Monday, March 05, 2007

Theory of Travel

Power traveling is not for the week or heart of flighty of spirit. To be a power traveler one must be willing to accept two fundamental facts about traveling 1)the gods hate you 2) basic chaos theory applies making all travel erratic, disrupted and increasing the complexity in inherently strange ways. Knowing this I boarded a train for Chicago anyway, hoping to see good friends, enjoy good drink, and share good times. Knowing this I stepped out my door on yet another leg of my power travel US Winter tour 2007.

The trip was ill-omened to begin with as the snow had started falling around the beginning of time and had not thought to relent. The snow was supposed to clear up, it was supposed to pass us over; because it was supposed to do these things it decided to politely decline and do whatever it damn well pleased. My regular driver had bowed out on this particular trip having already experienced the joy of travel for a week straight, and so Back Up Driver #1 took the wheel to cart me down to the waiting South Shore. Back Up Driver #1 being not only meticulous but also a fastidious checker was prepared for the drive. Unfortunately the habit to watch a train wreck, or at least a good car accident, in progress almost put us in dire straights and into a ditch ourselves. It did not, fortunately, but the omens, like the snow, were piling up.

I managed to get a ticket for the train, a rather short train and the last one to Chi-town for a while. The trip was going pleasantly with most people ignoring me. Ah, my native city, my native town, my wonderful blissful anonymity. Only in Chicago can one truly disappear because in Chicago no one cares. They don't know you, they aren't going to see you again, and the really could give a flying fuck about your story, your fate, your goals, your dreams, or you hair style. Fuck you, it's Chicago. As soon as I got on the train I felt like I was at home.

I sat being all ignored in my own corner of the universe provided with all the personal space that I could desire when the train suddenly stopped. The tracks had been covered by mountainous snow drifts piling up along the way. People with torches were dispatched to correct the problem but we passengers had to wait for such help to arrive. It was roughly twenty minutes before the train kicked over and the South Shore grumbled on. We got stuck again around 12th Street, and then in Hyde Park, and then on Wabash, before finally hitting Randolph street to disembark. I was impassive in my desires. I was on the road again and the road, no matter how it might like to turn, was not going to tame me. Ah, foolish human, how little you know.

So it was that I climbed up the stairs with my little red wagon behind me, pulling on the odd assortment of clothes and amusements to entertain me while I was house-pesting on the north side. I didn't mind the snow and slush that was gathered around my feet. I did not mind the cold stickiness in my hair and on my lips. I did not mind the slush kicked across my legs by the passing cabs and busses. I watched the sun set at the end of down town, the buildings blazing up with orange-ish grey, and I was happy. The gods, however, were not amused by my optimism.

I boarded the express bus onto Lakeshore Drive. Good ole LSD around the city and out to the northern end. It was commuter time so I picked a seat for comfort not for view, put my bags between my legs, opened a book to amuse myself and cranked up the volume on the angry music blaring out of my MP3 player. I just wanted it to pass me by. Let this trip happen, forget that I can be hyper sensitive to claustrophobia. It was only going to be about fifteen minutes before people started disembarking and I could handle that fifteen minutes no problem. Hell, I had stepped onto a flying tuna can to cross and ocean in conditions that were at least this clustered and hadn't wigged out. A few minutes with someone in my lap on a bus I could do no problem. The gods, finally, smiled.

Ten minutes into the trip we pulled out of the loop and onto LSD. Five minutes after that we stopped moving. For the next hour we had the churning stop and start of a commute made from hell. The jarring stomach turning, bladder squeezing, heart seizing journey that makes even the most stoic traveler want to lose lunch on the pretty girl sitting pressed against your leg. I held on. I would not hurl. I would not wet my pants (though I must admit the thought crossed my mind on both counts) I would last, I would be a stone, the immovable traveler set in her journey. It wasn't for at least another half hour before I started to think about who I was kidding and chomping at the bit, clawing at the windows, and fiddling with emergency exits before I realized that I was not going to make it. I started to look at street names and try to figure out the distance in my head. I thought about getting off that bus and walking.

Now, under regular conditions, this might have been a nice walk. In fact Sheridan Road can be rather a pretty place to take a leisurely stroll. However in negative wind chill with blizzard size snow drifts piled waste high along sidewalks and gust of over thirty miles coming of the lake Sheridan road is not such a nice place to be. I had actually packed myself up to go and was preparing to walk the last two miles over to the appointed local when I felt the gust of wind off Lake Michigan half turn the bus over and realized that maybe I should stay on for a little bit longer. Then I heard the grinding sound coming form the front wheels and started to reconsider walking. Then my bladder started to makes its presence known. "Ignore me, will you?!" it screamed at me. I was starting to wonder about the gods and how they might be watching over me. I was starting to guess at the true nature of my travel.

The bus became a plow forging a road into a place where there was no road to be had. It made an indent into large piled snow drifts very slowly. We were moving a foot every five minutes. I was going to die on this bus. My bladder was going to explode before I could hope to make it to safety. In my will I would leave everything to my dear friends. I started playing out my eulogy. "Carry on, good friends; continue my work to bring absurdity, insanity, and inconsistency to the periphery. Drink well and listen to obscure music. Kiss the girls for me." I had it all planned out. I wanted my ashes scattered over Lake Michigan in the snow since it was the bringer of my fate. I'd bequeath my art and writing to the world. The flute would have to be burned up with me. It is how I would have wanted it I thought to myself. Of course, if I could have picked my own fate I would not have died of bladder explosion but we all have to go sometime.

While I mused and pondered all of this the bus started to pick up speed. We were moving down Sheridan, passing Bryn Mawr and Berwin, and other oddly names blocks, we were getting close we were going to make it. I was not going to die on the bus, but I might well wet my pants before I got out the door. My death scenario and planning had not ended as I figured the hypothermia would catch up with me in a snow drift before I managed to get to where I was going. Oh good-bye cruel word, and cruel fate and cruel gods. I get it now, you laughed at me.

It was not however to be. I got off the bus and in pure Chicago tradition the wind was blowing square in my face. I turned down the side street and the wind was blowing square in my face. I took another turn in a different direction and the wind was blowing square in my face. I pushed on through the snow and the wind to the gate and the doorbell that were not that far away. The wind did not stop blowing in my face until I had made it into the building.

When I arrived the gracious Ms. Skimmel presented me with options, after of course I had gladly taken some time in her lavatory. We had planned at some point before the madness to have dinner together. Over a glass of just poured wine, or maybe it was three glasses in quick succession, we discussed our choices. Our choices were travel in the snow and hope to find someplace, cook breakfast as that was all that was available in the larder, or be evil and call someplace and make them travel. I smiled at Ms. Skimmel. I shook my fists at the gods and their chaos.

We ordered pizza.

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