Photo: Chelsea Cooper; Illustration: Sue Kwong
If there were justice in the world, the TRUMP sign would be in printed in Comic Sans.
CNN had just called the Illinois primary for Donald Trump, but I might have been the only one inside Trump Tower who noticed.
This wasn't how it was supposed to go down.
I opted to spend election night at Trump Tower in anticipation of something exciting happening. I expected a fraction of the protesters from last week's aborted Trump rally at UIC to dust off their "Dump Trump" and "Mein Drumph" signs and fill up the lobby. Or maybe a viewing party thrown by Trump enthusiasts cosplaying in expensive Armani suits and "Make America Great Again" caps. Could the GOP front-runner himself make a surprise appearance? I wasn't willing to rule it out. Illinois was a big electoral prize and this was the House That Trump Built. (Or rather: "The House Trump Stamped His Name on in Giant Ass 20-Foot Block Letters.")
The Trump hotel was empty on Super Tuesday except for—of course—a suit on his phone.
Did any of those things happen? Uh, no. I sat with a friend of mine at Rebar, an upscale lounge on the mezzanine level, overlooking a lobby where couches outnumbered the people. Rebar is like a cocktail bar ordered out of a Sharper Image catalog. There were a handful of us hunched over the bar sipping on Trump-priced $17 cocktails—I ordered the "Fear Not" to get over my reservations about election results—and a few scattered hotel guests quietly drunk at tables overlooking the still-kind-of-green-from-Saint-Patrick's-Day Chicago River. Instead of encountering riots or parties in the wake of Trump's big night, I found myself in a hauntingly empty space lacking any character, save for the weirdly brutalist art hanging on the walls near the bathroom. (Perhaps these works anticipated creative life under a Trump presidency?)
When I first arrived at 7 PM, the solitary television over the bar was tuned to ESPN. But "Jeff"—a hardcore Trump supporter from Rockford—kept hounding the bartender, "Ellie," to change the channel to CNN for election results. She eventually relented and switched the programming from a sporting contest to a political one—though she left the sound muted, forcing us to endure the tepid sounds of corporate lounge music instead of Wolf Blitzer's tenor. Which, in retrospect, was probably the right choice.
I read the closed captioning while everyone else buried their heads in their cocktails or conversation, and when the red "Trump Wins Illinois" graphic appeared on television, I became the one to break the news to Trump Tower drinkers. Jeff was the only Rebar patron to react. He'd been splitting his time between banter with an old high school friend ("Class of '96!" he said proudly) and tossing cringe-worthy pickup lines at the female bartender, all the while sipping on a steady stream of Red Bull-and-vodka cocktails. Jeff turned to me after I announced the results, and offered up a high five that I very, very reluctantly accepted.
"I just won $500! Shots are on me!" he shouted.
The overpriced $17 "Fear Not" cocktail at the Trump hotel's Rebar.
Jeff, it turned out, was the only one in the whole place who had come to bask in Trump's electoral glory. He'd also been stationed in the front row of the UIC rally—he showed me his pictures of the podium on his phone—to get a glimpse of the Donald in person. He told me he was disappointed by Trump's no-show, especially after waiting in line for four hours, although he blamed the protesters.
"They were paid by someone to do it," he claimed. "They were too well orchestrated not to be. It was a perfect setup." His continued enthusiasm for the billionaire translated into a $500 bet with a friend in Rockford that Trump would win the Illinois GOP primary. Then he splurged for a $350-a-night room at the Trump International Hotel for good luck.
But then Jeff hedges on his offer to splurge on shots for the rest of us. Perhaps taking a cue his favorite presidential candidate, he tries, unsuccessfully, to hector poor Ellie into giving us free shots to compensate for a faulty pen she gave him to sign his tab. ("You think Trump would accept a broken pen?")
Jeff also makes one last-ditch effort to sweet-talk Ellie into going clubbing with him at a place called Untitled in River North. (He calls it "Entitled" and says, "That's the way I live.") But he's no Trump-like dealmaker; Ellie declines with a tight but polite smile—the kind Megyn Kelly might give Donald during a GOP debate. To make things worse, Ellie tells us later that Jeff didn't even leave a 15 percent tip.
So other than the friend I came with, I'm then left at the bar with one last Trump fan, a Bernie voter, a Clinton supporter, a Cruz guy, and a balding man in a blue suit who didn't vote and would "rather talk real estate."
The Trumpian is "Laura," a middle-aged accountant from central Indiana who has lived in an studio apartment in Trump Tower since September. She's on her third glass of wine and slurs her words. She wants to know why her son is voting for Bernie, and why I'm not married with kids yet. Laura's reason for why she voted for her (symbolic) landlord? "Why the fuck not?"
It's a stimulating enough conversation, but it's now almost midnight and the Missouri results are in—meaning Trump has nearly earned a clean sweep this night. My friend and I try to make our way out of the building. But as we pause in the cavernous lobby, Laura stumbles over and asks if we want to see her apartment. She's clearly wasted and pretty ridiculous, but my journalistic instincts tell me to take a gander at her Trump-inspired living quarters. So somewhat reluctantly, we take the elevator to the 33rd floor and walk into what appears to be a pretty standard luxury apartment with some amusing touches—like a velvet Trump-branded bag to hold her daily newspaper—and an amazing view of the skyline.
But things get awkward quickly when Laura suggests that my friend and I start to "get romantic or whatever." With that we exited the 98-story phallic ode to the man who could be our next president and never looked back.
But by doing so, we missed the only exciting thing to happen to Trump Hotel that night. A bolt of lightning pierced the sky and struck the spire
attached to the top of the skyscraper—perhaps God's way of saying he might enter the presidential race as a third-party candidate. Heaven help us.