I was sitting with Gina in the first-floor café, waiting for Mark to get out of his class so I could give him the Rosemary’s Baby script we have to read for Thursday. Gina and I were catching up about spring break and looking at some unusual photos stored on her digital camera, when my phone started ringing. This was surprising for three reasons: (1) I generally keep my cell phone on vibrate, (2) the only person who ever calls me when I’m at school is Lucy (who hardly calls me on weekdays anymore to keep her minutes down), and (3) I have never, ever been able to get a decent signal inside any of the buildings at school.
It turned out it was my mom. She got laid off, so she spends her time vacuuming, doing laundry, and watching the news. I figured she had either found my porn, vacuumed up my porn, or saw something about my porn on the news. Actually, she said, “I just saw on the news the Blue Line was shut down from Addison to Jefferson Park.”
“What the fuck?” I screamed for no particular reason (possibly caffeine-related).
“There was a fire or something, so they shut down the northbound trains to O’Hare. That’s you, right?”
Yup, that was me. We arranged alternate transportation involving the Metra, and since their trains are more rigidly scheduled than a Tuesday night whore, I had to rush like hell to get a cab if I was gonna make the 1:40 train. It was 1:25, and I desperately wanted to make the 1:40, because I had a shitload of homework that I didn’t exactly do over spring break, so I needed to get it all done this afternoon. It would be difficult to accomplish that sitting in Union Station for an extra hour.
“I have to go!” I yelled unnecessarily to Gina, leaping up from my seat. “Mark can fuck himself.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Somebody set the Blue Line on fire, so I have to get a cab to catch the 1:40 Metra.”
“I coulda told you that,” Gina said, “I saw it on my way here. It was this big—”
And then she stopped, noticing my steely gaze, which said, approximately, “Shut up, woman! You’re not helping.”
I burst onto 11th Street, and I didn’t have time to admire the decent day we were having—I had to get a cab. I rushed off toward 8th and Michigan, about four blocks away. There’s a cab stand in front of the Hilton there, so I figured that’d be my best bet, and if I saw an empty cab on my way, I’d flag it down.
Wow, what a break! As I crossed Wabash, I noticed a cab idling on 11th in front of the Best Western. It was unoccupied, so I made a bee-line for it.
The door was locked, which isn’t unusual. (For whatever reason—I assume it has to do with security—idling cabs have their doors locked more often than not.) But the dude didn’t unlock it, which is usual. Rather, he rolled down the passenger window and leaned out toward me. “Where you goin’?” he asked.
“Union Station,” I said.
He muttered something I couldn’t understand; he had a heavy accent.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“I’m waiting for someone,” he said.
“…” I responded. “I have no idea what that means.”
The guy looked at me like I was the dumbest guy in the world. Possibly, I am.
“I’m waiting,” he said, and jerked his thumb down the street, like I should keep moving. Why the hell did he ask where I was going?
“Sorry,” I said, and moved on down 11th to Michigan. I crossed and hauled my ass up Michigan. Traffic was light, and the cabs I did see were occupied, so I had to go all the way up to the cab stand on 8th.
I walked up to the first cab in the line past the Hilton driveway.
Again with the not-unlocking-of-the-doors-followed-by-the-rolling-down-of-the-passenger-window. “Go to the next in line,” the cabbie said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m waiting for someone,” he responded.
What the hell was going on? Why didn’t they turn on their light so I know they’re on duty?
I went to the next car in line. The cabbie unlocked the doors, I got in. “I’m going to Union Station,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, making absolutely no effort to turn on the fare meter.
He sat there in silence for a few minutes. Well, sorta. He was talking on a cell phone in a foreign language. After awhile, he said, “Why don’t you go up to the cab ahead of me? I’m waiting for somebody.”
“Okay,” I said, for some reason assuming the guy he was chatting with was the other driver, and they were perhaps trying to decide who should make the epic 5-minute run to Union Station.
So I went back to the first cab, who told me the same damn thing. So I went to the third cab in line. This cabbie rolled down his window and looked at me angrily. Speaking it what sounded like a Liberian accent, he said, “Why you not go there?” I swear to God this is what he said, and I’ll tell you this: despite the broken English and the incoherency, I knew exactly what he was saying.
“They told me they’re waiting for people,” I said.
“They’re lying!” the third cabbie shrieked, putting my arbitrary outbursts earlier to shame in an instant. “You go, you make them drive you!”
“Oh…kay,” I said, not really sure how well me asserting what little authority I had would go over.
I looked back at the other two cabs, completely and utterly dumbfounded as to what I should do at this point. Suddenly, I heard somebody yell, “Hey, where you goin’, buddy?!”
Somebody was saving me. I looked over, and up on the driveway, holding the rear door of a cab open like some sort of wonderful dream, was a Hilton doorman, helping some old lady get out of the cab.
“Union Station!” I yelled back as I walked toward him.
“And they won’t take you?” he said, dumbfounded.
“No,” I said, dumbly.
“Why the hell not?!” the doorman yelled.
“That’s what I’ve been saying!” I responded. He was speaking my language, the language of confused people.
“Hop in,” he said.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, getting in.
“No problem. See ya later, buddy,” the doorman said, and I think maybe he thought I was staying at the hotel. Then I wondered if I should tip him, but I didn’t have any singles. Plus, I didn’t really want to tip him.
So I got my cab, finally. Believe it or not, that entire exchange—from me dashing out of Columbia to me getting on the road with the cab—took about five minutes.
Five of the worst minutes of my life.