads on the slopes of the car's ceiling, then looked down the aisle at the lucky few who had scored standing room in the coveted spots by the doors. A guy with a large backpack, a very hipster looking girl, and... the bassist from Wilco.
Fuck. It's John Stirratt. John Stirratt is on my train. Though I haven't seen Wilco an obsessive number of times, I've seen them a few different places. I also may or may not have seen and loved "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." Stirratt always sticks out to me, because he looks like a kid I went to college with. Wilco has held a special place in my heart since September 2005, the first time I saw them and the first moment I remember feeling good in my haze of post-graduation depression that summer of 2005.
I feel my eyes grow in circumference and my mouth fall open an inch or so. I quickly look away and immediately begin sweating. I mean, sweating. I think for a second I may faint in this hot train car, which has by now made its way underground en route to downtown. My hand slips and slides its sweaty way down the pole. "Pull it together Beth." I take a big breath and will myself to calm down. It works a little.
I sneak another glance, because maybe it's not him. Oh no, oh yes, it's him. It's definitely him. I inch my way down the aisle, an easy task because for some reason Fatigues Gum Smacker has left his seat and is crowding me all the way down to the area by the doors. I have the distinct feeling he's trying to graze my ass with his hand, with his backpack, with anything at his disposal. I squirm around and find myself not six inches from Stirratt. I put both slippery hands on the pole and try for some subtle observation. He is wearing nice jeans, camel-colored suede shoes that look pretty comfy, and a jean jacket over a tshirt of unremembered color. He looks pretty tan, and up close he is older than I expected, closer to my parents' age than mine.
What to do? My brain runs circles, but the one thing I know is that I will never stop regretting it if I don't say anything. I look at my fellow passengers and wonder a) why the hell they don't recognize this ROCK STAR on our train, and b) how badly I'll be embarrassed if these people hear me geeking out over this unassuming man who is just trying to live his Friday.
I formulate a plan. When we get to my stop, at Clark and Lake streets, there is a likelihood that he'll exit the train. There are always a lot of people who do. I will step off the car slightly behind him, catch up to him, and try to gush without looking like a creepy stalker. I will tell him that I love Wilco, and I love Chicago. But then we come to Clark and Lake, and he makes no sign of leaving the train. I take advantage of our slow approach to dive in before I can overthink it.
"Hi." I smile in my nicest, least creepy way.
"Hi," he smiles back, friendly as all get out, and looks away.
"I'm sorry, but are you...?" I trail off, not wanting to mispronounce his name.
"Oh, yeah. Yes, I'm in Wilco." He sees that he is not going to get away with so little conversation. "How are you?" He smiles again.
"I'm great, how are you?" I'm beaming.
"Good, thanks. Thanks for listening."
"Oh, I just... nice work!" Oh lord. I pause, looking for something, anything, better than 'Nice work.' "So, do you live in the city year-round?"
He is the nicest person alive. "Yes, I'm just up in Logan Square."
"Oh cool! How fun! I just moved to Bucktown." I'm blowing it and I don't even care. We've come to my stop, and I have to jump out before the doors close. "Go Blue Line! Have a good day!" is all I can manage before leaping out the doors, smiling smiling smiling. I walk to the exit, ride the escalator up to street level, smiling smiling.
I'm smiling, even though my head is saying, "Go Blue Line?" (I'm reminded of a time-honored tradition in girl world - "I carried a watermelon?") I reach the street, phone in my shaking hand, and call the friend that I know will appreciate this best in the world. "Beth," he says about two minutes into my mad recounting, "I can't understand a word you're saying." I suppose shrill doesn't translate well to the phone. I meet my girlfriend on the river, dance around her and the stroller, telling and retelling her about my new favorite Chicago moment.