The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go…. Wait! We’re not moving.

So that was one part of the saga. Wait until you hear the rest of it.

Our intrepid band of Quiz Masters (James A. Garfield’s Academic Challenge team) was off to national competition in Chicago, catching a charter in Streetsboro to join other teams from northeast Ohio and trek west for a first-ever contest of this kind—the big time! The trip to Chicago was estimated to take about seven hours (We were going to be over by O’Hare Airport) and we started off in fine fettle, loaded with luggage—I’m an over-packer but the guys showed up with minimal encumbrances, hopefully, clean underwear—high hopes and tons of snacks; the pioneers would have been in awe of our preparations for the westward journey. It WAS hot but the buses were air conditioned (sometimes over-achieving in this regard) and roomy, so temperatures were not an issue until we took our rest stops. We were cruising along on the Turnpike, with some groups actually studying, some reading or focused on their electronic devices , some just chatting about this and that. I was watching out the window; I love traveling in those buses because I can pay attention to the scenery and not the road, I can be up above things and get a better view. I always was aware that Ohio scenery flattened heading westward, beginning with the crossing of the Cuyahoga River and heading over across the Lake Plain toward Toledo. Once across that, and into Indiana, things get a little more rolling. I had not been aware that there was so much irrigation of field crops in Indiana; we could see the big pieces of apparatus spraying out water as they moved across the fields. I still have not figured out how they manage to irrigate rectangular/square fields with machinery that seemed to be tethered in one spot—where the water was—and moving about that pivot point…which would seem to demand a circular pattern of water delivery. Didn’t look circular to me. How do they do that?

Plenty of wildlife was out for viewing as we rolled along; I spotted a heron, two cranes, several deer, two woodchucks out browsing, and quite a few ducks. The Wild Kingdom! And that doesn’t even count the therapy dog—a real little one—that was on the bus in a ventilated backpack. She made good use of the facilities every time that we stopped anywhere.
So, we’re rest-stopping and at one spot in Ohio, I hit the gift shop to purchase an over-priced (Aren’t things there always over-priced?) Ohio State fuzzy-fleece throw to keep frost from forming on my shoulders as I leaned against the window; it served the purpose but Woody Hayes would never have countenanced such frippery. As the miles went by, our stops were only to be in Ohio; the director of operations was of the opinion that Indiana couldn’t hold a candle to Ohio in the matter of food offerings or comfort, and I think that she had a point. A number of the Indiana locations were undergoing renovation too, so no stops until Chicago.

So the traffic is getting serious as we headed through Gary, Indiana and into the Chicago orbit. It was getting to be about rush hour (Mental adjustments needed, Central Time Zone, one hour later than the one we started off in), vehicles of every size and description, hell-bent on getting somewhere FAST. Not us. We’re slowing down, slowing down, slowing down. I’m thinking, “Wow, this is some traffic jam we’ve gotten ourselves into. We’re hardly moving at all. No, we’re not moving at all. Some rush hour, huh?”

That’s when I looked out of the window and saw the bus driver walking toward the back of the bus—outside! He came back into the bus, then got out again, this time carrying one of those triangular plastic reflective warning signs which he, presumably placed at the rear of the bus so we would not be rear-ended by a semi. And there we sat…for two hours.
Luckily, the air conditioning held up for the whole time and we did not get parboiled in our own juices (Which could have become pretty nasty) while waiting for the front bus to take its load of passengers to our destination, then return to pick up our contingent of Quiz Bowlers. Alas, transferring from one bus to another, we were forced to abandon our stash of snacks; we only partially recovered from this tragedy on the way back. In any case, we did finally get to the Candlewood Suites where we were expected and had only minimal delay getting into our assigned rooms. At one point there was some speculation as to who might have to sleep on a recliner or the floor, but that was settled with little bloodshed.

We had missed the official orientation session on Friday evening but were reassured that it would follow the same general format as our qualifying competition, so that was not a big deal.
What was a big deal was the heat. Whooeee! Everything that Ohio was getting that weekend, Chicago was getting first. And never doubt that the nickname “Windy City” is appropriate. Our residence hotel was a block or so from the Sheraton where the competition was scheduled, so we had to walk there for each match, then back to rest up or recharge with food—one way with the wind at our backs, one way walking into the wind. I get more wrinkles just thinking about it.

No recounting of the trip can be complete without a mention of Amy and John Crawford, our undaunted and indefatigable parent chaperones and tour guides. They had driven on their own to Chicago—and got there before we did—and had been there before and were wickedly good at looking up things on various internet sites and were able to get out to round up provisions—gallons of milk, for instance—to keep teenagers from wasting away from lack of breakfast. John was also tall enough to be spotted above a crowd and homed in on like a landmark, a virtual Eiffel Tower (son Christian displays similar characteristics). Amy steered everybody and got us where we needed to be (More about that later) They were indispensable.

Stay tuned for more on “Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town”…what Paul Harvey called, “the rest of the story.”