Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Such assistance

Is interpreting this statement one of the requirements to become an employee? (I wonder what the fire exit door says...)
Whitehall Hotel, Chicago

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Fontenay Field Trip (or The Long March in August)

We hosted a group of 29 visitors from our sister city in France last week. Most of them were students 16-18 years old, plus six adults. We had a family of four staying with us. They were great company, and indeed the whole group of teenagers were remarkably well-behaved.

On Tuesday, I took the day off work to help lead them on a trip to Chicago. There were some last-minute worries about whether any other leaders would accompany the group. This was important, because I had a doctor's appointment (in Chicago) in the middle of the day, so I knew I couldn't be with them the whole day. But in the end Janet and Ruth and Nancy were able to come, and two young adults, Andrew and Giselle, joined us as well. Here, as best I can remember, is how the day went.

7:30 - Mike is making breakfast, our houseguests are getting dressed, and I'm making sack lunches for them.

7:45 - I run to the grocery for more bread, bottled water and some cookies to pack in their lunches.

8:30 - I make half a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches and put them in an isotherm bag along with apples, fig newtons, and tortilla chips. I hand this to the oldest boy explaining that it's lunch.

8:50 - We walk to the train station to meet the rest of the group.

9:15 - Janet asks where to pay for the parking garage. I explain about the pay boxes when you exit the garage, but there's no time to go back now. It turns out that she parked in the reserved spots on the first floor and is liable to get a ticket or worse. Ruth confides that she, too, parked in the reserved spaces. The train is approaching and there is no time to go back and move their cars.

9:20 - Ken shepherds us to the far end of the middle platform, we keep everyone well back from the edge and the moving train, and we board the pre-arranged car which we have all to ourselves. I am The Bearer of the group ticket, which is a letter stating that we have pre-paid for the group. It is good for exactly two rides, the 9:25am train and the 7:30pm train.

9:30 - We board the train and head off for adventure.

9:32 - I call the Village Hall and explain about the two misparked cars. I give the license plate numbers and ask if it's at all possible to ask that those cars not be ticketed. They will see what they can do.

9:42 - I check voicemail and return a call from Runa, who visited our houseguests when she went to France. She's trying to meet up with them for lunch. I pass the phone around, and they all arrange to meet in Millenium Park for lunch.

9:53 - I exchange cell phone numbers with Giselle and Nancy. This will prove to be very good planning, with some caveats. Nancy's phone, as it turns out, gets terrible reception near water or in buildings. Giselle's phone is rapidly running out of juice, so she will keep it turned off much of the day to conserve the battery. I am glad I have brought my charger.

10:23 - We arrive in Chicago. The din on the platform is deafening. I lead everyone to the glassed-in waiting room where they will regroup and decide how they will go the mile to Millennium Park.

10:36 - I take my leave and dash off to the water taxi so I can make my doctor's appointment. For $2 I enjoy a swift, scenic ride to the foot of the Michigan Avenue bridge. For once, I am early for my appointment. I plug in my phone charger and wait...

11:16 - I get a text message from my boss. Can I possibly come in today to take care of a couple things? Of course; he's such an easygoing person and rarely asks me for anything. I'll be over right after my appointment, and I can still meet the group at the art museum.

12:01 - Giselle calls on behalf of our house guests who are wondering where their sack lunches are.
- "It's in the gray bag," I tell them.
- Do you have it? - No, I gave it to you. - We didn't take it with us. We left it on the dining room table. - Oh dear. I'm very sorry, but you'll have to buy your lunches today, then. - It's all right (much laughter), no problem. I am grateful that Corinne is even more easygoing than my boss. I think wistfully of the six yummy ham and cheese sandwiches going bad in our dining room, and how the cost of the ingredients just about adds up to one lunch from a Michigan Avenue sandwich shop. Sigh. At least they brought the water.

12:45 - My doctor's appointment over, blood drawn, follow-up appointment made, I head to my office. It's a very hot day, probably at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Not being completely selfless, I duck into a handbag shop to admire the wares and enjoy the air conditioning. I also pick up a couple plants at the farmer's market.

1:06 - Giselle lets me know that the current plan is to meet outside the art museum gift shop at 3pm and then head over to Navy Pier.

2:15 - My work done, I leave the office and wend my way to the Art Institute.

3:45 - We have finally rounded up the entire group. Nancy and Maeva will meet us at Navy Pier; they've been at the Shedd Aquarium instead today. After some discussion of using the free trolleybus that goes all around downtown during the summer, we decide that I will accompany three of our more venerable guests in a taxi, and everyone else will walk to Navy Pier. It's about a 20-minute walk in the hot sun. Janet needs to head back early to get to a wake. But first, she'd like to take a group picture on the steps of the museum. All 30+ of us form up, and cameras are passed down to the people taking the pictures so everyone will go home with this shot. A group of American students offer to help us take all those pictures; by the end, they join us in the shot, holding an inscrutable banner as we all get in the frame.

4:35 - The Venerables plus Nancy and Maeva are enjoying cool drinks at an outside table when the youth show up, sweating and panting but cheerful. Poor Giselle looks half dehydrated; I make sure she gets a big glass of water first thing. Then Maeva and I skip off to ride the giant Ferris wheel and enjoy the spectacular views of the lakefront it affords. It has been decided We Are All Meeting At 6:15 To Go Catch The Train.

6:15 - Some of us are here.

6:30 - Now all of us are here. The train is at 7:30, and I have the ticket for everyone. We recommence discussions of how to move 30 people two miles across town. We learn where to catch the free shuttle, but there is much doubt:
- how long will we have to wait?

- how long will it take?
- will we all fit on one trolley?

- will it get us close to the station?

- we need the yellow one, but we only see the blue one...
- can we take the water taxi?

6:38 - The Venerables take a taxi. The Durables and I begin a 20-minute march to catch the water taxi. For $2 a person, it will deliver us right to the station. Some of the students are singing French marching songs and camp songs. It is charming.

6:52 - A moment of doubt, a wrong turn, a doubling back, and we are racing the last block to the landing. We arrive, we pant, we sweat, we wait.

6:56 - We consult the schedule. The last taxi leaves the landing at 6:56.

6:58 - No sign of the boat. I call the water taxi company, and they say it's either just about to arrive or it's just left.

7:06 - A fellow from the other boat service at the neighboring landing confirms that the last taxi left just before we arrived. We muster the troops and march double time through the dingy lower level of Kinzie Street, up the stairs and out onto Michigan Avenue. I send Andrew and Giselle ahead to start hailing cabs. We shove kids into cabs and explain to amused drivers where they are going.

7:09 - Nancy calls. "Are you going to make it in time?" "Yes we are. Can't talk. Gotta go."

7:16 - We've coached the kids how to pronounce a recognizable "Ogilvie Transportation Center" and told them to meet at the 7:25 train but wait for me to board. Because I have the One Ticket That Rules Them All. I pluck the eleven-year-old off the lap of one front seat passenger before they can get the door closed. We jump into the last cab and take off to the station.

7:18 - I call Nancy to apologize for being abrupt and reassure her that we are indeed coming.

7:24 - We arrive at the station. I make a quick swing by the waiting room to make sure we're not leaving anyone there. We wait for the two students who made a desperate dash for the restroom as soon as they arrived. We run to the deafening end of the platform by the engines and join our group, who are miraculously all there. I surrender The Ticket and we all pile into the train. Following some unspoken etiquette, all the under-20s go on the upper level, and all the Venerables sit in quiet dignity on the lower level.

7:30 - The train takes off with us in it. I feel both relieved and enormously guilty at the harried trip I've just led all those people on. If I were them, I'd be complaining to someone about me. But they are very polite, and the youth are apparently unharmed, judging by the amount of noise they are making up there.

8:14 - I call my friend Laura to tell her how glad I am she's in Chicago, and how sorry I am I can't hook up with her while she's here because I'm just too busy.

8:24 - We arrive safe and sound. No cars have been towed. No students have been lost. Mike is waiting with both of our cars parked at the station, and printed maps to our dinner destination in each car. He squires our houseguests off to dinner. I drive one lad home and follow along to our friends' house. Despite a flooded basement and some time without electricity earlier in the week, they've smoked two enormous beef briskets and we sink gratefully into chairs around their table and eat and talk and drink late into the night.