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It was July 1, 1999, when my daughter-in-law, 2-year-old granddaughter, and I left Ashland, Kentucky for the big city of Chicago. From there, we'd catch a train to Great Lakes Naval Air Station to witness Kaela's dad graduating from boot camp. I hadn't been to the Windy City in decades, and they'd never seen it, so I thought was safer if we took the Greyhound™ bus.
Since I'd spent the night before preparing for the trip, I dozed off just before the bus approached the Indianapolis station so we could transfer to another bus. As we were turning into the station, I heard Kaela's unmistakable cry. Still mostly asleep, I instinctively reached over, patted her arm and mumbled, "There now, honey—Grandpa's here. You're gonna be okay!"
Suddenly, I was hit by a wadded-up piece of paper, and my name was being whispered loudly but urgently: "Chuck! Chuck!!" Barely opening my eyes, I noticed Kaela, sitting with Katrina on the other side of the aisle!! In less than a second, I went from a drowsy to open-eyed, alarmed look.. If Kae's up there with her, then who was I patting? As they and a few other passengers began laughing, I slowly, hesitantly glanced beside me.
Now, maybe the sailor was coming off leave or something but, fortunately, he was still asleep. Since Kaela was with her mother in another seat, it turned out that I was patting his leg! As we all started to get off the bus, the sailor gently tapped me on my hand and slipped me a piece of paper with his phone number on it!
Finally, after pulling into Chicago's bus terminal, we got off and took a taxi to the Metra™ train station. The one we were to catch would take us directly by the base. At the front of the station there are some revolving glass doors, and busy Chicagoans move fast through those things. Carrying all the bags so K's mom could focus on carrying her, I waited until just the right moment and jumped into a vacant door—which was smaller than my load—and jammed the entire system! The commuters didn't look happy when their faces smashed against the door in front of them. Eventually, I got out just to see my red-faced daughter-in-law nearly bent over in laughter.
On the escalator going up to the elevated train platform, one of Kaela's shoes fell off. I bent down to retrieve it—and a couple of bags fell off my shoulder, sped down the escalator, and tripped at least three riders. All I could do is run down this "up" escalator, grab the bags, look around in embarrassment as I loudly pleaded "I'm sorry!” then run back up the moving staircase while keeping my head bowed.
On the train, the conductor would come back and announce each suburb on the route as we reached it. The first time, my granddaughter looked confused. The second time he came back, she looked angry. The third time he came back to announce the suburb, she jumped into the aisle, put her hands on her hips, and yelled out, “No kidding!”
We finally got to the train depot at GLNAS and had to get over to the gym where the commencement was to be held. But there was a problem: A wicked-looking barbed-wire fence separated us from the main area! Naturally, I took all those bags and negotiated the fence—all the while pulling barbs out of my just-torn shirt and wiping off a little sweat and blood with my hand. Finally, I'd made it, and turned around to see K and her mom standing in front of me. This time, they were both laughing!! Six feet from where I went through, the fence had stopped, allowing anyone (with any sense) to go around it.
We finally got to the gymnasium and the ceremonies. It was truly an emotional occasion; when Tim marched in with the graduates to the strains of Anchors Aweigh, I jumped up, tears flowing, and shouted. Katrina did the same as she pointed her husband out to Kaela.
After a fantastic but all-too-brief July 4th weekend with him, we took another stop in Chicago—a very brief and cautious one (eyes seemed to watch and remember)—and headed home.
But I wasn't done with Chi-Town... yet:
A year later, while on the way to work with a client up in Canada, the bus stopped in the Windy City; since the next one wasn't due for another eight hours or so, I thought that maybe I could make up for the mess I made last time. Before entering the terminal, I lit a cigarette and thought about the last time I was there. After putting it out in the ashcan, I turned around and headed for the terminal; with enough time on my hands, I thought certainly there'd be enough time to take in one of the city's famous blues gigs. Suddenly, people started running into the station, yelling excitedly. I looked out and saw the unmistakable flickering of fire! Apparently, somebody'd thrown a cigarette into the wrong can. One marked—“garbage”!
It was all just a simple mistake. I mean, it could've happened to anyone, right?
Anyway, after viewing the resulting melee from a distance, I thought it'd be a good time to exit the station until the next bus came. So I checked my pockets and realized that I'd lost my ticket!!
But I really didn't think it was a problem. Since I was sitting in the station when the flames started flickering, I just backtracked. There it was, fifth seat from the right. I grabbed it, put it in my coat pocket, and took off.
"Hey!! HEY!!" The guy who was running after me had blood in his eyes: mine!
Judging from the way he was reaching for my coat lapel, I don't think he wanted it for warmth! But I obliged.
So, as I was fumbling my apologies and handed the ticket back to the man, another guy looked over and under the seats. "Hey! Here's one for..." he checked it out ... "Calgary, Canada... and it's from Kentucky!" He handed it to his friend, who grabbed my lapel, opened my coat, and shoved it in the side pocket.
Something tells me that I'm going to need some serious insurance—and a good disguise—in the event fate lands me there again!