Friday, March 6, 2009

Adventures in Mishawaka

Oh, man, so I'm driving to Mishawaka, which butts up against South Bend, Ind., home of Notre Dame University – this is familiar territory – not just Indiana but northern Indiana. This is so close to Michigan City, where I grew up on the coast of Lake Michigan, that my high school team, the Raiders, used to play against the Mishawaka Cavemen. Not that we were rivals or anything but driving to Mishawaka wasn’t a big deal. Parents didn’t even worry.

The scenery from Chicago to Michigan City is, of course, familiar: the busy and crowded Skyway (always in construction), then industrial and cloudy Gary, transformer lights and steel towers rising from the side of the road, and then, suddenly, green, a yellowish I-survived-the winter-green but green nonetheless, and clusters of naked trees up and down both sides of the highway.

I’m just rounding out from Michigan City, turning a slight south away from the lake shore, when, in a stuttery flash of light, my phone flips one hour forward. What? I’d given myself so much time, I’d so wanted to get there early and hang out at the Barnes & Noble café, I’m actually packing my lap top.

But no, no, no: the phone is telling the truth: Chicago, Michigan City, the whole curved panorama of Lake Michigan is on Central Standard Time but Mishawaka is, inexplicably, on Eastern Standard Time. Mishawaka is on New York time, as if it had just turned its snotty little municipal back on the entire Midwest.

Best case scenario, I’d be 10-15 minutes late. I called the store, of course, and talked to a very nice man named Dave, who assured me it was fine. “Be careful, don’t do anything crazy,” he said. I assured him I wouldn’t, even as my foot sank on the accelerator. The buzz of the air speeding around my PT Cruiser (the poor Midwestern girl’s version of a low-rider) intensified and the car actually wobbled.

I was on my way for almost 20 minutes and then, just as I was getting cocky, just as I was passing with impunity, a mess of twirling lights appeared in my rear view mirror.

“Do you know how fast you were going” asked the breathless state trooper.

“I dunno, 70, 80?”

“Seventy, 80? Lady, the speed limit is 70 – I clocked you at 105!

He wanted to know why I was in a hurry; he wanted to know what was wrong. I didn’t even try. I just told him the truth. He wandered back to his unmarked squad car – a big, thick American model with a grill that looked like a muzzled dog – and performed his investigative tricks.

I was good after that, going 70, doing breathing exercises. And Dave and I got to talk a whole lot more. As it turned out, my MapQuest directions to the store didn’t take into account a smattering of construction. And so Dave, who couldn’t remember street names but was fabulous with landmarks (“Is there a Martin gas station on the corner? Yes? Great!”), was transformed into a live GPS. Thanks to him, I finally crashed through the Mishawaka Barnes & Noble, my legs a little wobbly, my heart racing, 20 minutes late.

Waiting for me was an audience of three (which grew to five during the reading), two of whom I knew as former students, both from the University of Chicago: Lindsay, who’d been in my very first class on Jewish Latin American literature (and later went on to do her thesis on Days of Awe and even stayed at the house I shared with my then girlfriend in Havana) and Terry, who lives in Chicago and likes to drive, thus his Indiana cameo. It was, needless to say, a very intimate reading!

Unfortunately, this will not be the last of my Mishawaka adventure. A speeding ticket lingers on driving records and impacts stuff like insurance rates. So, in order to get that thing expunged, I’ll be taking a driver’s ed class in Mishawaka later this spring.

Sigh …

NEXT: Chicago, Lafayette Saturday, Madison Monday, Iowa City Tuesday, Chicago again on Thursday.