Monday, May 2, 2016

It was about twenty miles past Normal when the green tea kicked in. I hit eighty in a howling slush squall looking to leave an oasis in the desert. The dark spaces between the ice flakes revealed a truck stop. It was a bland scrape of land with a soon to be rotten corpse of a metal shed. Good enough for what I had in mind. Or maybe not. Or maybe I have too high of a standard. It could have been from overuse. Had to wait in a line of truckers taking their first break for the week. I should’ve just found a spot in the great outdoors, it would’ve been a fresh air, water saving salute to mother nature. On the other hand there was soap and a sink.
Back on the interstate, driving at a pace not dictated by biology, the slushing stopped. A few miles from the exit is a town that sustained a tornado hit, it’s not making it back. A few more and we were at the gates dodging pot-holes. The fish in the lobby didn’t seem awfully bright and we were checked in, on our way to the room.
I think it was in 91 when I stayed there last. I was part of a hard partying crew, chronicling what the man on the street had to say about the Illinois lottery. From what I could remember I had been put up in a small wood panel room, and what do you know it was the very same room: My first clue in this conspiracy. Evidently, from what I could make out, I was to be infiltrating a very exclusive conservative organization. I played stupid through lunch, kept it low key. They were paying after all. I knew my cover was blown when I was ask to hang an I.D. around my neck: they knew who I was! They tried to buy me off with a meal ticket, so I went along with it. I wasn’t forced into the “conference room”, but I could not, not go in — ya exactly — you get it. The stiffs had their backs to me. I didn’t see Trump, the Bushes, Nixon, or John Birch; and there was more women than I had expected; but I did hear the word “conservation” whispered.
I sat at my table, the first speaker had already started. Something about easements, trusts, and legal focus, with the word capacity thrown in for good measure: typical verbiage of the man — MAN! A microphone had been passed around with the sole intention of exposing who exactly was at the “conference”, and it was making its way to me. Keeping my cool, I mumbled my alias “Rita Morgenstern, Assistant to the United Nations Aesthetic Czar” into the surveillance device. They bought it. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but my recollection of the proceedings were dimmed. It seemed to be an acronym festooned drivel of tech jargon. CRP, CCRD, ARC-GIS, I-something, IWAP, PSCC, whatever. I think they may have spiked my drink. Then legal studies were threatened and we fled.
The path we chose was along a bluff. Four inches of snow made it treacherous but beautiful. Our progress had to be quick, we were exposed, had to get off the bluff ASAP, besides the faster we put the legalese behind us the better. I slipped, nearly bought it. Came close to ruining our mission. Then our path became clear, a flight of stairs that led down into a deep hollow. It was a slippery twisting descent, and if it was a dead end we’d be had, but thankfully at the bottom, our path T’d, and even better there was a kind of cryptic map. I deciphered it and came to the conclusion to go upstream, deeper into the canyon. The darkness gathered, moss and ferns grew thick, and a sinister dripping of water from cliff above made the dampness show in our breath. Kelly had scraped her name into the wall, possibly trying to tell us something. Then I noticed other symbols inscribed into what had once been a beautiful moss covered stone wall. Good grief! We had stumbled into the box canyon of stupidity, and if we stayed within its narrow confines we too would become imbeciles. Illiteraly we were between a rock and a hard place.
My partner ESP’d that the legal sermon was over and only pure conservative ideas were being discussed, It was safe to head back. The path to the stairway was shorter than I expected, must have been under the influence of a time expander. I checked my readings and detected nothing, well played. Gravity was the issue going up, it was almost as if a gravitronic multiplier was being used. Crushing us as we made our way up, step by grueling step. A lady in a long black coat appeared, gave us a wide eyed look and mumbled a nod in our direction. A few steps farther and we at the top, the force weakened. Was it just a coincidence that gravity poured in on us at the bottom after we passed the man in black, and was let off after we passed the woman at the top: I think not.
The walk along the bluff seemed less threatening. We waved goodbye to the black vultures roosted in the hemlocks. Passed over the road on that familiar bridge, and stealthy entered the packed room, only talking to four or five other agents. Soon an operative was giving a dissertation on land acquisition, which led to an assistant agent giving the details on mission planning. It was when the climate change analyst got up, that I knew their conservative badge was golden. He described a hedge of sorts. As the climate gets warmer we should actually encourage the plants and animals that are most adaptable. Ah Ha!
Dinner was served, typical Midwestern chow. Drinks were to be had after. I noticed karaoke was the show for tonight, “ha, maybe we will get up and sing”. The large dining room was packed and a very competent vocalist was belting out a tune. Maybe the karaoke was in the back at the bar? the place was happening but no singing. It appeared the five hundred person crowd and the opera diva was the event. who knew Starved Rock Lodge was a karaoke hot spot. Even though I stayed up late and had more than one drink, I’m ninety percent sure I didn’t get up and sing. Which reminds me of our room’s, bathroom.
It’s an old place, and state owned, but the fact that my toilet was so close to the wall that I couldn’t fit, could be described as a crime against humanity. I won’t go on about the stupid toilet paper holder, that was situated exactly at my bicep. Never mind the fixtures were fairly new, and a few simple tweeks would’ve fixed the issues. What really got me was a nifty closet light that was rigged to go out when the door was closed: but the door wouldn’t close all the way. I must have opened and closed it for an hour, and could not get it to work.
Sometime after my tangle with the room's furnishings and fixtures I got to sleep. On waking the first thing I do is make tea. Good tea, not crappy lawn clippings. I hadn’t even opened my eye’s and knew I had forgot it. All I had to look forward too was coffee: barbaric! Breakfast was just OK, maybe it was the two or five cups of sludge that had deadened my taste buds. Then it was back with the conservationistas.
One guy had the balls to lay out a framework for working with conservative land developers to conserve wetlands. A couple of lobbyist tried to shed light on working with the government and your local representatives. Two men wanted to conserve rivers. What mosaic, maggilla, riparian, and strata have to do with dragging the army into the corps, I was unable to detect. Right-of-way for monarch butterflies didn’t sound like the right wing propaganda I was use to.
Then it hit me, these were not real conservatives, they were fake. Real conservatives would be suggesting ideas for the stewardship of those unused resources. That the land should be allocated to the highest-valued use. A divestiture process put in place and “squatters’ rights” should be protected. It’s a moral wrong to let the land lie “fallow”. These people were conservationist, not conservatives.
We escaped after a lecture about meetings was threatened, hiked down another gravity well then up the four lane pathway to the top of starved rock. Saw a bald eagle. Somebody was fishing right below us. The snow was melting. A newly minted Latino family, on their way to twenty kids swarmed around the telescope. I had been there twenty five years earlier when you could stand on the actual rock itself, I saw a bit of it through the gaps in the wooden walkway. For Two million visitors a year the place was holding up decently.

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