Putting it on the line

Chicago’s teachers are out on strike, and probably will be until further notice. The threat of a strike made the four days of last week’s back to school week seem like a pointless exercise. And it turns out that we’ll have the “real” first day of school at some point in the future.

I was a classroom teacher in Chicago for a few years back in the 1990s, but I left to go and do other things. During that time I learned, the hard way, that using your ultimate weapon, whether it was enlisting the assistance of a hard-ass Assistant Principal or arranging for a parent-teacher conference, was not something to be done lightly.

Once that trump card has been played, and a need to take things to a higher level arises–as it surely will–then there’s nothing left at your disposal. It’s true in the classroom, and it’s true in the court of public opinion, too. I’m with the teachers, but they’ve gone ahead and played the biggest card that they have available. So where can they go from here?

There was a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times by long-time Chicago reporter Carol Marin, where she states that teachers are looking to get the respect that they haven’t been accorded yet. When the law in Illinois was changed, making it impossible for Chicago’s teachers to go on strike without a 75% majority vote, the teachers did an end run around this by giving their union a 90%+ strike authorization. What else could they do, roll over and let this new law win? Why should anyone expect them to go along with that?

The strike has been an inevitability for a long time. The teachers could have kept working past Monday’s strike date, without an agreement, just to show the public that their biggest card wasn’t going to be played first. But that’s not how it went down. And now we’re all in uncharted waters, for an undetermined period of time.

My kids are affected by this strike, and all of the city that I call home has a stake in how this gets resolved. I hope it gets done quickly but, from all of the public posturing going on, I don’t see how that will happen. While there’s clearly a lot of bad blood on both sides, they will need to get beyond that. Chicago deserves better than a standoff where everyone loses, which is what we currently have.

Feels something like summertime

Today is the final day of Summer for my family and I. It doesn’t start on Memorial Day, like most people’s summer does, because my kids are in school until the middle of June. This year, it was almost as though summer began in March, when it hit 90 degrees on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago. Welcome to the brave new post-glacier world we’re living in.

I had a blast this summer, and there are 100 pieces of it posted in this space for anyone who wants to know why. I took a trip to Cape Cod, a trip to Florida, and to a theme park, and to the race track, and, as always, to places in my life that no longer exist. Summer is the best season of all, and this year was certainly no exception.

So now, as fall returns and the school routine may or may not set in (depending of whether or not there’s a teacher’s strike in Chicago), I’m happy that I recorded some bits and pieces of it along the way. Those parts of the Summer will still continue on, long after its final sunset happens about four hours from now.


The Sanctuary on Paradise

I’m in Florida this weekend, trying to get a final few days of Summer before school starts up again. Or maybe it won’t if the Chicago teachers go out on strike. But either way, Summer is coming to and end, and we want to end it with something to remember.

Our visions of fun in the sun have been washed way by soon-to-be Hurricane Isaac, which is somewhere in the Caribbean and heading this way. The winds are blowing, the rain is starting, and the bargain that people who live in Florida have to make with nature is coming into full view.

I decided to head out into the rain this afternoon, to have a look around before the storm gets too bad. After a few minutes, I came to a gated community. I’ve read about them, and driven by them before, but I’ve never come into contact with one before. I walked up to the gate, read the No Trespassing sign, and realized that I could never live in such a place. I won’t judge those who do, but it seems to me to be the product of a very anti-social view of the world.

When my neighborhood in Chicago was laid out in the early 20th century, the technology for creating such a walled-off community didn’t exist. But, more importantly, I don’t think that the desire to create one existed, either. Gated communities exist because the people on the inside take an active role in keeping the people on the outside out. I can’t so much as walk along the sidewalks and admire the houses in such a place. I get to see the gate, and feel the sense of exclusion that the gate is meant to convey, and walk away, trying to understand their view of the world.
I stood outside the gate, waiting until one of the community’s residents left their sanctuary. I wondered if they felt nervous, being out on a road that they didn’t own and couldn’t control. I wondered how long before they made it onto U.S. 1, or I-95, or any of the other roads that U.S. taxpayers like myself pay for the maintenance of. I wondered how long before this person would turn on the radio and (if they don’t have satellite radio) listen to something on the airwaves that we all own. I wondered if, on the off chance they should get into an accident, if publicly-financed ambulances would come to their assistance, or if the gated community had the resources to gather up their wounded, wherever they are, and bring them back to safety within their walls.

The gated community mindset seems to have resonated with the Republicans who will, not coincidentally, be coming to Florida for their nominating convention later this week. They have turned a remark that President Obama made about roads and bridges into a rallying cry about what role the government plays in our lives. The government services that pour into the gated communities are obvious enough to see, if the people inside of them would only care to look for them.

Beyond the roads, which people couldn’t live in Florida without, there are public sewers and water services, public schools, public fire and police protection and–may it never come to this–public funds for when Isaac or another storms decides to put the full power of nature on display. Or even, something that this week’s convention-goers can understand, public airports. Yes, the runways that are used for takeoffs and landings, and the air traffic control towers and the people who make sure the planes don’t collide in mid-air, and the airport terminals where the planes load and unload their passengers, are dependent upon government funds or personnel. And without them, well, there’s no convention in Tampa next week.

It will be interesting to see how far the “We built it” theme is carried at next week’s convention. The people who espouse such a view have to be willfully oblivious of the role that government has played in the creation of the very site of the convention, and in the police and fire protection that will allow it to take place. And, to be ideologically consistent, they will have to completely disregard the storm tracking services provided by the National Weather Service (and yes, that’s a government agency that all of us are paying for).

So let the Republicans leave their gated communities, travel to Tampa, and spend several days railing about the evils of government. Nobody on Fox News, or the other media outlets that will be reporting on the proceedings, will have the courage to call them out on their hypocrisy. But those of us on the outside will be playing a role that will not be publicly acknowledged.


It’s now two months away from the Bruce Springsteen show at Wrigley Field. Now that my much-anticipated trip to Cape Cod is over, that’s the next big thing I have to look forward to.

The Cubs are usually how I mark my time in the summer, and that won’t work this year. The heat wave that we’re in the middle of makes all outdoor things seem unpleasant. And we’re without another holiday for the rest of July and all of August. Welcome to the dog days of Summer.

But when September rolls around, things will look up. My kids could be back in school (unless there’s a teachers’ strike, as I’m nearly certain there will be). Springsteen’s playing at Wrigley, and my Dad and brother and I are going to a Cubs game in Wrigley the week after that. So I’ll just use these things as the lights at the end of the tunnel.

Two of the very first posts I wrote in this space a year ago had to do with Clarence Clemons. The day I heard about his stroke, I put together a piece about how he might never again play with the E Street Band onstage. It was then that I realized I didn’t have to wait to be told about what events mean, but I could use my blog as a tool to get my own thoughts about the news out, in real time.

I’ve done a few other posts like that in the mean time, where I commented on something that had happened without first waiting for the media to tell me what had happened. I will say that’s an extraordinarily empowering feeling.

The media in this country wants to fill up our minds with their take on the events that happen. The “news” always comes from the same place, with the same perspective, and we’re just expected to wait for it, internalize it, and then consider ourselves to be “informed citizens” as a result. But I’d rather think for myself, especially when it comes to things that I care about.

Which is why I’m writing about Jake Clemons with this post. After Clarence Clemons passed away, just over a year ago, I wondered whether Springsteen and his band would ever play live again, and if they did it would never again be the same, for the band and its fans. But what I didn’t know at the time was that another Clemons–Clarence’s nephew, Jake Clemons–was waiting in the wings, ready to do what needed to be done. And I’m very excited to see what it’s like with him onstage in two months’ time.

Nobody is going to say that he has replaced “the Big Man.” That couldn’t be done. But the fact that he is related to Clarence, and is apparently a very fine musician in his own right, is a welcome development. He seems to fit in well with Bruce and the others, if the picture above is any indication. I’m sure that I’ll yell and holler when the Clarence tribute comes during “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” but for the rest of the show I’ll listen to Jake–and the other additions to the E Street Band–and remind myself that life does go on, just as it always has.

Jake Clemons hasn’t been profiled, that I’ve seen, in Rolling Stone or Newsweek or any of the other media outlets that are going to someday “announce” his presence to the rest of us. But, again, I’m going to get a jump on that process. When these stories finally are written, it won’t be news to me.

I’ve been reading online descriptions of Springsteen’s shows in Europe this summer, and it sounds like Jake has come into his own already, which is just remarkable, considering how everyone probably wants him to be the next Clarence Clemons. But he’s doing just fine, it appears, with becoming the first Jake Clemons. And that’s going to bring an added dimension to Springsteen’s stateside shows, beginning in Fenway Park next month.

September 7 can’t get here soon enough for me.