Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) moves on average 8.1 million people boarding and deplaning over 81,000 aircraft…in the month of July. On average. Excluding cargo aircraft. This is why Chicago O’Hare’s taxiways stretch into the Milwaukee suburbs. Flying into Chicago* yesterday morning, I’m pretty sure we landed somewhere north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. Overnight flight-time from Anchorage to ORD was a torturous six hours and 22 minutes. The taxi-time from Kenosha to Terminal 3 was a quick and painful 54 minutes. Our gate was occupied when we arrived for our first attempt connecting to a jetway. Tack on another 23 minutes while the offending American Airlines A-321 Airbus took their sweet time to push, and we spent close to nine hours in cramped airline seats at a time my body is generally used to being horizontal.
Red-eyes are just one of my many worst nightmares. The only upside is my inability to sleep on airplanes, making bad dreams impossible. Feeling like a Rohypnol victim, I made sure Kéa and I gathered everything we came with and staggered left from the aluminum tube into the jetway. I’ve never been roofied, but I’m convinced the flight attendants slip something into the beverage service on overnight flights. Luckily, there was time to recover. Our layover between arriving O’Hare and the flight to XNA Northwest Arkansas was a convenient eight hours.
Serendipitously, my childhood friend and partner in crime – TC – happened to be in Chicago. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but spends a lot of time traveling around visiting girlfiends, one of whom lives about 10 minutes from ORD. I texted TC halfway into my jetway death march, and 15 minutes later he pulled up to the Terminal 3 departures curb in Gina’s blue BMW X3. Exactly 30 minutes after opening the forward cabin door, Kéa and I were comfortably relaxing in a beautiful suburban townhome sipping coffee and catching up on crazy. A quick nap on Gina’s couch, lunch al fresco at “The Countryside Saloon,” and perfectly pleasant weather was an ideal antidote for my jetlag. TC left us at the airport better than he found us, and was even kind enough to grant us enough time to walk, not run, to catch our Brazilian regional jet into Northwest Arkansas at 3pm.
Kéa was excited to see this Jeep. So much mystery and folklore surrounding a thoroughly troublesome conundrum of a machine. Our flight into Fayetteville was bumpy but uneventful and we landed on time at 5:30 pm. We found an Uber four minutes after exiting the small terminal and endured an uncomfortable digressive soliloquy on stimulus payments, right-to-work, God, and the myth of “The Covid.” Welcome to Arkansas. I assured Kéa that most people I’ve met while exploring this region were exemplary creatures and that unfortunately – lunacy knows no borders. I also reminded her to stay away from the words Pride, New England, Liberal, Faith, Yankee, God, Vaccine, and Democrat. Lastly, under any circumstance, never reveal the fact that we have ANY ties to California. Ever.
Pulling into Boss Hawg Offroad at 6 pm, our jeep with Alaska plates sat proudly awaiting our return. Sarah Palin aside, Alaska is a good place to be “from.” Everyone thinks you are just like them, only more “Alaskan,” whatever that means. I’ve spent a lifetime blending in and out of foreign (to me) customs and cultures. I’ve learned to duck contentious topics and pivot from politics to baseball, although baseball has the potential to become more volatile. It remains a very legitimate religion to many.
Bryce met us at the door and seemed genuinely happy to see us. That, or he just wanted the damn Jeep removed from the lot. Either way, I introduced Kéa to both Bryce and the Jeep. It took a few minutes to retrieve my bagged-up trophy Specialized Enduro mountain bike from Bryce’s back closet and wedge random items into the Jeep from an open tailgate. A light rain began to soak anything left unsheltered.
After writing a large check, Bryce tossed me the keys and we climbed into our ride. I maneuvered out of the driveway, excited to feel what driving a “brand new Jeep” was actually like. Turns out that driving a brand new Jeep is a lot like driving my fucked up piece of shit giant money pit drain of time and life-force garbage can of misery. Five hundred feet from Boss Hawg, Kéa and I watched the Jeep’s hood nearly rattle off its hinges as the front end shook worse than San Francisco in 1906. I flipped a U-ie and drove straight back to Bryce’s.
“I’m pretty sure this thing isn’t right,” I said as tempered as I could. “And I think you need to take this thing for another test drive.” With the engine running, Bryce jumped into the cockpit and rolled into the abyss. He disappears for an uncomfortably long duration. Inside the Jeep is my bike, my phone, my wallet…three passports and a couple of visas – no one knows my real name. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. We’ve just entered “Life During Wartime.”
At this point Bryce fell from Jeep God Lord of the Driveshaft to Sean Penn’s Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “My old man’s a television repairman. He’s got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.” Kéa and I wait in the rain and Bryce reappears. “That’s awful, dude.” Yeah. No shit Bryce. If I had a can of gas in my possession, I would have poured it over the hood, smoked a cigarette, and flicked the embers in a most accurate trajectory as I slowly walked away from my dumpster fire of a vehicle.
Once again, life is in limbo. Bryce, moonlighting as a taxi service, is nice enough to give us a lift to our AirBnB. It’s now 7:30 pm and he’s embarrassed. Promising to get this right, he told us he was headed straight back to the shop to solve this problem immediately. The Jeep drove like new after the repairs. There was no reason for it to be any different today than it was just weeks ago. Ramping up the intrigue, this Jeep is a 2009 with only 68,000 miles. It’s not even Fifteen.