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Riding The Dog, Part 2: Celebrating Incessant Monotony Since 1961

Part 1: Midnight Bus To Markham.

With Christmas Day now history, it was time to head back to southwest Missouri, where the winters are more hospitable for people who prefer polar vortexes to be some other poor sap's misery. This time, departure from Greyhound's stop 'n' drop (it's not even a station; it's a tiny storefront in a sorry-looking strip mall) in south suburban Markham was a more-reasonable 8:20 a.m., which meant daylight and the ability to see the countryside.
As it happens though, there are just some places you really don't need to see in broad daylight, like south suburban neighborhoods where even a sorry-looking strip mall is probably doing the adjacent property values a favor.

Or, for that matter, the landscape of pretty much the entire length of Interstate 57.


If there was such a thing as truth in advertising, I-57's marketing slogan would have to be "Celebrating Incessant Monotony Since 1961." It's a pancake-flat stretch of the North American continent so uninteresting that even the universe lost interest in the place when it was creating the planet and figuring out where to stick neat stuff like hills and mountains. Corn and soybean fields may be seductive and sexy if you're an agricultural extension agent or a 4H Club kid, but between October and May, there's not even that; it's just an endless, naked landscape of stubble and dirt clods.

Maybe that's part of what motivated some folks to create landmarks of towering proportion and plop them right next to the highway, for our benefit. One is the giant effigy of Abe Lincoln, provided on a block pedestal by a company near Bradley that does business in industrial-sized cherrypickers. The bus passes too quickly for me to see what the ginormous sign in Abe's upraised hand says, but it wouldn't have surprised me if it was something along the lines of "Don't blame me for Bruce Rauner."

The other is what must be the state's largest cross: 200 un-missable bright-white feet of rompin' stompin' Christianity built right next to the highway in Effingham. I don't know if it's illuminated at night by giant Kleig lights (I'd expect if you take the trouble to build a monument like that, you'd want to light the son-of-a-gun up), but if it is, I suspect everyone's glad they live on the other side of town.

* * * * *

Adding to the dreariness is a complete lack of conversation among the passengers, since the entire population has been swallowed whole by their insular world of tablets, notebooks and smartphones. Greyhound promotes this sort of behavior by providing each individual seat with an electrical outlet, which is a very helpful feature if at some point you'd rather end your trip a lot sooner by just jamming a fork into it.

Traveling by commercial carrier isn't much different than a ride on the CTA, where the goal is to avoid human contact at all cost. With the CTA, that's more of an act of self-preservation, but a few hundred miles of dead air on a Greyhound just makes the ordeal seem longer than it actually is when you're not one of the folks with earbuds stuffed into your ears. It's times like this when you genuinely wish you were stuck sitting next to some granny packing a walletful of family photos to show you and stories about the Calvin Coolidge presidency to tell you.

I don't know what's occupying everyone's attention on this Markham-to-Champaign leg of the trip, but it couldn't have been anything that involves a Wi-Fi connection. One of the selling points advertised on Greyhound's website is "Free Wi-Fi on every bus!" Having traveled Greyhound several times during the 1980s, when the Web and mp3s didn't even exist and books on tape loaded into a Walkman - or actual books - were the only means to occupy yourself, I figured this would be an extra bonus in the day of the smartphone and things like downloadable podcasts and Pandora to while away the time. My iPhone shows an active bus Wi-Fi connection, but no matter which app I try to fire up, I'm greeted by the same "your iPhone is not connected to the Internet" message.

It was at this point where I concluded every driver and/or Greyhound as a whole must be such complete morons to not realize that simply having a functioning, powered-up router on the bus isn't enough because you also need to connect it to the actual Internet. Because duh, that's where the Internet keeps everything.

This is all very unentertaining, to say the least, which is why I'm glad to see a steady rain kick in just past Kankakee. Raindrops begin racing horizontally across the window and the flat, monotonous landscape, making it look like a huge mad-dash sperm race. I start making side bets with myself on which spermdrops will win by reaching the far edge of the window first. It occurs to me that this may be how people develop gambling problems or, at the very least, a deep and sincere sympathy for front desk security guards on the midnight shift.

* * * * *

Note to the Champaign, Illinois, Chamber of Commerce: You might be surprised at how much more tourism your commercial areas might get if, as a public service, you installed lockers somewhere in the town bus station.

I'm serious about that. When our bus pulls into the station in Champaign (which enjoys the rather unimaginative formal moniker of "Illinois Terminal"), I have a lengthy layover to look forward to. That's half the reason it takes longer to get from points A and B on Greyhound than had you driven there yourself even with a stop to see the world's biggest house of mud. It's not that Greyhound drivers lope along; it's because any round trip often involves being abandoned for long stretches at any one of the company's terminals, sometimes even more than once in a day. Finding constructive use of nearly three hours of your time in a building where there's no drinking establishment, movie theater or nap-rate motel is extraordinarily difficult, and probably meets the guidelines of cruel and unusual.

Since it's almost lunchtime, my priority is to find food, preferably any that isn't dispensed by a vending machine or involves roller dogs. There's a Subway, but when I travel, I like explore the locals. The only problem is, I have this big boat-anchor of a rolling duffel that needs to be stashed somewhere. Coin-op lockers used to be a staple of metropolitan bus terminals back in the day, but I don't find any here, and this makes me at least glad I'm not looking for a discreet public place to stash a murder weapon instead. The helpful woman at the Burlington Trailways bus counter (yes, Trailways is still in business, except they don't go anywhere I'd feel motivated to go) informs me there aren't any.

Almost immediately, I'm approached by a fellow in his early twenties. "Can I ask you something?" he says. Uh-oh, here it comes, I think. It's a bus station. Either I'm going to get rolled or be recruited for an exciting career as a bald, middle-aged man-whore forced to ply my trade in places far seedier than this.

"Uhhhh, okay," I say, eyeing him up with every bit of suspicion the moment deserves.

"Where'd you get that hat?" he asks.

This question surprises me, since my hat is nothing approaching remarkable, elaborate, or even mildly expensive-looking. In fact, according to the tag inside it, it's made entirely out of pressed paper. But I like to wear it when I go out socially or travel, because there was a time when practically all American men wore hats and looked sort of distinguished. Mine, however, is no fedora. It's closer to something you'd see on most any grandpa in Cuba. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to look sort of distinguished in a Lansing dive bar.

"Target. Ten bucks, cheap," I answer.

"Thanks," he says. "I'll have to get one."

I wouldn't be astounded if the kid really did preside over a ring of bald, middle-aged man-whores and was just waiting for a good hat suggestion to make all the pieces come together.

So off I trudge, with my bag in tow. Even though I have hours to kill, I don't intend to spend one second of it exploring the nearby commercial district. I love old-timey towns with their lost architecture stylings, and spending time exploring their shops, but sorry, Champaign tourism industry. There will be none of that today. Not because it's raining and blustery, but because I'd have to drag this big-ass piece of luggage behind me everywhere I'd go because there's no place to store the son-of-a-bitch for even a little while.

And honestly, the last thing I need is some passing cop mistaking me for a rain-drenched vagabond who could use some good old-fashioned cop hasslin'.

Next: The Alone-Men Of The Esquire Lounge.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 8, 2016

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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