Thursday, June 10th, 2010. About 5:45am. I had just climbed the stairs to the Blue Line El platform at Damen and North on my way down town. There was that intense early morning sunshine we get in Chicago near the solstice, and it wasn’t too warm yet. There weren’t a lot of people around, but I immediately saw and made eye contact with two Black gentlemen that didn’t appear to be from the immediate neighborhood. I’m the type of person who makes eye contact with everyone, and well, sometimes you get “caught.” Women will know what I mean. They did seem to have a positive attitude, with the smaller of the two smiling – beaming almost. I had little chance they would take much interest and form an attachment to me compared to a woman, so I wasn’t worried.
When I used “gentlemen,” it was out of initial respect for all my fellow citizens. They were not from the cream of society and bore scant similarity to the romantic English gentlemen of old. Little attention to fashion of clothes or style of hair. Mannerisms, etc. The smaller, smiling guy was the leader and clearly going to be the talker. Hygiene seemed normal, thank god. That’s passing a major test for interacting with strangers.
I could say they were “working class,” but I don’t thing these guys were gainfully employed. And, who is completely, 100% wide awake looking totally refreshed before 6am? Neither those who are out all night, nor those who are up early for work. Only these guys. In some third category I can’t fathom.
So the talking started. “How about those Blackhawks!?” he asked, beaming. The Chicago Blackhawks had just won the Stanley Cup the night before. Hmm, they weren’t the stereotypical hockey fans. Then, I did what you do when you are not sure if you want to be talking to strangers – say as little as possible in a very reserved way. This opening did, however, put me more at ease. “Pretty awesome,” I replied. Then, according to the standard back-and-forth protocol, the story began.
“I don’t know nothin’ about hockey, but when that dude got his teeth knocked out and kept playin’ I knew they was gonna win.” BEAMING SMILE. “I didn’t have any money [I can't keep up with the vernacular], but I made a huge bet with the bookie and won 1600 dollars.” Duncan Keith did have seven teeth knocked out in the last game of the semi-finals and impressively kept playing.
“Yeah, if they lost I wasn’t going to pay them. I was going to go hide out in Madison for a few years.” Madison in Wisconsin. (Suspected employment status confirmed.) That brought a smile to my face. Made my day.
Betting on sports is common in trading firms, but none of my friends risked stiffing Chicago street bookies as far as I’m aware. But, that’s why I talk to strangers. I plan to share other stories on this blog and hope that some of you find them interesting.