My family started out talking about plays we wanted to see in New York City this summer. Then, after my mother fell, we started talking about seeing a show in St. Louis or Chicago. After she died, we decided on Chicago and The Book of Mormon in July. In the end, there were six of us for whom that was possible.
So Ron and Walker and I got plane tickets for a round-trip flight that was supposed to leave Columbus on Friday at 7:30 and arrive an hour and a half later in Chicago. We got the first text from United as we were approaching the airport. The text said the flight was delayed until 8:30 pm. Okay, we said, time for us to have dinner at the airport. Then, during dinner, there were more texts about further delays and then we found that all the flights to Chicago were canceled except for the 6 pm one, which had been delayed so long the plane was still sitting on the runway in Columbus. Every one of the hundreds of people in our concourse tried to get on it, but most of us failed. I called United and when I finally got off of hold, was offered next-day flights to Charlotte, Dallas, or Minneapolis, with connecting flights to Chicago, most of which didn’t get us there in time for our 8 pm theater tickets. There were no more direct flights.
So we decided to drive. We set off from Columbus, first driving an hour north, close to where we’d started with such high hopes that afternoon (as it turned out, all we accomplished at the airport was having a full-size tube of toothpaste thrown away). We stopped in Marion, Ohio to get road food, and made it to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where we’d reserved a hotel room, before we stopped for the night. Then we drove into downtown Chicago on Saturday.
We’d planned to go to the Art Institute, so we did that first, wandering through a good bit of the main building and then heading over to the modern galleries to see the Magrittes. The gallery was offering paper and crayons for trying to copy or interpret the art, so we all got some and sat down on the little camp chairs they gave us to draw one of the Magrittes, a many-paneled piece entitled “On the Threshold of Liberty.” My sister-in-law switched the panels on purpose. My niece did an interpretation featuring trees and clouds. Ron did an interpretation featuring the cowbells floating among trees, clouds, and elements from the various panels. Walker and my brother and I tried to copy the piece. We all had fun doing it.
We had a pre-theater dinner at a fancy place a couple of blocks from the theater and then laughed our way through The Book of Mormon, which Ron and I had seen twice already, Walker and my brother once, and my sister-in-law and niece were seeing for the first time. It is a great show; our favorite of the 21st century, at least until January, when we have tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago. I’ve been going around singing my favorite little snatch of song from “I Believe”…”a warlord who shoots people in the face. What’s so scary about that?”
After the show, we walked far enough to find taxis to get to the bookstore for the midnight sale of The Cursed Child. There, we met six of the cast members from The Book of Mormon, including the two who had played the main characters (Cody Jamison Strand and Kevin Clay). They were flattered to be recognized, very gracious about giving us their autographs and posing for photographs, and quite excited about the new Harry Potter book.
They looked so different from their characters on stage, especially Cody (the one with glasses, in the photo), that it made me think about how many people with impressively big voices and talents I might be walking past on the street in a big city–like in Jeanne Murray Walker’s poem “Theater” where suddenly everyone is heading for the theater:
Away from front desks in hotels they slip,
out of restaurants they lurch, untying
their aprons, unpinning their hair nets,
powdering their noses, pulling on silk shirts.
From the cash registers of clothing stores
they come, and out of factories they wake
like the dead who have heard a trumpet,
who rise and hurry through the narrow alleys,
this one already pursing her full lips
into the pout of a mean grimace,
that one screwing his peg leg in place,
the other shaking her hanky into a full-blown rose.
Down the streets and sidewalks they pour
like rain, intent, clarified, and splendid,
pulling on their golden, high-heeled slippers,
learning how to juggle as they run,
because every one of them has been called back—
no one has been cut—there are enough parts,
and as dusk is falling, one by one
they converge upon the Stage Door, and are let in.
Walker finished reading The Cursed Child about 2 am in his room at the very swanky Union League Club (his review includes the advice that one should read it as a sort of fanfiction). We all got up the next morning, tried the fancy breakfast buffet, and walked to the Willis Tower, where we spent the morning standing in line to go up, walking around admiring the various views, including standing on the railing where Ferris Bueller and his friends stood, and finally standing in line for the sky deck, which is one of the two little glass boxes with a glass floor where you can stand and see out all around you and 103 floors down.
There were other things we’d meant to see this trip, but the last thing we had time for was lunch at the restaurant under the Bean, stopping on the walk back only to let Walker play a quick game of street chess and getting some popcorn at Garrett’s to take home with us.
We had a long but uneventful drive back and made it home at 10:30 pm on Sunday night. And that is the story of how we drove 16 hours to spend 24 in Chicago…because we had tickets to the theater.