Dangerous pics

My dashboard, as seen through my iPhone

As I was crossing the Mississippi River, I suddenly got the urge to take a picture of the St. Louis Arch at seventy miles per hour. What you see above is my failed attempt of that picture. I’m lucky to be alive! But the image is foreboding. If I don’t change my ways, I will surely hurt myself.

Ever since my blog readers requested pictures, I have been trying to take more pictures. However, I’m sure they didn’t mean for me to risk my life in the process.

Some people don’t like when you sneak up on them and take their picture. But if they’re in public, they’re fair game. Sometimes they look at your strangely if your request to take pictures of their personal items. For example, I once went to the offices of all of my colleagues at UIC  to take pictures of their computers. They gave me the strangest looks when I asked permission to photograph their computer. I supposed I would react in a similar fashion if someone came to my office only to photograph my computer. Occasionally, when I go out with my friends to eat, I tell them, “Wait! Before you dig in, let me take a picture of your food!”

For a while, I was taking pictures of interesting license plates. But it seemed that I only time I saw interesting license plates was while I drove on the highway in excess of sixty miles per hour. This didn’t stop me from trying to take pictures. They say that talking on the phone while driving doubles your risk of getting into an accident. And texting increases your risk by eight times. But no one said how much the risk of getting into an accident is increased while trying to take pictures. I think it increases a lot more than eight times. I have had a few close calls, so I can vouch for that.

Once while I was driving to UIC, I saw a license plate that read CHITOWN. I had to take a picture of it! I attempted to get my camera out and take the picture before the SUV bearing that plate turned. There was snow on the ground and the street was slippery. I had to get a picture of the plate! But it wasn’t just any CHITOWN plate. It was a Kansas license plate! I risked crashing my car and I took a couple of pictures. I was overjoyed by my success. When I got home, I noticed that the license plate was unreadable in both pictures. I risked my life for nothing! What were the chances of me seeing this Kansas SUV in Chicago again?

Miraculously, I saw the SUV again about a month later. Again I took pictures as I drove north on south Ashland Avenue. The pictures didn’t come out clearly again! But I figured out that whoever drove the SUV was bound to come down Ashland Avenue again. And sure enough, about a month later, I saw which way it turned and I followed it. I was hoping the driver would hurry up and leave the vehicle so I could take a picture of his license plate. But, no, he took his sweet time gathering his things. I was in a hurry to get to UIC, so I got out of my car to take a picture of his license plate. The driver gave me a very suspicious look, so I told him I only wanted a picture of his license plate. He silently consented, but he eyed me cautiously. Well, I’m used to always getting strange looks anyway, so I took the picture and left. But it turns out I was too far away and the plate was too blurry to read.

Well, I knew the driver with the Kansas plate and I had similar schedules, so I would look for his vehicle in the same parking spot another day. A couple of weeks later, I saw it again. This time I parked right behind it. And I took several pictures to ensure that one of them would be readable. Just then, I noticed a man in a nearby vehicle reaching down under his seat and eyeing me suspiciously. At first, I was sure he was reaching for a gun, but I managed to convince myself that he was merely getting pen and paper to write down my license plate number. Regardless, I left as quickly as possible. Below, thanks to my persistence, you see the fruit of my labor. Behold!

CHI-TOWN on a Kansas license plate

I’m lucky to be alive! 


On the road somewhere in the USA.

In the 1960s, Chicago was very much a segregated city. Neighborhoods were categorized by race and/or ethnicity. When people moved to Chicago, they pretty much stuck to their own kind. This was in an era before anyone could foretell the coming of Political Correctness and everyone called every race and ethnic group by their corresponding slur. Sometimes, people would be offended by such name calling, but oftentimes, most people merely accepted it as part of life in Chicago. Those neighborhood boundaries could only be crossed when going to work or when shopping, as long as no one over-stayed their time where they didn’t belong. No one ever commented on these inequities back then. That was Chicago, that’s all. When I lived in Back of the Yards, no blacks ventured there except to go shopping at the stores on Ashland Avenue between 45th Street and 51st Street. There was name calling and such, but basically there was never any trouble.

When I lived at 4546 S. Marshfield Avenue, there was a Sinclair gas station, whose logo was a green dinosaur, on the corner across the street. It had one gas pump that was directly in front of the building on the sidewalk. Whenever I needed air for my bicycle tires, I went across the street for it. As a ten year old, I often needed help fixing my bicycle when my father wasn’t home, so I would go to the gas station where Max would help me. Max had the reputation for being the very best mechanic around, not just in our neighborhood, but anywhere. Everyone respected him for his mechanical skills and brought their cars to him if they needed repairs. Max also dispensed free mechanical advice to anyone who asked for it. After a while, no one even noticed that he was black. That’s right, a black man was working at our gas station beyond the allowable shopping district boundaries. But it was acceptable because he was at work. However, Max was accepted amicably by all the neighborhood residents. He was a hero to all my friends and me because he could fix our bikes no matter what was wrong with them. And he never charged us anything. I used to like to hang out with him when I had nothing to do. He just seemed like the wisest man on earth because he could fix just about anything anyone brought in. I would ride my bike over and sit on his bench and watch him fix flat tires. He explained everything he did to me every step of the way. I was always fascinated by the machine that removed the tires from the rim. It was loud and menacing, but Max had tamed it to obey his every command. When business was slow, which was rarely, he would sit next to me on the bench and we would talk small talk. “How’s it going, buddy?” “Great! How are you, Max?” We were buddies. Then all Sinclair gas stations started giving out free passes to the Riverview amusement park with a gas fill-up. Since we were buddies, Max gave me enough passes for my entire family and my father took us to Riverview several times. Max was really popular with all the boys after that.

There was an older boy on the block that I often avoided. I always afraid of this boy because he was rotten to the core and he often scared me. He had that look that threatened physical violence to anyone who returned it. Then one day, he told me that Max was black. Looking back, I’m not even sure if I ever even noticed. He was just Max the mechanic at Sinclair to me. He was a very nice guy and he was always very helpful to me. Anyway, this boy told me that Max was a “nigger.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He explained to me that Max was inferior to us because of his skin color. We rode our bikes to the corner and Max was standing in front of the gas station. The boy told me to call Max a “nigger.” I refused because Max was my friend. We stopped our bikes directly across the street from Max and the boy insisted that I shout “nigger” to Max. I just couldn’t. I knew that Max could hear our conversation, but he acted as if he were oblivious to us. Then the boy said he would beat me up if I didn’t. He punched me in the arm really hard, he gave me his patented menacing look, and said, “Then call him a Fudgecicle!” I refused at first, but then I was afraid to get beat up. So I half-heartedly said, “Fudgecicle.” Max didn’t betray any form of acknowledgement that he had heard me. I felt so bad. I was sure my friendship with Max was over. But I didn’t get beat up.

The next day, I felt too guilty to visit Max as I usually did. After a few more days, I went back to the gas station and I tried to act as if nothing had happened. Max greeted me as he usually did. And we had our normal conversation of small talk. As if nothing had ever happened! Max was such a great friend!