Seaworthy CityThe elevator is large and metal, how I’d always imagined the inside of my own personal Phantom Zone to look. Nevertheless, it quickly fills up with a quotient of Chicago’s most talented language-slaughterers. As personal discomfort brings out the judgmental bastard in me, this does little to aid my feeble attempts at relaxation. You see, we are going up. Way up. Someone asks me to hit the 95 button on the panel, and acting as my own executioner, I do so. The metal box rattles with grueling effort as it chugs straight up.

The elevator seems to be a place, the only place, in Chicago that doesn’t have good phone signal, so my confused fellow prisoners are forced to employ face to face conversation as a last-ditch, desperate effort to kill 110 seconds without a phone. The people start hesitantly, making sounds until they finally produce conversations that are full of grammatical mistakes that my students would be embarrassed to make. Meanwhile, I am trying to ignore the rumbling box headed north.

I close my eyes and recede into my happy place, which, at this moment, is a pizza joint that we visited a half-hour ago. I imagine the pizza covered in sausage, cheese and tomatoes. The containers of hot pepper and Parmesan cheese sitting in between the pitcher of beer and my mug. Occasional strands of poorly spoken English attack my fantasy, bringing with it a reminder that I am in a box going to the 95th floor of a building. Through it all, a familiar voice.

“You OK?”

I peep open an eye, not seeing Collin, but a large piece of Chicago style sausage pizza wearing aviator sunglasses. “I am fine, Pizza Man.”

My relationship with up has always been stormy and unpleasant. Euphemistically, I have a low center of gravity, but really, I am short. I am close to the ground and I like it here. Tall people always seem gangly and awkward, as though they are going to fall down and hurt themselves at any moment. If I fall down, I was half-way there anyway. I was the only kid on my block who enjoyed a land-based tree house and the sight of steps send me into a Hitchcockian terror.

For this reason, and others, I am sure, I hate being up. The first five minutes of a flight are dreadful since I can still see the ground. When there is no ground to see, I order a drink and dream about big-nosed women and hobbit holes. Buildings are the worst. They are tall and man-made, they have been crashed into and attacked by people. And they are covered, absolutely covered, in windows.

We step out of the elevator on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building and I laugh when we are told to walk up a flight of steps to reach the lounge. We are seated at a window (every table is at a window) and rewarded a breathtaking panorama of Chicago. For most people. I begin wondering about the building’s faulty foundation or how much nearby Lake Michigan has eroded the asphalt. I imagine the journey down, tipping to Earth like a giant, unstable Jenga tower. I find myself yearning for the grounded comfort of my (land) tree house and sausage pizza at a reasonably tall restaurant.

The bad grammarians are now dispersed or back to staring at their phones. I am amazed to find that the view is stunning enough that I forget my up anxieties for a moment. The menu offers more distractions, especially for Collin who confronts his own sweaty terrors amid pages of $8 beer, $5 bottles of water and $12 shots of bourbon. I order a Basil Hayden’s on the rocks and we compete for who can spot the most rooftop swimming pools.

It’s a good game; it’s distracting. Mostly. Collin spots 18 rooftop swimming pools, I spot 14 rooftop sausage pizzas.

I win.

  1. #1 by Veronika on August 16, 2012 - 9:44 am

    I like the post. The image of you and Pizza Man ejoying the Hancock Buliding lounge gave the begginng of my day completely new level. :0)

  2. #2 by Chris on August 16, 2012 - 5:00 pm

    I was once at this restaurant to have breakfast years ago… Needless to say I couldn’t eat a thing. What a miserable place to go. I could’ve warned you about this.

    PS… Those ridiculous words I have to type to leave this comment are very difficult and are getting harder.

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