Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Best of Plans

I have a plan: A 24-hour roadtrip to the burbs of Chicago, for a reading and book signing by a favorite author, Elizabeth Berg. I schedule time off work, book a motel, and Mapquest the route. It is the best of plans. But if you ever want to make God laugh, just tell Him you have a plan.

The plan is running smoothly as I cruise into Chicago in less than four hours. A glance at my directions shows a mere 12-mile drive out I-290 to the motel. But then I spy the orange barrels. And realize it is rush hour. And come to a complete stop. One freaking HOUR later, I pull up to the motel, praying my bladder will be patient enough for check-in.

The other bad news is the area appears sketchy. No worries, since I won't spend much time here. All I need is a short but meaningful affair with the internet and a hot shower before heading to Oak Park for the event.

The very bad news is the motel's internet service is down, quite likely for the night. I sigh, glancing with longing at my laptop, and turn on the shower.

The very VERY bad news is the motel's plumbing issue. No hot water. Not even tepid.

The front desk clerk, hoping to make amends, offers me alternate directions to Oak Park, to avoid the hell that is 290. I glance at my disheveled hair in my car's rearview mirror and sniff my underarms. I hope Elizabeth Berg has a soft spot for homeless people.

I find my way through several suburbs to the venue in Oak Park, with only one missed turn. I manage to find a streetside spot, just around the corner. Boy-howdy! Perhaps my luck is changing!

Elizabeth Berg and her cohort, Julia Keller, are inspiring. I am pumped as I wait in line to have Berg sign a copy of her book. I rehearse some wise and witty commentary for our little chat. Once I am actually in front of her, however, I am tongue-tied. I stammer a couple lame statements and questions. She responds as politely as one might to an imbecile.

I hustle away. I need drinks. Now.

Out of courtesy to the people of Oak Park, I decide to not grace a local drinking or dining establishment with my foul presence. I will buy a six-pack, some fast food, and retreat to my lowly motel room. Perhaps the internet will be working. Perhaps the water will be somewhere above the freezing level.

On the way back to the motel, I find myself hopelessly lost. Meanwhile, I endure a series of anxious phone calls from my mother. Are you lost? (Yes.) Are you in a bad part of town? (Quite likely.) Are you frustrated? (ABSOLUTELY. STOP CALLING ME!)

Beer and drive-through food procured, I finally land back at the motel. As I exit my car, I notice the ominous orange envelope on my dashboard. I sigh, speculating upon its contents, although it's not a difficult guess, as it is labeled "The Village of Oak Park, Parking Operations."

I change into my pajamas and open a beer, before I remember my new Berg book and my writing materials are both in the car. I'm too spent to head outside for either. And perhaps I shouldn't wander into this iffy neighborhood parking lot in the dark. My karma seems a bit off tonight.

So, here I sit, in my motel room. Drinking a lukewarm beer and writing on a 4x5 notepad from the room's desk drawer. (I haven't scrawled words this tiny since the biology cheat sheet I wrote my sophomore year in high school.)

I pull out my parking ticket and examine it. I owe a pretty sum of $250. However, I can appeal the violation within 14 days, in person, in Oak Park.

Hmm. A roadtrip to the Chicago suburbs. Maybe next week?

Sounds like a plan.


  1. You poor thing! I'm so glad your ordeal is over; I hope everything works out better on your next trip.

    You should email a link to this to Elizabeth Berg--I think she'd be flattered to know what all you suffered to get to her reading!!

  2. Susan: Ha--Great idea! Think she'll feel so indebted that she'll offer to blurb my novel?

  3. As the old saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men.." Sometime the mice will win. Another saying, you might prefer, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained.." You still found the trip and the author you heard worthwhile!

  4. Anon: Very true. Thanks for the comment. Optimism like yours keeps even the most cynical of us more grounded!