Friday, June 1, 2018

Miles Beneath my Wheels

Even after two years in Chicagoland I'm still not used to the morning commute on the days I need to go in for a meeting or a pow wow with our atterneys,  I was spoiled at the crash pad in Indy; on the freeway in 3 minutes, to my office in no more than 10.  Now, my drive is a minimum of 44 minutes (if I leave around 5 a.m.) to an hour and a half (each way) to go about 20 miles if I pick the wrong time and three hours if there is a storm.

It's less stressful now that I've realized that
(1) all cars in the turn lane, up to six, will turn after the light turns red.
(2) stopping for the yellow light 3 cars ahead of you increases your danger of being the victim of road rage
(3) if there is a space in front of you big enough for a car, someone will dart into  it without signalling even if their lane is wide open
(4). if all of the houses have bars on the doors and windows it is NOT decorative and get back on the damn freeway.
(5) eye contact is NOT your friend
(6) IDOT creates large deep potholes around the city which are never repaired as they are there simply to test your reflexes.

But we live where my husband can be fairly close to his work and given his duties and hours, that is good. I'm NOT a fan of driving in the dark, never was. but I'm doing it now in the colder months, so I can beat the afternoon rush hour. Beginning the fist of my commutes when winter hit, was not the best of timings, leaving at an hour and temperature that denied not only sanity but breath. The city itself seemed almost ominous on those initial drives, taunting me with "drive here if you like, but I've already arrived, being here before you were born and standing, long after you are dust. I am the city and you will have  no destination but that which I allow you and it will be nothing but cold and dark until have you have return again so why even try?"

But over time, as I became familiar with the safest and least busy streets to travel, I've actually learned to enjoy it a bit  as with the radio off, and fewer cars on the road, it gave me time to think, to reflect back upon those "might have beens" which are more true than truth,  Outside there's not much you would call beautiful - miles and miles of old neighborhoods and darkened buildings, interspersed with areas of renewal where the facades of homes have been reclaimed.  But you notice the light - not from the sun, as it's an hour or more from tipping its hand, but from the streetlights, as they shine and reflect on window and form.  You see bits of light in other cars, the glow of a cigarette, a dome light that comes on, then off again as someone changes the radio channel then goes back into hiding as quick as a trapdoor spider.
As I drive, words flow through my head, some which will someday splay across a keyboard, others that though gleaming like lit from a candle within, will only burn in the darkness of my own thoughts.  I am careful to sip on some cold water, so that I don't actually fall asleep, but I find myself lulled into a cadence where I'm remembering while aware, moving the truck around a known chunk missing in that street, as a hand in a body still dreaming, flicks away from a cold candle, with the heated remembrance of pain..

I see how the light flicks off the glasses-adorned face of someone waiting for the bus in the dark.  The form is tired and stooped, their head down as if with grief, with eyes that have forgotten how to weep, but remember well the tracks those tears left on their skin. I draw my coat around myself, thankful for the blessing of a warm ride, even if it is old.

More often than not, the forms waiting for the bus are female, going into the city to work, often the only one working in that household.  They wait for the bus as if waiting for light, not for the glare of victory but only that which they need to see to endure.
As a child, I never would have pictured myself here, always swearing to live my whole life in the country, where the land was open as the eternal springtime of a young woman's heart.  But with life comes change - some full of wonder, some that are nothing more then the forceps cold tearing free of that which is familiar.  This place, this big cold city, is my home because strangely enough, it is here that I found the quiet healing warmth that is a familiar heart.

Up ahead, comes flashing lights, an early morning commuter train.  I don't know how many times I've watched someone drive around the gates, risking all just to gain three minutes of time making that dash as a distracted night bird does as it dives into the fatal glow of a window. Ahead the empty school bus will stop, waiting with the quiet patience that only something that is surrounded by children can truly understand.  On the drive home, I'll see that familiar yellow form, young girls inside waving their curls and their cell phones, taking selfies as young men hover nearby, sensing that thinning of that barrier we called virginity, waiting for those moments when a girl's heart senses something more than self.

"Don't grow up too fast", I say to the empty bus because it's too easy to lie in bed while someone who doesn't know the word, tells you what love is.
As the school bus turns and moves away, more and more lights dot the road ahead, as restaurants open their doors, and more cars enter the roadway.  The movements and the light trigger more memories, the light being the substance of memory itself, the sight, sense, and self that the brain recalls long after the muscle memories of the moments is stilled.

I think that about now my husband will be leaving, the house, quiet but for the kitchen light, the dog waiting for the dog walker that will stop in throughout the day to take her out, making sure the house is secure. I think of the light of the moon shining down on the fedora I know he'll have on and I'll smile, as I flash my lights to someone on a side street, slowing so they can get into a line of cars that's looking less like a scattering of child's toys than a long metal Caterpillar, turning and twisting past the trees that line the river. The drive home will be this same route, but I'll have the anticipation of home to guide me, the warmth of two arms, the clink of two glasses.
My stomach gently growls as I take another sip of water, not from glass, but from a can. I chose not to eat in the vehicle, not due any aversion to crumbs but not wanting to to do a self Heimlich on the steering wheel if I take a bite of donut at the same time I see another completely mis-aligned bumper sticker for someone that should be in jail, not office.

During this short stretch I can almost imagine myself away from the city, away from politics, office and otherwise, from meetings and schedules and fast food, as the sun smolders sulkily there on the horizon, no more anxious to lift itself upward, than I am go to be here.. Along the water, are low clouds, distant white masses, almost coiled in the convolutions, not appearing to move, yet someone changing, their journey as much of a slow discovery as mine. But for at least five more years, this will be my trip.

Only a few more miles and I will be there - to don that mantle of adulthood for a few hours, as outside the city awakens. Til then, the lights that flash, allowing one vehicle on the expressway at a time, a color that strikes as if sound, the deliberate hammer blow that you think will be the last, but are simply repeated and resumed, long after the last vehicle is past hearing.
Each and every set of headlights holds a life, one no different than mine but for it's past and it's future, Each of us on a journey, as we stir and murmur on this moving watch that is a morning commute. Some are listening to music, some are simply looking at the world around them with a profound yet distracted listening. Yet each and every one of us makes this trip, takes with us our own burdens and our fears. We make no eye contact, even as we all are touched by one another,that touch that abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across color and age, and gender, that touch that enemies, as well as lovers, well know because it exposes something in each of us, raw and longing that we carry with us on the journey.

On my way home tonight, I listened to those silent hammers of light as I waited in the line to fight. But they will not be warnings -  but simply a thump thump along to my heart, as I wait and long to go home tonight.

We each take away something different on this trip, in darkness, and in sunshine, in tirelessness and in yawning stupor as up above, the sun and the stars hover dispassionately around the imposture of our daily lives.

But I'm still going to watch closely for those IDOT potholes.


  1. A description of St. Louis driving, as well, and another reason for gratitude that the Lord directed us to Alaska. We know you're a survivor - your stories attest to that - but some days seem to push the boundaries more than others. Please continue to be careful out there.

  2. When I was a young man I loved to drive - any place, for any reason. Moving to big cities such as San Diego & LA took a lot of that away, as did the advancing years. Now retired, I live in a village that doesn't even have a traffic light, and only five (three of them are at one intersection) stop signs. The only part I still miss is those long drives across the desert, late at night, under a full moon - and feeling like the only living person in the world.

  3. You're reading a piece and,without realizing it, you don't seem to be reading but rather listening. The writer has changed you from a distant reader to an intimate listener,a friend if you will. You do that so well. I can almost imagine when you stop to take a sip of coffee.Thank youyou!

  4. Growing up in Joliet, we used to travel into Chicago a lot for concerts, shopping, and the great food there, so I'm very familiar with driving in The City.

    Then I moved in with a GF in Rogers Park on the Far North Side (almost Evanston), and learned The City from a native.

    Interesting city, and please be careful, although I think I know the route you take.

  5. Having lived thirteen years in the Dallas Metromess, I am grateful for the fact that as bad as the traffic was, I know it could've been so much worse! At least Dallas moves its traffic remarkably well, all things considered.

    But now, though it is a 14 mile round trip to the grocery store (I love Aldi's!), I wouldn't trade our semi-rural new life for the "convenience" afforded by the Metromess. Traffic?? Whats that?


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