Reading has been my lifelong passion. I have always loved reading! Even when I went camping with my friend Jim, I took books along. He took this picture of me reading while I was so engrossed in reading.
I loved the first grade when we started reading. At that level, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know English. Our homework involved reading to our parents at home. My mother thought that was too much trouble for her after a long day’s work, so I would read to my abuelita. Unfortunately, not only did she not speak English, but she was also blind. But she loved it when I read to her. And I was grateful to have someone to listen to me read.
When I was a little older, I used to go to the library to read. I mostly read joke and riddle books, but that still counts as reading in my book. In the seventh grade, Divine Heart Seminary let me check out books from their library via the USPS. I only remember two of the books that I read. One book was about Father Damien who was a missionary on a leper island in Hawaii. And the other one was Fighting Father Duffy who was a U.S. Army chaplain during World War II. Now why would the seminary only send me books about priests? I’ve always wondered about that. Not!
I like reading at the library because I had more privacy. If mother saw me reading comic books or even books, she would criticize me for being lazy. When I finally bought my first car, I would drive to Marquette Park just to read in my car. When I would come home, my mother would ask me what I did. When I told her I went to the park to read, her blood would boil. Then she would tell me about other constructive things I could have been doing around the house.
In general, the uneducated masses don’t understand why anyone would want to read a book. When I worked in the peanut butter factory, I always carried a paperback in my back pocket. Whenever the production line stopped or I was on break or lunch, I would pull out my book and start reading, even if I had to stand. No matter who my boss was, he would come by and tell me to pick up a broom and start cleaning up my area. No one at the factory really understood why I liked reading so much.
Ironically, the books I chose to read were the books that I refused to read in high school. In high school, I spent most of my time reading chess books. For two years my life revolved around chess. But once the assigned books weren’t required reading, they piqued my curiosity. Why were they required reading in the first place? So, one by one, I read all the books I once rebelled against. Suddenly, I felt a certain sense of fulfillment.
In the Marines, I bought the Great Books set and I would read them every free moment. My fellow Marines thought I was a bit crazy, but that’s why no one started any trouble with me. That and I told everyone I knew kung fu. No one wanted to risk starting trouble with me.
What a better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than by going to the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. I still can’t get used to the new McCormick Place, but it sure is nice and big. My sons loved looking at all the sports cars and so did I, but I no longer fantasized about owning one. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t decide which expensive sports car to drive. A Ferrari? A Maserati? You get the idea.
Now, I’m happy with my 2005 Pontiac Vibe, but I am concerned that GM decided to close the Pontiac division. I know that other GM dealers will service my car and that parts will be available through them, but what about showing a little loyalty to the customers who were loyal to Pontiac all these years? I’ve driven Pontiacs most of my driving life. Oh, well. I should have seen that one coming since my Pontiac Vibe is, in reality, a Toyota Matrix anyway.
Anyway, my sons enjoyed the bright colors and bright lights of all the displays. They also enjoyed the Chicago Blackhawks shoot-out. And they got plenty of Blackhawks posters. They also got an autographed picture of Ben Eager. There were cutout figures of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that looked lifelike when you took their picture. In the picture, it’s very difficult to tell that they’re made of cardboard. Now that I look at the pictures again, my sons look like they’re made of cardboard and Kane and Toews look more lifelike than my sons!
When driving in Mexico, you will encounter el tope. It’s a speed bump that is very unique to Mexico. They come in all shapes and sizes. They actually resemble a speed hump, but they’re actually taller and wider so it takes longer to drive over them. My cousin Mara’s neighborhood has so many topes, that she calls it Topelandia. In America, we also have speed bumps or speed humps. Usually their existence is often linked to petitions. About half of all Americans will petition to have speed humps placed in their residential neighborhoods in order to slow down traffic and make the streets safer for their children. After the construction of said speed bumps, the other half of the residents will petition to have those speed humps removed in order to speed up traffic. Besides, parents should be watching their children so they don’t play in the streets! You either love them or you hate them. I mean the speed humps, not the children.
Most of the time the topes are clearly visible and you must slow down before approaching them to avoid totaling your car. Occasionally, you don’t see one because it hasn’t been painted and you drive over it too fast. Your car bottoms out and all your passengers hit their heads on the car roof. It happens to the best of Mexican drivers every so often. It even happened to me. Everyone complains about the topes, but they’re there here to stay. You just have to accept them. Driving over topes would make great astronaut training. The only place they don’t have them is on the toll roads that lead to America, otherwise no one would pay to use these toll roads that closely resemble American highways. Without those topes, Mexican drivers would drive even more recklessly, if you can even imagine that! I absolutely hated driving over them. The topes, not the Mexican drivers. But I did have a few close calls. With Mexican drivers.
When I was younger, I never slowed down when driving over speed bumps or speed humps. In fact, if I drove over them at regular speed, the speed bumps felt less bumpy the faster you went over them. And they never damaged any of my cars, all of which I drove until they were totaled in accidents, none of which were my fault–I swear. I remember always driving full-speed ahead over the fourteen railroad tracks at 55th Street and St. Louis Avenue on Chicago’s south side and feeling less jolts than when I drove over the tracks slowly. I don’t know who said you should slow down over tracks, speed bumps, or speed humps. You should go over them as fast as possible to feel less bumps. That’s why cars have shock absorbers! I now have a car, a 2005 Pontiac Vibe, with a wheelbase so short that I can ride over speed humps or topes without actually having to slow down! It’s actually kind of thrilling! You go up and down rather quickly, much like an amusement park ride!
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!
Or perhaps I should write 77777. You’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about, right? Okay, just pretend that you are.
Okay, if you insist, I’ll tell you. I was driving to school today when I suddenly looked at the odometer and read 77777. My car’s only three years old and I’ve already put on 77,777 miles (My 2005 Pontiac Vibe doesn’t display tenths of miles). And I don’t consider myself a heavy driver. I seem to spend more time reading books than driving. So how did I manage to drive so many miles? I really don’t know. However, I stopped the car immediately and took a poor-quality picture–as is characteristic of my photography skills–of the odometer to mark this blessed occasion.
Actually, I’m not so sure what so special about 77777. All those sevens mean nothing to me! Really! But when I saw them, I immediately thought of 00000.0 (I’ll bet you thought I forgot about the title of this blog post!) from when I was in the Marines and my Marine friends with whom I lived in the barracks insisted that I drive my 1976 Chevy Nova with them in it (and a keg of beer, of course–talk about an open container of alcohol in vehicle!) until the odometer turned over to 00000.0. They constantly checked my odometer because they wanted to be with me for the blessed event when I drove past 99,999.9 miles. I really didn’t see what the big deal was about driving so many miles. I had bought the car new and I was the only owner. I had driven it to California and back a few times by that time in 1979.
There’s something that I like about driving. Is it the solitude? Is it the time that I have to myself that allows me to reflect about past transgressions and allows me the opportunity to reflect on how to better myself and the world? Of course not! I just love driving–and fast! Nothing feels better than driving on the open road in the middle of nowhere, such as upper Michigan or the Mojave Desert, with the pedal to the metal and not a worry in the world because I won’t see another vehicle for miles! Anyway, I’m with my Marine friends and a keg of beer with our names on it (To my sons and students who may be reading this: Remember this if FICTION! Please see the disclaimer in the right margin!!) in the car going about a hundred miles per hour because they want me to hurry up and hit 100,000.0 miles! In their excitement, one spilled a beer in the front seat, another drank too much and puked on the exterior side of my rear door. Luckily, we were driving in the Mojave Desert, my car had no air conditioning, and it was 120 degrees out. I’m glad he had time to stick his head out the window. It was so hot outside that his vomit dried almost instantly. However, I had to pull him back in when he felt so bad about vomiting that he tried to clean up the mess and almost fell out of the car.
This was also a memorable trip because as I was driving I thought I heard an airplane engine. When I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw that a small airplane was actually closing in on my Chevy Nova. This really happened to me! The plane buzzed us about three times. Actually, it was quite funny. Then came the much-anticipated moment. The odometer read 99,999.9. I slowed the car down to practically a crawl. There were six heads crowding over the odometer. It felt like a slow-motion special effect as we watched the odometer slowly–ever so slowly–turn to all zeros. The cheering in the car was deafening. They insisted that I stop the car so we could christen it. They poured our precious beer over the hood, the roof, and the trunk, and I was about to complain until I noticed that it was washing the puke off my car door. My friends were drunk with pride–and a little beer (it was a small keg)–over my car’s accomplishment.
I still miss that car. I owned it and drove it for thirteen years. It had 163,000 miles on it and it still didn’t burn any oil. The battery lasted about six years because I always added tap water even though I was told to add only distilled water. When I was stationed in the Mojave Desert, I thought any water was better than no water. I planned to keep the car another two or three years, but someone ran a red light and broadsided me. Alack and alas! My Chevy Nova was no more! The car was totaled! It was only about $1500 worth of damage, but that was much more than the car was worth. Of course, in my personal opinion, the car was priceless because it was so dependable. I really miss my Chevy Nova!
When I lived in Back of the Yards, I met a wide variety of Mexicans. Rubén Martínez was an unusual acquaintance of mine in that he was more the friend of a friend rather than a direct friend. He always seemed so full of energy for someone who was always high. He looked like your typical drug burnout with shoulder length hair that he parted down the middle.
In the seventies, no one wanted to part their hair in the middle lest anyone think that they smoked pot. Rubén, however, always parted his hair down the middle to flaunt the fact that he was a burnout and smoked pot. And he wore a miniature coke spoon around his neck just in case the occasion to get high on cocaine presented itself. Because of the thousands of people like Rubén, McDonald’s had to change their coffee stirrer from a little spoon on a long stem because people like Rubén used it to snort coke, to a flat paddle and later a small straw. Needless to say, he was always high and always looking to get higher. Sometimes he wouldn’t even respond to his own name. I once had to explain to him that he was Rubén and that’s why people who wanted to talk to him called his name. He was too high to understand me, though.
Anyway, thanks to Rubén, I attended my first rock concert. Led Zeppelin came to Chicago in January of 1975 and word was out that all the tickets would sell out immediately. We went to old Chicago Stadium box office about two hours before it opened at 10:00 a.m. We didn’t want to oversleep the time of the first ticket sales, so we stayed up all night drinking wine. We also contemplated doing immoral and illegal deeds, but we decided against that in order to buy the Led Zeppelin tickets without incident.
When we arrived at the ticket office at 8:00 a.m., we were tired, but determined to obtain tickets. I drove my 1975 Pontiac Firebird as close to the box office as the police permitted me. Rubén collected our ticket money and ran toward the Stadium like a deranged lunatic. Several policemen tried to stop him, but he dodged them, jumped onto the hood of their unmarked police car, then to the car roof, before leaping to the front of the ticket line. When he dissolved into the crowd, the police stop chasing him. We waited patiently for him in my Firebird that was parked a block away, but within view of the ticket office. An elderly woman, perhaps the grandmother of one of the expectant concertgoers, passed out hot chocolate from a thermos into Styrofoam cups. About four hours later, Rubén emerged from the ticket office with six concert tickets! We were going to see Led Zeppelin in concert!
When we went to the concert, I was shocked that everyone was smoking pot. I had never smoked pot in my life, but I got high just breathing in the concert air. I’ll never forget my first concert!
The last time I saw Rubén was at that Led Zeppelin concert, partying, getting high, and bouncing his head to the music. Years later, I heard that he was arrested several times for drug sales. He finally made the big time and was arrested for a million dollar drug bust. For me, he just vanished into the crowd of drug dealers and addicts, never to emerge again.
I am bilingual. I know Spanish and English. I like to think that I speak, read, and write two languages very, very fluently. However, I always have the vague feeling that I don’t communicate like a native speaker in either language. Sometimes people tell me that I speak English with an accent, which I don’t doubt at all.
As I was driving through to Mexico to visit my family, I had no trouble communicating with anyone. Except at the border where I applied for an auto permit to drive in Mexico. The clerk asked me something that I didn’t understand. She repeated it three times, but I understood everything she said, except for one word. She asked if I drove a Pontiac. But she pronounced Pontiac in Spanish and I didn’t recognize it. Finally, her colleague pronounced Pontiac in English and I understood. This taught me that I had to adjust my way of listening since I would be listening to different dialects.
Once I reached Celaya, I had no trouble communicating with anyone. I met my family and we understood each other perfectly. Ditto for my relatives in Mexico City. They mentioned other family members who had come from the U.S. who spoke no Spanish at all. However, a few relatives discreetly mentioned my accent, of which I have always been painfully aware. I wanted to buy some Mexican T-shirts for my sons at the mercado and my cousin told me to be quiet and she would do the haggling. If they heard me speak, they would think I was tourist and we wouldn’t get a good price. On the one hand, I had an American accent, but on the other, several people mentioned that I spoke Spanish extremely well. Well, that’s me to a tee. I abound in paradoxes. I speak Spanish with an accent, but very well. A few people mentioned that I stuttered through plenty of conversations while speaking Spanish. I pointed out that I stutter in English, too. But I was very happy that I could communicate in Spanish in Mexico!
As long as I now have your attention, I would like to inform you that, yes, indeed, I am still high from my drive this morning on Lake Shore Drive. That’s LSD as in the acronym for Lake Shore Drive and not the hallucinogenic drug (for those of you who are actually high on LSD).
I have always loved cruising on LSD! I mean, Lake Shore Drive. I love it! LSD begins/ends at Hollywood on the north end; I’m not sure where it begins/ends on the south end because every time I passed the Museum of Science and Industry, I would mysteriously find myself NOT on LSD.
There is something very relaxing about driving on Chicago’s lakefront on beautiful, sunny day. I have so many fond memories to my earliest driving days of speeding on LSD in my buccaneer red 1975 Pontiac Firebird in 1975 when I was only 18. Whenever I felt depressed, or extremely happy for that matter, I would cruise up one end of LSD and then back to the other, for no practical reason other than it was FUN! You see, I loved driving my car! Despite all the usual problems of an eighteen year old, I drove a brand new Firebird that I bought all by myself!
Every time I drove on LSD, I played special driving songs on my car 8-Track player: “I’m in Love with my Car” by Queen, “Ventura Highway” by America, “Highway Star” by Deep Purple, “AutoBahn” by Kraftwerk, and of course, “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta, Haynes, and Jeremiah. LSD was so soothing since I was under so much stress at the time. I was unhappy at home, I worked full-time on the midnight shift at the Derby Foods peanut butter factory while I was still in high school. Driving was a nice emotional release from all my problems.
So this morning as I’m driving on LSD, I had this incredible flashback to the days of my youth when I was to know what it meant to be a man. Oops, I just quoted Led Zeppelin, another favorite of mine. I kind of miss my 8-track player now.
I have reached that age where everything reminds me of the past. Listening to the radio, I remember what I was doing when I heard the song the first time years ago. It reminds me of how I used to be and who I wanted to be, but somehow I realize that I haven’t changed all that much, and in some ways, I’m still the same boy deep down inside. When I hear an old song on the radio again, I still like (or hate) the song as much as I did back then. I recognize some songs after only three or four notes.
My sons are amazed that I recognize those old songs on the radio. I told them, “You know how you listen to some songs over and over again? Well, I used to do the same thing when I was your age!” And that’s why the songs remind me of my youth. And that reminds me of a Led Zeppelin song whose title I can’t recall: “In the days of my youth, / I was taught what it means to be a man,” which in turn reminds me of my first car and my first “real” girlfriend of that time period and how I almost lost my virginity while listening to Led Zeppelin. But that’s a blog post for another day.
My present didn’t quite turn out the way I expected. Perhaps, I should start creating some good memories now so that I may have some good nostalgia in the future. When I recall my past memories of how I expected I would be now, my nostalgia sure hasn’t lived up to my expectations, in the past or now. I should have thought of my past for the future in the past and not now in the present where I regret not having created better memories for my future in the past. I wish I could go back in time and do things focusing more on the future. But that’s all water under the bridge now. There’s no use crying over spilled milk.
Sometimes when I wax nostalgic, I wonder why no one uses the word “wax” (as in “to increase in size, numbers, strength, prosperity, or intensity”) anymore. I also wonder why when I refer to the waxing and waning of the moon, I get some strange stares. In fact, the other day I was waiting in line at the supermarket when I was thinking about the cycles of the moon and I accidentally uttered, “I enjoy the waxing and waning of the moon” out loud. Suddenly, I was all alone in the front of the line facing a nervous cashier! They probably didn’t know what I meant by “wax.” I should be more careful when and where I wax nostalgic.
In the future, I would like to recall the past with fond memories of my present “present.” In the future, no more regretting the past and loathing the present. Because today is the first day of the rest of my life!