It’s a beautiful Friday morning in Chicago. My friends are at work. The cats are napping. So I decide to go to the zoo. After all, it’s free.
I download a podcast and hop on the bus. I’m very proud of myself. I take out my phone to brag to my friends about my super cool city-cred, at which point I realize I’m on the wrong bus.
I’m not sure what to do. How will it look when I get off after just one stop? What will the bus driver think? I wait for a stop that seems like a plausible intended destination and I de-board. I’m scared to get on another bus, so I walk the mile or so back to where I began.
I board the correct bus and arrive at the zoo some 30 minutes later. I have a wonderful time. I spend a few hours there, taking my time with each and every animal. I do a few laps around the camel. I show some kids where the sloth is hiding. I buy some postcards and chocolate and decide to wrap up my tour.
I find a bus stop, which I’m 80% certain is mine. I double check the sign. As I do, an older woman – who is also waiting for the bus – asks me if I need help. I tell her I’m new to town and want to make sure I’m on the right bus. I already got on the wrong bus this morning, I explain.
She confirms that I am, in fact, at the right place. Then she starts asking me questions. Where I’m from, what I do, where I live, how old I am, etc. She asks if I’m single. I say yes. She pulls from her wallet a photo of her son.
“You should meet my son,” she says. “He’s 28 and single, too.” She winks.
I laugh politely, wondering if my mom pulls this same trick.
“I’m going to set you up. He’s very handsome, no?”
“He’s 6’3″. Only has two daughters.” I nod again, this time more frantically. I’m not ready to be a stepmom.
“Let me give you my number,” she says.
I freeze. This is starting to feel weird. I take down her number and decide this is the best case scenario. At least she doesn’t have mine.
“What’s yours?” she asks.
I use the next millisecond to weigh the pros and cons of giving her my number. Pro: I give her my number to avoid hurting her feelings. Con: I give her my number to avoid hurting her feelings, but she kills me anyways.
I decide to give her my number.
We board the bus. We sit together. She alters her route so we can talk longer. She starts telling me how she’s going to show me the city. Take me around town. What am I doing the rest of the day? What am I doing next weekend? We’ll go out. She’ll have me “bouncin’ from the hood to the suburbs,” she says.
At this point, I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake.
“I’m getting car sick so I have to stop talking,” I say.
I look forward pointedly, hoping she’ll take the hint.
We get off at the same stop. I speed-walk the opposite direction of my house. I walk a mile or so out of my way until I’m confident I’ve lost her.
I circle back towards home. I’m pissed at myself. Disappointed in how quickly I broke down and gave out my information. This was supposed to be my big zoo day! And now I’ve spoiled it.
I text my roommates. They make me feel better.
“Always, always bring headphones,” they say. “No one talks to you when you’re wearing headphones.”
And thus marks Chicago Lesson #1.