Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rough Night in River North

Years ago, while working the Sunday Shift by myself at Arrow Messenger Service, I sat reading an article from Cosmopolitan Magazine.  The article's message said that if you are single, you need to spend every moment you can cultivating opportunities for relationships. That meant, no Friday or Saturday nights alone in front of the television.  I often thought of the article, and often laughed about it, because, as a single man, I spent many weekends by myself.  Mostly, I spent time by myself because I had nothing else to do.  But sometimes, often times, I wanted to, and I'd choose to, spend Saturday nights alone watching a movie or television.

I've been married for five years.  Yet, I still think about the article from Cosmopolitan.  I feel like going out to be social is the right thing to do.  I think about it on Friday evenings as the work week is winding down and a group of colleagues make plans to go out for a drink.  Though I like my friends at work, and I go out once in a while, it's always easier for me to go home and unwind with three hours worth of Modern Family episodes on TBS.

But this past Friday, April 10, I wanted go out with a group from work.  Someone from the Civil Rights Department was celebrating a birthday.  The plan was to meet at this Corner Tap a few blocks from the office.  Evidently, though someone from our party called the corner tap ahead of time, they couldn't accommodate our group, (isn't accessibility lovely 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act?).  Plan B turned out to be Chili's.  It was not far away, it had space, and it was accessible.

By the time the group was settled in at the restaurant, it was 6:30 p.m. By 7 p.m., after one Margarita, I was ready to go.  Introversion and thoughts of Modern Family had sunk in.   For some reason, it took thirty minutes to flag down the server, ask for a bill, and pay.  Leaving, because I wanted to leave much earlier, and because it took so long to pay for one drink, I was antsy.

The Grand Avenue Station along the Redline is just two blocks south from Chili's.  The Chicago Avenue Station is four blocks north.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone north.  But there was no reason to think anything would happen. It's hard to imagine that anything would happen within a distance of just two blocks, even if they are Chicago blocks - which are larger than the average city block, and even if it was through the heart of River North -- where many people on a Friday night drink, then drink some more.  

Crossing Ohio Street, I was just one block from the Grand Avenue Station.  Just as I stepped onto the corner at the Southeast side of the Ohio and State Street intersection, I heard a scream. Though scores of people were all around me, I recognized the scream. It is the scream of dwarfaphobia from an individual who is traveling with a small group of friends.  The individual screams, claims he or she is frightened because of a dwarf, then his or her friends laugh.  In this case, it was a group of five teenage girls.  The screamer ducked into a doorway. She stuffed her head into the corner of the doorway, waiting for me to pass.  I stopped. I didn't want to pass.  I wanted to force the teenager to look at me.

Not much time passed.  As the crowds of people continued north and south on the sidewalk, I stayed at the corner, waiting.  Four of the teenagers stood outside the doorway, about ten yards from where I stood, waiting.  The screamer continued to press herself into the doorway.  Less than a minute later, one of the teenagers said, "I've got to pee."  She, along with two others, left her friend in the doorway. They passed by me without saying anything or acknowledging me.

Eventually, the screamer pulled herself from the doorway.  She, along with the fifth and final teenager, backtracked.  They walked down State to Grand, crossed the road, walked up the opposite side of the street, then crossed back to the near side of the street once they were beyond where I stood. I watched until they disappeared into the crowd.

Half a block down the street, a woman sitting in a nice looking restaurant at a table of four pounded on the window, trying to get my attention. I stopped. All of the people at the table were women.  They were probably mid twenties to early thirties. The one who knocked on the glass, shouted at me through the window.  "Hey," she yelled out. I couldn't read the look on her face.  I couldn't tell if it was a look of recognition, as if she and I might had met at some point, or if it was a look that said, "Hey, Look at the guy."  The look on the faces of the other three women ranged, from uncomfortable smiles, to objectifying smiles.   I waited a moment.  The woman who knocked on the glass didn't say anything, or give any kind of clue to indicate that she knew who I was.  I turned my head, and walked toward the train station.

Two thirds of the way down the steps to the platform of the southbound Redline train, I stopped.  No one else was on the steps.  At the bottom of the steps was a teenage girl, maybe a little younger than those in the group I saw earlier.  She was with a boy.  The boy, who didn't see me, walked from the base of the steps down along the platform.  The girl, when she saw me, stopped and stared.  When I saw her staring, I was about ten steps up from where she stood. I stopped.  I stared back.  "What?" she mumbled, as if wondering why I stared.  The boy she was with returned.  He looked at me. He gave me a perturbed look.  I waited, standing, watching them, until they both moved on. I walked to the opposite end of the platform.

The platform was crowded. The train was still eight minutes away, a long wait for a Friday evening. A few minutes into the wait, I looked up to the girl.  Standing about 15 yards away, amidst several strangers, she took my picture with her phone.

Over and over again, people say, "you have to pick your battles." As I get older, I pick fewer and fewer of them. I think, and hope, it's more productive to engage in broader outreach activities rather than confronting individuals who may know no better. Also, harassment, whether it be misinterpreted or genuine, doesn't bother me as much anymore. It's easier to write off someone as biased or prejudiced than to be weighted down by the behavior of others.

But two days ago, I was bothered by what happened. Stares are one things. Pictures are another.  But the dwarfophobic moments are hard to take.  Nevertheless, confrontation on a Friday night in River North is never a good idea.  

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