© 2001 by travis

                Monday, December 11, Y2K.  1500 Hours.  The snow falls without pause, so I leave my truck parked, not on the legal (South) side of Addison Street, but behind snow banks on Grace Ave.  I walk, or take the CTA to meet my appointments.  My Lawyer, Ms. B telephones me.  Tomorrow, 12 DEC, we close on my house.  Please bring $3,000 to the Chicago Title and Trust Company at 1000 Hours.  I agree and hang up the telephone.

                I add a second layer of clothing over my thermal underwear and flannel shirt; I add two pairs of wool sox, a Northwestern sweatshirt, a 100% polyester sweater; white cotton muffler, fleece-lined snow boots, rabbit fur mittens and hat, then I head to the bank for a $3,000 Cashier’s Check.  One block North, Broadway at Grace, Community Bank is closed because of bad weather.  I walk three blocks South to a Currency Exchange.  Stalking skies blast mysterious steely gray clouds against hard-driving blizzard and ice.  Only one other person slips and slides through the unplowed, unshoveled sidewalk southbound, on the West side of Broadway, past the Salvation Army School for Officers’ Training.  She turns occasionally and looks at me.  Perhaps she is shielding her face from the icy snow by walking backwards.  Perhaps she thinks I am following her.  Her body is very wide.  She buffers me from the South wind.  I slow down.  Standing before me, facing the clerk at the Currency Exchange, she seems suspicious of me.  Her mouth closes in on the teller’s glass window which separates her from her money.  I leave and walk to the Currency Exchange at Broadway and Belmont where I am known.  Next door to the Currency Exchange, the Mid-Community Bank is closed due to bad weather.  The Currency Exchange does not sell Cashier’s Checks.  The new clerk is frowning, surly and bad-tempered, insisting that my Seller’s lawyer will accept a Currency Exchange money order for $3,000.  I say no, Thank You. 

I walk three blocks further South on Broadway; two banks, both closed due to bad weather.  I walk four blocks West to a branch of my own bank.  Closed due to bad weather.  I walk three blocks North.  At Belmont and Clark the bank is closed due to bad weather.  I feel despondent.  Is there some reason I cannot conceive why everything in the universe seems dead set against my buying this house?  My boots drag heavily through three inches of fresh snow.  I spy my reflection in mirrored windows turning the corner, Halsted and Belmont, at Club Spin.  My beard and my mustache pack snow and icicles hanging from my face.  I don’t bother looking back at the parade of black overcoats and black umbrellas crawling home from CTA Red Line trains and buses, quiet and dark like a funeral march.  Numb from helplessness, so I return home, take a bath, fall into bed and stare into darkness.

Tuesday, 12DEC, Y2K.  Closing Day.  The time is 0830.  I woke at 0400.  I have taken my blood pressure, and I am dressed.  I layer my clothing and head for Community Bank.  My VISA card request for $3,000 is “Denied.”  My blood pressure rises.  I walk outside the bank to the Cash Station, and ensure that funds are present in my account; they are.  The time is 0844.  The clerk says the computer will permit me to withdraw $1,000, no more.  She allows me to use a bank telephone at one of several empty desks behind me, because the bank officer is snowbound in South Holland.  I telephone VISA.  They tell me that the problem is not theirs, I must call my own bank.  I telephone my bank.  On “Hold” I listen to bank advertising.  The time is 0920.  Ten minutes later my bank tells me that the computers are down in Indianapolis, IN, and there is nothing more she can do to help me.  I telephone a local branch of my bank.  I “Hold.”  A bank manager shuffles over to the desk I am using, throws his long, bleached-blond shag haircut down over his slender, Ralph Lauren business jacket and tells me that “This is not a public telephone!  Who told you you could use this phone? ….”  The stifling smell of heavy cologne on his hands, his face and his clothing incites me to give him a look he absolutely understands.  In a flash, my eyes and my body blurt out:  Leave Me Alone!  Don’t Make Me Cut You!  Luckily for both of us, the responsible clerk spoke up.  I slammed down the telephone receiver; collected my cards, my pens, my papers and my backpack and I dragged my body toward Lake Shore Drive, hoping for a bus.  I angrily accepted the fact that for 11 years in a neighborhood I love, taxi drivers have never stopped for me when I was not with White people.  The time is 0935.

No bus in sight.  No people in the street.  The blizzard continues.  I have no choice but to walk back to Grace and Halsted, shovel my truck out of nearly 4ft. of snow-plow embankment, and get my work done in the 25 minutes remaining.  Walking westbound, a lone taxi catches my attention because the car is noisy and smoking.  Rusted metal pipes hang from the old Chevrolet chassis and drag nosily along the Addison Street pavement.  This taxi driver is out of his element.  The Police will chase him off North Pine Grove.  I realize the taxi driver is pimping me.  I yell to him that his car is falling down.  He answers:  “What?  Do I have a flat?”  “No!  A pipe is dragging!”  He stops in the middle of Addison and Pine Grove where there are no other cars, and says:  “O!  That’s just the oil pipe.”  I say:  “OK!  Well then, can you take me to the bank at the intersection of Clark and Halsted Streets?”  “Get in!” 

The time is 0959.  At the bank, the taxi driver agrees to wait for my $3,000 Cashier’s Check, and then he will drive me to my closing.  I owe him $12 already, so he comes into the bank and watches me.  I give him my closing address and he exposes his ignorance of the neighborhood by heading East down unplowed Barry Street to Sheridan Rd.  Two blocks later, we are impeded by snowdrifts and cars spread half into spaces, half into the street or abandoned on the curb.  A block west of Sheridan Road, two big blue Chicago garbage trucks get stuck in the snow three cars ahead of us.  The garbage trucks have slid so closely to a parked 2000 Mercedes Benz M-Class SUV, the drivers are afraid to move.  We are hemmed in by traffic and we cannot back up the rickety taxicab.  I walk around in circles to escape the smell.  1000 Hours comes and goes and I am a mile from Lake Shore Drive.

At 1020 I arrive at the closing.  Meet my lawyer face-to-face for the first time.  She invites me out into a hallway; we strategize; and when we return to the table, she takes charge, completely rewriting the Agreement in ink, with my input, then places it on the table without hesitation.  I agree to buy the house today, and to sell Seller two days in which to move out.  Seller, fabulously dressed and somewhat anxious, agrees.  Twenty times I sign my soul to the money lenders.  Seller’s Lawyer suffers from Short Men’s Syndrome.  His teeth need cleaning.  Seller’s Realtor is in her element, making small talk.  She too is fabulously dressed and smells expensive with coiffure to match.  In her ceaseless Jamaican chatter, she proffers weak apologies for her bad behavior during the month-long negotiation process, blaming her despicable actions, bad judgment and missed deadlines on the deaths of her friends, which deaths took her both out of the city and out of the country.  On and on she rambled:  “I’m just so tired of people dying….  Then you have to be nice and visit the family….”  I was in no mood to hear it.  One comment from me ended our conversation forever.  I cut off her wagging tongue by saying:  “Where I come from you treat people like every day is their last day, or your own.”  She has not spoken another word to me, from that day to this.

Hard, cold and white under black skies, downtown Chicago blinks with colorful Christmas lights, trees, decorations and an open air market in Daley Plaza.  I thank Seller, my Realtor and my Lawyer and take the Red Line to the UofC for a lecture on Ghana’s children.  After Mr. E’s lecture, I roam the halls talking about my new home.  An hour later, I wait for a bus to the train, but no bus comes.  I walk to a UofC student coffee shop for hot chocolate.  In the coffee shop, I run into an Indian friend who also works with transgender organizations.  We chat.  I wait for the bus, but no bus comes.  My boss drives me home.

At home two voice mails blink.  Prof. A has free opera tickets for tonight, but it is now too late for me to meet him in Winnetka.  I call and thank him.  Voice mail two is from my mother.  I am shocked by her voice.  My mother has never before telephoned me, if she did she never left a message.  Her message today?  “CC is dead.”  My uncle CC, husband to my mother’s baby sister, KC, who died two years ago, will be funeralized Saturday.  I telephone his household.  I promise my 6 year old niece DD that I will fly home for the funeral.  Her response:  “No, Uncle Travis!  Please don’t fly; the airplane will crash and I won’t have my Uncle Travis!”  “Well, DD, we have to take some chances in our lives, and coming to see you is a chance I’m willing to take.”  We hang up.  I arrange Etickets, Ehotel, Erental car.  I wait for the blood to return to my fingertips.  I wait for a felling, any feeling.

Thursday night I telephone Seller so that I may move in and fly out to Mississippi as soon as possible.  Promising to be out at midnight, she will leave all keys with my new neighbor, Mr. W.  I go to bed at 2300, and rise at 0400 Friday morning for the big moving day ahead.

0600, Friday morning.  I dig my pickup truck out of 4ft. of snow and ice in Grace Street.  At  0730 the truck is loaded with 20 monotonous trips of boxes from my basement through the unplowed Addison St. parking lot to the truck and back.  I hazard my way down the Kennedy Expressway; meander through a three-car collision in the Loop; then onto the unredeemably treacherous Dan Ryan Expressway.  Half an hour later “Indiana” signs point me to the Bishop Ford Freeway and to Exit 65 to Stony Island and 95th Streets, East to Jeffery, South to E. 98th St., East to Chappel and then South and East to 2113 East 98th Place.  I get the keys from Mr. W.  I unload the pickup; carry 20 trips of tonnage up to the second floor; shovel my tires out of ice and snow and then drive back, northbound, to 728 W. Addison St.  I dig a second parking space out of the parking lot, as my original dugout is now filled.  I reload the pickup with 12 trips of boxes, and make my way southbound down the Kennedy, down the Dan Ryan (which is now strewn with hub caps, broken glass and a queen-sized mattress), and down the Bishop Ford.  Eventually I pull into E. 98th Place.  I mindlessly unload the 12 heavy cartons.  Once again, I drive back north to 728 W. Addison.  Load 20 more boxes into the pickup.  Drive South again, 25 miles down the Kennedy to the Dan Ryan to the Bishop Ford.  Unload 20 boxes.  Salt the driveway at 98th Pl.  Check the time.  I quickly pack a suitcase with two tuxedoes, one black one white; pack two pairs of shoes, both red; pack four white shirts, four bow ties, overcoat, underwear, etc., then I throw myself into the bathtub at 2113.  At 1330 I drive to O’Hare Airport.

I love flying in airplanes.  My first flight to Memphis was an event I shall never forget.  On this flight I met Mr. ===, President and CEO of a === Advertising, ===, Memphis, TN.  Telephone:  ===.  Fax:  ===.  Email:  ===  This was doubtlessly the most informative flight I’ve ever taken.  I will contact Mr. ===’s mother, who is a long-time administrator at the === Museum.  Mr. === is interested both in architecture and in art.  More about my conversations with Mr. === in another installment.

In Memphis, the long air terminal wait began.  Tornadoes in Western Alabama and Eastern Mississippi hold all planes destined for Tupelo, MS on the ground in Memphis, TN.  Twenty-five passengers in the terminal, including a Republican senator and several Democrat nurses have waited four hours making political jest fusing the presidential election, the flight and the weather:  “Maybe we’ll crash and burn” the nurses laugh.  In very strange language and movements, two airline attendants suddenly herded all the Tupelo passengers onto the waiting turbo-prop, asking us to “Please Move Quickly!”  We are already five hours late. 

The turbo-prop thrashed deep dives through fat clouds and jet-black sky seeking out Tupelo, MS.  Turbulence took its toll.  No snacks were served.  Instead, passengers too nervous to unbuckle their seat belts lost their lunch into inflatable green bags.  People ceased jest, ceased chat, ceased movement.  Only the flight attendant left her seat.  The airplane was more silent than Sunday mass.  One could hear the mumble of Baptist prayers throughout the cabin.  I watched the color drain from the faces of all the White people.  Three Black college men stared straight ahead, trancelike into zero visibility.  They never spoke to anyone, not even to each other.

Although the flight to Tupelo takes less than 1.5 hours, we felt like a tin can adrift in an endless sea of swirls.  We lashed against cumulonimbus clouds, some of which we seemed to latch onto and simultaneously rub against.  We took ear-piercing nosedives into the wall of every stomach.  When at last we arrived where Tupelo should have been, the Captain announced that he could not see the Tupelo Tower runway lights.  The smell of sour lunches surrendered my nostrils.  Loudly, passengers took a deep breath with every plunge.  I held my breath, feeling as if the pit of my belly would explode.  I thought about the XXX movies I received for my birthday.

A deep moan escaped the passengers when Captain Kidd announced that we could not land and that he would seek a landing back in Memphis International Airport.  The turbo-prop plodded a calamitous climb back into the crocus sack full of fat clouds.  People looked drained, worried and pious.  In absolutely voluminous silence, they gazed at each other.  The Black men stared out the windows, acknowledging no one.  I stared out the window, mostly because I was embarrassed to think how insignificantly dispensable are 25 passengers on a turbo-prop.  Fifteen minutes or so later Captain Kidd announced that he had clearance to try landing at Tupelo again, this time from the opposite end of the runway.  Quite simply, it was the descent from hell!  When we touched down, I asked out loud:  “I would really love to know what was going through people’s minds during the silence?”  Everyone seemed momentarily embarrassed.  One nurse responded:  “In the air there are no atheists.”

The door to the turbo-prop swung open; the stewardess guided us down the steel steps to the tarmac and we rushed across the dark, windy runway to shelter.  Inside Tupelo Regional Airport terminal, embarrassment turned to martyrdom.  Passengers hugged and some rubbed crosses.  They introduced me to their waiting relatives.  One of the nurses actually attended my dead uncle.  In an instant our flight took on mythic proportions.

Tupelo Regional Airport locks all doors at 2200.  We arrived just before 0100, and I was still an hour’s drive from my hotel in Fulton.  My Erental car was not available and bad weather prevented any rental car service to the airport.  I was irritated because I had posed precisely this scenario to my Erental agency on Wednesday and they assured me that Erental would deliver Ecar to me no matter what the time or weather for $29 per day.  They lied.  Additionally, Tupelo taxi companies were closed.  Finally, the Airport security guard, waiting for me to leave so that he might lock the Airport doors, gave me a business card for a local taxi service he knew.  By 0200 I was in a $45, 1-hour taxi ride to Fulton, MS, swaying across Hwy 25 against blinding rain, high wind and heavy weather.

In the Days Inn I discovered that there are no taxi companies in Fulton.  Realization:  I am stranded.  I watch hotel weather channels and I learn that Alabama tornadoes threaten nearby Marshall County.  All night long wind and rain whipped my windows.  The sounds soothed my concerns about taxis but not about transportation.  Five hours later (0800 Sat. morning), from my hotel balcony I watch branches break and truckers on a jet black highway lash their billowy cargo onto flat beds under increasingly noisy skies.  But now there is a new menace.  The weather reports O’Hare may become impenetrable later today because a snowstorm is headed for Chicago.

At 0900 I telephone Cousin JC and request transportation to the funeral.  She tells me three of my cousins are down the hall from me at the Days Inn.  I telephone my Michigan cousins for transportation to the funeral then I telephone Tupelo Taxi Service requesting a taxi to collect me at 1300 to get me to Tupelo Regional and hopefully my Memphis connection will beat the snow to O’Hare.  Else I must rent a car from Memphis to Chicago.

The 1100 funeral snatched emotion from emotion.  Despite the driving rain, the church was packed.  I wanted to sing, but speeches ballooned, until clearly the funeral would continue long after the blizzard hit O’Hare.  The Mayor of Fulton was still speaking at 1215 when I realized I had to walk five long miles to the Days Inn.  I kissed DD goodbye and promised to visit her next summer.  Then I strapped on my hat and overcoat and literally ran and ran and ran over and through five miles of hills and graveyards to get to the Days Inn.

I felt completely absurd running, running, running in red clay dirt alongside desolate, heavily forested black tar roadway mile after mile wearing a black tuxedo in the driving rain.  Somehow I felt unable to channel any of the events of the day or week or month.  I felt so empty I contrasted my body with a bag of bones.  But even that made no sense because I felt no sweat.  My brain sat above my head manipulating my corpse.  Finally, the Days Inn, at the top of the hill.

The big gold-colored Lincoln Continental taxi groaned through rain-slick roads like a crushed-velvet submarine.  Even 18-wheeler trucks pulled off the shoulder.  Ahead of us, the entire sky lowered its black bladder like a hurricane.  I realized that I was talking as much to keep from thinking as I was interested in the taxi driver, a White woman who owned half-interest in the taxi company, and who was driving her personal car, given to her by her mother because it was “too darn big.” 

At Tupelo Regional, I felt like a magnet.  All attendants took turns chatting me up.  Feeling exposed, I escaped to a window seat at the farthest end of the terminal.  Literally every person who entered the terminal made her way to talk to me.  From reflections in the wall-sized window I watched every arrival unfold.  I saw myself as a cookie cut-out.  As I sat reading about Tupelo real estate, a local musician came over, told me his life story, and eventually gave me his card.  Before leaving, the chatty attendants called me to the desk and upgraded my tickets to First Class both to Memphis then to Chicago.

In Memphis I learned that all flights to O’Hare were on schedule.  Relieved, I sat down and stuffed my belly with bad ass Memphis Bar-B-Q beef.  Then to the flight:  On the runway, the aircraft’s radar failed.  Back to the gate for an hour to install new parts.  Back to the runway.  Test radar:  Fail!  Back to the gate.  This time a two-hour wait.  The entire radar system is ejected from the nose of the plane and the console wiring replaced.  Passengers roam in and out between the plane and the terminal.  Meanwhile, First Class passengers receive staggering amounts of alcohol.  I was just hoping my damp tuxedo would soon dry, and would not smell of dry cleaning fluid.  Well, at least I had two seats to stretch out.  Behind me, a stewardess telephoned the minutest details of the plane’s problems to her fiance, a pilot.  One man, from Coach, queried the First Class woman ahead of me about the ongoing work on this airplane and the national slow-down by the pilot’s unions.

We arrive at O’Hare two hours late under sub-zero temperatures.  I hop into my pickup, pay my $25 parking fee and head for 728 W. Addison.  At 2200 Hours, I dig out parking space, load five very large, awkwardly shaped boxes containing my computer equipment into my truck, and, once again I’m southbound on the Kennedy, the Dan Ryan and the Bishop Ford to E. 98th Place.  At 2113, I unload the computer equipment, change clothes from my Mississippi funeral tuxedo to thermal underwear and Levi’s, shovel my driveway, and turn northbound again to 728 W. Addison for another load of boxes, this time Art/supplies.  A pang attacks my heart as I discover that although nothing else has been touched, damaged or rearranged, and no forced entry, thieves have made off with two large apple cider jars filled with international coins (a gift for my nephews)!  Muscles in my jaws tighten around the necks of the wrecking crew who twice in 10 days accidentally flooded my home with water.  Two more truck loads of art supplies, and early Sunday morning, I am able to finally lock and close the doors at 728 West Addison for the last time.  Then I took a long, hot aroma therapy bath and rested among 162 unpacked boxes in my new home at 2113 E. 98th Place.