Driving from Oak Park to Aurora along the Ronald Reagan Interstate 88 (named after the only president born in Illinois; we are so very proud), one passes a huge outlet mall off of the Farnsworth Road exit. I’ve made this drive a LOT, most recently because of employment at the mighty Paramount Theater for a production of Disney’s “Beauty And The Beast” (Walt Disney: another native Illinoisan who was a childhood classmate of my Aunt Jimmie. Again, very proud. But I digress).
The day after Thanksgiving, I was annoyed that traffic had slowed to a crawl a couple of miles before my exit. But I soon discovered the very logical reason: The Farnsworth exit ramp was backed up for about a mile, and the outlet mall’s parking lot was packed to the gills with Black Friday bargain-hunters.
Making the same commute on the next day, traffic had slowed in the exact same place. I assumed that the reason had to be because of the logjam of shoppers, but I was soon proven wrong: there had been an accident on the road. As I neared the scene, Here’s what I saw: A seemingly undamaged car was stopped in one of the middle lanes, and there was a man talking on his phone standing next to it. There was another man lying on the ground next to the front door on the driver’s side. He was on his side, curled up almost as if he was taking a nap. He was not moving. A First Responder was jogging towards the car, carrying something that I can only assume was a defibrillator.
I’ve had a hard time unseeing that scene. I can only assume that the man on the ground was dead. But how did this scene evolve? I tried reconstructing it with lots of variations. Did he have a stroke or a heart attack while driving, and did his passenger miraculously grab the wheel, guiding the car to a stop, and then pull the victim out of the car in order to apply CPR? That was one of the scenarios that could explain him lying on the driver’s side of the car. I ghoulishly scanned the Internet for any information, but was unable to find anything. I’ll never know the explanation and I haven’t yet come up with a version that satisfies my curiosity.
It got me thinking about some larger questions, though: Now that I’m on the proverbial Back Nine (you dig the golf reference? I’ve actually never shot a round of golf; I’m not confident I could get the ball under the windmill thingie….but I digress…..), I pondered about whether it was preferable to die quickly or to have it progress over a period of time? And would the preferred coda be preferable to me and not to my loved ones? And vice versa? And I reflected on the vast number of ways (and locations) in which it’s possible to come to the end.
As a mood-lightener, I’m going to recall my late and colorful uncle Ralph Eisenschiml, who used to delight in telling stories about his various relatives. The following one is about his cousin (I’ll call him Dave; I don’t recall his real name), and its connection to the theme of this post should become painfully obvious. I’ll try to tell it as I recall Ralph doing so:
“People die in all kinds of crazy ways, especially in wartime. I once met a guy who, after he learned my last name, asked me if I was related to Dave Eisenschiml. I said ‘Dave Eisenschiml was my cousin. He died a hero in WWII.’ The guy laughed, saying ‘”Died a hero”, my ass! Here’s how he died: He hitched a ride in a bomber, and you know the signs in there that say “Do NOT pull this lever”? Well, guess what? He pulled the lever, the floor opened up the way it does when they’re dropping bombs, except it was Dave who went out. And that was that!’
I’ve tried to convey the twinkle in Ralph’s eye as he related this rather gruesome tale. He was an interesting guy, with an appetite for the macabre.
(On a not-entirely unrelated note, I’m writing now on 3/19/20, in the midst of a seemingly out-of-control pandemic called Covid-19. Just today, my village of Oak Park, Illinois has ordered all of its residents to stay in their homes except for things like buying food and going to the pharmacy. At this point, there haven’t a lot of deaths in the US, but President Trump seems to have dawdled with his response to this crisis, so we’re facing numbers that may overwhelm our medical infrastructural ability to deal with it if things continue at the present rate. I’ve had all of my recent and upcoming gigs canceled. Unnerving times. Stay tuned. But…this post isn’t about how you die; it’s about where.)
Let me wrap this up (not a moment too soon) by saying that none of us can really predict with any accuracy the location of our own personal Finales. My advice is to always wear undies that don’t have any rips or holes in them.