It’s 1:18am on a Friday. Predictably, I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. Part of the distraction right now is the rhythmic sound of the Borman Expressway, 80-94.
I grew up a couple blocks from the Borman and I now live a couple blocks from it. In both cases, I’m the same distance from the constant rush of cars and trucks.
There are two nighttime sounds that have always given me a sense of solitude and peace – faraway trains and the Borman Expressway.
I have stayed in hotel rooms adjacent to interstates. That’s too close. You can make out individual engines. That’s not peaceful. It reminds you that you are not alone. You can almost smell the driver's coffee breath.
I have slept overnight farther from the Borman than I am right now. You can hear that the Borman is there, but its rhythmic crescendos aren’t distinguishable. You're too far for it to feel like waves.
In other words, there is a perfect distance to be from the Borman Expressway.
As a grade schooler, I would lie for hours in bed looking at the pennants on my wall.
Chicago Bulls, East Chicago Roosevelt Roughriders, Hammond High Wildcats, Chicago Black Hawks, Purdue Boilermakers. I can see them clearly, 40-plus years later. The black and red of the Hawks. The purple and white of the Roughriders, a curious nickname for a school that doesn’t exist any more.
There was a streetlight in front of our house. It lit up the pennants. I’d lie in bed and with my mind doing it without me telling it to, I would reconstruct the triangular shapes into maps, animals, balls, scary faces. Through it all, there was the constant rush of cars and trucks on the Borman.
Not everyone had a muffler back then. It was accepted for a motorcycle to accelerate down the street at full throttle with a wide open engine unhindered by noise-cancelling device. Hippie bikers would drive choppers down the street, full throttle. You’d stare at they drove by. Pure, raw, mechanical power.
Once in a while, a hippie biker would be driving down the Borman in the middle of the night without a baffle. Their unique rumble would cut through the car and truck hum to be distinguishable. Not many people drive around on motorcylces without mufflers or baffles anymore. It just doesn’t happen. Not that many cars or trucks do either. That makes the Borman sound of today, a couple blocks from it, a much more stable, rhythmic sound than it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That’s if you care, which I’m pretty sure you don’t unless you live a couple blocks from a really busy interstate and it helps you sleep at night.
Or does it?
It would be nice to lay my head down right now and go back to dreams. But it’s not gonna happen. I can tell. Part of the experience right now is that I can hear the Borman. Every once in a while the Borman silence that isn’t a silence is interrupted by the blare of a siren. We live near a major hospital. This is a good thing if you have a heart attack or you get hit by a car. But it’s not such a good thing if you just want to lie down in surrender to the sounds of the Borman Expressway.
These are the kinds of things that I think about in the middle of the night, alone with my Borman. The three or four of you who read my blog are asleep. Maybe you’ll wake up in a few hours and listen to my radio show. Maybe you’ll catch it later in video on Facebook. Maybe you just read the blog and don’t give two shits about the radio or video I do. Whatever it is, you are with me, whether you’re awake or not.
Today I didn’t do the radio show. That’s because on Wednesday night I drove to Indianapolis and saw Dead and Company. It was Grateful Dead in a cornfield.
Grateful Dead in a cornfield is still Grateful Dead. There are additions, however, if it is in the middle of an Indiana cornfield. For one thing, when you’re driving to the cornfield, don’t be smoking or carrying any weed. We’re not a state in which weed is legal or accepted. It is very much in the minds of people who live in farmhouses and the police that protect the people who live in farmhouses.
That’s why on the way down to Grateful Dead in a cornfield we saw several instances of Deadheads pulled over on the side of the road. You could tell they were Deadheads. The women wore beads and bracelets. They wore Steal Your Face shirts. Ironically, of the three groups that we saw standing against guardrails awaiting their legal fates, two of the groups were older Deadheads. One looked like a girl I used to date and go to shows with. I’m sure it wasn’t her but it was her type. My guess is that this type, this woman and her friends, were smoking some weed on the way to the Dead in a cornfield and the driver was going too slow. That’s what happens when you smoke pot and try to drive. It’s not something you should ever do.
So yesterday – it’s yesterday now, no longer today.
It’s yesterday now
no longer today. The things
I was gonna do are now
lined up for a whole new
yesterday. I can feel just as bad in
24 hours about not doing them
as I do now. The lists of
things I should probably
do just keep coming at
me like the cars and
trucks on the
Frank Borman, by the way, was an astronaut. He grew up in Gary and they named one of the busiest interstates in the world after him. We’re lucky to have that interstate, just as we were lucky to have Frank Borman. I don’t know why we’re lucky to have both of these, but, trust me, we are.
For one, without the constant rush of the Borman heard from two blocks away, I wouldn’t be able to connect with the pennants on my wall from 40 years ago. I wouldn’t be able to see my mom come in my room and sit on the end of the bed and ask me a question. I was a sullen youth, prone to wanting to be alone. When my mom or dad or one of my brothers or sisters would come into my room, I’d sulk.
Get out of here, my silence would say. I was a horrible older brother. I know this. Who wants to live in a house with a hormones-racing asshole with zits and broad shoulders, someone who, in the vernacular of the day, “thinks his shit don’t stink?” You get all of this from a mere re-experiencing of the late-night rush of the Borman.
There’s another part to the sound patterns then and the sound patterns now. The wife and I listened to a podcast tonight. Originally a late-night TV watcher, she has been trained to be a lover of late-night audio. We just finished the 10-hour book called “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” It’s a story written by a woman named Michelle who was married to the actor Patton Oswalt. She died before the book got published. It was about Michelle obsessively trying to track down The Golden State Killer.
Michelle, like me and a lot of other people – including all of my aunts – often couldn’t sleep. It’s a curse. Some people put their head on a pillow at 10pm and wake up at 6am and they’ve been doing it their whole lives, like clockwork.
By the way, as I write this to you at 1:46am on a Friday, there is a symphony. There is the underlying hum of the Borman, previously referenced. And on top of that there is now the faraway blare of a train horn. And now there’s the rumble of train. Actually, it’s a kind of close train. It feels as if the train is coming down our street and is gonna run right across the bedroom floor and into the bathroom. It’s not gonna do that, but it feels like it might.
So Alexis and I participate in a nightly ritual that is not altogether unlike my nightly ritual of 40-plus years ago. Then, I listened to radio. Now, we listen to podcasts. Then it was WLS music or WIND Black Hawks games. Imagine how beautiful it is to lay in bed with pennants on the wall and listen to the hockey exploits of Keith Magnuson and Bobby Hull. Every once in a while a train would come down the tracks and you’d wind up with the perfect combination of beauty to fall asleep to. Sometimes I could doze off, but often I stayed up half the night listening to the radio and looking at my pennants.
That was until my mom and dad had more children. Then I had to move across the house and share a room with my two little brothers. The sounds there weren’t as good. There wasn’t a window above my bed. And with my brothers putting up posters, there wasn’t room for the East Chicago Roosevelt Roughriders. Oh well. The school died in the 1980s anyways.
In a couple hours, I’ll ride my bike down to the station to do a radio show. Where is there more beauty?
It’s a tossup. You answer the question and I’ll try to get some sleep. Good luck to the boat of us.
You are in me
I penetrate you
At sunrise, I
watch you sleep.
You warm me
At sunset, you
let me in.
I hide in crevices
to evade the
You can have my
core. It’s yours.
I can never have
yours. But I keep