#185: Then Came the Din of the Crowd

July 3rd, 2013

The woman’s word was “pertly.”

She smiled pertly as she moved from table to table in the hotel lobby. She moved pertly too. Her long, blonde hair, as much a part of the waitstaff uniform as her blue button-up and her black slacks, bobbed pertly as she pertly sidestepped some inconsiderately placed luggage to bring me my scotch.

“Here you go,” she said. “Will there be anything else?”

I shook my head, too tired to be pert myself.

She started to make conversation, only the first part of which I caught. Then came the din of the crowd.

The crowd was of convention-goers. You could tell that by their packing-wrinkled suits, their too-big name tags dangling from disposable lanyards, their eager push to smash handshakes, pass cards and drink ‘em up good. Their laughs were loud. The women were overly made up. The men overly casual, ties loosened or missing to tell the world “I’m not all business” or “Mister Anderson is my father. Call me Steve.”

The waitress’ stab at conversation foiled, she left with a nod and a promise that my salmon dip would be up soon. She did it pertly.

If her word was “pertly,” the Marriott lobby’s was “posh.” I was on one of the outer arms of this galaxy of posh, its center a circular bar stacked high with bottles of all ends of booze underneath a glowing decorative cyclone funnel dipping down from the ceiling. A magnificent staircase arced down from the second floor, onto curved upholstered chairs circling round, black tables.

Posh were the seats. Posh was the slowly changing light that could vary the cyclone from cool blue to burning red. Posh and elegant were the staff, ready and eager to offer directions, advice or Wi-Fi passwords.

Then came the din of the crowd.

They laughed loud to be heard laughing and smiled broad to be seen smiling. Have a card, have a drink, where did they set up dinner? What’s the plan? What’s your name? Where are you in from? They roared and moved. Every joke a delight. Every idea nodded at with sage and savvy as they leaned in closer around the table to hear whoever was holding court on social media strategies and business directions.

I and my luggage, just back in town from a wedding and killing time rather than wrassle the rush hour CTA with a roller suitcase, sat at a small, round table surrounded by chairs that would soon be borrowed when the convention-goers saw I was alone.

I used my laptop on the table. I used my scotch there too.

A woman with a backpack scurried like a sheepdog to corral the crowd. Her word was “running.” Running around, running ragged, running down.

She had about an hour left in her, this one with the thin wires of straw-blonde hair shooting skew from what at one point was probably a pretty tidy ponytail.

Running, running, running she ran with an increasingly harried smile and a little card stuck on a popsicle stick. She would hold the stick up to gather one group of smiling, laughing, card-passing Mister Andersons to the door before the next heat let out into the lobby. She smiled at their stupid questions, cooed that she would get them an answer and then scampered off to stop drunks in lanyards from going where they shouldn’t.

Harried and running, this one. Both sheepdog and tired, run-down rabbit.

Then came the din of the crowd.

The crowd affected the rest of the crowd. Quiet tourists in shorts and polos had to raise their voices to be heard across their booths. Picking up the energy, kids went haywire, running when they would have walked, screeching when they would have asked politely.

“Is it always like this?” I asked my waitress as I took my salmon dip, raising my own voice to a stage yell.

“Sometimes,” she said, glancing to see that she wasn’t heard and doing so a little less pertly than before. “Usually it’s not so bad, but conventions are-”

I couldn’t hear that bit.

“-started my shift for tonight.”

“What time do you work til?” I asked.

“Midnight.”

“Yeeouch.”

She nodded, smiled and moved on, walking off pertly into the din of the crowd.

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You are currently reading #185: Then Came the Din of the Crowd by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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