No, I never worked for the Board of Elections in Illinois. But I did spend several years working in this building, which was once a National supermarket on MacArthur Boulevard in Springfield, Illinois.
Once I turned 16–just after school had let out in my sophomore year of high school–I was old enough to get a “real” job. I had been delivering newspapers since I was ten, but getting a job with a boss and a schedule and a uniform and a name tag seemed thrilling to me. It made me feel grown up, in a way that I had not known before.
The first Saturday that I worked at this job turned out to be the day of the “Sandberg game,” when Ryne Sandberg hit two home runs off of Bruce Sutter and made himself into a legend in the process. My brother, who is three years younger than I was, told me all about it when he and my mom picked me up after work. I wished I had seen it, but I was a workin’ man now, and these things were just going to happen.
I kept this job from the summer of 1984 until I went way to college in the fall of 1986. I went through a lot of changes over those two years, and leaving that job was one of the last links that I severed before I left. My manager, an older guy named Jack, called me “Bob” and I never found it in me to tell him I didn’t go by that. Bob is my dad’s name, but old Jack could get away with calling me that. I wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to do that, though.
I had heard that the National’s shut down long ago, and the building had sat empty for some time. At some point over the past few years, the State of Illinois had moved in, and when I found myself in the old neighborhood recently, I did a double take at the sight of the old building.
I stared at the building and thought about all the times I had to go out and clear the lot of shopping carts. In the rain, or the snow, or the heat of summer, I would be out there. It surprised me to learn how much of it I remembered, too.
National’s is no more, and the one-time National’s where I worked has now morphed into something else. But as long as I’m alive, it will be the place where I was called Bob, and Ryne Sandberg had a great game that I missed, and I was a high school kid with nothing more than a burning desire to leave Springfield behind.
I did that, all right, and the State Board of Elections office was a validation of that which I had once wanted to do. I should have felt happy and yet, somehow, I didn’t.
I wouldn’t re-live my high school years for all the money in the world. But nor would I mind being called Bob again, just one time.