#922: Victoria (Maybe Veronica)

May 2nd, 2018

“You and me got the right idea,” she said, gesturing with her cup of coffee at mine.

I don’t know why our coffees set us apart from any of the other readers, phone flippers, gabbers, joggers, dog walkers, socialistas strolling with equally beautiful and fashionable friends, fat guys sitting like lumps looking at the water or any of the other people who had come to spend the first warm day of the year on the Riverwalk downtown, but it seemed to be enough of a link for her.

Victoria, or maybe her name was Veronica, became my friend in that very special way only a warm day by the water can offer. She told me about her work at a downtown hotel where she had been for 18 years and was the only one willing to dress as Santa, the Easter Bunny and sundry holiday elves.

“Everyone else is too dignified,” she said, pronouncing the last word with disdain. 

She talked about a little boy thrilled to see a black Easter Bunny, and the large tip his mother gave Victoria or Veronica as thanks for opening his eyes. A lot of V’s stories were about tips and hustles, actually. She made $5,000 off the Stanley Cup, charging $50 each to hotel regulars for prints of photos of her with the trophy when it made a brief visit to the hotel.

“So wait,” I asked. “It wasn’t even them? You sold them photos of you with the trophy?”

She said yes.

“You earned that,” I said. “That’s brilliant.”

She was maybe in her 40s or 50s, with a big, broad smile and, yeah, maybe a tooth or two snaggled out of place. But she smiled broadly knowing what her teeth looked like, so I loved her all the more for it. She wore all white but for big, dark fashion sunglasses I can only describe as octagons put inside eyeball-shaped ovals. She pulled out her phone to get to the photo of the Stanley Cup, but kept getting distracted by photos of Easter Bunnies, the NFL draft, Lollapalooza, a group of septuagenarian cyclists who stayed at the hotel amid their cross-country bike run and the time she entered the hotel’s Halloween contest with “Ghetto Pumpkin From the Hood.”

Many of her stories revolved around tips. She made this many hundred dollars from dressing as Santa, this many hundred from the Bunny, this many hundred from the time a guest challenged her to see how long she could stand in a squat. A gymrat by preference, Victoria or Veronica easily won that bet. She told me to feel her bicep. It was iron-hard and truly impressive.

The hotel guests pay upward of $900 a night to stay there, she said. The unspoken thought she let linger in the air was that they could afford it.

She truly cared about the hotel’s guests, even as she took money off them. One picture showed her and an old white man in a wheelchair. She told me how he and his wife came to the hotel to see her after years of it being their regular haunt whenever they visited Chicago. The photo was of her kissing the old man on the cheek.

“He died the next day, they told me,” she said.

This photo she lingered on for a moment.

We chatted by the water as the socialistas did their socializing and the joggers did their hopping strolls trying to make way through the Riverwalk crowds. Our coffee made us best friends in that very special way only a warm day by the water can offer.

We said fond goodbyes and promised future hellos should we run into each other again. I promptly forgot her name and she never asked for mine.

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You are currently reading #922: Victoria (Maybe Veronica) by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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