Archives for the month of: May, 2012

At the Greyhound station in Denver panhandlers are very specific when they ask for money; $10 will do. Perhaps they need it to get to wherever they’re going to pan-handle next, or perhaps it’s to fund their chain smoking habit because riders of Greyhound all seem to fall into this category. These two reasons alone are probably why most of us have never used this form of travel. It’s crowded, boring and puts us in close proximity with people who have colorful life stories they believe need to be told. And you become their captive audience.

Unfortunately when you’re slated to move to a tiny border town four hours away from the nearest airport, Greyhound is your cheapest, fastest and maybe you’re only option. And so, my husband recently found himself bound for Texas on a crowded, hot and smelly bus, which was apparently on it’s last leg because it broke down just four hours into the 30 hour trip.

Eight hours later, he found himself on a replacement bus which got him to his first transfer, in Amarillo, then another, in Abilene, and his final one, in Odessa. Each bus was as equally crowded as the one before, making sleep impossible. He watched the flat nothingness (like Nebraska devoid of corn) pass by the window hour after hour. He was regaled by the tales of a man who claimed the passengers on his previous bus had wanted to beat him up because he wouldn’t stop talking. After a couple of hours of the one-sided conversation, Mikey began to understand why they’d felt that way.

I spoke to him once before he caught his last bus transfer headed for the borderland of Texas. We joked that perhaps it would be the most crowded of all; filled with goats and chickens, the way buses always seem to be in the movies. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he was only one of two people on the bus. He stretched out on the back seat, finally able to relax. There were now mountains just visible in the distance but it was getting dark. He felt a growing excitement when he drew closer to our future home, it was different than he’d expected and he hoped that I might actually like it.

A Kung Fu movie flickered across the screen above Mikey’s head compliments of the indomitable driver, a tiny middle-aged Hispanic man, bravely daring to go where we would be frightened to venture. They passed the closest towns to his final destination; 153 and 90 miles away. These towns contain the only hospitals, shopping centers and movie theaters, within reasonable driving distance, this side of the border. One of the theaters is said to have a tiny screen and ceiling fans to cool the patrons. I cannot help but wonder if there is a pianist who plays music to accompany the suspenseful scenes of the movies. And, will we need to call on The Three Amigos?

Mikey had been on the road for 40 hours and it was late. He planned to ask the bus driver if he would drop him off at his motel when they passed by it but then . . . he fell asleep.

This was one of those path altering moments. Some would say it caused him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to believe it allowed him to be in the right place, at the right time . . . for adventure.

When he woke up he realized he’d missed the motel and decided to try his luck at getting the driver to turn around and drop him off, as they weren’t too far past it. “I’m going to that motel back there, in town,” he said.

The driver responded, “You should have told me! I would have dropped you off.” He seemed genuinely disappointed that he couldn’t help Mikey, but the driver couldn’t go back because he had to wait to pick up passengers for the return trip he explained. “But, the taxi will be by in a little while. You could wait for that.”

Mikey said it was only a mile and a half, it seemed silly to wait for a taxi to take him such a short distance so he unloaded his luggage and dragged it laboriously along the gravel road. It was 12:30am on a warm night completely devoid of any sounds. The stars were so bright that he could see by them. After twenty minutes headlights were visible in the distance. The “American Taxi” appeared in the form of a very old and slightly beat-up suburban, piloted by a a small Hispanic lady in her forties with a huge smile.

Did he want a ride, she asked. No, it was only another half a mile. She pressed him, insisted even, a flood of persuasive dialogue pouring out of her mouth. He relented, loaded his baggage in the back of the vehicle and then climbed into the truck. They drove about 100 feet and the engine died.

Silence settled for an imperceptible second and then, “Oh no! Not again!” The taxi driver said this with surprise, as if she was not aware that the car would continue to require gasoline for the duration of it’s life. “We have to go back to Mexico for a minute, we need gas.”

“I don’t have a passport.” Mikey explained.

“That’s okay, you have a driver’s license, right?”

“Yes.”

“You’ll be fine!” The Taxi driver said this enthusiastically as she resurrected the suburban and they puttered off in the direction of the border.

Mikey was not at all sure but he heard the word “Okay,” fill the truck in his own voice.

She chattered happily in Spanish with the elderly Mexican woman in the back seat. The baggage was stacked so high on her lap she had to look around it to respond.

Things were certainly not going according to plan.

Mexico was, well, like another country.
The Texas side of the border was deadly silent and dark but the Mexican streets were filled with people talking, laughing and drinking at outdoor cafes. There was a street race between an old Mustang GTO and lowered Honda Accord, they accelerated around like they were stunt drivers for the Fast and the Furious, bass thumping, not rap, but mariachi music. Children were running in the streets. Stray dogs, which all seemed to look the same, were wandering and laying, as if dead, everywhere. The architecture was ramshackle and brightly painted; reds, oranges, pinks and yellows.

The truck stalled again and Mikey helped his friendly driver push it off the road. It was a moment of reflection for Mikey. He was pushing a battered Suburban off the road, in Mexico, in the middle of the night. What decision had brought him to this point? He could not help but laugh.

Mikey and the driver walked half a mile to the nearest gas station and the Mexican woman remained behind to guard her mountains of baggage. The driver chatted familiarly, explaining her situation to two men at the gas station. They didn’t have a gas can for her so she bought a liter of water and the old men filled it up with gas because apparently in Mexico you’re not allowed to pump your own; it’s a law. They put the liter of gas into the car, returned to the gas station, not fill up, but to put just enough fuel in the tank to allow the  driver another opportunity to declare, “Oh no, not again!” in the near future. They dropped the little Mexican woman at her home and Mikey politely helped her with her gigantic bags.

It was getting late at this point and he was growing worried, because the motel had already called him to see why he was eight hours late and gave the distinct impression that it was not the kind of establishment where he could show up at all hours of the night and expect a room. You know, like a regular hotel.

But, as they drove back to the bridge over the Rio Grande, his motel reservations became the least of his worries. He had to cross back over to the United States without a passport, in the middle of the night. In spite of what his driver said, he knew that it wouldn’t look good. They entered the lane and the CBP [Customs Border Protection] officer approached in his blue uniform, a gun strapped to his belt. He requested Mikey’s passport. Mikey sheepishly offered his driver’s license instead.

The officer spoke slowly. “You are from Illinois and you went to Meixco, without a passport? What were you doing there?” Mikey swallowed and explained his long trip, fraught with peril and adventure, to the borderland to be, “A CBP officer. I start tomorrow.” The officer’s eyebrows raised and he immediately ordered Mikey’s bags to be searched. The taxi driver found the whole ordeal tremendously entertaining and as Mikey was cleared and sent through to Texas she put the truck into gear and told him, with a chuckle, that she was going to write a book based on her adventures as a taxi driver. (I would read that book.)

At 1:30am they pulled up to the surprisingly half-decent looking motel. They walked up to the door where a sign hung declaring, “Ring bell for night clerk.”

There was a hole where the bell should have been.

They banged on doors and windows, like crazy people, trying to rouse somebody. Nobody came to their assistance. (I wouldn’t have answered either.) The taxi driver shrugged and suggested they try alternate lodgings. She drove him to the only other hotel in town, also much nicer than one would expect in the borderland of Texas. The people were friendly and accommodating, in spite of the late hour, and he was finally able to get four hours of sleep before reporting at the Port of Entry where he would begin his new job and our new life.

Have you ever noticed that people use the word, adventure, when they describe a potentially disagreeable situation you, and not they, are facing? I’ve been hearing it a lot lately when I tell people about my future home and life (which to me is not an adventure or a curse, it just is). What I hear in most of their voices behind that word adventure is, “I wouldn’t want to do that.” It seems when applied to my life adventure means “trouble is coming your way.” And maybe that’s true, maybe trouble is coming for me, but if my trouble comes in the form of midnight adventures in Mexico, I’m pretty sure I can get some good writing material from it.

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I became completely preoccupied with our sudden removal from Chicago and I missed Dan Haring‘s (he’s my brother-in-law) big book release day on April 24th. I received a gentle reminder in the form of his book just a couple of days ago. Congratulations Dan!

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read it before I had to re-package it, along with my Dad’s book, and mail them off to my husband who is living in a tiny border town with only library internet access, no furniture and very little to do. I’ve flipped through it and it looks very exciting and action packed. I can’t wait to get it back from Mikey so I can read it! Here’s the description from the back cover:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he’s an Oldsoul– a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he’s going to need them all.

Sounds like a great summer read. If you’re interested (and you should be), it’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, and paperback and Nook at BarnesandNoble.com.

In other exciting news, Congratulations to Michael Roueche (he’s my Dad) for being a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Regional Fiction!

I’ve read this one and it’s excellent. I highly recommend it (and not just because he’s my Dad), especially for book clubs (which he will happily make a skype appearance at, if you so desire, to answers questions about the book.) His book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon or Nook at BarnesandNoble.com (or you can just contact me).

Now I just have to finish my manuscript so I have something to contribute at family gatherings.

Have you ever had an important moment occur in your life when you realized that a Muppet movie is perfectly applicable to your situation?

Two weeks ago I spent a wonderful night at a farewell dinner with my friends. We stayed until well after the restaurant was closed and someone even teased our waiter that we were going to follow him home when he discovered us still standing on the street corner, talking and laughing, as he left work. I just didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to say goodbye. When I finally did I was comforted by the fact that those particular people are the kind of friends that . . . “somehow I know, we’ll meet again, not sure quite where and I don’t know just when.” For those of you who haven’t seen The Muppets Take Manhattan (it is quite delightful), those are the lyrics to one of the songs in the movie, Saying Goodbye. The day after the farewell dinner (just one among many goodbyes) I found myself unconsciously singing that song as I packed and then taped up boxes. I found this clip on Youtube and cried through the whole thing.

I love The Muppets, they always make me smile and in this particular scene they express my feelings perfectly. Chicago friends, this one’s for you. (I promise this is my last goodbye post.)

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It’s time for saying goodbye
Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It’s time for saying goodbye
Dont want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it’s better to go
Somehow I know we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I dont know just when
You’re in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la
It’s time for saying goodbye
 

*I wrote this a couple of weeks ago when I was still in Chicago and I will post it in the present tense as if I am still there because that is where my heart is.

Chicago, City on the Make

Once you’ve become a part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.

-Nelson Algren

Perhaps I particularly like that imagery because I broke my already crooked nose the first week we lived in Chicago but, more than that, I was amazed that someone could so eloquently put into words the exact way I feel about Chicago. I shouldn’t be surprised though because that’s what a good writer does, they translate feelings into words.

One of the things I love the most about Chicago (and this is probably true of all densely populated cities) is that living there is a challenge, a dare to be brave enough to overcome anything and everything; the snow and bitter cold, the parking, the mail, the grocery shopping, the taxes, the transportation and the existing in such close proximity to and dealing with so many different people. It is hard to live here and you have to work for everything you get. You become one of the unwashed masses whether you want to or not. At least the people in my Chicago do.

Why do Chicagoans embrace a life that is oftentimes hard? Because it pushes us, refines us, makes us pull more from ourselves than we ever knew we were capable of. This city is exactly that metaphorical woman with the broken nose; a woman like that has seen and done things and she expects more from you than excuses and complaints. She expects you to get out of bed willing to bravely face whatever she is ready to throw at you. Some days she will be sweet and mild like the warm summer days when the breeze flows into the city from the lake, but more often she will be dark and moody slamming you with gale force winds, rain and snow. If you stick with her, you will discover she has changed you. You will be braver, more determined and patient, more willing to overlook things that don’t matter, more willing to work, try and give. Chicago makes you strong, if you let it, and when you are finally transformed, every day with that crooked-nosed woman will be a gift, a chance to do and be more.

Last summer we watched an apartment building in our alley burn. Nobody was hurt but the fury was frightening. I saw that same fury in the snow and wind of February 2011. My husband works in a warehouse in the old stockyards. He drives through the gate where countless animals were driven to their deaths to sit at his computer and be haunted by their ghosts (or so I like to tease him). There is a fury in this city. But, for all of the ugliness, there is an unquenchable beauty. The architecture of even the most decayed buildings is undeniably magnificent, especially when adorned with flower boxes overflowing in the summer. Lake Shore Drive winds you between God’s creation to the East, the startlingly green water of Lake Michigan is truly breathtaking, and some of man’s finest work to the West where the skyline rises to mingle with the majesty of the barely visible stars at night.

I love Chicago because it has made me who I am. Not from birth, but because it’s environment and people have changed me. Chicago is now part of me. I will be back, definitely to visit and possibly to live someday, but I know it won’t ever be the same again. As I ride through the different neighborhoods I realize that each person’s experience of Chicago is as unique as the streets, shops, restaurants, and neighbors they are surrounded by. I cannot come back because just like this city, I am always changing and so is everyone around me. Letting go of a good part of life is hard but moving on doesn’t detract from the beauty of a life left behind. It is a gift because you cannot truly remember a place until you are removed from it and can carry those memories with you.

Goodbye to the one drawer in our entire kitchen, the drain monsters that grow to be the size of dinosaurs, the five keys on my keyring required to get into my apartment, and the creepy raccoon bandits hanging out in the alley wearing their masks and planning the abduction of my garbage. Goodbye to the Eastern European cashiers at Devon Market with that stare in their icy blue eyes that never changes, it’s always hard, always hinting at the despair of a Dostoyevsky novel and if you happen to see their elusive smile (sometimes The Boy can make it appear), that hardness is still there because they know that even with the joys of life, trouble is waiting around the corner. Goodbye to Carlos, my favorite alley person, who never wears a shirt when the temperature is above 70 degrees but saved the day (fully clothed, no less) when my apartment flooded in the dead of winter. Goodbye to the predictable CTA workers who regularly accused me of not scanning my pass when I pushed The Boy’s stroller through the gate because they weren’t paying attention and doing their job (for the record, I always scanned my pass and I was always polite when they accused me of doing otherwise.) Goodbye to the CTA bus drivers who stopped to pick me, The Boy and our groceries up even when we weren’t at the bus stop simply because they are nice. Goodbye to the ubiquitous bicyclists, all shapes and sizes (my favorite was the overweight man on a too small bicycle wearing a suit and a fez) hauling miraculously sized things to unknown places. Goodbye to the outrageously high gas prices that make the complaints of people living anywhere else in the country laughable (my best friend mentioned that her gas prices were almost “$4 a gallon!” and I told her I honestly didn’t remember when ours were under $4 and now they’re quite close to $5). Goodbye to the Indian Markets on Devon who kept us stocked with naan, spices, and other delicacies (but not Indian desserts, see The Man Who Ate Everything for an explanation). Goodbye to my beloved polar bear at the Lincoln Park zoo, I will forever treasure the magical mornings The Boy and I spent getting high fives from her through the glass window.

Goodbye to the amazing Chicago Public Library system, the museums, The Bean, the skyscrapers, the parks and playgrounds, the aquarium, and all of the wonderful places we frequented. Goodbye to my beloved train. Goodbye to the squirrels, trees, leaves, puddles, rocks and sticks the Boy marveled over and the dogs chased or peed on. Goodbye to Edgewater, my neighborhood (and my favorite neighbors: Debbie, Gayle, The Brunsons & The Rowberrys).

Goodbye to my friends (you know who you are), you have inspired and changed me. You are the hardest thing to leave behind.

Due to our unusual circumstances (which I won’t go into here) I will spend the next 6 months without a home. So, I will still be a Chicagoan floating in the ether of the United States, bouncing from place to place trying to find a lovelier lovely with my Illinois license plate, my expired city sticker no longer necessary to protect me from tickets, my generously dented bumper – the telltale sign of city living – and the frightening long ‘a’ sound I’ve found creeping into my words with greater frequency lately (perhaps I am leaving not a moment too soon).

Although I am horribly sad to leave, my love for Chicago makes me excited for the future because who knows where else I will go and what other places I will fall in love with. I certainly never hoped and planned to live here, but here I am saying goodbye to my lovely so real.

(I apologize for my long absence but I’ve been packing up and moving. Expect a post about Mikey’s unexpected adventures in Mexico soon. You will not be disappointed.)