Before I drove to México earlier this month, I searched online to see if I would be able to listen to Sirius XM in México. I guess few people with satellite radio travel to México and then post whether Sirius XM will work in México because I found exactly zero results. Well, I am now posting that I went to México, and I was able to listen to Sirius XM in México while I drove all the way to México City. There were some bad reception areas, but overall, the quality was incredibly good. This certainly made my driving experience much more enjoyable. So, now you know, in case you ever want to drive to México City and want to listen to Sirius XM down México way.
My sons are now driving. They now have their driver’s license at age seventeen because they took driver’s ed. At first, they were enthusiastic about driving, but now that they have been driving awhile, the excitement has worn off. Especially since the car wouldn’t start up twice and I had to help them get it running again. I told them that part of driving also involves having car problems and getting stranded far away from home. They told me that driving wasn’t much fun anymore.
I remember when I first learned to drive. I took driver’s ed in high school Indiana, but I couldn’t get my license mailed to me because I had moved back home to Chicago, Illinois. So, I didn’t drive until I was eighteen and I had bought my own car. Not that I’m complaining. I always enjoyed walking and taking public transportation when I was in high school.
After high school, my friends and I all had our own cars. Whenever we went anywhere, we all drove to our destination separately, in our own cars. If we had to car pool, Each one of us wanted to be the driver. The driver would drive his own car. There was an unwritten rule that no one was allowed to drive someone else’s car. Unless, they were in no condition to drive.
Now that we’re older, my friends and I don’t see much of each other. When we do, we still argue over who will drive. However, the dialogue goes like this: “You drive.” “No, you drive. I drove the last time!” “If you drive, I’ll let you drive my car!”
My oldest son found a frog at the forest preserves and decided to keep it. He bought an aquarium, but soon the house smelled of stagnant water. He really didn’t clean the aquarium regularly or properly. Then he got bored of having a frog. He thought of releasing the frog in our backyard, but I told him it would die there and that would be inhumane. I suggested he take the frog to the Marquette Park lagoon where it would at least stand a chance to survive. A week passed and the frog was still our roommate and the aquarium water was still polluting the air we breathed. Yesterday, we both were home at the same time, with free time at the same time–something that rarely happens with our busy schedules (even though I’m on summer vacation now!).
So, I said, “Let’s take the frog to Marquette Park now.” Amazingly, he agreed. However, he didn’t want to touch the frog because of the putrid smell. He brought the aquarium down from his bedroom and put it on the front porch. He almost threw as he set the tank down. So, I was the one who took the frog out of the smelly tank and put it into a five-gallon bucket to take to Marquette Park.
I’ve been going to Marquette Park since the 1960s. My parents always loved taking us to parks or beaches whenever possible. When my mother got her driver’s license, she ventured further away from our house. Once she took us to Brookfield Zoo! But first she had to build up her courage. So she took us to Marquette Park. She had heard that it was a nice park. She drove us there in her 1964 Chevy Impala convertible. I remember driving on Marquette Road to get to Marquette Park. My mother was amazed by the houses we saw there. When we drove back home on Marquette Road, my mother said, “Some day we will live on Marquette Road!”
Eventually, we did live at 2509 W. Marquette Road! Many Lithuanians lived in Marquette Park. There were very few Mexicans in the neighborhood back in the early 1970s. But that didn’t stop my mother from moving in. I missed my old friends at Back of the Yards, but Marquette Park was a much bigger and better park than Davis Square Park. Marquette Park had a lagoon for fishing, sailing, RC boats. There were plenty of activities at the field house where I eventually joined the Mar Par Chessmen. Years later, I joined the Marquette Park Track Club that was coached by Jack Bolton. There were soccer and baseball leagues. I went there for a wrestling match when I was in the eighth grade. I got to know Marquette Park very well. There were very few Mexicans at the park then.
So, imagine my surprise when I returned with my sons to Marquette Park to release the frog (I bet you thought I forgot all about the frog!). Over the past few years the neighborhood has been changing. African-Americans started moving in. Now, Mexicans are moving in, too. Whenever I drive through the neighborhood, I see more store signs in Spanish. Since I don’t spend all that much time there, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the park. Marquette Park was filled with mostly Mexicans. Several soccer–actually, fútbol–games were in progress. Unlike the 1970s, all the players were Mexican. Ditto when I drove past the concrete basketball courts. I was also surprised by the Mexican food vendor in the picture above. They sold the usual Mexican food items: elotes, tacos, gorditas, raspados. My son was hungry, so he bought a couple of tacos de carne asada and an elote in a cup. I didn’t even know you could buy elote in a cup! I always buy it on a stick! As Dios intended. But, I’ve also seen pizza in a cup. So why not elote in a cup? And I’m not even going bring up walking tacos here.
Anyway, we placed the frog (See! I still remember that this post was about the frog!) on the grassy shore of the lagoon and the frog immediately jumped into the water. Live long and prosper!
I went to Mount Baldy last Sunday just for old times’ sake. Jim, Vito, and I went to Mount Baldy regularly when we were younger. Jim was remarkably familiar with this part of Indiana since he grew up in Hammond. Whenever he was bored, he would stop by my house unannounced and say, “Let’s go for a ride!” There was no need to ask where because we always ended up in Indiana somewhere. I have always loved Indiana ever since I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson. For a while there, I seriously considered moving to Indiana. So, I didn’t mind too much whenever we took a road trip to Indiana. We often went to Mount Baldy and its beach just for the fun of it. We never actually went in the water, though.
When I went last Sunday with Beata, we had a tough time finding a parking space at Mount Baldy. Jim, Vito, and I never had trouble finding parking before. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered! Jim, Vito, and I never went to Mount Baldy during the summer, during the tourist, beach-going, sun-tanning season. We never kept a regular schedule like normal people. We always went late at night or long after beach weather had passed. Now that I think of it, we were often the only ones on the beach!
We would cruise along Lake Michigan with no destination or agenda. We just loved driving! Occasionally, when we were old enough to drink, we would stop for a beer at a bar that Jim discovered near Mount Baldy. Jim loved discovering unfamiliar places of interest and then taking us there. I don’t know about Vito, but I wasn’t so excited about these places. But I liked to humor Jim because we did have fun on our road trips!
We often went to the beach long after the beaches were closed. We even went in the winter. One extremely frigid winter, we went to the beach at Beverly Shores. Danger signs were posted to warn everyone to keep off the ice. Those warning signs only work for normal, moderately sane people. To us, they were an open invitation to go on the ice as far as we could go. The smooth sheets of ice were broken up by warm waves of water and then frozen so they looked like waves that froze as they approached the shore. They looked dangerous and inviting all at once. As I recall, Jim and I went out on the frozen waves, but Vito urged us not to go so far. Despite Vito’s cautious approach, he was right behind us. I suppose he did this as a precaution, If the ice cracked and swallowed up Jim or me, Vito could safely go back to shore. Since the weather had been so cold, we went out extremely far out on the ice, far from the shore. We kept going until we could hear the ice cracking under our feet. So, we turned back and headed to the beach. Hey, we weren’t totally insane!
We really had fun on our last road trip to Mount Baldy. I was home alone with my son at home in Bridgeport. Jim and Vito unexpectedly showed up early one Saturday morning. They wanted to go to Mount Baldy! But I had to go to work later that day! What about my son? They insisted that I take my son with me and that we would be back in time for me to go to work. I resisted with all my might. Finally, after deep determination and exertion of my strong will, I gave in. I was able to resist for a whole minute before I agreed to go with Jim and Vito to Mount Baldy for old times’ sake. Little did we realize that this would be our last trip together to Mount Baldy.
Vito, as usual, brought his camera. He brought his camera everywhere, or so it seemed. I don’t know about Jim, but I found Vito’s camera very annoying back then. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that he took so many pictures to document our past good times!
I’m not sure how the conversation started, but my sons and I thought back to all the amusement park that we had ever ridden. Of course, when you speak of amusement park rides, you also conjure up images of roller coasters. Tall, scary fast roller coasters. They wanted to know what was the scariest roller coaster I had ever been on. I thought long and hard and finally recalled the Blue Streak at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
Way back in 1975, I went to Cedar Point with Jim Harmon because he had gone there with his family when they lived in Indiana. He told me about what a great amusement park it was. And, it was within driving distance from Chicago. We really enjoyed all the rides (I was much, much younger then). However, I only remembered one ride: The Blue Streak. It was the most wicked roller coaster I had ever ridden. Jim warned me in advance of the big drop at the beginning, but even with advance warning, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience. Back then, the only safety feature was a bar that we pulled back over our laps. So, when we went down that first drop, I actually felt myself floating off the seat and I clung to the safety bar for dear life! Then there were a whole series of little dips that actually caused me to be airborne many times during the rest of the ride. From then on I compared all roller coasters to the Blue Streak, which had become my gold standard.
So, I told my sons about the best roller coaster in the world. They suggested we go to Cedar Point to check it out. Since I keep becoming more and more like my father, I follow many of my sons’ suggestions. We went to Cedar Point in 2004 for the first time, but the Blue Streak was no longer the most exciting roller coaster at Cedar Point. In fact, Cedar Point became the roller coaster capital of the world. There were so many roller coasters that we didn’t have time to go on all of them in one day. Yes, the lines for the main attractions like the Millennium Force and the Top Thrill Dragster were more than two hours long!
Well, we loved all the roller coasters! But just for old time’s sake, I suggested that we ride the Blue Streak so they could experience firsthand what I had described to them. They were not as thrilled. Of course, after riding all the other roller coasters, the Blue Streak was anticlimactic. They were like, “Dad! What a boring roller coaster.”
When we went on the Blue streak again last week, after I insisted–actually, begged–, They said they couldn’t believe how the Blue Streak could have been the main attraction at Cedar Point. I told them, “Just wait until you have your own children and you tell them about the rides today. They will be surprised at how boring these roller coasters are. They’ll have something way faster and scarier.” I don’t think I entirely convinced them. But roller coasters just keep getting higher and longer and faster and scarier all the time.
Check out some of the roller coaster world records at Wikipedia:
Vanity of Vanities! Everyone seems to have a vanity license plate. Everywhere I look on the road, I see a vanity plate.
I give up! For a while there, I was taking pictures of clever vanity license plates, although I must admit that some vanity plates weren’t so clever. People are more than willing to pay extra for these license plates, whether or not they’re clever. There are just too many vanity license plates for me to photograph!
I quit taking those pictures for safety reasons. Occasionally, I would take a picture of vanity plates while driving and a couple of times I almost got into an accident. Is my life worth risking for the sake of documenting people’s idea of “wit”? Will I further humanity by continuing to risk my life? Will anyone notice that I’ve stopped taking these pictures on the road while driving?
Lately, I’ve noticed that there are so many vanity license plates in Illinois. So many that I’ve reached the conclusion that we must be the vainest state of the Union when it comes to vanity plates. Every time I drive, I see at least one vanity plate. When I drive to other states, I don’t see as many vanity plates. Okay, I did see quite a few in California, but not the other states I drove through. But I’m sure that other states will catch up with the growing popularity of vanity license plates.
If you had the (mis)fortune of being born a male, you know that you must endure certain rites of passage to manhood. However, no one ever asked me if I wanted to participate in these rites. They were not optional. But they were thrust upon me. Unfortunately, no manual exists for these rites of passage. Sometimes, I didn’t even know I was undergoing one of these rites until after I had passed it.
The real question about all these rites of manhood is, “Is there a defining moment when you pass from boyhood to manhood?” You know, one moment you’re a boy, then something, je ne sais quoi, happens, and suddenly you’re a man.
I bring this up because my friend Jim, according to his father, had such an experience. Let me explain. Jim and I met at Gage Park High School in physics class, and he encouraged me to join the chess team. We soon became good friends. In fact, we’re still friends to this day.
Anyway, we would visit each other’s home and occasionally play chess. I got to meet his entire family because I visited them so often. Once when they went to a family reunion in Kentucky, I got to tag along. Actually, I think they needed another car, and I was willing to go on a road trip with them. I really liked Jim’s mother because she always laughed at all my jokes. And I do mean ALL my jokes. So, naturally, I always enjoyed talking to her. Jim’s father, on the other hand, sometimes made me feel a little uneasy. He always exuded this high-testosterone manhood, even when he fell asleep on the sofa with a beer in his hand while watching TV. He was a hard-working man who enjoyed a beverage or two (especially ones containing any amount of alcohol) after work. Sometimes, he would talk to Jim and me. He enjoyed telling us about his work history. He was truly a working man. He was always employed the whole time I knew him. He always worked and he took extraordinary pride in that. Once, he didn’t like how he was being treated at work, so he quit his job and found a new one the very next week.
When I started working at Derby Foods as a manual laborer, Jim’s father was so proud of me. He held me up as the ideal role model of a working man. Suddenly, in his eyes, I had achieved manhood by virtue of being a working man. I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t like to see Jim be put down by his father. “Jim,” his father would say, “Dave and I are working men. I hope I live to see the day that you work.” Despite what he said, I felt very much the same as before, like an overgrown boy, but I wasn’t about to tell Jim’s father. I was a working man and old enough, at age nineteen, to buy my own beer and wine in the state of Illinois. Jim’s father was proud of my manhood. He soon started telling Jim, “If you ever worked a full day’s work and then drank a six-pack after work, you’d probably drop dead!’ He really wasn’t happy until one day Jim was working at the same factory as his father. But he would not concede to the fact that Jim was now a man.
One day, I went to visit Jim and his father answered the door. I could tell that he was either hung over or drunk, or both. He was smiling like never before. I had never seen him in such a mood. I asked him if Jim was home, and he smiled proudly. Jim came down from his bedroom just in time to hear his father say, “Dave, you should be very proud of your friend Jim. Today, Jim is a man!” He then put Jim in a headlock that looked potentially fatal. Jim immediately freed himself from his father. “See!” his father said. “Jim is now a man!’ He tried to explain further, but neither Jim nor I could fully understand him. But I had never seen him so proud of his son before. He soon decided that it was time to go to bed. Jim thought it would be better if we left the house.
Later, he explained that the night before his father had gotten really drunk and he was looking for a fight. He started up with his wife and he was holding her so she couldn’t get away. So, Jim grabbed his father, which totally surprised him because Jim had never had a physical encounter of this sort with his father before. So, his father turns to assault Jim, but Jim managed to throw him to the floor. Jim really thought his father was really going to tan his hide. At first, his father was angry as he got up, but then he realized that his son was no longer a boy. Jim then yelled at his father to go to bed and go to sleep. Surprisingly, Jim’s father obeyed.
For a few months after that, Jim’s father would beam with pride and tell me that his son was now a man. Jim had stood up to his father–who if you believed his father’s stories. he had never lost a fight–who was a real man. Jim had knocked him, a real man, down. For a while there, I really envied Jim. He was a man now!
We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog post to remind you to buy your Chicago city sticker. If you haven’t already, PLEASE buy your city sticker now. Or you will be ticketed and fined and charged a late fee AND you will still have to buy a Chicago city sticker if you live in Chicago. And don’t expect any mercy from the Chicago Police because they, too, have to buy city sticker for all their vehicles. If they don’t, they will be suspended for three days without pay. Their personal vehicles are policed by the police police. Someone has to police the police!
This year, I went to the Chicago City Clerk’s office on the first possible day to purchase my city sticker. I don’t want to be driving around without a valid city sticker and risk getting a ticket. It’s cheaper to buy a city sticker right away. Anyway, I couldn’t believe how long the line was at the City Clerk at 48th and Kedzie. And most of the people waiting in line were Mexican. I waited an hour and a half to buy my city sticker! But I was among the first Chicagoans to buy their city stickers.
Unfortunately, when I put the city sticker on my windshield, it fell off and landed on my dashboard. I had seen on the news how the initial shipment of city stickers didn’t stick, but I was hoping I would be spared a second trip to the City Clerk. But, alas! I had to return. And the line was even longer this time around. Luckily, Chicago extended to grace period to July 31, 2010, before they started ticketing and charging late fees.
I decided to go to City Hall the next day. The line was even longer, but I got special treatment because the replacement sticker line was very short. I was out of there in fifteen minutes! The City that Works! Sometimes Chicago lives up to its motto!
When you reach a certain age (Yes, my age!), you tend to look back to the past more often than you look forward to the future. I always recall my friends and some of our adventures.
I was going through my old pictures when I saw this picture of me. My friend Vito took this picture of me. Vito, the photographer who claims he doesn’t like posed pictures, asked me to pose for this picture. So I did.
Back then, Vito took his camera everywhere and I always found it annoying. Now when I look through my old pictures I realize that I have many pictures of me with my friends and family that Vito took and later gave to me unexpectedly. Of course, I now truly believe the annoyance was worth it. I can’t thank Vito enough for all the pictures he gave me. If you see an old picture of me in this blog, chances are that Vito took it.
I vividly remember taking the trip in this picture. My friends, Jim and Vito, stopped by my house unexpectedly one day, without even calling me first. We used to do that to each other back then. Just stop by someone’s house unexpectedly. Actually, I always enjoyed those surprise visits. Nowadays, no one has time for such frivolous visits. We also had more fun because these visit were a bonus no one expected.
So, anyway, one day, Jim and Vito stopped by my house and demanded that I go for a ride with them. Jim enjoyed going out for a ride ever since he got his driver’s license and his own car and he would drag along anyone who couldn’t come with a good excuse not to go with him. Since I had no plans for that day, or the next week for that matter, I went along for the ride. All three of us have always been drawn to Indiana for some strange reason, so we usually went to that strange, foreign land of Indiana. Generally, we stayed near the coast of Lake Michigan, much like the Portuguese sailors who never lost sight of the African coast lest they fall off the edge of the earth.
We enjoyed the sand dunes, so we usually went to the beach at Mount Baldy. When we were old enough to drink, we went to bar that was right across the street. After that, we usually just wandered around aimlessly for the rest of day. That explains why we ended up in Michigan City in front of Jaymar, the Sans-a-belt pants outlet! And just to commemorate this momentous occasion, Vito took my picture for the sake of posterity. And a great picture such as this deserves a great dedication. So, with much fanfare a few weeks later, Vito presented me with this picture that had the following dedication on the back:
He is the man …
… the superman
AND –yes– he shops at Jaymar!
Jaymar … downtown Michigan City
the duct tape capital of the world!
As I recall, I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when Vito first gave me this picture. I’m sure I even laughed when I read the inscription on the back. I recalled how we used boast about how we had wasted our time that day. However, when I saw this picture in my photographic archives (actually, it’s just a cardboard box), I was in awe of that oh so awesome trip we took. I wish I could take trips like that once again. All my friends are now grown up and don’t have time for such nonsense. My sons refuse to take too many of those trips with me because they are more grown up than me.
Now I long for those useless, pointless trips!
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!
I’m lucky to be alive!