The Ogilvie Arches

mcdonalds

I’ve resided in the city of Chicago nearly my entire life. A toddler’s stay in Virginia here, a college move to Urbana, Illinois there. And one exquisitely awful year wasted with the wrong man in Bensenville, a suburb next door to O’Hare Airport. Oh the noise, so unlike the sonic cornucopia of sirens, bus recordings and general boisterousness that are the soundtrack of urban living. The sky screaming of planes, the smell of jet fuel in the air. Roaring, toxic monotony – much like that relationship.

I’m a committed Windy City concrete jungler. Nevertheless, I’ve spent many years traveling the Metra commuter train lines that ferry suburban workers to and from Chicago’s downtown. The operation serves more than 100 communities with 11 routes and 241 stations, a few of which can be found well inside city limits. I have a lot of love for the Chicago Transit Authority for many reasons. It’s another story for another time, maybe a novella. But two things which a trip on the subway or elevated train is not: comfortable or permissive of personal space. With cushy benches that double as nap mats during off-peak hours, upper deck seating and a smoother ride, Metra delivers a generally preferable experience to standing crushed between sweaty bodies while hanging on to a piece of metal for balance.

And the Ogilvie Train Station, which serves as a hub for many North and West Metra lines, has a few cute shops, some valuable services and a pretty amazing food court. This third wonderland has provided the backdrop to many quick office lunches, drink dates and post-happy hour carb loads over the years. Several businesses sell portable adult beverages to go for one’s Metra trip. How can the CTA compete, I ask?

Anyway the food court offers meal options both healthyish…and not. For every Subway or salad venue, there’s a Taco Bell, Arby’s…and of course, a McDonald’s.

The Ogilvie Mickey D’s has been a curious emotional foci, a place I find myself after incandescent episodes of grief. It’s completely disproportionate to my overall McDonald’s experience. Normally I eat at a franchise maybe twice or thrice a year? But when I do, it’s statistically likely the incident will occur at the train station.

  • In spring 2011, I bellied up to the bar after a stranger than fiction near miss with my soon-to-be ex-husband. The intrigue found me hiding behind a train station dumpster, crouching low to the pavement to avoid being seen. Thus forced to engage. Every second of the standoff included acute awareness of juvenile, humiliating behavior. Others saw me and possibly had a few questions, but it wasn’t their eyes I feared. After abandoning defensive crouch, I ate my weight in French fries while waiting for the next train back to the safety of my bachelorette studio.
  • While battling acute migraine headaches between 2012 and 2015, a period marked by many shameful episodes of public vomiting, fried potatoes were often one of the few foods my body would accept. Ensuing visits to the train station McDonald’s counter, where I was oft and understandably mistaken for a hungover mess. There was an advantage to the confusion. On several occasions, I was allowed to cut in line because other patrons feared my sick.
  • In February of this year, I made half a dozen grief trips on the way home from my current employer. Regular readers of this blog, as well as those close to Bob and I personally, know that this was the month where we lost two of our beloved fur babies within a three week timespan. Dead of winter devastation. Daily movement and functionality were hard-fought battles. I began 2016 on a low-carb diet, losing 15 pounds, and kept the regiment up more or less until Memorial Day. But February contained several days without any other fucks beyond immediate survival to give. There were some Quarter Pounders with cheese at the train depot.
  • In April, Prince died. I left work that day around lunchtime, a grief-stricken, sobbing wreck grappling with shock over the loss of an artistic inspiration. Double Quarter Pounder with cheese while feverishly reading online coverage of the Purple One’s untimely demise.
  • I’ve already mentioned Memorial Day. The next day, Tuesday, I threw low carb diet and exercise routines aside upon learning that my dear friend Todd had died. We’d spent time together the previous weekend and he was perfectly well. Six years of unflagging support, sardonic wit, music and political discourse – gone without warning. I can’t even recall what I ate that day. I just remember feeling pulled to the same particular fast food counter on autopilot. Ingesting my emotions in a familiar place had by now become a source of comfort through complete internal chaos.

It might be inferred (because accurate) that 2016 has been a challenge. Separately and together, Bob and I have had a lot of loss to experience and process. Certainly the complexity of it all has spilled over into our personal dynamics. Though we’re stronger and more bound than ever in our second year, the Terrible Twos aren’t just a toddler thing. Last month was hard. And of course it included an Ogilvie McDonald’s culinary therapy session. For whatever reason, I took a picture of the marquee and posted the image to Facebook with the caption “I’ve given up on life.” I suppose it was a cry for some kind of compassion and community during a moment of weakness.

My friend Meg observed, “the Ogilvie McDonald’s is a ‘special’ kind of giving up.” I knew exactly what she meant. What’s a more anonymous, pulsating and lonely experience than a train station? Add a toxic, fatty, solo meal to the mix and one has all the trappings of bad fiction. I don’t write bad fiction. I don’t write fiction at all.

I think the unreality of the scene keeps me coming back. It’s not the real Becky. It’s not my life. Those visits to McDonald’s represent a false sense of willful control during delirium, a way to organize tragic events that are lawless and messy. It’s a second’s consolation, an indulgent, fleeting fullness before beginning long, empty grief work.

Missing Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire

I sat watching Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Navy Ship Yard in New York on Tuesday night with tears streaming. As a 37 year-old woman who’s followed the career of the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State since junior high, #ImWithHer completely. I may have voted for Sanders in the primary (that makes two election cycles in a row with a plurality of quality Democratic options), but come on. To quote another of my political heroes, Vice President Joseph R. Biden III, Clinton’s status as the 2016 presumptive nominee is a “big fucking deal.” This is the first woman EVER to go atop a national ticket. I’m nowhere near as high-profile as Mrs. Clinton but as a career woman and ardent feminist, I know her journey has been filled with roadblocks. She’s not in the Oval Office yet (bring it Trump) but she’s done something historically important. It warranted an emotional release.

Toward the end of Clinton’s soaring address to supporters, I began crying a lot harder. Because I knew someone who would have hated everything about Hillary’s victory, a friend with whom I would have had a spirited debate about moving on from #FeelTheBern to unite the party. Because Trump is the alternative for crying out loud, and though Clinton is an imperfect candidate (as they all are), she’s a proven, pragmatic worker who genuinely cares about the country. He would counter with “Clinton is an evil crook” rhetoric and declare his support for Jill Stein. I would spit the names of Nixon and Dubya. “Misogyny” would be interlaced throughout as both accusation and social commentary. He’d insist anarchy is preferable to another machine leader. We’d probably go a few days without speaking before sheepishly picking up the phone or sending a text.

That’s what should have happened after Clinton’s landmark speech. But Todd died on Memorial Day, six days before I sat on my couch cheering Hillary, paradoxically wishing for the wet blanket he would have enthusiastically offered.

We met on the Union Pacific North Line Metra route in 2010, commuting to the same downtown Chicago office (although not explicit colleagues). I was barreling toward the end of a troubled marriage and near-permanently distracted. As I’ve explained to Bob in recent days, Todd did the initial work and though I’m eternally grateful, I’ll never understand why. Yes we both loved theater, considered ourselves ardent liberals (though he was bitterly disappointed in President Obama – another source of contention) and resided in the same neighborhood. But Todd had roughly a zillion friends as one of the most energetic and likable people in the free world. And me, at least at least then? Pretty much this.

As Todd and I became better acquainted, I learned he’d survived illness, relationship loss and death. Over the course of our six-year friendship, he also recovered from a very serious car accident. Todd didn’t even drive, mind you. He was struck on the sidewalk. Anyone else might have sunk into bitterness at the cruelty of fate. This man had tenacity, spirit and yet counterintuitively, was rather blasé about it. Todd casually and unaggressively knew he was awesome – beaming that certainty at everyone he loved. This made him the best kind of friend – one always there in crisis, with the authenticity to tell when it was time to stop singing the “Big Railroad Blues.”

Todd was a huge Grateful Dead fan and a socially conscious, fun-loving hippie aesthetic infused everything he did. I’ll never know for certain but I think he found my own existential struggles toward inner peace amusing. I’ve made progress but you can’t wash the Type A out of a girl entirely. When my friend felt in need of a red-faced, arm-waving, outside voice volume rant (say, when Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks), he knew where to turn. And though we were temperamentally different, we loved each other symmetrically.

My pal died just a few hours after we enjoyed soft pretzels and cider at a neighborhood German pub. He was feeling great: excited for a boatload of summer plans he’d made, philosophical about a recent breakup and ready for whatever came next (as always). We exchanged affectionate hugs and as we parted, I thought about how glad I was that I was in a place to do more of the emotional work in our friendship. Although Todd carried me over the starting line, over time we walked hand in hand. Once in a while he even did the leaning.

Todd was buried in his home state of New Jersey last weekend. On Saturday June 18, Chicago friends and family will have their chance to gather and celebrate his life. Todd was a super connector, fond of introducing people he loved to one another. As a result, perhaps one of his final gifts, I’m not alone in grief.

But we won’t argue about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Ever. And I hate it.

The Homeless Woman Who Hates Me (July 15, 2010)

Each morning, I walk down the same side street in Rogers Park, en route to catch the Metra commuter train downtown to my office. Each morning, at exactly the same time, I pass a mentally unstable homeless woman who appears to have a standing, important appointment. Unwashed, slovenly and usually muttering to herself, our paths intersect at the same moment, and I have paused to admire her punctuality, given that I am a creature of habit myself. I know not where she goes, what her name is, or what her back-story might be.

However, this woman seems to be under the impression that she has me all figured out. I noticed this oddity about a week ago, but as a characteristically self-conscious person, I attempted to blow off the ideas creeping into my head, believing that I should not read too much into the actions of a mentally ill lady in a hurry. But when my husband, iPod permanently fixed to his ear, attentiveness of an unmedicated ADD patient, noticed the same phenomenon, I knew there was something there.

Last week, as Eddie and I traversed the sidewalk, I made an effort to step behind my husband, clearing a path for my unnamed acquaintance to pass by unmolested. Instead of appreciating my good manners, I was treated to a pause, followed by a purposeful look of scorn before she sighed heavily and resumed her rush down the pavement. What had I done? I took it in stride and went about my day.

This past Monday, a bright and sunny morn, I could see Lady Supersonic approaching for the better part of a city block, and evidently she could see me too. Again I attempted to clear a path for her to pass without Eddie and I acting as sidewalk hogs. To my utter astonishment, Lady S. took this movement on my part as an invitation to play an impromptu game of “Pavement Chicken.” After my first move, she made a move of her own to align head-on with me. I stepped again to the left, and she followed. As we came closer to each other, I began to wonder if she was seriously intent on crashing into me.

Seems so. After two tries at waltzing out of her way, I held my ground, leaned forward and vowed to deal with whatever happened next. We were less than three feet apart when Eddie grabbed me roughly by the arm and shoved me behind him. He then asked me if I had gone mad myself. What was I to do? I don’t WANT to have a collision with Lady Supersonic, but ought I to allow her to continue acting as my sidewalk bully?

And exactly what is this all about anyway? Why me? My husband is handsome, well-dressed and looks every bit the part of a Wall Street player (though he is, in reality, just an anomalous IT hottie). Why doesn’t she hate him? I realize that sounds childish, my wanting Eddie to get sucked into Lady S.’s vortex of hate, but seriously, it’s not fair!

Supersonic knows nothing about me. She doesn’t know that I spend my working days fighting for human services in Illinois, making twice minimum wage in the process, when there are certainly other jobs I could take. I suspect Supersonic’s morning appointment may in fact have to do with some kind of outpatient services she is receiving – services I devote my life to funding and protecting.

Lady S. also has no idea that the image she chooses to see each morning, that of a corporately attired woman in sunglasses with a fabulously attractive husband, belies my background, where I rose above growing up in the most dysfunctional and abusive of homes, to become a responsible citizen (of sorts).

As I say, it is wrong of me to expect clarity of mind from someone who has her own problems to deal with, but if there is any sensation I find most uncomfortable in life, it is that of being egregiously misunderstood. I long to stop Supersonic and ask her what it is about my person or mien that immediately strikes her with such disgust. But my husband says that would be crazy. Would it?

The Case of the Ex (April 22, 2010)

ex-boyfriends

Trying to get settled into my new life (apartment, job, a bundle of freelance projects that seems to grow everyday) has left me exhausted, not to mention woefully ignorant of anything important in the realm of news. I have stayed abreast of pop culture through furtive Blackberry readings of Perez Hilton on my daily commute (cut to image of Boop hanging her head in burning shame). Therefore, instead of one of my signature topical rants, you will keep getting anecdotes from my daily life until I can find time to re-enter the larger world.

My new office, located at Lake and Clinton is, quite literally, a stone’s throw away from one of my former employers, a company called Information Resources. I worked at the consumer spending tracking company from 2005-2007 while completing my Master’s in English Lit. at Northeastern. If you have ever seen the movie Office Space, or are familiar with the similiarly named TV show, The Office, you will be easily able to bring an image of IRI’s employees and work ethic to mind. It is, without the shadow of a doubt, the silliest place where I ever did time. I mean that in the best way. Full of happy hours, sloppy floor parties, hookups, rumor and innuendo, I am not sure much work ever got done. This may be part of the reason the company has gone through massive layoffs since I left, but I digress…

Boop was a single graduate student during her tenure at IRI, and I will own upfront that I was a great partaker in the aforementioned bundle of shenanigans (see paragraph above). My fellow employees and I got on, as Forrest Gump might say, “like peas and carrots.” I had nicknames such as “The Prom Queen,” “The Happy Hour Genie,” and “The Makeout Bandit.” It is all too true. During those freewheeling single days, I did use my place of employment as a de facto dating service. And not unsuccessfully either. Eddie and I met while he was a consultant at the company.

The problem is that some of my failed dalliances remain very much employed at IRI. I like to think I have morphed somewhat into a more respectable person since I left the halls of Information Resources: married woman, graduate, thriving career of sorts. Long gone are the days when I did three or more messy rounds of after work cocktails per week. My liver and gym routines will not allow it.

However, I cannot reasonably expect my discarded paramours to recognize my newfound maturity. So each day in my new role at Illinois Partners contains the same routine: I disembark from the Metra and run like hell for the safe confines of my building’s vestibule. At 5:00, I skedaddle back to the Ogilvie Station with sunglasses firmly in place, praying to avoid running into anyone who hates me.

This plan carried me through a full week free of the ghosts of boyfriends past. However, my luck ran out on Tuesday afternoon as I was lazily returning from lunch. The enemy always seems to attack when your guard is down.

He was getting out of a cab and oh no! It was the worst possibility of all: Kiran, the guy I left to get together with Eddie. The fact that Eddie and I have been married for 2.5 years, and Kiran’s own status as a happily married fella with a one year-old daughter, lulled me into the belief that perhaps we had grown, and could have a cordial conversation with bygones being where they belong.

Wrong. I could see recognition wash over Kiran’s face, followed closely by what can only be described as a look of withering scorn. I prayed very hard for the sidewalk to open up and swallow me, a la Baby Jessica down the well, but that shit never works when you need it to. So I braced myself for the stilted, unnatural conversation that was to follow.

It took all of about 30 seconds, but of course the discussion felt like hours. I left with the distinct impression that Kiran thinks he “won” because he has a child at this point and I don’t. Ah yes, baby making as some sort of contest: yet another reason I don’t go there. I didn’t feel the need to explain to him that there’s nothing at all wrong with my eggs or Eddie’s sperm. Let my personal choice make him feel avenged if it means an end to sidewalk nastiness.

It’s only week two at the new job and there’s at least five or six former suitors left for me to run into. Stay tuned…

Back in Love Again (September 23, 2009)

Ever since the start of the Brown Line reconstruction project a few years back, I have turned into a Metra snob. I live equidistant, more or less, between the Damen Ravenswood Line stop on the CTA, and the Ravenswood Metra platform of the Union Pacific North Line. I deemed the el necessary for some destinations, but wherever the Metra/Chicago Water Taxi option was available, I was doing it, particularly during rush hour. The Metra offerred a cleaner, smoother, less riff raff filled journey downtown, and I was in no mood for anything else.

But recently a funny thing has happened. My August trip to London, where I fell in love with the Tube (Underground), left me with a new appetite for the el upon my return home. This, and the awareness of a waning summer that will quickly turn into cold weather, renewed my desire to stand in the open air of the elevated train platforms and absorb the wind, re-embrace the local color and activities aboard the CTA, rediscover my roots. Time was, in the 90s, when I knew my way around the whole of Chicago on every single line. Now they have new entitites, like the Pink Line, and my former autopilot ability to change trains to get where I needed to be has gone rusty.

So in the last few weeks, I have taken the Brown, Red or both lines to Pilates class, theater performances for the Edge, job interviews, bikini waxes, and happy hours with Little C. My old Metra 10-ride pass is crinkling in my wallet with unuse, but for the moment I can’t see myself going back. I will admit my rediscovered adoration of the public train has been buoyed by the fact that I have not had to take it during rush hour. I am suspicious that the standing room only crowd, the B.O. of some of my less than fresh commuters, and the constant stops, jerks and delays might break the spell.