Scene: Osco 6 p.m. I'm shopping for degreaser and rust remover for my road bike tune-up tomorrow. The guy immediately in front of me in line is an old acquaintance from the days when I would polish off a liter of Bombay Sapphire without a thought of the consequences. This guy could always match that and then some.
This evening, he looked good. He was wearing state trooper shades, clean-cut, clean-shaven, a bit trimmer. Best of all he looked like he'd cut back on his drinking, but he was still someone you could use to fill a few spots on a Hipster Bingo card, if you were so inclined. His girlfriend was with him, complete with the platform shoes, dyed black hair, and faux-fur coat.
I waited for the moment where he would turn around, we would "recognize" each other, and immediately engage in a minute or two of uncomfortable small talk while his debit card was processing. But it never came. He just stood there in his cool-kid uniform, hiding a poker face behind those shades, giving off the same "I'm too good for this shit" attitude he always had. I wondered if he wondered how his life came to the point to where he was using a debit card for a pack of smokes in a drug store on the South Side of Chicago, when Oscos in Wicker Park have so much more cache because they're in Wicker Park.
Before that (un)encounter, the last time I spoke to him was when the Skylark first opened.
Personally, I never thought the place would open, knowing the maze the city makes tavern license holders run to open a bar. The Skylark had been rumored to be opening for years when I first moved out south. Now that it has I'm starting to see some familiar faces. Faces I recognize from boozy nights at Border Line, Rainbo, or Estelle's back when that place was a beer-shot-and-meth bar. Most of them still look the same, with just slight nods to age- a wrinkle here, some gray hidden with hair dye, a slight paunch. They've set up camp at Halsted and 22nd Street as if it's their Alamo. A bridge connects Halsted between 22nd (or Cermak Road, if you prefer) and Archer Avenue, and suddenly you're in Bridgeport, which was always a word that was spat out of our mouths back then as if the neighborhood was beneath us.
Out of necessity I took the plunge and have now lived in Bridgeport for close to five years. I wished I had moved down here sooner. Meanwhile, those same acquaintences sit at barstools at the Skylark, too old for the Rainbos of our past, but not wanting to go over that bridge and let go of their preconceptions and pretensions along the way.