Daily acquired possessions help define a day, be it or a cute girls number, but perhaps more interestingly, a myriad of images burned into my minds eye – or if I happened to have been quick enough, my camera – paint the observable world with near perfect recall. A city offers this in abundance; Four kids, barefoot and in tattered clothes, drumming loudly on plastic buckets in front of Michigan Avenues revoltingly ritzy Nieman Marcus with enough zazz to make nearby pedestrians dance, sleazy clubbers, anger hipsters and cheerful punks, images and objects, memorabilia from time spent observing and interacting with the city are time capsules connecting one with a memory, a sensation or particular moment. Directly behind my laptop is a hastily snapped photograph, ready to save any bad day: The image, slightly out of focus and tilted, consists of a wheel-chair bound paraplegic grinning ear to ear as his beautiful snow white husky pulls his chariot down the street, the dog’s tongue lolling out the side of his mouth with that certain loveable canine glee.
Compiling these memories, I have teased out a few particularly enjoyable categories in the compilation of “Things that Made my Goddamn Day”. ‘City’s Intervention’ and ‘Strangers Truly Care’ are favorites, with ‘Free Meals Enjoyed with Randoms’ in a close third. They are filled with encounters when the barriers between strangers are broken and we can see one another honestly in a moment of pure ridiculous hilarity, when mutual grins and lifted eyebrows cause us to ask one another “Did I just see that right? Did that just happen?”
For example, while almost always feeling safe and relaxed roaming at all hours of the day and night, one must remain aware; so it was with shoulders tensed, fists clenched and head snapping around I anticipated the arrival of pounding footsteps behind me one afternoon. “Hey, hey kid!” shouted an oddly familiar voice, and I immediately relaxed from apprehension to curiosity when realizing the voices owner was the home bum I had given a fistful of change to a few blocks back. We had both agreed that a nearby McDonald’s ad had worked its magic on us, and shared a large order of fries. He handed me my keys and caught his breath before saying “You gave me these on accident.”
It is easy to wall yourself off in the metropolitan environment, especially because so many people do. Headphones with music blaring, a magazine or book held front and center, or cell phone gossip accompanying a thousand mile stare make the majority of those bumped into on the streets or pressed against in the subway reminiscent of zombies; heaven forbid someone make eye contact, some even reading the laughable poetry vandalizing public transportation ad space. An open mind and an accepting eye keep the smiles coming, and an old man running down the sidewalk to remedy my clumsiness ensures that there are still strangers worth our time; his white hair and brown skin, worn hoodie and fraying jeans remembered while so many faceless forgotten. Chicago too can be a stranger, as everywhere one goes the skeletons of houses await electricity and plumbing, cranes dot downtown, and all to often roads are so rutted your elbows ache after biking past. The city itself is in a constant state of flux, and while it can sometimes be bittersweet when a world class sandwich joint turns into a franchise, and the precarious rocks lining a swath of Lake Front get replaced with sterile concrete, the process itself is fascinating. It’s best to approach the new like anything else, with a sense of trepidation but patience, an appreciation for the surreal and certain nonchalance about ending up keyless.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.