Never having been out of Iowa before, Joe felt unprepared to face the overwhelming Chicago streets they had just come in from. And given the unsatisfactory nature of the relationship he had with the hotel clerk, he was not ready to put any more hope in him. So when he saw a man in a greasy mechanic’s uniform turn a corner at the far side of the lobby, he grabbed Mary’s hand and their single suitcase, and headed in that direction.
The hallway he turned in to was empty, and the battered door of a freight elevator was just closing. Joe watched the lights above the door indicate that the elevator was headed down—to an underground garage, he assumed. He wasn’t sure what to do, but his career as a welder made him feel a greater kinship with the mechanic he had seen from a distance than with the hotel clerk or anyone else he had spoken with that day. Still, he wasn’t naive enough to believe the mechanic actually had any power to help him. So he simply waited, unsure.
He found a chair for Mary and offered her a baggie of almonds he pulled out of his jacket pocket. He sat on the floor next to her and tried to look reassuring while keeping a casual eye on the elevator door, wondering what excuse he would come up with if someone did appear from around the corner.
But after more than 30 minutes, no signs of life had come from the freight elevator. No footsteps had sounded down the hall. Joe rose to his feet, smoothed his khakis with his hands, and glanced up and down. Then he pushed the button near the freight elevator door. When it opened, he and Mary stepped in and began their descent to the basement.
Though the clerk had told them the hotel was full, the basement parking garage was not. Joe surveyed his surroundings thoughtfully, then headed in a direction as far from the elevator as possible, and away from any other points of entry or exit. He wanted as much privacy as possible.
The garage was not busy at this hour, and when Joe did hear footsteps and a jingle of keys, he simply strode more confidently, as though he and his family were heading to their own parked car. After a few moments, the oblivious intruder was gone, and Joe and Mary were alone again.
In an empty space in a remote corner of the garage, Joe wanted to apologize to his wife, but he knew it would only make her feel worse if he did. So, he blinked back his tears of frustration and began trying to make a satisfactory nest out of his jacket and other clothes from the suitcase. Mary sank into it, put her head on his lap, and fell asleep. Joe sighed, leaned back against the cement wall, and soon was asleep himself.