Taxes and Time Capsules

Taxes. Is there anything that fills the heart with more dread than dragging out the files (or shoeboxes) of receipts and putting together a coherent story for your accountant?

I’ve been in the thick of my tax prep today, with three bins of documents headed for the shredder dating back to 2007 (why am I keeping ten year old documents? I have no answer.)

Having been self-employed for a good bit of my life, I tend to keep all receipts, even ones that I probably don’t need–just in case. And after a decade, some of the receipts are pretty well worn, and I have no idea what they were for.

But a lot of the receipts are still clear and easy to read, and I find it is taking me ten times longer than it should to get them to the shredder because it’s as if I’ve opened a time capsule as I look at them. Who knew doing taxes would be like reading old pages of your diary?

I know that I traveled a lot those years, because I’ve got every boarding pass ever used. See what you’re missing out on, those of you who do the mobile boarding pass thing? How many of your trips do you remember?

I can tell you that I went to New York in 2006 and again in 2007, because I have boarding passes for flights from O’Hare to LaGuardia and receipts for the Helmsley Hotel. Those trips? For meetings at the UN I was attending while working on getting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passed.

Boarding passes for flights to Doha, Qatar in 2008 and 2009? I was invited to attend the Shafallah Forum, an international conference on disability issues hosted by the Shafallah Center, a center created to provide education for children with disabilities in Qatar. And the best memory of that trip? That it was my husband’s first trip out of the country, and we took it together. I remember thinking how brave it was of him to jump on a 15 hour flight no questions asked just to be with me. I don’t think he slept a wink the whole flight. Me? Dinner, glass of wine, lights out. Not the best travel companion for a nervous traveler, but he made it through and we had a fabulous trip.

A hotel receipt for LaFonda in Santa Fe? That’s where I spent my first wedding anniversary.  Wandering the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, drinks at the Inn of the Anasazi on their lovely heated outdoor patio, breakfast at Tia Sophia’s where I get my huevos rancheros “Christmas” style, with both red and green chile.

Receipts from the Silk Market in Beijing. I was there during the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Jesse was with me again, by this time a veteran international traveler. In addition to seeing the Games, visiting the Great Wall, and the Forbidden City, we learned all about how to shop like a pro at the Silk Market, how to haggle with the vendors like we belonged there.

United Airlines receipts for Copenhagen. That’s where I went for the Chicago 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid presentation to the International Olympic Committee. There, I got to share the stage with President and Mrs. Obama to make the case why Chicago should get the Games. We were not successful in our pitch, but it is a day in my life I will not soon forget.

Wonder what memories next year’s time capsule will unlock?

Johnny, Jeffrey, Lyle

Johnny Carson, Jeffrey Osborne and Lyle Alzado. An unlikely trio, forever entwined in my memories.

It was late December, 1983, and me, my twin sister Laura, and four fellow Illini fans were on the red eye to LA to see Illinois take on UCLA in the Rose Bowl. We had tickets for the game on January 2, but decided to make a longer vacation out of it since we were on semester break.

We got off the plane at somewhere around 6 a.m., and headed straight for the Burbank Studios to get in line for Johnny Carson tickets. There was already a long line of people assembled, but even though it was early in the morning, there was a party atmosphere to the crowd. We were there to see Johnny, after all!

Somewhere around 10 a.m., bleary eyed and tickets in hand, we headed to our hotel where 6 of us were sharing one room for the week. Don’t judge….we were college students! Naps, showers and some food later, we were headed back to the studios to stand in line for round two. I can’t imagine why you’d go through the trouble of standing in line at 6 a.m., only to not show up later, but what do I know?

So, we stood in line again, got in the studio sometime between 2-3 p.m., got to our seats and had to sit and wait. The studio was freezing cold and we were in shorts and tee shirts.  But we had our tickets and we were going to see the king of late night, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. We were all so excited!

Soon enough, the man himself was on the stage delivering his brand of pithy humor with Ed McMahon, his forever sidekick there on the couch and Doc Severinsen leading the band. This was my first brush with celebrity like that, I have to admit I was a little starstruck.

The first guest? Some guy, can’t remember his name, who did an act twirling plates to music. Might have had a Vegas act or something, Not something anyone would pay to see today, but then it was kind of a thing.

Next up? Jeffrey Osborne. His song, “On the Wings of Love,” was recently released, and we got to hear it live and in person. I liked the song already. Getting to hear it live? Icing on the cake.

So where does Lyle Alzado fit in? For those of you too young to remember, he played football with the Denver Broncos, then Cleveland, then LA. He died of brain cancer in the early 1990’s which he ascribed to his lifelong steroid habit. He wasn’t a guest on Carson that night, but he was in the audience. He was actually sitting right in the row behind me. When the camera panned to him as Carson introduced him to the audience, you could see me on the screen. My five seconds of fame! Friends at home who were watching saw it; unfortunately, I never got to. But hey, I was there, right?

The game? Unfortunately, the Illini left their best back in Champaign, and lost big to UCLA in the Rose Bowl that year. But that loss didn’t overshadow the highlight of the trip for me–I got to see Johnny Carson!

A Tale of Two Taxi Drivers

A tale of two….taxi drivers? And here’s where the story begins. I land at O’Hare, get to baggage claim. A customer service rep from Delta helped me get my bags and walked with me to the taxi stand. And that’s where things got weird.

The taxi attendant asked me if I needed an accessible cab. I said no. He said ok, take the next one, and waved me down the line. Me and the Delta rep headed to the next taxi. I rolled up, pulled open the door and started getting ready to get in.

The driver jumped out and asked the guy from Delta, “Is that her wheelchair?” I responded, “Yes, it is my char.” He then responded, “You need a wheelchair van.” I replied, “No I don’t.” He said, “Yes you do.” I repeated, “No I don’t. I can get in any cab.”

He said, “I’m not taking the wheelchair.'” I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I said, “What?”, thinking surely I must have misheard him.  He repeated it. No mistaking the words. The taxi stand attendant, the rep, and me look at him. Look at each other. The attendant says, “You have to take her. She said she doesn’t need a wheelchair cab, she can take any cab she wants.”

The driver again said he would not take me. “I will not put your chair in my car,” he said. “That’s why they have a wheelchair van.”

I said to him, “You know what you’re doing is illegal, right?” He said, “I don’t care.” Plain as day. “I don’t care.”

I said, “You know I’m going to file a complaint against you.” He said (wait for it), “Go ahead. I don’t care.”

It did not matter what any of us said to this guy. He did not budge. Even when security was called. Same answer. No. Flat. Out. No. Finally, the taxi attendant yelled at him, “You refused her. Get outta here! Now!”

I haven’t been this upset since I can’t remember when. I was so angry, I wanted to swear, to scream, to hit something. I did none of those things. Instead, I feared up. And I got in another cab.

And this guy could not have been more different than Mr. Jerk who refused to take me. He put my bags in the car. Put my chair in the car. Asked me what route I wanted him to take. He was friendly and polite and kind. He talked about his family, where he was from in India. How long he’d been here, how much he liked Chicago.  He got me to my house. He got my chair out. He got my bags out. He carried my bags to the door for me. He wished me a nice weekend, and was on his way home to enjoy his weekend with his family.

I am so grateful that second driver came along. He didn’t devalue me, or diminish me. He treated me with courtesy and kindness. And he made sure I got home safely. Doing his job. And doing it well.

Flying the Friendly Skies

One of my earliest memories of O’Hare Airport is going there at age 3 with my entire family to see my brother off to Vietnam. I don’t know that I knew he was going to Vietnam, but I knew he was going “at the war.” What does a 3 year old know about that?

I remember the smell of jet fuel. I remember it was night time and already dark. We were all dressed up. People used to dress up to fly, seems strange now when you see people in pajamas, yoga pants, sweats, jeans. And, you could go all the way to the gate even if you weren’t getting on a plane. I remember we stayed at the gate, watched my brother walk down the jet bridge and watched the plane until it took off.

That’s the thing. Every day, people get on and off planes. Going to work. Coming home. Going “at the war.” Truth is, we have no idea what the hundreds or thousands of people we pass on the way to our own flight are facing or dealing with on their journey. Sure, many people are taking fun trips, Disney with the kids, some Caribbean island or European jaunt for a honeymoon. But there are others whose journeys aren’t all sunshine and roses.

On my last trip, for example, I met a guy who was making his every-three-week flight between Chicago and his tiny Arkansas home town to get treatment for cancer. He was traveling alone. He said his wife came with him sometimes, but insurance wouldn’t pay for her to accompany him, and they had to pay for it themselves, and it got expensive. So he came alone. To have his body filled with chemicals that would kill the invaders inside him so he could go home for three more good weeks.

I loved talking to this guy. He was in good spirits. He was reading Grisham. We bonded over that, talking about our mutual love of his fine writing. We compared notes on which book we liked the best, and then about the movies that had been made, and which actors did justice to the characters in the books. We both agreed that Denzel and Julia did a pretty damn fine job in The Pelican Brief.

Then, the talk turned serious. We talked about his cancer. How he’d been going for these treatments for several months, and he had a few more to go. And we talked about how blessed he felt to have found a place to treat him and give him hope, after his first doctor had told him there was “nothing that could be done.” He was grateful to have found a place where they treated him like a human being, with compassion and grace, instead of as a set of symptoms to treat (or not). He got teary when he shared this part of his story. I got teary right along side him.

I don’t remember his name. But as I’m traveling through airports today, I’m thinking of him, and hoping his journey is going well.