When my wife and I married we couldn't afford a honeymoon. My boss came to the rescue by offering us the use of an advertising trade-out our company had with a hotel in the Chicago loop. So it was that my bride and I first visited the Windy City nearly 43 years ago on someone else's nickel.
At age 21 I drove into downtown Chicago with little angst. Sure, traffic was heavy but it didn't bother me. Much.
Fourteen years later, when a promotion required regular sales call in Chicago, I developed an efficient means of getting around. After flying into O'Hare, I rented a car and spent evenings in a hotel room poring over a large map, plotting out a route for the next day and committing it to memory.
In spite of needing to turn around a few times, I never got totally lost. Again, the bumper-to-bumper traffic didn't bother me. Much.
Well, there was the time a truck overturned on the Kennedy Expressway after I had spent an hour at the Billy Goat Tavern with business acquaintances. The emergency crews weren't working as quickly as my need for a rest room was growing. (For the record, I made it.)
Over the years I have driven in Chicago scores of times. While I can't say I have ever enjoyed the experience I was little more than frustrated.
I spent most of a recent week at a conference in a northern suburb and noticed that either Chicago traffic is getting worse or I'm getting less patient. Could be both.
Except for annoying summer construction projects, the trip into the Chicago metro was normal, or nearly so.
I headed for home around 12:20 p.m. on a Friday expecting a decent escape. Traffic was thicker than ever and ran 75-80 miles an hour in a 55 zone. I swear the Tri-State Tollway is a NASCAR track.
Recalling that I-88 had miles of one-lane construction traffic, I chose to follow I-355 and I-55 to I-80 and then west. I left the hotel without lunch and by 1 p.m. was anxious to find an exit with a fast food restaurant.
Seeing none, I chose to get off the toll way at an exit near a large shopping center. At the toll booth I was behind an 18-wheeler which came to a stop and didn't move for at least five minutes. Cars were zipping by quickly in the lane on my right but I was in a position which made moving over difficult. More tenacious than intelligent, I began maneuvering to the right and as soon as I finally got into the other lane the truck pulled ahead.
Traffic at the shopping center entrance was crazy - three lanes turning into the entrance at one time. I spotted a convenience store and decided that whatever they had for sale would make a good lunch. It was now pushing 1:30 and the only thing left on the wiener heater was a pair of smoked sausages that had been on the heater too long.
What the heck, I thought, I've eaten worse. I plopped the sausages on buns, filled up a big cup with ice and Diet Coke and got in line to pay. Wouldn't you know it? Every person ahead of me had some issue that took longer than normal to pay.
Back on the freeway I ate the dried out, over-priced sausages and slurped down the Diet Coke. While the meal lacked satisfaction, it silenced my grumbling gut.
Somewhere west of Chicago the traffic on I-80 the traffic thinned out to as thin as it ever gets. Traffic on I-80 got nasty again in eastern Iowa, but that's the norm on Friday evenings.
Chicago is an exciting city. Years ago I thought it would be fun to live in the suburbs and have ready access to all the city's features. While I still appreciate Chicago's amenities, the traffic just isn't worth it.
Driving in the crazy traffic a couple of weeks ago I recalled an old Frank Sinatra song: "And each time I leave, Chicago is tuggin' my sleeve... It's my kind of town." Frank apparently never drove in Chicago traffic.
I must be getting old. Chicago is not my kind of town anymore.