How Maggiano's Little Italy Gave Me A Brain Injury, Part 1

By John Hickey

Every once in awhile I like to turn these columns into the John Hickey Story Hour. Some stories are longer than others, with multiple parts. Some of them I look back on fondly as hilarious learning experiences. Not this one. This one I have difficulty looking back on, because I have difficulty looking back period as a result of it. Let’s begin.

When I was a senior in college I worked at Maggiano’s Little Italy.

My job was as a delivery driver/caterer in the downtown Chicago area. This was a pretty sweet gig to have as a college kid. I got all the free Rigatoni D I wanted and I drove a delivery truck around the Loop like I was in the movie ‘Heat’ with De Niro riding shotgun. I catered office holiday parties, some that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Sometimes, I’d get tipped handsomely.

Plus I got to drive around in this sweet chick magnet

Except for the one office holiday party I worked in December of 2010 that left me the generous tip of a brain injury and a lifetime of short-term memory loss.

Now I had a delivery every half hour during the lunch rush, so one at 11AM, one at 11:30 and so on through about 2PM. If there was a delay or holdup at one delivery, every following order was late. To begin this story, I was running late for a delivery order at an office above Union Station.

Now, the loading dock for Union Station is located about four stories underground down a long parking ramp. I wheel my dumb maroon colored van down to the dock, unpack the heavy boxes of pasta, bruschetta and what-not onto my hand cart and haul ass towards the freight elevators. If anybody’s ever sprinted full speed while dragging — let’s say — a heavy suitcase behind them, they’ll know that it’s difficult to maneuver while running as fast as I was (ran track in high school. No big deal, but kind of a big deal). As I’m running, I keep turning and looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m not leaving a trail of parmesan cheese behind me and that all the boxes of food are secure.

Plus the delivery uniform made me look like Carl Hanratty. 2002 movie reference: nailed it!

There was heavy construction in the loading dock and as I rounded a corner I tossed a look over my left shoulder, again to make sure the boxes were in place.  Suddenly, a sound like a gunshot rang out and I felt a searing pain in my right temple. I had run full speed into a low hanging metal beam, sideways. It literally felt like my brain had been put in a salad spinner. I dropped to a knee and immediately thought, “Fiddlesticks.”

Note: I can’t curse in these columns.

Now I’ve had a concussion before and I was pretty sure this was a concussion. As I ascended the freight elevator I thought, “This is not good.” But I was dedicated to my job. I told myself, “John, you have a menial food service job to finish! Get in there and make Mr. Maggiano proud.” As I’m unloading the boxes in the client’s conference room, my nose starts bleeding from both nostrils. All over their food. I drop the boxes on the table, apologize profusely and head back down to the van.

As I drive up the parking ramp out of the loading dock, I sideswipe about four different cars. I felt like I was just learning how to drive for the first time with a fifth of vodka in me. As I cross the Chicago River and pull onto Wacker Drive, I puke all over myself. Yeah, definitely a concussion.

I don’t remember much after getting in the van so a lot of this was told to me secondhand days later. By some miracle, I make it back to the restaurant without killing anybody. I stumble through the front door in my button down and stupid vest covered in blood and puke. My eyes were completely dilated and I’m slurring the words, “I needa goda hossspital.” Naturally, my managers, the cooks/wait staff and I’m sure a few customers were horrified.

This this is exactly who you should be picturing when I say cooks. Great film.

Now, this was a restaurant. Most of the people who worked there weren’t the best at making the right decisions. Since it was the holidays and our busy season, the manager in charge told the only person available to take me to the emergency room: an overweight Hispanic man from the back of the house who I’m pretty sure didn’t finish high school. Does that come across as mean or slightly racist? Don’t worry, he confirmed my suspicions minutes later when he made a decision that probably screwed me up for the rest of my life.

Let’s call this man Alberto. Alberto is now driving the delivery van towards Northwestern Hospital in Streeterville with a slumped over 20 year old suffering from a severe head injury in his passenger seat. According to Alberto, I puke all over the floor of the van a second time. This had gone from bad to very dangerous. So Alberto thinks to himself, “Head injury, this kid needs to see a neurologist!” Smart thinking, Alberto. So he pulls in front of the Northwestern Neurology Association building, tells me to get out and leaves.

Let me repeat that in case you didn’t understand. He’s told by his employer that he’s responsible for taking somebody in his care to the emergency room. Instead, he takes that person to a random university building blocks from the emergency room, kicks him out of the car and then races back to the restaurant so he can continue to stuff his fat face with Vera’s Lemon Cookies.

In his defense, they are delicious. Secret ingredient? Cake batter.

So there I was, out in the December cold with a life threatening brain injury, slumped over in some bushes. And I was beginning to fall asleep…

Stay tuned later this week for the conclusion!