Providence

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Twenty-nine years ago this weekend, I graduated from high school. At that point in my life everything called for a drink, and the culmination of high school was cause for something huge. And that something was going to be a party at some very remote cabin.

Since I had been to the cabin once before, a month before graduation, I agreed to drive several of my classmates to the party. My old Dodge Dart was packed to the limit, with probably four or five guys besides myself.

But I didn’t know my way around out in the boondocks nearly as well as I thought. As night fell, I became more frantic in my search for classmates and whatever substances they would have at their disposal. And make no mistake, the substances were the point.

At the end of the night, all of the guys in the car were pissed off that they had missed out on what was sure to be an epic bash. I didn’t blame them, either, because I felt like I had earned it, and by God I was going to enjoy myself, and make it possible for them to do the same.

But with the benefit of many, many years of hindsight, I don’t see it that way anymore. I now recognize that my failure to locate a high school graduation party that night was a good thing. It seems counterintuitive to think that, but everything happens for a reason.

Had I found that cabin way out in the woods somewhere, things would have spiraled out of control. That was the reason my classmates and I wanted to be there, after all. And then it would have come time to go home.

I never was one for being a designated driver, at an age when I had no business doing otherwise. And I wouldn’t have backed away from the challenge of navigating back home, with as many inebriated classmates as I could fit into my car. It was a recipe for disaster, and I was too young and stupid to realize that.

Someone would have ended up dead or paralyzed that night, and if I was lucky enough to escape either the morgue or the hospital, I likely would have found myself in prison with a lifetime worth of regrets. So whatever cosmic being out there is controlling what happens here on earth took us out of that situation, instead.

None of the guys who were in the car with me that night are in my life anymore. I’ve forgotten who they ever were, and I’m glad of it. The memory of what happened on that night back in 1986 is now lost, except for one critical detail. Someone or something was looking out for me–and the rest of us–that evening. And I’m so very happy they were.

Well I’m takin’ my time

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This morning Boston’s Foreplay/Long Time came on the radio, and I listened to it for the I’ll-never-know-how-manyth-time.

Twenty-nine years ago, I used the opening lyric (It’s been such a long time, I think I should be going) as my parting words to my graduating high school class of 1986. Griffin High, the school I graduated from, went kaput a few years later, but I still keep in touch with some of my classmates, mostly on Facebook.

Four years in the same place does seem like a long time, when you’re 17 and itching to get out and see the world. Now, almost three decades later, I realize that four years can pass in the blink of an eye. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.

Another line from the song that I like is “There’s a long road I’ve gotta stay in time with.” That long road has led me out of Springfield Illinois to Chicago, with assorted side trips along the way. Where it leads from here, I have no idea. But I’ll be sure to stay in time with it, all the same.

Chicago’s Moonlight Graham

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I wrote this story some time ago, and it was published on the website ChicagoSideSports.com. An archived version of the site exists, but does not include this piece, so I’m adding it here. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Anyone who has seen the movie Field of Dreams knows the story of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. He played just one inning as a major leaguer, never came to bat, and retired from baseball to become a doctor in the small town of Chisholm, Minnesota. It’s all completely true, and writer W.P. Kinsella turned the story of Graham’s brief career into literary gold, and Hollywood followed suit by creating the character that Burt Lancaster so memorably played on the screen. We can all picture Lancaster as he walks off the field and asks “Win one for me one day, will you boys?” But there was a baseball career that eclipsed even Graham’s in terms of nothingness, and it belongs to Chicagoan Alexander Thomson Burr.

Burr was born in Chicago in 1893, and he attended prep school and college on the east coast. He was included on the roster of the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 1914 season. The Yankees were managed by Frank Chance, who had been a part of the famed “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” infield that the Cubs had fielded in the prior decade. Chance’s managerial moves in a game on April 21, 1914 left him with no choice but to put Burr into the outfield for the ninth inning. There was one small problem with this maneuver: Burr was actually a pitcher, not an outfielder. Like Moonlight Graham, Burr played a single half-inning in the outfield, where nothing was hit his way. And like Moonlight Graham, Burr never came up to bat, and never again played in another major league game. But unlike Moonlight Graham, Burr played a position that he was not supposed to be at. But better to play out of position than to never make it at all.

Alexander Burr’s life after baseball was also much different from Moonlight Graham’s. Burr initially returned to school, but signed up for the U.S. Air Service when fighting broke out in Europe. The Air Service was created in May of 1918, and the use of airplanes in combat was still a new idea at that time. The dangers of using airplanes came into full view on October 12, 1918 when Burr collided in mid-air with another pilot over a lake at Cazaux, France. Four and a half years after his half-inning in the big league sun, Burr died at the age of 24.

Thanks to all who sacrificed for this country.

Paying my respects to B.B. King

image I was on a business trip in Seattle when I heard of the death of B.B. King. For reasons I may never understand, I had packed two shirts for a one-day meeting: one white and one with white and blue stripes.

Is there a better way to pay tribute to the King of the blues than by wearing the partially blue shirt? Perhaps, but this was something I wanted to do, and it felt good to do it.

Thanks for all the good licks, Riley B. King. You done good.

Step right up and sweep the Mets

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A couple of weeks ago, I was checking into a hotel in Brooklyn. The woman working at the front desk was a Mets fan, and I congratulated her on her team’s recent ten-game winning streak.

Without missing a beat–and in true New York style–she said “Eleven.” I promptly stood corrected.

As I’m now waiting to take off on a flight for the other coast, I’m thinking of her and that exchange. The Cubs just finished off a series sweep of three games over her Mets. Four games, actually. I believe that’s pronounced touché.

I surely do love baseball and, as a Cubs fan, this year is shaping up to be a one like I haven’t seen before. Talking smack to the Mets fans out there is a new one for me, but I could get used to it in a hurry.

Spending an afternoon with my mom

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There’s a scene from Good Will Hunting that has stayed with me, more so than the remainder of the movie. In the scene, the Minnie Driver character says that she would trade all of the money she has to spend another day with her dead father. And the reason she would is because once somebody is gone, there’s no way of bringing them back. So enjoy your loved ones while you still can.

My mom was 21 years old when I was born. At an age when I was still finishing up college and enjoying the carefree (as in, child-free) days of my early 20s, my mom didn’t have that. She had me and my sister and two brothers to contend with. Not that it was an actual competition, but she had demands on her time and resources that I can’t imagine. And she did a great job of raising us, I have to say.

I’m very pleased to report that she’s still with us today. I get to enjoy spending time with her while she’s still young enough to get around without a wheelchair or a walker. And we did exactly that a week ago, for the funeral reenactment of Abraham Lincoln. It was six hours in the car to spend four or five hours with the woman who did so much for me back when I was unable–and sometimes unwilling–to appreciate what that meant. It was a trade that I was glad to make.

I know that my mom reads my blog. So in a sense, I’m writing to her knowing that she will see it and probably get emotional. I’m getting emotional writing it, myself. But on the off chance that anybody else ever finds this online, here’s a picture and a story about my mom. She, like all mothers, loved her children and didn’t get nearly enough in return for her emotional and financial investments through the years. This is a humble attempt to repay a debt that can never be fully squared. And I’m very pleased to still have the opportunity to make payments on this account.

A day to honor Lincoln

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image150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in Chicago. For those who waited in long lines, there was a chance to move past the president’s body and make the tragedy seem real. I’m sure nobody who made this wait ever regretted doing it.

I hoped there would be some kind of acknowledgement of this fact today, but if there was, I completely missed it. Instead, everything was about the NFL draft, which brings tourism and attention to this city. I understand this, but feel as though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was missed. Lincoln deserved better than to be ignored.

I’ll write up everything I did someday, but for now here’s a sample image. I call it “two Lincolns” and there are others where this came from. I even cobbled together a few readings and posted it to my Facebook page. My Lincoln tribute was something I’ll always remember, in part because it came from my own actions. Since nobody seemed to be interested in commemorating Lincoln, I stepped up and did it myself. We cannot do enough to honor his memory.

Taking John Brown from coast to coast

FullSizeRender (21) April of 2015 was the first time that I went to both coasts in the same month. The beginning of the month was Spring Break, and a week in Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, and points in between. We ended our trip in San Francisco, and that’s where this story picks up.

City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco is what a bookshop should be: independent, progressive, and enduring. Most other bookshops have one of those three, if they’re lucky. It was on my list of things that I wanted to do, and it didn’t disappoint.

I knew I would be flying back home shortly, and I wanted a book to help pass the time (no e-reader for me, thanks). I gravitated toward History, as I always do, and found Tony Horwitz’ Midnight Rising to be just what I was looking for. I’ve written of John Brown here before, and Confederates in the Attic was an unsettling but effective read, so the book practically sold itself to me.

I read what I could on my flight back to Chicago, and stuffed the book into my work bag as the plane touched down at O’Hare airport. Since I don’t commute into an office anymore–thankfully–the half-read book sat in my work bag until the end of the month, when I headed to New York for a few days on business. My traveling partner on the way was John Brown, as told through the lens of Tony Horwitz. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to pass the time.

John Brown made it to New York with me, waited in the hotel for a couple of days, and then accompanied me to LaGuardia for the return flight. And then, somewhere over Michigan, the tale was finished. On the final day of the month, John Brown and I parted ways.

I had never traveled more than 3000 miles in the air with a book before, but John Brown and his story were the ideal companion. He shook things up with his ill-fated attack on Harpers Ferry Virginia, and nothing that followed after that was ever the same again.

Although John Brown was unsuccessful in freeing and arming a large band of former slaves in 1859, he did succeed in forcing the issue of slavery into everyone’s consciousness. And if that’s not worthy of being read from sea to shining sea, you’ll have to tell me what is.