Time to Settle Accounts
May 25, 2012: Faces in the crowd
It was nearing midnight. I was on the North Ave. bus heading west, back to Wicker Park. I’d had a thrilling night, shooting the pilot episode of a new sports podcast in the spirit of the old Sportswriters on TV. The shoot was a complete success, and I was buzzing. I stopped off for a celebratory drink and then walked the rest of the way to the bus, taking a seat alone in the back.
Two guys around my age got on at North and Halsted. They walked to the back and sat near me. They were both drinking from brown paper bags, the black guy enjoying a tall boy, the white guy sipping a bottle. I noticed the white guy’s bag was ripping.
“Hey,” I said, pointing at the bottom of the bag, “your bag’s ripping.”
“Whoa!” he said. “Thank you.” He took another sip. “Those are great shorts,” he said to me, pointing to my plaid cargo shorts. “They remind me of a pair of shorts I used to have.”
“I loved those shorts,” he said wistfully. “They were all tearing apart, and the rips were spreading like cancer or AIDS or something. I wore them at my old job all the time, a boat tour guide in Miami. Nobody down there cared, and if they did, I just said, ‘Hey, this is me. This is who I am.’”
He stood from his seat. I was in the corner in the back row with my backpack next to me and he sat down in the middle seat next to my bag.
“These shorts are just like my shorts,” he said, suddenly feeling the side pockets on my thigh. “Whoops, didn’t even ask.”
“Do what you gotta,” I said.
“Where are you coming from?” said the friend.
“Downtown. Just had a shoot for a pilot of a new sports show. Went great.”
“You a camera man?” asked the bottle sipper.
“Producer and co-host.”
“Yeah? And what else?”
“What else what?”
“What else do you do?”
“You just met me. You only know one thing.”
“So what else?” he said, staring at me and sipping his drink.
“Well, I write sports for RedEye and I teach high school journalism.”
“Get out!” said the tall boy drinker. “I love RedEye!”
“We love RedEye!” said the bottle sipper. “It’s the best.”
“When he moved here,” said the tall boy drinker, “I told him, ‘Yo, you want to know what’s happening? You gotta read RedEye.’”
“So what’s your name?” asked the tall boy drinker.
“Have you written anything lately?”
“I wrote a column on Kerry Wood on Monday.”
The tall boy drinker eyed me intently. “Yeah… yeah, okay. Your face is starting to come into focus. Man,” he said, taking another sip from his tall boy. “You know who I love there? That fucking wingman. You know him?”
“Ha ha, yeah, Ernest.”
“That’s right!” said the tall boy drinker. “That guy’s great. I saw him once on the Brown Line. He was doing a jump off. I was like, ‘Yo! Wingman! I like you man! You’re fucking great!’ Kind of homo-erotic, I guess.”
“No, you’re cool,” said the bottle sipper.
“He gave me his card,” said the bottle drinker. “He was a cool dude. His stuff is hilarious.”
Suddenly the bottle sipper began rifling thru his bag and pulled out a RedEye. “Do you know the food critic?” He found her name. “Emily? Do you know Emily?”
“Not personally,” I said.
This seemed to deflate him, and he said, “Oh, okay,” and put his RedEye back in his bag.
But then his friend the tall boy drinker perked up. “What about Tracy? Do you know Tracy?”
“I’ve met her, yeah.”
“I’m mad at Tracy,” he said.
I laughed nervously. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Which one’s Tracy?” asked the bottle sipper.
“She writes about CTA,” said the tall boy drinker. “And homicides. Which is kind of depressing.”
“Why does she write about CTA and homicides?” asked the bottle sipper.
“I don’t know,” said the tall boy drinker, “but anyway, I’m mad at her. You know those seven day passes?” he asked me.
“You mean seven day CTA passes?” I said.
He nodded. “Do you ever use those?”
“No,” I said.
“Well anyway, I bought one over on Damen, put some money on, and I got on the bus and I put it in and it didn’t work.”
“It didn’t work?” asked the bottle sipper.
“Didn’t work,” said the tall boy drinker.
“So why are you mad at Tracy?” asked the bottle sipper.
“She said they’d work,” said the tall boy drinker.
We were approaching Damen. “This is us, right?” asked the bottle sipper. “Yep,” said the tall boy drinker.
The bus rolled through Damen and pulled up to the stop. “Well damn, RedEye!” said the bottle sipper as he stood to exit.
“Great to meet you guys,” I said.
“You too,” said the tall boy drinker. “Tell Tracy I’m mad at her. Tell Ernest he’s cool,” he said as he skipped off the bus and took another sip.
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