Thursday, May 22, 2008

Travels with Jeannie - Chicago!

September 7, 2006. My new puppy was arriving from Sweden on SAS airlines at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. I had been waiting for the Swedish puppy's arrival for two years! When a puppy was first available, my dear old Caruso was in failing health, and bringing in a puppy would have been unfair to him, so I chose to wait until the next litter. Problem was Bill and his friend Harvey were having a huge joint art show the next evening. At our house. Expecting two to three hundred people. Well, Bill and Harvey are wonderfully resourceful, self-sufficient souls, we have a great caterer in the neighborhood, and Harvey's wife Jeannie said, "I'll go with you!"

I got the van serviced and the new brakes installed the week before, and I loaded up the whole waggle (only seven in those days) and picked up Jeannie at six AM on the day. I took all of the whippets with me so that at least Bill didn't have to deal with them as he got ready for his show. (Big of me, eh?) OK, and I did have the house spotless and the yard looking good.

Jeannie and the dogs and I were all in a high state of spirits and adventure and the miles flew by. It's about a seven hour drive to the cargo terminals of O'Hare. We decided to get there and check on the flight status and know that we had found where we would need to be, before eating lunch. The puppy was flying with his littermate, who was going to another home in the States, but they would be in that crate for twelve hours, and I didn't want them to wait for an extra second to be out and safe and welcomed! We chatted and laughed and before we knew it, we were getting off the Interstate.

As we pulled off the highway, I thought, "Man, Chicago stinks. I'm so glad I don't live in a Big City." Then as we drove in stop and go traffic I thought, "Hmmmm. It must be really industrial around here. I smell smokestacks. Phew!" We drove along, until we were only about a mile from the SAS terminal, and I asked Jeannie, "Do you smell something?"

"Yes, yes I do," she said.

"Do you think it's the van?" I asked, a nervous, jittery sort of feeling taking up residence in my belly.

"I don't know, let me ask this man," Jeannie calmly replied. She rolled her window down - we were at a red light - and asked a nice looking business man in a fancy car stopped in the next lane, "Excuse me sir! Excuse me! Ah, there you are! Yes, by any chance, do you detect an odor?"

The man made no effort to disguise his disgust and in a voice dripping with boredom and condescension he said, "Yes. It's you. There's smoke coming out of your van." And without so much as a do-you-need-a-hand, or a howdy do, he rolled up his window and made no further eye contact.

That little nervous, jittery sort of feeling in my belly launched into full fright and flight mode, and I calmly started screaming, "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!! THE DOGS, THE DOGS!! WHAT DO WE DO WHAT DO WE DO WHAT DO WE DO?"

Then I got a grip, and the light had changed and I was driving and I collected myself and I screamed even louder, "OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!! THE DOGS, THE DOGS!! WHAT DO WE DO WHAT DO WE DO WHAT DO WE DO? WE HAVE TO GET ALL SEVEN OF THESE DOGS OUT OF THIS VAN RIGHT HERE IN THE BUSY STREET RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD."

Jeannie displayed a calm mature rationality that still impresses me to this day. "You could pull over in that gas station."

I had yet to succumb to rational thought and the picture of two Swedish puppies dying of something - I didn't know what, but something - in a lonely crate in an SAS terminal flashed in my brain. "I think we should get to the terminal before I stop."

Jeannie pointed out that if the van exploded first... Well, that set me off yet again in another screaming WHAT DO WE DO fit. And then Jeannie realized she was dealing with a near psychotic break on the part of the van driver. (Jeannie is an RN with a Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing. That came in handy!) She calmly listed our options. We could rent a cargo van, switch over the crates and drive home. We could get the puppies and stop at a service station and get the van checked out. We could stop at a service station and get the van checked out, and then get the puppies. And then sweet words of truthful inspiration poured from her lips. She said, "I don't think the smell is as bad. And I don't see any smoke."

I did point out that all the van's gauges were fine, and no red lights were flashing in the dashboard, and now that she mentioned it, I thought the smell had decreased too. We drove on, found the terminal, and were told that the plane was about to land, and that it would be an hour and a half before the puppies got through customs and to the terminal and would be ready to be claimed. We drove to a service station which we had seen at the last light before the freight terminals.

Jeannie approached a tall employee. "Can you help us, sir? We're from Kentucky!!!" The man had the rather swarthy look of a homesick Middle Eastern immigrant. I said, "Are you a nice person? I desperately and truly need you to be a nice person!"

In a heavy accent the tall swarthy homesick Middle Eastern immigrant man said, "No. I am not nice. But he is." And he pointed a scary long finger at another employee. This man walked over with a smile on his swarthy Middle Eastern countenance and sprouted angel wings and a halo. Not a round cartoon cheap halo, but the glowing golden radiant halo of a Renaissance painting of the Christ Child. He opened the van hood, checked around, smelled the air and asked in an echo chamber voice of divinity with harps and violins playing in the background:

"Did you recently get new brakes installed?"

That's all it was. New brakes breaking in. That's all. No exploding van spraying dogs and friends all over Chicago. No Swedish puppies dying of no-one-picked-'em-up. New brakes. Just sweet new brakes.

I kissed the angel man. I told the big swarthy mean scary man I would like to kiss him, too, but his look made me reconsider. Jeannie and I had lunch at the English Pub next door. We picked up the Swedish puppies who were safe and happy to see us and set up an xpen for them to potty right there at the terminal.

We laughed the entire way home. Seven hours of hysterical laughter. "You tried to kiss that big mean man!" "You said, we're from Kentucky!!" And we got home in time to entertain the art lovers, while they passed Swede William around, oohing and ahing over him.

Swede William became part of our family.

Jeannie became My Good Friend.

Hug your hounds

[Click to go back to Whippet World]


  1. Nothing like a good psych nurse to calm the situation.
    Great photo of you and the puppy.

  2. Your words put me right in the van, along with you and Jeannie and the dogs. Great post, Patience, and great writing!

  3. i can so imagine this! i thought it was only me that had this kind of thing happen! i never understood why he was swede william but now i do.

  4. Joker said "i never understood why he was called swede william". Yes, and his registered name is "Burnt Sienna Midsummer Night" so there's a little homage to The Bard.

  5. And this is why we need to travel in pairs.
    What a good friend you have!

  6. Oh my goodness, Swede William is Quincy's brother?! :O Amazing! Well this ruins the surprise a bit but I have to share now. I'm getting one of Quincy's sons! That's pretty cool that you have his uncle then, hehe!


  7. <3 There's nothing like good friends and good dogs!

    Hugs, Ane

  8. We are sure glad everything turned out okay! Our mom would have been freaking out! She, also believes in traveling in pairs!

    Poppy & Penny

  9. What a very visual tale!! I felt the excitement and the panic and the relief and the love.

    I can also hear Swede William telling his family back in Sweden his side of the story....

    Woofs from your hairy pals,

    Jake and Just Harry

  10. Whew!!!
    You really had me worried there!!

    PeeS: Does Will speak with a Swedish accent???

  11. Love that story. I have lived and worked in Chicago, but for only 5 months when I was 19. Was I ever glad to get out of there!

  12. That is a great story - funny AND educational!

  13. That sounds like something I would do....I hate feeling like something is going WRONG, and potentially very WRONG. Once, on a dog trip the van stopped shifting appropriately. I lost 5 pounds in 2 days stressing over it. I didn't want to stop b/c I had all of the dogs with me. Turned out, a computer chip had gone bad.

    BTW, I DID buy a "ranch." It is 65 acres about 10 minutes from the house. I am going to put a fence down the middle so that the cows can use one side and I am going to set up doggie fun on the other. The land needs some improvements (I want to put up a barn for shelter with a few amenities like septic and electricity. Right now, the dogs think they have one to heaven when we go out there.

  14. and her Mom said,
    What a beautiful story!
    Swede William was an adorable puppy and I'm glad everything turned out so well!

  15. what a fabulous story! we sure do hate anything car related and I am sure Mom would have thought the thing was about to blow too! glad it all worked out!!

  16. What a story! You were very brave to drive a vehicle with smoke coming out of it for such a distance. That would make me nervous. Hope your next trip to Chicago is less adventurous.

    Jeannie sounds like a terrific lady.

    The puppy's beautiful.

    Love and Koobuss Kisses,

  17. Don't worry, Koob. That puppy is baby Swede William. That trip was in 2006! No new puppies right now for us. We're a perfect, happy family - just right.


  18. Just caught up with the funny! I've always said that some of the most hilarious stories come out of road trips. You have such a talent for capturing the shear madness of life. Thanks!


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