Chicago traffic congestion…ugh!

Although Barbara and I have no current plans to visit Chicago any time soon, I read with great interest about a round of new highway construction coming to the Jane Byrne Interchange. That interchange is notoriously congested – it’s where the Dan Ryan Expressway (Interstates 90/94) and the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 55) come together just southwest of downtown Chicago. Barbara and I have plenty of memories,…er nightmares of rolling into Chicago on the “Damn Ryan” (as many locals called it with disdain) for many years on both business and pleasure trips into the city and having to deal with the congestion.

I read articles online in either the Chicago Sun-Times or Chicago Tribune to stay abreast of what’s happening in one of the cities we still have love for, even after nearly 20 years of being away from it. To us the city remains a special place. We were there last in 2011 for a couple of days in July and we had a blast just like the old times.

Very much like New York City, Chi-town is a place where one should park the car and depend on public transportation as much as possible, especially the train. It’s more practical and usually leads to less frustration with traffic congestion, and expensive parking. Yes, it costs money to travel by public transportation and you usually end up walking a lot BUT it sure beats sitting on one of the “expressways” in ungodly heavy traffic. Speaking of ironies, from  our experience, seldom was the Dan Ryan an “expressway”. Mostly it was a slow crawl  or worse a complete stop and go commute into downtown Chicago and the Jane Byrne Interchange was a major factor in the mess back then (I have no clue as to whether it ever got better, in 2011 we parked our car and took public trans everywhere we went).

Barbara had a job in the Loop most of our seven years in the Chicago land area and most of the time she smartly took the Metra Train to and from  work. Occasionally she had to drive instead in order to meet clients in their homes and on those days she absolutely dreaded the commute. As for me, when I did my six month stint at Kraft’s headquarters in Northfield (a far north suburb) I had to choose my poison everyday – whether to take the “Damn Ryan” in and beyond, or to take the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294). Either way it was a 90 minute commute (52 miles) on a good day from our home in the south suburbs. I hated the drive but enjoyed working at Northfield.

So when I read about the upcoming construction of flyovers for the Jane Byrne Interchange and how traffic will come to a near standstill for over a year and a half I just laughed to myself and said OMG! The flyovers will definitely help in easing congestion but my goodness it will be a mess and a half for a long while. I thought that if for some reason we get a chance to visit Chicago between now and mid 2016 there will be absolutely no driving in if we can help it, nope none at all!

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A Little Over 10 years Ago…My Unfortunate Incident

October 4, 2014  marked the tenth anniversary of me rupturing the patella tendon in my right knee at age 51 while playing basketball with a bunch of friends at Home Court America in San Antonio. That unfortunate incident set in motion a series of life changing moments, namely the end to my competitive basketball life.

As I look back to that evening I have to admit that it was inevitable that I would literally have to be carted off the basketball court. In my hard headedness I had refused to slow my pursuit of the game I loved so much. Doctors, my wife, my parents, and my kids had for years told me to stop playing competitive basketball. They had warned me that I was either going to get hurt or that my ticker was going to give out from playing so much and so hard. My fire and competitive juices (and my ego) burned on at that time and I suppose that it was only a matter of time before I’d suffer a catastrophic injury. Only through God’s amazing grace and mercy was I able to recover as well as I did. I thank God that the incident wasn’t any worse than it was. Ironically, that right knee has healed just fine to this day, but it’s the left knee that has developed a nagging arthritis that reminds me over and over of the many of hours of play on asphalt, tile, or concrete gym floors over the years that did nothing for the future state of my knees.

I really should have pulled back the throttle of my basketball playing long before that fateful evening at age 51 but like I said, my fires were still burning and I was playing at least twice a week at that time. Not only did I have to have surgery three days after the unfortunate incident, but that surgery kept me homebound on the couch, and rolling around in a wheelchair for 8 weeks. During the last two weeks of that stretch I was able return to work but in the wheelchair no less (that was humbling to say the least). I had dislocated my shoulder as well during the incident and that ruled out any walking with crutches.

Probably the most hurtful thing from the unfortunate incident though was that it denied my wife Barbara and daughter Brianne the chance to go to Switzerland with me on a business trip. And I’m sure that they haven’t fully forgiven me to this day, ten years later…and I don’t blame them. It was going to be several days of work for me but all fun and vacation for them. I’ve chronicled that awful evening of October 4, 2004 in my manuscript, “Blessed by the Game of Basketball”. In it I talk about how it happened, what my first ride in the back of an ambulance was like, and how guilty and terrible I felt about staying that extra ten minutes that fateful evening to play “just one more game”. That decision, to stay and play instead of leaving when I was supposed to, cost us the trip to Switzerland, and landed me in a dangerous position health-wise. To this day, I’m still paying the price for that lousy decision. Instead of us boarding a big jet for a transatlantic flight on Friday October 7, 2004 I was in surgery and Barbara and Brianne were getting ready to take on the huge responsibility of caring for me as I recuperated.

The patella tendon in my right knee has healed very nicely, thank God, but I did suffer two bouts with blood clots in that leg since then (once in 2005, and again in 2012). Both incidents were a result of DVT, deep vein thrombosis, most likely the result of many long airplane trips I took during those times (when I was flying to Latin America for work, for example). The blood clots have been a steady reminder of the cost of that infamous October 4th incident.

So, ten years later, what have I learned? I think I learned that God was speaking to me through my doctors, my wife, and our kids when they were strongly suggesting that I give up competitive basketball. Unfortunately I didn’t quite listen very well (or at all). I also learned that I had people in my corner that didn’t have to be there. That blessing was in the form of two work buddies who went miles out of their way to drive me to physical therapy from work several times a week. I’m forever grateful to those guys. And lastly, I learned the hard lesson of humility – I had to be struck down in order to get up and fly high. I thank you God for that lesson.

So, since then and going forward, there is no more competitive basketball for me obviously. Thankfully I don’t think there are too many outlets for old dudes like me to be tempted to trot back out onto a basketball court and “get one on”. Believe me when I say that I don’t want to ruin any more chances to travel with my wife or my family. My strong desire is to remain upright and mobile until it’s time for me to leave this earth…God willing.

I occasionally have those moments still, when I do go to my subdivision’s court to shoot baskets by myself, to call some old friend and say “let’s get one on”. But it’s only a dream.

Decisions, decisions…

IMG_20140722_115622_838 Life is so full of decisions; I think we can all agree on that statement, right? We seem to be constantly asking ourselves things like, what to wear, where to eat out, which shoes should I wear, where to go on vacation? Those are the kind of day to day, routine questions we ask ourselves. Recently, while on a short vacation in Monterey California my wife Barbara and I had to ask ourselves, where to go while on vacation? To be sure, that’s a very nice question to have to ask. This wasn’t a life changing, super important question mind you – we just needed to answer one question that would define how we spent our last full day in Monterey. For the previous two days we had had an awesome time traipsing around the mighty Monterey Peninsula recovering from saying goodbye to our former guide dog for the blind puppy that we had raised for fifteen months. We had dropped him off in San Rafael at guide dogs HQ.

The all important question was, should we invest in renting a kayak and kayak the Monterey Bay, or should we make the 30 mile drive down to Big Sur country and find the hidden jewel of Pfeiffer Beach? Although kayaking the big bay would have been fun (and a little expensive) we chose instead to pack a lunch and drive down Highway 1 to the Big Sur area.

Fortunately for us, after a rather cloudy and gray early morning, the sun had come out full force by the time we arrived at the Big Sur Post Office. The temperatures were heading into the mid 70’s (a very pleasant relief from our typical San Antonio midsummer 90’s). On the easy drive down the Pacific Coast Highway we stopped at a roadside pull out or two to take in the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. At the first pull off we stood with plenty of other visitors admiring the ocean, the rocks, and a couple of amazing castle-like homes on the cliffs (who could afford to live in these homes we kept asking?).

When we stopped at the Big Sur Post Office we had actually already passed the unmarked turn off for the road to Pfeiffer Beach. The article I had read online described what to look for in finding the unmarked turn off but either I missed it or they failed to mention that they were coming from the south. We of course were driving from the north. So we stopped and asked some locals for directions. They were more than happy to help us with directions.

Once we found the turn off onto the unmarked road we were just two miles from our goal, Pfeiffer Beach. True to what the article had said, the road was narrow, rocky in places, and went for two long miles. One really couldn’t drive safely beyond 15 mph and you always had to watch for traffic coming towards you. When that happened one of you had to give way and let the other pass. We reached the pay booth and paid our $10 day entry fee. Fortunately for us we had arrived in time to get one of the precious parking spaces (we weren’t sure about what happens when the spots run out, but thankfully we didn’t have to worry).

After parking we grabbed our backpacks and camera and began the quarter mile walk to the beach (after a stop at the restrooms of course). We passed through some shade trees and then Boom! We were treated to an awesome sight – the beach, the arch rock, and the spectacularly blue Pacific. At that moment we finally understood why the road to the beach remains unmarked (the state and the people who live along that road don’t want it becoming overcrowded and spoiled. And we don’t blame them). Immediately we began taking pictures of the awesome beauty all around us. Strolling the big beach, climbing over some of the rocks, and looking for sea life in the tide pools kept us busy for a couple of hours. Barbara made me hold a starfish she found in the tide pool so she could take some pictures (I reluctantly grabbed him and smiled for the camera).

There were a few brave souls in the cold surf that day even though the signs had warned of extremely unpredictable rip currents (that was enough warning to keep me out). We had no plans of getting in the water beyond our knees because it was a little too cold for our tastes. There were some surfers as well enjoying the good waves. And we also got to watch a guy thoroughly enjoying himself by jumping off of the rocks way offshore. He’d climb the rock, jump in, swim around in the surf for a while and then go back to the rocks and do it again. I admire brave souls like him.

When we finally left the beach we noticed that although not crowded there were far more people than when we first arrived. We were quite glad that we had come early in the day. As we started the drive back north we decided to stop at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. We chose not to pay the entry fee and just stopped at the Big Sur Lodge outside the gate to use the restrooms, look for souvenirs in their gift shop, and to have a quick lunch.

The drive back north to Monterey was easy. We took with us a few seashells and a few pieces of collected sea glass but a ton of memories and pictures from an awesome day. And in closing, I think we can say that we made a very good decision.

LA Clippers Owner A Man of His Words

LA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling

I’m sure that by now most of you have heard or read about the ridiculous comments alleged to have been said by this controversial owner of the Clippers NBA team. His comments have been construed to basically say he doesn’t like Black people, and he doesn’t want them at his team’s games. All of this came about as a result of his 30-something girlfriend posing for pictures with hall of famer Magic Johnson and posting those pictures to social media. By the way, Mr. Sterling is in his 80’s,…just sayin’.

To me this sounded like, 1) Sterling doesn’t like or respect Magic Johnson and he’s plain jealous (come on man, who doesn’t love Magic?), 2) he took the opportunity to let his emotions and deep seeded issues take over and he proceeded to attack all Black people. I’ve got lots to say on this matter of course. I think it speaks volumes about how even with an abundance of money it doesn’t bring happiness or satisfaction. This guy is stinky rich I suppose, he owns a suddenly successful NBA team (remember we’re talking about the formerly lowly Clips), and he’s so insecure (even at 80 years old) he can’t stand his girlfriend taking pictures with a Black man (not even a very successful, rich man I might add).

Years ago some Black professional athlete equated his working for a team owner to be kind of like slavery. At the time we (society) mostly laughed about it because we said hey mister pro athlete you’re very well paid by that owner and you’re playing a game – just go on making your millions and be quiet dude! Well now fast forward to today and we have proof that being a pro team owner doesn’t mean that one is suddenly sensitive to racial issues and that you’re a great humanitarian. The Donald Sterling situation does indeed remind me of a plantation owner and his workers. “Master” likes having his workers out there tending his fields and making money for him, BUT he doesn’t want those workers coming up into his house, OR “messing” with his family (or with his “women”) in any way.

The news media is reminding us that this isn’t Sterling’s first brush with racial issues – a year or so ago he was involved in a housing discrimination suit. Ironically he has been honored before by the NAACP and was in line to receive more honors next month.

I can’t imagine how the actual Clippers basketball players are feeling. It seems like they can go one of two ways with this – 1) play hard in spite of the idiot they work for, or 2) not play hard, and let it fall apart in protest of their idiot owner. They are truly between a rock and a hard place.

All I know is this – I’ve always thought of the Clippers as a low rent, low class organization that was owned by a petty, silly, immature (despite being over 80 years old) person. Why did I feel that way? I felt that way because, who in their right mind would move their team into the same facility as the beloved (by many but not me) and more successful LA Lakers, and subject themselves to ridicule by being known as LA’s “B team” or LA’s “junior varsity”? He flaunts his rich lifestyle by sporting a “girlfriend” (his estranged wife calls her his “gold-digging mistress”) who is in her 20’s court side at every home game.

It’s all surely a sad commentary on our society. Obviously Mr. Sterling is free to say what he wants, date who he wants, and own what he wants but he sure has solidified what many of us have thought for a long time – he’s simply an idiot with money and a huge god complex. Remember Mr. Sterling, all men are created equal in God’s eyes, and you Mr. Sterling are certainly no god.

Mountain Time

We’ve now had our Black Lab puppy, Mountain, since April and he’s grown so big! Mountain is our Guide Dog for the Blind puppy and we’re responsible for raising him (which includes socializing and teaching basic commands). He quickly became one of the family. Sadly though, we’re moving quickly to July 2014 when we have to take him to California and give him back to the Guide Dog organization. That will be a sad time and a happy time all the same. We will surely miss Mountain but he will move on and fulfill his calling of being a service dog.

Mountain has accompanied us just about everywhere. He’s been to places like church, the Supermarket, the Library, restaurants, and he’s also taken trips with us (he’s been to south Florida, and to New Orleans so far). He’s quite the magnet – people want to know if they can touch him, hug him, and so forth. Depending on how he’s doing that day behavior-wise most times we allow him to be approached and maybe patted as well.

Recently we attended a statewide guide dog training session in the Dallas – Ft. Worth Metroplex over a long weekend. It was great fun interacting with twenty other guide dog puppies of various ages. On the last day of the event most everyone went to downtown Ft. Worth for the Guide Dogs for the Blind’s version of “The Amazing Race”. We were grouped into teams and we had to travel around to various places in the downtown area to gather clues and perform tasks. Fortunately God had blessed us with a beautiful winter weather weekend with temps in the 60’s and sunny skies so walking all over downtown FW was a breeze. Mountain did well with everything that we had to do but I wonder what he was thinking when a couple of the tasks we had to perform included line dancing, and the chicken dance as well. For one, he probably thought that his trainers (us) couldn’t dance very well (especially me). He did well also when he had his first bus ride. We had to take a very crowded “Molly Trolley” to Sundance Square.

All in all it was a great experience. And we were blessed to do it with our boy, Mountain.

A new member of the family

MountainThursday, April 11 will go down as a big moment in the lives of me and my wife. It was on that evening that we took possession of a little bundle of joy – a Black Lab puppy named, Mountain. Several weeks ago we decided to work with Guide Dogs for the Blind to raise guide dog puppies.

On that Thursday we had arrived at the San Antonio Airport cargo facility with a combination of nervousness, excitement, and high hopes. When Mountain was placed in our arms and he looked up at us with his dark shiny eyes I think we both melted. It didn’t matter that he was a wiggly, wild, very vocal, and kind of smelly little fellow (he had flown in a crate with another pup all the way from San Francisco after all). It was truly a case of love at first sight.

There were four pups flown in that day – two for the newly formed San Antonio Guide Dogs for the Blind club, and two more for the Austin club. Hondo was the name of the other San Antonio club dog and he too was a cute Black Lab. Helping to make the occasion a huge success was the presence of two SA news crews. They filmed the event and later that evening on the 10:00 news all of San Antonio found out about the arrival of Mountain and Hondo! I’ve been amazed at how many people still watch the news as several friends and neighbors let us know that we were on the news.

So now it’s all about training and preparing Mountain for a life of service. That’s a huge undertaking and a wonderful privilege to be allowed to do so. And even though there will be frustrations as the house training commences, and poop patrol duties to tackle my wife and I treat it like a labor of love! Most of our friends want to know how we’re going to handle having to give Mountain back to the GDB in 15 months or so. I imagine it will be difficult to sever the bond we will undoubtedly form but the cool thing is to know that we had a hand in helping improve the quality of life of someone who’s visually impaired.

Welcome to the family Mountain. It’s going to be a great 15 months or so, I just know it!

Sweet memories, sweet cravings

Written 10/19/11
I’m taking a look back at Haughville, my old neighborhood on Indianapolis’ near Westside. It’s where I grew up. It’s where my elementary school, Wendell Philips School #63, was located. There have been many things, good and bad, that have come out of venerable old Haughville. Some great people, especially great athletes, fine ministers, probably some scholars (although I’m not aware of any but I imagine there had to be some), and no doubt some politicians, all came out of Haughville. The bad things that came out you may ask? I would say drug addicts, alcoholics, big time gangsters, hustlers, and more. But I’m not here to bash Haughville though. On the contrary I’m writing to pay homage to one of Haughvilles many fine landmarks that have stood the test of time and provided many a good “thing” to the community.
No I’m not talking about Municipal Gardens on Lafayette Road (and some would question whether that is even Haughville), or the Atkins Boys and Girls Club on 16th street. Both of those places played significant positive roles in my development and I love them to this day for providing a safe haven and an outlet for my energy. I’m not even talking about lovely Belmont Park, a place where I have great memories of playing hoops in the Dust Bowl tournaments that used to go on there. Maybe you think I’m going to mention the Christamore House, a fine institution that has served as the neighborhood’s community center for what seems like forever. And maybe you think I’ll talk about the Pixie Theatre that once stood on the corner of Holmes and 10th street. It was another place that I frequented with my homeboys on many a Saturday afternoon.
No, I’m here to talk about THE landmark…Longs Bakery! photo
For years now Longs has been selling probably the best donuts in Indianapolis from its two locations – Haughville (pictured) and on Southport Road. To know that the statement about the best donuts is true all you have to do is pay attention to the seemingly endless lines of people waiting to get their personal ticket to sweet bliss. And it doesn’t matter what day of the week, or time of day – Longs does a business. Although I haven’t stood in that line for a couple of years now I’m willing to bet that those donuts are still awesome. Long’s has been fattening up…er, I mean feeding the peoples of the Westside (and Southside) for as long as I can remember. Read their reviews on Urbanspoon.com and you’ll see that lots of folks agree with me on this.
At one time, Longs expanded to downtown Indy’s Union Station. That must have been back in the late 80’s or early 90’s when Union Station was the place to go for fun and food. I thought for sure that they would be a hit with that location but over time both Longs and Union Station faded away. I imagine that those people who live downtown now have to shell out a little more gas money to make the drive to 16th and Tremont to get “their fix”.
I grew up like many kids spending lots of my time outdoors playing games like hoops, baseball, football, and marbles (who in my audience remembers playing marbles?). At the end of a typical day if any of my friends and I had enough money for a dozen donuts there was only one place to go to satisfy that sweet craving – Longs Donuts. Since we were burning calories like crazy most days our physiques seemed to be able to handle the calories. That held true for most of my friends and me except for one person, appropriately nicknamed “Fat Ricky”. On a side note, Ricky was by far the best bowler of my circle of friends at the time. In the winter months we’d spend plenty of time rolling balls at the neighborhood bowling alley. He would put his “heft” behind the ball like no one else could and he got lots and lots of pin action. But Fat Ricky was at his non-bowling best, sad to say, at Longs. He and I would often split a dozen donuts (occasionally I couldn’t eat my six and he’d carry on for me). One infamous time we had enough cash to buy a small cake at Longs and a quart of ice cream. We had the best afternoon ever sitting on his front porch sharing that cake and ice cream. It’s no wonder why I find myself “battling the bulge” today because of my sweet tooth (honed at Longs no doubt). Sadly, my mom recently let me know that my friend,Fat Ricky, whom I hadn’t seen nor heard from in decades had passed away a few years ago.
Long’s carries on its tradition, feeding the peoples in the only way it knows how with some of the best donuts, cakes, and other treats that you’ll ever taste. Just remember to “taste” those wonderful, sugary treats in moderation.
Here’s to you Long’s Donuts.