Young and black, dressed in the way that’s style to some and a night terror to others, he leaned over the escalator railing talking to everyone heading down to the subway platform.
“How ya doing? How ya doing? How ya doing?” he said to everyone as they scampered down the subway rabbit hole.
“How ya doing?” he said to me.
“Oh I’m doing fine,” I said, not looking back as I continued my scamper down.
A few seconds later, I heard a call after me.
“You’re the only one that spoke to me!”
I stopped on the stairs and turned around, looking up to the man as the escalator continued to carry him up. He was smiling.
“You’re the only one that spoke to me!” he said, smiling wider and pointing at me.
“You’re kidding me.”
Whatever he called back to me was lost by distance. I called back, “Well have a nice day!” and continued my scamper.
That felt like Chicago.
I walked around a lot on Tuesday night, enjoying the breeze and the hint of coming chill, the early darkness and the crisp night with city lights cackling reflections in the ink-black river.
A lot of it felt like Chicago.
It felt like Chicago when the wind collected garbage in a crook of the stone railing along the Wacker Drive sidewalk. A knifelike gust blasted it out of the corner, scattering the cups and napkins and sniggly remnants of Styrofoam packaging over the passersby.
It felt like Chicago to see a street person I recognize packing up for the night. He’s one of the men on Wacker and State who sit behind a cardboard box-turned-table Sharpied with declarations he’s a veteran needing help.
He was lifting the box to put it in the little shopping trolley where he kept whatever he owns to cart off to wherever he goes.
It felt like Chicago to recognize him.
It felt like Chicago to see the laughing tourists take phone selfies over the bridge.
It felt like Chicago when I saw a young woman whose beauty fell in the “staggering” category act as hostess for a luxury downtown bar. She was flawless to look at, pristinely coiffed and clad and inked and lipsticked.
As she interacted with the patrons, she seemed… fine. OK. Normal. Adequate. Like you or me or anyone, just in a form that makes people long after her either sexually or fashion-wise, depending on viewer predilection.
I wondered for a moment what it must be like to be so stared at that you become invisible. I wondered what it must mean to be so watched, scrutinized and coveted you cease to be human.
I wonder what it feels like to have someone look at you and see not a person but a thing.
I’ll bet the man testing to see who would speak to him on the escalator knows exactly how that feels.
Talk politics with me at “How to Steal an Election,” a booze-fueled tutorial I’m running with Atlas Obscura and the Room 13 speakeasy a week before the election. Swill craft cocktails while I take you through decades of COMPLETELY LEGAL voter manipulation in Chicago and elsewhere. Fun, civics and the best damn Old Fashioned I’ve had in years. Tickets are going fast.