I woke up early this morning to shovel my sidewalks and dig out my car so I could get to UIC on time. This was the third time I had shoveled in twenty-four hours and I actually enjoyed shoveling! Since I don’t like to run in the snow because I’m afraid to twist my weak ankles yet again, shoveling snow is my alternate form of exercise on snowy days. I like to brag that I’m cross-training. I love shoveling snow about as much as I hate mowing the lawn. But those are responsibilities of a homeowner. So, I enjoyed shoveling out my car and then returning home after school and parking in the very same place.
In many Chicago neighborhoods, people shovel out their parking spots and then place old chairs or other unwanted furniture that is worthless (just in case it gets stolen or thrown away by the City of Chicago) to reserve their parking spots. This is a time-honored Chicago tradition that I remember from the 1960s. This causes more arguments than perhaps even the White Sox vs. Cubs debate that is so quintessential Chicago. In fact, people have been shot for freshly-shoveled parking spaces.
I have always shoveled out my parking space, but I have never placed junk on the street to reserve my space. I usually shovel my car out and when I come back I park in the same space that I shoveled if I’m fortunate enough that it’s still available. If it’s not, I shovel out a new spot and park there. One year, I ended up shoveling my whole block one parking space at a time and everyone on the block seemed very happy with the arrangement. In fact, my neighbors showed their appreciation by not shooting me.
When I came home today, I parked right in front of my house in the very same parking spot that I had shoveled out. I was surprised by my good luck to be able to park in the same place, so I just had to take a picture. Behold! I took this picture from the comfort of my front porch!
Unfortunately, the White Sox season ended yesterday. But no one ever gave them a chance to even finish better than third or fourth place in their division. So everyone–except the White Sox and their fans–was surprised that the Sox made it to the post-season. They were in the first place for most of the season before slipping in the standings, but they battled their way back into first place by playing an extra playoff game against the Minnesota Twins. They gave the Tampa Bay Rays a good fight and they lost the series to a team with 97 regular-season wins (not the Cubs!).
The Cubs were given a celebration rally downtown for their first-place finish in the National League Central Division. And the White Sox. Nada! Not even a pat on the back!!! But alas, the White Sox and their fans hail from the much-maligned South Side. Those scrappy White Sox of 2008 are representative of the working-class, no-nonsense fans who support them. Yes, they’re a little rough around the edges, as witnessed by Sox fans who gloated when the Sox beat the Rays in game 3. Yes, they berated the Cubs and their fans for being swept from the playoffs in a mere three games. But the big, bad White Sox lost in four games! The Cubs had their dream team and were supposed to go all the way to the World Series. The Sox, on the other hand, fought to win every single game. And even though they lost, their fans cheered them on until the very end.
Well, the Cubs are out of the playoffs after losing three games to the L.A. Dodgers. Even though I am a lifelong White Sox fan, I was rooting for the Cubs to go all the way to the World Series. But I did imagine them losing them to the White Sox in four games. So I am disappointed in their poor showing in the post-season after how well they played all season.This was supposed to be the year for the Cubs! And they played so well all year. The Cubs had a National League best 97 wins, 636 walks, 855 runs scored, and a Major League best of 1264 pitching strikeouts. How could they lose? This has been the most disappointing Cubs season since 1969.
Last night, I went to Moher Public House, 5310 W. Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646, 773.4671954. This is an Irish bar whose name refers to the Cliffs of Moher in County Claire, Ireland. I’ve been there a few times already, always with my friend Mike who is half-Irish, half-Polish. I’ve known him for more than twenty years. I like all the pictures on the wall of Irish writers such as James Joyce and W.B. Yeats. If you like watching sports, there are plenty of TVs. The last time I went, we watched the White Sox and the Cubs play on side-by-side TVs! All the pub patrons seem to know at least one person because this is a neighborhood pub where everyone hangs out. Our waitress even spoke with an Irish Brogue. The sign on the woman’s room read, “Mne” and the one on the men’s room, “Fir.” I received a receipt for the beers I bought when it was my turn to buy a round. When I got home, I finally noticed that it had a message in Gaelic, “Go raibh mile maith agat / agus / Slan abhaile,” which translates to “Thank you very much / and / Safe home.” The food is supposed to be very good there, but each time I went, I had already eaten before I went there.
My father always loved going to the Chicago Auto Show every year. He would go several times each year and he would always take my brothers, sister, and me the first time he went. He always managed to get free tickets either through work or some promotional event. Somehow, he always found free tickets and took us every year.
When I was older, he would go with just me so we could take our time and really look at all the cars. He loved looking at the cars and we loved collecting bags and bags full of automobile literature, pamphlets, key chains, and anything else they gave away there. My father was a mechanic at Curtiss Candy, so he loved to show off his knowledge of all things mechanical while we were at the auto show. So if they had a motor displaying the internal parts, my father would explain how the internal combustion engine worked. My brothers weren’t all that interested in his explanations, but I always tried to learn something new everytime we went to the auto show.
My father always fantasized about owning all the latest expensive sports cars. He would always insist that we sit inside the car, behind the wheel. Then, he would explain all the features of the car, as if he were a car salesman. My favorite part of the show was the celebrities who made appearances. They were so accessible to everyone. Usually all the Chicago sports teams such as the White Sox, the Bulls, the Bears, the Blackhawks, and the Cubs sent a few players to represent them. I don’t really remember exactly who specifically showed up, but I do remember that if you waited long enough after their presentation, you could walk right up to them, shake their hand, and talk to them. We would always wait to meet the celebrities, but I was too shy to actually talk to them. I was content with shaking their hand and standing close enough to listen to them talk to others. The only Chicago player I really remember meeting there was Walter Payton. I also remember meeting Jesse Owens who came every year. He was always so patient just standing there waiting for everyone who wanted to greet him.
And long after the auto show was over, we still had our bags of automotive literature to entertain us well into the summer.
When you learn a foreign language, you can’t help but learn about another culture and its customs. I often remember Vito’s friend Jean-Claude von Bostal who came to visit Vito in Chicago from Belgium. Everything was so different for him. Vito asked me what we could do with Jean-Claude that would be very American. I suggested going to a baseball game. That’s about as American as you can get, if you overlook the fact that most of the players are from Latin America. So we went to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play. It was a warm day, so everyone dressed in summer clothes. A woman seated near us wore a tank top. When one of the Cubs hit a home run, she clapped with her hands over her head, revealing her shaved armpits. We couldn’t help but notice her because she was also whooping it up. Jean-Claude immediately noticed her shaved armpits and said, “That’s stupid!” Vito corrected him, “You mean that’s different.” Well, I know for a fact that women don’t shave their armpits in Europe. So I said, “Vito, I think he really means that it’s stupid.” Jean-Claude nodded and said, “Why do they shave their armpits?” Well, you see, there are always cultural differences even when you don’t think of them. They abound everywhere.
Physical distance between people is a common cultural topic of many Spanish textbooks. When you learn a foreign language, you also learn about the culture. The two are inseparable. When associating with someone from a Spanish-speaking country, they usually get very close to you when they speak. They are more likely to greet you by shaking your hand and/or giving you a hug and a kiss. This is something that you’ll have to learn to accept. This happens if you’re in the U.S. or in Mexico. In the U.S. we’re accustomed to having plenty of distance between us when we speak to someone. And we hardly ever hug someone unless they’re a family member. For me, you have to be a family member on speaking terms. When I was in Mexico, I was hugging and kissing total strangers just because they were close friends to my cousin. I’ll be perfectly honest. With certain persons of the female persuasion, I squeezed them a little harder with the hug and held the kiss a little longer than necessary. This is something I would never do here in America. I generally don’t like people touching me! Period. In Mexico, a hug between two male friends is quite common, but in America I never even think about hugging another man. Once, I hadn’t seen a friend for about five years. When I saw him, he immediately ran to me and gave me this big overly friendly bear hug. I said, “Whoa! I wasn’t ready for that.” I needed some distance between us. Since I grew up on the south side of Chicago, I’m uncomfortable if someone gets too close to me when speaking. I like to have ample distance between my interlocutor and me. I like to be beyond striking distance. At UIC parties, I noticed that the Spaniards used to like to talk to me by putting their face about two inches away from mine and I felt extremely uncomfortable! I usually keep back up until I bump into the wall and have to stop back pedaling. But then I discovered that if I held my plate of food about six inches in front of me, that offered me a buffer zone that kept me well beyond the striking distance of fists and/or food ejected during conversation. Spaniards like to speak to you face to face, but they respect food and will maintain a safe distance from it in order not to knock it over.