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Friday, April 19, 2013

LYNN BERGMAN: MY CHICAGO MARATHON

The Quest

After looking for months for a used sub-compact car with low miles and excellent gas mileage, the opportunity finally arose on April 8th. The 1998 Honda Civic LX 4 door sedan with a 5 speed manual transmission had just over 51,000 miles and was priced half way between “retail” and “trade-in” value for a vehicle in excellent condition. I took the leap and wired the five grand to the dealer’s bank and arranged to pick up the car in Burbank, Illinois (part of Chicago metro) the following week.

The Journey

Sunday April 15th we had the blizzard but I had purchased my bus ticket a week ahead to take advantage of cost savings for booking at least a week in advance and a senior discount. So Monday morning I blew the snow from my driveway and decided to walk to the bus station for my 4:40 PM departure because the arterial street in front of my home was still impassable with my small pickup. I began the four mile trek a few hours early to walk leisurely. I had not walked two blocks when a neighbor in his 4 wheel drive pickup asked if I needed a lift and took me to the bus station at the east end of Rosser Avenue even though he was only going a few blocks on an errand.

I arrived at the bus station at about 1 PM but it was closed despite the times posted to the contrary. So I walked across the street for a soft drink and to kill time reading a paper. I returned to the bus station an hour later and it was open, so I walked in and watched CNN for a while on the only television in the lobby.

Suddenly, news came of a bombing of the Boston Marathon and the Kennedy library in Boston. As the news came in, a couple young fellows from Kenya walked in. They mentioned that they were Kenyans, at which I chuckled and they too, because Kenyans are known for winning most marathons. While the two young men mostly talked in their native tongues, they were obviously interested in my reaction to the bombings, sneaking glances at me as I tried in vain to keep my composure as I comprehended the evil that had taken place. CNN called it a tragedy, which I bristled at! The word tragedy is defined as an event in which characters come to ruinous ends due to circumstance or character flaws. Deliberate murder of multiple victims with no justifiable cause is not a “tragedy”; it is simply “evil”.

Another young man arrived and shared with me that he was Somalian, adding “You know, where the PIRATES are.” I again laughed, thinking how embarrassing it must be for him to describe his country in such a way. He laughed back and after I assured him that I knew there were good people in every country on earth, including Somalia, we shared our disgust with the evil being portrayed on CNN. He attempted to put the event in perspective, pointing out that terrorism seems to find its way to every corner of the earth. I agreed but told him that I felt it was a serious failure of security efforts that allowed such an act to occur under the noses of the authorities and that I would fire the police chief after a period of time for healing had passed.

Early in my waiting, I looked closely at my printed bus tickets and realized that I was to arrive in Chicago at about 7 PM Tuesday… not the 6:55 AM that was represented on the computer as I purchased the ticket. I discussed it with the bus station representative, who recommended that I cancel the internet ticket and re-purchase one at his counter. After talking with the internet representative for some time, I finally convinced her to cancel the ticket without charging me. The $165 charge at the counter was $22 more than the internet version and $15 over what I would have had to pay had I remembered to share my age and veterans status with the counter representative.

Because of the snow storm, my bus arrived at about 9 PM, almost four hours late. I boarded the bus and was trying to figure out how to lay my seat back when a kind person from across the aisle pressed the correct mechanism for me and I thanked him for the help; he was obviously a pro at this bus riding thing! When we arrived at the Fargo station around midnight, we changed drivers and got a chance to use the rest room. The same fellow asked the counter representative where “downtown” was and was told it was over seven miles away and given directions for the walk. He then came over to me in the lobby and asked if this was my stop. I said “no, sorry” and he thanked me anyway. This man, who had been so kind as I initially fiddled with my seat controls, walked out the door with a light jacket on and began his seven mile walk along Main Street to downtown Fargo to get a cheap room for the night. He had the look I was too familiar with, my dad having been an alcoholic… gaunt, greasy long hair, worn out black motorcycle boots, and a small bag with everything he owned in it. I wished that I could give him a lift… knowing how good it would have felt to return the favor I had received early in the day. The counter representative was grumpy and told everyone to hurry because he wanted to get home by 12:30 AM, seemingly unaware that he could have ended his day by giving a ride to a grateful man and slept very well that night. It is the opportunities to do good that are too often squandered in favor of personal comfort and convenience.

We arrived at the Minneapolis station at about 5:00 AM, missing the 12:55 AM bus that would have had me arriving in Chicago at around 9 AM. No problem, a transfer to another bus had me arriving in “Shy Town” (what Benny Pryor, a friend from army basic training, called his home town of Chicago in early 1970), at 3:00 PM. That left plenty of time before the dealership closed at 6 PM. As I waited the hour, I took in the Minneapolis Greyhound bus station, a perfectly designed structure that only allowed bus riders inside. I can only imagine the “mayhem” that probably preceded this new facility and its excellent security.

After arriving in Chicago at just after 3:00 PM. I arranged for a transfer by coach to another bus station closer to the dealership where my car waited for me. I presented my receipt to the driver of the Memphis bound bus, explaining that I only needed a lift to the other bus station about 15 miles away. He gave me a really dirty look but let me on the bus despite whatever was bugging him. After we arrived at the 95th street station, I made a point to thank him for the lift as he helped new passengers lift their baggage into the underbelly of the bus. He looked up and gave me a SMILE… the high point of my day; in-trenched race barriers CAN be broken down!

Memories

As I waited at what was later revealed to me as the most dangerous bus station in Chicago for my pickup from the dealer, I could not help but remember Benjamin Pryor and Richard E. Browne Jr. from my basic training outfit in Fort Ord, California. Richard was a well spoken black man from an upper middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and Benny was a street-smart survivor from the south side of Chicago. Though they had little in common, they quickly realized that they were the only two blacks in a 40 man platoon, and bunked together. I had noticed them immediately upon initially entering our barracks and went right over to them asking “mind if I bunk next to you?” at which they said “sure, no problem”. That was the beginning of friendships that I am eternally grateful for as they were the first two black men I came to know well. One morning about a month later, as we stood in line for morning roll call, I was “at ease” next to Richard and was reading my mail from home when our drill sergeant demanded that I quit reading mail. I was not about to quit midway through the letter and kept reading. As the drill sergeant approached me and was about to confront me, Richard said to him, “Come on man, he’s just homesick and misses his wife!” Our drill sergeant backed off and left me alone.

An opportunity to return the favor came very soon thereafter when our platoon leader, chosen exclusively for his size and arrogance, started to pick on Richard and Benny one evening. I jumped in front of his large round face and said, “if you’re going to pick on my friends, you’ll have to deal with me too!” He backed off and let it go. Later in our training, he decided he was pretty tough one evening and got into a fight with a black member of the permanent cadre. They entered the pot and pan storage room and the door was locked behind them. After about ten minutes of pots and pans banging around as they fought, it got eerily silent and the “lifer” walked out unscathed. Our platoon leader was pretty bruised up, stumbled slightly, and his “attitude” was considerably adjusted from that event forward. He had been educated to the ways of the street; size didn’t matter.

The Car

The car was in pretty good shape and I signed the papers and got “out of Dodge” after getting directions from the dealership owner on how easiest to drive to Rockford, Illinois for a nights sleep after no sleep on the bus the night before. After paying a buck and a half at each of four toll booths and three bucks at the fifth one and receiving a final speech about how good toll roads are from a lonely toll lady, I finally found my way out of hell and to Rockford. I had thought that drivers in the twin cities were too aggressive but Chicago set a new standard for reckless driving… being passed at 95 mph with a few inches to spare is quite a thrill but occurred far too often to allow proper enjoyment of the adrenalin rush that comes with “close call” survivals.

I navigated toward a lighted Motel 6 sign for seemingly a half hour and paid for the $39 room (they leave the lights on for you), got up refreshed (without any bedbug bites), and began the remainder of the 900 mile journey with a car I hoped would make it home to Bismarck. After taking a wrong turn at the I90-I94 split at Tomah, WI and ending up on the road to LaCross, WI, I found myself winding my way north up Highway 93 in the rural “coulee region” of Wisconsin toward getting back on I-94. After going over a particularly rough railroad track, I heard my exhaust pipe scraping the ground. I stopped at a service station and found that my exhaust pipe had detached itself at the back of the catalytic converter. A kind man who was playing cards in the gas station found some baling wire in his truck and I backed my car over a valley gutter and crawled under to wire my muffler and tailpipe to the undercarriage of my car in two places. A pliers borrowed from the pay counter lady at the gas station enabled me to perform the “delicate surgery” necessary for me to continue. On a bright note, I found a second car key hanging from inside the back bumper, which I cleaned, wrapped in plastic, and duct taped to a brake line once I got home. I lock myself out of my car quite regularly so this second key was important!

Texas Beckons

On Illinois radio stations, commercials from Texas abound. Texas promises low taxes, free markets, and prosperity and welcomes both individuals and businesses from Illinois to the Lone Star State. Illinois net outmigration has, for fifteen years, been equivalent to a lost resident every ten minutes. The state’s net loss of over 800,000 residents and $26 Billion in taxable income over the last 15 years is explained in the following document:

http://illinoispolicy.org/uploads/files/IllinoisMigration12-20_3.pdf

The Racing Machine

With no functioning muffler, my nice little 4 door sedan became a “racing machine”, sounding like a sprint car at the green flag. I had to shift into neutral when passing parked highway patrol cars to conceal my little secret. I stayed on interstate for the remainder of the trip and stopped in Fargo for my next tank of gas. Gas was $4.21 in Chicago and $3.39 in Fargo.

Home Sweet Home

It was snowing from Dilworth, MN to Rogers, ND so my courage had to sustain me for a few more hours. Once clear of the light snowfall, I knew my adventurous epic was almost over. After arriving home at 9:30 PM, I showed off my new/used car and looked forward to another good night’s sleep to cure an aching lower back and pained hip joint from the “long sit”.

I arrived back in time to see and hear the speeches at the Thursday morning multi-denominational memorial service in Boston. I could finally and fully release my emotions related to the terror in Boston having let go of my intense focus on returning both me and my car from Chicago, the “belly of the beast”. Our President’s comments were very moving and he said just the right words for the moment, giving me hope that he has the intellect to reconsider his penchant for “redistribution of wealth” that especially plagues Illinois and increasingly, our great nation… or else he just has very good speech writers?

The British tried what we are beginning to embrace (you know, nationalizing industries and making unionized employees comfortable, rested and with “free” health care) in 1908 and it fell apart by 1979 when Margaret Thatcher came to power under the slogan “Labour Isn’t Working”, which was true is so many ways. God bless her contribution to Englishmen that to this day do not appreciate being driven from “unemployment compensation” and the time it allows for leisure to “gainful employment” and its obvious discomfort and hassles…

Spring Flooding

My trip was a couple days ahead of massive Illinois flooding that likely would have made it almost intolerable to get back and I am thankful for experiencing only the most frustrating traffic slowdowns possible on Chicago’s freeways both on the bus and in my new/used car that gets 40 miles per gallon and may well get close to 45 after an update to an “efficient” exhaust system and repair of the right front fender ripple. I know that my car will likely go to 500,000 miles if I treat her right! Now THAT is frugality that most North Dakota legislators couldn’t understand or comprehend!

 

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