By Tom Johns
Dedicated to Robin Baumgarten
...thirty-five on in; it's fifty on the flip trip--the express lanes are a good option, they'll save you ten--the Eisenhower's been trouble all day on the outbound side, Roosevelt is your best alternate, but it's filling in as we speak...
"Hey, Larry...what ya' got?"
"You said Michelle answers the tip line sometimes, why she never answers for me?"
‘Michelle’ is Chelley Holsbrooke, a traffic reporter for WBBM-AM in Chicago.
"Larry, I told ya', Chelley is usually preparing for the nex' report—which she is right now—now, do you have a traffic tip or no?"
"I got one, and it's good, real good, but I wanna talk to Michelle—Ms. Holsbrooke."
"Larry, you're a nice guy, I don't wanna hang up on you, but I got things to do—"
"What could be more important than taking a hot tip like the one I got?"
"I'd be glad to take the tip, now what you got?"
"Larry, I'm gonna hang up now, don't take it personal, 'k?"
The intern hung up the phone gently, wheeled around in his office chair—the casters, straining under his weight, creaked. He said, "Hey, Chelley, it was Scary Larry, he had a hot tip for ya'."
"Oh, God," replied Chelley, trying to make her face keep it a joke. Everyone had a weirdo. Even the fat, balding sports guy. People on TV had hell with it—one good thing about not being TV pretty. She'd had them before, crazies, but they always went away.
"Didn't they trace it—the calls? Vinny said he'd do it if—"
"Elmwood Park," said the intern.
"What?" Chelley scrunched up her face.
"Your fella, one calls for you every couple hours, lives in Elmwood Park—no record, lives in a basement 'partment in a building owned by a... Margaret De Marco."
"Let me guess—he wouldn't be Larry De Marco, would he now?"
The intern tapped his nose and went back to work shaking his head and stifling a chuckle.
"They always live with their mother, unbelievable!" Chelley said. "It ain't funny, Kenny!"
"Mom, I'm goin’ for a walk—don't be comin’ in my apartment for the wash, I told you I'd do it myself...you hear me, ma'!" Larry muttered "old, deaf..." under his breath and locked the door behind him. He rode his bike over to the Harlem overpass of the Eisenhower and watched the traffic go by; in his ears was the sound of the five-day forecast, but just barely, it was in and out. He fine-tuned his ten-year-old AM/FM to 780-AM and further extended its antenna, nearly poking his eye in the process. He hadn't missed her; ten more reports to go, an hour and forty minutes to assist her, not that she needed it, but he figured help is help, even from the likes of him.
He zipped his windbreaker up against early autumn and it went lumpy against his gut. He felt in his pocket for his crappy pay-as-you-go cell, then pulled a greasy package from the basket on his handlebars. The meatball sandwich was for later; soon, Larry reasoned it was later enough and ate it. Besides, he had plenty of generic cigarettes and some Lemonheads to boot. As he munched the sandwich, he stared at an outdated, mechanically signed 5'' by 10'' glossy headshot; Chelley Holsbrook—in a hairdo that badly dated the photo—smiled back, but Larry knew her real name was Michelle and preferred to think of her that way. She was a communications major from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, a loving aunt to three nieces, and a Villa Park native—or that's what it said on the back of the headshot, which was now bent at the corners. A little red sauce spilled on the picture, and Larry grimaced and gently licked it off. There was a greasy stain on her bangs, but the picture was still good. He looked at the sandwich with contempt, and took an angry bite. "Bastard," he muttered.
...If you’re on the Stevenson, let’s hope you had a festive Christmas holiday, because it’s not going to be a very cheerful back-to-work Monday for you—we’re seeing massive delays because of an over-turned semi; IDOT’s on the scene and we are now getting reports of an hour-and-thirty minute jam coming into the city—you heard that right, an hour and thirty—and of course we have gapers causing an outbound delay...stay away from the Stevenson, folks—things are looking good elsewhere except for the Tri-State, and Mike Nygard is watching that for us in AIR 780, Mike, whattaya got?...
"Larry, didn’t you say you’d stop asking to speak to Chelley if I sent you her new headshot—didn't you get what I sent you?"
"It’s just that this...this is an urgent t-tip, I need...I need—"
"Larry, we got a situation on the Stevenson; call back later and we can talk more about your tip, ‘k, Larry?"
"Don’t hang up, Kenny! Please...please?"
"...Larry, I-I—OK...OK, I won’t, just..."
"Kenny, I promise, just let me talk to her this once, it’s an important tip—it’s Christmastime Kenny, can’t you...can’t you just..."
"I’ll tell you what, Larry, I’m gonna put you on hold, ‘K, I’m gonna put you on hold and you can listen to Chelley do the toll-roads after we come back from break, ‘K, it’ll be like she’s on the phone with—Larry? Larry?"
Larry looked at the battered wreath stuffed into his handlebar basket and sprinkled with dirty snow; a ribbon was tied across with embroidered letters, which now formed "IN OVING M MORY." He was at his spot, the Harlem overpass; Forest Park Cemetery was behind him, less than a mile away, but he knew he wasn’t going there, not yet. Christmas was over anyhow, and where was she going? She was in Forest Park forever.
He stared east toward the city for a while and, when it didn’t do the trick, he looked below to the Eisenhower’s traffic. He imagined they put the fence up on the overpass for guys like him on days like this. A shot of ice spilled down Larry’s spine and into the pit of his stomach; his crappy cell phone, which had dangled in his right hand, was now mired in sidewalk snow. He straddled his bike, crossed himself, gripped the handlebars, and pedaled toward the outbound off-ramp of the Eisenhower. He didn’t hear the horns, but they were there—a Honda ran into the ramp’s barrier, but that was behind him now. He was picking up great speed as he declined. He closed his eyes.
With traffic and weather together on the eights, we now turn to Chelley Holsbrooke with more on that bizarre incident on the Eisenhower, Chelley?...Felicia, we continue to gather details, but it now seems a bicyclist, not a pedestrian as was earlier reported, was involved in an accident on the outbound Ike at Harlem, no word on the condition of those involved, but the damage is done as far as traffic goes—state police have shut down all outbound lanes and are diverting traffic at Austin; as you can imagine, lots of flashing lights, and the inbound side: brutal, two hours and twenty from Route Fifty-Three, all of that is gapers, folks; Felicia will have more for you when details become available, as for the rest of the roadways....
About Tom Johns