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Midwest Fears

Trey Reely | December 2008

     When I first visited Chicago many years ago I was unsure what to expect. My knowledge of the city was spotty: I could name most of the Chicago sports teams, knew the imposing Sears Tower made its home there, and remembered that Chicago was nicknamed the Windy City. The primary mental image I had of Chicago was a grainy black-and-white picture of Al Capone and assorted gangsters dangerously speeding down the street after a big heist with the police in hot pursuit. This picture caused a little unease prior to my trip.
    My fears were unfounded, at least around the Hilton, but some worries during a trip to Chicago remain. Most of these fall under the category of inconvenience or embarrassment, not life or death.
    I am always afraid I’m going to forget something, or to be more specific, everything. Several years ago my assistant director and I had an absolutely terrible trip. To save room we decided to pack our hanging clothes in the same bag, so he brought the bag to my house. I added my clothes, and we promptly departed, leaving the bag stranded in the middle of the living room floor. We discovered the mistake while unloading the trunk in Chicago and had to go souvenir shopping earlier than usual to buy a couple of shirts. We wore the same pants every day.
    On this same trip our hotel room at the Hilton had been given away. Because the reservations had been made incorrectly for the previous day (who’s to blame is not important here), and we didn’t show up, we were charged for that night and no longer had a reservation. One hundred dollars lighter, we trudged through a cold, laughing Chicago wind to the Congress.
    To top off the trip we ran out of gas on the way home. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the car came to rest on the incline of a gently rising hill. We called a towing service whose driver cheerfully charged us $40 and poured us enough gas to make it 100 yards over the hill where we found a small gas station. Knowledge is money.
    My fears are not confined to land travel. I have flown to Chicago as well. Although I am not normally paranoid, I still have a haunting fear that during the now common pre-flight strip searches that something deemed dangerous will be found on my person and I will be briskly rushed off to Guantanamo Bay. One year they confiscated my still-chilly Mountain Dew. I volunteered to drink it in their presence to prove it was not battery acid or some other hazardous liquid, but to no avail – rules are rules. I felt vindicated and patriotic when they finally waved me on through.
    I try to look like a veteran traveler as the plane ascends. I read a book, consciously relaxing my hands so I don’t break the spine. I appear calm as I munch in-flight peanuts and sip a tiny plastic cup of Sprite while grieving over my confiscated bottle of Mountain Dew. As we land I try to remember any comparative mortality statistics on the safety of airplane flights versus driving behind a tractor on a country road in Arkansas. As I think the plane must be safer, it hastily descends and then lands too bumpily for my taste.
    After running several laps around the luggage merry-go-round to retrieve my suitcase, I make my way to the L, a seemingly simple task. One of the friendly airport people (the word friendly is meant sarcastically) took great pains to raise her arm and actually point and grunt toward an exit that she indicated led to the L. Technically, she was correct, but after all the trouble I soon encountered her answer was akin to saying I could use those doors to get to Milwaukee.
    Bearing several tons of luggage, I slowly weaved through several rows of cars in the parking lot, climbed two flights of stairs to a causeway only to find the door locked. I made my way back down the stairs, then dodged three cars while hobbling across the asphalt. One of the drivers waved at me but didn’t use all of his fingers. Did I mention it was raining? After I finally arrived at the station entrance I encountered a vagrant with a sob story worse than mine, so I brought an extra ticket for him.
    After a noisy ride I exited the train to be greeted by an eight-foot-tall Medieval turnstile determined not to let me return to civilization. I valiantly charged the evil beast, cramming my body and luggage between its vice-like jaws. I then waddled in a perverse circle dance until I popped out the other side like toast from a toaster. This was after some of the more flexible luggage oozed through the metal bars like Play-Doh.
    When Midwest begins, the fears still do not disappear. I fear coughing during concerts. If I have a bad cough I usually come prepared with cough drops, but sometimes I have a little cough that doesn’t merit such attention during the normal course of the day but becomes all too apparent when I sit down for the concert and the band beg-ins playing. A little itch teases my throat, saliva collects, and instead of enjoying the music, I nearly choke trying to hold on until the song is over or the band reaches a quadruple for-te and I can time my cough with a cymbal crash. If I fail, I at least have the small consolation that I have been im-mortalized in a recording at Midwest.
    Even during breaks from concerts I cannot fully relax because I’m afraid I will buy something I do not need. Last year a woman waved at me from a mall kiosk, and because I’ve never been confused with Ben Affleck I thought she was talking to someone else. I looked behind me and then back at her, making eye contact, which turned out to be a grave mistake; I was hopelessly sucked into a 20-minute sales pitch.
    She took my hand and deftly sanded and smoothed my left thumb with a blue-and-white block and then added some clear liquid that gave it a sheen rivaling any well-waxed Corvette. As I grudgingly admired the shiny gloss, she kept repeating, “Two weeks! It lasts two weeks!”
    Then she washed my right hand in salty minerals (with twelve essential vitamins) purportedly taken from the Dead Sea. I must admit that after the washing there was a lot of something left in the bowl. It was probably skin that I would have liked to have had back, but I couldn’t argue with the results; my hand was as smooth as a marble table top.
    After I timidly asked the price she reminded me that the shine lasted two weeks and said the price was regularly $75 but for me it was only $59.95. I wasn’t prepared to pay that much so she lowered it to $39.95. That sounded more reasonable so I bought it as a Christmas present for my wife.
Fortunately, my wife liked the present, and I found out that the price was exactly what I would have paid if I bought it through the internet. Best of all, my thumb shined for two weeks, just as promised.