Mel Goldberg grew up in Chicago, attended the U of I at Navy Pier, graduated from Northern Illinois University, and spent 30 years teaching in Waukegan. He currently lives in Ajijic, Mexico, where he is a member of The Not Yet Dead Poets’ Society.
SPRING IN CHICAGO
It’s eight AM
I’m on Dearborn Street
near downtown Chicago
and the wind off the lake is blowing
hard enough to push the rain sideways.
My three dollar umbrella
has reversed into a bowl
that I have to pull on to turn it the right way
so the water can pour off.
It’s March, the last of the snow has melted
and the rain is cold.
Getting a cab is usually not hard
but today is Easter Sunday so no cabs pass by.
I’m standing under an awning
that offers little protection.
Because of the holiday, there are few
buses I can take home to the North side
and I’d have to change at Lincoln Park.
From here it’s a ten-minute walk to the el
and then another twenty minute walk
to get home from my el stop.
So here’s my choice:
walk to the train or hope for a cab
but who wants to pick me up when I’m dripping wet.
I see a Jewish deli across the street that’s open.
The few people out this early for breakfast
are probably Jews like me anyway.
There is a cab parked outside, off-duty sign lit.
I run across to the store.
The lights are bright and the air is thick
with the smell of garlic and fresh baked challah.
Food is set in bins behind glass: sliced roast beef,
pastrami, lox, thick home-made cream cheese,
and five kinds of olives. Large green
cucumber pickles float in brine.
The cab driver is getting his food to go
because the three tables are filled
with people eating and chatting in Russian,
also escaping from the rain.
I walk to the counter where I smile,
say gut morgn, vos makhs du?
in halting Yiddish
that I learned it from my grandfather
because my immigrant parents refused,
saying they wanted to be Americans.
The counterman smiles, asks in English
“Vat you vould like?”
I order a lox and bagel sandwich.
As he slices my bagel
and slathers it with cream cheese,
I chat with the cab driver
paying for his food at the register.
He is an Israeli and speaks to the counterman
in Hebrew which I recognize but do not speak.
The rain is terrible, I say and he agrees
and takes his pastrami sandwich back to his cab.
So there I am, standing in a corner of that shop
chewing my lox and bagel sandwich.
The cab driver I chatted with
is in his cab eating his sandwich.
I watch him until he finishes at the same time
as I wipe the last of the cream cheese
from my fingers on a napkin.
He lights up a cigarette and opens his window partway.
I wait a minute and then walk to the cab, smile,
and ask him if he is on duty again.
“Where you going?” he asks.
“Devon and Kedzie.”
He thinks for a second knowing the area is now
mainly Indian but used to be mostly Jewish.
I wonder if he will say no to a fellow Jew.
“Okay,” he says. So I get in,
inhale the dry warmth of the cab,
and I’m on my way home.