Helping Someone

by Alex Ranieri

It was March; the iron-cold winter was just beginning its long, lingering thaw. I woke up one morning and felt the dizzy freedom to do nothing and everything-- and decided to take a sketchbook down to the Art Institute. Even though the contemporary galleries of River North are exciting and heady with the art world’s constant tectonic shifts, there’s no better way to study than to copy the Old Masters.

The Loop makes me antsy-- it isn’t friendly like the neighborhoods, and one is constantly reminded of why Chicago deserves its reputation as a hard-hearted city. The buildings loom large. People patter back and forth underneath them like perfumed ants, chattering to each other or themselves or into sleek iPhones. Homeless dot the streets and are almost universally ignored by Rolex and Coach-sporting businesspeople. I hurried through the crowds, eager to reach the museum as soon as possible.

I was a few blocks away when I saw a young couple who looked thoroughly lost. Like most people I take pride in giving directions, and approached them.

“Excuse me,” they turned, “are you lost?”

The woman, a petite blonde and clearly the one wearing the pants in the relationship, replied without a smile, “Yeah-- do you know the way to the Art Institute?”

My heart-- a stellar Samaritan-- leapt. “Yes, I do. In fact, why don’t you walk with me? I’m going there myself.”

Evidently they realized the two of them were more than a match for me, should I prove threatening, and accepted. We set off for the ultimate street of luxury and destitution-- Michigan Avenue.

“So,” I began, because there’s nothing worse than walking in silence with strangers, “ where are you from?”

They were from St. Louis; I made small talk about how wonderful the city was, even though I had never been, and asked what brought them to Chicago.

“My brother goes to school at the Art Institute,” the woman replied, “we’ve both got time off work to visit him.” A hint of a smile finally worked its way through her jaw. “He didn’t give us any directions or anything, though, and neither of us have been to the city before.”

The man broke his silence. “I didn’t realize Chicago was so huge.”

From there we moved on to compare transit systems; here again the man spoke to complain about the terrible state of St. Louis’. At length we rounded a corner, and there it was—a reminder of the ethereal White City, guarded by two oxidized bronze lions.

My charges were gracious with their thanks, and I saw them safely inside. Then we parted ways, and I set off to sketch the Old Masters.

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