Just Passing Through
I first arrived in Chicago in late summer of 1992. I intended to only stay about two weeks before returning to the East Coast.
As I neared the end of that two-week period, the temperatures had cooled a bit, and I enjoyed the pleasant weather for running, biking, or exploring. There was much of the city I hadn’t seen.
And there was still a helluva lot of time left in the baseball season.
At that point in my life, I had been to one Red Sox game (a glorious old park) with my Little League team, and earlier in 1992, I’d driven up from DC area to a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore (a gob-smacking, brand-new stadium).
I felt as though I needed to see more live baseball. Hell, I deserved it. And a city with two teams was a great place to do it.
Thus, I decided to prolong my stay and I began to seek freelance projects. And go to baseball games on weekends. I was particularly interested in going to a Cubs game on a weekday afternoon. That seemed like a totally-Chicago thing to do.
Soon, I received a call from an educational publisher in the suburbs. The caller, George, informed me they were in Glenview, Illinois, I didn’t know exactly where Glenview was, but I was fairly confident that the CTA trains didn’t go there. Which meant driving, and being stuck in traffic. I was slightly less interested in the job.
He described their location and it didn’t sound far away—not that much car time. Still, I was momentarily disappointed. Since I was in elementary school, I’d envisioned myself working in downtown Chicago, largely because of this TV intro:
However, the project was with a company I was interested in. I was pretty excited about a chance to work with an academic publisher, on an elementary and middle school math textbook revision.
I thought ahead: if I were to be offered to this position, I could get to an afternoon Cubs game that week, and start the position the week after. Therefore, I agreed to come out for an interview.
The next day, a Tuesday, I met with three different design managers. It went well. The interview ended with George who was leading the math textbook project asking, ”Can you start tomorrow?”
This was good news! Or was it? Starting the next day would disrupt my game plan (literally because I planned to go to a game.)
I thought for a few moments. The project was due to end in November. Well past baseball season. The project was rather behind schedule, so I thought it might be hard to get a day off.
I paused, then thanked them for the offer and said, ”I really need to do some work on my car, can I start Thursday?”
They agreed. I felt like I’d hit a home run.
The next day, I hopped on the Brown Line for a short ride, then walked a mile, east on Addison Street and held up one finger outside of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs would be playing the Dodgers.
I hadn’t expected that they would be sold out. I talked to a few scalpers and settled for a standing room only ticket.
After a few innings, the crowd thinned out, and I took a seat in the left field bleachers, and had my first taste of Old Style.
When I got home, I went to my car, that was parked a few blocks from my apartment, and checked the oil. I could honestly say I worked on my car.
What the Hell is a Blueline?
I started the freelance job, the next day. The project was hectic from the get-go. The pace was quick and I was a bit out of my element. Though I had deep experience with desktop publishing, this was my first exposure to ‘traditional’ publishing. Production managers kept asking me about status of “blue lines” and I thought they were referring to the train that went to O’hare, for crying out loud.
It seemed borderline barbaric, a waste of time that revisions to a textbook would still be done with pencils and ink. The horror.
All of this would have been manageable except for the fact that I was pushed out the door at 4:30 every day. My undone work deficit grew larger every day. Stress invaded my sleep.
One thing was clear, I would absolutely not have time to get to another Cubs game on a weekday. Delaying my first day for this project now seemed like a genius move.
We wrapped up the textbook revisions just before Christmas. I received several contract extensions for post-project cleanup, and some additional work that had been on the department’s to-do list.
On my last day, nearing February, I went to say goodbye to George and he invited me into his office. We talked about the project, their coming move to digital publishing, my future plans, and of course, comic books and baseball.
About 20 minutes in, I said that I didn’t want to keep George from his family, but I had a quick confession.
His eyes widened a bit, and his head tipped back. He looked like a smaller, a non-intimidating edition of Ernest Hemingway, with a voice that resembled comedian, Jackie Vernon’s . I revealed that I had kicked off my tenure with the company by playing hooky.
“….and since I didn’t know I was going to stay in Chicago, I thought that might be my only chance….”
He put up his hand to stop me.
He sat back in his chair, with his hands on his belly, chuckled a bit and said, ”I don’t blame you. In September, it’s too nice to work. Though I wish you had told me your plans, I’d have met you there.”