Day 6: St. Louis, Missouri to Chicago, Illinois We rose soon after the sun did in St. Louis. The crew was groggy and tired, but the prospect of avoiding traffic entering Chicago motivated us to leave the city by 08:30 hours. Even though Megan slept better than other nights in the quiet without the generator running, she continued to doze once we were on the road. She has not been sleeping well generally, as she is sensitive to light, and neither of the two sleeping masks she has tried has remedied the problem. She wrapped a scarf around her eyes last night and it seemed to work better, but we are all concerned for her health, as without her, no shows can be played. I also noticed that keeping the crew fed will be an important consideration going forward. The Captain had only one large meal yesterday. At least hangovers are not a concern, as only the Captain and I are imbibing any alcohol at all, and in small quantities. Meanwhile, Bearnard the mascot has been drinking for all of us.
Heading out of St. Louis, we listened to the Best of Flight of the Conchords album. My musical preferences had been somewhat of a mystery to Molly until she witnessed my flawless and enthusiastic lip-synch to Hiphopapotamus. "Somebody get me some peanut butter, 'cuz I just found Kenzie's jam." - Molly
I monitored our fuel station resources, Gasbuddy.com and AAA Gas Map, and made sure we refueled well outside of the Chicago city limits to avoid the significantly higher prices there. We were fortunate to find a Pilot Travel Stop in Bloomington, Indiana with the most affordable gasoline in the area and a $30 truck wash across the street. We took advantage of both. As we were making excellent time to our destination, we took a second stop at Rick's RV in Joliet, Illinois for another resupply, this time on RV-specific toilet paper, blackwater tank cleaning chemicals, and some hardware to secure a loose drawer. We were all in good spirits when we arrived at the McCormick Place truck marshaling lot at 1430 hours.
We spent an hour relaxing in and around the RV, then struggled over whether to drive the RV away from the lot to a Planet Fitness in the nearby Kenwood neighborhood. The Captain and I wanted to stay in the lot, avoid any traffic or low-clearance hazards, and continue to mentally recover from the late night. Megan strongly advocated for taking the RV to the Planet Fitness, and JJ and Molly were amenable to either decision. Somehow we ended up taking a poorly thought-out, illegal route for a vehicle of our size, down Lakeshore Drive and under a low-clearance bridge. Tensions ran high during the drive and after our safe arrival. Once parked, we separated to calm down, exercise and shower on our own, in preparation for the sound check on the north side of the city. An hour of rush hour remained once we were all prepared at 1800 hours, but we resolved to start driving up anyway, rather than waiting in the Planet Fitness parking lot. We turned left out of the parking lot, having learned that to the right our prospects were terrifying and illegal.
Here begins the Fiasco in Chicago
At 18:52 the motorhome lost power suddenly on Kennedy Expressway, on the bridge over West Division Street. Luckily, we were already in the right lane, and the Captain was able to pull us over to the shoulder safely. The Captain's first response was to exit the vehicle and begin checking for mechanical issues. Megan and JJ's anxiety skyrocketed at this, as the other vehicles on the highway sped past in very close proximity to him. I exited second, to set up the two traffic cones we had brought in case of emergency. Once he had exhausted the possibilities of fixing the problem on our own, I used my AAA membership to call for roadside assistance (1930 hours). We then coordinated a rescue for the three other crew members besides the Captain and myself, since only two could ride in the cab of the eventual tow truck that would arrive to move the Tour Loaf. Three would have to abandon ship. Since repair shops had already closed for the evening, we decided to tow the RV back to McCormick Place and find a repair solution in the morning. While the arrangements were being made, Molly and I made a meal of quinoa, vegetables, and kidney beans - one of the advantages of being stranded in a motorhome is that you still have a kitchen and a restroom, so the situation did not seem as dire as it might have otherwise. We were fortunate enough to be within easy walking distance along the shoulder to an exit flanked by a sidewalk. The crew safely abandoned ship and was picked up below the bridge by the first rescuer of the ordeal, Abby: an old friend of JJ's who resides in Chicago. The Captain and I stayed to await the tow truck. Complications ensued with AAA and the City of Chicago, neither of whom succeeded in reaching us on the highway. When the sun set, I put out the emergency LED flares I had brought with us - a gift from my ever-prepared mother (thank you!).
Once it became clear that we would not be towed in time to meet the rest of the crew at the McCormick Place marshaling lot, Molly and Megan returned to gather sundry items to stay at Abby's residence. A friendly Illinois State Trooper stopped to inquire about our situation, but could offer no assistance except his company. His line of inquiries at one point led us to believe we would find ourselves jailed before the end of the night: our registration was not yet fully updated from the California seller we had purchased it from, and we had a quantity of harmless contraband in the vehicle, the legality of which varies by state. Once he continued on his way, we breathed a sigh of relief and continued our vigil.
Several hours of waiting and unclear communications with AAA and emergency traffic responders left the Captain and I mentally stretched. I began to balk at his tone when we disagreed over each decision; the space felt too small for us; and I became embittered about not being able to spend time with my good friends who lived in the area, as originally planned. I struggled with my responsibility to emotionally support the Captain and my own needs. I offered for us to watch a show on Netflix and pass the time, then hated the thought and shut myself in the bathroom to call my parents and cry instead. Why did I have to be the one to stay, and send the rest of the crew to comfortable beds? We were going to sleep on the side of the highway, and no one was coming to rescue us. I was only slightly comforted by the beautiful view of the city from our vantage point.
As the hours dragged on, the Captain called AAA using his own membership. This separate call to AAA succeeded in bringing us a flatbed trailer at midnight, just as we were making the bed in resignation to slumber on the highway. The chief issue with this arrangement is that the flatbed trailer was a few feet shorter than the Tour Loaf in length. Due to the darkness and our proximity to the fast-moving traffic, I stayed inside the motorhome while the Captain and the tow truck driver made the necessary attachments. In their hurry, they did not stop to alert me before the Loaf was lifted in jerks and starts atop the flatbed, by which time it was impossible for me to exit the door without throwing myself either into oncoming traffic or over the highway bridge. At least, I was relieved to see, they collected my precious emergency flares.
The motorhome wobbled as the tow truck inched toward the exit along the shoulder. Other vehicles honked and flew by us. It was clear I might roll off the highway at any moment, so I strapped myself into the driver's seat, which I hoped would keep me from being crushed if I landed upside-down. At the exit, the tow truck driver insisted on turning around toward our destination by passing under the highway bridge, despite the Captain's protests (as he told me later). I saw the Captain exit the tow truck cab and direct the tow truck in stops and starts. Each time the RV shifted in the flatbed, we risked scraping the air conditioners atop the motorhome against the bottom of the bridge. While a potential fall from the trailer seemed less dire at this point, I took the only precaution I could think of and shifted slowly from Captain's chair to passenger seat, strapping myself alternately into the side of the vehicle that seemed least likely to hit the ground first. We made it under the bridge, to face the next challenge: the traffic signals were too low for us to pass under. After three or four stoplights illegally and dangerously circumvented by driving on the wrong side of the road, we pulled over to the curb. I disembarked as quickly as possible, carrying my most precious belongings: my flute, my sleeping bag, toiletries and a change of clothes. I was still under the impression that the motorhome may be destroyed before it found its way back to the marshaling lot.
The process of lowering the Tour Loaf from the too-small flatbed trailer dug a hitch-sized hole in the concrete, but appeared to inflict no other damage to our vehicle. At 0100 hours, the tow truck driver left our company, and the Captain and I settled in to wait a few more hours for a larger, more powerful tow truck. My nerves were shot and the Captain was an emotional wreck. I felt myself growing angry at him without reason, my moods swinging from practical to bitter to hopeless. In the end, we attempted to calm ourselves with a midnight snack from the establishment we found ourselves parked next to, and despite the Captain's obvious need for company, I left him alone in the RV so that I could collect myself for the night and be at my best the following day.
I stayed with my good friend of fifteen years, Rachel Blumenthal, who lived not far from McCormick place and had kindly made a bed for me for the night. She had anticipated the need since I had been updating her throughout the ordeal. I began to calm down with a cup of tea and her soothing company, and was asleep by 0200 hours. Next Captain's Log Previous Captain's Log