I’m sitting in the basement of a suburban home. Outside there’s a snowstorm but I can’t see it through the frosted windows. I’m here a couple days, then I’m driving west. The reason is that today or tomorrow construction workers will rip a hole through the wall above my kitchen sink to get at the nerve center of the house’s plumbing. If all goes well, I’ll be back home ten days from today.
The contractors hadn’t decided whether they’d go in through the bathroom or the kitchen, so I took down everything off the intended walls on both sides. Dish rack, mirror, shelf of coffee cups, paintings, drawings, and many many pushpins and nails. It’s strange to remove these things that together help make up my daily environment. Disconcerting. I wait until the very last day so I won’t have to live with those stripped walls.
I pack all I think I’ll need into a rolling suitcase and a couple courier bags, give the contractor my house key, ask her half-jokingly to leave the place somewhat the way they found it, and leave. I kill some time at the coffeeshop, hoping to get some work done but feel too unsettled to do much but answer a couple emails.
I take the bus to a favorite old breakfast spot by the train station but find it closed. The plague has changed the working hours of everything. Get a sandwich instead, then catch the Metra. It’s five hours before my friend will be home to let me in the house where I’ll be crashing.
A cold rain is falling when I get off the train. A precursor of the storm which will close everthing the next day. I thought there was a coffeeshop nearby, but either it has closed or I’ve misremembered. I catch a bus northbound till I spot a Starbucks. Never been a fan but itinerants can’t be fussy. This one is clearly configured for carryout service, though there are a few uncomfortable spots to sit. I order a tea and spread out all my crap for a couple hours.
Since I can’t seem to concentrate enough to work, I decide to search for something to listen to on my upcoming trip. I settle on Caro’s The Power Broker. Sixty-six hours of audio. That will do. The download itself takes over half an hour.
I check the directions to my friend’s house and start walking. The sidewalks are lousy and often flooded, so I walk in the roadway half the time. I keep switching arms but there’s no comfortable way to roll the suitcase.
My friend’s town was laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of city parks in America. He conceived of this town as some kind of enchanted village. For me, the enchantment consists of getting lost every time I visit. It’s one of the few places in the vicinity where Chicago’s beautiful grid completely breaks down. It’s no accident, since Olmstead is from Boston, where streets all started as meandering cowpaths.
I curse Olmstead the entire hour and a half it takes me to find the house. But the next day the ordeal is mostly forgotten. Now I’m grateful to have shelter and try not to think of the workers who are currently wrecking my home.
I miss it even though I’ve only been gone twenty-four hours.