• Published 13th Jun 2012
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The Roommate - totallynotabrony

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7: Chicago

Chapter 7: Chicago

The next week passed uneventfully. Well, as much as possible, anyway. Occasionally I would say something stupid or Rainbow would act bitchy. I occasionally wanted to wring her neck, and she probably wanted to stomp me into the floor sometimes.

We managed to get through it, though. I hated to think that being “Facebook official” made us better friends, but for whatever reason we seemed to have turned a corner and things were steadily getting better.

One day Rainbow came back to the room with a black baseball cap and a red shirt. She laid them on the bed and announced, “I got a job.”

I glanced at the shirt, reading the printing on it. “Jimmy John’s Sandwich Delivery?”

Rainbow shrugged. “They said they needed things to be delivered fast. I’m good at that.”

“How are you supposed to wear a shirt?” I asked.

“It doesn’t fit well,” she admitted. “It’s part of the uniform, though. I’ll be glad to have some spending money.”

I wanted to ask what she needed money for, but decided that if Rainbow thought I should know, she would tell me. I had had enough of asking her personal questions, thank you very much.

Rainbow sat down at her desk. A few days before, she had taped a picture of a blue and yellow jet on the wall above her. I may be ignorant of the military, but I recognized it as a Blue Angels plane. It clashed cheerfully with my pictures of cute animals.

“Can I talk to you about something?” Rainbow asked. “I have to go to the Equestrian Consulate in Chicago to do some paperwork. I’m pretty sure they won’t let me fly in that airspace. Do you know how I can get there?”

“When are you going?” I asked.

“Monday,” she answered.

I frowned. “That’s Labor Day. Will they be open?”

“Why wouldn’t they be?” said Rainbow. “We don’t celebrate human holidays.”

“Fair point,” I said. “Probably the easiest, cheapest way to get there would be the train.”

“How do we get tickets?” asked the pony.

“We?” I said.

“Um, yeah,” said Rainbow sheepishly. “I was kind of hoping you could come along. I’m not very good with directions in the city.”

“Well…I don’t have anything else to do on Labor Day,” I admitted. “I don’t know where to get train tickets, though. Fortunately, I know who to ask.”

Carol’s boyfriend was in the Railroad Club. It seemed like a weird thing to have a club for, but I figured it was a good place to start. Through a series of text messages, I asked Carol, who asked her boyfriend, who replied to her, who replied to me. Or something like that. Anyway, I got what I wanted.

At my direction, Rainbow searched Amtrak.com for tickets. “Do I count as an adult?” she asked.

“How old are you?” Looking over her shoulder, I saw that there were different rates for child, adult, and senior.

“Twenty-one,” she responded. I hadn’t realized Rainbow was actually older than I was. My birthday wasn’t for a few more weeks.

“Yeah, you should get an adult ticket,” I told her.

We came to the payment screen. “Credit card?” said Rainbow. “How am I supposed to swipe it in this computer?”

Surprised, I said, “I didn’t know you even had a card.”

“It’s a little confusing,” she admitted. “But it’s what all the places here on Earth want.”

With a little help, Rainbow managed to get her card numbers entered into the website. I made a mental note to give her another lecture on protection from identity theft.

A few days later, my roommate and I were standing on the platform at the train station. It had been a long walk to get there from campus. Several other people waited at the station with us.

I’d ridden the train once or twice before, but it had never been so crowded. I figured it was probably because of Labor Day vacation. It took a little searching, but Rainbow and I found seats together.

“This is…nice,” said the pegasus. She lounged on her back with her wings tucked to her sides to keep them from being pinned. Her rear legs stretched out to the footrest.

I barely stopped myself from giggling. “You look…comfortable.”

“We’re both lying, aren’t we?” she said.

I nodded and we cracked up laughing. A couple of other passengers looked at us, more curious than annoyed. I wondered what it was like to be in Rainbow’s position, always stared at.

In about two hours, the train pulled into the Chicago station. We made our way outside. The cluster of tall buildings looked like a glass and steel canyon. There were not many structures at college taller than half a dozen stories, and even I was awed.

With a street map printed from the internet, the two of us found our way towards the consulate building. The university may have had a population of tens of thousands, but it was tiny compared to a really big city. On top of that, the people weren’t primarily students.

“Hey pony!” called a street vendor. “I’ve got Canterlot oats here. Real cheap.”

Rainbow politely declined. A few blocks later, I saw a little girl point at the pegasus and asked her mother if the circus was in town. She begged for a pony ride. Rainbow’s ears were turned in that direction to listen, and it was clear from the look on her face that she didn’t like the idea of anyone on her back.

“At least she didn’t call you cute,” I said. Rainbow rolled her eyes and we kept walking.

I wasn’t sure what an Equestrian government office looked like. As it turned out, it was a rented space in a regular building. I had almost been hoping for something exotic. At least the inside was decorated in pony style, which to my eyes looked a century or two out of date. The rental agreement probably didn’t let them replace the carpet or paint the walls, however.

A youngish looking man was sitting behind a desk near the door. I’m not sure if I was more surprised to see a person working there, or to see that the nameplate on his desk read “Strawberry Fields.”

Mr. Fields directed Rainbow down the hall to where her paperwork needed to be filed. I stood awkwardly beside his desk for a few moments.

“So, how do you get a job like this?” I asked.

He held up his hands. “I can type.” He saw me looking at his nameplate and chuckled. “I bet you’re wondering about the name, too.”

“I’m curious,” I admitted.

“Well, I also handle the phones. If you call the Equestrian Consulate, you expect someone who sounds like they could be a pony to answer,” he explained. “To put it simply, it’s actually less confusing if I answer the phone, ‘Hello, I’m Strawberry Fields, how can I help you?’ than it would be if I said, ‘Hi, I’m Tyler’.”

In a strange way, that made sense. While I waited for Rainbow to get done with her paperwork, I watched Mr. Fields work. I wondered if he’d actually changed his name, or just used the nickname around the office.

I went out for a smoke. It gave me a little time to ponder what I would call myself if I had to change my name to be more pony-esque. I didn’t manage to come up with anything, and went back inside a few minutes later.

Rainbow had apparently finished up shortly after I went out. She was waiting impatiently when I walked into the office. She had a file of paperwork with her.

“We need to find a post office,” she said. “This stuff needs to be mailed to the USCIS a certain way, and they can’t do that here.”

Strawberry Fields helpfully pointed us in the right direction. I didn’t have much experience with post offices, especially not one as large as the building we walked into near the consulate. Several walls were covered in mailboxes available for rent. The décor largely consisted of red, white, and blue stripes. People stood in long lines waiting for tellers at individual windows.

“This doesn’t look very efficient,” muttered Rainbow.

I shrugged. “There are a few things they do well.”

“Like what?” she asked.

I pointed to a sign. “Look at this. For forty-five cents, you can send a letter to any place in the United States. A dollar-five will send it anywhere in the universe.”

“They deliver mail to the moon?” asked Rainbow dryly.

“I’m sure the fine print has something to say about that,” I laughed.

We made it to the front of the line and Rainbow got her special postage. After that, it was time for lunch. As we exited the building, I pulled up a list of vegetarian restaurants on my phone and told Rainbow about them.

She looked at the phone curiously. “You can get internet on that, too?”

“That’s right.” I showed her the familiar Google page.

“It’s interesting,” she said. “I’m not sure how I would use one, though.”

I figured she meant the problem with hooves. “Some phones can recognize your voice and do what you tell them.” I thought the mental image of Rainbow with an iPhone trying to talk to Siri was hilarious.

At the restaurant, we sat down and a waiter approached. I ordered the special of the day, a veggie burger with fries.

“It’s not real meat,” I told Rainbow. “Try it, you might like it.”

She looked at me skeptically. “It’s the thought that counts.” She ordered some kind of grain sandwich.

I tried to see meat from a pony’s perspective, but failed. It’s hard to force yourself to be repulsed by something you like. The best I could do was resolve to be more careful what I ate in front of Rainbow.

After lunch, I pointed out that we had a few hours until the returning train departed.

“What is there to do around here?” asked Rainbow.

I consulted my phone. “Um, art museums. A children’s museum. An aquarium. A football stadium.”

“I don’t understand football,” said Rainbow.

“I think it’s a guy thing,” I told her. I scrolled through the list of attractions. “How about this? The Willis Tower is really tall and has a place where you can see the whole city.”

With no other ideas, we found our way there and rode the elevator to the top. One hundred three floors above Chicago, the view was breathtaking, if a little scary.

“We’re up here high enough that you can see the curvature of the horizon,” said Rainbow pointing a hoof towards the blue waters of Lake Michigan. “It’s sunny with not very many clouds, and only a little breeze. It would be a great day for flying.”

I still didn’t like airplanes, or heights in general, but I could see what she was talking about. I thought Rainbow sounded a little sad, not being able to take advantage of the weather due to air traffic laws over the city.

"I'm saving up for flight lessons," she said.

"Airplane flying lessons?" I asked.

Rainbow nodded. "I have to start somewhere."

Well, that explained why she needed a job. Flying lessons didn't sound cheap.

We explored Chicago a little more until it was time to go. The sun was beginning to set as the train pulled out of the station.

I didn’t think Rainbow looked especially tired, but she closed her eyes and was soon asleep. A couple miles down the track, the train’s gentle side-to-side swaying had slowly jostled her head over onto my shoulder.

I looked down at her in the dim light of the train car. It was a good thing she was snoozing, because otherwise I don’t think I could have resisted telling her how cute she looked.