Dad: Did you check the plants in the greenhouse yet.
Dad: Why not?
Mom: Because I don’t like to see dead plants first thing in the morning.
This was my parents’ first conversation of the day.
I’m at my parents’ house in Door County for the week, where I’m knocking out some reporting for a magazine article. This weekend my brother and I will rebuild their hoop-house, blown apart in a windstorm last September.
In their 70th years my parents are semi-retired. They grow organic produce to sell at farm markets a couple days a week, starting the seeds in their small house, then moving them to a tiny greenhouse outside the front door.
Each day they get up at dawn and check the plants. When we get these cold spring nights there’s always a chance they could lose a chunk of the crop overnight, so they cover plantings with straw and cloth. Sometimes they throw a space heater in the greenhouse.
At 7:30 am Mom finally went out to check the greenhouse. No dead plants this morning. Relief.
I thought it was toast. I walked through the gate at the Montrose Brown Line stop and reached for my phone - my sad habit - but it wasn’t there. I knew right away that it had fallen out of my pocket when I boarded at the Paulina stop. The train lurched as I sat down, and the pockets on my hoodie were loose.
I hoped I had just left it at Northdown, along with the six months of my life I lost to the pork fries I ate, but I knew better.
My iPhone was gone, and now I was out $200. That’s $200 I can’t afford. I absorb such instances pretty well - the $250 I paid to retrieve my car when I got towed at a Cubs game last spring, getting smoked by a snowplow the day before I moved to Chicago in February, the $50 parking ticket I found on my window a couple weeks ago. These are experiences, part of becoming a city-dweller. Once they happen, I can only step forward. I try to focus on that.
But I felt pretty ridiculous Friday night when my last vision of my phone was the green dot moving across a map away from the Kimball Station, the end of the El’s Brown Line. That left me, a journalist working remotely, without a phone.
I tracked it to an apartment complex, sent a message in hopes that whoever found it would be kind and return it. No response came, and after staring at that green dot in the FindMyiPhone app for a couple hours, I wiped the phone from my computer.
In the morning I went to my carrier, hoping to get a replacement, but it would take a week. Then I emailed my brother in Madison and asked him to call the Kimball Station in the minute hope that it had been turned in.
“They might have a phone matching your description,” he emailed me. I tried not to be enthused, but allowed myself a chuckle, knowing exactly what my older sister, a longtime Chicagoan, would say - “You are such a lucky little shit.”
I drove a few blocks to the station, still trying to expect it to not be my phone, but sure enough, they had it. Someone had found it and turned it in, or a CTA employee found it. The lady wasn’t sure. Either way, I was ecstatic.
Another reason to love this city. Good karma, I like to think. Maybe it loves me back.
I offered the lady money, I wanted to reward somebody, even if I didn’t know who to thank. She turned it down, laughing at how ridiculous it was that I was so relieved to have found my phone (and it is ridiculous, really).
“Just keep up with your phone!” she said from behind the glass, shaking her head.
Just keep up with your phone. I will, thank you very much.
After six weeks living in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, I’m getting adjusted to a few things. My top four of the moment.
1. Horns are not honked to say hello. In rural America, there is no instinct to honk at the car in front of you. Most of us don’t even know how to use our horn in the spur of the moment. We’re too nice. If road rage boils, it takes a moment of fumbling and wheezing honks before we hit the horn solid enough to send a message, at which point our target is long gone. Our horn is a vehicular wave. If you hear one as you walk down the sidewalk, you expect a driver to follow up with a holler. It might not have been for you but you wave anyway. Better safe than sorry, and you probably know the guy, so he’ll wave back half-heartedly as if to say, “oh, hi to you too.”
2. Needing to be efficient leaving my apartment. There’s a process here. I have to lock my doors, I have to carry the keys to the rear gate, and if I’m so inclined to see which bill has arrived, I need the key to my mailbox. I live on the third floor, so if I forget something, I have to dash back upstairs, rather than pop into the front door. In Chicago’s March heat wave, this is embarrassingly exhausting. I never locked a door in Sister Bay, sometimes even forgetting to lock the door to the bar.
3. I will never make it to every bar and coffee shop. Back home, I could grab a drink at every bar that opened its doors on a January Tuesday in the entire county and still have 11 hours left in my day. I have yet to cover the restaurants on my block since I moved.
4. I will not know the person who just walked in the door. In Sister Bay - hell, in Green Bay - when the door to the bar opens, every single person in the room turns to see who just joined the party. The chance of knowing the new arrival are something close to 87 percent. I still turn to look here, expecting to see someone I know, but I’m learning. I’m also learning that I know longer have to prep for walking in the door to a sea of faces looking at me.
The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: “Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?”
Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, “Nothing.” Then Katz asked the women, “What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?” Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:
“I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street,” said one.
“I don’t put my drink down at parties,” said another.
“I use the buddy system when I go to parties.”
“I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction.”
“I use my keys as a potential weapon.”
The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life — including my mother, sister and girlfriend — and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.” —
I always think about the time in college when I was upset that the painters had left ladders up to our non-locking bedroom windows and my male housemate said, “Calm down! What’s the worst someone can do, steal your computer?”
I have four sisters and six nieces, and moments when I have to think about these anecdotes about the world we live in make my stomach churn.