chicagoan monica tidwell shows how peddling and pedaling can lead to a literary career
We were walking down Chicago's Oak Street not too long ago, minding our own business, when we were accosted by a young lady with freckles who looked like she had just wandered off the set of The Sound of Music: She was standing on the corner looking innocent and selling balloons. We don't have much use for balloons, but we bought one anyway. A couple of days later, we were strolling through another neighborhood and ran into the same young lady, only this time she was selling ice cream from a tricycle. We weren't hungry, but we settled for a Popsicle. A week later, we caught her driving a pedicab in yet another part of town; we were charmed into taking a six-block excursion that set us back two bucks. Who is this ubiquitous teenager, we asked ourself, and why is she charming us out of our nickels and dimes? "I get these weird jobs," says 19-year-old Monica Tidwell, "because I have a great passion for people. You meet all kinds driving a pedicab or selling balloons -- people who like to stop and chat. You'd be surprised at all the people I've met." No, we wouldn't. In addition to ice cream, balloons and pedicabs, Monica has, in her short professional career, been a waitress, candy-and-popcorn vendor at a movie theater and salesgirl at a large Chicago record store. Now she is Miss November. God only knows where we'll bump into her next week. "Variety has always been the spice of my life," she confesses, and one look at her background shows that she's not just whistling Dixie -- although we're certain she knows the tune. Monica was born and reared in the Deep South. But she's lived in New York and Chicago for the past three years, so you have to strain to catch her few lingering Southern traits. "The South," she says, letting a slight drawl cascade over an occasional syllable, "is just too rich for me. I don't mean wealthy rich: more like chocolate-cake rich -- especially Georgia, where I grew up." Eventually, Monica plans to go to college and major in English and drama. She has her eye on the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and if Stony Brook is smart, it'll return the glance. But for now, Monica's idea of perfection would be to settle down for a while in a cozy little farmhouse in Maine and just read and write. She's never been to Maine, but she hears that there's a lot of peace and quiet there and that it would be a nice place to write her novel someday. Someday, because at this stage in her life, Monica considers herself too young and inexperienced to express many well-tempered insights about life. She is working on this. "For one thing," she says, "a good writer really has to get to know people inside out. I hate small talk. When I meet somebody, I really like to get inside his head and understand what makes him tick." When she's not selling ice cream or balloons or driving pedicabs, Monica reads. Voraciously. "I guess I'm hooked on the heavy stuff," she says -- meaning Dostoievsky, D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Wolfe, to name a few. "I think we share many of the same emotions and ideas. One of my great ambitions in life is to write a novel as good as Look Homeward, Angel. My second great ambition is to make a movie with Ken Russell and Oliver Reed. I don't think I'm your average nineteen-year-old." Neither do we.
Photography by Dwight Hooker, Bill Frantz