goin’ to chicago (sorry, but I can’t take you)

Twenty-seven B-stroke-6
American Express lets you book flights online with Membership Rewards points instead of cash. The site even duplicates the functionality of Travelocity, allowing you to search a range of dates or a couple adjacent airports. Neat. But they’re not always great on follow-up.

Case in point: I wanted to check-in for my flight to Chicago early, so I needed a confirmation number from AirTran. Never got it from AmEx. So I called AirTran customer service. Waiting for the list of options to end didn’t help; the recording, instead, cycled through broader and broader questions (“I’m sorry; I didn’t understand your response. Are you even getting on a fucking airplane?”). I hung up and tried a different number, but this time ended in some bizarre menu where a recording read a list of check-in procedures off at me. “Fees may be accrued for additional bags checked. Carry-on bags must be eighteen inches deep by twenty-seven inches …”

Finally, I tried the second number once more, punching “0” repeatedly until I got a human. She found my confirmation number with all speed, wasting very little time on courtesies.

No Touching
I had an afternoon to kill before I needed to be at Logan, so I met Misch at Downtown Crossing for lunch. She took me to a place in the food court that served up tasty chicken teriyaki. The upstairs was packed, so we ate in the food court basement.

“Why Chicago?” she asked.

“I have friends there,” I explained. “But more than that, I really like the city. It’s modern, it’s cheaper than Boston. And I’ve been in Boston ten years now. It might be time for me to move. Lately I’ve been feeling something needs to change, though ‘moving eight hundred miles’ is probably the most expensive change possible. So I guess this is–

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted myself. “Could we continue this conversation somewhere that doesn’t feel like a prison cafeteria?”

Paranoia Rewarded
No sooner had I settled into my spacious second-row seat (I sprung for the business-class upgrade) than I felt something missing. Running through the pocket-patting ritual common to all adult males, I found a vacancy on my left side. iPod, yes, but no cell phone.

I darted to the front of the plane. “Sir, you’re gonna have to -”

“I left my cell phone up there.”

“Okay,” the attendant soothed. “We’ll send someone up the jetway to get it. We can’t let you back into the terminal for security reasons.”

Vindicating as it was to hear that AirTran personnel don’t think any more of TSA screeners than I do, I didn’t think sending a third party would help much. My initial conversation with the tiny man who came down the jetway bore this true. “Where was your cell phone?”

“Back there. At the gate.”

“At the gate?”

“Where I was sitting.” Not literally AT the gate; I took it out of my pocket to shut it off before boarding, so I know I had it in my hand while I was waiting for boarding to be called; this is ridiculous …

“Do you know where you were sitting?”

“At the … one of the seats? Near the middle?” A couple rows back from the gate? Near these two college students; you could tell by the baby cheeks and the sweatpants; are you really going to send me to a strange city without a cell phone?

“Okay, come with me.” The tiny man escorted me back up the ramp, nattering the whole while about a time that he’d left something at the gate and the plane had already pulled away. I chimed in to be polite (“wow, really?”) rather than gargling in panic until we got back to the gate. Once there, I shouldered past him and ran to the row I was sitting in. I tried not to wring my hands as I searched, until the crew member himself found it, its dark blue frame camouflaging it perfectly among the seats.

I’d write AirTran a thank-you e-mail, but we probably broke some federal regulations in letting me back off the plane. I’ll check with my lawyer first.

In Wicker Park Did Kublai Khan
Hawver told me to take the Orange Line from Midway into the Loop, then the Blue Line out of the city (toward O’Hare, ironically), getting off at Damen. I found him outside, reading a fat tome on energy policy. We flagged a cab, a light drizzle having started to fall since I landed.

Hawver lives in an old but well-maintained neighborhood, in a second story gut-rehabbed apartment. Wide rooms, hardwood floors and spacious ceilings. He and Dea each have their own private offices, as well as large swaths of the living room they have laid out as they see fit (Hawver: Niall Ferguson and Stephen Baxter books; Dea: Buffy and Angel DVDs)*.

All this, plus a shared garageway in the back and a third of a mile from the Blue Line. “How much does this run you?” I asked. He quoted a figure, a mere 30% more than what I pay for a studio (!) in a similar neighborhood in Boston. If I wanted to live in a similar studio, at a similar distance from a nicer downtown, I could pay half what Hawver and Dea pay for a rehabbed 3BR. I choked on my beer.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Gelato
Hawver and Dea took me to a party a short cab ride away, where some grad school friends of Dea’s were wrapping up a barbecue. The host graciously brought out some raw tuna steaks, which I ate with my hands before I even thought to offer someone else (sorry). There was also a hearty cake shaped like a robot. I didn’t eat all of that. Quit staring at me.

Though I didn’t smoke, I followed the smokers out to the porch while the grad students played Asshole indoors. Kyle, lead vocalist in Hawver’s new band, talked about his last trip to Boston. “After stumbling out of this bar called, whassit, The Field? We’re looking for the train. Can’t find it**. So we keep walking until we hit a bridge going over the river.” He went on listing the bars he and his girl Diana hit in their trip around Boston. Hawver and I, functioning alcoholics both, chimed in whenever he struggled for an establishment’s name.

“Did you come to Chicago to see Hawver play tomorrow?” his friend Tony asked.

I thought for a moment. “Yes, I did,” I said.

“Shit,” Kyle said, pitching his cigarette. “Now I’m’a have to be good.”

* Not to suggest that Dea doesn’t read; rather, as a grad student, reading is business for her.
** To pre-empt the question, yes, you have to be pretty drunk to miss the Red Line coming out of The Field in Central Square. That’s what made it such a good story.


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