(first posted 10/6/2016) “Damn,” cursed Charles under his breath as he saw the flash of light from the traffic camera in his rear view mirror. This was a knee-jerk reaction, even though tickets resulting from traffic cameras had been outlawed in Chicago just the month before. It was to be his first day as a porter in the posh Michigan Avenue hotel where he had recently scored a job, and he was now doing his best to avoid being late.
Charles replayed the events of the morning in his head, as if retracing his steps would somehow allow him to change his present circumstances. His current predicament wasn’t due to anything as haphazard or careless as a too-late night out or even forgetting to set his alarm. All had been fine until approximately 7:30 AM, when his fiancée, Trina, had come back inside their house with their three-year-old son, Malik, in a panic because her ’97 Chrysler Cirrus wouldn’t start. There was no time or money for a cab, and ride sharing programs weren’t as readily available in their neighborhood.
Trina needed to drop Malik off at day care before heading to her own job at a grocery store on the other side of town, and with the Cirrus out of commission, it seemed the entire family’s schedule was thrown off kilter. Adding to the tension building in their kitchen which faced their backyard, Malik had started to cry plaintively. Charles and Trina both looked at each other as if to say, “What do we do, Baby?”, as each of them shook their heads in silent disbelief.
Charles looked at his wristwatch. Doing some quick math, he decided he had half a chance in his trusty ’79 Malibu, which had been given to him from his father who had purchased it new, of getting his son to day care, his fiancée to work, and to his own, new job on time and in that order. His shift would be over before hers, and then they could pick up Malik from Good Shepherd Day Care. He hoped to phone a mechanic buddy at some point during the day to see if his friend could come over that night and look over Trina’s uncooperative Chrysler.
Charles had managed to transplant Malik’s baby seat from the Cirrus to the Malibu with the kind of speed and dexterity that only extra adrenaline can enable. Being mindful of the lives of his lady and young son in the car with him, Charles managed to avoid his every urge toward illegal speeds through the Windy City’s streets, with the Malibu’s 170-hp 350 V8 humming its low-pitched growl dutifully as he navigated safely to day care, then to Trina’s job just west of the Loop.
By the time he dropped off Trina, he realized he had just sixteen minutes until he was to report to work, not counting the time it was going to take for him to park and walk through the front door of the hotel. He felt small beads of sweat forming on his forehead. Small bands of risk-taking pedestrians who misjudged the Malibu’s now-escalating velocity darted across West Jackson Boulevard against the traffic light, causing Charles to tighten his grip on the car’s textured vinyl steering wheel. Realizing a late first-day appearance would surely doom his chances at long-term employment at this particular hotel, he said a quick prayer as he gunned it, westbound, through a yellow light at State Street. “I just might make it,” he thought to himself. He knew he must, somehow, for the sake of his family.
Downtown, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, April 15, 2016.