Ira Smolensky


                              A tornado in Chicago


         Last Friday was a strange day. 

         First, I got an offer to go on the air for Fox News, which I turned down.  Later, my wife Marge and I discovered that our Honda Civic Hybrid gets better gas mileage in traffic jams than on the open highway.  Just as we were marveling at that little nougat of information, we got to see the Chicago skyline standing up starkly against the brooding backdrop of a tornado- spewing blackened sky.  The inclement, doom-laden weather, in turn, brought us face to face with none other than “his honor” Mayor Richard M. Daley. 

         That’s when the real fun started.

         I guess I should start at the beginning.

         Last April, Marge and I got 4 tickets for this past Saturday’s White Sox game.  It was to be a family outing.  Little did we know that fate would intervene, snatching our son Matt and his wife Misty off to California.  But we were brave and arranged to go to the game with friends instead.

         So, Thursday night, Marge packed for a Chicago trip.  Friday morning we went off to work.  When I got to my office, there was a phone message from an operative with FOX News.  They wanted a local political scientist to provide on-air commentary regarding the Hare-Zinga race in the 17th Congressional District.  Finally, I would have an opportunity to achieve the fame I so richly do not deserve. 

         But then prudence got the better of me.  What if I said one of the candidates supported a national health care system and FOX, through some miracle of technological flummery, made it come out, “so and so is a communistic fascist pig who hates America.”  So I turned chicken and named names.  Bob Siebert at Knox and Jim Winship at Augustana College would be much better alternatives, I told the caller.  The dirty deed done, I slunk away to my class on Profiles in Courage.

         In the afternoon, Marge and I took off for Chicago in our new Honda Civic Hybrid.  Cruising up Rte. 34 to Rte. 80, we were getting about 44 miles per gallon (mpg).  Then we got onto Rte. 55.  Soon we were mired in heavy traffic.  We noticed the indicator telling us we were getting over 50 mpg for the last part of the trip.  Apparently, you don’t use much gas in a Honda Civic Hybrid when you are slamming along at 20 miles per hour.

         Soon we had bigger fish to fry.

         As we came within spitting distance of the Chicago skyline, we could see the familiar array of lofty buildings dwarfed by an unworldly darkened sky.  We turned on the news channel and heard that tornados were approaching Rogers Park, a north Chicago neighborhood.  The sky was still ominous as we got off of Lake Shore Drive, found a parking garage, and then hoofed it to our favorite hotel.

         We asked the desk clerk for a room in the basement.  The 4th floor was the best she could do.  We got our luggage upstairs and looked out the window.  It was pouring buckets.  We were ravenously hungry.  We figured we better eat close by.  So we ran across the street to a snooty looking steakhouse.  They told us that, for hoi polloi like us, there was an hour and a half wait.  We said no thank you and turned to leave.  Standing just behind us was Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago, who we jostled gently as we left. 

         The rain had slowed down, so we made plans to find an eatery more in line with our social standing.  I asked Marge if she had seen who was behind us.  She told me she hadn’t.  So I pulled her back to the doorway and told her to have a gawk at the Mayor. 

         “He’s short,” she said. 

         The worst of the storm had passed, but there was still intrigue in the air, like at the end of a great mystery novel.  We found a nice place to eat and had a romantic evening.  The next day, we met our friends and saw the Sox score a comeback victory.

         I didn’t say anything to Mayor Daley.  I don’t believe in accosting celebrities.  They need their privacy, too.  But I did think about him.  I thought about him in terms of “accountability,” the catch term that has been applied to school reform by figures as disparate as Daley and President Bush.  I wondered how accountable the big guys are for the work they do.  Where are the “results” they demand from others.

         Don’t get me wrong.  I like some things about Daley.  He loves his town and he loves his job, both prerequisites for being the mayor of a big city.  And he is comfortable rubbing shoulders with common folk.

         But the Mayor has not made much of a dent in urban blight.  And his school reform campaign was mostly a failure.

         To solve deep-rooted problems like these, it would take a combination of tornado-like strength and angelic goodness.

         Now that’s a hybrid I would really like to see in action.