I voted for Obama.
I say that so that we all understand that while I may not be the picture of fastidious devotion to equality and racial standards, I am not knowingly and willingly denying the plight of the black man. I think we fucked it up good and plenty and have a ways to go before anyone can say that we have righted the wrongs.
Ironically, however, I thought we (and I) were a lot further along. And then I went to Chicago.
Also, I love my husband.
I say that so that we can all have a good hearted chuckle at his role in this story, whilst acknowledging what an amazing, intelligent, and kind-hearted person he is.
Earlier this year, I called the hubs to let him know that I had bought tickets for us to go to Chicago. As a part of us testing out the theory that we do not want children (like, ever), it makes sense that we get used to traveling, eating out, and lavishing ourselves with an insanely selfish lifestyle that ensures that even the passing thought of a child would be cause for therapy and a tequila-based cocktail. The way I see it there are too many terrible things that we are at risk to passing on to a child, plus there is the even bigger risk that this is not a passing phase, I really do just hate children. If that’s the case, I should go ahead and get used to giving myself everything I want without so much as a brain fart about someone else’s needs.
The decision to go to Chicago in particular was multi-fold. First of all, the tickets on JetBlue were practically free and the failing economy meant that hotels were practically giving away rooms. The hubs is a student of architecture and it made sense (lame sense, albeit) that we should go there. It it, as everyone and their fucking dog will tell you, a magnificent architectural city. What they mean by that is that if you care about buildings and love tours you should certainly go to Chicago.
Truthfully, work had pretty much pushed me to the brink and if I didn’t get a few days away I was going to go Columbine on at least three people. Chicago? Sure.
What we didn’t consider about Chicago (being Boston-dwellers) is how big real cities are. New York is a majestic city. The first time you see it, you are certain you will never see the other side. Fortunately, the first time you find yourself wasted and cash-less in Morningside Heights you realize that twelve miles is a remarkably manageable distance. You can make it to the East Village before sun up. It’s downright quaint.
Living in Boston, the dead center of it at that, I have slowly but up barriers. In my youth, I would willingly attend parties in all sorts of places: Allston, Brighton, Brookline. I would even go to Cambridge. Over the years, the periphery of our great city narrowed. Now, Cambridge might as well be Cambodia. The thought of gaining the stamina needed to cross a river and endure the culture shock is almost too much. I have a hard time crossing Mass Ave. There are things that will encourage me to cross: Indian, Mexican, the occasional hamburger. In general, however, I have been reduced to a one mile radius. It is my radius. And people respect it.
The interesting thing about Chicago is that despite its charade as one of the great Metropoli (made that word up) of our planet, it cannot help itself. It is still plopped down in the middle of nowhere. Every time you let your guard town, begin casual conversation about the possibility of someday putting down roots in Chi Town, you are somehow reminded that you are not in New York, San Fran, or Boston. You are, in fact, in the middle of America. The middle. For every great building there is a strip mall. For every Renoir on collection, there is a Thomas Kinkade Gallery. (He is, after all, the painter of light. And for every block of burgeoning culture there is a ghetto so expansive and frightening that you wonder if the war on terror is not in the wrong country.
The size of Chicago means that it is necessary to plan accordingly. Maps, plans, routes, ideas– you must arrive with everything planned. Otherwise you will eat breakfast in the same place every morning and walk aimlessly from Starbucks to Starbucks, stopping only occasionally to see if their Banana Republic looks the same as yours. (It does look similar.) Googling where to find a falafel on your first day doesn’t count as planning.
In my own defense, the hubs did no such planning. At the very least I had guaranteed that we would have one meal in Chicago. Worst case scenario we could always return again and again to Taza falafel and eat. The hubs had googled some buildings and tile mural. What the fuck good was that going to do for us? What solace would we be seeking from a goddamned mural? As it turns out: none. As predicted.
What we did have going for us is our knowledge of every restaurant that has ever been on the Food Network. And we knew that Chicago has deep dish pizza. And we knew that Bobby Flay got his ass kicked by Malnati’s Pizza in Chicago. So we googled it.
We saved our trip to Malnati’s for our last night in Chicago. It was to be our swan song. After days of pounding pavement, going to museums to waste time before meals, and justifying our repeated trips to the same restaurants, we would finally go do something touristy. We were going to Malnatis. We even had a map.
When we got into the cab, our cab driver did have some objections to our destination. We assumed he didn’t want to drive so far out of the city. (Which seemed ridiculous, but cabbies are not exactly known for their calm and collected manner.) We asked him if he knew of another Malnati’s Pizza that we could go to. He did not. Or at least we have breached the commonalities in our languages and he simply shut us out.
Off we went. Deep dish pizza. WOO!
We left the bright lights of the big city in the rear view as we settled in for our drive to the burbs. (Since our only experience with Malnati’s was via the tube, we assumed it was a suburban establishment. The kind of place where families gathered after little league games– not the kind of place you find on Michigan Ave.)
One thing I have learned in my life is to always, always, always, always, always be weary of any destination that takes you in the direction of the airport. Now, if you’re reading this and you disagree or are angered by that statement, you and I are nothing alike. You may be just a smidge more rough and tumble. Girls like me aren’t welcome in neighborhoods near airports. Too pale. Too blue eyed. Too stupid.
As it turns out, there were definitely last call Delta Shuttle flights taking off in my panorama. We were headed to one of those neighborhoods.
After exiting the freeway, I started to get a little worried. Liquor store. Gun store. Liquor store. Gun store. House on wheels. Car on blocks. And then there was nothing. Just an expanse of sadness.
I actually started to feel relief. Naturally we were nowhere near a little league field and therefore we would realize shortly that we had the directions wrong and then we’d turn around go back to our hotel and then eat someplace else. Our cab driver would laugh at our silliness and we’d be done with the whole mess. But then something strange happened: quite literally out of nowhere a Malnati’s appeared. Not only did it appear out of nowhere, but to add to the bizarre and quasi-immaculate conception nature of the appearance, it was attached to a church.
From the barren expanse of fear and poverty had sprung a fountain of pizza. Good sign. I felt certain. And then the cab driver left us. More accurately, our cab driver drove away before I had really even closed the door.
Side note: For those of you who do not know the hubs or myself, I should explain that we have the capacity to appear yuppy enough to be featured in a Bank of America ad. Skinny jeans, mod glasses, fauxhawks, gay man shoes, forearm tattoos. It’s a yuppy trainwreck. We’re both a little splayfooted. The hubs is modelish thin and has a beard-framed jaw line. I am pale. I have a face that just looked like it watches Army Wives. We don’t “blend” in the traditional sense.
And there we were. About to learn just how stupid white people can be.
Imagine for a moment if the Klumps (nutty professor) opened a well-intentioned restaurant “project” on the set of Boyz in the Hood and employed Suge Knight as head pizza maker. You’d be close to what we’d walked into.
This wasn’t actually a Malnati’s in the traditional sense. This was a Malnati’s that had been donated to the neighborhood and the church to help rehabilitate the neighborhood– to help bring local business back to the area. Recovering drug addicts working through the church to get back on their feet. Semi-reformed gangbangers scrubbing dishes. And there we were. Because we watched Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
The hubs was nice enough to tell them that. You know, that two upper middle class yuppies were watching The Food Network on our flat screen one night and decided we had to visit Malnatis.
Our server was nice enough to let us know that there was actually a Malnati’s around the corner from our cozy four star back in the city.
Oh, yes. We knew. (No we didn’t.) We just wanted to get out and see new parts of the city. (No, we didn’t.)
The menu wasn’t a full menu, just some simple options pulled from the main Malnati’s menu. Samplings that kept food overhead low and didn’t require anyone to operate any heavy machinery. Or a fryer.
We were actually starting to feel some camaraderie with the kind folks in Lawndale. The hubs had managed to dodge the obvious bullets and I was doing my best to seem chill. Relative to the situation.
The turning point was when Jermaine (our server) dropped the bomb. He liked us. Really. But he didn’t know how the fuck we were going to get home. All kidding aside, not only were there no little league fields, there were no businesses and no cabs. He didn’t know how we got a cab to bring us there, but there was no cab in Chicago that would come back out and get us.
The good news? He was pretty sure he had a friend. He would call him. If we were lucky, Errand Boy would be able to come get us and take us safely back to Chicago. In the meantime, it was important that we sit tight and not try to do anything stupid like go outside or walk by the windows.
If you’ve ever been in a small New York apartment and seen a large roach land on your bed and disappear, you may have some idea of the kind of sickening fear I was experiencing. If you’ve ever had someone tell you that they were going to hunt you down in your sleep and kill you and you’d better sleep with one eye open… you’re getting closer.
I sipped my soda dutifully and made “I want a Savignon Blanc eyes” to the hubs. For over an hour I sat there and sipped.
And then Errand Boy arrived. In a Chevy Equinox.
Cynthia (Ms. Klump) held me tight against her ample breast. I’d only seen embraces like this in movies… right before a child is slaughtered in battle. The hubs was locked in an similar embrace. And then we were whisked into the car. Doors locked. Windows up. Tension mounting.
We didn’t have time to explain. We couldnt explain our mistake, our anxiety, our fear as we drove through Lawndale, hearing tales of the Black Disciples and the repeated taxi murders that finally ended any chance of a relationship to the city. So we didn’t.
We told him we from out of town. And he knew.