Laredo, Texas

This is another large Spanish-speaking city!

As I’m driving to Mexico from Chicago, I notice how flat the terrain is compared to the mountains I will negotiate once I enter Mexico. On the U.S. side there were some rolling hills along the way, but nothing compared to the steep grades in the Mexican mountains that sometimes cause my car to sputter on the way up. And as if that weren’t scary enough, some roads actually run alongside the edge of a cliff for long distances. They don’t believe in guardrails in Mexico. Talk about the thrill of adventure!

In Laredo, the streets are gridlocked with traffic from Christmas shoppers. Everyone seems to gravitate toward Wal-Mart where I went to use their ATM. I actually had to wait in line to drive into the parking lot. Everyone, Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike, is speaking Spanish here. This part of town sure feels like Mexico right now. A lot of Mexicans came to Laredo to shop for the holidays. One man told me that he came all the way from Monterrey. I don’t quite understand it. There are plenty of Wal-Marts in Mexico, which I like because that’s were I can get Mexican pesos with my ATM card. This is my fifth time here in a year, but this is the most crowded that I’ve seen it. I wait to drive into Mexico and get out of here. As my mother said when asked why she was moving out of Back of the Yards, “Too many Mexicans!”

I think I can, I think I can!

Mexico the easy way

This atlas really does help. Just think how much more lost I would be without it!

Driving to Mexico would be much more difficult if it weren’t for this handy dandy road atlas. Well, even with the atlas I still got lost. But eventually I got to wherever I had to go. An impossible journey without the atlas. This atlas is published in English, Spanish, and German. German? There must be a lot of German tourists in Mexico. Oh, yes, I did see a German couple at the pyramids in Teotihuacán last July. This atlas has served me well my last two trips to Mexico. This time I have a back up–my iPhone! With GPS!

So how do they survive on the road?

What Christmas means to me

Let us now reflect on the true meaning of Christmas! What does Christmas mean to me? I usually don’t think about the meaning of Christmas because my thoughts are often deflected from its true meaning by our capitalistic, commercial consumerism. Yesterday, I was in McDonald’s with my sons when I happened to notice a Christmas tree next to an ATM. Or, was the ATM next to the Christmas tree? So what came first? The Christmas tree or the ATM?

This rhetorical question was such a poser that I couldn’t focus the camera while shooting this Christmas scene reminiscent of almost every Christmas that I recall since I was a boy. Or maybe it was a sign of some sort. I shot this picture four times and each one was blurry. I posted the clearest one. 😦

The ATM has been there a few years now. I’ve actually been going to this McDonald’s for about thirty years. And I still live to tell the story. When I saw the ATM, I thought, “Why couldn’t I get an ATM for Christmas? Whose lap would I have to sit on for an ATM?” Actually, I would rather not know.

Merry Chri$tma$! I can't wait to see $anta Clau$!

Nova no va

Dr. D. and his faithful Chevy Nova

This picture was taken sometime in the 1980s. I’m not sure when. But that’s not important now. I only posted the picture because my 1976 Chevrolet Nova is behind me. Vito and his ever ubiquitous camera were also present that day in front of Jim’s house in the Gage Park neighborhood. Vito always annoyed me by always lugging around his camera and stopping everyone so he could take a picture. As I look through my box of old photographs, I see that I couldn’t have been too annoyed by his paparazzi ambitions because I seemed to gladly pose for many pictures. And, without my asking, Vito would give me some of those pictures.

Oh, wait! I meant to write about my car! My Chevy Nova. A car that didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because its name sounds too much like “No va,” or “It doesn’t run.” But that’s neither here nor there, either.

I bought this shiny, black car, brand new in 1976. But by the time I returned from California with it, it was no longer new nor shiny. I’ll explain why in a moment. Remind me to tell you in case I forget. This Chevy Nova and I were in a relationship for more than thirteen years! This is perhaps the only object with which I developed a personal relationship, if that’s at all possible. I still have fond memories of this special car. Oh, yes, I called my car Felicia! Don’t tell me you never named your car!

Anyway, I had only owned one car before this one. A brand new 1975 Pontiac Firebird that was very sporty and flashy, red exterior with white interior that was extremely difficult to keep clean. But it wasn’t very practical because it only seated four and the trunk was very small. I think some of the girls I met only liked me for my car. I think this car deserves a separate post, so you’ll have to look for it.

So back to my Nova, which actually ran very well despite its name in Spanish. I special ordered the car so I could get all the options I wanted. Of course, I couldn’t afford very many at that time, so I deliberated carefully and prioritized my wish list. Number 1 on the list? You better sit down before I tell you. Okay, are you ready? An AM/FM Stereo Sound System with an 8-track player! No other option would matter as long as my new car had an 8-track player. I still get shivers down my back recalling driving that car down the open road with my 8-track player blasting! I mean, who wouldn’t? I must have had about fifty albums on 8-track that I listened to while I slept and now I could listen to them while I drove, too!

Everyone was shocked when I bought my Chevy Nova because I went from racing around in a flashy Firebird to driving a mundane family sedan. I never regretted the change because my Nova was more practical and more reliable than my Firebird. Sure it wasn’t as fast as my Firebird, but thanks to my Nova, I’m still alive today. I probably would have killed myself in a fiery car wreck because I felt like I had super powers behind the wheel of my red sports car! Fast cars produce fast drivers. I had a few close calls.

When I drove my four-door Chevy Nova family sedan, I actually became a much safer driver. I suppose it’s like the difference between wearing running shoes and high heels, not that I ever wore or wanted to wear high heels. I became more responsible in my personal life, too. But that could have been just because I was maturing, even though I resisted.

When I was transferred to 29 Palms, California, from Marine Corps boot camp, I drove my Nova back to the base and I was the envy of all my colleagues because I had a car. They did kid me that I was driving an old man’s car, but they always wanted me to take them on weekend trips to such exotic places as Arizona, Mexico, and Disneyland. They didn’t car what they looked like driving in my car. A car is a car!

In the Mojave Desert, my Felicia was subjected to extreme heat and sun. Once it was so hot and sunny that I burned my fingers by touching the ignition switch that was subjected to the scorching sun. From then on, I kept a towel over the steering wheel and ignition. The sun also made the black paint fade a little. We were warned at orientation about the extreme heat. In fact, they told us that if our cars had air conditioning we should remove the fan belts that connected it to the engine because the car would overheat and stall if you used the air conditioning. A few skeptical Marines didn’t heed the warning and sure enough they stalled in the middle of the desert! We were also told to carry plastic gallon jugs of water in case we got stranded in the desert. We were also warned about all the poisonous creatures of the desert. There were scorpions, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, Black Widows, and a lot of other poisonous creatures that preferred to be undisturbed by human beings. In the morning, we would always shake out our boots to make sure nothing had moved in overnight because scorpions like to sleep in combat boots. We were told that if we were bitten by a Black Widow, the only way we would survive would be if we fell into a helicopter just as were bitten and immediately taken to the hospital. Needless to say, I never looked for pets in the desert.

I once drove through a sandstorm and a flash flood that occurred unexpectedly and simultaneously. People warned me that the weather was about to turn for the worst, but I didn’t listen. I drove out on a nice sunny afternoon because I didn’t believe the weather forecast. Suddenly, as I’m driving back to the base, the sky darkened and rain started pouring down on me and my Felicia. Soon the rain stopped, but the sky remained dark and a fifty-mph crosswind blew sand across the desert and into my car. I could barely see, but I felt I would be safer if I tried to drive out of the storm. So, I continued driving without putting my foot on the gas pedal. I idled forward at about five mph. I couldn’t see the road, but at least there were no other cars on the road. I could feel when I started hitting the shoulder of the road and I would edge my way back into my lane.

I can honestly say that the visibility was zero. When I looked out the windshield, I only saw sand hitting the glass. I couldn’t even see my hood or my headlights shining on the sand. But at that point, I thought my best chance for survival was to drive out of the storm by going to a higher elevation. When I finally reached the drive riverbed with the warning sign about flash floods, I knew I would make it home. However, the dry riverbed was now a raging river of about eight inches deep and six feet across. Against my better judgment, I decide to drive across. In Chicago, I had driven through standing water that deep before and my car didn’t stall. The whole secret was to go slowly enough not to splash water on the engine and its electrical components.

Eventually, I made it back to 29 Palms, or you wouldn’t be reading this post, where it was sunny and dry. I inspected my car for damage. My poor baby! The car’s paint job had been sandblasted by the storm. Ditto for all the windows.

I always remember my driving adventures in my Chevy Nova fondly!


Burnham Hall, University of Illinois at Chicago

My Spanish class met for the last time this morning. Some students will never study Spanish again, but hopefully, they’ll remember more than just, “Buenos días” and “¿Cómo está usted?” The students take the last exam and they slowly leave the classroom one by one. The classroom is now empty. It’s very quiet for the first time in the semester. I’m all by myself and I already miss my students. They sometimes annoy me during the semester, but then I miss them when they’re gone. Go figure! I’ll just have to wait untill next semester to see my new students.

DR 2047

Yes, I'm a doctor 24/7/366. I work like every year's a leap year!

I have had the same license plate number for most of my driving years. Since sometime in the 1970s. The DR actually represents the initials of David Rodriguez. And as luck would have it, it’s also the abbreviation for “doctor.” One of the main reasons I felt pressured to get my Ph.D. was the fact that every time I looked at my license plates, I saw “Doctor” at the beginning of my plate number. So how did I get this license plate number? Well, my mother was so proud of her license plate, CR 2509, that she wanted me to follow suit. So, she told me how the Illinois Secretary of State allowed vehicle owners to request license plate numbers–two letters, followed by four numbers–and would be assigned to their vehicle if they were available. My mother was Carmen Rodriguez and she lived at 2509 W. Marquette Road, so she requested CR 2509 and she got it because it was available. My mother thought it would be great if I could get DR 2509. She was really excited about the prospect of us having similar license plates. She wasn’t this excited about license plates since we both bought our plates, at her suggestion once again, from Talman Federal Bank. Both of our plates began the letters TF. Unfortunately, I didn’t get DR 2509, much to my mother’s disappointment. But I did get DR 2047. My initials and the year of my death. Okay, the year of my death is just wishful thinking on my part. If I live that long, I’ll be 91. Now that I think of it, perhaps I’ll want a little more time.

In general, not many people have ever noticed that DR represented my initials. Not that I ever pointed it out to anyone either. I did like the fact that my initials made 33% easier to remember my license plate number whenever someone asked for it. However, one day, I had to stop at a red light. I was about three cars back from the light in the left lane on north Ashland Avenue when I hear a car honking its horn. I look in front and to the right and then I finally look in my rearview mirror. But I didn’t see which car was honking. Finally, I look to my left, from whence the honking originates, and see a German import car in the left-turn. Only there are no other cars in front of this car and it’s not pulling up to the stoplight. A man is driving and the female passenger is motioning for me to lower my window. I reluctantly obey. “Your plates are so cool!” She yells even though she’s less than two feet away from me. Her male companion rolls his eyes behind her and she’s oblivious to his disinterest in our conversation. She gives me to thumbs up and as I begin to explain how I got my plate number, they pull away because they have a left arrow. Suddenly, I’m wondering why she thought my plates were cool. Why couldn’t she stay long enough to explain? For weeks I’m mulling over the significance of my plate number to her–and more than likely, no remote interest in my plate by her male companion, which is why he pulled away before she could explain her logic to me. I told a few of my friends about the incident and they all thought it was weird. All I could come up with was that she perhaps thought DR was for “doctor” and 2047 was pronounced, “twenty-four seven” or 24/7. That was the only thing that came to mind and my friends agreed. But to this day, I’m still in suspense!

I love your license plate!