I break from commuting for high tea

My friend A. took me to the Palmer House for high tea and a belated birthday celebration.

My friend A. took me to the Palmer House for high tea and a belated birthday celebration.

I came out of my apartment in Chicago last night and nearly ran into my neighbor. We were both heading down to the laundry room, so I introduced myself and we started chatting. I hadn’t seen her before, so I was surprised to find out she’d been living next door to me since July.

“Well, I’m not around much,” she said. And then she threw me for a loop. “I work at Orbitz about a block away Monday to Thursday, but then I go to Madison on Thursday night to see my family.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “I work here Friday to Tuesday, and then I live at my boyfriend’s place in Kenosha.”

“So we’re on opposite schedules,” she said.

I did a quick check in my head, and she was right. The only night that we’d both be in Chicago on a regular basis would be Monday. I leave Tuesday night to go to Wisconsin, and by the time I got back Friday morning, she would be there.

I got the details: There was no work in Madison, so she took the job in Chicago a year and a half ago. At first, she and her husband planned to sell their house, but with the real estate market so bad in Wisconsin, they couldn’t. He doesn’t work full-time, so he stays in Madison with their two children, ages 3 and 7, and takes care of getting them to school and their needs. She works in Chicago from Monday through Thursday, then takes the train as far northwest as she can. From there, she drives to Madison, where she works from home on Friday and then spends the weekend with her family. It’s about a four-hour trip to Madison, so she’ll come back Sunday night.

I’ve never seen her then because I usually leave for Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon so G. and I can make our dance class in Milwaukee that night. By the time my train gets in Monday morning, she’s at work.

My neighbor said she lived in another building for her first year in Chicago with a short-term lease because she kept expecting that they’d sell their house, and then she’d find a place that could fit the whole family. After a year, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, so she got a less expensive apartment in the building where I live.

I couldn’t believe it. What are the chances that another person in almost exactly the same situation as me would move in next door? But then I thought, maybe the odds aren’t as long as you’d think. With the economy still so bad and jobs so hard to find, I know a number of couples who once lived together but one has now moved out to take a job elsewhere. And I know even more people who own property in one state but have had to take a job in a different one.

I read a news story recently about the long-term unemployed, and one quote keeps running through my head, “They keep saying the economy is getting better, but when is OUR economy going to get better?”

That’s exactly how I feel.

And yet, I feel less depressed this week. I was talking to my mom last night, and she remarked on how I seemed perkier.

“Well, it’s Friday,” I said.

“Friday?” she asked, confused.

“It’s my Friday, because Wednesday and Thursday are my weekends,” I clarified. “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.”

“And you’re not commuting,” she said.

“Right,” I said. I didn’t go to Wisconsin this week because G. is in Canada for business. He flies back into Chicago on Friday night.

And then it hit me _ that was exactly why I felt better. I wasn’t getting on a train. There was no two-hour ride after a long work week. I would wake up the next morning in my bed (which is much more comfortable than G.’s even if he won’t admit it) and on Friday, I can just get up and go to work. I don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. and ride the train for two hours first.

I spend about eight hours a week on the train. It’s exhausting, and having a break from it, even just for one week, floated in front of me like the happy little soap bubbles children make by blowing through plastic rings.

And so, this morning, I woke up in my bed, cleaned my apartment, went to the gym and then met my friend A. for high tea at the Palmer House. We had tiny sandwiches, scones and luscious desserts. It was fabulous, and I still have a sugar high.

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