International Quilting Festival, Chcago – March 2004

Adventures of a Traveling Writer

Things are going great. This event is so huge they had police directing traffic today, and huge buses whistling and bleating their way in and out, bringing thousands of people — and this is Friday. God knows what it will be like tomorrow. I signed dozens of books, sitting for four one-hour shifts with an hour off between to wander around and stare. Quilting has come a long, long way from our childhoods. There was a “quilt” made on transparent organza in honor of an ancient Chinese empress.  There was an ivory-on-ivory quilt designed after an European plaster ceiling.  There was even a fashion show of evening gowns in quilted material.  One featured a floor-length coat made of strips of quilted cloth in pale turquoise and buff on white that, when the model moved, proved to also be laid on transparent organza, so it opened like box pleats and a narrow sleeve suddenly was flared and the coat skirt opened and closed.  Amazing.

I had called the motel on Wednesday when my computer was acting up and I couldn’t get to Mapquest. They have a button you press for directions. Seemed simple: Take I-90 to Exit 79A, go south on Cumberland to Lawrence, turn right and look for the sign for Motel Six. Well. First of all, I-90 doesn’t number its exits – I noticed that when I was a little way into Illinois. That’s okay, I told myself, just look for the Cumberland exit. Which didn’t come and didn’t come. Finally, there was a choice of going onto 494 to Milwaukee or taking what I thought was I-90 towards O’Hare (the motel is near the airport). But it wasn’t I-90, it was 190, and next thing I know I’m heading for Terminal 1, unless I want short-term parking.

So I pull off the road into a little lay-by partly occupied by a truck and ignoring signs saying I’m not to stop, and I’m seething, and I get out my cell phone and call the motel. Before I can do more than vent a bit about their lousy directions, there are cops approaching from two directions. I roll down my window and this blond woman leans in and says, “Boy, are you in trouble.” I tell the woman at Motel Six to hang on, and try to explain that I’m lost and I want to get to Motel Six but the directions weren’t any good. She wants to know the address, and all I have are lousy directions, which I show to her.

She has a plastic bag of red licorice and she offers me one, and I take it and launch into an explanation that I’m here for the International Quilting Festival and I write mystery stories. She gets all friendly and says her mother likes mysteries, and who am I? I say Monica Ferris, who writes needlework mysteries and she starts to laugh, because I’m one of her mother’s favorite authors. She waves off the other cop, says she knows where the Motel Six on Lawrence is, and to follow her. So I drive up a short way, find her getting into her squad car. She turns on the yellow directional lights that go bink-bink-bink-bink-bink across the roof of her squad and her flashing blues and the yellow tail lights and I fall in behind while she leads me on a long, tangled route out of the airport and down some other streets to the Motel. I get into my trunk and autograph a copy of Cutwork for her mother, and she gives me the bag of red licorice. And only after she’s gone do I realize I didn’t get her name.