Dé Céadaoin, Eanáir 21, 2009

Chicago on Obama Day

I drove the Dan Ryan during rush hour and thus achieved the long-elusive final step of manhood. Granted I was heading inbound during the afternoon rush, but the lack of wasted youth and gasoline that comes with being in a four-mile backup is more than made up for by the danger of driving at fifty five miles an hour, other cars within two inches of either side of you, continually pouring down from the exits that lead to and from every downtown street, while you have a mere five miles to find the twelve macrometers of space needed to cross six lanes and reach your ramp in time.

I had come to the city to personally inquire about a room being rented out for three hundred a month. Considering the cheap cost I shouldn't have been surprised that it is in fact just a room. I am to be flatmate to two middle-aged male immigrants from somewhere in Latin America who may or may not be a couple. We've been in phone contact for the past couple of weeks before I finally said I would come to look at the space on Friday. Then on Tuesday morning I began to wonder what I was going to do with my unemployed workdays here in Lincoln, so I called one of the fellows up to let him know that there was an open spot on my schedule, and that I could be there round 6 p.m., accounting for traffic.

2502 No. St. Louis. The largely Latino neighborhood features an auto dealer billboard written in Polish, the surely delusional specter of a living K-Mart at Addison and Kimball, and about three dozen places to get an Italian Sausage and a plastic cup of Old Style for fifteen dollars. No need to buy a parking permit here, but you will need to pioneer your own space and defend it with a lawn chair or pickle bucket when you're away. Logan Square is the most prominent landmark, and perhaps the name serves as shorthand for the entire neighborhood. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. Although The Windy City is best described as a schizophrenic modern Babel shot through with rock salt, it also has a regularity to it. 2502 No. St Louis could be most anywhere between Division Avenue and Skokie.

I listened to the inauguration over NPR just past Council Bluffs. I've heard neutral
observers describe Obama's address as 'not as inspiring as his campaign speeches' and 'at times a bit harsh' and I suppose that's a fair statement. After all, both the new president and the polite media abide by the old American folkway that declares optimism to be a virtue unto itself. So by inaugural address standards I suppose it was a bit chilly. But for those of us who are proud to shout "fuck the optimistic" to the rafters, and yet still stoke enough small embers of hope for better days to keep ourselves breathing, the speech was as beautiful
as any that Obama has given. Nobody who doesn't know me reads this damned blog, so fuck it. Yeah I cried. I wept like a sick child without its mother.

There's no denying that the man has a better way with words then I do. Where Obama quoted scripture in saying that "the time has come to set aside childish things." I would have said "the time of whining about Wal-Mart greeters saying 'Happy Holidays' and East Coast patricians playing pheasant hunter dress-up in a vain attempt to appeal to your all-consuming common man auto-circle-jerk is at a most decided end
you fat ignorant greasy-tank-top wearing bigoted shitpiles." I will never be president.

There's been a great deal of snow in eastern Iowa and Illinois recently. More cars then usual are abandoned by the side of the road, while the drifts off the edge of the interstate look big enough to bury the highway and everyone driving on it if anything were to set off a minilanche. A good rule of thumb for Chicago weather is to subtract ten degrees from everywhere else on the plains. For the past two days this rule could be extended all the way to Iowa City.

I stopped there for gas and a bag of chips on the trip out yesterday. A couple of dittoheads at the downtown Casey's were boldly mocking the new order, and I quote their words verbatim.
"I heard there was some professor in Minnesota who found out that the people who voted for Obama committed seven times more of the crimes then people who voted for McCain"

I'm afraid he's got us there. There was indeed "some professor in Minnesota" who gained the pharaonic power to violate the secret ballot, find out which ballot was filled out by whom, gained total access to the police records of all voters across the nation, and compiled all of the data over a period of ten weeks. The jig is up boys.

Illinois speed limit laws make no distinction between scrubland and suburb. So it's sixty five miles an hour across dead cornstalk space that looks like everything between Toledo and Cheyenne. So be it. Its eighty five dollars woth of gas round trip. I held to the speed limit and was passed by semis carrying houses. All the same there were cherries flashing in my rear view as I looped from I-80 onto the Stevenson. The trooper turned out to be attending to a three-car wreck at the base of the junction. It took fifteen minutes to get out of the choke point but after that it was smooth driving into The Loop, driving five miles an hour over the limit now to avoid being the cause of an eight-mile pileup.

I remember the last time I was here, sitting on the Red Line pointing and laughing at the glacial parking lot that forms twice a day on the Ryan. This time I brought my car and the Sartesian curse of freedom that comes with it. If Chicago is wicked it is because driving through the city removes all fear of Hell. The collective suicide of the expressways gives way to city streets where all drivers going all directions hit every red light, while pedestrians carrying groceries that smell like laundry blithely teleport through your vehicle as you crawl to the next red light.

After viewing the room and making arrangements I cruised down Milwaukee until I reached the expressway and headed south. My plan was to find a cheap motel on 95th and then a bar where I could mix with jubilant locals. Traffic flowed smoothly in the express lanes until it wasn't flowing at all. As I slowed a white Ford screeched to a halt three inches from my rear bumper to spare me the fate that caused the standstill.

It was a red Honda Accord, about ten years old, flipped onto its top and about half the size that it was supposed to be. There were four men standing on the shoulder looking upon the wreck with perfect tranquility. I took this to mean that either the occupants were alive and well or so pulverized that there was nothing to do but stand and whistle.

I found no lodgings of any kind on 95th. I still need to learn the lay of this town a lot better. Not even the gnarliest no-tell can be found in the heart of the city. I wondered about until I ended up heading west on 55th, vowing not to change directions until I found a place to stay. Half an hour went by as I crept past Midway and on to Cicero.

Cicero is one of several inner-ring suburbs whose continued independence from Chicago proper is an intractable enigma. In fact it really wouldn't be accurate to call it a suburb at all. It lies just seven miles from The Loop, still dense enough for one-way neighborhood streets and rousing games of bumper pool between drivers and walkers. Here is where I found my bed for the night, the Karavan Hotel.

Patrons are not allowed in the office of the Karavan. Money is passed through a slot in the bullet-proof glass. Several signs on the wall proclaim the staff's willingness to call the police if necessary, while a town government poster arrogantly declares Cicero to be a gang-free zone. The main light in my room was a bit off. The shadeless lamp provided enough light to see though reading was quite laborious. The television offered only the local networks and free porn on channel four.

"Gang-Bang Sluts" and only "Gang-Bang Sluts", looped over and again for my entire nine hour stay. I found it emotionally numb and visually stale, though it had its good points. In one scene a redhead exercises in the privacy of her bedroom, only to turn around to find that four perfectly strange naked men have been staring at her the whole time. She is of course perfectly elated and nature takes its course. My favorite scene involves a forty-year-old plastic crystal meth Barbie being railed by some Latino fellow with a rat tale. All of a sudden two white Adonises who were sandwiching a young brunette at the other side of the room drop what they were doing, slowly walk over to Barbie and rat-tale, and proceed to masturbate on the veteran actress with the most profound and disturbing sullenness. It was as if they were psychic brothers shooting their loads upon each other's coffins.

It was ten o'clock when I stepped out for food and beer. I was tired from the drive and was coming down with a nasty headache from hunger or caffeine crash or most likely both. I dropped my plans for going to a bar. It really wasn't my celebration at any rate, and I had film study to do.

I bought a six-pack of Bud from a carniceria down the block when I noticed a chicken and fish place directly across the street. God dammit I should have gotten the food first. This will be like leaving razor blades lying about a Siberian mental hospital. I crossed the street, put the beer behind a potted plant out of sheer bitter vanity, and walked in to get my supper.

I ordered a large chicken wing and hush puppy platter. Three pounds of fried fat for seven dollars. It was two minutes before I saw a black man on a bicycle grab my beer through the window. Luckily he turned out to be an honest man and gestured towards me to find out if the six-pack was spoken for, and I pointed to myself to affirm this. He walked into the shop and said "hey man I was just making sure it was yours otherwise I was going to take it you know what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. I understand."
"Say do you got a cigarette."
"Not on me I'm afraid."
"Aww man."
He turned around, walked five steps, then turned back around and moved to the exact spot where he had been.
"Hey do you got any change?"
"You can have one beer."
He feigned offense for half a second, then said, "Hey thanks. I'm taking my beer and goin home!"

He walked out the door, pulled a single Budweiser out of its ring, pointed at it through the window while giving me a thumbs up, got on his bike and left. Meanwhile my order was ready, I grabbed it, went to the flower pot to get my five-pack, and headed home myself.

A decade's worth of access to "The Daily Show" has caused me to forget how violently dull Jay Leno truly is. I ate about half the food and drank three beers until I was full. Around 11:30 I looked out the window to see the only other American-born Caucasian in all of Cicero. This was Sheryl, the neighborhood prostitute. She gave a quizzical look in my direction while she waited for somebody from Wisconsin to park his Land Rover and get settled in his room.

I fell asleep at some point around midnight and woke up perfectly refreshed at 3:30. Apparently network television has extended the news/insipid banter combo of the morning shows into the wee hours, and I had grown weary of Gangbang Sluts, so I decided to step out for coffee and a newspaper and then decide whether to try to fall asleep again or leave early.

I was formally introduced to Sheryl about a block away from the 24-hour Dunkin Dough nuts. She asked me if I wanted a blowjob and I said no, but she could come into my room and warm up for a few minutes if she liked.

"Oh, right. Well, o.k."

The porn, of course, was terribly awkward, so I turned the TV off and the radio on. It was Spanish talk radio, I think they were talking about Obama's Guantanamo plans. I gave Sheryl a beer and told her to talk about whatever. She said that she lived a couple blocks off Cicero avenue on 22nd, and that she had a sister who she didn't like. That's all she said about herself.

She asked if she was sure I didn't want anything. My food had gotten cold and it had the slice of bread at the bottom that you'll find at urban chicken shacks that I really don't care for. So I traded her the food in return for a kiss that tasted of aspirin and the oily residue of bottom shelf malt liquor and she was on her way.

I dozed in a half sleep until 5:30, than I showered and checked out. I found the front desk worker praying from his Koran and tried to politely wait. After three minutes of not being at all noticed I gave up on this and rang the bell. He took my key without any hint of a word or facial expression and I was on my way back home.

There was a massive semi fire on inbound I-55 that was having an apocalyptic effect on people heading into the city for work. I however was on my way out. The Iowa State Patrol was unusually active on Wednesday, speed traps every twenty miles or so. I was adhering to the speed limit and conserving gas. The tank I bought just before getting onto the Stevenson lasted all the way to Des Moines, and the temperature seemd to go up ten degrees for every fifty I drove west. Ain't nothing gonna break my stride.

I was hungry when I got to Des Moines so I decided to head into downtown for a gyro or something like it and the cheaper gas of a neighborhood c-store. It turned out that I only had enough loose change for twenty three minutes at the parking meter at a spot near 4th and grand with nothing but national fast food chains in the vicinity, so I hustled to The Kaleidescope, Des Moines' world famous downtown skywalk mall. I wolfed down a panini from the food court, satisfied that this was indisputably morally superior to eating at a mall food court in the suburbs.

By the time I reached Omaha it was 55 and brilliantly sunny. I was sweating in my two layers of shirt and thinking about how much cleaning my apartment still needs and who will take care of Telly. I can only hope that Lincoln is cold and bitter at the end of the month so that's it's easier to leave. But since when has hope been anything but mental heroin? A dragon for suckers to chase. Two weeks of torturous embraces and being told how much I'll be missed.

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