My trip from the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City coasted along from the Iowa hotel, to the airport shuttle to Cedar Rapids, to the flight to Chicago, and on to the L train headed to the Loop.
Problem number one began with the announcement of L track repairs. After settling comfortably onto my seat, shifting my heavy backpack to the seat beside me, securing my rolling suitcase between my knees, and taking a smug selfie with an iced mocha frappechino, I was soon up and running out the door, down an escalator, out of a station, down a sidewalk to waiting buses to take us to the next stop.
It was hot. At least 100 degrees. I was sweating, no longer smiling.
The first bus was full, but the driver motioned me on. I hoisted my aging self with heavy backpack and heavy suitcase onto the bus. I was standing in front of the line, next to the bus driver, where no one is supposed to stand. There was nothing to hang on to as he lurched forward. I lunged for a pole, knocking a big man in the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I have to hang on to something.”
Then, with my right arm twisted behind me, right hand affixed to the pole, my body facing forward, my left hand latched to my suitcase, I weaved and wavered on my feet for at least twenty minutes while we careened down city streets, rounding corners at great speed, me wondering when this expedition was going to end.
At one point, I thought I may just faint. After all, what was a 77-year-old woman doing getting herself into this predicament? She should have known better and taken a cab to the city.
But I couldn’t. I still have my Ventra Card; it costs $5.00 to travel by train to the city, and a cab costs $50 plus tip. A no-brainer for my finances. (Marv would have groaned in despair about my pigheadedness and said, “Cabbies need to make a living too, you know.”)
But no, I’m out to prove that my body is in sync with my mind which is stabilized at about age 39.
I made it onto the next train, then to the Clark and Lake station, down to the street, walked Lake Street to Wabash, then up to Wacker Drive. “I’ve got this,” I thought, using younger people’s vernacular, and being soaked through with sweat. “Only three blocks to go.”
Not. Waiting for a light on Wacker Drive, I felt a tiny tap on the middle of my back (problem number two) which held my backpack. Instinctively, I whipped my head to the right. Sensed a movement behind me. Saw no one. Whipped my head to the left. Sensed a movement. Saw no one. Pivoted halfway around. Spotted a man, 50ish, dressed in navy and white like a doorman, a few feet behind me, turned with his back to me, looking intently at his phone.
The light changed. I crossed the street, and again sensed someone behind me. As soon as I hit the curb, I stopped abruptly. Turned right. Sped through pedestrians to the windowsill of a building. Turned and saw the man slip down the side street. Slid off my backpack, placed it on the windowsill.
All three zippers were unzipped completely, gaping open. An outer one with my purse and iPad jammed in, a lower smaller zipper with my phone visible, and a pocket inside of that with my credit cards and money. I quickly scanned the insides, and it looked like everything was still there.
One more intersection and he might have had me.
I proceeded to my hotel, thinking that guy was good. Very good. One tap and all three zippers wide open. Wow.
At my hotel, my room was not ready. The receptionist asked if I wanted to check my suitcase and backpack with her so I could leave and roam the city. I’d had enough excitement by then, so said I’d wait. I’m familiar with this hotel, so I got ice water from a dispenser, sat down in the lobby, and hugged my bags next to me. The a/c revived me a bit, but my leggings and tunic top looked as though I’d worn them swimming.
When I finally got my room key, I trudged to the elevators, then to my room. Swiped the key. No luck. Swiped again. No luck. Swiped a third time. No luck. Went back to the elevator, lugging my things, told my tale to a housekeeping attendant on the elevator who told me not to just swipe, but hold it awhile, so I went back up the elevator, down the hall to my room, touched and held, touched and held, touched and held. No luck. Definitely, problem number three.
So, with my leg muscles having declared a time-out, I limped back to the elevator, down to the front desk, told them my plight, got a re-keyed key. “I’ll have an engineer meet you at your door,” she said, “to make sure the key works this time. The engineer came. No luck. He said he’d be back in a minute. In a minute he came back with a crowbar. In another minute, I was in my room.
Never, in my fifty years of living in and around Chicago, have I had such an eventful two hours. Once the engineer and his crowbar left, I collapsed, so happy to be back in my favorite city, unscathed, and only hot–very, very hot, and unable to move.