Driving


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!”

Parque Marquette


Taste of México, Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois

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?

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!

Cedar Point


Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio.

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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_roller_coaster_records

Independence Day


Happy Fourth of July!

Today is the Fourth of July! Happy Independence Day!

At the moment, I’m listening to WFMT 98.7 FM and they’re playing Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Souza. Our Chicago classical radio station always plays appropriate theme music for the occasion. So, they will play patriotic music throughout the day. And they will also play some famous speeches to commemorate America’s independence.

Today, I plan on seeing a fireworks display somewhere in the Chicago area. I know longer set off fireworks as I once did in the days of my youth. The last time I blew off fireworks was about five years ago for my sons. They wanted to see fireworks up close, so I bought some in Indiana and set them off in our back yard. We actually enjoyed it! But tonight, I will merely be a spectator oohing and aahing at whatever fireworks show I end up seeing. I just love when the crowd starts oohing and aahing in unison at the pyrotechnic displays!

Enjoy the holiday. And try not to injure yourself with fireworks!

Al’s Beef


Little Italy, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Al’s Beef with my sons today. Why? Because my sons asked me to take them. Why? Well, I was wondering the same thing myself. They heard about Al’s Beef from the Travel Channel, a restaurant TV show, that showcased Al’s Italian Beef. When they first mentioned going to Al’s Beef, I said okay, nonchalantly. They probably thought I wouldn’t take them because I didn’t sound that enthusiastic. They even doubted if I had even ever heard of Al’s Beef. But, nay, I had stories to tell them about Al’s Beef. And told them, I did. Hesitantly. I really thought they would cut me off. But they didn’t. In fact, they kept asking me for more details. This was the longest we had talked in a long time. Luckily, it was about a subject that was near and dear to my heart. Chicago food!

Ah, the memories! I have been going to Al’s Beef since the 1970s, but I couldn’t tell you the exact date. They may be getting a lot of television exposure now, but Al’s Beef is a veritable ghost town in comparison to when I used to go in the 1980s. The place used to be packed, especially in the summer. I remember going there with my friends Jim and Vito. Sometimes I went with my running friends after track practice. We would eat in the parking lot and go across the street to Mario’s Italian Ice for dessert. Then, we’d sit in the parking lot drinking beer! Those were the days.

Al’s Beef is a little different today. It’s the same building. It still has the same charming decor. And, for as long as I can remember, they always have someone working behind the counter who speaks Spanish. It is a universally acknowledged fact that Italian beef tastes better when it’s served by a Spanish speaker. I remember my friend Jim had a crush on a Mexican girl who used to work there. As single men, we often ate at restaurants. But when he discovered this Mexican girl at Al’s Beef, we ate there at least three times a week! I must admit that she was pretty and she had this really cute Mexicana accent. I asked Jim, “If you married her–” “Do you really think I have a chance with her?” he asked me hopefully. “Let me finish! If you married her, would you really enjoy her coming home smelling like Al’s Italian Beef?” He smiled so I could see a sweet pepper stuck in his teeth and said, “That would be like dying and going to heaven!”

Burritos


I’ve mentioned this before, but burritos are not a traditional Mexican food. My abuelita never made even one burrito in her entire ninety years on the face of this earth. Not even my mother made burritos. My father didn’t make burritos either and he used to cook up some weird combinations of ingredients that no one in our family ever ate even though he said it was delicious. Only my father would eat his concoctions, which were only made palatable by adding profuse amounts of salsa and/or jalapeño peppers. And sometimes even he didn’t finish the entire serving. Despite his creativity, he never neared anything resembling a burrito. I guess because no one had invented giant tortillas back then.

Flash forward to the present. Somehow, mysteriously, burritos became American fast food. Yes, I’ve been known to eat a burrito or two on the go. Unlike traditional Mexican food that must be eaten sitting a table–picture yourself eating tostadas with all the trimmings on top–the burrito is the perfect driving food! It is one of the staple foods of American youth today. Including my oldest son. I think my son loves burritos almost as much as me. I think I once saved his life by throwing away a three-week-old burrito he had in the refrigerator. So, last week, he says we should go out to eat together. You know, so we can catch up on things, which usually means we hurry up and eat and then pull out our smart phones and ignore each other. However, we really do enjoy our time together.

Anyway, we ate a place called El Famous Burrito¡ with the exclamation point upside down at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning!  We were in a hurry and there was parking out in front, at Madison and Peoria. The most eye-opening revelation of our whole fine dining experience was learning that burritos could come in different sizes! They were offered in large, medium, and mini. But the mini burrito looked more like an egg roll! When I used to eat burritos before my son was born, they only came in one size. Large! I would usually eat one burrito along with three tostadas. Now, I don’t always finish a burrito. So I ordered a medium. Well, the medium was just right for me. Although back in my younger days, I’m sure I would have ordered something else. But these burritos passed the most important taste test of all. They tasted Mexican!

Construction paper


My son's homework.

When I was in grade school, we used construction paper for just about every art project. I’m reminded about this because my son Adam was working on a school project and was coloring white sheets of paper with a purple marker. If he would have asked me for advice, I would have brought out an aging pad of construction paper that I’ve had for years (mainly because my sons never think of using construction paper) in order to speed up his project. Could it be that because he’s been trained to do many homework assignments on the computer he no longer thinks of using his dear old dad’s techniques? On the plus side, he has become very independent and he is intelligent enough not to need my help for his homework very often.

When I was in grade school at Holy Cross, art class was a very special time of day. If a student misbehaved, he or she was deprived of participating in art class and would have to sit in the corner with his head placed down in his or her folded arms for the duration of art class. And take it from me, that was no fun at all.

Okay, okay, I was deprived of art class one time or two or three, but I was framed! Each and every time! When we had art class, we always–I do mean always always–started with one sheet of construction paper. Usually, it was manila-colored, but for those special art projects we could get several sheets of construction paper–each a different color!

I remember one class, Sister Francine told us told us to hold the sheet of construction paper–I can still smell it!–vertically. Meaning standing up and not lying down. She even showed us the sheet of construction paper in the upright position from the front of the classroom and then she walked between every aisle between all the desks to ensure that every third grader in the class had the construction paper in the correct position. I was certain that the health and wellbeing of every American citizen depended upon our completing our art project successfully because Sister Francine’s face reddened every time she observed a student with the construction paper in the wrong position.

Finally, every student had the paper vertically in front of them on the desk, including Claudia who sat next to me. Sister Francine then instructed us to fold the paper vertically, from left to right. Not from right to left, but left to right. She repeated several times, in such a stern voice that I thought I would crack from the tension that was building up in the classroom. But lo, I correctly folded my sheet of construction paper in half vertically, as instructed, and I even passed Sister Francine’s eagle-eyed inspection. I was spared her wrath for the moment. However, she turned to Claudia and Sister Francine blew a gasket! Claudia had folded her construction paper–not vertically–but horizontally! Widthwise instead of lengthwise! Much to Claudia’s embarrassment, Sister Francine led her up to the front of the classroom to show her construction paper folded horizontally. She was the only student who could not–no would dare to defy a direct order from Sister Francine–follow instructions.

I don’t even remember what art project we did that day, but I do remember how badly Claudia felt. Now that I think of it, why did I like art class so much?

2009 Chicago Auto Show


2009 Chicago Auto Show

Last year, I wrote about going to the Chicago Auto Show. This year I actually went to it. I wrote about how my father used to take my brothers and I to the Chicago Auto Show. This year, my oldest son dragged me along against my will. I find this amazing because my son doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He’s nineteen and he’s never taken driver’s ed. I gave him the Illinois Rules of the Road book to study twice with the promise that if he studied I would take to take the written test to get his driver’s permit. But he never studied and he still doesn’t have his permit. He’s just not that interested in driving or he would have gotten his driver’s license by now. Which reminds me of my friend Vito who has never–to my knowledge–ever had a driver’s license. My life would have been so different if I would have never gotten my driver’s license. I can’t even imagine how could exist without one.

Anyway, the Chicago Auto Show was fun even though I didn’t really want to go. I enjoyed it vicariously through my son who seemed to enjoy looking at the expensive cars that I cannot afford and probably wouldn’t drive even if I could afford them. I took some pictures of the cars. And then I took some more pictures of some more cars, but this time my son was in the pictures because he insisted on being in pictures with him in some of the cars. Of course, he offered to take a couple of pictures of me, for which I posed begrudgingly because I don’t really enjoy being photographed. One thing I did miss was the celebrities that used to come and sign autographs. And they no longer had beautiful models in evening gowns posing for amateur photographers near the new cars. There were plenty of workers continually wiping fingerprints off cars and keeping them shiny. But overall, I did have fun and was glad I went.

No manches


Ford City Mall, Chicago, Illinois

If you ever start to offend a Mexican, they will reply with a remark like, “¡No manches!” In other words, don’t smear my good name.

Well, I was at the Ford City Mall the other day with my sons when I saw this t-shirt stand right there in the middle where you can’t miss it. I immediately saw the t-shirt with the map of Mexico. Underneath the map it read, “United States of Mexico.”

The girl working the stand immediately approached me and handed me a card saying that they had a website. I responded half in English, half in Spanish without really thinking. I assumed that she wasn’t even Mexican because Mexicans, or any Spanish speaker in Chicagolandia, are always happy to meet someone else who speaks Spanish. So, I gathered that she wasn’t a Spanish speaker, or perhaps not even Hispanic. And here she was selling these Mexican-themed t-shirts to–well, actually, no one!

The whole time we were in the mall, I was the only one to approach the stand and actually read the t-shirts. I didn’t even bother to ask the price of the t-shirts. As I read these t-shirts, I was offended. I like to think of myself as very open-minded and I have a high tolerance for political incorrectness and profanity, but I wondered what kind of Mexican would buy a t-shirt that read, “got mica?” and “as seen on immigration”? Maybe I’m missing something here! They seemed more offensive than funny.

If they’re going to be that politically incorrect, they might as well should have named their business, “¡No manches, güey!” Why did they stop short? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not overly sensitive. In fact, I always smile when I see someone wearing the t-shirt that says, “I’m not late. I’m running on Mexican time!”

My favorite Mexican t-shirt.

Look closely at the t-shirt above. I was looking to buy t-shirts as souvenirs from Mexico, but they mostly sold stuff from the U.S.A. Talk about American cultural imperialism! It’s such a good parody of the actual Corona shirt that my cousin and I almost didn’t notice it. I suppose this t-shirt will only be funny for people who know Spanish and Mexicans.

Casa de Obama


Hyde Park, Chicago Illinois.

The other day, I had the strongest urge to visit Barack Obama’s house. I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly I had this great desire to visit a famous place in the news. I told my sons, “We’re going to President Elect Barack Obama’s house!” At first, I thought they would they would look at me as if I were crazy, which is their normal reaction when I suggest any new and exciting activity. I was wrong! They actually thought it was a great idea. Only that they somehow imagined that his house was very, very far away. I explained that he lived less than thirty minutes from us.

So off we went in search of Barack Obama’s house in Hyde Park. I knew the security would be tight because I watched the news and I saw the concrete barriers around his house. There were many, many Chicago police officers around his house–a two-block radius around his house. I told my sons before we even set out on our trip that we might not even get close to the Obama house, but we could at least visit the neighborhood of the President of the United States of America.

Surprisingly, I was able to park legally at the corner right near a police car that was guarding the closed off intersection leading to his house. As we approached the corner, the police officer exited her squad car and asked if we lived on this side of the block. I said no and she said we would have to walk across the street. Before I left our house, I had no idea where Obama lived other than in Hyde Park, but I figured I’d find his house once I saw all the police cars blocking off the streets. I really thought we would have to walk several blocks. But we were extremely lucky to park so close!

There were multiple police cars and police officers standing out in the middle of the barricaded street. I saw a group of gawkers taking pictures of a house, so I asked, “Is that his house?” and they responded in awe, “That’s his house!” Lo and behold! We had arrived at Barack Obama’s house. As seen on TV! My sons couldn’t believe I had taken them all the way to the front of Barack Obama’s house, albeit across the street. I took some pictures and then we walked away. The police officer who directed us across the street smiled at us and asked if we enjoyed our visit. We said we did and walked back to our car.

As we were getting into the car, I realized that this was exactly the kind of trip my father used to take us on when we were little. He would see something on the news and then take us there. He wouldn’t tell us where we were going. It was just like, “¡Vámonos!” and we would all pile into the car and go. Once, my father saw a chess master playing 25 boards simultaneously at a restaurant in Little Italy, so off we went to play the chess master! The next day, my friends at school told me they saw me playing chess on the news!

When the plane crashed before reaching Midway Airport in 1971, my father took us to the crash site despite the fact that on the news they told everyone to stay away. We were less that a quarter-block away and we could see the actual fuselage and tail of the plane that crashed! However, no one saw us on the news that time. Many people saw my father on the news many times over the years. He just loved the limelight. On the IRS tax deadline day one year, I was watching the news and they showed all the last-minute filers going to the downtown post office to get that coveted April 16th postmark in order to beat the IRS deadline. They interviewed several last-minute filers and all the while I thought, “What idiots! Waiting till the last minute to file their tax returns!” Suddenly, I saw a familiar face. It was my father! He was being interviewed by the news reporter. Somehow he always found a way to get on the news!

I guess by taking my sons to Obama’s house, I was keeping my father’s tradition alive. I didn’t get on the news during our visit to his house, but I realized that I did inherit my father’s thirst to go to where the news is. Ugh! I’ve become my father! ¡Ay! ¡Ay! ¡Ay!