Norman Rockwell, Where Art Thou?

Not exactly Rockwell, but you get the idea…

Picture if you will a dark, overcast day in Chicago. Street lamps reflect in small pools of water left over from the rain and a thin mist seems to hang in the air. Our eye takes us downtown, to the intersection of Wacker and LaSalle Street, just over the bridge. Imagine the rain has stopped ten minutes earlier, leaving the ground damp and heads wet from the occasional unexpected drip. In the middle of the white-striped crosswalk across LaSalle Street stands a white-haired man dressed in a charcoal suit, trench coat, and fedora. A business man. Maybe a lawyer. In one hand he carries a black briefcase, in the other, a large black umbrella, closed. This businessman crossing the street stops suddenly. Now he turns and looks intently at a yellow taxi that screeches to a halt right in front of him, almost hitting him because the wet ground carries the car a little further when the driver hits the brakes. The man in the intersection barks at the taxi about his right-of-way while he vigorously thrusts his closed umbrella at the crosswalk signal.

Now imagine on the west side of the street, where our businessman started his crossing, stands a guy who calls himself MojoFiction (seriously). He stares wonderingly at the scene and thinks, “If I was Normal Rockwell I would totally paint this.” Why does he think this? Here’s where it gets interesting…

I think it was a Wednesday, but if you’re more of a Friday person than it was Friday. I was on my lunch break and decided that the best way to spend said break would be to go to a job interview at another company. Shame on me, being so sneaky, but a friend of mine had made the interview happen and the company sounded pretty good, so I wasn’t going to miss it. Naturally, I didn’t have an umbrella with me when it started to rain, so I showed up at the interview a little wet. It turns out that dripping all over the chair in the conference room where they held the interview is a pretty good ice-breaker. For those of you keeping score at home, professionalism is actually a better ice-breaker, but it was too late. Anyway, the two people interviewing me were these young guys who were basically looking for people like them and I happened to fit the bill and the job was pretty much mine. But I didn’t know that as I started the walk back to the other office where I still worked.

In Chicago, Wacker Drive holds the distinction of being both north-south and east-west. That’s because it follows the bend in the river downtown, which defines the outer border of “The Loop.” If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s first two Batman films, you might also be familiar with “Lower Wacker” that runs underneath. Also, if you didn’t know, Chicago is also one of those towns where, if you’re a pedestrian, you hate cars, and if you’re in a car, you hate pedestrians. When it rains, that mutual disdain shows up in full force. And it would that day on Wacker Drive.

So I was walking around the bend in Wacker Drive and I came up to the corner of LaSalle Street and Wacker. Traffic, mostly taxis, shot down LaSalle into the financial district (if it can be called that). While I waited at the corner for the light to change, a businessman walked past me and stepped off the curb, encroaching into the street like they do in Chicago, hoping to see a small gap in traffic that will let them rush across the street before getting the walk signal. He didn’t have to wait because the traffic light changed to red and the southbound taxis stopped, freeing up the intersection. Our heroic businessman launched himself into the crosswalk, hurrying on his way to who knows where. Maybe I was lost in thought, I don’t remember, but I didn’t follow him.

LaSalle Street itself is a wide street, so it takes a few seconds longer to cross. The businessman didn’t even get halfway across when I heard the screech of tires and saw a taxi cab come to a halt about two feet from him. The businessman jumped back about a foot, but I don’t think that would have helped if the cab didn’t stop. Thankfully, a pedestrian incident was averted and no one got hurt. Of course, it’s important for a pedestrian to let those pesky taxi cabs know how badly they’ve mucked things up this time, which brings us back to where we started and my Norman Rockwell moment.

Picture if you will a businessman in the middle of a crosswalk on a wet day in Chicago, facing off against a taxi-cab.  It hasn’t occurred to the man that even though the cars coming down LaSalle Street have stopped, the cars on Wacker Drive just might have a left turn signal that allows them to turn down LaSalle.  Imagine this sharply dressed business man yelling at the taxi driver while he animatedly thrusts the tip of his umbrella across the street, pointing to a signal that clearly says “Don’t Walk.”

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