A pulsating sound reverberates in my head. A smoke alarm? A screaming baby? A screaming dictator? My eyes shoot open, and I’m blinded by laser sunbeams escaping through the broken blinds.
“Wakey, wakey eee-ggs and bakey!” My old college roommate appears at the guest bedroom door. He’s wearing sunglasses, a pink flamingo shirt, and jeans.
“Mike, what’s happening? Is that an alarm?” I try to get out of bed and take in my new surroundings.
“Huh? Oh. Wait. What? Oh. Hold on. Are you talking about.. Oh, wait. Yeah, that’s DJ Felix downstairs. The bookstore below me turns into a DJ brunch spot on the weekends during the summer.”
I think about my apartment in Phoenix, above Healing Hands, an energy restoration business that plays nature sounds, setting the tone to sell you crystals and scrutinize your aura.
“Get dressed, man! I’ve only got one day to show you a Chicago summer. Since it took me forever to get you to come visit, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Lucky for you, its the hottest day of the year.”
If that were true in Phoenix, we would all go home, sit in front of the AC, and refrain from peeling off our skin.
At breakfast I struggle to hear anything Mike is saying. DJ Felix is spinning records three feet from my eggs. I look around at the other people in the restaurant. The staff, the patrons, everyone seems like they are going to a casual wedding, like one where the bride and groom “don’t really care” but they do.
I look down at my t-shirt and cargo shorts. “What is everyone dressed up for?
“The sun, dude! It’s a celebration!”
“A party for the… sun?”
“Look around. Some of these people have been cooped up in a 250 square foot studio for nine months. It’s not like they were pissing in mason jars and eating their own shit, but it was not, not like that.”
Being from Phoenix, I think back to the time I was trapped in my apartment for two hours during a dust storm. I wonder if was like that.
“We’re free now, man. Free from the cold and seasonal depression. Now it’s time to get high on vitamin D. If that makes some guys want to match their belts to their shoes, than shit man, cheers to them.” Mike drinks the last of his beermosa.
Walking down Milwaukee Ave, my mind prepares thousands more questions. I try to suppress them, but they fall out of my mouth like a dry socket.
Question 2: “Why are these people lined up? Is there a celebrity book signing?”
Mikes answer: “No, dude they are lining up for a spot on the patio at that taco place up the street. The wait can be up to three hours if you don’t have a reservation. Here’s the kicker, the tacos actually kind of suck. Luckily your boy scored reservations four months ago.”
Question 7: “Is that lady crocheting on a fire hydrant?”
Mike’s answer: “Yeah! No one wants to feel the guilt of sitting inside on a sunshine day!”
Question 35: “Why does everyone have an ice cream cone?”
Mikes answer: “During the summer, we survive on a diet purely of ice cream and hollandaise.”
Question 329: “Is that dog humping a taco?”
Mikes answer: “100%, my man!
We get to the taco place and the patio looks like a scene from Spring Breakers. Everyone is living like this day could be their last or like they are going to get old tomorrow. Three guys with slicked back hair and sports jackets take shots of tequila. Two women treat their Stubby wicker dining chairs like lounge chairs. One guy is staring directly at the sun with a huge smile, his eyes bleeding. No one has ordered tacos.
The waiter brings a pitcher of margaritas to our table. The tequila warms my insides while the sun warms my outsides, like a double hug from the universe. A few glasses in, I ask Mike if he wants to do shots. I can see why he loves this place.
I rub my eyes. Beginning to feel like I’m hallucinating, I see DJ Felix from breakfast take place on a small covered stage in the corner of the patio. He starts the same set as before, but this time bubbles spill from the stage. I look back at Mike who doesn’t seem to notice. He found a woman at the Bloody Mary bar, and invited her to our table. I realize. This will one day be his wife.
Letting the sun fall on my face, I start to wonder. Is this heaven? Have I ever been this happy? Will I ever be this happy again? I stand up and start to dance. I don’t care that Mike isn’t joining in or anyone else for that matter, but dancing feels amazing right now. I take another sip from my margarita and tilt my head toward the sun. It’s starting to burn, but it feels so good.
After a few minutes, I become suddenly chilled. The wind has picked up and some of the umbrellas covering the tables are tempting to fall over.
“Don’t worry,” Mike says looking up from his phone. It’ll pass by in 30 minutes.
I take the moment to survey the land again. Many on the patio seemed to have finished their drinks a while ago, yet they continue sitting and conversing. How nice, I smiled.
Outside the restaurant, on the sidewalk, there are still people waiting in line past where the eye can see. I had completely forgotten about them. The first 10 people in line seem dazed. Their fists are balled and their mouths are salivating. Their eyes, like daggers, are fixed on a large table of customers. I look back at the people sitting at the table and suddenly fear for their lives. They have finished their drinks and don’t seem to have plans to order tacos. Are they aware that there are people 20 feet away that want them dead? I look further down the line, I see a 20 something year old woman staring at me. She too looks angry. Her eyes have turned red and her right leg is kicking like a bull.
I look back at our margarita pitcher. Empty.
“Hey, Mike. Should we go? I think there are other people who would like to have this spot.”
He pauses taking to his wife. “Hell no, you know how hard these seats are to come by? We aren’t moving. Those people can wait.”
I think back to all the patios I’ve been to in Arizona. None of them had waits like this. In fact, there was plenty of space to go around. I look back at the woman. She mouths, “Die” and moves her middle finger across her neck.
Around 4pm we walk back to Mike’s apartment. I feel exhilarated, like I have gotten away with something dirty. I have lived today more than I have ever lived before, and I have nearly escaped death. I never would have guessed that a summer day in Chicago would have so much to offer.
I look down at my forearms that I didn’t notice had turned a deep shade of red. “Hey Mike, do you think this is sunburn or wind burn?”
“Both” says Mike.