Monday, December 22, 2014

Adventures in Bus Stationing

"Get out of my house!"
"You just moved!"

Early this morning, in the pre-dawn Chicago darkness, I drove for the first time to the Greyhound bus station in the Loop. The reason was to drop off Brian, who gets to go to Michigan a couple of days ahead of me. Naturally, as any good young Gen-Xer would be, I was reminded of Adventures in Babysitting. Brenda, who did not spike her stepmother's Tab with Draino but instead ran away from home only to find herself unable to get any farther than the downtown bus terminal, was my first and thus far only introduction in life to the Chicago bus station. I have driven, flown, and taken both Amtrak and commuter rail in and out of this city, but I have not ridden the bus. And while Brian has now added this form of transit to his list, I didn't even get to see inside the terminal. I'm left wondering: do they still have seats with armrest TVs? And phone booths? And a man who, if you do not have the cash, most certainly does not have a wiener? Or does he now accept debit cards and smartphone payments?

Unable to linger to find out the answer to these burning questions, I instead was tasked with driving back home. This is never a simple proposition. One way streets preclude going back the way you came; road construction street and lane closures prevented retracing the same route just shifted a block over. Instead, I just basically drove north and occasionally west until I found my way to diagonal Milwaukee, but not before encountering "No Outlet" decoy intersections and even one four-way stop with semi-trailer trucks parked on both sides facing multiple directions and blocking at least two of the possible ways out at what seemed to be some kind of market getting its day started. It's not about being lost, of course; it's about being thwarted. I knew where I wanted to go, and roughly how, but the streets didn't always cooperate. In the movie, driving was never really the issue. The kids' problems all came because they didn't  have their car: once they got it back, it was denouement time. Chris' directions were never in doubt, but for me driving around the Loop in the dark I was more along the lines of "Nobody gets out of this place without singing the blues."

There is only one Adventures in Babysitting. Thank goodness, really, because that movie is maybe the most racist thing I've ever liked...or does it just reflect the problematic but very real divide of Chicago neighborhoods and economic prospects ("A mall? Shoot, where do you all think you are, Boise, Idaho?") etc.? Yeah, sure, Adventures in Babysitting as social commentary, the frat party, Lords of Hell, and "Thor's a homo" comment notwithstanding.

By the way, if you ever thought the ending where Chris asks "How fast do your parents drive?" and Brad replies "About 45?" was unrealistic, I would like to inform you that there is actually a stretch of the freeways, through and coming out of downtown, where the speed limit is in fact 45 mph. Yes, on a multi-lane divided highway interstate. Because Illinois, I guess.

I was wondering, though. Why is it that downtowns have to be difficult to navigate by car in the first place? We all accept it as a matter of course, in every U.S. city that I can think of, that the downtown driving experience is going to be different than driving in the regular parts of the city or the outskirts. But why? Is there any reason that a city that prides itself (and I mean, really, really, really prides itself) on being on a grid system of streets can't also have a seamless grid downtown? Why hand the real estate over to pricey buildings that cut off access and lead to tunnels and dead ends and the like? No, I don't advocate downtown driving. I was a proponent of congestion pricing before it was cool (er,'s still not cool, is it? because people suck!)  But I just wonder why every city I've driven in, with the possible exception of Boston which has no rhyme or reason (or street signs) anywhere in its roads, has a marked difference between downtown and the rest of the place. Phoenix. Salt Lake. L.A. Grand Rapids. Downtown is always bizarro-land.

And how much simpler things would have been if Chris had just been able to call Triple-A when they had that blowout on the freeway, no?

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