By Violet Arthur Virnig
I worked night shift at the donut shop in Court Hill a couple of summers ago. It’s pretty hard to get used to, and I was getting better at going to sleep at noon so I could be at work by ten, but it was way too hot, so I didn’t sleep for more than, like, four hours for a couple of days.
First day of August, I got to work, and it was still 90 degrees after dark and super humid, so even with the A/C the kitchen was hot as hell and the bakers were in a bad mood, and none of the icing would set right, and one of our mixers was broken anyway, so everybody was feeling, you know, just really great about everything.
And then around 2 a.m., Carol, one of the bakers, decided it was too hot, so she was just going to smoke in the store. Like, got a coffee cup for an ashtray, and sat at a table and smoked and was on her phone and suddenly just yelled out “HOLY FUCK ON A CROSS” and we dropped everything and ran out of the kitchen and there, on her phone, is this fucking live video of this shape rising up into the air with, like, fire and smoke and lightning all over and somebody asked her “Wait, is that the new Diablo trailer or something?” and Carol said “No, dumbass, it’s University Heights,” and then they zoomed in and you could see the police station and the Abnormal School, and this huge crowd of people with like a bonfire in the middle and they had fireworks and banners and all kinds of shit.
And, really, this is probably the biggest thing that has ever happened in Iowa City, just, like, global news freaking out and the government totally speechless, because this is seriously weird. Obviously.
But the only real reaction I had was, well, shit, how am I going to get home? Because I lived in University Heights. I had this tiny little apartment, which was the cheapest thing I could find, and now it might as well have been on the damn moon or something.
So I finished my shift. I mean, what else was I gonna do? And then at 5:30 when I got off work I didn’t really know what to do, so I walked down to Rosie’s and had some breakfast and watched the news on their TV, which was just a really bizarre feeling, because they had a bunch more news helicopters up now, and I could see my house in some of the shots, and the waiter was looking at it, and he was like “Aw, now I have to drive, like, 20 minutes out of my way to get to class,” and I said, “Yeah, and I’ve gotta climb up 500 feet of rock to get to my apartment,” and he just laughed at me. So fuck that guy. Didn’t tip him.
About seven a tram finally showed up, and it was totally packed, because everybody downtown, I guess, was freaking out and trying to get as far away from the West Side as they could, so when I got on, everybody else got off, and the conductor asked me if I was seriously going downtown, ‘cause he was scared to go, and it took about five minutes to get him to actually start back down Court Street. And all these people were just wandering down the street going towards the edge of town, which, I still don’t know what they thought would happen, but, you know, panic. Whatever.
I got off at Chauncey Swan and there were people swarming all over the place, because the tower cut off the Melrose tram and a couple of bus routes, so everybody was trying to figure out how to get home or out to the East Side. What’s weird is that nobody was trying to get to the railroad station to actually get out of town — they just wanted to get out of the way, ‘cause I guess they figured the army was going to come in, and nobody wants to be there when that happens. Obviously.
But no ride home for me. So I decided to walk, and I guess it was when I got past the capitol and was heading towards Burlington I got my first really good look at the tower. And it was . . . it was breathtaking.
I just had to stop and stare at it for a few minutes.
Because it was huge, and weird, and inconvenient, and I was pissed off about the whole thing and everybody was losing their minds, but it was beautiful. The sun was catching it and there were clouds behind it, and, you know, it’s this pink granite, it’s, like, polished almost, and it was honestly the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I think I even cried a little bit.
But then some guy started honking his horn over on the Burlington Street bridge and I kind of came to my senses and just kept walking, and by the time I actually got on Melrose, the tower just kind of filled the entire sky. It was totally unreal.
But then I finally met the cops, and they asked me where I was going, and I told them, and then they arrested me and threw me in the back of a car. And, somehow, handcuffed, in a cop car, with, like, helicopters and sirens and shit going on all over, I just . . . fell asleep. Passed right out. They actually had to carry me out of the car into the county jail. I woke up in the fucking drunk tank.
The rest of the month was better, though.
Violet Arthur Virnig is an Iowa City artist and Riverside Theatre’s Technical Director. Her art, writing and theatre work are all collected at postersforrobots.tumblr.com.