I have always believed that if you can’t write, you should make lists.

Here is a recounting of my 723 mile trip in Honey from Williams Mill Road in Atlanta to the intersection of 56th Street and South Drexel in Chicago.

Leia and Claire watch TV, unimpressed by Jay Berwanger's Heisman trophy.

Honey is pointed east, and in front of me are the University of Chicago’s athletic fields, nearly a city block of healthy grass with aluminum stands and goal posts. A calming sight in a big, flat city.

I left Atlanta at 8 a.m. Saturday and arrived at the Chicago-Brandeis women’s soccer match at noon (CDT) Sunday.

  • Saturday, 09:33:01 – Cartersville, Ga. – 23.394 gallons – $65.48
  • Saturday, 3:22 p.m. – Unknown – 33.716 gallons – $91.00
  • Saturday, 10:28 p.m. – Crothersville, Ind. – 26.795 gallons – $75.00
  • Saturday, 10:34 p.m. – Crothersville, Ind. – 3.713 gallons – $10.39
  • Sunday, 08:53:24 – Demotte, Ind. – 21.315 gallons – $60.94

Although this list is lean on narrative tension, it does reveal certain information, such as: I bought more gas in Indiana than Georgia; this trip is an incredible drain on finite oil reserves; I don’t know where I was at 3:22 Saturday afternoon; what I have “saved” by traveling in a 1984 RV I have spent several times over in gas; I can’t write a lick.

It was a very long haul. The longest stretch in a limited time  — Atlanta to Chicago in 29 hours. Along the way I also had to dump Honey’s holding tanks (never a pretty scene). As a person new to RVing, I am just learning the importance of finding an appropriate dump station in advance. There are Web sites that keep track of such things. What they don’t tell you is that some dump stations are constructed in a way to prevent Honey from back her behind close enough to the pit. Wasted an hour and a half at that place — stood in line for 10 minutes to buy the dump token, tried for 20 minutes to get Honey within dump range, tried for 20 minutes to borrow a longer hose, stood in line for 10 minutes to return unused token, pouted and swore for 30 minutes.

But by noon I had arrived, just in time to see the end of the first half of the soccer match.

About an hour later, the University of Chicago women had beaten Brandeis 2-0 and clinched the 2010 UAA women’s soccer championship.


I’m winding up a four-day visit to the University of Chicago today, and headed to St. Louis and Washington University.

The weather, in case you care, has been mostly beautiful if partly cold and cloudy.

The quad at the University of Chicago.

From my parking place on South Drexel, I could see the men’s and women’s soccer teams practice, and the football players click-clack to their workouts in the new Amos Alonzo Stagg Stadium. I also could hear the whistles of the referees for flag football, which is played until midnight most nights.

To the north of the playing fields is the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, which opened in 2003. Ratner was a contact hitter forChicago in the ’30s and contributed $15 million to the $51 million facility, which was designed by Cesar Pelli. The exterior is light sandy-colored brick and there are five, thick white masts rising 60 or 70 feet above the the two wings that bear gentle, curved roofs. Each mast is threaded with three sets of five cables  that stretch down to the foundation and support the interior.

An industrial circus tent.

There’s a large paved plaza facing Ellis Street and a grass lawn. Just a beautiful, modern building, in a city and on a campus famous for its architecture.

The old quad is ringed by neo-gothic, sandstone classroom buildings with steep gabled roofs, crocketts and gargoyles. A very serious place. The only graffiti in the entire quad was the word “VOTE” neatly painted on a sidewalk in red, white and blue.

I visited one economics class in Harper, the university’s original library now converted to classrooms. The hall was long, with a very high ceiling and wood paneling at least six feet high along each wall. The mullioned windows reminded me of church. The massive, exposed plaster beams were carved. The dark wooden archway over one set of double doors was carved. No whiteboards here, no powerpoint slides, just an old school blackboard that the professor filled with theorems and a graph about the relationship between labor and capital in an imaginary country’s economy. A space to impress the rowdiest of college students.

Yes, that’s the first Heisman

Chicago has a long, deep athletics tradition, highlighted by the dominance of football under Amos Alonzo Stagg. The dominance was so thorough in competition and on campus that President Robert M. Hutchins shut down the football program in 1939, calling the sport “a major handicap to education in the United States” and stunning the world of college athletics. (The class I attended was in Harper Memorial Library, named for , the university’s first president and Stagg’s former divinity professor at Yale). In 1969, the Maroon football program was resurrected in the NCAA’s Division III. No scholarships, only scholars. And players.

Jay Berwanger, the Chicago halfback from Dubuque, Iowa, won the first Heisman trophy in 1935, then called the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy. It sits enclosed in a glass case in the Ratner center’s atrium, along with dozens and dozens of artifacts of Chicago’s athletics past. Maroon letter sweaters with the Chicago C; old, fat autographed footballs; and “modern era” plaques marking Chicago’s accomplishments in the University Athletic Association.

Four blocks from Obama’s house

One of my favorite UAA athletes is Steve Sunderman, a 250-pound heavyweight wrestler at Chicago. I like to call him the grapplin’ farmboy, and he doesn’t seem to mind. At least he hasn’t snapped my neck off yet.

Steve was raised in western Nebraska and has worked most of his life on his family’s farm, where they raise beef cattle and chop down thistles in the summer.

He  was pretty happy Wednesday morning when we talked, because of the Republican surge in the mid-term elections. Steve is vice president of the College Republicans, which meets once a week and gathered Tuesday night to watch the election results.

“Obama’s house is four blocks away,” he told me, and he says the majority of folks around campus are “liberal-leaning.” But he fits in well with the economics department, which is “mostly free market and fiscally conservative.”

Besides liberals, Steve and his teammates also have to contend sometimes with the nasty skin diseases that continually plague wrestlers. He ticks them off like Senate election results — Ringworm, impetigo, herpetic outbreaks, folliculitis. Just another occupational hazard for mat-men. This year he’s No. 2 on the depth chart, behind a senior heavyweight who Steve says is more of the liberal bent. Before the first match of the season, they’ll have a wrestle-off to decide the future of the country.

On the fields and courts

The Chicago men’s and women’s soccer teams travel to St. Louis this weekend for Saturday matches and UAA finales against Washington University. The women’s team already clinched the UAA championship and an automatic NCAA tournament bid. The football team, which gave Case Western Reserve University its first loss in 38 regular season games last week, travels to Pittsburgh to play Carnegie Mellon. And the UAA volleyball championship tournament takes place at Case in Cleveland on Friday and Saturday. Chicago is seeded fourth.

Against my better judgment

Wednesday afternoon I appeared on a live webcast via Skype for a startup outfit called The Pulse Network. Couldn’t stand to watch the replay myself, but for those of  you who want a good laugh at my expense, here’s the link. If you need a laugh, watch this.

Writer Kevin Austin and Honey, his untrusty 1984 recreation vehicle, are touring universities for Austin’s upcoming book on the University Athletic Association.  If you see him, stop and help him work on Honey, or at least wave.

Excerpted from Kevin Austin’s blog:  2010 UAA Ultimate Road Trip

Kevin Austin

Kevin Austin

Kevin S. Austin is from Poncey Highland -- and proud of it, Atlanta, GA, United States. Reporter, writer, newsman, clown. Hail fellow well met.  He recently embarked on a 45-day road trip to visit each of the eight universities in the University Athletic Association and attend soccer matches at the schools for a book he is writing.