Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When You're Hot You're Hot

It was going on quitting time on a Friday night somewhere around 1982 and I was still a vice-president at Blue Cross in Chicago. The staff was making getting-ready-to-leave noises and my secretary was away from her desk when the phone rang. I answered and it was Betty, a former girlfriend, calling for one of the women in our department.

I went looking, but she had already left. I asked Betty "What's going on?"

Betty: "Well, it's my birthday today."

Donnie: "Happy birthday. What are you doing to celebrate?"

Betty, in a deliberately long, drawn out, despondent voice: "Nuhthhhhhinnnn'."

Donnie, taking the hint: "Well, why don't you head this way? I'll round up a few people, we'll have drinks, then I'll take you to dinner."

Betty, instantly: "OK, I'll be there in about a half hour."

I notified everyone and headed for the ground level at Illinois Center to make my way to a jeweler's shop at the Hyatt. I bought a Calibri lighter for Betty, one of those butane jobs. This was before I knew they were worthless.

We had a couple of drinks with the group, then hit the sidewalk. I asked where she'd like to have dinner and she said "Anywhere, Donnie."

We walked to a fine dining restaurant called Artists & Writers. It's gone now, but my memory says it wasn't far from Water Tower Place. I think that several restaurants followed one another at that location, and one might have been Here's Johnny.

Drinks, dinner, champagne, some catching up, lotsa fun.

On the sidewalk again I spotted one of the horse-drawn carriages plying its trade and asked Betty if she was up for a carriage ride. Yes indeed.

We engaged one, and it was being managed by a trainer and a new driver, both young women. We hit Michigan Avenue for a couple of blocks, turned toward the lake, headed south, and circled around to our starting point. It was quite chilly by the lake, and we made use of a blanket that was stowed on the floor. This was much fun, and when we stopped I asked Betty if she wanted to go again.

She did, and added "Well Donnie, I think it would be nice if we had some more champagne."

I headed for a liquor store a block away, but it was after nine o'clock and the store was closed. I walked back to the carriage, told the driver to hang on, and headed for the elevator to the Ritz-Carlton. I believe their first floor at Water Tower Place is the eighteenth, but in any case I knew there was a small restaurant and an even smaller lounge there. I went to the bar, put a hundred dollar bill on it, and told the bartender "I need a bottle of champagne and four glasses."

He looked around quickly and in just a few seconds produced them. Now a bottle and four glasses with stems make an awkward combination to carry, particularly if you're trying to conceal them. I stuffed the glasses in pockets in my suit jacket and pants, put the bottle under my arm inside the jacket, and headed for the elevator. Halfway there - CRASH!

Back to the bar, another twenty, another glass. But this time I was intercepted on the way to the elevator by the tuxedoed maitre d' of the restaurant and lounge, who was quite insistent that I could not do this. He lectured me all the way to the elevator, telling me that the beverage must be consumed there or delivered to my room. I assured him I was taking it to my room, got on the elevator, and pressed the button for the lobby. The trickiest part was carrying the bottle under my arm inside the jacket, as I had taken the precaution of having the bartender open it.

All three women were happy to see me with a bottle and four glasses. I climbed back into the carriage, poured champagne for four, and off we went again.

I do believe I was at my best that night, and that might have been my peak.

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