17 March 2013
I had just landed at blustery Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on an October day that left little doubt that Indian summer was in the books. But the van driver, a cheerful Hawaiian Islander given to irony, gave us a toothsome, Welcome to Honolulu. Since I shared the intimacy of the front seat with him, I asked if he was in denial or just homesick or (with as friendly a wide grin as I could muster) flat-out delusional. None of those, he said. After the Army, coming back from Viet Nam, I landed in Chicago and didn’t have the money for a ticket anywhere else. Beside, who wouldn’t have a burning ambition to drive a taxi in Chicago in winter in traffic…12 hours a day? Nothing like dreaming big, I said gingerly, not knowing where his good-natured, tongue-in-cheekiness would end.
Where can I take you today. he asked and catalogued in memory all the stops his passengers shouted out. I was last, being in the front seat…The Public. Oh, he said, the Cougar Coast…rich older women, looking for younger men. I asked where the rich younger women, looking for older men were. Same place, he said, but on 90 degree days in February.
So really, I asked, how come you’re here, No kidding, the Army flew me as far as Chicago in the summer of 1968. Remember the Republican convention? Well, having been shot at in Viet Nam, I was anti-war and went to Grant Park to protest. But I still had an Army flat-top haircut and I didn’t look like a hippie. Everyone, but me, got swept up by the police. I looked too square. Then I met a girl and she didn’t like flying over water, so no Hawaii and I stayed.
I said he looked calm, given the pressures of driving in traffic…cut off, boxed in, honked at. Well, my parole officer told me all I had to do to stay calm was to take my meds and say, yes dear, to my wife. At that point, not knowing if he was current on his meds, I decided that I had stretched the friendship envelope further than I should have. I enjoyed looking at Chicago’s skyline quietly until he cut the motor at the Cougar Coast.