Monthly Archives: January 2010

WCHS

So, as I was looking around this wonderful world known as the internet, I stumbled across some sad news.  They are tearing down my old high school.

On the grand scale of things, this does not rank up there with earthquakes or the continued failings of our current economy, so it is easy to understand why the news took so long to come to my attention.  The truth is, my high school has actually been closed for almost 18 years now, it was converted to a middle school for the 1992/93 school year.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself.  Let me start at the beginning.

In the late summer of 1979, having just turned 14 and weighing maybe 80 pounds soaking wet, I entered the halls of Wheaton Central High School for the very first time.  Our school mascot was a tiger, so much of the interior decorating of the school was done in orange and black.  It was located on Roosevelt Road, just south of Wheaton’s downtown district between Main Street and Naperville Road.  Since I lived way on the south side of Wheaton, I was bussed to school, being dropped off in the large circular drive appropriately named Tiger Trail which also served as the teachers parking lot.  Although the entrance may seems somewhat bland as compared to some of the big mega high schools that have been built since that time, it was a welcoming sight to the students and had remained pretty much the same as when it was originally built in 1925.  The original Wheaton High School opened in 1876, but when there was need for a bigger space, the new school was built just over the train tracks and less than a mile away from the original, and it was renamed Wheaton Community High School.  The site of the original building still houses an elementary school, but any hint of the original structure is long gone.  As the city continued to grow, a second high school was built on the north side of town, and in 1964 the name was once again changed, this time to Wheaton Central High School.

As the school district continued to grow, expanding to include the Warrenville area, a third high school was built in 1973 and was named Wheaton-Warrenville High School, but by the early eighties, the enrollment at Wheaton-Warrenville had dropped drastically, and there was a need for additional space for lower level student, so the decision was made to convert the high school to a middle school for the 1983/84 school year and to bus the high school students to Wheaton Central and Wheaton North.  This proved to be only a temporary solution, and just nine years later in 1992, Wheaton Central was converted to Hubble Middle School, and the former south side high school was expanded and re-opened as Wheaton Warrenville South.

Although the new Wheaton Warrenville South retained the black and orange colors and tiger mascot, along with the same administration and faculty, this move shut the door on my high school before I even reached my ten year reunion.  And now that a new Hubble Middle School has been built and started operating this year, the former Wheaton Central High School is no more than an empty shell.  All that is contained inside the walls now are the memories of almost 85 years.  So many friendships and hardships, final exams and study halls, Homecoming dances and Proms.  It was in the orange locker area just outside the luchroom where I first heard the news that Ronald Reagan had been shot, and in the main gym where we all celebrated our schools unlikely fourth place finish in the state basketball tournament.  It was the wrestling room hidden up behind the boy’s locker room where Al Sears tackled my tiny sophomore frame, dislocating and splitting open my big toe in a gush of blood.  And it was the hallway outside the small auditorium where a cheerleader named Jackie broke my heart for the very first time.

A high school should be filled with memories, and although I have no desire to return to those days, I can’t help but feel a little bit of those memories are going to be torn down with the school.  There is still some time left for the old alma mater, development plans are not expected to be finished for the 22-acres until 2011.  But what ever the eventual out come, I would hope the city of Wheaton would at least save something from the school.  Convert the original building into an office space, or at least save the old wall at the entrance of Tiger Trail.  I know that in the long run, buildings do crumble and we need to move on, but to tear down our past and not look back is also wrong.  The history of the school has been moved to the south side of town, but for the thousands of us that saw these halls as our temporary home for at least four years, the memories can not be so easily displaced.  I did not attend Wheaton Warrenville South.  They can borrow our colors and our tiger, but my school will always be the same.  In June of 1983, I stood in that gym one last time, and I listened as Eric Berg told us what endless possibilities awaited us.  We had done our time, and the future was ours.  We were graduates of Wheaton Central High School.

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

I have refrained from writing anything too quickly about the recent Mark McGwire confession to the use of performance enhancing drugs during his career because my first reaction to the whole thing was a little blunt. 

No shit Sherlock!

Like many, I was suckered in during the 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  As the season wore down, and they both were getting close to passing the previous record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961, TV stations would break in to show their at bats.  Special balls were put in play to authenticate the recovered balls.  Roger Maris’ family was flown around the country so that they could take part and witness the record being broken.  It became quite the spectacle.  Ironically, McGuire tied the record while playing against Sosa and the Cubs in St. Louis on September 7, 1998.  Sosa had fallen behind in the race by this time, but there was such a camaraderie between the two heavy hitters, that it only added even more of a draw factor to the nights.  It was the very next night off pitcher Steve Trachsel that McGwire hit the record breaking shot.  I was actually still at work that night, and we all gathered around to watch.  The line drive to left field barely cleared the fence.  I remember asking people if it really was a home run or not, but the excitement started and Big Mac rounded the bases greeted at home by his young son who was acting as a bat boy.  The record setting shot only measured 341 feet, quite shallow compared to the 450 foot bombs that people had watched fly out all season long.  Play was stopped so that McGwire could be congratulated by everyone including Bud Sielig and his competitor, Sammy Sosa.  As it all started to settle down, someone made mention that we had just witnessed history.  We didn’t know the half of it.

In his tear filled apology to the world, McGwire kept expressing how sorry he was.  How he let down the fans, and his family, Tony LaRussa, and most importantly those members of Roger Maris’ family that followed him around the country to watch him break the record.  He expressed how he felt a responsibility to call Maris’ widow himself.  But where was that responsibility five years ago when McGwire was asked to testify before Congress along with other players about the state of steroid use in Major League Baseball?  Where was that responsibility back in 1998?  I actually do believe that McGwire is sorry for what he did, but what I didn’t believe is what I heard him say next.  He claimed that he only took the drugs to help get over injuries, and that he didn’t get any performance enhancing benefits.

Who are you crapping?!

There goes that blunt response again.  Mr. McGwire is living in some serious denial.  He actually told Bob Costas that he could have broken the record even without taking the steroids, but of course the operative here is “could”.  Remember that record breaking home run?  341 feet is not what you would call a towering home run.  Was it McGwire or the steroids that gave that ball just enough power to clear that wall.  No one will dispute that any of the 450 foot shots still would have gone out of the park with or without the added help of HGH or steroids, but what about the ones that were less than 400 feet?  During the 1998 season, McGwire had 15 home runs that were less than 375 feet.  Is it possible that they would have still been home runs if he had not been on the juice?  We will never know for sure, but I do find it interesting, that if we subtract those 15 home runs from his total that year, he only hit 55.  Much more in line with his totals during the years before cheated.

In 2005, McGwire was called to testify before congress.  He was joined by other former players as well as some current players.  Two of the current players at that time were Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.  Palmeiro had been linked to the steroid scandal by the book Juiced by former player Jose Conseco, and Sosa had been the source of many steroid rumors since the 1998 home run race.  Sosa hit 66 home runs that year, 26 more than he had hit in any other year.  Both players vehemently denied using any sort of performance enhancing drugs, although Sosa only did it through an interpreter.  It seems his use of the English language failed him on this day.  Palmeiro actually went as far as to point a finger directly at Conseco, calling the allegation included in his book lies.  Less than five months later, on August 1, 2005, Palmeiro was suspended from baseball for ten games after testing positive for the powerful steroid Stanozolol.  Although he never officially retired, Palmeiro has not played professional baseball since 2005.

Sosa didn’t fare much better after his testimony either.  By this time he had already fallen out of favor with his devoted Chicago fans due in large part to a 2003 incident where he was caught using an illegal “corked” bat during a game.  He had already been traded from the Cubs to the Orioles seemingly as a result of his refusal to play the last game of the 2004 season, which he left early while the game was still being played.  He only hit 14 home runs that year with a batting average of just .221, and the Orioles declined to offer him arbitration.  This made Sosa a free agent for the 2006 season, but the only offer he received was a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals.  He sat out the 2006 season, and was offered a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers for 2007.  This time he took the contract and made the Big League team thanks to a good showing in Spring Training.  Sosa hit 21 home runs that year, becoming just the fifth person to hit more than 600 home runs in his career.  But it would be his last year in baseball.  Then in 2009, the New York Times reported that Sosa had tested positive for steroids back in 2003 along with other notable athletes such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.  Rodriguez has since admitted to his steroid use, and Ramirez served a 50 game suspension last season after he again tested positive for a banned substance.

In McGwire’s interview, he expressed regret at having played baseball during the steroid era.  That somehow it was the atmosphere of the times that “made” him take the drugs.  Still looking to shed blame off of himself.  But the one thing that McGwire seems to not understand is that there would not have been a steroid era if it had not been for player’s such as himself. 

In this morning edition of the Sun-Times, Rick Telander said it best: 

“McGwire said he was so sorry he played in the Steroid Era. Yet, you, my friend, with your 21-inch forearms, were the Steroid Era.”

Moon, Not Banana

I got an e-mail the other day, and it appears that one of my all time favorite local artist will be returning to town at the end of this month.  Cathy Richardson and her band will be making the trip back here to Chicago (Berwyn to be more exacting) on Friday, January 29th to play a show at one of her favorite haunts, Fitzgerald’s.  The next night, she take a jog way out west to perform one more show at the Woodstock Opera House.  That is Woodstock, Illinois, not the more famous concert farmland in New York. 

My admiration for Cathy’s work as a singer, songwriter, musician and performer date back to the early to mid nineties.  The first time I ever saw her perform was at a bar called Otto’s out in DeKalb near the campus of Northern Illinois University.  I believe it was the winter of 1992/1993, and she was the warm-up act for the late Warren Zevon.  Warren was doing an acoustic show, just him and a piano and a guitar.  It has always stood out in my mind as one of the best performances I have ever seen, mostly because I had been a huge fan of his since I first heard the red covered album Excitable Boy.  It was actually my sister Carrie’s album, but it found its way into my record collection very soon after she bought it.  For God’s sake, she was a pom-pom girl.  She shouldn’t be listening to such cool music as this.  Most people will know Warren Zevon from the song Werewolves of London, which was a moderate hit back in 1978, but became a piece of pop culture as the pool playing samurai song from the 1986 film Color of Money staring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.  More recently, the piano cords from the song have made a comeback as part of Kid Rock’s somewhat irritating All Summer Long.

Keeping with the acoustic theme of the night, Cathy performed a variety of music both original and covers with just her guitar.  Even without benefit of a band to back her up, her talent was immediately obvious.  She really caught my attention with a hard rocking cover version of Like the Way I Do by a fairly new and up and coming artist back then named Melissa Etheridge.  I was also very intrigued by an original song of her she introduced as The Back of Your Mind.  It had a quick pace and a catchy tune, and although I couldn’t make out all of the lyrics I knew right away it was a song I would listen to again.  Her final song for the night was a rendition of the Janis Joplin classic Me & Bobby McGee.  It was outstanding, and really made me want to hear more.  When she finished her short set, she announced that they were selling cassettes in the back of the room, so I headed over to table to take a look.  The tapes were a simple black cassette entitled the letter “i”.  It only had four songs, the same four on both sides, but I was thrilled that the first song was indeed The Back of Your Mind.  I don’t recall what I paid for the cassette, but it couldn’t have been more than $5.  Unfortunately, the cassette is now long gone, which is a real disappointment to me, because even though The Back of Your Mind was later re-recorded and included as part of two different CD releases, the other three songs were not.  The final song on the tape was a ballade called One Sunday Morning.  It was a heart-felt song about the end of a relationship, and although the lyrics could have used a little work, the feeling of the song combined with Cathy’s strong voice made the song a favorite of mine.  I don’t recall the name of the other two songs, but one was a really bluesy one with a lot of guitar work.  And it was a cheep little cassette tape, so the quality was really not that great.  It is a shame it has been lost.  I would enjoy listening to it again.

The same night I bought the tape, I also signed up to Cathy’s mailing list.  Basically, just wrote my name and address down on a legal pad along with a few other people’s names.  Mass use of e-mail and the internet were still a few years away, at least for me anyway, and the AOL dial-up service that most people over 35 cut their computer teeth on was still in its infancy.  Some time after that, I starting receiving postcards in the mail that would announce various locations that Cathy and her band would be playing at.  Mostly they were bars, but as the weather warmed up, there were also a variety of outdoor festival locations.  One that comes to mind immediately, is the Downer’s Grove Heritage Fest.  Even as recently as the past couple of years, this has been a festival that Cathy continues to perform at.  In the very early days, she would come up with some of the best cover songs to keep the crowd’s attention, one that has always stood out for me was a version of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic.  She did such a great job with the song that it actually inspired me to give it a try on my own at a Karaoke Night somewhere, and the song has actually become one of my own favorites to perform on those rare occasions when I do find myself back at a Karaoke Night.

It was at one of those street festivals that I picked up Cathy’s first full length CD, Moon, Not Banana That little table in the back had grown to include bumper stickers and T-shirts along with the CDs and tapes, and Cathy had developed quite a following of devoted fans.  The CD was produced by Jim Peterik, former member of Survivor and lead singer of The Ides of March.  He wrote and sang yet another of my all time favorite Karaoke songs, the 1970 classic Vehicle.   As with most recording of this type, the tracks on this CD have very minimal production quality, and they sound raw at best.  But that is what makes this CD so good.  It perfectly captured the essence and energy of one of her live shows.  The CD also had some great songs that have since been lost in Cathy’s live shows.  Back Of Your Mind, This Time and Paper Reasons are just three of the best of what this CD has to offer.  This CD also contained another lost love ballade with Over the Miles.  It seemed to me that this song grew right out of the discarded One Sunday Morning, and it really showed how Cathy was growing as a songwriter as well as a musician.

A couple years later, Cathy put out a two more CDs, Fools on a Tandem and a live recording entitled All Excess: Live @ Park West.  Both of these recordings really captured the spirit of those early days, and the rock your ass off mentality that makes for a great bar band.  Both contained the powerful Running Out of Time along with Crimes of Humanity and Down for the Count, but All Excess captured the spontaneity of a live performance that just can’t be produced in the studio.  Cathy’s late night alcohol anthem Drink, Drink, Drink which was also on Moon, played so much better with the live crowd energy behind it.  It also didn’t hurt that legendary radio sidekick Buzz Kilman (former partner for both Jonathan Brandmeier and Steve Dahl) provided the harmonica.  All Excess also contained probably the best live blues version of the Spiderman theme song ever recorded, and as an extra bonus there was the hidden track, known to most of her fans simply as Track 69 or The Lipstick Song.

From here, Cathy’s recording got bigger and better production along with a lot of critical acclaim.  Snake Camp, The Road to Bliss, and Delusions of Grandeur all produced some excellent music.  Cathy’s career also took some interesting turns including landing a staring role in Love, Janis the musical based on the life of Janis Joplin.  This production hooked her up with the former members of Big Brother and the Holding Company where she took to the road and performed with them.  She has since relocated to San Francisco where in 2008 she became the new lead singer for the reformed Jefferson Starship. I have to be honest here and say that I have not heard any of the tracks on that CD, but I really should give it a try.   I can’t imagine Cathy would associate herself with the project if she didn’t feel it was making some great music.  Obviously with all this going on, it has become more and more difficult for Cathy to return to her old stomping grounds here in Chicago, but I for one appreciate that she makes an effort to do so.  Even if I do miss the good old days and the less produced music of Moon, Not Banana and All Excess.  I have a lot coming up that weekend including a wedding to go to on the 30th, and getting a sitter two nights in a row may prove my undoing.  I have included a link to Cathy’s website for anyone interested in getting more information about the shows.

http://www.crband.com/index.html

Oh, one final note.  Remember when I was talking about those strange career twists.  I forgot to mention one of my favorites.  For anyone who may have had small children who enjoyed the Noggin show Jack’s Big Music Show, you may have already come face to face with Cathy Richardson.  Here she is with some of the shows stars.  Again, I have never actually seen the show, my kids are all past the age of this type of educational TV, and it would be down right spooky of me to watch them on my own.  But once again I have to give Cathy credit for hooking up with this program.  Only I have a feeling she is not singing Drink, Drink, Drink for all the little kiddies.  That’s not quite the education the kids need. 

 Yet.

Rice Crispy Treats

Sometimes it is just too easy being the World’s Greatest Dad.  And one of my biggest secrets is Rice Crispy Treats.  We all know them, and we all love them.  What’s not to love?  Gooey, crispy, buttery treats.  Cheep and easy to make, and they make the kids happy.  Sometimes it really is true, that the simplest things in life are the best.  This is why I have included these tasty little treats as part of my repertoire as far back as high school.  In college, for some reason still unknown to me, I was elected President of our Student Advisory Committee.  I was a Theatre Arts Major at Northern Illinois University, and one of our main sources of fund-raising came from the sales of concessions during the intermissions of our stage productions.  We mostly sold homemade cookies and brownies and such, but we bought many of these items from one of the faculty members who made them.  They were usually really good, and they looked great, but when I realised how much we were paying for the items, I decided that we should save the money and start making the items ourselves.  At the same time, I also introduced our top-selling and most profitable item, the Rice Crispy Treat.  I made them myself most of the time in my basement apartment located on Linden Place there in beautiful DeKalb Illinois.  Other students pitched in and made other snacks like the classic Toll House Bars, or when time was short we would buy the bakery cookies from the Pick-N-Save.  But it was the Rice Crispy Treat that was the star of our concession table. 

And they are still a star with me and my kids.  I made a batch during the half time of yesterday’s  football game between Green Bay and Arizona.  That’s how easy they are.  And I was done before they even kicked off to start the third quarter.  When Alex and Molly got home they were so thrilled, it was like Christmas had arrived all over again.  Molly took a sack lunch for school today, and I made sure she got an extra-large treat so that she would be the envy of all her friends.  You see, kids don’t understand just how easy they are to make.  They just know they taste good.  Rice Crispy Treats are absolutely the easiest treat in the world to make, and the homemade ones taste so much better than those crappy pre-made packaged treats they sell.  They are so easy to make, I can’t understand why anyone would want to buy the pre-made treats.  Molly usually helps me make them, so it is also a great fun way to get your kids involved.  She adds all the ingredients, and I do the mixing which is really the toughest part of the whole process.  I aways leave a few globs of the mix behind in the pot, and Molly spoons out the leftover warm stuff as an extra special treat.

In this case, it is perfectly ok to use a generic store brands when making Rice Crispy Treats, you do not get a better tasting treat if you use the actual Rice Krispy Cereal.  I usually just use the Meijer Store brand.  The total cost for all the ingredients (rice cereal, marshmallow, and butter) will usually range between three and four dollars, and the simple recipe can be found on most all brands of rice cereal or marshmallows.  The only real hint I can give you is to use the miniature marshmallows, they melt a lot easier and quicker.

Maureen is a little more advanced than me, and her claim to fame treat is a scrumptious concoction she calls a Rollo Cookie.  Basically, it is the Toll House Bar cookie with Rollo Candy added into the mixture.  She has her own shortcut when making this treat, she uses the pre-mixed packages of Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, and then makes them as she would any other pan cookie.  She then adds about a dozen or so Rollo candies spaced out inside the mixture.  Also a very easy treat to make, but most of the time I am only trusted with unwrapping and inserting the candy.  The best part about this cookie is eating them when they are still a little warm.  You bite into one of the candy pieces, and the warm carmel just oozes out in your mouth.  Of course this recipe does require the actual use of the oven, so it is a bit more advanced then what I make.

If you choose to hunt around the internet for other rice cereal treat recipes, you will notice there is an unending amount of variations to the basic treat.  Chocolate versions, frosted treats, the addition of raisins or granola.  I even spotted a version that added coffee to the mix.  As if the sugar wasn’t enough, do we really need caffeinated Rice Crispy Treats.  The most adventurous I got was this past Christmas when I added green food coloring to the mix and then topped the treats off with some cinnamon imperial candy.  It gave them a nice festive color, but the red hots scared off my kids.  But they couldn’t have been that bad, because my sister Carrie ate three of them in one sitting.  She makes a bunch of really good cookies and such around the holidays, so it was kind of a kick to see her enjoy my simple little treat.

For the most part, I just keep to the original.  I just make the basic Rice Crispy Treat.  It is what I enjoy, and what the kids like best.  Like I said at the beginning, the simplest thing are sometimes the best.  If all it takes is this quick little fun treat to put a great big smile on your kids face, isn’t it worth the fifteen minutes it takes to make them.  Sure, sometimes it seems like your kids are asking the world of you, but what they really want is just a little bit of your time and love.  So little effort, so much in return.  And if you don’t have any kids, make up a batch and bring them to work.  I guarantee you will be the office favorite. 

Because it is impossible not to smile when you have a mouth full of Rice Crispy Treat.

A Day in the Life (The Winter Edition)

6:15  –  I get up without the benefit of any alarm other than my bladder.  It actually woke me up about 20 minutes ago, but the rest of me was just not as eager to get moving.  I can hear the talking heads on the news talking about the snow, so I finally think it must be time to make the big trip across the room to the master bath.  As my right foot hits the ground and attempts to support my weight, pain shoots all the way up my leg to the knee.  As far as I know, I have not done anything to my foot, it is just one of those morning pains that comes with aging gracefully.  It is almost like a lottery for me each morning.  Which part is going to hurt today?  This one actually scares me a little, and I almost take a nose dive into the carpeting, but cat-like reflexes honed by years of practice stumbling around in the dark keep me somewhat upright.  When I reach the bathroom, I peek out the window, and indeed there is a fresh blanket of white stuff covering everything I can see.  Judging by the amount on the roof of my car, I would guess about three or four inches.  The plow has not come to visit our corner of the world yet, so it is a little difficult to make out where the driveway ends and the street begins.  The next thing I notice about a half a minute too late is that there is no toilet paper.

6:19 – I make the walk of shame down the hallway to the kid’s bathroom and finish what I started.  I grab an extra roll of paper on my way back to the bedroom.  Alex and Molly are both sound asleep and their lights are on.  They both also have the blankets pulled up over their heads to block out the light.  Alex also has the theme music from the My Name Is Earl DVD he watched playing way too loud.  I turn off the tv but leave the light on.  He wont bother getting out of bed to restart the DVD, but if I flip off the light he would have it back on before I even reached my room.

6:25 – I place the fresh roll of paper next to the empty roll without changing it.  Usually this is a giant pet peeve of mine, but I decide it is more important to gather a little warmth from the bed than to actually change the roll.  Maureen is still under the covers, so I slide up as close as possible, trying to steal a little of her warmth.  She rolls over and gives me a groggy good morning.

6:30 – Maureen’s alarm goes off.  We hear the traffic report tell us that the roads are bad all over.  The worst in I55, the Stevenson.  It is already up to an hour and a half into the city.  Of Course.

6:45 – We finally give in to the fact that we have to get going.  I dress for the weather and head downstairs to make coffee and clear the driveway.  I dig through the hall closet to find my boots, but my hat and gloves are not to be found.  I dig through the bin under the coat hooks in the hall and all I can find is a mismatch of Molly size gloves and snowpants.  Aggravated, I grab Maureen’s extra gloves from the top shelf in the closet.  I can’t find a hat, but I have on a hooded sweatshirt so I head out to shovel.  I forget to start the coffee.

7:18 – The driveway is clear except for the new snow that continues to fall.  I leave my boots in the garage and head inside.  Maureen, the wonderful woman that she is, has made the coffee and says absolutely nothing about the fact that I forgot.  I don’t have time for a cup yet, so I give Maureen a kiss as she busily kills a few people and head upstairs towards the shower.  I can hear Alex in the bathroom, but Molly is still lost somewhere under her covers.  I shake her bed and tell she needs to get going, then I head for the shower. 

7:35 – I dress as quickly as possible because I have just heard the TV people tell me that the travel time on the Stevenson is now two hours.  I have to be at work by 10.  I can not be late.  I put on my shoes and rush outside.  Maureen has already left, so I pull my car into the garage to warm up for a few minutes.  No time for coffee at home, but this really nice good-looking grey guy bought Maureen a couple of travel mugs for Christmas, and he is about break one in.  The green travel mug we got from Maureen’s mom  is also missing, so I assume it hit the road while I was in the shower.  The remaining coffee fills my mug up right to the top, and I head to the door.

7:39 – Maureen calls to confirm that traffic sucks.  Molly’s bus does not arrive until 8:38, but it has been late almost every day this week.  I tell her that it is very important that she let me know that she is on the bus, because I won’t be able to turn around to get her if something goes wrong.  She promises to call or text me as soon as she is on the bus.  The car is adequately warm, but still somewhat snow-covered.  I back out of the driveway and head on my merry way.

7:45 – The main road that goes by the entrance to our neighborhood is called Lilly Cashe.  It is usually about a two or three minute drive down that street to Route 53 and the entrance for the expressway.  I am still trying to turn out of my neighborhood.  As per Maureen’s advice, I am going to skip the Stevenson and try to take back roads as far as I can.  The radio has confirmed that the trip inbound will be more than two hours now.

7:53 – I can see from down on 53 that the traffic on the Stevenson is not moving at all.  I get lucky with the series of three lights, and make my illegal U-turn onto the frontage road.  I can only top out at 25 mph but it is still flying past the cars stopped on the expressway.  I make a right turn onto International Drive, and much to my surprise it is empty.  I luck out again, and catch the light at Joliet Road.  The traffic gods are with me, even if the weather gods have been angered.  The rest of the trip down International is pretty quick given it is still very snow-covered.  I have to pull a few slalom moves around some slow moving cars, but for the most part it stays clear.  That ends as soon as I get to the end of the line at Lemont Road.  The light takes a lot longer than I would like, and I have a hard time accelerating as I make my left turn. 

8:12 – It is decision making time.  I can already see up ahead that the Stevenson is still backed up.  I make the turn onto Westgate, but then it is almost an immediate left onto the next frontage road.  I wonder for a second if Westgate goes all the way through to Cass, but with time not being on my side I decide this is not the day to find out.  I make the left a little too late and a lot too fast.  The back end of the old grey Chevy Malibu starts to slide.  I instantly flash back to the old driving simulators in Mr. Neuhaus’ Driver’s Ed class.  I don’t break even though I am traveling too fast, and I turn into the skid.  I have to do this a few times, but then the car is facing forward and is under control.  I’m as proud as Anthony Michael Hall at the end of The Breakfast Club.  The journey continues.

8:20 – I reach Cass Avenue and have to now commit to the Stevenson.  The frontage route from Cass to Kingery runs through a neighborhood, and is never an easy drive even on a clear day.  I flip around the radio stations to get a traffic update.  Someone has a sence of humor.  They are playing Burning for You by Blue Oyster Cult.  I start making mental notes to myself.  I may have to do a follow-up to my Day In A Life blog from a few months ago.  I mean, I might as well do something with my time.  I could still be another hour and a half.

8:30 – I make it into traffic on the Stevenson and proceed at a whopping speed of 15 mph.  Molly calls to tell me that she is leaving the house.  I make sure she has a hat and gloves and remind her how important it is to call or text me as soon as she gets on the bus. 

8:33 – I pass a sign on the road that tells me it id still one hour and twenty minutes to the Dan Ryan.

8:38 – Maureen calls to check on my progress.  I cut our conversation short when I realize I still haven’t heard from Molly.

8:40 – I call Molly.  She tells me that she is on the bus but that she forgot to call me.  Of Course!

8:50 – Traffic pick up to an almost blazing speed of 40 mph.  The inside of my car is now getting quite hot, but I am fearful of turning down the defrost because ice is starting to form on the windshield wipers.  I just witnessed the car in front of me pull the ice scraper out the driver’s window trick, but I have been able to keep the ice off by running the wipers at full speed every now and then.  So far it’s been working.

8:58 – Traffic comes to a halt just before the exit at Central.  I am now stopped looking directly at a billboard for Bud Light Golden Wheat.  I am a Miller drinker.  Most Bud products do bad things to my insides.  But right now, it is looking real good.

9:00 – I am officially late.  I flip around the radio stations and stop on the Motley Crue cover of Smoking in the Boys Room.  I hate this version but for some reason I stop.  The original by Brownsville Station is much better.  I wish they had played that.

9:04 – The next song is the Aerosmith cover of Come Together.  It must be a theme.  I’m a little torn on this one, because I really do like both versions.  But when in doubt you have to go with The Beatles.  I finally reach Central.

9:08 – Traffic starts to pick up.  I probably should have gotten off and taken some side streets, but the road usually opens up around California.  I have never been able to figure this traffic pattern out, but it is always consistent.  It is not like a lot of cars exit at California, and the road doesn’t widen there. 

9:17 –  I reach California and the sign there tells me it is seven minutes to the Dan Ryan.  As predicted, traffic opens wide up.  I don’t get it.  I’m almost speeding as I switch lanes to make my exit.  Anyway You Want It by Journey takes me all the way to the south bound exit ramp.  Then things come to a dead stop as a semi-truck creeps up the ramp.  Is it just a coincidence that the next song is End of the World by REM?

9:32 –  I arrive in the parking lot.  There was an unusual amount of people exiting at 35th Street, but none of them seemed to be turning.  I would imagine most of them were just looking to get out of the traffic.  I park next to Ken’s Envoy and it has not been recovered with snow yet, so he must have just arrived too.  As I step out of the car I check my zipper.  I remember how the last one of these ended.  The barn door was shut.

The rest of the day was busy but uneventful.  It was just your average day at work,and soon the traffic hell was a distant memory.  That is until the end of the day when we all realized we had to do it all again on the way home.  And the really good news is that more snow is predicted for over night.  I guess I better get some rest.  I’ve got another long drive tomorrow.

Welcome Back

Today was my official first day back for the new year.  Much like the kids and school, I have been blessed with a job that gives me a two-week break between Christmas and New Years.  This is in addition to our regular vacation time.  I have been with my current employer for over ten years now, so I have 2o vacation days each year, then at the end of the year I get those additional days.  Our last day of work was on the 22nd, but since I still had half of my vacation days unused, I took that day off, and on Monday, December 21st, it was amazing how many people had things for me that had to be done before we left.  I did what I could, but I was in no rush to help out with these little last minute problems,when I knew they could have been done the week before, if they had been brought to my attention then.  As it is, my plans to leave work that Monday shortly after noon were pushed all the way back to 5:30, but as I hit the door, I was determined not to be back until I absolutely had to be.  Of course that was a week earlier than I wanted to be.  I had to make a run into the office on the morning of December 29th, where I promptly found about a half a dozen notes from people who didn’t know I was not going to be in the office on the 22nd.  I only did the things that I felt were absolutely necessary.  I then placed the remaining notes right back where I found them.  It was already after one, and my stomach had a much overdue date with the Al’s Beef stand on Taylor Street.  My stomach was not disappointed.

So that brings me back to today.  Monday, January 4th.  My first official day of work for the year 2010.  It also happens to be my sister Marney’s birthday.  She is now 36, eight years younger than me.  She is also seven months older than my girlfriend Maureen.  Although I would never point this fact out to her, I am pretty sure Maureen has already done so.  It also happens to be the day my niece TJ gave birth to her daughter, Aurora.  I’m sure my sister Amy will have lots more to tell about that later.  But for now, it is time for work.  And that stack of notes I left on my desk almost a week ago.  It seems somehow they procreated, and they had already given birth to little other notes, and two interoffice envelopes.  If I had any intension of having a slow first day back, it was quickly squashed.  The red message light on my phone was on, and my computer couldn’t seem to keep up with the missed incoming e-mail.  Maybe that extra two weeks is not such a blessing.  Before I could even start to scroll through my e-mail, two Outlook meeting invitations popped up.  Like I really had a choice.  I’m not even sure why they call them invitations.

My mind quickly wanted to race back two weeks. Just like my own sluggish kids this morning, I didn’t want to be here anymore.  I needed just a few minutes to reflect back on the past two weeks.  Where had the time gone?  What had I done?  The real answer actually surprised me.  I had done practically nothing.  Sure there was Christmas Eve dinner with both my parents and Maureen’s.  The dishwasher decided that would be a good night to break down.  Why not?  It’s wasn’t like we were having people back in the morning for a Christmas Brunch.  Oh yea, we were.  But after all the Christmas visiting and presents, there really wasn’t that much more.  I played Wii with the kids.  Maureen and I put together a puzzle that my sister Marney gave me.  Checked out the broken dishwasher, and I am 92% sure that the part I ordered from the fix-it-yourself store will take care of the problem.  Washed a lot of dishes by hand.  More Wii and a trip to a place called Game Stop where I was enthralled by a shinny new orange gun that belonged to a game called Big Game Hunter.  The only time I have ever hunted in my life was with a friend named Tony Baker down in Kentucky way back when I was about Alex’s age.  We were shooting rabbits with a shotgun, and I came closer to blowing off my own foot than hitting one of the fuzzy little guys.  But now here I was with my son, hunting down mountain lions and bears.   When we were not playing Wii, it was marathon TV.  Criminal Minds was one of our afternoons, and Doctor Who on and off for two days when I got a hold of the remote.  This gave Maureen enough ammo for a few days afterwards.  She associated Doctor Who with geeky guys who play Dungeons & Dragons. I haven’t had the heart to tell her about that part yet.

There was also a nice get together with some old college friends, but that was followed by a day of being sick.  I had already known that I was coming down with something, but I put myself in denial mode.  I alway do that.  Try and convince myself that I am not sick when I know I am.  And once I opened myself up, all it took was three pints of Guinness and a return home stop at Taco Bell, and I was overpowered by whatever had been trying to get at me.  So my last day of freedom was reduced to praying at the porceline alter and sleeping.  First through a never-ending Congo line of House episodes, and then the final Bears game against Detroit.  I know they won, but I am pretty sure it was not that impressive.  And then I slept right through the second game.  I don’t even remember who was playing.  I think it was Green Bay.

So that brings us back to today.  Reality has set in.  Back to the real world.  I am so going to miss doing nothing.  I got most of what I had to get done today, but I never even touched my phone messages.  Didn’t even check to see how many there were.  More notes were placed on my desk while I was in the meetings.  A few of them I just tossed out.  Didn’t get out of the office until 5:22, stopped at the Food-4-Less when I got back into town.  Maureen was working tonight, so I picked up three cheep steaks for $6 and a bottle of marinade and steak fries.  Smothered the fries in garlic salt, sautéed the steaks in the marinade and a little orange juice.  Looked over homework and had a nice how was your day talk with Alex and Molly.  Maureen got home with the errant part for the dishwasher.  I installed it, and much to my surprise and joy, it fixed the problem.  There is a very manly feeling that comes over one when a repair actually works.  Those years after collage working as an apartment maintenance man paid off. 

So the day has come to a close, and here I sit.  Maureen is watching 300 Days of Summer and the kids are in bed.  Things are back to normal.  And I find that I really like it.  Sure it was a hectic day, but there are many more of those to come.  I put my final touches on this edition of my ramblings, and it’s off to snuggle up next to Maureen.  I will probably fall asleep long before the movie is over.  My break is done.  It’s back to doing what I do best.

Nothing.  And I’m pretty darn good at it.

Happy New You

I’m Back.

Did you miss me?  Probably not, but I will use the false assertion that you did to come up with a few more of these ramblings of mine.  I actually had started quite a few entries over the past few weeks, but the busy holiday schedule kept me from finishing them.  But don’t worry, the ideas are still there, and they will resurface in the near future.  Possibly even bits and pieces of them here today.  In the New Year.  A time of fresh starts and resolutions.  You know, those little promises we make to ourselves each year.  The ones we eventually break by Valentines Day.  Just in time to rework them into Lenten Promises.  It is pretty well documented that gym memberships rise right after the New Year, and many of these places offer New Year Deals to take advantage of those resolutions.  And then those memberships go unused for the last ten months of the year.

I have never been much for New Years celebrations.  Being of Irish/German decent, I have never found I really need an excuse to partake in the consumption of libations, and those who save up their drinking for one night only get in the way of those of us who have raised drinking to a professional level.  Don’t take this the wrong way, I would not consider myself a heavy drinker, although I am quite sure several publication would disagree with me on that fact, but these are also the same publications that consider me morbidly obese because I don’t conform to their idea of what my ideal weight should be for my height.  For the sake of argument, I am 5′ 10″ and 225 pounds.  If you consider this to be morbidly obese, then I am indeed a heavy drinker.  Also for the sake of argument, the CDC considers a heavy drinker as any adult male who consumes on average more than two drinks per day, and any adult female who drinks on average just one drink a day.  I have a feeling that by these standards, I am not the only heavy drinker in the crowd.

This year, I celebrated the New Year by staying home and drinking one Miller Lite before midnight, and then promptly falling asleep about ten minutes after midnight.  I believe Maureen only made it to about 12:03 before she succumbed to the half bottle of the same said Miller Lite that she had opened.  She had worked earlier that night, and was kind enough to bring home Chinese Food.  Moo Shu Pork and a Miller Lite.  With excitement like this is it any surprise I’m a heavy drinker?  The kids were over at friend’s house, so it was just the two of us.  Our New Year’s kiss came while already in bed watching House Hunters.  And we both disagreed with the choice the couple from Detoit made.  Maureen is out tonight seeing friends, and I have enjoyed a quiet night of playing Wii with Alex and Molly, and once they nodded off, I turned on BBC America to catch some of the 24 hours of Doctor Who.  Twenty years ago,I enjoyed the old Doctor Who that was shown late night on PBS, but this newer version has really done well by the Doctor.  It has lost the cheesy sets and bad production, but kept the humor and cultural statements. 

But there I go again, babbling on about things that have very little to do with my original idea.   Maybe my resolution should be to stick to the topic when I am writing.  But I would only break it the way so many others break their resolutions each year.  We all start with the purest of intentions, but like all of the fables associated with the holidays, a resolution is just a myth.  We don’t need the New Year to help us become better people, we are better people if we choose to be better people.  Nobody is perfect, trust me, I have learned this about myself in more ways than one.  I was reminded once again tonight of my faults, and odds are I will figure it out again tomorrow.  But I honestly believe that most people are at their core good and honest.  We live each day with the intention of doing what is right, and for the most part we try our best to be the best people we can be.  So for my New Year’s resolution I intend to not change a thing.  I like my life as it is.  I wouldn’t change my quiet boring New Year’s Eve for anything.  I don’t need a big party or celebration in Time Square.  A quiet night at home, with someone I love and care deeply for is more than I could ever hope for.  Add in Chinese Food and a Miller Lite and it is down right perfect.

So, it’s a new year.  Twenty Ten as I am told is the correct term.  I wish everyone the best in the coming twelve months.  But don’t feel like you have to make any great changes in your life.  Because if it is not obvious yet, your stuck with the same old me.