Posts Tagged ‘Mayor Rahm Emanuel’

Earning an Ambulance Ride

2014-05-14

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

Really?

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.”

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image credit: Albert Brooks

When Linda Ronstadt Sings

2013-10-24

 

Image

Cassie is the name I’ve given to the homeless woman who walks by our house, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, early every morning and returns by the very same route every evening. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, I have seen her take shelter in the Sulzer Regional Library. A haven for many of us in all sorts of ways. The song in this story, Adios,  was written by the brilliant songwriter Jimmy Webb. And Linda Ronstadt, who recently announced she was no longer able to sing. Well, all I can say is “Listen to her.”

 

 

Six sets of gauzy, hooded eyes watch her every morning. A shift change at night.

 

Bathed in the grey dawn light of a late October snow sky, Cassie leans in north. Head down, skin and bones, straining to push her shopping cart past the stately home of the Mayor of Chicago. Those six sets of eyes.  Cops in unmarked cars barely shift in their seats. Triangulating justifiable protection for the Mayor and his family.  They know there is no danger from Cassie.  She’s a regular. And the Mayor is usually gone by the time Cassie trudges past each morning.

 

The wide sidewalks, bare trees and spacious lawns sport a dog walker or two. Early morning commuters, walk to catch their trains. Cassie has her route. She is as much a part of the street as the wind. If the day turns rainy, she’ll sit in the entryway of the Sulzer Regional library. A child might see her and wonder ‘Is the sad lady hungry?’ A Mommy might step down from a gleaming black SUV and sense a presence other than her own. But that will pass quick. The doors of the library let the howling, hawk wind seep in with icy blasts like frozen train whistles.

But wrapped up in her coat, Cassie doesn’t mind. She doesn’t look up once. Never sees Mommy of the SUV or the curious child. The whooshing of the traffic like a white noise screens out everything but the song. The song starts up and Cassie is as far from that library lobby as she can be, hearing the voice of the timeless singer, Linda Ronstadt start to tell the story again with the words of the songwriter Jimmy Webb. Cassie hears Ronstadt sitting in the empty space right next to her, as if holding her hand, Ronstadt sings,

 

Ran away from home when I was seventeen

To be with you on the California Coast.

 

And that very instant , , ,

A golden, peach orchard breeze explodes in Cassie’s mind. Sweeping out weary, as if the California sunshine really could let us all, every one of us, start fresh and alive and spilling out fruit tree sun.

 

Ronstadt sings,

Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina

Out on the California coast.

 

And in her voice, those times at the sunset ending of the work day when the promise of their night come rolling from quiet laughter and looks and then the love. As if they had their very own solid, smooth stepping stones across the wild and raging Pacific waters of their lives to come. Anything was possible back then. And whatever it was they could handle it. Could always get it done.

 

In the lobby of the library while she sits still as the ocean right before a storm, a security guard walks by. Just checking. He gives Cassie a look. Then keeps walking.

 

But Cassie in looking at the ocean from Highway One. Hearing only Linda Ronstadt sing,

 

Don’t think that I’m ungrateful

And don’t look so morose.

 

Every day, when the song comes and lifts her and she says goodbye to him again, she grabs hold of the endless currents of the love that runs between the lines of the song like the power of every one of the rivers flowing down to the sea. Not just one river. All of them. And she is wondering and knowing at the very same time, that of course he had to go and never come back. It was better that way. So much better that way.

 

Cassie listens to the song. Holding on to it for dear life. Her heart as blistered, raw and sore as her feet.

 

For a split second she lets herself ask again, “What happened?” Then she answers. Mumbling. To keep that security guard walking past. Cassie again tells the story. If only cause maybe this time there will some sense to it. She says, “He followed the winds and the crops to do the picking. Left me in town while he walked and rode the state and the fields. Fact, some days, most days. There was only that few minutes at the end of the work when he would come in sweaty from the fields and call me on the phone. There would be just those few minutes to review the whole day and tomorrow. But when he told me that he loved me? That was enough.

 

And Ronstadt sings,

 

We never really made it baby

But we came pretty close.

 

Cassie shifts her position. Crosses her arms. Saying in quick, mumbling bursts of staccato sounds unintelligible to the passing crowds through the library lobby.

I don’t know why he didn’t call that time he went up north to those winter green hills. I knew I couldn’t have that though. I was hungry. I was tired, he was gone. I couldn’t have silence. I couldn’t live with the silence. No one could. No one could.

Cassie shakes her head clear and wonders if he was ever really there at all. Tucked into her corner of the library. Safe now. Safe. This is not the streets. Right this moment, not the streets. The streets will come when she pushes her cart south as the library, a shelter now connected to that cantina, the California coast itself. Right now this moment, she forgets to blame. Forgets who was silent. The streets are too hard for that. It was too long ago. She only hears Ronstadt sing,

 

And I miss the blood red sunset

But I miss  you the most

Adios

Adios

 

While across the lobby he sits. He’s right there too. And neither of them know it. Cassie’s grizzled and grey silent fruit picker farmer from all those years ago. Head buried in a book. He lives for the library. Carries his life in two brown paper bags. Of course, Cassie doesn’t see him. She only looks down. And he doesn’t see her. But he remembers. Every single one of the all to few moments.

 

Yesterday he read that Linda Ronstadt will never sing again. And that might be true.

 

But as the old man sits directly across the lobby, in the safe and warm confines of the Sulzer Library, his great, gone past love just yards away; he hears the exact same voice, the very same song as Cassie does. He hears Linda Ronstadt sing,

 

And I miss the blood red sunset

But I miss you the most.

 

He hears that voice and thinks, she might stop singing. But with her voice . . .

 

There will always be someone who listens.

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