You wanna make a memory?
-Jon Bon Jovi
They got to Sidetracks, a divey little bar tucked away in the south loop, at 4:00ish in the afternoon. Sidetracks was underneath the el tracks, identifiable only by a faded paint sign above a wood door and a flashing red OTB sign in its one window. They walked into an unexpectedly large room, carpeted with an ancient green wall-to-wall that might be more cigarette ash and dashed hope than polyester fiber now. In lieu of pub tables or booths, there were rows of tables all facing a big screen TV. The tables were littered with old racing forms and short pencils, teeming ashtrays and mugs of beer. Men of all ages and various dispositions (but all men) sat at the tables, eyes glued to the race. Some jawed companionably, others focused on the races with manic attention.
Rosie walked through the room like she was lit by a spotlight, the only bright thing for miles around.
She led Tré to the cashier where they got forms and she helped him make a few bets. Rosie knew a bit about racing. Her brother, Fred, was inclined to gamble and had told Rosie about Sidetracks when he’d discovered it. Rosie thought slumming it there would add to her cool cachet, and so she’d nagged Fred to take her with him a few times while she learned the ropes. She went a couple of times a month now, and if she lost her tips for the week, what did it matter? It’s not like her tips were keeping the lights on.
Bets made, Rosie and Tré bellied up to the bar.
“So, what do you think, Tré?” asked Rosie. “Are you ready to class up this place?”
“I don’t know,” said Tré, looking around. “I think this place might be beyond classing up.”
Rosie had a vodka/soda with a splash of cranberry (a low calorie cocktail). Tré had a Heineken. The bar had small TVs mounted at various intervals and Tré and Rosie found themselves huddling closer and closer together to watch the race.
Tré’s was the only black face in the room, which was old hat to him. He’d grown up in a small town in Ohio, where his family was one of only three black families town. When he decided to take Chicago by storm, he headed to Northwestern, not Chicago State. He lived in Wrigleyville, not Hyde Park. He worked on the near north side, not the far south side. Tré had spent a lot of his days as the only black guy in the room. Through a life of careful study, he’d learned to be cool without being threatening. He nodded appreciatively when white friends waxed rhapsodic about Public Enemy to him (only to him). He suffered countless appeals for his expertise after various first time viewings of Spike Lee films. Tré was a pro at being the only black guy, inured to being the stranger in a strange land.
He was supremely cool.
He was finding, however, that it was hard to keep up this practiced cool around a girl like Rosie. While Tré had been mastering Non-Threatening-But-Cool, Rosie had mastered The-Only-Woman-In-The-Room. She was a practiced flirt, approachable but unattainable; she could talk to any guy about music, sports, movies. She knew when to laugh and when to make the joke. Rosie wasn’t just hot, she was bright and funny and smart. And she really liked Tré.
They sat at the bar, placing bets, drinking, flirting all afternoon. And through it all, Tré kept thinking, “I’m just flirting a little, just having some fun.” Bur the bartender knew (as would you, if you’d been making bets on that Thursday afternoon in 1990) that Tré was doing a little more than flirting.
After a few hours, the flirting got a little heavier, the sheen of romance got a little thicker.
They left Sidetracks in the early evening, about 8:00, as the sun was setting and the Loop looked romantically derelict.
Just a few hours ago, the Loop had been a corporate hullabaloo; throngs of respectably attired professional people racing to make their trains, abandoning the Loop for their other lives. At 5:00 pm, when the el thundered past, it was just background noise, muted by the presence of all those regular people. But late on this Thursday evening, when the lawyers and the office managers have made way for the homeless, abed in pallets in doorways, and the street cleaners picking up trash, the noise of the el was enormous.
And as it roared by, Rosie, a step ahead of Tré and in the middle of a sentence, swiveled and put her hand on his stomach. She meant to get his attention to point out some sight, to wait for the sound of the train to stop and then carry on with their conversation. But the heat from Rosie’s hand on Tré’s stomach raced through his body. He was full of the sound of the train, the loneliness of the street and Rosie.
So he kissed her.
And she kissed him back.