Jay Z and Justin Timberlake affected South Loop life around Soldier Field last night like you wouldn't believe. Like my book club's annual poetry night. Which I host every year. Jay Z and Justin kind of ruined it.
It's been more than a dozen years since I started hosting poetry night on the deck over my garage each July. The warm night air, the poetry and my famous barbecued chicken always went over well. This year, though, I decided that maybe we were getting a little too feeble in our old age to climb the long flight of stairs above the garage, walk over all the popped nails on the deck to get to the food--and then climb down the stairs again after several bottles of wine.
I thought it would be a great idea to get a reservation for 14 in the new beer garden at Flo & Santo's. It's never crowded on Monday night--my bf Bruce and I visit frequently. So I made the reservation last week. "I need real tables and chairs put together," I said. "No picnic tables." I was assured our reservation was secure, the "real" wrought iron tables and chairs would be put together and set for us at 7 PM. I said I'd be over at 6:30 to order the pizzas and choose the wine.
But when I got to 13th and Wabash at 6:30 last night, a block from my house, I couldn't believe my eyes. Wabash Avenue was swarming with young people. Positively swarming. Mostly young, well-dressed white women. They covered the sidewalk, the outdoor area of every restaurant on the strip--from Scout to Gioco. It was like a block party, the biggest one I'd ever seen. It was impossible to get down the street. Let alone get into Flo & Santo's to claim my reservation and order my victuals.
When I finally got the attention of someone, I was told to just wait. They'd given my tables away. And although the customers were told they could only stay until my party showed up (oh, really?), at this point they wouldn't leave. "Five minutes, just give me five more minutes," the hostess kept saying above the beer bottle din. But they still wouldn't leave. Even though the concert started at 6 PM. (I checked it on my iPhone.) They wouldn't leave.
Suddenly, all my girlfriends showed up, including one with a cane and one with a wheelchair. And we stood. In the street. Waiting. We couldn't go anywhere else because all the restaurants in the neighborhood were filled and overflowing onto the streets. These Jay Z and Justin Johnny-come-lateleys, who will probably never visit any of these restaurants again, ruled the day. And the night. And the cacophony.
Didn't they want to get their money's worth and get to the concert on time? I guess not. By 7:30, they still hadn't left. And my posse was getting restless, not to mention blaming me for the screwup. They sneerred.
How could these concertgoers know they weren't missing anything at Soldier Field? Why were they hanging out drinking beer and munching pizza when there was a concert that they presumably had tickets for going on? They drank and munched.
Finally, the hostess garnered two picnic tables for us to sit at "temporarily." Until our "real" tables were emptied and could be pushed together for us to eat, and read our poetry at. Our poets--from Yeats to Emerson to Dylan Thomas--were on hold, too.
And then a young man came out and said he was an assistant manager. But he didn't come to apologize, to express disbelief in the restaurant's being so suddenly overwhelmed--or to offer us a complimentary glass of wine for our troubles. He didn't offer us a 10 percent off coupon. Or tell me I did everything right and that he screwed up. He didn't even tell us that our beer garden tables would be ready shortly. No. He didn't say any of that.
Instead, he came to say the following. Over and over. And again and again. "Our policy is that no reservation is guaranteed." He kept saying it. And saying it. And saying it.
Nice to know now. "Maybe you should have told me that when I made the reservation," I said.
Finally, our tables were emptied. In fact, the whole beer garden ended up pretty much empty as the concertgoers finally went to the concert. Our only accompaniment ended up being the CTA trains going by overhead.
We got to the poetry. And the wine and pizza. Which I will admit was pretty good. Although it was hard getting enough napkins, forks ("They're all being washed now," said our server.) and water to go with it.
But we read our poems. We ate. We drank. And we ultimately said goodbye.
And when all was said and done, I'll admit this: Jay Z and Justin added a bit of excitement to our poetry night. Hear that, Michael Faraday and Langston Hughes?