There’s a moment in the presentation of Handel’s Messiah when director Stephen Alltop grasps the back of the podium and the music stops. The 120 voice Apollo Chorus stands motionless, mouths closed. The violinists halt their strings, silent fingers cradling their instruments. The man at the harpsichord sits poised behind the keys. The four fashionable soloists sitting in the front chairs hold their tongues. The hundreds of people in the audience look up, puzzled, until they hear the rustle of footsteps behind them, entering from the lobby of the Harris Theatre.
All this pause happens to let in the people who arrived late.
I always feel a little sorry for them, because what would a presentation of the Messiah be without those opening songs? There are the haunting notes of Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye, My People. There is the glorious first rush of sound as the Apollo Chorus rises from their seats as one: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it!
But I also feel a little smugness towards the latecomers, because why wouldn’t you come on time? Why not plan in time for something to go wrong so you wouldn’t be late?
Well, I wasn’t sure that we would make it to the Messiah this year, but at the last minute we decided to go. I believe I’ve gone every year since 2007 when my co-teacher and I fought our way to the train station through a blizzard that canceled church. (Susannah, 2007?) I remember sitting in my seat, spellbound by the chorus, barely breathing.The orchestra is good, and the soloists range from good to excellent. But the Apollo Chorus, founded in 1872, is nothing short of spectacular. The chorus, all 120 (up to 140) people, spends much of the night sitting, facing the audience while the orchestra and soloists perform. There is almost no motion from them. No water bottles. No massaging of neck muscles. Not even a bowed or turned head.
When the director wants them to rise, he makes a small flourish of the hand, and they stand as a unit. He plays them like an instrument, and they swell and recede as if he was moving a volume button. They sing the entire first part with no music. The director uses no music at all.
Since that first time, Chicago’s Messiah has become a fond, sometimes deeply moving, December tradition.
Anyway, my friend Kendra and a group of other friends, most of whom sang at our wedding, were going, so we bought seats beside theirs.
We left our house three hours before show time. The roads were nice, and I was driving while Marnell did some reading and worked on a church project. City traffic was bearable and finding the ramp into the parking garage was easily done. As I drove down it, I said, “Well, this is working out really well. We’re about an hour early, but that’s no problem. I like to be early.”
Hee hee. (I am literally shaking and wiping my eyes as I write this.)
I was smart enough to add, “I guess I shouldn’t say that until we’re parked.”
But everyone knows that it doesn’t take an HOUR to park.
Well, I don’t believe there was a Caesar Augustus taxation census going on in Chicago, but there was a Bear’s game. We wandered around the first floor of the parking garage between rows parked full of cars, snapping at each other, and then laughing at the stupidity of having marriage problems over a parking garage. (It might have gone better if I hadn’t been driving!) I was determined to do my magic parking garage trick and zip to the upper levels where the empty spaces live, but this parking garage was trying my patience. I could not find the ramp to go up. We wandered into a more distant section of the garage, but decided against parking such a long walk away, and headed back to the close section.
THAT was a mistake.
Finally, I found the ramp up, and we circled up. Level 3. Full. Level 4. Full. Level 5. Full. Disgusted, but still fairly calm, we headed back down.
“We may as well just park in that section farther away,” I said.
“Yes,” Marnell agreed. “It’s getting late enough, soon we’ll have to hoof it to get there on time. But let’s go check that one parking spot to see if that guy left.”
We had seen a man walking to his vehicle earlier. I checked the time. We had only blown about 20 minutes. We still had 40 minutes to park and get in.
As I turned toward the row where the man had been, we encountered a pickup truck with a cap on back, both a bright blue color. We maneuvered past each other in a tight corner, the blue cap nearly scraping the ceiling.
Marnell and I concluded that the spot had been taken, and went back around the circle to head through the door that would take us out of the packed section to the far away part of the garage with empty spaces.
We found ourselves behind the blue pickup, which seemed to be filling up the entire doorway. In fact, it seemed to be caught in the doorway. It was still for a moment, then it lurched forward, free. As it went, a rolling door dropped a few inches out of the top of the doorway, clearly dislodged by the blue pickup.
As the blue pickup pulled away, the rolling door began to drop. First it just shuttered. Then it dropped a few inches.
“It’s going to close,” I said.
As we watched, the door descended, picking up speed. The 40 minutes we had left seemed to disappear with the vanishing garage on the other side. With a thump, the door hit the cement floor. The room was gone.
We looked at each other.
Marnell got out to investigate and look for the up button and try the door. I could almost hear my stepmom Jeanie saying to me the other week, Where do you get all these stories? Stuff like this never happens to me!
Marnell soon slid back into the passenger’s seat. There was no up button, and the door had not budged.
We looked at each other again and began to laugh. It seemed preferable to crying.
“I could get my tools out,” Marnell said.
“And get arrested for tampering with the building?” I asked.
Behind us, a car pulled up. Marnell got out again and explained the predicament to them. The well-dressed woman at the wheel swore and pulled out her parking ticket to dial the number on the back.
“They’re calling,” Marnell said. “Someone should be coming.”
We sat there for about five minutes.
“I’m really tempted to get my tools,” Marnell said. “There’s a little thing to turn there above the door…”
“Maybe you should,” I conceded.
My desire to make it on time was overcoming my fear of arrest. I popped the trunk and Marnell retrieved a tool.
A security guard rolled in on a golf cart, and immediately began talking into his radio. I nervously watched as he glanced at Marnell and his tool.
“I need someone up here,” he said. “A truck with a cap hit the door and it closed and these people can’t get out!”
“This is terrible!” he said to me through my open window.
I liked him instantly.
“What if there were a fire? You would have to leave your vehicles and escape on foot!”
Meanwhile, Marnell had fit the tool to the door machinery and was turning the handle. Soon, a rumpled young man in jeans arrived and offered to take a turn. Then the security guard joined the mechanics group, and soon another security guard floated in from the stairwell and joined the knot of people. Far from being arrested, Marnell was rapidly gaining hero status.
I text Sarah. There were 33 minutes left.
We are in the parking garage and literally had a rolling door fall shut in front of us. So hopefully we’ll still make it!
“Pop the trunk again,” Marnell said, taking off his coat. “I think I might have a better tool.”
I popped the trunk, shaking my head in both disbelief and a keen sense of the familiar. There was Marnell, pulling tools out of nowhere, and making friends with not only the security guards and the random man in jeans, but the entire row of cars lining up behind us, all while looking sharp in his dress clothes. As the men turned, the rolling door began to inch upwards. Soon about a foot of cement was visible on the other side. Still, no one had arrived to officially open the door.
Having trouble believing me? Check this out:
Even one of the security guards is taking a turn with Marnell’s tool.
I looked at the time again. The Messiah would start in about 20 minutes. There was still time to walk, but it was fast disappearing. I knew Marnell was in no danger, other than maybe being crowned a hero. I picked up the tickets I had printed off, and went up to the door to see if he cared if I went ahead on foot.
“Not at all,” Marnell said.
I gave him his ticket, which stated the seat number, so he could find us after he made it through and parked. I hurried down the line of cars, explaining to a few of them what was going on. As I turned to look back, I saw the door opening the full way. I thought about going back and jumping in with Marnell, but decided to go on. I saw him leap into the driver’s seat and pull away.
I hurried through the garage, down the stairs and into the lobby where a lady was scanning tickets. I knew I could make it now, and Marnell likely would too.
Instead of a reassuring musical sound, the scanner, after reading my ticket, beeped sullenly.
“It’s reading as invalid,” the nice lady said. “Let me see. Oh, this ticket is for last night.”
Stunned, I peered at my carefully printed paper myself. She was right. How had I managed to buy, print, and pocket the tickets without seeing that? This was recalling the year I had come with my family and left all the tickets and the cash I had been paid for them at a hotel.
I stumbled to the box office and explained my predicament.
“And my husband’s in the parking garage with his ticket because there was trouble– a door fell shut in front of us– and we separated.”
This lady was nice as well.
“I have to tell you that we normally cannot accept tickets from a previous concert,” she said. “But I’ll print you new tickets this time.”
I called Marnell who had already parked and was rushing through the large garage, to tell him his ticket was worthless. I told him exactly where I was so we could meet up and get his ticket fixed as well.
“I’ll catch my husband so you can get a ticket for him too,” I said.
“I’m going to print you two tickets,” she said, shortly before handing them both over.
Marnell came in breathless, and I told him the lady had already printed his ticket. We still had about ten minutes, so he headed to the restroom.
“Need to wash up a little,” he said.
Clearly he wasn’t planning for mechanic work when he donned the light colored pants and long-sleeved dress shirt. I waited nervously outside the men’s bathroom as the minutes ticked by.
With eight minutes to spare I text Sarah again. Marnell is washing up so I think we might still make it.
As soon as he reappeared, we bolted toward the auditorium. We slid into our seats with a few minutes to spare.
Yes, it can take an hour to park.
The lights faded and the director came out.
After a few splendid pieces, the music stopped and the director put his hand on the back of his podium. I was puzzled, then I remembered. There was the noise of doors opening behind us.
“They’re letting in the late people,” I whispered to Marnell and we exchanged relieved looks.
The presentation was splendid, as always. I couldn’t get that last high note from the “Amen” out of my head and kept humming it as we walked back into the parking garage and paid our parking fee.
“That security guard was going to let me out free,” he said, “but there wasn’t enough time.”
Of course. If I would try something like that, I probably would get arrested. Marnell makes a bunch of friends, becomes a hero and still makes it on time.
Oh but we couldn’t quite escape that blue truck. Sure enough, it had stayed, over in the spacious land of the bigger garage.
And that is the end of our Parking Garage Escapade.
Merry Christmas! In all your running around, please don’t miss the Messiah. 🙂
P.S. We started a really cool “100 Things” exercise on the way home (as Marnell drove!), but this post is way too long to tell about that yet. It’s much more fitting for New Year’s weekend anyway. Ta ta!