Leaving Springfield

We didn’t start out to see America. We left Springfield, Illinois with the belief, we had the talent, skills and the faith, to start a new life anywhere in America. Carol could work at a job she loved and I would explore my passion to be a writer.


Springfield, Illinois

We had chose Stamford Connecticut to be our destination. We didn’t know anyone in that city. But the words we read in the full color brochures about the city provided by their tourist bureau, described the essentials we wanted. A great community life and good place to work.

Carol’s friend, who owned a radio station in Springfield, knew the owner of a radio station in Stamford. He would let them know we would be in their city, giving us a contact when we got there. Stamford turned out not to be our destination, but the beginning of a cross country adventure.

The day we left, August 2, 1986, was a usual bright hot humid central Illinois’ day. No clouds soften the round red ball of heat that hung in the clear blue sky. A slight breeze pushed the warm air across my face which mixed with droplets of sweat and created a false sense of cooling. Small green splashes of dotted dead brown grass gave hope the small patch of lawn outside would survive if rain came soon.

Sweat dripped down from my forehead. A stream of it ran from behind my ears down my neck to my chest and added more wetness to the white t-shirt I had on. I lugged boxes out the living room’s sliding door into the hot sun packing the trunk for a hour.

The trunk and the back seat of the Peugeot 505 were filled with boxes and suitcases. The weight caused the rear of the car to drop low. I pushed down on the trunk, the car bounced up and down a few inches. With the two of us in the car, a few more boxes would be pushing its weight load restriction.

The four cylinder, 5 speed automatic, French car was designed to be a luxury four-door sport car. A comfortable car, the interior was larger than it looked and the engine was still super tight. The car was the smallest car I had ever owned. But, the gas mileage was great. The car would be our transportation, home and storage space until we found a place to live.

Washington Street was four lanes going down a hill from our apartment entrance until the Fairhill’s shopping mall where it turned into a two lane street with old oak and spruce trees forming a partial canopy going up a hill.

Up the hill on the right, pass the shopping mall, was a nursing home. On the left, Sacred Heart Griffin, a Catholic high school, baseball diamond field.

The school building was in the next block on the right. Across from the school were houses, an apartment building and a city library branch building.

After a few blocks of old wood and brick houses build during World War II, you were in the capitol complex area. On the right was the Stratton Office building and the state Capitol. On the left, old historical state buildings that served as memories without displaying their purposes. The state Armory whose long ago purpose was forgotten and turned into offices for the Illinois State Police.

We chatted about the different types of trees, how they formed a leafy canopy on some streets and how pretty they were. We talked about those things so we wouldn’t talk about other things during the drive from the West Side of Springfield to Carol mother’s house on the East Side.

Her mother watched us pull up in front of her house. She opened the door as we walked up the porch steps. Her small lips were pressed tightly together and wrinkles cut deep across her forehead.

“At least you made it this far without any troubles.” She said as she held the door open for us. We walked in and sat down in the living room. “You want something to eat before you leave?” She asked.

Carol declined for both of us. “No, Tom wants to get going. We’ll eat something later.”

We lapsed into silence for a few moments. What else was there to say? Our mothers had been talking to us for the past few weeks about how crazy we were to quit good jobs to go driving around the country. They couldn’t understand why two smart people like us would do something so crazy. We had heard the word crazy a lot the past few weeks.Maybe it was crazy. We had good jobs and lots of friends.

We were leaving to stumble around, looking for a place to live, no jobs, among strangers. A black man and woman, in their forties, venturing out into America with little money and faith in themselves had to be crazy.

Carol’s mom broke the silence. “You need anything?” She asked.

“No.” I answered.

Carol stood up. “We have to get going. I’ll call you from Decatur when we get there.”

Mom rubbed her wrinkled forehead. “Call if you need anything.”

Carol hugged her mother. “Don’t worry mom, you’ll always know where we are at. When we know were we’re gone to settle down you can come and visit.”

“I’m not coming if you’re living in a box on the street.” Mom said.

We all laughed. “Don’t worry Mom, we will not invite you if we don’t have a bed for you.” I said.

I walked out the door behind Carol wishing I had a mother’s hug to send me off. My mother lived in Chicago and my conversations with her had been long distance over the phone. She was so upset at me, if she was near I wasn’t sure if she would have hugged me or slapped me aside my head.

On route 72 heading to Decatur, I looked into the rear view mirror. Springfield faded into a mass of green treetops, except for the tops of the State Capitol dome and the Hilton hotel, jutted above the green vagueness. As they faded into the skyline, I said goodbye family, goodbye friends, goodbye Springfield silently to myself.

We had declined family and friends offers to spend our last night in Springfield. Since we were out of our home, we decided to hit the road rather than engage in long painful good-byes with them. We were going to spend the night in Decatur, Illinois about thirty miles east of Springfield with, old friends of Carol’s. They would call us crazy, but feed and put us up for the night with few questions, and send us off with love.

As the Decatur city limits came into view Carol turned to me and said, “We did it.”

“We’re on our way.” I said. “How do you feel?”

“Excited and scared. Excited to be doing it but scared because I’m leaving everything I know.” She looked out the window for a few minutes then asked me, “are you okay?”

“Hey, you’re at my side, got a few dollars in my pockets, and starting an adventure. I’m okay.”

J Publications, Inc. 2013