Sometimes you hear things for a long time before you seek to define them. I drive the Dan Ryan at least a few times each month. Chicagoans tend to drive 75 until they don’t, and that’s generally at a standstill. As you crawl along working out your clutch leg to stay at 2 miles per hour, you notice a mini van stranded along the side of the road. A tow truck sits nearby flashing amber lights. You have time to take all this in, because the only other thing to look at is the license plate of the driver in front of you, and that’s much too close to the speedometer, which, if you stare at it long enough, will raise your blood pressure a point or two.
Sometimes it’s a horrific, bloody accident with cars twisted and ripped open by force or the jaws of life. When you pass by one of these, you strain every muscle in your neck to get a look. You try to take in as much of the highly detailed scene as you can in a quick, stolen glance. On the West Coast we call this rubbernecking. Traffic reporters refer to the “rubberneckers” causing traffic to crawl along on busy morning commutes. In Chicago, these standstills are galled gapers’ blocks or gapers’ delays. The terms are innocuous, really. They simply mean slowing down to look around. Sometimes it’s carnage, and sometimes it’s teachers striking and parading across overpasses. We have been in Chicago for a little over two months now. The ridiculously hot summer has worked to thaw us out after a nearly two-year freeze in Alaska. We feel, at least a little, like ourselves again. If I put everything in perspective, I realize just how fast we’ve been pushing in the stream. My boys have attended half-a-dozen schools in four states. Alaskan military kids used to two-year reassignments were a little in awe of the Akimoff kids. I’ve worked at four newspapers, one television station and one public radio station in four different states and two countries. Cheryl has worked at three Applebees Restaurants in three states. Chicago was the first place we moved to by choice. It was the first place we were not actively recruited to. At 38, and after all the action mentioned above, it was time to slow down and take a look around. We needed to assess the scene and try to soak it all in. That is tough to do when you’re spinning though a solar system at 7,692 mi Per hour. And so to borrow from the local vernacular, we’re in a bit of a gapers’ block here in Chicago. Tim