The woman’s eyes followed the cup’s path down to the table, then traced back up the waiter’s retreating arm.
She looked back at the cup, then back at the waiter. Then back to the cup.
Then she tittered. Little chuckles escaping as she stared at the cup of coffee sitting between her and the leftover slices of deep dish pizza.
“It’s so huge!” she declared in a Lyon-tinged accent. “And weak!”
Her husband and I chuckled as the woman explained how she could see right through the coffee.
“I love my country very much and we do many things very well,” I said. “Coffee is not one of them.”
Everyone has their fallback job, the blank in the “I could always go back to _____” we use to comfort ourselves during hateful times.
In 2012, I decided I needed to fall back, so I pulled the ripcord, broke the “In Case of Emergency” glass and found myself a tour guide again.
Unlike past jobs yipping Chicago trivia over the loudspeaker on a boat, my 2012 guiding took me to the walking tour world. With a bright red cap and T-shirt, I would squire visitors around Chicago, up and down the Sears (not Willis, never Willis), and here to Giordano’s for Chicago-style pizza before we headed down Michigan Avenue, then the Red Line to Chinatown and back.
It was a long tour.
But it was a long tour where I met a young rural couple who saved up for their first vacation together.
It was a long tour where I bonded with Minnesotans over weather one cold spring morning and envied them for their awesome Habitrail skyway tunnels.
It was a long tour where a man battling cancer showed me his new tattoo of a Band-Aid at the spot where they always drew blood.
And it was a long tour where this happy young French woman gently teased our coffee as her husband pelted me with questions about stockyards.
I tried to explain the difference between the AL and NL rules as we walked by the Art Institute lions. They told me about their son over bubble tea in Chinatown. We spent hours talking and laughing and sharing on this poorly planned walking tour through this wanderers city.
Then the tour ended, as all the tours did. And I would say goodbye and head home to strip off my red cap and shirt and soak my feet. And the cancer survivors, Minnesotans, rural couples and French women who thought our coffee was too weak would go back to their vacations and from there, their lives.
And we would never see each other again.