I had a friend in town for most of the week before New Year's. After the first day, I realized working at home is infinitely harder with a house guest. I can handle VH1 in the background, but someone watching deafening cartoons on YouTube, not so much.
Determined to finish some of the work that had piled up while my friend read her text messages out loud to me, I decided it was time to try some new wi-fi spots and suggested we head one evening to a bar to work. It seemed the perfect solution: I could utilize the bar's free internet, and the alcohol would hopefully slow down my friend's verbal abilities.
But as confident as I like to believe I am, there was something about whipping out a laptop in the middle of a room full of people getting wasted that just seemed far, far too nerdy. (Watch out, world, it's Urkel's night out!)
So I chose dark, quiet Villains Bar & Grill on Clark—the perfect place to combine cocktails and word processing. But on this particular Sunday, sports blared from every TV but one, and a raucous group of men in their 40s guffawed while enjoying the tail end of what I suspect was a long day at the bar—as evidenced by the guy who kept removing and then pulling on his dress shirt, as if drunkenly announcing to the world, "I'm hot!!! Now I'm cold. Now I'm hot again!!!"
The good news: Villains has deals every night of the week, ranging from 50-cent wings on Tuesdays to $4 Guinness pours on Saturdays. I ordered up the Sunday special, a $3 Miller Light bottle. Bloody marys also cost a discounted $4 that day.
Although the wall we were sitting against clearly had plugs somewhere (those gun lamps may have been a challenging craft project, but they didn't plug themselves in), we found one long extension cord with seemingly no end. Turns out, we didn't even need a power source because we couldn't get online. The bartender wrote out the password on a scrap of paper, but he wasn't sure which network the bar used. None of the ones I pulled up (including a network with the word "pimp" in the title) let me on with or without the password.
So, the next morning, as my friend slept off the four martinis from the night before, I snuck out to wi-fi plan B: Harold Washington Library, where stickers advertising free wi-fi coat the doors. Sadly, the stickers probably give off a better signal than the actual wi-fi.
After 10 minutes of trying to log on in the upstairs computer area, I asked the people at the information desk if the wireless access was down. "You have to go all the way to the side of the building," they told me, pointing to the left half of the room. "Far." As I walked away, one information expert yelled "Keep going!"
And therein lies Harold Washington's largest issue. My perception of a library is that it's supposed to be silent—or, at least, very quiet. Yet, when I did finally get a signal—about four feet before I would have had to walk out the window—the guy next to me began angrily sighing. Then the clangy ring of someone's cell phone filled the air. "HEY, HOW YOU DOIN'?" a male voice said. "WHAT'S UP?" (The noise level, sir. Thanks.)
As he went on to tell his friend how much something sucked, I wondered why the library employees nearby didn't shush him. But I didn't ponder that thought for long; I was quickly distracted by a homeless woman walking back and forth behind me as she read out loud an essay about the things she hated.(I use the word "essay" loosely; I didn't really hear a strong opener or conclusion).
On top of it all, the wi-fi was maddeningly slow. So I left. Home may not have been the most productive workplace—but I'll take YouTube over hate haikus any day.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.