Last Thursday I was riding to work, as I do, and just north of Fullerton I was thinking, "The lake is so pretty...the sky is so blue...not too much wind...interesting chicken..."
There it was, on the grass, just...Chickening around. A white chicken. I stopped. Yes, it was a chicken.
I should insert here that I have a history of injured birds crossing my path. There was the South Boston Seagull, The Uphams Corner starling, and the Dorchester Bluejay.
This was my first chicken.
I got off my bike and approached the chicken, which warily kept its distance. Not wanting to spook it away and possibly onto Lake Shore Drive, I stood by my bike and used my cell phone to call 311.
"I'm standing on the bike Path at Lake Shore Drive looking at a chicken," I told the young woman who answered. "I don't' know where it came from -- my best guess is the Lincoln Petting Zoo."
"Where are you located?"
"On the bike path, just north of Fullerton."
"Ma'am, I need cross streets."
"I'm not on a street. I'm on the bike path, next to the lake, just north of Fullerton. Just north of the Theater By The Lake."
"Ma'am, I need to have two cross-streets."
I took a breath and thought, A GED is a terrible thing to waste.
"OK. Fullerton and Lake Shore Drive. On the bike path."
"I'll call this in, Ma'am."
"Will someone call me? Can I give you my cell number?"
"Well, I can take the number but I can't guarantee that someone will call."
"So how will I know when someone is coming to help? I can't just leave this chicken."
The chicken was still clucking around, but staying near me. I think it sensed safety. People passing by asked whether it was my pet chicken.
"Ma'am, I cannot guarantee that someone will call you."
"But how will I know how long I'll have to wait?"
"Ma'am, I cannot answer that. I will put the call in."
I hung up and waited. Then I tried to call the Lincoln Zoo. No answer. I noted chicken feed scattered under some nearby trees. Someone had either dumped the chicken and left food, or left the food when they saw the stray chicken.
I waited a few minutes and called the Zoo again. This time I got a guy who said they'd gotten the call from the city, but the chicken wasn't theirs.
"OK, but can you come get the chicken? You at least have the facilities to house it until animal care and control comes."
"No, we can't do anything off of our campus. We're not allowed."
"What, you're going to be sent to the gulag for unlicensed chicken rescue?"
"Yeah, we can't take it, unfortunately."
Great. I stood and watched the chicken, hoping my phone would ring, Nothing. A woman jogging by stopped.
"Yeah. I think someone dumped it."
She turned out to be a kindred spirit.
"I once live in an apartment building," she said. "A kitten found its way in, climbed up to the to my place on the top floor, the fourth floor, and came to sit outside my door."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "Same thing here. It's like God or the Stray Underground says, "See that house? There's a woman there who cannot turn an animal away. Go hang out on her porch/give birth in her basement, and she'll take care of the rest."
We stood and chatted. The chicken had settled in under my bike, which was lying on its side. It was very cute.
I kept watch on the chicken while the woman, Tina, headed off people walking their dogs, directing them to the other side of the path.
One woman walking her dog told us, "They torture chickens up by Diversey. I sometimes see the aftermath."
"It might be Santeria," I said. "They sacrifice animals, but I don't think they torture them. I think it's pretty quick and clean."
"Well, what I see isn't nice," she said.
"Great," said Tina. We looked at the chicken.
I imagined a sort of poultry Silence of The Lambs, with a little Esmeralda Lopez running away with the chicken, hoping to save it from The Sacrificial Knife. She brings it to the lake, puts it under a tree, and scatters feed for it.
Two women with bikes stopped to chat and offered to go to the Zoo, nearby, to see whether they could convince them to take it if they brought it. (They weren't successful in the end, but it was nice to see people rally around the chicken.)
Still no call. I called WGN TV and tried to convince them there was a great human-interest story unfolding at that very moment down by the lake, hoping to get some help. The man I talked to acted as though I'd suggested he send a film crew over to watch me brush my teeth.
I tried calling animal care. It rang at the city line. I tried to get the latest Customer Service Pro to have Animal Care call me.
"Ma'am, I cannot do that."
"You can't ask them to call me? I've been standing here for 40 minutes, and they can't call me to give me an ETA? I do have to get to work, but I can't leave this chicken."
"Ma'am, I cannot do that."
I hung up and looked at Tina. "OK. I tried it their way."
I dialed 911.
"911 what is the nature of your emergency."
"I'm sorry, I don't usually abuse 911 but I am on the bike path, and I have been standing here guarding a chicken for the better part of an hour, 311 has been useless, and I need someone to come here and get this bird."
The officer I spoke to was very nice and within 5 minutes a cruiser appeared on the path. We waved the car over, and it pulled up.
"Are you the Poultry Patrol?" I asked.
He confirmed that animal care and control would take "like, five hours," and when we mentioned the mutilated chickens, which had traumatized us, said he was from the Caribbean and knew that it was Santeria. "They don't torture them, but they may do things with pieces afterward, and also the raccoons get to them."
He got out of the car and spoke into the walkie-talkie attached to his shoulder.
"Don't laugh," he said softly, "but I'm here to get a chicken."
He'd grown up on a farm, and on the second try caught the chicken neatly as we herded her out from under my bike. We wrapped her in my shirt.
"The guys at the station want pictures," he said, so we all passed around our cell phones and took pictures with the chicken. The chicken seemed resigned; she was also very thin, so I suspect she was starving and exhausted. She didn't struggle. She closed her eyes when we patted her head.
Tina offered to ride in the car, holding the chicken, to get her to the station. We exchanged phone numbers. As they got into the car, I said to the policeman, "She does not get eaten, and she does not get sacrificed. Are we clear?"
Tina and I have been exchanging voicemails. I'm dying to hear what happened.