Friday, July 13, 2007

a Midwest summer: the big city

Ed, I need to go to Chicago for a few minutes.


Would you like to go with me?

A curious look.

…with your truck?

Bright day. No rain in the forecast to dampen the bowels of the pick-up. We are setting out for Milwaukee, then for the northern suburbs of Chicago.

He asks, reflectively (and belatedly): Why did you buy a piece of furniture in Chicago?
Cheaper there.
How much?
How much? Less than the cost of the truck you want to use to drive down in?

Probably not. Ed’s truck was purchased for significantly under $1000, as was his car, as was his motorcycle, as was, come to think of it, most everything in his life. Possibly even his residence.

It is a brilliant drive. Ed works on his laptop going there, I work on my laptop coming back.

Driving Ed’s truck is … unique. Envision: truck with woodchips. Because they are everywhere. Inside, outside. Ed uses his truck to spread woodchips around his farm. It is a woodchip carrying case. And now it’s me, Ed and woodchips, heading for Chicago.

I open the door. Woodchips spill in my lap. Moreover, a dozen wasps fly at me. There is a nest in the hinges of the door.

Ed shrugs. If you close the door, they wont bother you.
No. They have to go. Or I don’t go.

You have to put your foot down with people who feel they are at one with wasps.

I drive the truck with a bravado befitting of one who thinks it may be an adventure to get somewhere in a vehicle held together by scotch tape.

And finally, we are in Skokie. Or Northbrook. Or both. Who can figure the suburbs of this sprawling town.

I take the truck back to the loading dock of Dania Furniture (the place where the Russian language is as common as it is east of the Urals). Ed is engrossed in his laptop.


Shouldn’t you help?
Ed leans out and waves a hand at the men at the dock. Thanks, guys! – he tells them.

Dania is a cool place – an ethnographer’s dream station. Accents, languages, phrases thrown back at me -- none of it is Madison. I'm in the sharp, punchy city now.
I ask to use the bathroom. And your friend? - the clerk asks, knowing there is a guy in a truck outside.
No… I answer. Just me.
A piss on the side of the road kind of guy, eh?
Right. Sure. I am in Chicago.

We are done. I turn the truck around and search for the ramp onto the highway. Curiously, I wind up, instead, in the service entrance of the Chicago Botanic gardens. We are in a truck. A battered, under a $1ooo truck. We look like Botanic Gardens service people.

Oh, the flowers! In the late afternoon sun.


We kill time driving along the paved paths reserved for service people, until someone throws us out.

And so we drive back to Madison. The plastic cover flaps against the chair in the rear of the truck. It’s a good sound. I am hauling my own. I am in control. My God, I am, for once, in control of my life!

We stop in Milwaukee for a meal of Indian food, So hard to find good Indian food out here in the Midwest. This strip mall has it – we are grateful.

It’s dark, we’re in the truck again. Almost there now. I can see the dome.


Can I store the loveseat at your farm for now?
Sure! My cats will love it.

I am grateful for the plastic cover over the piece of furniture. Cats don’t like plastic covers. And if they do, I’m okay with that.

The sky is black now. I’m heading home. The greatest sense of accomplishment comes from executing a task perfectly, completely. Even if it as simple as picking up a chair in Northbrook. Or Skokie. Or wherever.