I started my professional journey on January 9, 1997 when a close friend decided he wanted me to move to Chicago for his birthday. When he asked me to pack my things and be ready for him, I didn't take him seriously. Much to my surprise, he showed up six hours later with a friend and convinced me to take a leap of faith.
The next thing I knew I was working as a temp, learning my way around the city, and getting used to taking public transportation. He and his partner lived in an area of Chicago called Uptown, just off of Lawrence avenue. They were gracious hosts and allowed me to stay with them until I could get on my feet. It was one of the greatest gifts of my life.
While staying with them, I took the "L" train downtown to various locations in the city where I was assigned. I walked past the infamous Green Mill that was once one of the favorite spots for Chicago's notorious gangster, Al Capone. Across the street from the train platform was the Aragon Ballroom where I was fortunate to enjoy several music venues.
My first experience with public transportation was brutal. The cold wind causing my eyes to tear and both the condensation from my breath and tears stinging my face as they froze. I was not adept at dealing with the cold and I'd not been without my own vehicle since I was 16-years-old. I contemplated many times if the move was worth it, but I told myself over and over again if I wanted to get anywhere in life I had to take some calculated risks.
It was during the dot.com boom that I moved, so I was fortunate to always seem to find work. Chicago being the third largest city in the U.S. had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. One of the first things I learned while taking public transportation was that there was a lot of homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution, and desperation that was exacerbated by the harsh conditions of city life and extreme weather. No matter where you go, there are risks.
There was a homeless shelter just down the street from the train station. There was a drug rehabilitation center just down the street from the train station. As a sensitive person, it was heartbreaking to see the level of suffering that was obvious. Many people didn't see it. They didn't see the people pandering for money at the train station. They didn't see the homeless people dirty and disheveled that were very obviously, mentally ill. They didn't see the addicts that were having seizures in the alleys. Most people learned to tune it out, but I noticed.
One day on my way to work at PR Newswire sometime in May, I got on the "L" as usual and sat down next to a nurse in all white. She was reading a romance novel. A platform full of people had gotten onto the train with me. There were plenty of seats, which was rare. A man had gotten onto the train with me. He was obviously different dressed in suspenders, bowtie, jeans and rotund. He sat directly across from me and stared at me, holding a brown bag directly under his chin.
When the train approached each stop, the conductor would call out the stop. "Next stop, Addison, next stop, Addison." The purpose of the announcement was to help people who were too caught up in their distractions to get off on their correct stop. When the train slowly pulled to a stop at Addison, the stop that is next to Wrigley Field, the man jumped up from his seat pushing down his brown bag lunch to his waist. He walked up to me quickly and yelled "May I call you for a date?" and hurriedly exited the platform. When the doors closed I was in shock. My heart was racing and I wasn't sure if I should be concerned or not. No one seemed affected at all. I turned to the nurse next to me and asked her if she had seen what had just occurred. She broke from her book, looked up at me and replied, "Oh yes, nothing to worry about. I know him. He has Tourettes. That's actually the nicest series of things I've ever heard him say." And she reopened her book and ignored me for the rest of the ride. That was my first unusual experience with public transportation.
During the time I took public transportation in Chicago I had my wallet stolen, got propositioned, my life threatened, witnessed men masturbating, and fought off a man who tried to put me in his car. My small-town innocence and naivety was quickly replaced with street smarts. I was really grateful that I had spent time during college learning martial arts, it gave me a sense of confidence that allowed me to respond to danger appropriately.
Despite all the madness of the city, I learned a lot about myself and I grew both personally and professionally. I learned that I enjoyed writing more than anything. I got my editorial beginnings at PR Newswire. If I hadn't gone to Chicago I don't know where I'd be today, but I definitely wouldn't be here.
Every day is a new adventure. Live life fearlessly. Love endlessly.