Today, at approximately 12:24 p.m., I was asked the following question;
“Mackenzi, would you like to go on a quest?”
Since I had spent most of the day working myself into a stupor by watching forty-minute videos of John Irving discuss the complexities of sexual identity in his fourteen novels, I immediately answered yes1.
The quest in question involved the Just for Laughs festival, which is going on this week in Chicago. I know very little about this, except that it involves Conan, a lot of comedians, and that the producers of Wait, Wait’s sister show, “How to Do Everything,” were going to be interviewing some of the writers for it. My quest was to go to Hotel Sax, where the event was headquartered, and pick up their press passes.
The details of the quest were all rather vague. No one in the office knew exactly where Hotel Sax was, or how I should get there, or even if I would be given the passes without valid NPR ID once I did. However, the question of transportation was solved when one of the producers off-handedly mentioned, “Just take a cab and expense it.”
Friends, is there any phrase more seductive and empowering than, “You can expense that”? And yet, I paused.
In my mind, riding in a cab is a telling sign that one is a professional adult. I can count on one hand the times I have ridden in a cab that was not going either to or from the airport. When I see people hailing cabs on the street, or riding alone in cabs, texting aloofly in the backseat, my first thought is always, “Wow, they must be grown up and professional.” And, not wanting to grow up too fast, I hesitated.
But, after Google maps confirmed my suspicion that I no longer live in a city where I can walk absolutely anywhere I please, I decided a short taxi ride was preferable to fighting with the subway. I squared my shoulders, marched out onto the Pier, and proceeded to find a cab.
The whole walk down the Pier, I was sweating that I was going to have to do more than just ride in a cab, I was going to have to hail a cab, which I have never done and would frankly have stressed me out to the point of institutionalization. Thankfully, there is a whole army of cabs waiting at the end of the Pier to sucker in tourists who do not know there is a subway stop a block away, and I enlisted a driver to take me to my desired location.
Though I am inherently distrustful of cab drivers thanks to a certain TV show that will remain nameless, once I was in the backseat and we were cruising, my over-active nerves quieted, and I started chatting with the driver. When he said something about what a nice day it was, I found myself uttering the phrase, “Yes, it’s sonice to get out of the office for a while!” I immediately gagged on my own pretentious counterfeit persona of young businesswoman who takes cabs all the time. So nice to get out of the office? What sort of B-list rom com did I drag that one from? Somebody call Reese Witherspoon to voice me over, and Ryan Gosling to meet my eyes across a crowded room.
But the cab driver didn’t say anything, and I didn’t mention that said office I was getting out of involved me watching lots of youtube and having conversations about the sexual exploits of penguins2.
We arrived at the Hotel Sax, at which point I moved to pay the fare. At which point I realized that I have literally no idea how to pay for a cab in America. What followed was a brief exchange stretched to a small infinity by the awkwardness of it3, and ended in me fleeing the cab, professional businesswoman who rides in cabs all the time image shattered and lying in pieces at my feet, and staggering up to the fourth floor of the hotel, where Team CoCo is headquartered4.
The TBS floor looked like so shockingly like a movie set of a posh TV headquarters that I almost thought it was a joke. There was a white-leather circular couch with this futuristic coffee table in the center. It was surrounded by a wall made out of TV5. There was a bar with hanging glasses and this weird neon wall behind it. And there was the TBS logo on every surface, as if they’d been working here for years and not just arrived last week. All the place needed was some low lighting, techno music, and dancing girls in cages and it’d be ready for a close up. For a moment, I felt weirdly like I had arrived. Arrived in that weird world of professional, cab-riding people that I want to be a part of. That I can sort of kind of pretend to be a part of.
And then this whole story gets less exciting. I picked up the press passes. A cab driver6 was coerced into returning me to Navy Pier. And this time I was smart enough to pay with my card, and pretend to text aloofly in the back seat the whole way.
However, on the ride back to the Pier, I started to notice something rather neat, and promptly added it to the list of things I love about Chicago. Having spent virtually no time driving around the city, I had never realized the effect the L train has on the whole car experience. The L train runs on iron rails above so many of the streets that even normal roads have a dark, shadowed feeling about them as though the city exists in perpetual evening. The echoing crash of the trains from above coupled with the magnified purr of the car engines makes you feel like you are about to need epic theme music and a machine gun. It’s very Gotham-esque7.
And that is the story of me pretending to be a working woman in a white-collar job who knows how to take a cab. I may not be the best intern NPR has ever had, but I’m certainly the most falsely professional8.
- I would have answered yes anyways, because I am always down for a good quest.
- True story, but for the record, we weren’t just recreationally discussing this. It’s a news story. Really.
- Being unsure as to whether or not tip had already been factored into the fare, I handed the driver a ten dollar bill for a four dollar ride, then asked for a receipt. So I could expense it, ya know. He was obviously unaccustomed to customers expecting change, because his eyes lit up like a fireworks display. I immediately realized my error – even a cabber as inexperienced as I knows that a more than 50% tip is overkill. In the words of the great philosopher Stephen Sondheim, “I may not be smart, but I ain’t dumb.” And so, what followed was that miserable infinity where I tried to ask for change without asking for it, and he tried to dissuade me from asking for change.
- Before any of you get ideas that this story is going to be more exciting than it really is, let me just say this now; didn’t meet Conan.
- Not to be confused with a wall covered in TVs.
- That I did not have to hail.
- As much as I tried to pass that one off as a reference to some artistic movement (Oh Henri, that Chinese vase you bought at auction is sooo Gotham-esque), I definitely meant Batman.
- In other news, I now have a TBS lanyard and nothing to do with it. Maybe I will put together an epic Chicago-themed prize pack to give away at the end of the summer.