#109: The Void

January 7th, 2013

The young guy yelled “Hey!” as he walked by, then turned back to giggle at me shooting up in the seat and swinging my arms around.

“We’re here,” he said.

“Oh. Uh,” I said, wiping my mouth to make sure there was no drool. “Thanks.”

It had been one hell of a party, but now I was back in Chicago. The train had pulled into the station, the blasting whistles and shrieking of brakes not enough to rouse me from the camaraderie- and Hoegaarden-inspired sleep that fell over me about 10 minutes after we pulled out of Aurora.

I pulled out the earbuds that had at one point in my trip been playing the Judge John Hodgman podcast and meanderstumbled off the Metra and into Union Station. I checked my phone. It was 12:20 a.m.

I remember thinking there were a lot of people waiting for the train, silent suburbanites done with Friday night Chicago and ready to go the hell home. They were as bullheaded about getting on the train as I was about getting off.

The escalator took me up to what I hoped would be a full and open food court full of delicious hot things for me to eat. I was embarrassingly far into the court before I remembered it was now nearly half past midnight and there was no way on earth the food court would be open.

I walked past a little dining area where, hours earlier, I had seen a woman make huge and elaborate hand gestures to a man she was sharing a little table and meals boxed in Styrofoam with. The hand gestures were wild enough to distinguish them from what had been a crowd also eating meals packed in Styrofoam. I remember absently wondering if the two were dating.

Now it was empty.

Chicago is creepy when empty. All places made for people are. I guess it’s never really empty; “empty” in a major city means there are only 10 people on the same block as you. But it feels hollow and odd to have a place built for thousands inhabited by dozens. It feels odd to move among wide corridors with only a smatter of co-walkers. It’s weird to be reminded of what alone is like.

Outdoors was wide and beautiful and cold and so empty. Downtown at night vacates. The bars and nightlife are in the neighborhoods. The residents are too. The river reflects the fake starlight from office building windows that slowly snap on and off as janitors make their rounds.

The first cabbie waiting along Adams was waiting for someone specific. I hopped into the third cab and mumbled my address.

He took the expressway and we sped under the dark and city lights, alone along wide lanes packed by thousands during the day.

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