After getting fired from Hollywood Video, my best friend/roommate/boyfriend/psycho ex-boyfriend (never sleep with best friends...) hooked me up with my first real restaurant job. I worked as the phone dispatcher and hostess since I was forbidden to serve tables until I reached my 21st birthday. "Fancy Pizza Parlor" is inherently an oxymoron, but this joint really was quaintly fancy; a cute, dim little Venetian-style alcove tucked in a nook of a casually elegant business hotel/high end office building. I felt like a full-on big shot. Newly nineteen, I took the 45 minute train ride from the North side of Chicago into the heart of downtown, packed next to mid-level lawyers, hungry half-yuppie ad execs, and very often one of the many Red Line celebrities; either the one with the eye-patch and fingerless hand, or my favorite, the blind, raggedy Bible toting black knight complete with gauntlet and chain-mail (but no shoes...sad). The Blind Knight always started with the same announcement through every car in perfect robotic intonation: "Excuse Me. Can. I have your. attention. please. I am blind. And home...less... "
I loved the smell of the train; a dusty, reluctantly human smell, so dry you could peel it like old paint or dead skin; it softly annoyed and comforted me and made me feel at home. Chicago at that time was my utopia. The behemoths of downtown, both flesh and mortar, served as my constant aspirational compass. Battling the indifferent severity of the wind on mornings when the sun stuck frozen under bitter clouds, my goals were cemented for my future: I am going to be magnificently successful. I am going to be filthy rich and one day, I'm going to own this town. I warmed myself with these affirmations as the frostbite crept up my toenails while trying to inconspicuously lose the homeless man following me. "I'm going to own this town," repeated through my brain as I walked into the pizza place, phones ringing off the hook and customers hungrily lining up to be sat at tables and place to-go orders. "Excuse me?! Don't you work here??" a rosacea-faced woman squawked at me. She was shaped like a hamburger. I was still fully adorned in coat, hat, and gloves; very obviously not on the clock. I had fifteen minutes before my shift started so I offered her a barren smile. "I'm so sorry ma'am, but I am not on the clock, someone will be with you shortly," I turned away to take off my winter garb and hang it in the employee closet which inappropriately rested just five feet away from the woman. "I've been waiting here for at least ten minutes and no one has helped me! Can I get some service please? This ridiculous!!" As usual, tumbleweeds littered the dining room and the bar area was a ghost town. Where are my co-workers?? I slowly clocked in (early) and gave her my best high fructose smile. "I am genuinely sorry about this ma'am. I would be happy to take your order and will do everything in my power to not make you wait like this again. What would you like today?" She sighed and unloaded her order on me. I watched her red splotched cheeks jiggle as she spoke and thought over and over, "I'm going to own this town. I'm going to own this town..."