By Jim Heffernan
I believe I was actually in Illinois on the day Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached by that state’s Senate. I wouldn’t have noticed except that a newspaper headline in a motel lobby stated (flatly): “Bye-Bye Blago.”
We were driving through the state en route to a warmer climate, seeking respite from the Twin Ports’ grueling January.
What does it feel like to be in a state when the governor is impeached? Cold and drab if it is Illinois in winter. Everybody thinks Chicago when they think Illinois, but it’s a long, narrow state that takes a day to drive across if you observe the 65-mile-an-hour speed limit. I don’t.
You have to pay toll to drive “free”ways in Illinois, which might explain why the roads are the worst of any state between Lake Superior and the Gulf of Mexico, but you’d be confounded trying to explain it.
Watching the Blagojevich drama transpire in recent months, I had hoped I would never have to spell his name in public, but here it is. Before I began writing this I went to Google and put in “Illinois governor” and up came the correct spelling. But the name doesn’t roll off the fingers like the names of other governors – say Pawlenty or Palin. I have to look at the previous reference every time I repeat it.
I agree the ex-governor is not helped by his hairstyle, and that might have contributed to his demise. But I’d trade him in a minute, for some very obvious reasons. Then there’s that first name – Rod. It’s a fine name – I have a brother with that name – but it is not the name of a successful politician.
Rod is short for Rodney, one assumes, unless Blagojevich’s full name is Roderick, which would be even worse for a politician. The late Rodney Dangerfield ruined the name for politics for at least a generation, although I doubt it’ll ever be gubernatorial again, much less presidential. For that you need a name like Barack.
But enough about Blago (that truncation rolls off the fingers). Once you jostle through Illinois on the day the governor is impeached, you enter Kentucky if you are going in the direction we were. My, how pretty. Ice-encrusted trees glistening beneath a golden late afternoon sun. What luck to be in Kentucky at such a beautiful time.
Oh, and look, ice is covering the power poles and power lines too. Heavens, it looks like the planet Krypton, where Marlon Brando ruled in a white toga in an early “Superman” movie. All ice, no fire. Gee, what are those helicopters with red crosses on them doing overhead?
Soon it was dark, though, as merrily we rolled along. Very dark. Homes and farms along the way – no welcoming lights. Oh my, we could use some gasoline. Here’s a town. Black. Not an ounce of electricity anywhere; some National Guard guys in camo glowering at intrepid motorists who dared invade their territory. (I know electricity doesn’t come by the ounce, but we were getting desperate.)
Back on the main highway (the roadways were clear) and with that funny little feeling in the stomach – the one that signals potential hardship or danger – we continued on, warily watching the gas gauge. Ah, and after another half hour or so, a town with lights. Safe. Well, yes, but not a room to rent in the whole place. Booked full of ice storm refugees. Keep going (after filling the tank).
Goodness, what’s this? Bumper-to-bumper traffic. More refugees from the massive ice storm creeping along the freeway for miles at 10-15 mph, everyone looking for refuge. The scene reminded of newsreels of great populations fleeing the onslaught of an invader, although there were no horse carts. No exodus is really valid without horse carts.
We found a place in Tennessee, blessed Tennessee, a state I never thought I’d love, and then on down the Hank Williams Highway the next morning beneath bright sunshine, full tank, full stomach, full of bologna. Well, not that, I hope.
Boy, it sure was good to get away from Duluth’s grueling winter and go down south to Dixie, the land of cotton. Good times there are not forgotten. Not for a long, long time.