Sunday, March 10, 2013

Are You From Chicago or Something?

Yes, I blame the ever-changing Minnesota weather for the whole thing happening in the first place. But I suppose I also have to give credit to the Land of 10,000 Check Writers for the story’s happy ending.

Here’s how it started: I had a meeting downtown with a potential new customer. As I was reaching for my coat to head out the door, I took a good, hard look at my parka. Too big, I thought, too bulky, and I’ll probably look much nicer in my light jacket, which hasn’t been rubbing up against my dirty car for the past couple months. And besides, it’s freakily warm today, so I’ll be able to dash from car to office without a significant risk of frostbite.

I left the parka and took the jacket … and somehow didn’t hear that scary soundtrack overlaid on the footage of my exit from the house.

My wallet was in the big, dirty parka.

Of course, I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know it when I blithely pulled into what I still refer to as the Dayton’s parking garage, but which I now know – thanks to what was about to happen to me -- is officially called the “Park and Shop.” I didn’t know it when I met with the client, or when I made my way back to my car.

It hit me about halfway down the ramp.

Have No Money. Have No ID. Have No Credit Card.

Don’t panic, I told myself, and promptly proceeded to panic. I pulled into an open spot and began to think, not always the fastest of operations for me in stressful times (okay, in calm ones either, thanks for noticing). I looked over at my purse, my knockoff Louis Vuitton that Emma’s pal Koko sold me at the Pearl Market in Beijing last Christmas, the one that is wearing so badly that the straps are slowly beginning to resemble that famous Chinese specialty -- "Bean Threads with String, Sold to Gullible White Lady." I began to rummage, and that’s when I found my checkbook.

This was a slim hope at best, since I had no other ID, and parking garages probably didn’t take checks, anyway. All I had going for me at the moment was a checkbook, a clean coat and a rising sense of desperation.

I decided to walk, not drive, to the little booth where the attendant was sitting, assuming that when he spurned me and I had to take up lifetime residence in the garage, I wouldn’t need to put the car in Reverse (not my best gear) or anger all the people waiting in line behind me – the ones with the big, dirty parkas and the wallets in their pockets, those lucky ducks.

I approached the booth and assessed my audience. There were two guys wedged into that tiny space, one sitting and one standing. The one who was sitting had seven total hairs on his head, buck teeth and fisheye spectacles. The one who was standing had a gut that looked like he had carried that beer to term, and a big walrus mustache.

I took a breath and began my plea, beginning with the wardrobe malfunction and ending with how I was now standing there in front of them, check in hand.

Walrus interrupted me and pointed to a small sign, the one I was sure would say, “We will never, ever take a check, even from an about-to-cry woman in a clean jacket.” Instead, I heard him say, “Just make it out to Park and Shop, like it says on the little sign there, and have a nice day.”

I was dumbstruck, but not struck so dumb that I didn’t begin to hastily write the check before he changed his mind. (I found a nice working pen in the jacket pocket, a remnant from last fall that was certainly appreciated but Was Not A Wallet Now, Was It?)

I skedaddled back to my spot, pulled the car up to the booth, and shot out onto the street, exhaling for the first time in several minutes.

On the way home, I sent some blessings to Fish-Eye and Walrus, my new best friends. I thought about the 20 years that I’ve lived in this state, never quite believing that I managed to end up somewhere other than 10 miles from the place I grew up, like so many of my old friends still do. I’ve mocked the Minnesota accents, the lack of eye contact and the strange appreciation for massive snowstorms. And yes, I’ve hooted merrily at the natives’ strange propensity for writing a $1.50 check for a coffee and a bagel.

I remembered the first time I went grocery shopping here, in September of 1993. I had walked over to the Lund’s on Ford Parkway. I don’t live in Michigan anymore! I wanted to shout, but instead, with a great new-in-town feeling, I had gone up to the service desk to ask for a check cashing card. The clerk eyed me suspiciously and said, “You don’t need nothing, just write us a check and we’ll take it.” Then he paused. “What are you, from Chicago or something?”

I wasn’t. I was happily escaping my hometown of St. Louis and my short-term stay in East Lansing, but I wasn’t quite ready yet to call this place home. And, I realized on that drive home, that I’ve spent 20 years dodging the question, still referring to the people who live alongside me as “they.”

But now, thanks to those guys at the Park and Shop and my nine dollar check for parking on a weekday afternoon, I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge.

My name is Julie, and I live in Minnesota. Will you take a check for that, please?


  1. Was at Target last week, picked an "express lane" hoping for speed. Ended up behind a Minnesotan with life's burdens weighing heavily on her XXL frame. I knew at that moment that not only was she going to make the clerk's life hell by asking to have each of her 5 items separately bagged in paper/plastic/giant red plastic per her order. She was going to write a check.

  2. I write one or two checks a year. I'd consider writing more if it would make a difference at all in our liquor laws. No Sunday sales? Yeah, I'm from Minnesota too. :-)