This is the third installment in an ongoing odyssey. As I was leaving my branch on the north side of Milwaukee today, I punched in “home” on my GPS unit and it indicated I would make it by 5:06 pm (an early day) with this disclaimer; “if current traffic conditions remain”. I mentally added in a half hour and began my journey. Purposely avoiding the loop around Milwaukee, I took state route 45 into Illinois, then east on 173, eventually joining the rest of the world on the interstate. Something told me that the traffic I was currently experiencing wasn’t going to last and that my shoulders and neck might be a little tense and sore upon arriving home. There were thunderstorms on the immediate horizon; literally and figuratively.
As I hit Lake Forest, the cars in front of me began to slow and it didn’t take long for six lanes of traffic to become a parking lot. I could run faster than this! I began to try to pinpoint my ETA home using five miles per hour in my calculations. It wouldn’t be 5:06; I knew that much. Starting to get frustrated (God keeps telling me I have an issue with patience, but frustrated with my lack of progress I move on), I decided it was time to turn on the tunes. The first song to come on was “Highway to Hell”- AC/DC. Looking ahead of me, cars stacked up for miles, I couldn’t have agreed more. I turned the sound up to a level that created the conditions conducive for a brain concussion (from the outside the car looked to be vibrating, but it must have been an optical illusion). I could have gotten the same result if I had exited the car and repeatedly banged my head and fists on the hood. I noticed an overhead informational sign; 29 MINUTES TO 55.
With ink pen dangling from my mouth (to record the journey), cell phone in my left hand (knowing it would be impossible to hear the phone ring, I at least could feel the phone vibrate), I began to bang the steering wheel with my right hand, the steering wheel serving as my drum set. I was drumming more in the vein of John Bonham, trying to take out my frustrations on the steering wheel; bam, bam, bam. I switched channels (I can’t tolerate dead air or a lousy song) and I hit another AC/DC tune, “Have a Drink on Me”. With six channels to choose from I was hoping I wouldn’t have to put up with a lull in the action. Unfortunately the next tune was “Heat of the Moment”- Asia (it’s the radio, what do you expect?). Asia had to go. Next song please.
With Springsteen’s “Dancin’ in the Dark,” I pounded the steering wheel on every drum beat. The surrounding vehicles had to wonder what was going on in my car (most motorists would only cast glances my direction out of the corner of their eye, afraid of what might happen if they made eye contact). Is he on PCP or crack? Maybe he’s just whacked out? I have to say that the latter may be true. I may have cracked at this point and I couldn’t take responsibility for my actions for the next hour or so.
The rain began to pour down as lightning was striking all around. I switched channels and came upon the live version of “Smoke on the Water”- Deep Purple. What a great guitar riff. I was pumping the brakes with the beat and I’m guessing the person in the car behind me was trying to figure out if I was stopping or starting. They backed off and gave me plenty of room. At the end of the song there are dueling guitar and keyboard solos, both running up the scale. When the keyboardist hit the final high note, I held one finger down on the steering wheel (the steering wheel serves as both a drum set and keyboard), holding it until the last note expired. Wow!
I next heard Petty singing “I Won’t Back Down” and when he came to the line, “Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out,” I was feeling a bit claustrophobic amidst the six lanes of cars and wondered if I would ever get out of this predicament. Some of the songs lent themselves to loud caterwauling, whereas others just a steady pounding with the bass or drum beat. Billy Idol was next with “Rebel” and I was back to pounding (I may need to take the car in and have them look at the steering wheel for any damage that may have occurred).
Getting bored in traffic, even with all the head banging, I decided to test my steering and began swerving from side to side (I had just watched a little of the Indy 500 on Sunday and during a yellow caution flag, with the pace down to a crawl, the cars would swerve back and forth from side to side. I’m not sure why, but thought I would give it a try). The next song was a commercial and so I punched another of my favorites, eventually finding six different stations in commercial mode. What are the odds of all the stations being in concert (pun intended) like that?
After a few moments of channel surfing Red Hot Chili Peppers came on and began singing “Can’t Stop”. At that moment, with traffic stopped, I wished I couldn’t. I saw a road sign that said O’HARE OASIS- 1 MILE AHEAD while the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” was just getting started. I belted out at the top of my lungs “teenage wasteland”, but it looked more like a used car wasteland. As that song ended I switched channels again and finally found “Don’t Look Back” (why not, it was better than looking ahead at this point) – Boston. About this time the traffic inexplicably began to accelerate. Like the Indy cars after a yellow caution flag is lifted, we too hit the gas as if we had to make up for lost time. We were flying at 55 miles per hour.
I began switching channels again, looking for the right song. I settled on “Limelight”- Rush. Although I normally can’t stand Rush, my voice after screaming, er, singing at the top of my lungs for the previous thirty minutes, had raised a couple of octaves and sounded a lot like Rush’s high pitched lead singer Geddy Lee, so I left it on. I got tired of the whining voice, his not mine, and switched channels again, landing on one of my favorite pop songs, “Werewolves of London”- Warren Zevon (Ahooo!) As Zevon came to the lyric “draw blood” I checked my fingers to see if I had; the pounding on the steering wheel taking a toll.
Looking back I have to admit that I must have appeared really silly, bobbing and weaving, pounding the steering wheel and “air drumming”, tilting my head back and howling along with the radio, pen hanging out of my mouth, fingers rapidly playing the invisible keyboard that was the steering wheel, while wearing dark sunglasses (in the middle of a dark thunderstorm); but being in the moment I just let myself go. As U2 was singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” I wasn’t having any luck looking for an easier and quicker way home. I was stuck for the duration.
I finally got to I-88 and the traffic opened up. For the next few miles it was smooth. An ominous sign on the shoulder said ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD and as I entered the ramp onto I-355 traffic slowed to a crawl once again. About this time I noticed the rain had stopped and as I was heading west I could see the sun again. “Here Comes the Sun”-Beatles, was now playing and I enjoyed the nostalgia for a moment, but the mood I found myself in called for something a little harder in tone. I switched channels and found “Start Me Up”-Stones, but the traffic was doing anything but at this point, and so I waited. As Jagger sang, “Don’t make a grown man cry,” the frustration was leading me to do just that. With all the jumping around, Bonham’s energy level pales in comparison to mine, I suddenly found myself hot and sweaty and decided to crank up the AC to the same level as the volume on the radio. The graphic on the radio when the next tune came on said, Blur-Song 2. I wasn’t quite sure which one was the song and which was the group. I listened for a few seconds and punched the next station.
At this point I was curious as to my new ETA, but noticed that the GPS screen had lost power. The vibration from the pounding music and pounding steering wheel caused the GPS power cord to become dislodged from the cigarette lighter outlet. I pushed it back in and didn’t like the new ETA. It was now estimating after 6:00. Remedy? More and louder music. When “Waiting on a Friend” was playing, I had to disagree; actually my friend was waiting on me.
Right after my saxophone solo I checked my phone. I had six missed calls. Ooops! Julie. I decided to take a timeout, turned the radio off and called her. I said, “You rang?” She didn’t see the humor (surprise) and responded, “I called you seven times; how come you didn’t answer?” I corrected her, “Actually, you called six times. I couldn’t hear my phone tucked between my legs on the seat. Besides, the music was turned up a little so the ring was drowned out.” Her agitation and anger were escalating about the slightly turned up music and missed calls, so I cut the conversation short, “Bye honey.”
I turned the radio back on (I hadn’t adjusted the volume down when I turned it off and got blasted with a sudden jolt, but it didn’t take me long to adjust) and heard Elton John’s melodious voice singing “Tiny Dancer”. No! Elton John would not work in this situation so I quickly switched channels again and came upon this little ditty, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark”- Fall Out Boy. I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was a great head banging tune and I got back into my animated drumming and arms flailing once again; as if I hadn’t missed a beat (pun intended again). During the next song, “Jail Break”- Thin Lizzie, I heard a siren midway through the song and quickly looked around for a cop, but soon realized that the siren was in the song. The traffic again accelerated quickly, a jail break of sorts, for no known reason.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was up next and as they sang “Sweet Home Alabama”, I wished I was home. Even the music was beginning to wear thin, but I still had a way to go. I felt so frustrated, to the point of crying, when “Jamie’s Cryin’”-Van Halen began to play. I could see Silver Cross Hospital in the distance and knew my final exit was soon approaching. “Happiest Days/Another Brick in the Wall”-Pink Floyd led me to singing once again, “We don’t need no education”. Going down Cedar the traffic was normal and then it stopped. There was a train on the tracks. The Eagles came on with “Hotel California” and I heard “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”, at least not until the train moves.
Once past the train, Joe Walsh sang “All Night Long” and I hoped it wouldn’t take that long to finish my journey. ZZ Top then talked to me about a “Sharp Dressed Man”, but looking at myself after a long day, I was anything but. The final song on this day was the perfect finish to what I had just been through, “Stranglehold”- Ted Nugent. Yes the traffic jam had put a stranglehold on the Chicago area, but that was the norm. I was almost home and decided to turn the radio off; I didn’t want Julie to hear me pull in the driveway and I had to let the ringing in my ears dissipate so that I could hear her when I walked through the door.
I was physically worn out when I finally arrived home, what with all the gyrations I had gone through for the previous hour (my right hand felt like I had caught a few baseballs without a glove), but it was a good tired. Like running a marathon tired. My neck and shoulder muscles were nice and relaxed. It was after 6:30 when I walked through the door. “Did you say something Dear?”