Yet another downtown Chanute bar is now a vacant lot with the demolition of the Southside Tavern this week. Even though this beloved historic landmark is gone, the discussion of what to do with its western wall won’t be ending anytime soon. There is another locally-owned building that is attached to the same slowly-deteriorating wall, and that owner might want to be compensated by the city in a similar way as the co-owners of the Southside were. This means that local residents will still be regularly treated to the fun-filled spectacle of some our esteemed City Commissioners, who have repeatedly offered to give away the wall – while the City Manager and attorneys insist that the city doesn’t actually own it.
I don’t know exactly how a city that doesn’t own a wall can treat it with chemicals, hang signs about Octave Chanute on it, and offer to give it away.
When I’ve watched Commissioners try to give away the wall that they apparently don’t own, it reminded me of something that happened to me when I traveled to England in my twenties.
Back then, I was working in baggage claim for TWA airlines at the St. Louis airport, and was looking for a way to use my discounted-flights benefit to impress the girl I was dating at the time. I discovered that these flight benefits also extended to my spouse, so we decided to get married in order to go on cooler dates. Clearly, this was the most rational basis for a marriage ever.
One of the places we most wanted to use our cheap plane tickets was England, and we weren’t going to let a little thing like lack of money for lodging and other expenses stop us from planning such a trip. Going to a foreign country with no real money to spend there or rational plan to make any money there is one of those ideas that could only possible sound good to someone in their twenties.
That is exactly what we did, which is how I ended up standing in a train tunnel in the town of Basingstoke. It’s a mid-size city that’s about an hour south of London, and my wife and I were in the train tunnel there seeking shelter from a storm while seeking a cheap way to get to where we actually wanted to go. There were other people in the tunnel that night, and I ended up talking to this 13 year-old kid named Trevor. He was enamored with anything American, very immersed in our pop culture, and he asked me plenty of questions about it.
To save time trying to explain to English people where exactly in the United States St. Louis or Missouri is, my wife and I started telling people we were from Chicago since that city is in the same general region and has a little more worldwide name recognition. Trevor was excited when we told him this, and loudly asked if we knew Jerry Springer.
Then, he asked me if I had found a place to stay in town, and I honestly answered that we hadn’t. He told knew of a good place where my wife and I could sleep comfortably and stay dry, and that he would be happy to take us both there. Not having any other options, we followed him through the town to a residential neighborhood with a van sitting outside of a house. Trevor said we were invited to sleep in this van for as long as we wanted, to stay warm and dry.
We profusely thanked him and proceeded to make ourselves at home in these unique accommodations, and get some much-needed sleep.
Some rustling outside the van woke me up the next morning, and I peeked out the windows to see a guy standing in his bathrobe, puttering around his yard to pick up his morning paper. He must have seen me staring out the window, because he walked towards the van and forcefully opened its door. He demanded to know who we were and what we were doing on his property.
I stammered, “Trevor said we could stay here.”
He looked really confused by this and replied, “Who the hell is Trevor?”
Apparently, despite my mistaken impression that this van was in the yard of Trevor’s family, the kid really had no claim to it at all. He was being generous with stuff that didn’t actually belong with him.
Luckily, the van’s owner took our unauthorized trespassing on his property with more grace and humor than I would show the City Commissioners if they offered me the deed to a wall that they claim that they don’t own. Still, it’s disturbing to see some of our elected officials behave in exactly the same way as a 13 year-old English kid.
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