Dr. Marvin Zelkowitz drives his daily commute on Interstate-94 from exit 26 in Chesterton to the Halsted St. exit in Illinois. He lives in Chesterton, and works in Flossmoor, Ill. as a neurologist in his private practice, South Suburban Neurology Ltd. (Jerry Davich/Post-Tribune)
Dr. Marvin Zelkowitz drives his daily commute on Interstate-94 from exit 26 in Chesterton to the Halsted St. exit in Illinois. He lives in Chesterton, and works in Flossmoor, Ill. as a neurologist in his private practice, South Suburban Neurology Ltd. (Jerry Davich/Post-Tribune)
Like most lifelong Region residents, I’ve gambled away too much time on the ever-spinning roulette wheel called Interstate 80/94 in our corner of Indiana.

Will there be construction work on some stretch of it? Will there be a crash, backing up traffic for miles? Will there be a truck overturned on an off-ramp, or state troopers pulling over vehicles left and right? Like I said, it’s a gamble.

For 74-year-old Dr. Marvin Zelkowitz, it’s more of a game.

For nearly 20 years, Zelkowitz has commuted daily along the expressway from Exit 26 in Chesterton to the Halsted Street in East Hazel Crest, Ill. He lives in Chesterton, and works in Flossmoor, Ill., as a neurologist in his private practice, South Suburban Neurology Ltd.

“On my daily trek, which can be somewhat boring, I have noticed numerous mishaps,” he told me. “To appease my boredom, I have created a game.”

His game involves a scoring system for what he passes on the expressway during his commute. For example, each tractor-trailer he sees on the shoulder gets 10 points, and every passenger vehicle on the shoulder gets 20 points. Shredded tires on the roadside get 5 points, remnant vehicle parts get 10 points, a tow truck assisting a vehicle gets 20 points, and a police car at the site gets a bonus 10 points.

“I played this game on a cold day and amassed 365 points,” he said. “Even on a slow day I score around 300 points between Exit 26 in Chesterton and Halsted Street. In fact, I’ve never scored under 100 points. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”

I’ve driven this busy expressway hundreds of times for personal and professional reasons. Some have been short jaunts from Gary to Portage, or from Cline Avenue to Calumet Avenue. Other treks have taken me through all 45 miles of I-94 in Indiana, from the Illinois state line to the Michigan state line.

I’ve been stuck in traffic too many times to count, especially at the “Borman bottleneck” in Lake County, so if I can avoid using it at peak hours, I do.

You may know that I-80/94 is also named the Borman Expressway from the Illinois state line to the Lake Station exit, to honor NASA astronaut Frank Borman who’s from Gary. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that I once rocketed my Honda Shadow 1100cc motorcycle to more than 100 mph from the state line to the Lake Station exit on a dare from another biker.

I was under the influence of youth. And adrenaline. And, in hindsight, stupidity.

Since I’ve had a driver’s license, I’ve owned at least a half dozen beat-up, low-cost, high-mileage cars. All of them have experienced problems along the Borman.

My 1974 Chevy Nova once stalled near the Broadway exit. My 1986 Chevy Caprice overheated near the Burr Street exit. And my first 2004 Chevy Monte Carlo had a flat tire near the Grant Street exit after hitting a crater-sized pothole. (Maybe my stubborn loyalty to Chevrolets is the problem?)

Zelkowitz has noticed hundreds of stalled cars, blown tires, and crash sites during his commute over the past 20 years. However, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native was not raised with the heavily-used expressway, unlike tens of thousands of Region motorists. For some of us, it’s been a part of our life since we were born.

I remember my parents using it to get from our home in the Miller section of Gary to visit our relatives’ homes in Glen Park or to anywhere in Chicago. I wonder how many times I stared blankly through the back seat window of my parents’ cars while daydreaming about whatever kids daydream about.

For me, it was probably where we were driving to dine out. Maybe to the Beauty Spot on Broadway in Gary, or Park-mor drive-in on Cline Avenue in Griffith, or Casa Blanca in East Chicago. To get to those places, we usually took the Borman, which has been such a constant factor in my life that I never once considered it as such.

Until Zelkowitz reminded me of it with his keen observational skills and his clever commuting game. It came from another traveling game he played in his younger days – paying attention to what odd-named cities that passing tractor-trailers were from.

“It was usually printed on their door,” Zelkowitz told me as we drove together toward I-94 on Friday morning. “These days, though, they usually have only a website.”

Zelkowitz has suspicions that the state doesn’t fully enforce its trucking regulations, which leads to so many disabled trucks on the roadside.

“Do trucks break down so often because they are poorly maintained?” he wondered.

He wonders about a lot of things during his otherwise mind-numbing commute, as so many of us do. I know some commuters to Chicago who’ve been driving that expressway for more than 40 years, every weekday back and forth like a hamster on a wheel. Or possibly one behind the wheel.

On Thursday evening, I drove the Borman to Warsaw Inn in Lynwood, Ill., with relatives. Along the way, I tried scoring points through Zelkowitz’s game. My mind wandered, though, and I kept losing track of my total.

Thanks to Zelkowitz, I realized that I’ve written a fair share of column snippets while driving that expressway, either scrambling handwritten notes in bumper-to-bumper traffic or hurriedly talking into my iPhone.

I also realized how many stories I’ve written over the past 25 years about tragic happenings on the Borman. The double amputation of a crash victim’s legs, jack-knifed trucks on off-ramps, fatal crashes that stopped traffic for miles, and the middle-aged man who took his life by jumping from the Colfax St. overpass.

My mind swerved to all these merging memories, both happy and tragic. Whether you view this stretch of highway as a gamble or a game, it has played a rather significant role in our lives. Ponder this the next time you’re helplessly stuck in its grasp.

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