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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Staycation - Meeting Mo at the Firehouse

Yesterday was the last day of my short staycation. I went to the gym, fiddled around the house a bit, then decided to write a get well note to an old friend who has had a rough time with health issues this summer. I walked down to the local post office to mail the note, then thought I would do a vacation thing - sit at a bar and drink a beer at happy hour. I wandered over to the Firehouse Grill, a Southeast Evanston establishment that is housed in an actual old fire station (Fire Station #2, which was closed when a new, modern facility was built 2 blocks away). The Firehouse Grill is a solid family lunch and dinner joint, with a nice bar and decent beer collection. I walked in and pulled up a stool next to an older gentleman (pictured above). He greeted me politely, I reciprocated and we began a conversation. His name is Moselle, aka Mo, and here is what he told me (I am paraphrasing since I didn't record the conversation):

"I am 81 years old now. Been retired for 13 years. I came to Chicago in 1951 because there was no work for me in San Francisco - that's my home town. I came home from the Korean War kinda messed up. On October 23, 1950, the North Koreans blew me out of my foxhole. I lost my eye and I had lots of cuts and small injuries, but I recovered. Some might call me a disabled veteran, but I worked from 1951 until 1997. I was a long-haul trucker, and I loved it. No damned boss breathin' down my neck.

I been healthy all my life, except for my eye. I started smokin' cigarettes when I was 14, and I still smoke 'em when I got 'em. I will need to step outside a little later for a smoke, no offense.

I got four children - 2 girls and 2 boys. They all live out west. One of my daughters is a doctor. The other is a stewardess; I get free flights because I am her daddy. You get taxed on those free flights, though, so they ain't completely free. My daughter pays the taxes for me.

I just live a block and a half away from the Firehouse Grill so I come over here alot. I slipped on the ice and broke my hip last winter, so it is harder for me to get around. It takes a long time to heal a busted bone when you are 81. I hafta use a cane now. It's a good thing I live close to the Firehouse. My wife still works; I come when she is working. She works nights sometimes.

I love to fish. When I was younger, I hated fishing, but I love it now. I go all over. In the Chicago area, I like to fish on the Fox River, up north toward Milwaukee.

I sometimes get together with a few other Korean War veterans. We understand each other. It was a terrible war. People have sorta forgot about it, but it is still going on in a way. The North Koreans were a nasty bunch; looks like they still are. We might have to mix it up serious with them pretty soon.

I feel pretty good for an old man. I got used to having one eye a long time ago. The hip still bothers me; probably will until I'm dead. What the hell can you do about it? Can't expect an 81 year old body to stay strong."

Mo is an awesome guy in my neighborhood that I have never met until yesterday. Striking up conversations with strangers can be a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Staycation - Kayaking off the Evanston Shore

Due to some scheduling issues, kid activities and work commitments, I was unable to to escape for a summer vacation this year. Now that the season is coming to a close, I decided to stay home for a couple of days and try to capture a little bit of vacation attitude without leaving town. I took the girls to the Morton Arboretum yesterday - I am ashamed to say that I have never been there over my 31-year residency in the Chicago area. We enjoyed the massive garden, and barely scratched the surface of the place during our 4-hour visit.

Today, I am planning on renting a kayak at the beach office in Evanston and paddling around the lake for a bit. It is a cool morning - the coolest we have had in several weeks, with temperatures in the 60's. The sun is out, however, and the air is calm. So I am going. I have invited the missus and the kids.

But I have to say that Staycations are challenging. The household chores still nag at me. I am still in my everyday environment, even though I am avoiding the office. I feel my everyday stress - things undone, lawns to mow, bills to pay. Changing my headset with no change in scenary is hard for me.

And there are significant family changes in progress. My 18-year old overcame her various set-backs and graduated from high school last Friday - an emotional experience because she had more than her share of struggles to reach that milestone. Now the high school graduate is facing her future, which currently includes employment and planning a gap year before heading to college. My youngest is gearing up to start Evanston Township High School on Monday. ETHS is a big urban school with lots of excellent features and some difficult issues. So we worry about out 5-foot tall, 14-year old girl.

But on this day, I want to float on Lake Michigan. With luck, this tightness in my stomach and in my mind will release as I paddle offshore, my chores left on the land.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Old Memory - Laffing Sal

When I was a kid, growing up on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, there was a place that I longed to see. It was an amusement park over on the Pacific side of San Francisco, called Playland at the Beach. It was near the Cliff House; in fact, the owner/developer of Playland also owned the Cliff House. This was a classic Depression-era amusement park. By the time I got to prime Playland age, the facility had begun to decay. This made it creepier and more alluring to me. And the creepiest thing about Playland was Laffing Sal, pictured above.

I have learned that there were many Laffing Sals at many amusement parks across the nation. I think there still may be some in operation. Sal was a terrifying thing - 7 feet tall, ugly, and mechanical. At Playland, Sal was positioned on the second floor of the Fun House, on a balcony. She bowed at the waist, waved her arms and twisted about while a manical female laugh was blasted continuously from nearby loudspeakers at very high volume. Sal was the first of the animatronic figures - Disneyland/Disneyworld owes a lot to this old hag.

I was about 10, I think, and I really wanted to go to Playland. I don't think I had ever visited the place. I was pestering my dad to take me, and he wanted no part of it - a long drive, crowds and expenses did not fit my father's idea of a good time. My mom overheard our interaction and weighed in forcefully. "You never take your son anywhere! It isn't like he asks for much. Why can't you do something nice for him once in a while?" I was horrified and delighted with my mom's intervention - horrified to hear the argument, delighted that I was going to get my way. My dad was shamed into taking me to Playland at the Beach.

It was surreal.

We drove in silence, parked and caught a trolley over to the park. I walked through the place, rode the roller coaster, stared at scary Laffing Sal, went into the Funhouse and tried to knock down the milk bottles with baseballs at the arcade. My dad followed along behind, picking up the tabs, looking grim. It was not a Hallmark father-and-son experience.

I think I enjoyed myself somewhat, but I never went back to Playland after that. The appeal of amusement parks ended for me on that day.

Playland at the Beach was demolished in early September, 1972 - about the time that I started attending UC Berkeley. I think they built condos on the site. Laffing Sal is in an obscure museum (Musee Mecanique) at Fisherman's Wharf. My father has been dead for 19 years now. I should erase this old memory; it serves no useful purpose. But it keeps popping up, often when I am surprised by loud, raucous, female laughter........

Monday, August 09, 2010

James Brown Again

We had a Sunday family dinner, and my adult daughter, son-in-law and grandson were in attendance. Little Patrick (aka the Pie-man) started walking about 2 weeks ago; he has the 15-month old toddler swagger, the confidence of a first-born son. He also has music in his head already - beat-boxing and chanting his happy nonsense syllables. I thought that he might like to hear some tunes, so I plugged in the iPod to the sound deck and hit the James Brown section of the device. JB was a crazed genius; it still saddens me that he is gone. JB and Ray Charles - I think about them often.

And when "Popcorn" came through the speakers, the Pie-man started to dance. James Brown, comin' 'round again, with the next generation.

As the Tower of Power tune said, "It may be a different age; but I'm on the same page; 'Cause there is one thing I've found; I'm still diggin' on James Brown."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Delayed Due To A Medical Emergency"

I am a Chicago commuter, climbing aboard the Metra North Line at Main Street in Evanston. The train is a lovely experience - quick, relatively quiet and somewhat retro (no WiFi, people still read newspapers). An extra plus - you can buy a beer in the terminal for the ride home and exit at your station with your attitude nicely adjusted (not that I do that, of course).

This morning seemed pretty typical. We had rain, but my train was on time. When we hit the Ravenswood station in Chicago, we stopped and didn't move. The conductor got on the intercom and announced "Ladies and gentlemen - we will be delayed due to amedical emergency. We are waiting for an ambulance to revmove the passenger from the train. We should be on our way in a few minutes." We sat for about 20 minutes, then headed into the Loop.

I can't seem to get the afflicted passenger out of my head this morning. What happened? Heart attack? Stroke? Are there defribillators on the Metra trains? Who was the afflicted passenger? Did he/she survive? There was no announcement, of course, and I didn't get a chance to quiz the conductor.

This unfortunate person probably started his/her daily routine with no expectations of drama or tragedy. He/she was my fellow traveler today. I hope that he/she didn't end up at a surprise final destination.