Transportation in the city

Three weeks ago Christina lent me a novel called “The Fifth Floor,” a campy whodunit, to read on the bus. It was a quick read, and I finished it in a week and a half in 35-45 minute increments during my commute. After that, I read “Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings and 8,000 Miles of Music,” written by my academic adviser and mentor in college and purchased by me months ago. This week and last I’ve been alternating between that Dorothy Parker compilation I mentioned and finally finishing “Slaughterhouse Five”. When “Slaughterhouse” gets too intensely depressing, I’ll switch to Parker’s uplifting short stories about newly weds whose marriages are doomed to fail. This newfound time to read is all thanks to public transportation and my absolute refusal to drive in downtown Chicago.

I take a bus for 15-20 minutes each morning to the Belmont red line El stop. I get on a train there and take it seven stops to Lake, and walk to work from my stop on State Street at Lake. I did essentially the same thing when I worked at the store, only I’m on for a couple more train stops. I almost never drive my car, except to carry groceries or cover assignments for Patch. That’s just as well too, because between a “check engine” light that refuses to shut off and a flat tire the other day, I can barely look at my car much less force it to leave its resting place on my street.

If it wasn’t for making the occasional trip to Ohio and for the security of knowing my car’s there if I do need it, I might not want one at all. I’m paying for car insurance AND a monthly CTA pass now, although I’m happy to say I only have a couple more car payments left.

It’s hard to remember how Columbus’s public transportation fared; it seemed so inaccessible. In Chicago, it’s your first move, and likely your best bet. People at work make plans on which bars to hang out at after work based on whether they live along the red or blue line. Everyone knows their way around the transit system. I’m still learning it, but I like it. It used to seem scary and unpredictable, but it turns out there’s nothing MORE predictable. A bus or a train is only going to go one of two ways. It’s not like it’s going to suddenly turn a corner on you and get you hopelessly lost. Transportation has become one less thing for me to worry about — or at least one thing I can worry LESS about. There was that one time I accidentally got on an express train and ended up several blocks south of the department store, but in retrospect, that one was on me.

What are your thoughts on mass transit?

A slow adjustment

I’ve been at my job for a month now; it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, and already I’m not the new person anymore. We’re hiring at an exponential rate, so people who have been there since November are considered veterans. I have talked to a lot of people and I have a group I eat lunch with, but I’m not really all that close with anyone. I’ve been so lucky in the past; at SNP, I met Eileen (among others), who became one of my closest friends. At OCSEA I met Stacey, even though I had to wait a lonely year and a half for her to get there. At my job now, everyone is within a couple years of my age and well educated, funny-by-job-requirement and wildly interesting — almost to a fault. This sounds bad, but I don’t exactly feel special there.

I had an image of myself as a brave, mysterious go-getter who dropped everything to move to the big city and start over. The thing is, that describes about half the people I work with. And I can’t really play that bashful, “Oh, I’m so very new in town” card I used at the store because, let’s face it, I’ve been here five months now. Some people I talked to my first day had been in Chicago a week and moved out of state just to work at my company. They win!

So I guess I am feeling a little rocky with my social life here. As always, thank GOD for John and Christina, but they can’t be my whole world, as content as I might be with that. I’m here to start over. In Columbus, I had a healthy network of people from Muskingum who knew and liked me, and college was the setting in which that started. Everything was so much easier in college, and especially meeting new people. SNP was a really welcoming environment, but I do remember feeling really self-conscious and anxious in my first several weeks there, wanting too badly to be liked; I’m remembering that all too well this month. I’ve gone out a couple of times with the folks I eat lunch with and this past time I got into a really great conversation with one of the guys about music, failed relationships, and music that reminds us of failed relationships. I’m going to try to go out with some different people this Friday, but to be fair, that was what I told myself I’d do this past week and I chickened out.

One of the first people I met was my desk mate, and aside from me asking her the occasional question, we barely spoke for the first two weeks. Then, the week before last, we met in the break room waiting for coffee.

She complimented my Ohio-shaped pendant necklace I’d bought myself when I was home to celebrate my recent employment with money I hadn’t earned yet. I thanked her, and then absentmindedly repeated something someone had said to me about how Ohio’s an attractively enough shaped state and that you just wouldn’t have the same kind of necklace if you were from Utah or something. About halfway through this joke I remembered my desk mate hailed from somewhere near Salt Lake City, but I was too far gone and didn’t dare trust myself to come up with another hideously shaped state in the time it took me to finish this quip that was doomed to fall flat. (This is why you don’t recycle other people’s jokes.) So rather than stop mid-breath, I finished and laughed awkwardly. She made a face.

“A Utah one wouldn’t be so bad,” she said and changed the subject. I was sure we would never be friends. I wish instead the first thing I’d said about Utah was about driving through it last summer on that cross-country road trip and being absolutely astounded by its beauty and depth. But nooooo, I had to go and make a crack about how her home state is shaped like a Lego piece.

But then, last Friday, she vented to me about a problem she was having with a project. I said something and she laughed. Then I told her some of the crazy things I’d been faced with that week and suddenly we were having a normal conversation and I wasn’t insulting her family or anything.

She also commented on the illustrated cover art of the copy of “The Portable Dorothy Parker” I was carrying around last week and it turns out she is a comic book artist in her free time. She even shared some of her work with me and it’s pretty cool looking.

It had been a rough week and to thank us for our hard work, our supervisor passed out warm cans of Miller Lite. I turned to my desk mate and said, “This is a weird place to work.”

She raised her drink toward mine and their impact made the sound only two half-full cans of beer can possibly make.

“Cheers to that,” she said.

Birthday week concludes

Birthday cannoliiiiii

I ended up having one of the best birthdays in recent memory, thanks to my thoughtful, caring roommates. They planned a whole slew of surprises for me between Sunday and Monday, from a birthday cake made from a plate of cannoli topped with yellow candles, to a bubble bath complete with a custom playlist of Passion Pit and Sufjan Stevens (two of my current audible obsessions), strawberries and champagne, and personalized reading material (Writers’ Magazine; a glossy dedicated to indie filmmakers; and lots more). I think it may have been their way of making me relax for once. No complaints here.On Monday morning, my birthday, Christina texted me at 6 a.m. and said probably I should wake up. I’d been planning on getting up by then to go to my gym before work, so I did. I stepped out my door and saw a tall stack of wrapped gifts on the chair I usually sit at in the kitchen. My jaw dropped.

“I thought yesterday was my birthday celebration,” I said.

Mousie paradise

The gifts all had a theme, but it took me opening a couple to figure it out — a small blue bowl, a ball that appeared to be made of hay, and finally a giant, colorful mouse cage. The rest of the packages contained the things my future pet mice will use in their new home. I was so excited; Christina said she didn’t mind me having mice in the house (in said cage) so I’d been looking forward to having pets again. I’d talked about wanting to get my old mice back from Rebekah in Columbus, who took them off my hands last summer when I moved in with Owen and Jamie but I hadn’t taken any action on that plan. I’m getting a pair of female mice this weekend. We’ve already decided we’re going to call them Pinky and the Brain. It’s been long enough that that’s not cliche, right?

Even my lunch friends at work remembered I said the week before when my birthday was and got together to sign a card for me. Thanks to everyone who wrote on my Facebook, texted and called me for my birthday. Thanks also to Christina, Pam and Jamie for sending me birthday cards and gift cards so I may gorge myself on both books and movie theatre popcorn. Finally, a special thanks to Stacey for this baby:

The turning-25-blues

I will turn 25 on Monday and that has me feeling weird about a lot of things. Mostly, however, I am feeling weird about not knowing how to spend it. I am big on birthdays, and shamelessly big on my own. Last year, I threw myself an entire birthday weekend because it was my first one being single in five years and I was terrified it was going to suck. It didn’t.

This year isn’t going to suck, I don’t think, it’s just going to be remarkably understated. Maybe that’s fitting, since at 25 one should probably stop acting like they are the only person with a birthday and making others celebrate with you as such. No one here is going to even know it’s my birthday, because the only way anyone knows it’s a person’s birthday is through Facebook, and about 95% of my Facebook friends live in Ohio. I added myself to my work’s birthday calendar, but because there are so many of us, it’s literally someone’s birthday almost every day, even in my department alone. Also, I don’t think anyone checks the calendar; people just look up whenever someone sends out an email saying, “My mom sent over a million cupcakes for my birthday, come by my cubicle and get one.” So unless I spam the department with a memo promising baked goods, it’s not likely to be a blip on anyone’s radar.

My dad’s spring break from college is this week, but it’s too short to come here to visit. Last year my family threw me a pizza party in Columbus and he showed up as a surprise. However, the logistics of a surprise visit to Chicago are a little bit much, so I’m pretty sure his weekend trip to Hocking Hills is not just some clever ruse. And that’s okay, he deserves a break.

This is all very woe-is-me but really, today was a pretty sweet day. I got my Illinois driver’s license this morning since my Ohio one expires Monday, and I am making friends at work. Also, I bought myself a Groupon for a mani/pedi, which I have never had before but always wanted. Happy birthday to me! I’m also pretty sure I’m going to treat myself to a stop at this bakery called Angel Food that I saw profiled on “Chicago’s Best” a couple of weeks ago. Mmmmm, mini birthday cake.

Canine intuition

The dog has been acting uncharacteristically clingy and underfoot for the last couple of days, whining like I’ve never heard him do before. Christina has been racking her brain, trying to determine the cause. Last night she asked my opinion.

“Maybe there’s a huge earthquake coming and he’s the only one who knows it,” I joked.


The Diner

Short stories are not my specialty, but I tried my hand at this one the other day.

In a dusty diner on a rural county road, a man and woman sat across from each other at the booth closest to the door.

The walls of the diner were lined with shelves stocked with infrequently sold merchandise — bags of dog food, cans of tuna. A faded sign by the register, a sheet of paper curling rebelliously against the weight of a scrap of Scotch tape, read, “Sorry. Debit card machine not working, ever.”

The man had a strong jaw and bright eyes that crinkled when he laughed. The woman smiled at him from behind a mane of chestnut hair she kept trying to tuck behind her ear to no avail.

A pause in the lively conversation suddenly signaled to the woman that the man had something uncomfortable to say. In the split second before he opened his mouth, she knew exactly what was about to come out of it.

“So I’ve actually been seeing someone,” he said.

She felt her face fall and tried quickly, in vain, to recover it.

“You don’t have to…” she trailed off, thinking to herself, please, please don’t.

“No, I want to,” he said. He took a couple moments that seemed like hours to craft his next words delicately.

“She’s a music instructor at the college,” he continued, as she felt the blood rush from her face. “She’s divorced as well, for similar reasons.”

“Well, can’t compete with that,” she said, mostly to herself.

With one hand she drummed her fingers lightly on the worn, red upholstery of the booth’s bench, a bandage around her ring finger making a soft thud with each tap.

A rude question came to her mind and very nearly leapt out of her mouth but she kept it in. Instead she laughed nervously to herself and swirled her fork, a crumpled bit of pancake dangling from its end, around her plate in a dismal pool of syrup. He stared at her.

“I just wanted to be upfront with you,” he said.

He waited for her to speak; she didn’t. He ran a hand through his hair anxiously as she eyed him coolly.

“I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere,” he went on. “I don’t want anything serious right now.”

Anger rocketed up inside her throat as she nearly dropped her fork.

“Isn’t that what you decided two months ago, last time I was here?” she asked before she could stop herself.

He blinked in surprise.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I know. I just keep telling myself, don’t get involved with anyone, but then the second someone pays me the slightest bit of attention…”

She softened slightly.

“I can relate,” she said sympathetically.

It would later occur to her he was simply paraphrasing a line from a favorite movie of his.

“I just wanted to be honest,” he said again.

She smiled wryly.

“That’s… awesome. Just great.”

She sipped her coffee and stared down at her now abandoned breakfast to avoid his eyes. The silence was unbearable.

They got up to leave soon after. She fumbled with the buttons on her coat and the two paid their checks separately.

The man and woman got into their cars, pulling away in opposite directions. She cried from behind the steering wheel for a full minute before suddenly stopping and laughing at herself.

He’d exacted his revenge perfectly, almost to the letter.

First week going well

I’ve had my first few days at work this week and I am feeling pretty good about everything. Monday was orientation at an off site location with a LOT of other people. Like, a hundred. Not all in my department, but throughout the company as a whole. Yesterday was my first day in the office and in the morning I had department-specific orientation followed by some training in the afternoon. Today I did some of my first fact checking and I should be getting some feedback on it tomorrow.

While our company handbook doesn’t specifically say I can’t blog about work, they are very careful about how the company and its culture are represented. Since they’re pretty guarded, their name won’t be mentioned here again and will be written about in general terms. With that out of the way, my department has access to a sweet free gym! I plan on hopping a ride with Christina to a bus stop at 7 every morning and working out before 9. We’ll see how long that lasts. We can also sit on those big yoga balls at our desks if we want. We have free pop, bottled water and Gatorade and there’s Kuerig coffee makers all over the place. We can wear jeans to work and everyone is within a couple years of my age. I think. I’m kind of bad at guessing ages. But they are young, seemingly not miserable and friendly. However, we work really hard so I haven’t had the chance to really talk to many of my co-workers. Apparently a lot of them go out together after work on Fridays so maybe that will be my best bet at the end of my first week.

It’s all very exciting and energizing. I know my workload is going to be heavy, pretty much all of the time, but I am so glad to be working there. Not just having a job, which I needed so desperately, but one I am really enthused about. I hope this feeling stays because it would be nice to care this much about what I do every day.

From Autumn to Ashes, “Autumn’s Monologue”

I’ve been thinking about some random songs from high school lately, including this one. A sentence I wrote in a short story recently reminded me of a line in this song and I realized I hadn’t heard it in years. I used to drive around, newly licensed, listening to this and feeling it with every fiber of my angst-ridden 17-year-old self. A three-disc mix of CDs my high school friend Ashley burned for me is to thank. She had awesome taste in music I never would have heard otherwise.

Listen to this song and remember how it felt when you were young and utterly heartbroken for the first time. It was when you were absolutely certain at any moment you’d die from betrayal, unrequited love, etc. All you could do was hope to never feel that way again. This song still leaves a knot in my stomach, even though I’m not at all who I was then, and I know better now than to think it will never go away.

Also, apparently this band’s other music sounds nothing like this, it’s just angry, screamy death metal noise. It’s crazy.