On my long, tiring, as-of-yet-fruitless search for steady employment, I submitted a writing sample to Cult of Americana. They’re a website that chronicles the amusing tales in ordinary American life. I think this submission was too morose to make their cut, but I still like how it turned out!
The Ramblers of Chicago
Loss of innocence has nothing to do with ignorance.
For two summers, I worked as a Ticket Sales Agent for a double decker bus company. I spent each workday selling guided tours of Chicago, shouting sales offers over the din of downtown traffic, calculating new ways to fend off boredom. It was a nice job, provided you applied sunscreen.
My mission as Ticket Sales Agent involved reaching out to pedestrians. Occasionally, pedestrians reached out to me. Of the many bizarre people I met in Chicago, here are three that changed my worldview in minutes.
Brain-Addled Puerto Rican Robin Williams
Those are the only words that can describe him. The man had Robin Williams’ crumpled brow, hooked nose, and wide grin. I first saw Brain-Addled Puerto Rican Robin Williams (hereafter BARW) while I explained to a tourist family how the bus schedule worked. BARW stood behind the family, yelling incoherencies and imitating explosion noises with his mouth. We ignored him. We tried.
The family left. The streets were desolate; I had no one to sell to. I approached BARW for some small talk. BARW liked me.
I like you, BARW said. But **** these other people, they don’t know NOTHING!
We enjoyed a game where he’d try to slap the coin in my palm. He shared with me a disgusting method for saving toilet paper, and didn’t lower his voice at all. He left after 10 minutes. He kicked at billowing newspapers on his way, still yelling to himself.
What can I say? BARW left me grinning, and it was a slow morning at work. I used to think those days were the worst.
Post Office Bob
One workday, I found an entire block of Michigan Ave. obstructed by a mass protest. Men and women marched on asphalt, with a crossed out Staples logo on their shirts. They were quiet, overall. I like protests when they’re energetic and passionate, and when they don’t drive away sales.
I stopped one demonstrator, a pudgy and soft-spoken man named Bob, as he walked past. Excuse me, I asked him. Can you tell me what this protest is about?
Bob started talking, and didn’t stop for fifteen minutes. He began his speech on the day’s national postal worker convention, where they discussed Staples’ method of undercutting federal postal practices, and then led the conversation to the importance of unions, before outlining the history of the Post Office and concluding that black men in America are over-incarcerated and you couldn’t send a bible to the Soviet Union.
Bob was fascinating, engrossing, and unable to shut up. My manager stopped by, so I ditched Bob to look busy.
I’d love to talk to Bob again, but I hope I don’t find him at a UPS store.
The Suitcase Woman
I knew corporate skullduggery existed before I met Bob. I knew that mentally challenged folks like BARW wandered the streets. Like I said, innocence isn’t based on what you know or don’t know. Innocence comes from what you believe should happen. Sometimes, innocence can shatter with just a strange woman’s walk.
Suitcase Woman approached me one sunny day, under the shade of a hotel marquee. She talked about how they kick you out of your home and you don’t care about your taxes until you’re paying them. She said a lot of things, bundled up by many coats and missing many teeth. I didn’t comprehend most of her speech.
She didn’t stop talking as she looked away from me and ambled out of the shade. It was like she danced with a broken leg, limping in the same small motions. Her speech was a cryptic Dickinson poem, and her suitcase’s wheels clicked a rhythm as they passed over chunks of sidewalk.
What should I have done? Offered a place to stay? Given her money? Asked her questions? Told her to stop bothering me at work? Something should’ve happened.
Here’s what happened. I waited until I finished talking with customers, and then wrote down, in my phone, what she did and what she looked like. I closed the phone. Then, regretfully, I forgot everything about her, until I looked through my phone for story material years later.
Writing about Suitcase Woman fixes nothing. If she’s still alive, she’s limping her dance over cigarette butts and pigeon dung. A feature in a website won’t help people like her. To think otherwise is ignorance. She’s muttering about what happened to her and dragging her suitcase. She’s telling any young person she meets: they may know about life, but they still think they can avoid it forever.
I met a lot of people as a Ticket Sales Agent, and learned more from them than any bus tour could teach me. In those years, I lost my ignorance.