#439: The Ringmaster

February 16th, 2015

The man shuffled about the Grand Red Line station in the Friday night rush.

He was short, gray-haired and trim, surprisingly trim. He was in very good shape for a man his age. He was white and well-appointed, fashion-wise. A long, black coat was buttoned tightly around his suit.

He had a friendly smile that didn’t quite reach his deep, sunken eyes.

He paused to take a picture with a young Latino woman, then thanked her and looked around the train station for the next person to be pleasant at.

I walked up and reached out to shake his hand.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“Nice to meet you too,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel replied.

I met Barack Obama when he was running for Senate and Hilary Clinton when Bill was seeking the Democratic nod, so my Rahm encounter is toward the top of the list in terms of meeting powerful people when they were powerful. Probably #3 after House Speaker Denny Hastert when I was a reporter and the prime minister of Sweden when I was a kid (I believe his name was Ingvar Carlsson).

But soon my encounter with fame was checked by a more familiar encounter with Chicago.

The Friday night train was packed, as always. Due to terrible decisions, the Red Line trains have inward-facing seats, the reasoning being people would rather stare at fat Chicagoan asses than one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere. I suspect some CTA purchaser now owns a boat and a guest house on a $30K salary.

All races, creeds and colors come together on an ‘L’ train to, as one people, look surly and check their iPhones. Due to the date, they were joined by assorted men hoisting flowers and heart-shaped balloons.

At the far end of the car, a young punk stood holding its hair. I couldn’t tell if it was a woman or a teen boy. They often look alike and the tight pleather pants and spiked collar were not gender-specific enough to identify.

He or she was about five-six, but its hair brushed and bent against the roof of the car three feet above. Hair spray and product and, let’s face it, glue turned a long, flowing, center-cropped mane into a massive Mohawk.

Rather than a stegosaur fan, the Mohawk had been coiffed and glued into several long spikes, the length and thickness of yucca leaves. The he/she punk stood at a half-crouch with arms in the air, cradling two of the fronds in its hands to mitigate how they bent against the roof of the train car. Half the car faced the punk to watch.

How can Rahm run this?

I think he’s a thug whose best accomplishment is being a less-charming Daley, but I don’t envy Rahm’s job. (I also don’t think he should have it, but that’s a different matter. Go Chuy!)

But it’s an insane town, with engrained poverty and men hoisting balloons and punks who spend hours gluing hair that will bend against roofs. How can one person serve a city this odd? How can one person be all things for such a motley crowd?

Who could ringmaster this circus?

The train car, yucca-frond hair, heart-shaped balloons and fat Chicagoan asses jostled as the Red Line lurched north, leaving its trim, gray-haired king shaking hands at the station.

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