Saturday, February 21, 2009


There he was again this morning, boldly charging into the queue.

Been watching Mikey perform his feats of daring for what must be almost 30 years now. Must have been in his early 20s when I bought my first papers from him, So was I.

He's lost a step, but he still has game.

Mikey the Cardinals fan sells newspapers and magazines. His post is at the corner of Northwest Highway and Ozanam Ave on the northwest side of Chicago. He's got one of those curbside newsstands, once commonplace but now becoming scarcer and scarcer.

We took another hit last night.

Spring is about to spring, but not just yet, and the 5 inches of fluff has turned the beige lawns of Edison Park white once again. It looks nice, but it makes Mikey's daily grind more challenging. On dry pavement, he makes the dash from the curb into traffic effortlessly. He'll take a few seconds to exchange insults with his regulars, hand a Tribune or Sun-Times or both through the driver's side window, take his money, and then bid them a nice day. On slippery streets, he just hustles it out there, and makes quick work of it. No chatting, just working the queue.

And always, always, he proudly wears his St. Louis Cardinals cap, no matter the weather.

This morning, it was a winter coat, gloves, scarf, heavy boots ....and St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. He's got the red cap, the road cap, the alternate cap, the retro one, the blue one, he's got the full collection. Today it was the red one. Its brim had a slight dusting of snow, and his ears looked like they'd have preferred a nice toque.

It's only slightly dangerous being a WHITE SOX fan, and working up here in cubs country. That's just a natural cross-town rivalry, and while the arguments can get a little hot, they rarely escalate to bloodshed or murder. Most of the time SOX fans and cub fans simply make fun of the players.

"Sosa's corking and juicing!"

"Oh yeah? Well AJ Pierzynski throws like his arm is made of pudding!"

"Cindi Sandberg was fucking Raffy Palmeiro!"

"The Big Hurt is a lazy turd only interested in his stats."

That sort of thing. My standard repsonse to agressive cub fans has become simply..."2005."

That shuts 'em right up fast. Nothing like reminding a cub fan that they haven't taken a crown in a fuckin' century.

God I love saying "2005."

However, the rivalry between the cubs and the Cardinals is a different matter entirely. The most passionate and loyal sports fans on the entire planet are St. Louis Cardinals fans. Never seen anything like these people. Cardinals fans travel by the busload for the 3 and 4 game series' at Wrigley.

cub fans hate all Cardinals fans, especially the real hard-core Cardinals fans like Mikey.

When the cubs suck, and let's face it, the cubs always suck, Cardinals fans show up at Wrigley in huge numbers. There are games when you can hear the Cardinals fans cheering so loudly for Albert Pujols that you need to remind yourself the the cubs are playing a home game. (cub fans who keep a scorecard during the game spell it Poo-Holes)

cub fans absolutely hate Cardinals fans. Fights are routine out on Clark St. when the Cardinals are in town. There's always an incident or two in the stands. Somebody jacks somebody, and the next thing you know security is escorting some dude out of the park, and that dude is ALWAYS wearing a Cardinals cap, never one of those silly blue cub caps.

cub fans absolutely hate Cardinal fans, and yet, there's Mikey, running into traffic on Ozanam Ave, wearing his Cardinals cap in cub country, in a fuckin' snowstorm in February.Tempting fate.

He can't wait for the baseball season to start. For a guy like Mikey, there's always baseball.

I'm worried about Mikey. The bad economy has got to be hitting him hard. I buy my papers from him on Sunday, more out of nostalgia than anything else. It's all online now. I don't need the hard copies. The Trib is bankrupt, the Sun-Times can't be far behind, and the gentlemen of Edison Park just don't want to have their neighbors seeing Mikey handing a copy of Barely Legal in the car window.

Mikey's lost a step and you never get that back. They say the legs are the first things to go. Once the downhill slide begins, it's a tough thing to reverse. I'm afraid that one of these days, I'm going to pull up to the corner of Northwest Highway and Ozanam Ave. and see a bare patch of sidewalk where Mikey's newsstand used to be, another victim of time, progress and a bad economy.

He may go broke, and he will grow old, but he'll always have his beloved Cardinals, so it could be worse.

He could be a cubs fan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Art for Art's Sake

Dale Chihuly is a Seattle artist who works in glass. A 1976 auto accident in London cost Dale the sight in his left eye, and that led Dale to a discovery. He didn't necessarily have to be the person who blows the glass to have his artistic vision come to life. Some of his phenomenally elaborate glass sculptures require almost 20 people to create in the shop, and that many or more to assemble the works for public display.

Chihuly's exhibits have been seen all over the world, and we were fortunate enough back in 2001 to have Dale's work displayed at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory.

Not long ago, Dale's work was displayed at The New York Botanical Garden

A fascinating guy, Dale Chihuly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blowing shit up

My friend Maury down at the Johnson Space Center sent me these. They're either a very well produced hoax, or the real deal. I'm going with the real deal, otherwise all of these fucking people are in on the next conspiracy.

These are allegedly a full scale test of Orion's LAS abort motor. When I pointed out to Maury that they seem to be pointing in the wrong direction (down), he assured me that when they are installed they will be pointed in the proper direction. Seems it's easier to test these bad boys by pointing them down. Something about heavy duty restraints....


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Art and Soul

Las Meninas~ is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez. It's always fascinated me. From a perspective standpoint, it confuses me. Am I the painter? That's Velasquez over there on the left. Am I one of the observers in the studio, the people pictured in the mirror on the back wall? Am I the subject of the painting, the back of which we see Diego working on? Every time I look at Las Meninas I see something different.

David~ Donatello~1440s (!!!!!)
Forget about it. If you're thinking about working in bronze, there was this guy who, ...about 5 1/2 centuries ago, conveyed the human form in a Biblical AND sensual way. Let's all just give up now. Donatello was the real shit.

Nude Descending a Staircase~ Marcel Duchamp~ 1912

Love it. Poetry in motion. Futurist elements, a little Picasso influence, also a glimpse at the new photographic advances. Great stuff. The kind of painting I wish I could paint.

Under The Birches~ Theodore Rousseau~ 1843

Takes my breath away. The sort of painting I want to climb into.

Autumn Landscape~ Vincent van Gogh~ 1885
Masterpiece. Brooding.....foreboding......brilliant.

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher~ Johannes Vermeer~ 1665
A command of light that I find astounding. Also, the ability to convey texture, such as in the girl's dress and headdress...veil....whatever....that white thing. Awesome.

One of the nice things about this blogging business is that I can make additions. By the time I'm through with this thing, I expect to have about a dozen more of my favorites.....

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Loveland Pass

An unforgettable time for me was right out of high school. Went to work for my dad within a week of graduation, and started going to school nights. Had a very serious relationship with a girl who would eventually become my wife, but that didn't stop me from seeing a bit of the country....she understood. Late that summer, 1978, I finagled a week of vacation after only 2 months on the job, took a trip to northern Minnesota, and spent a week with 5 friends canoeing around the Boundary Waters. I fell in love with the BWCA, and went back 3 more times with the same 5 guys.

Because of the business I was in, and am currently (same job), winter was the time for vacations. My folks used to spend a month every year (February) in Ft Myers, Fl. I wasn't quite ready to become a Snowbird yet, so I decided to go visit my old friend Chris. He lived in a quiet little town outside Denver called ....Littleton.

Chris had been my best friend from 6th grade through Junior year in high school. Best friends. We did everything together. Drank, smoked ciggies, got high, got suspended from school, rode bikes, talked music, talked about the future, friends. Then he moved. His dad was with Johns Manville, and he got transferred to Denver. I hadn't seen my best bud in 2 years.

Now, I'd never traveled west before and by the time December rolled around I was so friggin' pumped to make that drive I could barely sleep the night before. I had taken an apartment in Naperville with my brother, and for the first time ever I woke before Bill.

The car was packed in 15 minutes with everything I needed:

Allman Brothers
Jeff Beck
....and various other Memorex cassettes. (8 track tapes? are you kidding? that is so early 70s)

Rand McNally US Atlas
CB Radio (10-4 good buddy...)


One ounce $45 Columbian weed
7 Thai sticks- $8 each
7 grams hashish- $45 for the 1/4oz
14 Green/Clears

San Marcos

Hat, coat, gloves, boots....and 2 suitcases full of clothes.

Pushed off at 7:30 CST and hit I-5 (now US 88) heading west. The 1973 Pontiac Le Mans Sport Coupe I had bought used was a highway beast. 350V8, and it only had 44,000 miles on it. I loved that car. What a great pick-up that was. Lasted me 4 years.

Anyway, once I got away from Chicago, and out onto the flats of boring rural Illinois, I figured a nice coffee and Thai stick was just the thing to celebrate my big drive. Nothing like a coffee/Thai buzz at 8:30 on a Saturday morning in December.

When cornfields are covered with snow, they take on a most lonely appearance. Whenever I see that scene from Fargo where Buscemi crawls up that snowy embankment to bury the case of money by the fence, and they pan the camera in both directions to show the loneliness and desolation, the road stretching to the vanishing point in both directions....I'm reminded of that first trip west. Western Illinois during the winter is a very flat, white, frozen, lonely place.

The Atlas showed a pretty straight shot across I-80. I'd just stay on 5, then hook up with 80 out by the Quad Cities, then stay on 80 all the way across Iowa, and most of Nebraska. Looks like I pick up 76 south out of Ogallalla and take that into Colorado. Hook up with 25 by Denver, take that south, annnnd......I'll figure out what exit will get me to Littleton when I get there.

Thinking back on the trip now, I can't believe how reckless I was. Nothing scared me. I didn't even make a plan for stopping. I'd just drive until I got tired, and then I'd hit a Motel 6 or whatever. Not so much as a clue how far it was from Chicago to Denver, even though I had the Atlas right on the passenger seat. I didn't care. I was on no schedule, although I told Chris I'd be there Sunday at some point. I'd stop at a payphone to let him know when I was close. What the hell is a cell phone? Last year my phone took a swim in my coffee outside Sioux City,Ia and I felt naked. The idea of driving across the country without one is unthinkable to me now.

As I got close to the Iowa border, I was as fresh as I could be. Couple hundred miles under my belt, and it was only 11 AM or so. I was averaging something like 80MPH. Flying by trucks, they'd see my CB antenna and give me a shout. 'What's the fucking hurry?" "Give a holler if you see any cops up ahead.""Safe travels Mile High" (my handle for the trip)

By the time I needed to stop for gas in Iowa, I was loving this shit. (I was also wasted) I set the gas on auto-fill and ran inside to take a piss. Ran back to the car to top it off, and then back inside to pay for the gas and 6 Pepsis. How weird it would be for someone today to have to go inside to pay. No credit swipes at the pump back then. No digital shit. We had gas pumps that had rolling dials with real numbers on them. The credit card machines were big bulky contraptions that needed carbon papered slips and a person with some muscle to make it all happen.

I paid cash.

Ran back to the car and hammered it. Passed up trucks I'd passed 30 minutes ago, a second time. I think that impressed them. And then I went about the business of driving across the state of Iowa. The mileage to Omaha was something like 280 miles when I first noticed. A snap. I'll be there in less than 3 hours. Turn on some Allman Brothers....the best driving music there is.

The state of Iowa is as boring to drive across as it is to walk across. It's torture. Imagine 3 hours of driving on a white pool table with telephone poles the only things that keep the view interesting.

Davenport.....DesMoines......Council Bluffs........the fucking names of the towns are even boring.

It's almost exactly 500 miles from Chicago to Omaha. 499.1....500.4.....depends on which gas stations you stop at. It seemed like a nice halfway point, so maybe I'd grab some lunch there. First, I needed to smoke some more Thai stick, and maybe take one of those Green and Clears to keep me nice and fresh. Wash that down with some Pepsi, and switch to some Jeff Beck......

Strangely, I wasn't hungry at all when I blew through Omaha. Nor was I tired, although the odometer said 500 miles since I left Naperville. I'll just keep going.....Lincoln's 50 miles away....then Grand Island....then Kearney......maybe I'll stop for the night in Kearney. Passed a place called Ak-Sar-Ben.....a fairgrounds, racetrack, theme park sort of affair. Years later, one of my limo customers told me that it was closed down. A Nebraska landmark. People were devastated, or so I'm told. Customer asked me...."How many times did you make the drive?"...."At least 10.....I forget.....why?"......."Know what's weird about Ak-Sar-Ben?"......"You mean besides the fact that it's Nebraska spelled backwards?" (lousy tipper, I had to rub his nose in it...)

Stopped for another piss and gas. I had it down to a science now. I could take a pee, fill the tank, buy more Pepsi, and be back on 80 in about 6 minutes.....give or take. I was wasting, literally, no time.

By the time I got out into rural Nebraska....shit, it's all rural, there's corn growing in the police station parking lot in Omaha......I was really buzzing along. I was driving very very fast, and I was speeding too. Took another speeder, smoked some weed, drank some Pepsi, and listened to some Beatles. (Sgt. Pepper of course...) Late afternoon comes fast out there, and as the sun was sinking over the Nebraska snowfields in front of me I realized it was about to get dark. (the normal progression as the earth rotates west to east)

As I approached Kearney, I still wasn't tired. Maybe it was the excitement of my first drive west, or maybe it was a combination of the speed and Pepsi. Whatever it was, I made a fateful decision. I decided to keep going. I had 650 miles behind me, and that meant only 360 to go. I had finally started paying attention to the signs, and the Ogallala exit wasn't too far away. That meant that I'd have the entire I-80 run out of the way, and I could wake up in Colorado with just a short way to go. I looked forward to seeing mountains out my Motel 6 window. I'd gained an hour, so it was only in the 4-5O'Clock range. Too early to stop anyway.

Once I got on I-76, I hooked to the southwest, and the landscape began to turn beige. As the sun went down, I got the distinct impression I was entering the high desert I'd heard so much about but never knew what the hell they were talking about.

Sailing into the dusk of western Nebraska, alone, stoned, and listening to Bowie. Gotta try that once in your life. It stays with you.

"Now Entering Colorful Colorado." ,,,,the headlights caught it,,,,,,as it flashed by at 80MPH.

Hmmm......I wonder what color it is. I wonder when I'll start seeing the mountains. I wonder how far to Denver......192 miles.......183miles......Sterling....52 miles.....Ft Morgan......97 all started to sloowwwwww down as I hit eastern Colorado.

800 miles is a long way to drive in a day. It was about 7:30 when I passed Sterling....maybe 8....Denver was getting closer. I was getting droopy eyed, but I wasn't blinking. I was zinging out of my skull from the speeders, but I was bone-weary. I'd never driven more than 200 miles in one stretch before (family vacations).....I decided to keep going.

Never expect to see mountains when you enter Colorado from the east. The whole right side of that fucking place is Nebraska. Colorful Colorado? That eastern half is as dreary as any stretch on the planet. I can't believe I stayed awake for the whole ordeal. Arduous man. I think I could have taken a nice 10 minute catnap and not strayed outside my lane.

Anyway, I made it to Denver, and now needed to find Littleton.

Never try to navigate through Denver at 9:30 on a Saturday night after you've been driving for 15 hours and 1013 miles. Only balls and stupidity got me to my destination, on Laurel Ct, right off Santa Fe Drive.....over by Cherry Hill Coutry Club.

As Chris' mom answered the door at 10:30, I realized that it was late, that I hadn't called to tell them I'd be a day early, and that I must look like some kind of wired-up jackhead.

One glance from Jane was all it took. She smiled weakly, gave me a hug, and said...."You haven't changed a bit."

When Chris came down the stairs, he took one look at me and burst out laughing. He grabbed the keys to his car, a 1947 Willy's Jeep, and off we went for a quick drive up 285 into the "mountains." A lovely night, smoking weed with my old bud,...laughing about my day's drive,...and zigzagging our way up into the "mountains." (I'd made the Chicago to Denver run in 16 hours with the time change. Every time after that, I stretched it over 2 days, and averaged about 19 hours)

Well, I called them mountains, because that's what they seemed like to me. Chris explained that these were "foothills." Tomorrow we'd drive up 70 into the real mountains. We'd go up through this brand new thing that had just been opened....The Eisenhower Tunnel.

I didn't sleep very well that night, and we were off for the mountains by 9. Left the skis at his house....we were going to Crested Butte in two days...over on the western slope.......for now, we were just going up to show Mikey the mountains. Chris was having a blast watching the reactions on my face as we ascended. The foothills are all green with a little snow, even in December. It isn't until you drive, and drive, and you see real mountains.

I'll never forget the first time I saw the snow covered peaks sourrounding me as we rounded a curve of 70. Absolutely breathtaking. No way to accurately describe the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. You gotta feel it. I was addicted, and kept going back for the next 15 years.....

As we appraoched the newly opened Eisenhower Tunnel, Chris explained how the eastbound tunnel had just opened. Prior to this, both lanes of traffic passed through one tunnel. Now, with two tunnels, they could have 2 lanes going in both directions.

As Chris turned off I-70 I asked him where we were going.

"We're going the way everybody used to go, before they opened the tunnel........."