“Order Up” by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar, Racine, WI

September 11 October 26, 2011 03:58

topic: 9/11 medium: TEXT

as submitted for the “9/11” Open Call

The Aon (nee Amaco) building stands shorter only than the Sears Tower in the lineup for Chicago’s skyline. Its base covers near two city blocks and boasts a colonnade of ash trees bordered by rotating seasonal arrangements, steps from Michigan Avenue. My painter friend Jason had hooked me up a job at a multinational coffee chain there in late July. I forget the day of the week, but my girlfriend celebrated her birthday by skipping work and sleeping in. I left the apartment at five-thirty in a short-sleeved white dress shirt and black chinos (company policy), waited ten minutes for the Red Line, and arrived at twenty past six downtown. The shift started at seven.

I transferred to the Brown Line at some point, dragged myself through the exit turnstyle and down the painted steel stairs, then shuffled from State and Lake across the Mag Mile’s southern tip. My fellow retail and foodservice drones staggered to work, along with a few others in three-season officewear. I climbed three marble steps in the foyer and the shoeshine guys exchanged nods with me; I doubt they ever shut down. The store manager and one of my co-workers had already punched in.

The co-worker’s name was Honesty, but I swear she always took a greater portion of the tips. I pulled five or six shots for myself between grinding beans and scooping filters to three-quarters full. I took a cigarette break at half-past seven, and when I returned, the line already stretched past the entrance. First shift foodservice workers expect a morning rush, but this was a daybreak mob. Executive assistants and C-level officers chattered on cell phones, but the corporate artwork on the wall absorbed only a fraction of the noise. And there was the espresso machine – whining steam, frothing milk.

For over an hour, they fidget with irregular anxiety, more than simple caffeine jones, before they carry cardboard-sleeved cups and clack heavy-heeled through the lobby. They push past dumbstruck security guards. What is this, an evacuation? When the manager puts me on register, I punch my code and look up. He’s overweight and breathing hard in his yellow woven suit. I picture crescent moons of sweat soaking the white linen beneath his armpits even now.

He solved the puzzle on my face.

“Didn’t you hear what happened?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Two planes flew into the World Trade Center,” he said. “Another hit the pentagon.”

This information baffled me.

“We’re under attack,” he said.

I looked first to Honesty, then at our boss at the other register, then on tiptoe over the line that trailed through the lobby and past the elevator bay, where the guards continued to flail. Sweat stains reached over and grabbed my elbow.

“Hey.” He locked eyes with me. Our mutual desperation swelled.

Then he said, “I’ll take a grande caramel machiatto with whip-cream and a blueberry scone.”

An hour later we locked the gate and started turning customers away.

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