Spiritual renewal discovered at ISU

At first, it didn’t seem like such a good idea. Why would anyone want to spend two days in the middle of the week at a Board of Regents meeting at someplace called Normal, Illinois?

Strange and terrible things were said to happen at such meetings. Budgets got slashed, policies were made and mothballed, and dismal news of the state’s dismal finances were pondered.

However, going into the dark labyrinth of university government was part of the job description.

I was given a university car, $100 and vague directions, all with the understanding that they would get an intelligible story sometime before Castro falls.

Long after the meeting ended, and the last page had been faxed, I realized I didn’t know anyone in Normal and the Regents and administrators probably were not up for rabble rousing.

After pacing like a caged speed freak, I resorted to solid food, a few dark beers and a midnight soak in the Best Western’s tiny pool, free from any human voice or sound, lost in time.

Instead of drowning in the barren malaise that Chicagoans derisively call “downstate,” ISU’s campus represented everything NIU might have been. They have a student center full of fast food joints, condom week AND parking.

Even the return trip was relaxing. The road is four lanes of straight, good pavement most of the way, and you can simply lock the cruise at 70 and relax.

If you hold the wheel in a proper Highway Grip, your arms will keep the car straight. If you have an alert passenger keeping look out for you, you can even take brief naps, or read a paperback.

Beyond that, there is nothing else to do, except watch the crows feast on the occasional roadkill or play chicken with the oversize load trucks.

Then there was the hitchhiker in someplace called El Paso. He was a grubby, unshaven Mr. Belvedere, standing along the road, thumb up, looking hopefully at every car that neared him.

As I approached, curiosity and a sense of adventure welled up in me. He was an old man, probably full of stories from his days as an S&L president or speech writer in the Reagan White House.

On the other hand, he was carrying an awfully large duffle bag. He could have been some escaped mass murderer from Pontiac touring the state with the remains of his last traveling companion.

Or maybe he was one of those bums you hear about on the news who had millions hid in their dirty bundles. In that case, I would have been forced to roll him and live out my remaining days in some Caribbean island without extradition, rubbing shoulders with Imelda Marcos and the Duvaliers. In addition, the people at Transportation would simply come unglued if the character left lice in the upholstery.

In the end, I threw the old man a salute and assured myself that our paths were never meant to cross that way. I cruised homeward, listening to the King, Motown and the Dahmer pre-trial statements. Some people go to monasteries in Tibet for spiritual renewal. I knew better. I had found Normal, Illinois.