It’s a car wash at the north end of Lincoln Square.
Damen is about to curve around the cemetery a hair to the north.
It’s dark and a man is whapping a floor mat against the brick base around an industrial vacuum. A dozen feet away, a woman is next to their car, leaning against the brick base around another industrial vacuum for people to clean their own cars.
She looks bored.
Whap. Whap. Whap. The man beats the mat against brick.
It’s a nothing moment. It’s nothing at all. Can I capture it?
Can I capture the eerie glow around the car wash’s signs? Can I capture the screaming cicada soundtrack and the whap whap punctuated by the occasional car cruising by the cemetery or airplane wailing among the clouds above?
Can I make anyone feel how sweat lingers on skin in the cool, humid air?
The night gets darker around the Super Car Wash sign. The man and the woman stand by one of the five self-clean bays, one of two bays adorned with signs that claim “Super Bay Extra Power 1500 lbs. Pressure $2.50 Per Cycle.” A shrill horn sounds from the factory across the street.
To the north, the cemetery. To the east, a horn-blowing factory where tight rolls of sheet metal wound like a giant’s duct tape are visible through a grate loading bay door. To the south, a lot surrounded by fencing. Construction equipment peeks over the enclosure.
Whap. Whap. Whap.
It’s easy to capture the big moments. Grab the dramatic image. A homeless man who hides his few possessions in a bridge. A yuppie alley that used to house the wildest club in Chicago. A little boy who really gets René Magritte. I’ve written them all in the last two weeks.
But this? This is nothing. On a stretch of road that’s about to curve past the cemetery, on a night so cool and humid the sweat doesn’t wick off, surrounded by the shrieks of cicadas, factory horns and O’Hare-bound commercial airliners, there is nothing.
Summer turns autumn. A man washes his car under bright lights. It’s garish and boring at the same time. It’s beautiful.
Am I good enough to make you see why?
I breathe deeply and let go. This nothing moment doesn’t need me. I move on.