The sleet and the snow outside merged into an icy, shellac gray. When stepping into the sloppy mess it went invisible for a moment, then slid away into the next pedestrian’s shoe or boot, with a squish, and a slush, and a grimace of acceptance. The air was intensely cold and I knew that as the wind picked up, slicing over Lake Michigan, no amount of salt or chemical upon the sidewalks would keep the sloshy, miserable mess from freezing and turning treacherous.
I stomped upon the already sodden matt at the door, chiding myself for agreeing to come out on this freezing cold day. Chicago was never a safe city but to compound, the issue was the weather.
The smell of coffee in the agreed upon coffee shop helped, who wouldn’t put their head down and seek warmth?
The coffee shop was new to me, located near DePaul University. It was a quick bus ride over but even that had its hazards this time of year. The bus was near to capacity and I felt for a brief moment that I had walked into a doctor’s office waiting room when I boarded. There were the red noses, the sniffles, the solemn, miserable-eyed stares from just about everyone. A small child in a red knit hat sat upon his mother’s lap, his mouth open, a yellowing crust hardening below his nose. I thought of turning and returning to my nice warm apartment. Instead, I slowed my forward momentum, looking around at those who wouldn’t make eye contact and grabbed a rope. I refused to think of who had gripped that bastion of public transportation before me.
I hung on as the bus swayed and jolted while we parka-padded humanity kept time to the momentum of Chicago ruts, potholes and traffic as best we could.
On a fine day, I would have walked, actually even on a cold day — but the thought of ice stopped me. I walked through snow, no problem, rain, that could be pleasant, ice in Chicago, was another story.
Feeling as if half the battle was over after the bus ride, I walked up to the coffee house counter and a young man came forward. I gave a glance around, the place looked clean and the young man across the counter looked healthy.
“I’ll just have a cup of your house and that scone over there — do you make them here?”
“No, we purchase all of our baked goods from a specialized bakery here in Chicago.” He spoke to me as he poured my coffee and warmed my scone, telling me, via a well-memorized script, that the baker used only non-GMO flour and fresh ingredients, he even handed me a flyer about the place. I took it but never read it.
I sat down as far away from the door as I could possibly negotiate and waited. He said he would arrive at around 6:15 or 6:30, depending on how transportation went. I understood that. The CTS was usually pretty good — but the weather was a factor. I looked down at my coffee and scone. I was hungry but not for what was before me. I understood, our first meeting really couldn’t be for dinner, a coffee shop would make a better excuse for both of us if we took an immediate dislike to each other, he could even glance in and keep walking.
I took a bite of the chalky white scone before me and thought, now would be a good time for him to walk through the door as I fought the dry pastry in my mouth. I grabbed the coffee hoping that would help me dissolve the mess and felt the inevitable scald on my tongue. I swallowed hard, sat back and tried to blink the tears out of my eyes, thinking that any moment he would walk through the door.
Actually, I was able to finish the scone, get my free refill and lose myself in the novel I was reading on my smartphone.
When I looked up I was the only one left in the coffee shop and the night was dark. I got up pulled my bag up to my shoulder and placed my coffee cup and plate into a plastic tub near the counter.
It was 7:15.
The young man behind the counter gave me a small sympathetic smile as if to say — “he stood you up.”
I smiled down at my now dry shoes. I then walked to the door and opened it to the cold and icy sidewalk and thought window shopping can be cold work in Chicago. It was a sort of consolation.