Our Route 66 adventure has begun!

IMG_2474Our Route 66 odyssey is underway, although we won’t be grinding out the continuous miles and hours until mid-September. But the journey has started all the same. Here’s why…and how.

Since we live in northern Illinois, sixty miles from downtown Chicago, we have decided to take advantage of that and cover the Illinois portion of the trip before our planned September departure for Santa Monica, California. When that day arrives, we’ll leave home and make a beeline to St. Louis via the Interstates and resume our driving on Historic Route 66, saving us a few days that would have otherwise been spent doing Illinois.

Besides, we have a big Alaska cruise coming up in August, so we’ll obviously be busy with all of that and gone for several days. But what a fun day it was yesterday actually getting the Route 66 trip started!

By late morning, we’d driven to Michigan Avenue and immediately turned onto westbound Adams Street, directly in front of the famed Art Institute. Carolyn was the IMG_2475driver for the day so I could read the Route 66 tour books and snap pictures along the way at various highlights and roadside attractions.

The first such photo-op occurred as soon as we made the turn onto Adams. (See my selfie with sign in background!)

From that point, we followed the suggestions given in the two excellent guides I’d purchased a while back: EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahahan, published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation, and Traveling the New, Historic Route 66 of Illinois, by John Weiss, published by Historic 66, P.O. Box 66, Wilmington, Illinois.

 

IMG_2477.jpgWe found the famous Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant, a place that has beenIMG_2484.jpg there since 1923, and The Berghoff Restaurant before motoring on Adams, west out of Chicago, following present-day Ogden Avenue.

We next came to Cicero, where we passed the classic Henry’s Drive-In. The sign with a large hotdog with fries was easy to spot.
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Next we passed through Berwyn, Lyons, McCook, Hodgkins, Countryside, and Indian Head Park. Most of this stretch was commercial or industrial, but we got a pretty good sense of what it must have been like for this road to be the main route serving the entire area all those years ago. I found the quirky turns and angles along the way to be of great interest.

By now, we were both ready for lunch, and our timing couldn’t have been better as we came into Willowbrook, a place with which I am extremely familiar. Most of my teachingIMG_2492 career was spent there and just a stone’s throw from one of Route 66’s iconic places: Del Rheas Chicken Basket.

Carolyn had never eaten there, so it was a real treat for her and our first Route 66 meal on the epic journey now beginning!

We satisfied our hunger with the delicious lunch buffet of the best roast or fried chicken around, and enjoyed the various pieces of Route 66 memorabilia and artwork on display throughout the quaint restaurant.IMG_2498

Refueled, we were once more ready to get on the road and continue our journey. The route took us in a southwest direction now, through the town of Romeoville, where infamous Stateville Prison sits ominously  off to the right-hand side of the road.

Then it was on into Joliet where we IMG_2501wound our way to the Route 66 Visitor and Information Center. A quick visit, followed by a stop in the Gift Shop, and we were back in the car continuing on.

We passed Chicagoland Speedway and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. The whole area here was noted for the Joliet Arsenal begun in 1942, which made ammunition during World War II. Now, the area has been turned into the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Happy to report that the whole area has a happier, brighter, look and attitude about itself.

As we rolled into Wilmington shortly thereafter, we were greeted by the Gemini Giant and, a few minutes later, by Dino the Sinclair Dinosaur sitting atop an old service station-tire shop in town. Neat stuff, and part of the Route 66 lore!

Before long, we came to the Polk-a-Dot Drive-In in Braidwood and waved at Elvis, IMG_2514.jpgMarilyn Monroe, and James Dean as we passed by on our way to Gardner.

In Gardner we immediately came upon a bright Route 66 building that was adorned with Coca-Cola signs and logos.

The place turned out to be Perkins Wood & Glass Shop, whose proprietor is a friendly fellow named Tom Perkins. He and his “guard” dog Rufus came out to greet us as soon as we pulled up, and Tom filled us in on the local history of the place and his part in it. Then he took a couple of photos for us and gave us a quick tour of his small shop.

It was an enjoyable break from the road, but the afternoon was wearing on, and we were going to bring this first segment of our Illinois-66 travels to a halt and head for home soon.

Fortunately, home would be just a little over an hour’s drive north, so we bid farewell to Tom and Rufus, paid a quick visit to the Two Cell Jail and restored street car/diner across the way, and drove the short distance to the next town on the alignment, Dwight, where Route 47 intersected with the Historic 66 on which we were traveling.

At that point, we broke away from Historic 66 and headed up Route 47 to home. We’ll head back down to Dwight next Monday to pick up there and continue on down the line. And I’m sure there will be more photos and commentary to follow.IMG_2525.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

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TV sports, quiet T’giving, and Challenger memories…

Thanksgiving came…and went.

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Photo: rcwilley.com

Not the kind we’ve been used to for all those years, but we made it anyway and had a nice day with friends who were nice enough to include us in their day.

The weekend that followed was pleasant and quiet and perfect for getting the outdoor “stuff” done before the cold and snows of winter arrive. Best of all, there was plenty of time to enjoy college and pro football and some Blackhawks hockey. Without a doubt, I managed to take it all in!

By Sunday evening, though, having had enough TV football and hockey for one long weekend, I happened upon a documentary from CNN titled The 80s-The Tech Boom. And though I don’t usually watch CNN, I realized that this program was made up of actual archival news footage and would be presented in an unaltered and honest fashion. So I watched and enjoyed the hour-long show.

It was fun to see again the “cutting edge” gadgets that would become staples in our lives right on up to today. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the birth of the personal computer and the cell phone. It’s hard to imagine that what was “state of the art” not all that long ago, is so cumbersome and awkward looking by today’s standards.

Seeing young and fresh out-of-the-box geniuses such as the two Steves–Wozniak and Jobs–and a seemingly still-wet-behind-the-ears Bill Gates and Paul Allen was quite amazing. Watching all of this from a 2016 perspective adds an extra-special realization as to how far things have advanced in such a short period of time.

Near the end of the documentary, the focus shifted to the technology involved with NASA’s Shuttle Program, where things were full speed ahead for so many years, until the January 1986 launch of the Challenger, another one of those memorable moments in time for my family.

On that frigid morning, I was teaching a high school English class at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida. (It’s not named Astronaut by chance, since the Space Center and Cape Canaveral are located nearby.)

Following our dream to live in Florida, the previous summer I accepted a job in Titusville, and Carolyn and I and our two young kids moved there in time to start the new school year.

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Photo: ABC News

January 28, 1986,  began as usual, in a pretty normal manner for everyone in those parts. It seems as though most folks had become used to the regularity of the launches and had seemed complacent (?) in a way about the space program, although so many were employees of one of the many companies who worked for NASA in some capacity.

I suppose it’s human nature to take things for granted and not think too much about what could go wrong after such an outstanding long string of successful launches and missions. It’s not that folks didn’t care, it’s just that everyone thought that something terrible would never happen.

But on that cold Tuesday morning in Florida, terrible things certainly did happen!

I was first made aware of the explosion when one of my seniors, Danny, returned from one of his many trips to the restroom (to avoid class time, I’m sure!) with a serious expression and a tone that  instantly told me that he wasn’t joking around.

When he said, “The shuttle blew up,” I really hoped that he was, indeed, pulling everyone’s leg as he tended to do frequently. But he was dead serious, and I could now hear commotion in the hallways, as two girls nearly sprinted past the door in tears and panic in their efforts to get to where they were going.

It was one of those moments when everyone seems completely mired in the muck of trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how we should handle things. Soon, a school-wide announcement informed everyone that there had been an accident with the launch and any further information would be relayed at the appropriate time.

As so many others were doing, I hurried down the hall to the east side of the building where large windows provided  an open view out towards the Space Center and the Atlantic beyond. And it was then that I saw the brilliant blue sky filled with the snow-like contrails from the Challenger’s explosion, scattered and splattered in all sorts of directions. Anyone who has seen the famous photographs of this knows exactly what I mean.images.jpeg

I don’t really remember much else of the rest of the day other than getting home that afternoon and learning that our 3rd grader, Josh, and the rest of his classmates had witnessed the whole thing on the playground, as had Carolyn, daughter Laura, and my mom, who was visiting from Ohio. They had a pretty “up close and personal” vantage point along the river. It was my mom’s first time to view a launch.

That day certainly played a major role and turning point in our lives, one that would bring our time as residents of Florida to an end. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the reason I’m writing this from northern Illinois is all because of that terrible day in January 1986.

Now that Thanksgiving has faded and the Christmas and New Years holidays lurk, I know that another anniversary of the sad event on January 28, 1986, won’t be far behind. And I’ll remember…
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Oh, the places I have been…

I really can’t recall how the topic of being on, or near, the scene of some major

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newsworthy event came up the other night at a party we were hosting, but it made for some interesting conversation for a time with a friend over cold drinks. And long after the party had ended, and I was in the midst of my usual cleanup duties, many more thoughts on the topic flitted around in my head.

I’m pretty sure it was my friend who brought the whole thing up with his telling about his being in attendance at a Super Bowl and a Stanley Cup Championship game seven. True, they were important events, but in the large scope of things they really don’t seem as “crucial” as those events in which I found myself involved–purely by accident.

For instance, I couldn’t help but recall being literally “caught up” in the turmoil and fury that was the violence perpetrated by those wonderful, “clean-cut” protestors in downtown Chicago during the 1968 Democrat National Convention.

A high school friend from Ohio had just flown in for a visit, since my family had recently moved to the Chicago area that summer, and we all had enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of the cool restaurants on Michigan Avenue early that evening.

ac8248ca6f7f8f6e27265332b976fdea.jpgAfterwards, as we began a leisurely stroll along the avenue, things erupted all around us. Suddenly, the police were swarming and moving people from the area. It didn’t take long to realize that they were pretty serious about their efforts! I recall being sort of trapped near one of the famous lions in front of the Art Institute when I was instructed to get moving, which I gladly did. Staring down the barrel of a riot gun is a bit unsettling.

About the same time, another hord of the “clean cuts” decided to battle back and began one of its signature clashes with the Chicago police. My friend and I somehow avoided the confrontation and hurried back across the avenue to find my parents and sister, which wasn’t easy since that area seemed just as wild and manic as the one we’d just vacated.

Fortunately, we managed to hook up with them and make our way the few blocks to the lot where the car was parked. Without further hesitation, we got out of the boiling city as quickly as possible.

Yep, that was the evening that has become infamous over the years—for both cops and the protestors—and one that will always evoke not-so-pleasant feelings whenever I see a picture of those Art Institute lions!

I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time. I’ll write of that period in the next few posts.

 

 

Autumn down many roads…

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When last I wrote here, we had closed the cottage we’ve rented for several years on a lake in Michigan, sold our pontoon and watched it disappear from our lives on a trailer soon after I drove it onto same at the public launch site, and had busied ourselves with the lovely chore of finding places here at home for any “leftover” lake things that we didn’t wish to part with. Glad to report that all of that is finished!

And it was still pretty much summer, with temperatures riding most days in the mid- to high 80s, our air conditioning getting in an extended workout for several days thereafter.

But, as always happens, the calendar rolled around to September 22—the  first day of autumn, (and, by the way, our older grandson’s birthday). The changes—slight as they were—began to appear, showing signs of the new season.

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Trees sported various hues of rust and gold. Fields of tall green corn became khaki-clad acres, and the thick bean field (a vibrant green all summer) out beyond our house, now a brown rug. Both patiently await the harvest that is sure to come—soon. And by then, autumn will be full-blown into the most wonderful season that it is!

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Pumpkins and apples and doughnuts and cider and corn mazes at the many farms and orchards and roadside stands so plentiful out here away from the big city, will allure folks from near and far during these next wonderful weeks ahead. On those splendid sun-drenched days, with clear blue skies and an air that requires a nice sweatshirt, everyone will feel alive and happy that autumn has arrived.

It’s a time, too, whenever I have to drive someplace, that I insist on avoiding major highways and any other well-traveled roads. I’ve learned that there are more ways to get to a place, even though it might take a bit longer!

The venerable homesteads and farms in this part of Illinois, glorious in their appearance, surrounded by expansive and seemingly endless fields of corn and beans, provide a magnificent spectacle and panorama as I roll by along the sun-dappled country road. This

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experience always conjures up thoughts and imaginings about who might have travelled these very roads down through the years, long before my time. What stories they could impart!

Back home, I grab a juicy honey crisp apple and settle into my favorite chair on the deck, enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine, feeling the chill of the coming evening ever so slightly as I take one more look out over the scene that has so quickly been transformed into the glory of autumn.

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Morning thoughts from JollyYet…

Oh, what a beautiful morning…

100_4645.jpgWriting this from the cottage (JollyYet) porch this morning, I’m visited by my friends the hummingbirds, who can’t decide which of the two feeders to patronize, and so keep zooming back and forth betwixt the two. IMG_1812.jpg

Off to my right, about thirty feet away, are the two “regular” bird feeders (which are going to need refilling today), where a hungry rose-breasted grosbeak picks and pecks away at the remaining grains and seeds. A couple of hopeful chipmunks are on point below, awaiting the sloppy habits of the birds above, knowing that they’ll be IMG_1797.jpgrewarded soon.

The lake, for a mid-week Wednesday morning, is unusually noisy and busy. Already a fast ski boat has passed by below, a talented skier in tow shouting instructions over the din of the motor. Another large and loud one slowly made its way into my atmosphere a short while ago, blasting some equally loud and annoying hip-hop/rap “tune” through its massive speakers mounted on the overhead tow bar. Please…

But, nothing is forever. Like the boats and skiers and noise that show up but eventually go away, so is our summer life at this wonderful, old resort tucked away under the giant oaks and maples and dogwoods.

On such a morning as this (and there have been quite a few this summer), I realize how much this place has meant to me the seventeen summers we’ve been coming up here. And I’m finally realizing that there are but a few weeks remaining in our role as summer “lakers.”

As I wrote in an earlier post, this is to be our last summer taking a cottage. We began discussing this about a year ago and agreed that we’d do it one more summer, especially since Carolyn would be retired from a long career in the hair dressing business and could spend more time here during the summer weeks. And now those weeks are winding down to when we have to close up and be out of here: September 17. Our reasons for giving it up are many, and I will share those in a future post very soon.

We’re having some company over the Labor Day weekend, which is always a very busy time here, and it should be lots of fun, although we’ll be pulling the pier out then (for the last time!) and we’ll be seriously getting things packed up and taken home or into the dumpster. We’re hoping that whoever will be occupying this place after us would like to have the various futons and other items we are happy to leave here for them. We shall see.

IMG_1201.jpgAnd so, the morning edges along with wonderful breezes and pleasant temperatures. I am here until early Saturday morning, when I’m heading home for a few days to attend our grandson’s first football game and, of course, take care of mowing, etc.

Carolyn left for home yesterday, allowing me to be here by myself to work on my writing for the remainder of the week. And that’s how I’ll be spending the rest of my morning here on the porch of JollyYet, my fine, feathered friends close by, and the waters calm and quiet out in front once more.

Lucky me!

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Summer reading…my list

images.jpegLast week I mentioned that I’ve been doing more reading than writing, and though I should probably feel guilty, I really don’t. I guess it’s because I don’t always have much to say, but I always have the desire to read. And so my mornings usually are given over to reading in the peace and quiet of the cottage on Magician Lake.

Although I enjoy fiction, my tastes have really turned more toward non-fiction, specifically biographies and history. I like to keep a pattern of alternating between the various types, following a biography with a good thriller or mystery.

So far this summer, these are the books and authors I’ve finished and enjoyed, in one way or another:

  1. Stealing America-(Dinesh D’Souza) – An intriguing work that explains a lot of things about the current state of the Democrat Party.
  2. The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball-(Charles Fountain) – For baseball fans who enjoy the history of the game, and for a White Sox fan such as I, this is a wonderful book that provides so much background of the circumstances that helped create the most notorious scandal in the history of Major League Baseball, the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
  3. Sycamore Row-(John Grisham) – Another fine legal tale from Grisham that is a sequel to his first successful novel A Time to Kill. The main character, Jake Brigance, is once again caught up in a very strange case that keeps one turning the pages to see how the whole thing will turn out.
  4. The Edisons of Fort Myers: Discoveries of the Heart-(Tom Smoot) – I bought this book on our trip to Fort Myers, Florida, where we visited the Edison-Ford Estate in March. It was a fascinating work that explained how Edison came to Fort Myers in the first place and his love of the community, making this his winter home for many years.
  5. Papa: Hemingway in Key West-(James McLendon) – This is another book I picked up on our recent Florida trip, specifically in Key West. Hemingway’s life and times in Key West and how the “Papa” myth grew is explained in this nice little book. Makes one want to dash on down for a cold drink at Sloppy Joe’s!
  6. Night-(Elie Wiesel) – This very small—but extremely powerful—book has rested on my home bookshelves for quite a long time, with my having every intention to sit down and read it. Ironically, when I packed this in with the other books to take up to the cottage, I had no idea that the author would pass away shortly thereafter. This is Elie Wiesel’s recounting of the horror that came to his family and other Jews during the tragic Hitler years, before any kind of help in the form of liberation eventually materialized. It is the story of perseverance in the face of hopelessness and inhumanity. Rest in peace, Elie Wiesel! Your story shall not be forgotten, nor any of those people who suffered.
  7. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty-(Charles Leerhsen) – Another biography and baseball book about one of the game’s greatest players, yet historically misunderstood. The book enlightened me as to the misconceptions I have always held about Ty Cobb, who was cast as a racist and overall mean person on and off the field. Leerhsen provides clear evidence that just the opposite was actually the true picture of Cobb.
  8. The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindberg, and the Epic Age of Flight-(Winston Groom) – The author has interwoven the stories of these three Americans who showed uncommon courage and never backed down from the challenges they faced in the world of aviation. It seems as though when faced with daunting adversity, each of these Americans ratcheted up his inner fortitude and met the challenges head on.

images-2.jpegThere are still several weeks remaining, and I do plan to devote much of that time to my writing. But there are still more books to read and enjoy as well.

What's next to read?

Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training-(Charles Fountain) Yep, another baseball book, but what can I say? There’s always room for books about baseball in the good, old summertime! Can’t wait to get to it.  🙂

What are some of your favorite summer reads this year?

That morning I’ve been awaiting…

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The “lane” through the cherry orchard to the cottage

It rained sometime in the pre-dawn hours. I heard its pleasant patter on the roof above my head upstairs as I was about to get up to put the coffee on. I pulled the covers back over me and lay there and enjoyed the sound.

Now, a couple of hours later, it’s gray, a slight breeze ruffles the wind chimes out here on the screened porch, and all is quiet on the lake and surrounding land. No wave runners or zealous ski boats are churning things up this morning as the “reality” of mid-week settles in.

Coffee cup filled now, it’s time for me to get to “work.” My trusty MacBook has waited patiently these past few days for me to be inspired enough to fire it up and catch up on my writing. Instead, my mornings have been given over to reading rather than the creation of my own words, and all of the noise and excitement of the 4th of July weekend wasn’t too conducive for getting any kind of writing going, either.

This morning is different, though. My current “read”–The Aviators–rests inside and will stay inside until I’m finished with this post and some work on the novel.  Later, we’re heading away from the lake for lunch and a visit to an Outlet Mall in Michigan City. With the change in the weather, I suppose it’s a good day for that, too.

With some company arriving this coming weekend, I guess getting this sort of weather out of the way now is a good thing, and, besides, it is that inspiration for me to start up the MacBook and get back to writing! Let’s hope so…

In my next post, I will share my thoughts about all of those books I’ve read rather than spend time writing. Which causes me to wonder: When did/do all of the good and famous authors find time to read and get their writing done?

Have a good week, everyone. 🙂IMG_0866.jpg