Thursday, March 30, 2006

Indiana, We Hardly Knew Ye

Chicago motorists are bracing themselves for the most hideous of traffic jams when half of the lanes on the Dan Ryan Expressway shut down for repairs. As the city’s main southbound artery, the Ryan carries 320,000 vehicles every day. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has weighed in with a number of helpful suggestions:

  • Stay off the Ryan

  • Seriously, stay off the Ryan

My typical response to such news would be, “Yawn.” Since moving to Chicago in 1992, I have studiously avoided the city’s expressways, save for occasional forays on the Kennedy to IKEA—and never during rush hour. So intense is my aversion to sitting in traffic, I actually choose public transit as the lesser evil. If I can walk somewhere, even better, which is largely why we live in the city and not the suburbs, where cars are a virtual appendage. I would sooner spend a year in Abu Ghraib than a weekend running errands in Naperville.

To many of my fellow North Siders, the Dan Ryan is utterly inconsequential, leading as it does to the South Side. We operate under the vague impression that this part of the city is “scary” and “gang infested” and a great place to visit only if you’re aiming to get yourself shot. Never mind the World Champion White Sox, the University or Chicago or the Museum of Science and Industry. We’ll content ourselves with the Cubs and the dinosaurs at The Field.

Unfortunately, the positioning of Lake Michigan means that to travel east of Chicago, one must first head south. And by east, I mean Ohio, which is where my niece and nephew are located, along with assorted siblings, parents and in-laws. Barring the sudden appearance of a pair of ruby slippers, the Ryan is the only way home.

So am I slightly concerned that our usual 4 ½-hour drive to Toledo will become an 8-hour exercise in ass numbing? Yes, yes I am.

As Easter approaches and we contemplate our first trip in the Drastic Lane Reduction Era, I am grasping for ways to minimize our time in the car and spare myself an aneurysm.

Alternate routes recommended by IDOT have already been exposed as bottlenecks in their own right. Besides, the last time Dave and I attempted to navigate our way around the Ryan and the Chicago Skyway—in protest of the Skyway’s toll increase from $2 to $2.50—we became hopelessly lost in what I can only call “the hood.” The avoidance of which is why they built the Skyway in the first place.

We could maybe start our own ferry boat business across Lake Michigan, but by the time we put together a business plan, secure funding, procure a ferry boat, hire a skipper and someone to swab the decks, Ryan construction should be at the halfway mark. I need relief now.

As I see it, that leaves one course of action. We’re going to have to wipe Indiana off the map.

I realize that to residents of the state, this seems a bit drastic. Hear me out.

I have traveled I/80-90 east and west to and from Toledo more times than I can count. The scenery is so relentlessly dull, Dave and I entertain ourselves with a little game we call “Count the John Cougar Mellencamp Songs on the Radio.” I ask, are these “highlights” worth saving?

  • The City of Gary. Michael Jackson’s hometown. The entire population can join him in Bahrain. We’ll even send along the belching smokestacks.

  • The RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame. It has yet to break ground but I’m guessing its potential exhibits are mobile. Road trip!

  • The Cracker Barrel in Elkhart. Why settle for pseudo-Southern cooking, hospitality and worthless trinkets? With Indiana out of the picture, Kentucky will be that much closer.

  • Which just leaves the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. I’d be open to granting this swath of territory a reprieve, as it is my grandfather’s alma mater. I’ll create a separate fiefdom, sort of like Vatican City, installing Dan Brown as mayor and replacing the city council with Templars.

That takes care of the northern portion of the state. I also have a plan to Win the Peace in the land along 65-south and 70-east, which stands between us and our nephew Connor in Columbus.

  • I think it’s safe to say that no one would really miss the cluster bombs of Steak ‘n Shakes, Motel 6s, Super 8s and Waffle Houses that dot the landscape along 70-east.

  • “There’s more than corn in Indiana,” is the best the Board of Tourism can muster from its billboards. I suppose that’s true, if by “more” they’re referring to Hobart Chevrolet, “Home of the Trunk Monkey.” I bet PETA has a position on false imprisonment of a simian. Free the Trunk Monkey. The San Diego Zoo promises to give him a good home.

  • We’ll take the cities of Lebanon and Hebron and send them back to the Middle East. I don’t know how they got here in the first place.

  • Indianapolis will be harder to dismantle. Chicago will open its arms to Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts, along with all non-Indy fans. We’ll dispatch the pro-Indy citizens to Daytona, which I understand also boasts a fine International Speedway plus the added bonus of Spring Break.

Now, if we could get this all taken care of by April 14, that would be super.


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