I’m sitting on a bus bench across from the Rainbo trying to get a little reading done before my shift at 8pm but it’s not happening.
First a homeless man slowly crosses to my side of the street and idles just outside my peripheral vision talking to the trashcan to the left of my bench. He leans into view, then withdraws, then leans in again. I don’t know what he’s doing but it’s distracting me from the story I’m trying to read.
Then a voice calls my name. It’s Kurt on the way to the bus stop across Division. Says he’s going to the Old Town School of Folk but I don’t make out the name of the singer he’s going to see.
Then Tim and Jenny walk up and ask what I’m doing. They’re on their way home from dinner with a parent so we talk about that a bit.
Then Matt comes up just as I’m starting to walk my bike across the street. He remarks that we’re going to the same place. Not for the same reason, I say.
I sit in the captain’s chair next to Matt waiting for 8pm to come. It’s a few minutes early but I can see Mike’s itching for a smoke so I come on early. I put on the playlist I made early in the afternoon.
Matt and Mike talk about some baseball trivia game on Matt’s phone. Mike’s surprised to learn I know a couple things about baseball. Then Katherine comes in and sits next to Matt and the baseball talk soon dies away. Mike goes home while Katherine and Matt stay a long time talking, drinking, and going outside to smoke.
Alicia and Skyler show up. Now it’s like the crew corner there. It’s busy enough that I can’t just shoot the shit with my friends. That’s okay. As I told Matt on our way in: it’s not what I’m here for.
Later, maybe midnight, I see bright colored lights filling the diamond porthole window in the bar door. Is that an ice cream truck? I ask no one in particular. A group weaves in clutching ice cream sandwiches, lemon ices, Dream Pops and the like. One of them insists I take six ice cream sandwiches to store in the freezer and share with my coworkers. He talks about how happy they’ll be when they discover them tomorrow. I mime doing what he asks then throw the half-melted things in the trash.
They’re mostly out-of-towners but I recognize Billy as a regular from my Skylark days. His face lights up when he sees me. He asks if I remember him then tells his friends I work at all the cool bars. Tells me some of these people are in a band that just played the United Center opening for the Arctic Monkeys. I try to call their music to mind but can’t. Just the feint memory of an ex-girlfriend being hung up on them.
Somebody says they rode the ice cream truck to the Rainbo from the United Center.
They look like people in a band. There are even a couple girls hanging around drinking only water, trying very hard to get their attention. I ask how the tour’s going. The one in the newsboy cap says they just started. He compliments the bar. I can’t argue with him. This is my favorite bar.
They stay till last call. The ice cream truck is long gone and Preston has to go outside and tell them not to linger smoking and gabbing by the door. After I lock up the one who gave me all the melted ice cream sandwiches is still out there waiting for his Über, smiling into the artificial glow of his phone.
I’ll be at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame table at Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday, noon to 2pm and Sunday, 9am-2pm. Will have copies of the new book. Come by.