Earning an Ambulance Ride

Albert BrooksIt costs $1,000 for a four-block ambulance ride in Chicago?


Does everyone pay that? Is it a new way to cut health care costs? Make sure no one can get to a hospital.

The “base” rate on our bill, to be precise, was $900. From there it was $17 per mile. They rounded up to $17. Our Insurance took care of $240.67. Which I am guessing is the true cost of the service. So our check to the City of Chicago was for $676.33. For my wife’s 30 second ride.

After she tumbled down the steps of a CTA Elevated train stop, landed face first on the concrete sidewalk, a passing stranger called an ambulance. Six weeks later, when the bill from the City of Chicago arrived, we counted ourselves lucky that our hearts didn’t stop. Because we couldn’t afford another ambulance ride.

Preying on the vulnerable is of course as old as time. But so is trying your best to get your money back. And that’s why I called in Lester. This very real story needed my favorite imaginary character.

So there we were. Lester ‘The Lip’ Lapczynski and I were huddled around the silver top table outside The Tiny Lounge on one of those first warm and breezy summer nights. Lester, in a brand new madras jacket was downwind, saving me from the shower that sprayed out from his protruding lower lip every time he got excited. Which was often.

Lester had his ginger ale. I had a martini. Because this was The Tiny Lounge and I had a martini of a decision to make. Lester could be a pain, with all the yelling and the mouth spray. But Lester always helped me think.

We each took a sip, stopped for a moment to admire the summer night crowds and characters on Lincoln Avenue, and then I told Lester my plan. He immediately sputtered out, “Roger, you are an idiot. So I’ll go slowly. Asking Mayor Rahm for the money back just won’t work!”

“But wait Lester! Hear me out! Didn’t you ever see the Albert Brooks movie? ‘Lost in America?’ The wife loses the family nest egg in an all night gambling frenzy in Las Vegas. Albert goes to the casino boss and tells him what a great publicity stunt it would be if the casino gave back the money!”

“Roger, your wife is not a gambling freak. She had an accident. She fell down the stairs at the Diversey El Train stop and landed on her face.”

“But wait Lester! Let me finish. I could explain to The Mayor, just like Albert Brooks did, what a great publicity stunt it would be to return the money! He could say he had no IDEA ambulance rides clocked in at $1,000 bucks. He could express shock. It could work.”

“OK college boy. Let’s start with this: he won’t see you!”

“But what if I wrote something and he saw it?”

“He won’t read it. His people wouldn’t read it. His people’s people wouldn’t read it. Oh I suppose if an Alderman or a Congressman told him that somebody figured out an ambulance ride in Chicago cost $1,000 bucks and that might be just a bit high, he’d pay attention. Get you a break. Who’s your Congressman Roger?”

“Mike Quigley. And my Alderman is Ameya Pawar.”

“Hah! Well that won’t work. Those two are poster boys for actual good government. No ‘wink and a nod’ with those guys. No special favors. I know you Roger. You wouldn’t even ASK those two for a favor. Remember how I told you that electing people with integrity was a bad idea? Remember that?”

“Yeah Lester. I remember. But Rep Quigley did write a blurb on the back of my first book though.”

“That’s because the book was about a FOOD PANTRY, you moron! That and all the sales, 100% of the sales now, go straight to the pantry! Your little commission was paid off years ago. He isn’t endorsing you or your co-author; he’s endorsing feeding hungry people! See the difference, Einstein?”

“Lester, I gotta do something. I suppose I could be like everyone else and sue the CTA? But I don’t want to fight anyone. I just don’t want to be ripped off! I know they send fire trucks with ambulances, so maybe that’s why it costs so much. But if that’s the reason, how is a fire truck gonna help a woman falling down the stairs? Douse the sparks when her face hits the concrete?”

“You really want to argue with the Fire Department, dumb ass?”

“No! Although I would like a few words with the firefighter who dropped his helmet on my wife’s leg when she was sprawled out on the sidewalk and didn’t even apologize. But I know that’s just one guy. That’s not an organization that exists to risk their lives for us. Geez Lester, this is not the point!”

“Then what is the point Roger?”

“The point is, can’t we find a way to make an ambulance ride more affordable? Maybe we could start with Mayor Rahm giving me the money back!”

“And why should he do that Roger? Can you tell me why without some morality lecture? You are asking him to give money away. What can you give back to make that a good deal for the city?”

” Hey. Wait a minute. My other book . . . . ”

“Now you’re getting it schmutz brain. Your new book. Finding Work When There Are No Jobs. Believe it or not, I read it. And you really do know how to get people to think differently about finding work in a way no one else does. So what if you told Mr. Mayor . . .Find me 5 Chicagoans who have already done EVERYTHING they could to find work. You pick them Mr. Mayor. And then I will supply each of them with a copy of my book and work with them 1:1 until they find a job.”

“What if he says no?”

“What if I smack you cross the face? Listen, if he ever heard the offer, what he’d be more likely to say is, ‘”Five ain’t a real large number Roger. Can you make that number larger?”

“Sure. I could do that. How about 50? The Mayor buys 50 people a copy of my book, passes them out to people who have already tried EVERYTHING to get a job, and I do a one hour session on getting them started on a different way of coming up with their own path to find work.”

“And you will charge what for either of these options?”

“Same amount he charged me for the ambulance ride. $676.33.”

“So everybody is a winner, right?”

“Think he’ll go for it, Lester? Or even see the offer?”

“Probably not. But if he doesn’t, it’s still a good idea. Even if it didn’t work for Albert Brooks. And Roger?

“Yeah Lester?”

“You’re offering to earn that ambulance ride. Maybe that will get someone’s attention.”

image credit: Albert Brooks

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11 Responses to “Earning an Ambulance Ride”

  1. toritto Says:

    Hi Rog! Sorry to hear about the accident. Hope all is well.

    Once upon a time (during the reign of Tiberias) I went to City University of New York – for FREE! Imagine that. FREE!

    To hell with them. Don’t pay it. Offer $5 a month when they press you.

    And sue the transit authority / city. I”m sure there are plenty of “slip and fall” lawyers looking for work in Chicago!


    Best. And good to see you.


  2. Barbara Bolsen Says:

    Roger, how is MC???? Do not make us wonder!!!!! PS Price of Chi ambulance ride was $325 in 2003. I know cuz I was billed.

    • chicagoguy12 Says:

      B–She is doing MUCH better, thanks! It’s not a short recovery. $325 to $900 minimum is quite a jump!

  3. Ted Schneider Says:


    First I hope she is recovering and OK. I like the idea of bartering back the cost of the ambulance and get some publicity and perhaps future work out of the deal. Lastly, don’t ever give her a ride in a helicopter to a hospital. When my older son had a stroke they took him from the Grayslake hospital to a landing area near Northwestern Memorial – $15,000.00 for the maybe 20 minute ride (and thank God the hospital picked up that tab 100%, it would have been like a student loan). Ted

  4. Paul Haider Says:

    I hope that Maria is making a full recovery and can return to the dance floor again soon. There have been so many horror stories about the exorbitant cost of riding in an amulance that you would think the vehicle was made of gold, while the patient was being given a full body massage on the stretcher. These excessive fees for an ambulance are merely another aspect of our broken healthcare system in which the profits will always come before the people/patients. As for the patient, Maria, get well soon!

  5. rebeccadowningpelley Says:

    You know you and Maria are still in my a.m and p.m thoughts, right? I think my husband’s ride after his t.i.a. was $1000. It was a bit longer ride and may have had more bells and whistles and tests en route. It is cheaper to live in Rockford, and evidently to ride an ambulance here too Hope neither of our families needs another one for years and years. Great reading you always.

  6. boomerbob Says:

    Still love your writing CG – fun read, but sorry to hear about the fall and the bill.

  7. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Thanks Boomerbob!

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