Losing Time
- or -
How, Despite my Best Efforts, I successfully U-hauled from Chicago to Palm Springs by Depending on the Partially Remunerated Kindness of Strangers

Chapter One:  Prologue
Chapter Two:  He Ain't a Crack Addict Bum, he's my Furniture Mover
Chapter Three:  The Truck Who Sang Bleeds to Death
Chapter Four:   Attacked by Indians
Chapter Five:   Why I've Never Liked Winona Ryder


The plan seemed simple enough - finish work in Chicago on a Monday, put all of my stuff into a U-haul truck on Tuesday morning, and by 1PM or 2PM at the latest I'd be whizzing down President Eisenhower's delightful interstate road system towards the sunshine and remuneration of California.   Escaping from Chicago just as the worst and longest season of the year began would be more than just a wonderful bonus, it was the main point of the exercise.   I'd arranged the truck, and the trailer to load my car onto, and I'd arranged to pay a couple of people to help me load up the truck.   Alas, as Robbie Burns pointed out, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley - which in English means that well planned things often don't work out - and my things weren't especially well planned.

The truck and trailer came together just as expected.   I'd learned several U-hauls ago that reserving equipment via the nationwide toll-free number or via the U-haul website was a total exercise in futility, and phoning them to complain was even more futile, if such a thing is possible.   Instead, I booked all the equipment with a local U-haul agent, who was desperately pleased to be getting rid of inventory at such a quiet time of year.   When I turned up at 10AM, there was the truck and trailer waiting for me.   This was a 24 foot truck which, when you add the size of the cab onto it, comes to a total length of 32 feet.   It's always mystified me that it's possible for someone with no experience or training to be allowed to hire something as large as this and go hurtling off across America, but there it is!

My planning efforts had extended as far as having the Evanston traffic department block off two parking meters in front of my apartment building, so I could get the truck right up to it.   Since my hired help hadn't turn up yet, I set to finishing packing some of the small items I hadn't done over the previous day or two.   By now it was 12 o'clock, and these guys were meant to be at my place by 11:00, so I called the guy at work whose friends these were and asked for their phone number.   I called, but got their voicemail, so I left a message for them to call me.   Since I needed them mostly for moving some of the large items, like a queen size bed and a bookshelf and a table, I decided to get a head start by moving some of the smaller stuff into the truck by myself.   I kept at this until about 2PM, at which point it was obvious that I'd have to start moving some of the big stuff down to the truck - it's always much easier to pack the big stuff first and then fit the small stuff around it.   I could probably move the big stuff all by myself, since there wasn't too much of it, but it's hard work and makes it far more likely that something will get damaged.

It was about this time that George turned up, wheeling a two-level cart of black plastic wrapped stuff down the alley next to the apartment building.   He was one of the homeless people that I saw on a fairly regular basis around downtown Evanston - I don't know that I'd ever seen him personally, but I'd certainly seen others walking around, or sleeping in the warmth of the library.   One or more even made free with the amenities of my apartment building the previous winter, sleeping up on the stairs on the seventh floor, and scaring the Bejesus out of some of the residents, like Dave Rolkosky, a college intern who worked with me at Shure.   I didn't like the situation too much, largely because that particular homeless guy didn't seem very well house-trained.

Anyway, George passed by and I said "hello" to him.   He gave a friendly sounding response, so I thought that this might be an opportunity to resolve my little problem.   I asked him if he'd like to do some work for $20.   He immediately said that he would, but he needed to drop something off first.   He pushed his cart off to one of the numerous churches in the block or two around my apartment, and I went back upstairs to get another load of stuff.   When I came back down in five minutes, there he was, so he helped me put those boxes into the truck and we went upstairs.   I suggested he bring his cart up the elevator and leave it in my apartment.   Luckily the elevator was running - it had been out of commission for 8 or 10 weeks while major work was done on it, and I'd passed several people during that time moving in or out and taking their possession up and down the stairs.  Since I was on the fourth floor, it wouldn't have been much fun to carry everything down the stairs.

George had brought a cup of coffee from the church, and I offered him a beer - one of several left over from the time I moved from New Jersey to Chicago, two or three years earlier.   I'm not a great alcohol drinker, though I'm not a tee-totaller either.   Isn't beer only meant to last 2 or 3 months before it's considered undrinkable?   I wouldn't know, it all tastes nasty to me.   And don't even get me started on hops, and what their original function was!

Anyway, George was helping me move everything, starting with the bed, shelves and table.   I asked him whether he'd always lived in Chicago, but he told me that he'd grown up in a small town in Mississippi, the youngest of ten children.   His father had died, and his stepfather treated both him and his mother poorly.   He'd moved up to Chicago and he wasn't in touch with any of his family, either in Mississippi or the Chicago area.   Now he was 52 years old.

I've never understood why homeless people live in places with such a harsh climate as Chicago, so I asked him what he did during the winter.   He said that he went to the various churches, which ran soup kitchens, and he would go to the homeless shelters run by the various city councils in the area.   He said that some of the local policemen in Evanston were pretty friendly.  I was surprised, because I figured that they probably would have gone to some effort to discourage homeless people from a fairly fancy area like Evanston.   There are some pretty expensive houses around, and I imagine that local businessmen in the downtown area where I was living might not have been too keen to have homeless people around.

He told me that he was a crack addict, and I received a brief education about "readyrock", which apparently is the market-driven response of crack dealers to their customers' needs.   It seems that regular crack is somewhat inconvenient to use, since it needs some preparation, but readyrock needs less preparation, so it's easier to use for people living on the street.

He also told me that he was a Christian, and he started telling me about Jesus and the Bible.   I explained that I'd left the church years before, and had a theology degree to boot, so he pretty much left it at that.   With George's help, I finally finished loading the truck around 5PM.   I drove over to the U-haul depot, where I'd left the trailer and car, and hooked them up.   By now it was dark, so I set off towards St Louis.   Little did I know as I thundered off into the darkness that I wasn't going to get there, and there was soon going to be a death, after a short illness.