Arriving in Chicago in the middle of May was a wonderful thing. Unlike the rainfall that I had been used to on a near daily basis in London, Chicago didn’t appear to ever get wet!
Admittedly, I had no way of knowing 1998 would end up being the Windy City’s warmest year since 1931, but one thing I did learn very quickly was my pale, freckly skin needed sunscreen applied at all times. Of course, I learned that the hard way, and it was definitely not something I had been prepared for!
Sitting at home getting lonelier by the second was another situation I had not been anticipating. There were only so many books I could read and letters I could write before the lack of human contact in my daily life began to drive me insane. Finally, I got so sick of pandering to my nervous fears about exploring this new city alone that I decided to venture out and try something different.
As I approached Wrigley Field, just a 10-minute walk from my new home, I knew I had to have my wits about me. Not only was I alone on this adventure, but I felt sure I’d read somewhere that Chicago had been named the murder capital of the world (a potentially paralyzing enough thought in itself).
So, as I crossed Clark Street and headed toward the stadium, I was amazed to see so many happy people milling around and having fun. To say the atmosphere was relaxed is a total understatement, and to my delight there wasn’t a hint of "murder" in sight!
Sitting in the bleachers a while later, sipping silently on my beer and wondering how it was that everyone around me could get so incredibly excited about a simple game of rounders (we don’t have baseball in England), I made my first mistake.
Talking to a group of drunken college boys wasn’t my smartest move but perhaps an indication of how desperate I had become for some actual human contact. My hope for some decent conversation and maybe a girlfriend or two to join them quickly dissolved as I realized just how drunk and stupid they were.
They were harmless enough but I soon grew bored with their childish banter. And despite my earlier cynicism regarding the game, I was impressed when the "Sosa" Cubs guy, who clearly had some kind of a growth on the inside of his left cheek (it was months before I learned the lump was not an Elephant Man-style disfigurement but a wad of sunflower seeds!), hit a ball clean over my head and into the street behind, sending the crowd into a wild rapture.
I recognized the chance to slip away and gathered up my things in an attempt to escape, only to have the doting frat boys turn their attentions to me once again. Bugger! Apparently, they thought I was a dead ringer for Emily from "Friends" (which I’m not) and thought I sounded just like Emily from "Friends" (which I don’t) and kept asking if, in fact, I was sure I wasn’t actually Emily from "Friends?"
I’d had enough. Not wanting to appear completely rude, I agreed to one last rendition of "Ross, I love you" and excused myself for a bathroom break, thinking this would be the safest way of escaping.
Ten minutes later I found myself in a Clark Street bar across the road from Wrigley Field. I had an inquisitive desire to see why so many people were enthusiastically drinking beer and socializing on a Tuesday afternoon and this was a safe environment from which to observe it all.
Having been to the bar to order myself a drink, I found an outside corner table out of the main line of traffic, yet perfectly positioned to see every new person who arrived. I was just taking a sip of my Diet Coke when a girl approached my table and asked if she could "get me something."
"Here we go again," I thought, the bleacher boys still fresh in my mind. I completely ignored her. Table service didn’t exist in England back when I lived there, at least not in pubs, so it was only when she walked away shrugging her shoulders that I realized she was a waitress and had no doubt put me down as another drunk patron. Whoops!
Annoyed by my faux pas, I sighed into my drink and considered how disappointing my afternoon had been. I was pleased I had ventured out, but while everyone wanted to talk to me, no one quite seemed to want to get to know me. At this rate, I wasn’t ever going to make new friends.
Just at that moment, a dark-haired girl sat down at my table. Attempting to push the bleacher boys experience out of my mind, I smiled openly at her. When she asked if she could "bum a smoke," I had less than no idea what she was talking about.
Considering my options and given that a "bum" in England refers to someone’s rear end, I thought it best to keep smiling but not actually respond in words. Unperturbed, she rooted around in her bag and then looked up jubilantly. “No worries,” she said. “I found one!”
As she lit up and sat back in her chair, she smiled too and before I knew it we were chatting easily. Never before had it been so important for me to make a connection, but neither did I have any way of knowing that this was just the beginning of a lifelong friendship!