"Calla lilies!" I thought to myself, trucking north on Franklin last week. "What an odd place for calla lilies, in a glass vase, next to a white plastic bucket, beside that cement truck."
I can't say for certain those actual words coursed through my brain, but some sort of enzyme flash that approximated those words. I slowed down, diverted my path to investigate.
And my further defense, I was wrong. When I saw what my supposed calla lilies really were, I smiled, and took the above photograph, which sent two cement workers, standing nearby in their yellow vests and hard hats, hustling over to see what I was photographing.
Nobody wants to get in trouble.
I must have perfected a certain disarming manner, however, because within moments I had explained the nature of my confusion, and we were happily talking cement, particularly its quality of heating up as it hardens. I explained that not too long ago I had been out to tour Prairie Materials, in Bridgeview, for a pending concrete story—fascinating stuff, concrete, the trucks are everywhere this summer—and they insisted I include their company, Ozinga, which is another big cement concern in Chicago.
By the time we parted, we were old pals. They took my card, and assured me the top bosses at Ozinga—fourth generation cement guys—would leap to be involved in my story, and explained how construction workers put decals on their helmets, as tokens of their jobs, like fighter pilots painting kills on the sides of their jets. They gave me an attractive Ozinga sticker for my hard hat, and they were ready to give me a hard hat too, but I insisted that I already have a serviceable one my friends at the CTA had given me.
I parted in maximum good spirits, hurried to my office, dug out my hard hat, and put my trophy upon it, at the very back, in the place of honor. If you had told me that knowing a calla lily on sight, perhaps coupled with not the best eyesight at a distance, would help me make a good connection at a cement company for a story, well, I would have been dubious. But that is indeed how things work in the city. Wonderful world.