All I wanted was a Sun-Times. The weather was lousy, the el is always slow and I like having the patternless crossword for the ridiculously long trek to work. Easy enough, I thought. There's a newsstand in the Logan Square station and I had 50 cents in my pocket. I could have gone into the newsstand, but I do like to get through the turnstyle (you never know when a train is going to sneak into the station and I didn't want to miss mine) and, anyway, there's a window there so folks can patronize the newsstand after they've swiped their card and cleared the turnstyle.
I approached the window. The newsie, a guy I see pretty much five days a week, acknowledged me.
"Could I get a Sun-Times, please?" I said.
He threw his arms into the air, as if he was exasperated, as if it would just have been way too difficult to walk around the counter and grab me a newspaper. Yes, he's been walking around the counter to get my morning paper now for four years, more or less. For some reason, today was the day my regular newsie decided to go on strike.
"But I've already swiped my card," I said. "The train's coming."
Again, he threw his arms into the air. At this, he began moving toward the edge of the counter, where the newspapers are kept.
"Look," I said. "Never mind."
Really, I get my New York Times crossword online. I read all my morning news (including both major Chicago papers) online, too. I can't get the patternless that way, so I give this dude $2.50 a week for it.
So, there I was, stuck on the inbound blue line without my patternless. 45 minutes to Jackson and then another 15 on the red just to get from Jackson to Chicago and State. I thought they'd fixed up that 'slow zone' garbage last year. I'd thought the customer was always right.
I was reminded of the fall of 2002, when I lived in Pittsburgh. I was walking to work one beautiful Squirrel Hill morning when I dropped some change into a machine for the day's Post-Gazette. As I opened the door to get my paper, a shopkeeper came barreling out of his newsstand there on Murray Ave., a frantic look on his face.
"Hey, Buddy," he said. "Does that vending machine pay taxes? Well, I pay taxes. Buy the paper from me."
I thought he'd made a good point, and he'd gotten to my ex-Catholic guilt thing, so I went into his store and bought a second copy of the same paper. I've stayed away from the vending machines ever since.
I tell you, now I'm having second thoughts. My newspaper issues are completely ferkacht. I'll start bringing books or something, I guess ...