A time to discover the glory days of a man who has lost so much, but who deserves to revel in his greatest works realized. The request to visit City Hall was made months ago in the haze of holiday meals and bottles of wine. Did I really think this would come to be? Is this what I want to do with them today? How could I have known then that they would be so keen to bring it up in front of his old friends when they ambushed me with a dinner invitation last Friday? What I do know is they will meet me there as the text said they were “on the way :0.” I do a quick sniff check on the train as the stench of traveling clings to me most likely made worse by the strangers eating food from syrofoam packaging, but I too am “on the way :0.”
Transit is definitely simpler alone. I did not have to do the difficult and needlessly frustrating pick-up procedure today. No unnecessary chatter about odd topics and more time for mindlessly staring at the trusty screen checking to see if anyone I know has interesting things going on in their lives. “Interesting” pertains to finding out who has gotten fat and what loser they are dating or have dumped. I depart the train, arriving sooner than I thought, but pleased to have had those few moments of carefree web time. As I exit the station I am relieved that the air is pleasant and no rain clouds, just the pretty white ones made famous in cartoons.
I spot my group down the sidewalk. He does not see me though, as he is engaged in looking carefully at his shoes as if wondering why he would need shoes, or what might be underneath them. He has on that heavy blazer he loves, corduroy, matching his trousers, and now looking a few sizes to big. She waits by his side, supporting him, too often both physically and mentally, as their aid searches for me in the crowd. No canes, no walkers, we are past that now, it’s a wheel chair kind of day. I must have missed a memo, it seems like only yesterday I was scolding them for their lack of support accessories and receiving a scoff from her at the implication that any was needed. She spots me first and starts to get up from her chair, luckily her aid is quick and reminds her of the long walk and to save her energy as it will be a “long day.”
Once gathered, I ask them about the drive and they tell me I smell like I took the train. We laugh about how many people did not think public transit was worth investing in and how people of my generation are lazy and do not even have our own homes, let alone cars. I die a little inside at the implication that taking public transit is for lazy people, but I let it slide. I am sure this is not a battle worth picking today as we have a “long day” ahead. Now all caught up, we continue the trek to the entrance, recently joined by an employee who noticed we had no idea where to go and on her way to work.
As we walk she asks about our visit and is impressed to meet a former city official. He looks around to see whom she is referring to and reluctantly shakes her hand before smiling at me with a look of utter confusion. He asks about the improvements made to the grounds and comments on the amount of activity and approval of seeing so many young people around. A statement about the joy available to youth on account of not being at war slips out, but he does not press the point. I choose to ignore it as well, since he won’t remember the conversation anyway. Our city employee guide gestures to the animal enclosures, playing at tour guide, and to the playground stating, “it was an honest attempt to consolidate city attractions gone, sadly, awry.” It does not appear that this is a favorite spot for families to picnic and take part in local government, but maybe the desire for it just passed from social consciousness. Indeed the construction of the walkways to the animals and their cages are showing their age and could use some renovations. I cannot make out any names or even shapes of the animals on display but am sure they are Australian, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, dingos. Those are the ones people find exotic, but which can also stay in a cage year round in the midwest. More mumbling between our group and we are at the front doors thanking our guide and discussing where to go first.
Looking up at the entrance, "Shit, steps," I mutter. Four stairs between us and the front doors; This is a ridiculous oversight. How could I not check on the accessibility before agreeing to lead this expedition? Strike one, well, maybe not being sure if they needed or had brought mobility aids was strike one, so, strike two. Looking around for a ramp or some hold over semi incline-like structure to assist us, I curse the day people stopped caring about handicap accessibility. There is likely a lift or ramp in the back of the building but who wants to go in a service entrance, that would not due for this journey down memory lane. That would be admitting defeat, and it would be down that steep hill, which scares me, visions of runaway octogenarians hurtling toward the concrete parking structure make me shudder.
“One, two, three, lift,” the aid and I grunt, and thrust our legs upward hoping to make some progress toward the entrance. Nope, we are grounded. Aware that this tactic is fruitless, I volunteer to seek assistance and jog up the treacherous path while they enjoy the sunny day and the favorite elderly person past-time: people watching. Inside the walls are shiny and tan, definitely up to government standards. The walls have that odd chair rail that divides the beige from the tan. The ceilings almost blend into the walls but are coffered to show union craftsmanship and attention to detail in order to add grandeur to a utilitarian space.
The hall leads to a huge bank of elevators, only a few are in working order but soon the arrow lights up and I am on my way. Going up slowly, the car jerks to a stop and the doors open on a huge room, it appears to be a bathroom, oddly adorned, and maybe marble walls? This could be the infamous room referenced in my grandmother’s stories, “big enough to hold court in,” and which “nearly bankrupted the city.” He always laughed at her stories, dismissing them as the ramblings of someone who doesn’t know how city government works. This room is, however, quite supportive of her statements, even if it is a bit in disrepair. The space has been hastily divided into several zones with wire shelving, cubicle half walls, and lots of hotel laundry type carts. Through a window opening reminiscent of a doctors office receptionist I can hear women speaking. “Make sure you grab all new bottles, you cannot just refill them with cider and set the caps back on.”
“How was I supposed to know that? There was nothing about reusing bottles in training.”
“I know, but people get upset when the seal is broken on their drinks.”
No, I do not want to know who they are serving reused cider bottles to, who cares, what kind of weirdos drink cider anyway.
Another hallway leads me into a conference room, I am now crashing a discussion of building safety and the need to be careful. Luckily the powerpoint just finished and is parked on the editing screen. Government people love presentations utilizing powerpoint. Lots of paper, gotta have those slide print outs. I just do not understand how they end up on that awkward screen, do they forget which slide is last? Almost always its is a summary page, list of references, or important links. Why not just stop there and be classy? There is no class in closing out of the presentation and allowing the audience to "see how the sausage is made," if you will.
Waiting for the elevator outside the conference room, an official from the building joins me. “Agent, I didn’t know you were invited to this briefing.”
“I wasn’t,” I reply, “just here reliving a few moments with the former commissioner, no official capacity.”
“Well, you should be glad,” she remarks,” this place is a hot mess.”
The sun is shining in through the glass elevator shaft. I like that the transparent elevator vestibule blends in with the floor to ceiling windows surrounding it. The panoramic view of the city hall grounds is, or was, breath-taking in its scope but is currently a little depressing in its condition. The sun feels warm on my face and I wonder why they chose not to tint the glass even slightly to avoid this, it is not great for energy efficiency. Tax dollars at work. I glance up to see if the car is nearby and notice movement outside. The ground, perhaps is shifting, I can no longer see out onto the grounds but am looking directly at the bushes outside, now dirt. But, I realize, I am not in the elevator; it has not arrived. The ground is passing upward and the area where I am standing is growing dim and then dark. How can the ground be rising? Am I sinking? It is strange, I do not notice any movement, the floor is not shaking, I feel steady on my feet.
The elevator doors open and I look inside, curious of the whereabouts of the car. Inside the doors is a hallway glowing red with flickers of orange and an arid pungent breeze strikes my face. The company of government agents swarm the vestibule and converse on their walkies around me.
“Fine,” I say to myself, “I will take the damn stairs.”