She was a middle-aged woman with gray-blonde hair pulled back in a functional ponytail. She gave off an aura of likability from behind her yellow safety vest.
Her smile was weary — I got the sense it had been one of many long days in a row — but it was genuine as well. I recalled a line from Roald Dahl about only trusting people whose smiles went all the way to the eyes.
And she towed a little red Radio Flyer wagon behind her. I liked that too.
It was night on the north end of Navy Pier, across from the line of tourist attractions promising a fun faux Chicagoana with Ferris wheels and fat pizza and views from so far away that the city seems safe and kind.
On our side, it was just the bus terminal and a line of headlights. The audience of “The Tempest” production I wrote about last week waited to make their way to the roads and highways to take them home.
The woman with the little red wagon and the reflective yellow safety vest walked in front of the line of headlights, stopping momentarily to heave an orange road cone a little closer to the other three cones and the rumble strip that blocked off any new traffic trying to enter the Navy Pier lot.
Then she kept walking, towing her little red wagon behind her in a way that just made me have to ask.
“Because the cones and the strip are too heavy,” she said, smiling.
She was Navy Pier staff, of course. And the wagon wasn’t hers. The Radio Flyer was a convenience that had been bouncing around different departments for who knows how long.
“Guest services used to use it to haul their literature until they got a-”
She broke off the conversation here to yell friendly encouragement at a line of old lady Shakespeare fans sitting by the light.
“You’re OK to go, people!”
She turned back to me as the cars timidly sauntered past.
“Until they got a full cart. A dolly.”
She never stopped smiling that genuine, weary grin the whole time we talked or the whole time she directed traffic or the whole time she heaved and hauled road cones and a rumble strip at 10:10 on a weeknight using a children’s toy.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain how much I liked that, or her.
She turned back to the line of cars, directing her encouraging shouts to one old lady in the front who was attempting to drive out into the night with only her daytime running lights on.
“You might want to turn your lights on all the way!” she said, still smiling in the glow of headlights and a closing pier. “There you go!”