Nothing Ventured, No Sleep Gained

I know, I know, it’s been a little while since the first blog; so much for a routine. I could say conditions just haven’t been right, but I’m currently stuck in the middle seat on a two-hour flight directly behind a screaming baby, so conditions aren’t exactly ideal, either. I’ll call that progress.

My week-long vacation started in New Orleans with seven other people. I thought I might have something profound to say afterwards, but in all honesty, the four days really only involved a steady string of eating and drinking. Mere hours after flying back to Chicago, me and one of those friends returned to O’Hare to board our 6AM flight to New York.

I feel already feel like I’ve done a disservice to New Orleans, so I’ll say this before moving on: the people are some of the sweetest you could ever hope to meet. I had many conversations with Uber drivers and people in restaurants that I doubt I would have had in Chicago. I visited with a lot of my family, and I made new friends. I listened to live music outdoors in what felt like a friend’s backyard and I joined a random parade in the street at 11PM. I had an absolute blast* and I can’t wait to visit again.

*(Imagine a young British woman saying that in an exaggerated American accent for the full effect.)

Back to New York. One of my best friends provided the opportunity to go without having to pay for a flight or for a hotel room, with one stipulation: I would have to wait with her all night on the street so she could go to one of the biggest auditions of the year.

Of course, I jumped at the chance. For the first time in my life I saw a Broadway show, and then the next day I saw another one. I took a stroll through Central Park, and I ate at least three slices of New York pizza on the street. I sat in the middle of Times Square to catch up with a good friend. But waiting in line for 12 hours, knowing full well that I would not personally reward from it, is an experience I’ll never forget.

It all started at around 7:45PM. We had flown in the same morning, napped on the couches of a friend’s tiny four-person apartment, taken the subway all by ourselves without getting lost, and picked up our tickets for the show. We wanted to check in on the audition location so we knew where to go, and figured we would do so periodically for a few hours before officially joining the line.

The line had already begun. Two people were sitting outside the door in lawn chairs and surrounded by blankets. They had been there since 5PM, they said, and anyone who joined the line after midnight wouldn’t even get inside. We were a little worried since we had a show to see, but they also had that familiar hint of crazy in their voices. So we enjoyed the performance as planned and officially joined the line at 10:30. My friend would be the eighth person to audition.

The dark and windy night passed slowly and I can’t recount everything, so I’ll give you the highlights. I purchased the last lawn chair in a Duane Reid, and offered to pay $5 to another person in line to use their thin blanket. I tried to sleep, bundled as best I could and sitting against a construction barrier. I failed miserably. I used a McDonald’s bathroom that had a broken lock on the door—twice. My friend went back to that Duane Reid to walk around and get warm, and ended up crying to the manager; he let her use the employee-only bathroom and searched through their basement to find her HotHands (which, as everyone who lives in cold weather can attest to, are life-savers).

But we made friends with the competition. The first ten ladies, as well as their parents and significant others and friends, all banded together, and it wasn’t just to huddle for warmth. We kept each other entertained with stories from back home, political discussions (I didn’t partake), and our experiences visiting “The Big Apple.” We rejoiced together when the sun finally came back out and when the Starbucks reopened. We saved each other’s spots in line so we could eat and walk around and go to the bathroom and take turns in the one doorway that actually blocked the wind—and the stench from the nearby garbage pile. We made sure that late-comers knew where the line ended because we waited all night, damnit, and we were not about to let anyone weasel their way to the front.

And then, after it was finally bright outside, the news crews arrived. They did interviews with the first 10 women in line, and got footage of the line that now wrapped around three street corners. They had the girls laughing and singing and smiling like the cold had never existed. It was like they were reminded all over again why they were doing this. They got their applications, and walked into the building with their heads held high.

What happened after that is not the perfect, fairy-tale ending I wish would have occurred. But that final image of the young women, rejuvenated after a sleepless night and walking into the unknown, is where I would end the story. Because the experience wasn’t about one of those first ten, or even any of the thousand that followed, getting the part.

It was about having the opportunity to do so. It was about being determined and going the extra mile to prove how much you care. It was about loving a fictional character so intensely you would literally brave the elements for the chance to play her. It was about making friends with complete strangers, and realizing the amazing capabilities within yourself to be a great parent, a great significant other, a great friend. It was about cheering someone else up and reminding them why they would do such a crazy thing. It was about love.

I don’t really have a great, one-line ending to this, but my plane just landed and we’ll be at the gate soon, so I’ll end by saying something I never thought I’d say: I had a wonderful time waiting in line, in the dark, in another city, for 12 hours. I learned a lot about human nature—both good and bad, but mostly good. And in the end, no matter the outcome for my friend, I will always treasure this crazy, insane, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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