Today is Saturday, March 14. Officially, St. Patrick's Day is not until Tuesday, but Chicago is celebrating today. This morning thousands lined the river along Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue for the moment when the City ceremonially dyes the Chicago River Green. At noon, the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade stepped off from Balbo and Columbus Drive. Following the parade, the crowds fanned out across downtown Chicago, filling the bars to the point they bubble over with people. Outside of the bars, large groups of people dressed in green and white, wearing green and purple beads draped over their necks, with four leaf clover decals painted on their faces, tramp up and down the sidewalks, occasionally bursting into chants or songs.
I am an introvert. Even if the Chicago Cubs won the World Series I would never venture out in the midst of a celebration that included thousands, if not millions, of strangers who had been drinking alcohol since not long after sunrise. With St. Patrick's Day though, I find other excuses, besides introversion, to lay low during the holiday. While some little people use the holiday as an opportunity to make money, wearing a Leprechaun outfit to earn a paycheck, other little people feel uncomfortable with the holiday revelers. Some believe, within large crowds full of intoxicated people, a loose link is established between the traditional Leprechaun and any random little person, inspiring some within the crowd of intoxicated people to approach, handle or taunt an unsuspecting little person who may find themselves out and about on St. Patrick's Day. For those who want nothing to do with drunk strangers, this creates a hostile environment worthy of staying inside all day long.
Several years ago, when I worked as the Vice President of Public Relations for Little People of America, the Huffington Post would reach out to me around the time of St. Patrick's Day. The reporters, running with the idea that St. Patrick's Day was an uncomfortable day for many little people, would ask me for my comment on what they were framing as a "Day of Mourning" for little people. After one or two of those media inquiries, the stories got old. Day of Mourning is a little dramatic. Perhaps some little people do get harassed within large crowds on St. Patrick's Day. The harassment is unacceptable but (since I brought the Cubs up once already) it's probably no different than Wrigleyville after a Chicago Cubs night game. Also, I realized a while back that my aversion to St. Patrick's Day has more to do with my personality than any connection between St. Patrick's Day and the harassment of little people. There are plenty of little people, even those who don't make money in a Leprechaun costume, that enjoy St. Patrick's Day.
This afternoon, around 2:30 p.m., I decided to go outside. I was in search of a pair of shoes I'd found at Burlington Coat Factory store on State Street several months earlier. In a way, I also was curious. I was curious how drunk people wearing green would react to me. I wanted to see if I am ultra sensitive to crowds on St. Patrick's Day, or more so than on any other day.
The streets were busier than I thought they'd be. I mistakenly thought the parade started early in the morning, not at noon. I thought that by mid afternoon the crowds would have thinned out. But the crowds were thick, especially at intersections. As groups waited at a street corner for a light to turn green, people piled up behind them, to the point that it looked as if people would burst out into oncoming traffic.
On my way to the shoe store, I maneuvered through many large groups of people. Some people probably stared, some may have made comments to their friends, a few may have taken a picture. But again, that could happen on any day in the life of a little person. Only one person tried to make physical contact with me. As he and I crossed paths, walking in opposite directions, he held out his hand, hoping I would slap his as I walked passed.
All in all, despite large, annoying crowds, it wasn't bad. I wasn't able to find the pair of shoes for which I was searching, but I am glad I went outside, if only to prove to myself that St. Patrick's Day isn't really so bad, and this "Day of Mourning," if I ever bought into it, may just be in my head.