Flashbacks, memories

22 Dec

I’m on the bus, staring out the window onto Michigan Avenue. The people are bundled up and en masse, toting shopping bags, finishing buying Christmas presents. The lights are bright, the night is cold, and the bus moves slowly through the traffic. I’m transported back to one of our high school Chicago trips, junior year.

We had just finished shopping and we all went outside to get a cab to go back to the hotel. I had just bought my prom dress from Lord & Taylor. Sparkly, blue, I considered it the prettiest thing I’d owned. I was pleased to go to prom with a dress that came from the city. There were maybe six or seven of us. We had no other plans for the night. His name was Jay, he saw us trying to hail the cab. He drove a limo bus. He flagged us down, offered a ride to where ever we were going, no cost. He said he’d dropped one group off, had a few hours before they needed him again. Did we maybe want a tour as well?

We were 16, 17, 18. Unsupervised. We should have been wary but this man seemed legit. So we went with him. It’s all a blur, now. I couldn’t even pretend to know where he took us, or what he showed us other than the Planetarium. It’s all sparkly lights and tall buildings, giggling, wonderment at our good fortune. We took pictures, even took one with the driver himself. We asked a stranger to take it with my disposable camera at the Planetarium. It’s grainy, dark – you can’t see anything behind us. The thing that stands out the most is the gigantic smiles on our faces.

It was sort of magical, unreal. At the end of the tour he dropped us back at our hotel, reiterated he didn’t want any money from us. We’d pooled all our cash on hand, came up with 45 dollars we gave to the oldest male member of the group to force Jay to take as a tip. He refused. We went on our way, he went on his. I wish I knew what he was thinking. Did he often pick up groups of tourists? What prompted him to pick us up that night?

I think of the night often, and I wonder what I’m nostalgic for. Is it preemptive, do I miss the magic of the city I’m sure I’m leaving shortly? Is it the age, our naive trust and the ensuing adventure of it all that I miss? Is it the people themselves, most of whom have fallen off my radar in the years since? Probably all three. I do know it is a sweet sadness, and I look back on very few times that are cast in such a magical glow. It was perfect then, it seems perfect now.

I wish I had a way to find him. I hope we conveyed our thanks in a way that let him know how much it really meant to us.

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