The view of my Chicago street, 10 a.m. Dec. 25, 2010
Dec. 26, 2010—
I scoffed at the claim of rats chewing on the wiring of cars parked in our lot on the west side of Chicago.
I’ve lived in Chicago for more than 25 years and never heard of this.
But rats disabled the cars of two neighbors and on Christmas Eve I think it happened to me. I’m taking my car in tomorrow.
I did some research and in recent years auto manufacturers have used more environmentally acceptable (and cheaper) soy based plastics as wiring insulation. I guess that’s like a beer and a shot for rodents. We’ve been using mothballs as a deterrent and that has seemed to do the trick except that my hands now smell like the closet of a nursing home.
On Christmas Day I took buses and METRA to see my parents in west suburban
Naperville, normally a 40 minute drive from Chicago.
It was a beautiful day to embark on a four-hour journey. A fresh snow turned tree branches into playful pipe cleaners. Few people were on the street, and those who were smiled and said hello. One young guy extended his hand and said “Merry Christmas!” And Archie’s Iowa and Rockwell Tavern wasn’t even open.
I saw the hit film “The Social Network” alone on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning I had renewal from getting out from behind a computer and interacting with people. On sidewalks. Buses. Cabs. And trains.
I waited for a train at Chicago’s Union Station.
A guy and a woman sat on the dirty floor near Gate 8. Their backs were slouched up against a wall of abandoned yellow pay phones. The couple wore matching faded blue jeans and if it was summer I would have guessed they had been at a Phish concert. They sat close together but were not holding hands. The woman looked to be between 30 and 35 years old.
She had straight black hair, an under-the-mistletoe smile and dark circles underneath her eyes. She told the guy about jail and visitation rights. She complained that her
two-year-old was biting her 10-year-old. She did most of the talking.
I wanted to buy a Chicago newspaper for the hour-long trip to Naperville.
The train stops at every station on holidays.
I’m a traditionalist who likes to get the Sunday paper on Saturday afternoon. None of the Chicago papers had made a delivery by noon Saturday at Union Station: Saturday or Sunday editions.
The Saturday New York Times was available as was a stack of day-old USA Todays.
I enjoyed the Times’ front page story about two Brooklyn couples who held separate weddings in Manhattan on Christmas Day, 1949. Since then the four of them have reunited every Christmas Day. All newspapers should do more stories like that. They connect the souls.
It had been years since I had taken the train through the western suburbs.
The names of the stops are so idyllic: LaVergne, Riverside, Hollywood…I bet there’s no rats in these towns. There’s also the slang sounding Berwyn, which sounds like Melvin’s crazy uncle. I was born in Berwyn.
“Approaching Fairview!,” bellowed the tall black conductor with a stylish scarf.
It seemed as if we were at Fairview forever. I looked out the gray window at a dozen people leaving the train. I couldn’t stop the questions from coming:
“Is this their first Christmas together?” “Are they going to work at one of the few places that are open in the suburbs?” “Are they green and just not driving?”
“Is someone here to pick them up?”
I love seeing a familiar face at the end of any trip longer than an hour. Sometimes they can answer the questions I’ve collected along the way.
“Why is he carrying a 12-pack of Busch Light?”
“Did rats chew on the wires of her car, too?”
Naperville was just down the road. I got off the train. There was no one to pick me up. My parents are now too old to drive. No cabs were to be found.
It was just like when I grew up here and there was only one cab company in town. I forgot his name.
I walked a couple miles west to the ranch house I grew up in. Earlier in the day there was a soft rumble as I walked through the city. Naperville’s streets were hushed.
I saw my old junior high school, where there is now a new junior high school. Near the front of the school they put up a bronze statue of kids holding hands and playing in an eternal spring. I walked by that.
I walked past the home of the guy we all thought was geeky in high school and then
brought a stunning flight attendant to our 10-year-high school reunion. I walked by the park with the lucky horseshoe pit I’ve promised to show people but things never work out that way.
I kept walking ahead.
I was hard wired, like a car that’s been sitting in the snow.