West to East Chronicles: Waiting for repairs with Pat and John, The Epic Van is very sick, Despair vs. Hope at Art Institute

  • Our road rescuers Dick, (Tom), Jeanne, (Judy) and Chatree.

Our road rescuers Dick, (Tom), Jeanne, (Judy) and Chatree.

September 18 – Will Dick vote for Trump again?

My cousin, Dick Almasy, of Freeport, Illinois, is my political bellwether for  President Trump. I’ve talked with Dick, a retired industrial electrician, fundamentalist Christian and Vietnam vet, about politics for decades at family reunions in northern Illinois. Although our Red-Blue divide is deep, our conversations are always civil. Dick, a supporter of Ted Cruz during primary season in 2016, voted for Donald Trump. Has he done anything during the last three years to make you reconsider your vote? Without pause, Dick says no. According to Dick, Trump, as president, tells the truth and is law abiding, victimized by a mainstream media smear machine and unhinged Democrats, who never gave him a chance. (Aside from politics, Donald Trump is superior to Barack Obama in personal character, Dick says. However, he respected Obama during his presidency and prayed for him.) The re-election of Trump is even more important in 2020, given the threat of socialists bent on destroying the Constitution, Dick says. What about my political agenda for legislation to reduce global warming, create universal health care, raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to finance a stronger social safety net, and establish humane immigration policy? To Dick, it’s just a thicket of abstraction for financially secure, educated elites, like me, to fret over. Dick’s agenda: “It’s all about jobs.” Wealthy corporations and individuals, already burdened by taxes that are too high, will create manufacturing jobs in the United States now that Trump is reversing unfair global trading rules and cutting government regulations. According to Dick, the economy is great. Dick and I end our gabfest, agreeing on only one thing. We both want a president who will act to improve lives in Freeport, a struggling, racially diverse, Rust Belt city, and everywhere in the United States. Dick, who has traveled to the Caribbean and Mexico on church missions to help those in poverty, believes in helping others, but also in the sanctity of work. He sees wrongdoing in his community, underachieving folks, white and black, who could work full-time at difficult jobs for low pay, but choose to work sporadically and game the welfare system. From The Epic Van, I see wrongdoing at the top of society, a self-dealing oligarchy that breaks and bends laws through money influence in our nation’s capital. Dick and I can’t agree on what’s fundamentally wrong with America. One of us will wake up the morning after the 2020 election, certain that our democracy is dead. 

A Trump store in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

September 19 – Waiting for repairs with Pat and John

Jeanne, Dick and their son Chatree drive us to Wilmette, Illinois, where we spend the night with cousins Pat and John. We spent the next afternoon at the Chicago Botanic Garden, nine islands of plants and trees set in tall-grass prairie and woodland. No word about what’s wrong with the Epic Van, delivered to a Sprinter service center in Orland Park, a Chicago suburb.

Out with cousins John and Patsy at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

September 20 – The Epic Van is very sick

The Sprinter service manager calls. The diagnosis for The Epic Van is grim. I poisoned it with unleaded gasoline. How could I have done something so stupid? Well, I was in a hurry. I pulled into a convenience mart with BP pumps near Dubuque, Iowa. I grabbed reflexively for a green fuel pump and pushed the corresponding color on the dispenser. Green most always means diesel, except here. Something in the back of my mind didn’t feel quite right, but somehow my mind instantly validated my actions. I pumped diesel fuel at BP stations in the Midwest several years ago without no worries. Maybe that led to my nonchalance. Numb with remorse, I agree to investigating the damage. For $1,100, techs will flush the fuel tank, replace fuel filters, check fuel pump and fuel injectors, then get back to me.

Judy, Diane, Kevin and Tom, communing in Wheaton, Ill.

September 21-22 – Cousin time in Wheaton

Cousins visits continue, this time with Judy’s family. We catch an early morning commuter train to downtown Chicago, then transfer to the west line for breakfast in Wheaton with cousin Kevin and his wife, Diane. We talk a bit about summer travel and their trip to a friend’s birthday party, where they enjoyed some fantastic fishing on the Missouri River, near Great Falls, Montana. On a rainy Sunday, I walk along the tree-lined streets on Chicago’s north shore while Judy and Pat shop at an antique store.

Haystacks at Chicago’s Art Institute.

September 23 – Despair vs. Hope at Art Institute

We’ve been with Pat and John, soulmates in books and travel, for nearly a week, stretching the limits of their hospitality. Despite the demands of caregiving for John and hosting us, Patsy is enthusiastic about taking us on a four-hour trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. We ride along the shore of Lake Michigan through the campus of Northwestern on a sunny, 72-degree, afternoon. At the museum, we stroll through an exhibition of Depression-era photographs and enjoy the famous collection of Impressionists. Taking a break in the atrium, we call the Sprinter repair shop. Judy is convinced that our mighty diesel was beyond repair and a $13,000 engine replacement was necessary. I hold out hope that a flush-and-fix might work, as it did for another Sprinter owner who “misfueled” last week. We learn that The Epic Van passed a thorough test drive earlier in the day. We celebrate, making arrangements to pick it up tomorrow and head east.

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