Wednesday, October 18, 2006

From Inauspicious Beginnings

Ten years ago today, at about 7.20 am Eastern Standard Time, I got behind the wheel of a 15-foot long Budget rental truck and we set off in the lashing rain for a new life in Chicago. After fourteen months of living apart in a relationship that was just a little short of two years, it was time to start over again together. Why Chicago? Because I couldn't find work in Dublin, both of us didn't want to live in Cleveland, and our savings would last 6 months in Chicago but only 2 months in San Francisco. We knew a few people who lived in Chicago.

I'd never been to Chicago until I went the month before our move to rent an apartment, a one-bedroom place in a newly rehabbed building in Ravenswood, right on the Brown Line, at the Montrose stop. I was a little apprehensive about living in the big city, in a neighbourhood that was gentrifying although still a little rough around the edges. The apartment was a bit more expensive than I'd initially budgeted, but was way nicer than anything I'd seen in my one-day sprint of flat hunting.

But, before we could start our new life together, we had to get there. Peter didn't have a driver's license, so it was up to me to drive the truck for the entire 350 miles. I'd learned to drive in a boat of a Pontiac Bonneville and was painfully aware of my limitations in spatial awareness. I'd once taken the drain pipe off the side of the house, and that was with full benefit of the rear view and side view mirrors. The prospect of driving a giant truck gave me the heebies, but, as they say “needs must.”

The going was painfully slow, given my nervousness and the challenges of driving a heavy vehicle in poor weather conditions. I was a timid driver, but Peter was a fantastic passenger and co-pilot, encouraging me and helping me judge safe passing distances. The trip should have taken no more than 6 hours. It took us closer to 8. We arrived a few hours before sunset and pulled up behind the building, ready to empty the truck all by ourselves.

The ridiculousness of that intent was soon apparent. Even if we both hadn't been hacking up lungs due to a nasty respiratory infection Peter acquired on the airplane, the back staircase was blocked with kitchen appliances. We moved a couple of boxes before succumbing to exhaustion and the realization that if we didn't get food, rest, and help, our relationship might be over before it every had a chance to get started.

Our only hope was a hotel, so I pulled out the phone book and located the Best Western near the airport. On my second (and final) pre-move expedition to Chicago, I'd had a couple of job interviews, including two out by O'Hare. The airport was one of the few places I was sure I'd be able to find easily and I also knew that any hotels out there would have parking lots, a luxury in a space-challenged city. I'd struggled to parallel park my mother's Chevy Cavalier. I knew I'd have no hope with the rental truck.

After securing a booking at the hotel, we climbed back into the truck and made our way out to the airport. In rush hour traffic. Interstate 90 and 94 join up in Chicago and then split off in a few miles north of the city centre. 90 heads east toward the Airport and 94 heads north toward Wisconsin. The split happens just after the Irving Park exit, which makes entering the highway at the Irving Park entrance a bit of a challenge when you want to stay on I-90.

A timid driver unschooled in the ways of city driving, my mission was to get across 5 lanes of rush hour traffic to the I-90 lanes before the split happened about a half-mile from the entrance to the highway. I minced and inched my way through the first lane before realising “Hey, wait a minute, I'm in a TRUCK” and then put the onus squarely on the other drivers not to hit the big, bullying truck.

We arrived at the hotel, checked in, cleaned up, and then had a fantastic dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food probably wasn't the best in the world, but it was hot, we were dry, and a warm bed waited for us back at the room. The relief at having found an oasis to get ourselves together before completing the move was overwhelming.

We retired to the room and settled into bed to watch “The X-Files”. About ten minutes into the program, I felt something irritating my leg. I thought it was something poking out of the scratchy hotel blanket. I shifted around but then I felt it again, in a different spot. I pulled back the blanket and found that there were ants in the bed. Little red ants. Not dangerous fire ants or anything, but just really gross, annoying, bite-y regular ants.

I rang the front desk, only to be asked “What do you want me to do about it?” Um, moving us to another room would be a good start. (Customer service that puts the onus on the customer to solve the service provider's problem is right at the top of my Things I Want to Eradicate list.)

Finally, we were settled in a new, ant-free room and were able to get some much deserved sleep. The next morning, we were also able to get some unloading help before returning the truck to Budget. And a few weeks later, after a nasty letter to Best Western, we got a refund on the room.

But that first day, with the rain and the blocked stairway, the plague and the pestilence, it felt like an inauspicious start to our life in Chicago. Peter is fond of saying that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to either of you for the rest of the day. It seems to be true that if you spend the first night in your new city exhausted, sick, and getting bitten by ants, nothing worse will happen for the rest of your stay.


At 19 October 2006 at 02:23, Blogger Career Guy said...

Hard to believe that that all happened ten years ago. Seems like only nine. I had forgotten about the ants, but I remember loading that truck. Congratulations to you two all over again for doing exactly what you always said you would do.

At 22 October 2006 at 12:08, Anonymous james said...

an amazing story :-) congrats and good for you guys....

At 22 October 2006 at 14:38, Blogger Radio Free Newport said...

Neat story. Holy cow, that means I've known you for almost 10 years.

One of my closest friends just moved to Chicago on Thursday. He has a studio on Belmont near Halsted ($660 for a small studio!). He had a moving truck and towed his car behind it. I haven't talked to him yet, but he sent me a text: "stressful, but it's over." We can all relate... ;-)

At 24 October 2006 at 20:37, Blogger -Ann said...

Dad - When did I get so old?

James - Cheers. :)

Dave - Well, that's because we're old. Or at least YOU are. :) $660 for a studio! Geez - the one-bedroom place I talk about in the post was $650. Although Belmont/Halstead is probably prime-r real estate than Montrose/Damen.


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