My mornings follow a pretty consistent routine – give or take a few hits of the snooze button. The only inconsistent part is the El (Elevated Train in Chicago which is like the subway in NY). Sometimes I run up the stairs, hop right on, and take a seat. Other times I stand on the platform for 20 minutes, shove my way into the El car with the doors almost closing on my bag, my head under someone’s armpit (I told this to a tall friend who laughed and said he was glad he was usually the armpit), as I struggle to find something to hold onto before the train jolts to a start.
The most entertaining thing on the El is the variety of people who are on the train with me. El passengers are a mix of people who work downtown or go to school downtown. I probably won’t be standing next to the partner of a law firm (s/he probably drives or takes a cab), but I could be wedged amongst the Janitor, Associate, and PhD student.
While I’m on the El (assuming it’s a day I have a square of space to negotiate, which is not always the case), I don’t always look around, but one type of person always catches my eye, especially during Chicago winters. It’s the posh woman standing in her stylish knee high boots, fitted winter coat, beautiful well placed scarf, and Jackie-O sunglasses reading the Red Eye.
My first thought is “I must have that winter coat, I wonder where she got it.”
Then I look down and my coat wondering if I can make an excuse to buy a new one. Of course at the moment no one could tell the state of my coat because I am slouched to one side, my coat bunched up under the weight of the bag on my shoulder that holds my work shoes (I am wearing snow boots) and school books (I take night classes after work), with my oversized purse on my forearm which keeps my other arm free to hold onto the bar to maintain balance. My hair is windblown from having to run to the train, I definitely forgot my sunglasses because the sun hasn’t been out in days, and I am teetering off balance while trying to find enough space to turn the page of my newspaper without falling over.
This is not only who I am on the El. This is who I am in life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Bridget Jones. I get to the office before most people, drop the bag, remove the coat (and usually my vaguely matching scarf, gloves, and hat if I remembered them as I was rushing out the door), change my shoes, brush my hair, add lip gloss, and bam – I’m a put together professional who feels the posh woman spent too much time on her appearance for similar results (post train). Of course, I still wouldn’t describe myself as posh, nor would I want to stand next to posh woman (she stands straighter than me, and upon close inspection only, her hair and make-up is more flawless than mine).
Part of me wishes for that appearance of effortless poise and style. But then I think about my best friend Julie.
Many people resent Julie. She is posh woman. Julie looks effortlessly put together all the time. Even in the morning when she steps out for coffee in a perfect pony tail, and a perfect outfit for such an occasion. I have no outfit for waking up and going to Starbucks. Nor can I motivate myself out the door if I have to fix my hair and pick out cloths first (cannot be done before coffee on the weekends). I put a sweatshirt on and go in myPJs. Maybe brush my hair depending on how messy it is. Posh girl could never step out of the house looking like this.
The effort (or lack thereof) I have put into my appearance is obvious. Julie, on the other hand, appears to have just thrown her hair in a pony tail, and walked out of the house looking sheek, which makes others who look more like me when they step out, resentful.
However, Julie’s resenters don’t know her. I lived with her. I saw how meticulous she is. I can get a lot more done if I don’t need to have a perfect pony tail and full face of make-up to leave the house. It’s a conscious choice. In addition to not looking sheek, I’ll probably run errands without a list and make impulse purchases; I definitely won’t do things in an efficient order, and I’ll forget things and have to go backout…
Not Julie. She makes a different choice.
Julie will step out with a list and a plan of attack. She will take her time and make it look effortless having performed most of the effort behind the closed doors of her apartment.
After this thought, and thinking back to posh girl with the cute coat on the El, I realize it takes hard work to make things look easy. And a lot more than a cute coat to be posh.
In the end, I like my coat just fine.