#23: Rise of the Water Bottles

June 20th, 2012

Chicago’s in a deep-bone hot, one that settles in. Some heats lay flat on you, but this one and the thick wind stirring it get inside you. You walk and move and realize later you’re fat with sweat.

And then the water bottle people come.

I had been on the highway, stuck in a jam caused, I later found, by a pedestrian killed after he just walked onto I-94. I was giving my just-repaired air conditioning less than the full blast and my radio hadn’t worked properly since some kind soul snapped off my antenna when I lived in the suburbs.

Then I saw her — a woman merging into the jam in a car with open windows. The car had no AC. The child in the back had drumsticks. I needed to get off the highway on this woman’s behalf if not for my own.

The next exit was I-57. It took me farther from home, but at least I was moving.

Then came the surface streets — 111th to Vincennes, Vincennes to 95th, 95th to the overheated bowels of hell and then north on Western.

Taking Western up from the South Side is the same pinwheel as taking Pulaski, Cicero or any other major north-south in this racist town. You watch the colors spin black, brown, black, brown, white. Racial diversity within neighborhoods is not Chicago’s strong suit.

But on a hot day, every neighborhood has some folks with the same idea — stand in the baking sun and drip with sweat to sell water bottles to drivers.

One man in Ashburn had his little daughter helping him. Another in West Englewood just walked among the stopped, steaming cars.

“Water bottles. Water bottles. Water bottles.”

My car thermometer said 99. I knew it had been reading low since it came back from the shop.

I eventually gave up and bought a bottle from a young woman in what Google Maps tells me is called “Tri-Taylor.”  She was selling with who appeared to be her father. Their bottles came from a cooler and had been pre-frozen in preparation for a bone-hot day like this. Her clothes vaguely reminded me of Peru.

I don’t know what shortcuts they took that selling the bottles for $1 still made them a profit. I don’t think I want to know.

She only said “¿Que?” to my stabs at chit-chat.

I didn’t drink from the bottle until now, when the night turned the bone heat into more of a skin warmth. Maybe it’s prejudice. Maybe it’s fear. But I take a deep swig now, trusting my fellow Chicagoan, my fellow human being.

Man, that tastes nasty.

Written in June 2012

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