4:30 a.m., cold, pitch dark. It was too soon in the year for the sun top be up at this hour. Standing under the heat lamp on the El platform I, gym and messenger bag over my shoulder, contemplate the icicles hanging along the edge or the platform's roof. The winter had been harsh. The worst winter in over 3 decades. Feet of snow lie in yards, mountains of it rise along the edges of parking lots, pushed there by plow owners, who are having a very good year. And then there has been the cold. Weeks where the temperatures never break out of the single digit range. Highs in the 20's become a luxury. This season has taken it's toll on even as resilient and proud a transplanted Midwesterner as myself. Usually I laugh at cold, sticking my chin out and bearing forward, daring it to beat me down. At this point I was lying face down in the center of the ring, punch drunk and bloody.
My annual trek to Phoenix is about a precious few days with friends as important to me as, who have become to me over the years, family. Pleasant temperatures near the end of a Chicago winter is a bonus. We don't "do" anything while I am there. We may go visit museums or take a day trip to a nearby attraction. We do go to the gym together, we all have memberships at the same chain, we go grocery shopping or run errands, but it is the time spent in their company that I treasure, so I return to their gracious sunbelt home year after year.
I am accustomed to rising early, my job and commute demand it, albeit not at 3:30 a.m., as I did that day. As I moved through my flight check in and security I found myself envisioning my seat in the plane where I could close my eyes and doze, if only for a short while. Whenever I fly over the U.S. I am amazed by it's abundance of space. There is enough room and wealth for all those who live here to enjoy a rich life. But greed gets in the way. Corporate, personal, it is a human trait I attempt, mostly failing, to understand. I have a comfortable roof over my head, enough food, a few unnecessary, even if by some standards modest, luxuries, many however do not. There are the others who have more than they know what to do with. Wealth that would make a king blush in embarrassment. Yet they seem devoid of concern for those less fortunate. They appear ungrateful for what they have. They exploit labor and damage the enviorment to add to their already almost unfathomable bounty.
A mountain appears in the distance. The peaks appear whitewashed above a certain level, bare below. As we near them I realized that what seemed barren is the portion of the mountains most heavily forested. Although the mountains are completely covered in snow their summits, too cold and inhospitable for vegetation, display their mantel as an unbroken blanket of white.
I wear a suit, a black one due to my employer's strict dress code, and tie to work each day. I had worked 7 days in a row to get 6 days in a row off. The vintage polo bowling shirt emblazoned with the words "Republic Steel" on the back, jeans and gym shoes I wore on the flight felt somewhat odd and foreign to me. I hoped that when I returned to work the suit and tie would seem equally unfamiliar. After that bitter winter, I also hoped that the first blast of 80 degree warmth I was soon to feel on my body would not make it go into shock.