The Naperville conversation that lasted a lifetime

I’m seeing love stories everywhere.

Like these two kids. We find them here on the Century Walk as they are making each other’s acquaintance. They are about eight years old and they are in the same Grade 3 class.

It’s funny that they haven’t met yet, since their roots in this town go so deep. Billy’s family established a hardware store in the 1800s, and Jane’s family founded Naperville itself.

Billy will be a high-school basketball star and she’ll be his sweetheart. He’ll become a civil engineer; she’ll found a kindergarten program.

What we are witnessing might be the first time they are having a conversation, but they have decades of conversation ahead of them. They will marry in 15 years, in 1941, and be together for 60 years, till Billy’s death in 2001. Jane, who spent the first eight years of her life without him, will spend the last ten of her life also without him.

They are remembered through local scholarships, and this park bench where maybe, one day, two children will start a conversation that will last a lifetime.


We have arrived alive

Let me give you some numbers:

a) 21
b) 2
c) 1,693
d) 11,345

a) Number of hours between leaving Tomah, Wis., and arriving home.

b) Number of hours I have slept since leaving Tomah.

c) Kilometres I drove in those 21 hours.

d) Kilometres I have driven since we left Montreal three weeks ago.

I don’t want to talk about the rest of the drive. There were more tears (and they were all mine; Kendra was very brave, despite my being deep-down mad and too cold with her).
I didn’t think we were going to make it at a couple of points. But there was coffee, and Dennis Leary, and I tend to do rather well on a deadline. I blew it by about five hours … but we have Arrived Alive.

Montreal, 2008

Trapped beneath Chicago’s Millennium Park

Chicago’s Millennium Park: We visited two cool fountains (one the biggest I’ve seen, and ancient; the other the tallest I’ve seen, and pink glass), a giant mirrored jellybean, the fnunky building from Adventures in Babysitting (!), ate Rainbow cones and wandered through the Chicago Jazz Fest.

You remember this from Adventures in Babysitting, I'm sure
You remember this from Adventures in Babysitting, I’m sure

To top off the evening and give us that all-important protein boost before heading home (Kendra had to be home for a party tonight), we ordered two of Giordano’s famous pizzas to eat in the car. Since Melani had to pee, we left Kendra watching the pizza guys throwing dough around the kitchen, telling her we’d be back before our pies were ready.

What followed was a bizarre chain of events, the details of which I have been asked not to disclose. I can tell you this: I paid the parking fee ($25 because of the jazz fest!) and returned to find … (Oh, stop getting ahead of me. You knew it was going to happen) … the keys were locked in the car.

We don’t have a cellphone. Chicago doesn’t have pay phones. This made contacting CAA (AAA for you Yanks) rather difficult, but Melani managed, I believe by begging at a nearby Walgreens, while I gathered Kendra and pizza and wrangled Trev and returned to the parking garage. Then we waited. Tempers were … fierce. We had a timetable now; I’d told Kendra I’d do everything possible to get her back to the city by 3 p.m. I’d told her this for two weeks. Now it’s 9 p.m. in a garage under a giant jellybean and there’s not a damn thing we can do.

That's one big-ass jellybean.
That’s one big-ass jellybean.

By 10:30, and after Mel had sweet talked the parking-lot manager into letting her use the phone to encourage CAA to hurry, the truck pulls up. Inside the truck is the hottest lady mechanic I’ve ever seen. She’s Latina, dark-skinned with a million skinny braids capped with silver beads. Every step she takes is musical. Her hips do not lie. Beside her is the hottest lady mechanic’s girlfriend I’ve ever seen. I’m in an episode of The L-Word and I’m thinking: “Omigod, my travel stories are turning into porno intros.”

Hot lady mechanic fiddles with my car. I’ve seen this done before (twice, you’ll remember), so I give her some space while the kids watch. She fiddles and fiddles and huffs and puffs and is generally L-Wordy hawt for about 30 minutes before she admits my car has defeated her. She’s polite about it, but she’s not trying any more. Aw, c’mon, what would you choose: The impossible suburban family car or the angel-faced, heaving-bosomed woman in the truck waiting to get back on the road?

“Hunny, I’ll give them a heads-up,” she sighs, “but they’re gonna want you to call again for a tow.”

“Tow us where?”

“Anywhere you want.”


She bites her pretty lip. “The tow-truck driver will probably have a Slim Jim. I don’t have one in this truck.” She’s real apologetic, but, you know, hot chick is waiting.

It’s after 11 p.m. now. I know I’ve got 12 to 15 hours of driving ahead of me. I’ve been up since 9:30 in the a.m. I’ve got a deadline, and I hate breaking deadlines. Mel goes back to the parking-lot manager, uses the phone some more. It’s 11:30. The tow truck will come for us, no problem. Probably within two hours. Two hours. Now the tears start in earnest, and for a change, they’re not Kendra’s.

Melani sends me outside with the children. We’ve been breathing in (expensive) car fumes for hours now and I’m obviously in no shape to pace the garage anymore. We stay out for a while, until we’re kicked out of the park at midnight by a cop on a bike and retreat back to the gloom. My bride’s back in the office, calling CAA again, telling them that we have to be out of there tonight, that we have to go home, that no we don’t want a hotel, please hurry! I’m at my wit’s end and not helping matters. The manager needs to lock up the office to do rounds, though he says to give CAA his number and he’ll take messages when he’s there.

Illinois, 2008

Trevor gets excited when he sees a tow truck pull in, but it turns out it’s just a freelancer, there for a van with gods know what wrong with it. It’s ready to go and the driver is chatting with the lot manager, who’s telling him the story of Us when I walk by.

“I can get in that car,” he says to me. “What kind of car is it?”

“A Focus.”

“I can get in that car. I mean, if you want me to.”

If I want him to. “Yes, please!”

“Ma’am, I don’t do it for nothing, there’s a price.”

“Name it,” I say rather than bargaining. He goes to the car. I go to an ATM. Within five minutes, we are in our car.

As far as Wisconsin

“The speed limit is 50 miles per hour,” Melani tells me as we take the fork toward Madison, Wis. “They went to the trouble of putting it right on the sign, so they probably mean it.”

That was near the end of the day, and I was pretty much letting the car make the decisions for me. Four states in nine hours: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin. We’ve gone and crossed a time zone and everything, but it feels very much as though we are still in the East; there’s too much civilization and far too much construction.

The kids have been peach-picking and to a county fair (that’s them down below, leaving the fairgrounds), but driving takes a toll, especially on the one of us who isn’t used to hard travelling. Today I hope there will be more relaxation and fewer tears.

Also, less civilization and, if we’re lucky, a little Prairie?

At a county fair in Michigan
At a county fair in Michigan