No one aspires to work the counter of a rental car agency with a schedule that includes a midnight shift, but I have to assume the smoldering hulk of a man taking my credit card needs the job. The keys to a dirty Rav 4 literally slide across the counter desk and I silently hope that the rest of Chicago will not be as openly hostile as either the courtesy bus driver or this agent.
Outside of the office, the streetlights on Mannheim Road illuminate ridiculously busy traffic in that brief moment of segue between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. I cross traffic carefully and make my way toward the I90 in the same urgent way I had to negotiate the inhuman traffic at LAX just hours earlier.
The radio channel reset to sports talk was my first priority. A long day of production stood between me and the Bears/Packers broadcast and I savored the Bears talk all the way to my hotel downtown and a short window to sleep before my 4AM alarm to work.
Although my work was internally efficient, the rest of my day was one minor challenge after another. It seemed as if many of the Chicagoans I encountered were simmering and mentioning the Bears only increased the tension.
A city in distress mirrors a society in distress. Well, two cities because LA is in a constant state of urgency and their new football team is playing surprisingly well. So much for a cities football teams success in pacifying a national news cycle of perpetual disaster.
The trees of autumn were shedding their summer’s leaves and each step to the bar crackled beneath my sandaled feet. Even the leaves sounded angry in their impending death.
The woman who took my order accepted my special request only after warning me how extra pizza sauce ruins thin crust Chicago styled pizza. She also suggested a complicated micro beer and rolled her eyes when I finally ordered a Miller Lite. I had been profiled as a tourist at almost the moment I had also declined her suggestion of the "best ranch dressing" in town with my query for a light vinagrette .
The two blue- collar heavies at the next table shared her conclusion as if I had ordered a hot dog with Ketchup. Damn, if you can’t find happy people in a dive bar moments before an anticipated football game involving the home team, when can you find fast friends?
Young people failed to look up from their phones while drinking their deep brown beers of oak after tastes and citrusy notes, would they also watch the game on their phones?
I tried to chat up a 20 something young professional lady who might have been more interactive if I had texted her instead. Maybe it was my tan or the fact that I wore linen pants and a collared shirt? The blue collared heavies were amused at my attempts to distract her from her technology.
The tension in the bar increased during the Bears first series or play if you will, I’m sure you all know why. The flat screens carefully reflected the same tensions the young professionals viewed on the phones. It would not be the Bears night and I finally engaged some people with my penchant for "Glennon Optimism" that our WCG community knows so well and loves.
Fortunately for me, the WCG optimist club was not in attendance and as my pizza was delivered a blue collar heavy asked for a small square of the ridiculously good pie. I’m not saying I made friends, but the room became tolerant to the Cynic and I didn’t have to even ask the old hag of a barmaid for the second beer.
At the North Pond Café nearby, my staff diligently spent our collective per diem in relative calm. My solace in that regard was those kids can’t look up from their phones either as Facebook has replaced conversation more emphatically than live NFL games on TV dominate a dining room.
The lightning storm was my signal to leave this small bar and its immaculate pizza. My new close friends gave me the same looks in departure that I had enjoyed upon arrival and the old hag seemed fairly impressed by her tip (maybe a reflection on the room more than on me). A driver arrived quickly, spirited me to a Walgreens for an 18 pack and I was in my room by the time the game resumed.
It was as if the squall in Green Bay orchestrated my exit perfectly. Thank you inclement weather.
The vitriol and hysteria hovered over the weekend like a dark cloud relenting only for a colder wind. I was thrilled to find an entire city that had suddenly come to the conclusion that the Cynic had resigned myself too during free agency.
Our job was executed well, my staff departed for O’hare and I checked into my brother in laws house just in time for a family party.
Once the game became the topic of conversation, the volume within the house rose to the level of our blood pressures. Arguments found easy opponents except everyone had the same base argument and it wasn’t the starting QB’s competence.
The day’s radio talking points were wielded as the weapons of the Bear parrots as I tried not to notice my nephew’s gorgeous new girlfriends.
Not that it mattered much because my nephews and niece’s were too engaged by their phones to notice Uncle Cynic anyway, but I escaped the maelstrom of Bear anger to explain to one doe eyed young lady the complexity of oceanic baromytherics in relation to the effects on surfing the archipelago Banyak off of mainland Sumatra. She was spell bound by my passionate dissertation.
Until she revealed that her phone was charging and wondered aloud if in fact I was indeed married to the parties hosts sister which quickly ended my charismatic charm.
The drive Tuesday morning from Arlington Heights to the Virgin America counter was filled by Derrick Brooks explaining his eventual decision to only slap Danny Trevathan’s wrists instead of spear him helmet to helmet with a full suspension of only two games (??). Traffic was heavy, everyone in Chicago is in a hurry and more important that the next guy. Tensions remained on high alert. The news delivered no relief from the sports anguish and I stepped into the terminal just hoping to see the ocean again.
As I entered the terminal, suddenly everything became silky smooth. Eerily compliant. Dare I say, pleasant at ORD???!!!
The lady at check in complimented my haircut and we shared a continuous smile. My TSA pre check was unnecessary as I floated through security as if it was a magic carpet ride with no one else attending the amusement park.
The sky waitress offered me a crisp ginger ale and my bulkhead seat row was empty except for me! Our plane taxied to the runway and lifted without any delay. Something beyond an autumn wind had turned.
We landed to an equally copacetic LAX arrival level, there was literally NO TRAFFIC??!! My assistant found me instantly and ushered me to Santa Barbara without any delays, almost unheard of.
The winds of change were in brazen effect as I turned my phone on to numerous urgent texts.
"Your boys named Mitch the starter for Monday Night".
I glared at the text with suspicion, but each successive text revealed the same message of hope.
My assistant droned on and on about our clients appreciation for the job on Saturday and I didn’t really hear a word from her. Now I was affixed to my phone like so many others have fallen victim too.
The Bears had made a change that may have changed the world by all accounts. Even LAX and the LA freeway system was celebrating. Profound joy replaced a moribund pall.
The sun shone, the oil like glass of the giant ocean surface resonated to the channel and the lack of any surf did not deter my new-found good fortune. The world was a beautiful place after all even after a mortifying Thursday night.
Monica turned on the radio and the song playing brought back memories of a distorted time circa 1975. The iconic voice and guitar of the generation built momentum to the epiphany of a song of hope, even the DJ was aware of this gifted passage home.
And in that moment of silence as I quickly turned off the radio before Monica assumed the empty audible space, I recalled the great Robert Plants words that resonated like a thick wool blanket insulating our world against the great cold.
"Does anyone remember laugther?"
I smiled ear to ear as Monica asked why I suddenly became so happy.
"Mitch is our Quarterback" is all I said.
I reclined the seat and began humming Stairway to Heaven.
The wind, my friends, is now at our backs.