The few things I will miss about Rosemont
Since August I've been temporarily working in Rosemont, where my company is based. This has required a long, tiring drive (85-mile roundtrip) on clogged expressways, and cramped office space. But tomorrow, I return to downtown Chicago, to a newly built office and a resumption of my daily train ride. Rosemont isn't much to speak of and I'm glad to be leaving, but there are a few things I will miss about the area.
Late lunches at Mac's Restaurant in Park Ridge, where they serve a great club sandwich and always greeted me with a smile. I always found quiet satisfaction at being their last customer of the day, before they closed up at 2:30.
Unobstructed sunsets over O'Hare.
A parking garage that was unexpectedly photogenic if I looked carefully enough.
Okay, the fact that one of the three things that I'll miss about Rosemont is a parking garage should tell you how little I'll miss the place.
What else could I be, all apologies...
My apologies for the intermittent posting here. For the rest of this year I'm working in a different office, one with little privacy and no opportunity to blog. Even worse, I now have to drive to work instead of taking the train, which has eliminated my prime reading time. (So much so that I now eat my brown-bag lunch in my car in a forest preserve parking lot, while reading. Not as ideal as the train, but I'm getting by so far.) Not being able to blog at work, and having less time to read the literature which has been my primary subject matter, will mean much less posting here for the next few months. I'll blog on weekends now and then when something comes to mind that I want to share with my small readership, and with any luck things will get closer to normal early next year when I should be working downtown again.
Fifteen years ago today.
My daughter Maddie created this new logo for the blog. I love old neon, and totally dig this. I'm not sure it fits the current design of the blog, but if I ever do a gut redesign (which is probably overdue anyway) this might become the new banner.
Fading Ads and Fading AIDS
My great friend Frank Jump is refining his Fading Ad Campaign series of fading ad photographs, and will soon be incorporating vintage ads into portraits of fellow AIDS survivors, such as the photo of Steed Taylor and the Griffon Shears ad shown above.
As this project has matured and I have become a long-term survivor, the original metaphor of the Fading Ad Campaign that rang true for me fifteen years ago still resounds, but the overtones have modulated. Although I continue to utilize these images to draw light upon the fading problem of AIDS, fostering awareness isn’t the primary focus anymore as is the condition of the aging survivors, many of whom have lost their fear of dying from AIDS but are succumbing to age-related illnesses and complications from pharmacological toxicities. Through this campaign, my life mission is to continue to shed light on this lingering issue that still affects many of us in the LGBTQ community.
Frank has always seen fading ads as a metaphor for perseverance and survival, but this series of portraits and interviews with AIDS survivors will undoubtedly make that connection even stronger. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.
Spruce grove at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. This weekend the three of us did a long hike through the arboretum, where we hadn't visited since Maddie was a toddler. Beautiful place - it's the former estate of the Morton family (of Morton Salt fame) and includes everything from thick forest to savannas to marshes to prairie to formal gardens. The Mortons were pioneering naturalists (the family patriarch was the founder of Arbor Day) and their legacy has been lovingly maintained at the arboretum. We really enjoyed our visit and plan to return regularly, the next being a month or two from now for the autumn foliage.
MadmanYears ago, while on a meandering drive through my native McHenry County, I came across a old steel bridge that spanned a railroad. (If you've read Wheatyard, this bridge partly inspired the creek scene from early in the book.) This was near Harvard, a town which once billed itself as "the milk capital of the world." Spray-painted on the bridge supports, amongst many other names and messages, was one that has stuck with me: "Milk City Madman."
That name still makes me smile, and I can't help wondering what that guy is like now, and how much "madness" he has retained. My guess is that he's now thick around the middle from too many weekend afternoons on the couch with sixpacks of Bud Light, and has four kids, a roof that needs repairs and, in the back of the garage, a snowmobile that hasn't been ridden in fifteen years. Just a hunch.
Reading Hornby on my honeymoonCoudal Partners' Field Tested Books is a great series of essays in which readers discuss books they've read while on vacation, and how the books and locales impacted each other. The series just posted my essay which reflects on the experience of reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity while on my honeymoon in Alaska, thirteen years ago. Many thanks to Steve Delahoyde for running my piece.
Oh, man, I love this. Spitalfields Life presents this 1966 Matchbox collectors guide and photographs of the production line at the Lesney factory, which was located in London's East End. Of the nearly eighty Matchboxes shown, there are at least ten or fifteen that I had as a child (Maddie has them now), though I now see that I missed out on the true gem: #74, the Mobile Refreshment Bar.
"The Tell-Tale Heart"Yesterday was the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born on January 19, 1809. Poe is one of my childhood favorites, so I marked the occasion by re-reading "The Tell-Tale Heart", the first Poe story that I ever encountered. The story is a masterpiece of tightly-wound mania, and remarkably short and concise given Poe's penchant for long-winded, florid prose. If you haven't read the story in a while, do yourself a favor and read it again. It's truly great.
My wonderful fourth-grade teacher, Patrick Murphy, read "The Tell-Tale Heart" aloud to our enraptured class. It was one of many reading choices (Beowulf and Shakespeare were others) which seemed pretty advanced for fourth graders (and my class wasn't exactly packed with intellectuals), which was one of the things I loved about Mr. Murphy. He never underestimated or talked down to us, and encouraged us to pursue our passions, even if that meant we were out of our desks for much of the school day. He was one of the best teachers I ever had.
All Our Bookcases
This is the first in a series of photographs of the many bookcases in our house. With all of us being serious readers, we own thousands of books which are scattered across almost every room in the house, with only minimal organization. Mostly the books end up wherever they'll fit, which always makes for pleasant hunting the next time we're looking for them.
This bookcase is in our bedroom, on top of my dresser. Both the dresser and shelf are from my boyhood home (someday we'll have new and unified bedroom furnishings, but with an old house there's never any shortage of renovations to pay for, so this will have to do for now). Generally, the books here are still unread - highlights include The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition: Skyscraper Design and Cultural Change in the 1920s by Katherine Solomonson (who happens to be my cousin), Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun by Robert Ferguson and Echo House by Ward Just. Unlike most of our bookcases, this one also houses various non-book items, highlights of which include a Fighting Illini football nesting doll (bought by my sister in, of all places, St. Petersburg, Russia), various family photographs (including one of my dad in his twenties) and an official Northern League baseball that I found in the alley across the street from Joliet's Silver Cross Field (I'm guessing it was a foul ball that was never found).
I promise that future additions to this series will have better lighting and resolution. I took this photo at night with only ambient light - every flash photo I attempted inexplicably had a big circle of glare.
First lines, 2012As another year winds down, it's time to get self-indulgent again, and post the first line from the first blog post of each month of 2012.
January: I've written poetry from email spam in the past, piecing together one line each from various random spams I've received.
February: A small East Coast press, which I greatly admire, has apparently declined Wheatyard without even telling me.
March: Yesterday I wrote my twenty-fifth and final letter of the Month of Letters project.
April: Oh wow, oh wow.
May: Proust may have had his madeleines, but Ralph Ellison had his yams.
June: Another bad jobs report today - only 69,000 jobs created in May.
July: The Chicago architecture blog designslinger has a nice feature today on the Chicago Daily News Building, where I worked for five years for my previous employer.
August: This is one of the sharpest observations that I've ever encountered about American politics.
September: Chicago literary mastermind Jason Pettus has come up with a new twist on his annual fall anthology at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.
October: Apparently I'm a writer again.
November: The top photo is a 1929 image of the fountain on the plaza at the Chicago Daily News Building.
December: Jeff Sypeck passes along the story of a curious used bookstore find...
Found poetry, Wheatyard rejection, writing letters, vintage signage, Ellison's yams, economics, architecture, politics, literature as serialized podcasts, another GalleyCat remix project, architecture, serendiptious find at the used bookstore. Interesting to note that: only seven of the twelve are literature-related (further reason to continue not thinking of this as a litblog); two of the twelve involved the Chicago Daily News Building (which is hardly an obsession of mine); and only one was a manuscript rejection (most of those must have come mid-month).
Boy's gotta have it.
Drool. Though at a list price of $240 (plus $50 for refills), this boy won't be having it until he finally cashes in that $500 million Powerball ticket.
Garrick Restaurant, 1963
This 1963 photo of a Chicago parking garage is pretty cool, but even cooler for me is the inset photo above, which shows the front of the Garrick Restaurant, where my dad ate lunch every day for fifteen or twenty years before his office moved out to the suburbs. (I'd like to pretend that the dark-suited man just reaching the front door is him, but given the odds that would be just wildest fantasy on my part.) Though I've seen a few interior photos that my brother took during a downtown visit in the early 1970s, this is the first time I've seen the outside of the building. Nice.
We just got home from a week's vacation in Orlando. For the most part we relaxed at our resort, though we did go to Universal Studios for a day and made several stops at the Downtown Disney shopping area at Disney World. On vacation I always look for one small souvenir as a memento. This time nothing really grabbed me, but as we were leaving Universal and walking through Seuss Landing, I suddenly remembered something I saw hours earlier. We popped into the store where I had seen it, and walked out with the fantastic print shown above. It was affordably priced and in a standard size for easy framing, so the choice was an easy one to make.
Though I've always liked Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle was one of only two Seuss books I remember owning as a child. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas was the other.) I reread the book during college, and was struck by how easily it could be read as a tale of social justice and class warfare, and it wasn't until years later that I realized how politically-charged many of the Seuss books were, which made them much more interesting to read to my young daughter than mere childrens' stories would have been. I'm looking forward to admiring the cover print on my wall every day.
It's interesting what you can find when you finally weed a long-neglected flower bed. This summer I've been gradually cleaning out the bed in our front yard. We're rarely in the front yard due to its proximity to the noisy four-lane street we live on, and with all the work to be done in the rest of the yard, the front is usually the last part I get around to.
To my pleasant surprise, cleaning out the weeds has uncovered a tiny pine forest. That first photo is of the granddaddy - over two feet tall, but usually completely obscured by a big stand of ornamental grass. The others are smaller (six inches or less) and were smothered by weeds. Instead of pulling up these seedlings (saplings?), I've decided to let them grow. The big one started growing last year and was able to survive the winter, so I want to see if the others survive as well.
I know that, left unchecked, all of these would eventually overwhelm the yard (I've heard that pines excrete acid into the soil to kill off other plant competitors), so if they survive until next year, I would like to replant these in some woods somewhere. Ideally they would be moved to land owned by someone I know, and where I could watch their progress over the years. But if I have to sneak these into a forest preserve, then so be it.
This Sunday, August 12, my daughter Maddie and her band, Nuclear Plankton, are performing in Minipalooza, a benefit rock festival. Minipalooza is a great program put together by West Side Music (where Maddie has been taking guitar lessons for the last two and a half years) which organizes kids into bands, who then rehearse a handful of songs every week and finally perform at the festival. There will be three kid bands performing, plus two "grownup" bands. I've heard Nuclear Plankton practice a few times, and they're really good - at Minipalooza they'll be doing "I Love Rock and Roll" (with Maddie belting out the lead vocal, with a great Joan Jett snarl), the Beatles' "Come Together", the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" and the Surfaris' "Wipeout."
Minipalooza should be a lot of fun for the whole family (all-ages show!), cheap ($5 cover), and for a good cause - the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It's at Live 59 in Plainfield (16108 Route 59, between Renwick Road and Fraser Road), starting at 2 PM. If you happen to be in the area on Sunday afternoon, please consider attending. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!
Run, er, walk for the border
I really can't agree with the raves for the customer service at this Taco Bell, unless it's improved dramatically since the mid 1990s. A friend of mine used to live nearby, and after a night of drinking we walked over to Taco Bell, only to find the dining room closed. The drive-through was doing its usual booming late-night business, so we attempted a walk-through, ordering at the menu board and waiting in line between two cars. But when we got up to the window, they refused to serve us, saying we had to be in a car. Fortunately, the driver of the car behind us let us climb into his backseat. He pulled the car up to the window, we paid for and got our food, and then he pulled up a little further and let us out again. Nice guy.
(Via Gapers Block.)
Happy Father's Day!
2002: my dad, John Anderson; Maddie, then a few months short of 2, and me, with much more hair. This morning I was looking for a photo of Maddie and me, and was very pleased to find this one, which I don't remember seeing before. We have very few photos of just the three of us, so this one is extra special.
My dad and I didn't always see eye to eye, but he was a great dad and I was lucky to be his son. I hope I'm as good a dad - though a quite different dad - to Maddie.
Thirteen years ago today, I married my best friend in the world, and the best friend I could ever hope to have. Julie amazes me every single day, and I can't begin to describe how lucky I am that we found each other. I can't imagine being without her - I can't quite say "lost", because I would be fully aware of where I was. I just wouldn't like that place very much. I'm very grateful to be right where we are.
Farewell, noble stallion
That photo is our beloved '95 Honda Civic, nicknamed Zyx, which we finally sold today after seventeen years, 109,000 miles (most of those during its first five years), and a few too many years of neglect on my part. It was Julie's car before we first got together, and sort of became mine after she started a new job in the city that was walking distance from our house (and thus she no longer needed the car for work) and she worried that my decrepit Ford Probe was no longer safe to drive to Oak Brook every day. I had never even driven stick-shift before Zyx, but Julie patiently taught me how - and I must have been a good learner, because the car still has the original clutch.
When we moved to Joliet and I worked from home for two years, the car mostly just sat in the garage, and then when I started working downtown and took the train, I only drove it to and from the train station, just a few miles each day - so during the past twelve years it's only been driven a few thousand miles. Reliable as it was, though, Zyx became superfluous when we bought Julie's Fit three years ago, and kept the Civic sedan that I now drive to the train. Since then Zyx has sat, undriven and rather ignominiously, first in the driveway and most recently in the street.
We finally decided Zyx's time had come, and sold it to the father of a girl from Maddie's gymnastics class. Soon it will be fixed up and driven by the family's teenage son when he starts driving. I hope it's now in good hands, and will give him years of reliable driving, as reliable as it was for us. Hondas are truly great cars, of which Zyx is just one example. We never had any major problems with the car, which never required anything more than regular maintenance and occasional replacement of basic parts like brake pads and such.
Though we knew it was time, we're still going to miss Zyx, which has been part of our lives for so long. The other night Maddie and I took one last spin around the block, and it was as fun to drive as ever. Loud - it needs a new muffler - but fun. So long, Zyx.
On Friday night, I had a very ominous dream. (Might have become a nightmare, had I slept longer.) We were sitting in our car, just outside of a military base. We were trying to drive inside, but the base seemed to be on some sort of high-alert lockdown. Then I was in a corporate conference room with several apparent work colleagues, and we were being addressed by some executive. He prefaced his remarks by pointing out how each one us, while from different backgrounds, had come together and done so much for each other. The message seemed unsettlingly like those post-9/11 appeals for unity and strength, and my impression is that the executive was about to deliver some devastating news, on the order of a nuclear or terrorist attack. Then I woke up, bringing the dream to an inconclusive end.
Downstairs in the kitchen, as I began to feed our cats, I remembered my dream. Though it didn't greatly concern me, it still stuck in my mind. It occurred to me to check my phone, just to make sure a global catastrophe hadn't occurred overnight that my dream was a premonition of. The first news site I have bookmarked is the Chicago Tribune, and when I pulled that up the first two headlines were "Jeffery a controversial pick for Bears" and "Bulls can alleviate anxiety only with championship."
I breathed a mild sigh of relief, knowing that even the Tribune wouldn't run two sports stories ahead of a catastrophe. Trifling mundanity was safe for another day.
Mi compadre Ben Tanzer scores another Book Notes piece* at Largehearted Boy, this time for the anniversary reissue of his debut novel, Lucky Man.
I am looking back, but I am also looking at now, and I am trying to make sense of something, nostalgia, emotions, decisions made and not made, and what the music means to me, the characters I write about and the stories we tell.
Lucky Man, incidentally, was what basically launched our friendship. We first met at a RAGAD reading we both did at MoJoe's in Chicago in 2007, and afterward I bought a copy of the book from him. With both of us working in the Loop, lunch soon ensued, which has now become a regular gig, along with our collaboration on This Zine Will Change Your Life and the occasional flurry of witty emails. Though I'm partial to the original cover design, I also admire the reissue's vivid cover (by Ryan Bradley) for its allusion to the four main characters.
(*If I could score even one of these, I might just immediately retire from writing.)
Julie's Supper Club
Oh wow, oh wow. Would I love to own this sign.
Counting sheep, the writer's version
Lately I've rarely been able to sleep straight through the night. Inevitably I wake up at about 2 or 3 a.m., much too alert, and struggle to get back to sleep. (I wonder if there's something this myth of the eight-hour sleep business after all.) Though tempting, I try not think through whatever fiction project I'm working on at the time - conjuring settings and plot situations are much too mentally engaging for me to get sufficiently drowsy. And counting sheep has never really worked for me.
I've recently hit on a trick that seems to work, which I'll call first name-last name. One challenge faced by fiction writers is inventing characters' names, which fit both their personalities and backgrounds while also being poetic or at least memorable. So my trick is to randomly think of a first name, and then a last name that goes with it. Frequently the initial last name chosen creates the name of a celebrity (which would be cheating and not at all creative), so if I have "Robert" and first think of "DeNiro", I abandon that last name and think of another, such as "Woodside." And after Robert Woodside, I think of a new first name that begins with W, and continue on from there. I know this might also sound too mentally engaging for drowsiness, but the names come and go quickly, in a free-association sort of way, and their steady progression usually lulls me back to sleep.
Try it sometime. The only thing I warn is to not choose too many last names that begin in L or M - I often find myself gravitating toward the center of the alphabet, and before long I've run out of the standard L or M first names and have to settle for Langley and Mervin. Try for the ends of the alphabet instead.
"Give it five minutes."
Month of Letters draws to a satisfying close
Yesterday I wrote my twenty-fifth and final letter of the Month of Letters project. (Technically, it was only supposed to be 24 letters - one for each day the post office was open during February - but I hand-delivered my letter to Julie to be sure she'd have it on her birthday. She appreciated the letter but insisted on getting delivered through the mail, so I wrote her a second one yesterday.)
It was a great experience, and from the feedback I've gotten it seems like people really enjoyed getting a hand-written letter in the mail. Letter-writing is such an anachronism in this era of email and text messaging, and has obvious limitations in terms of timeliness. But it also requires the writer to really slow down and reflect more on what's being written, and I think the message is better for that extra thought even though it takes a few extra days to arrive. I've already gotten several letters in reply, including: one written on a deli bag; a dense thirteen-pager packed into a box whose wonderful contents I've promised not to divulge; and some sky charts from an astronomer in New Mexico which allowed us to watch the International Space Station pass overhead this week. And several more people have promised to write back, which I'm very much looking forward to.
My own letters were a varied bunch. Most dwelled on my own life - family, career, writing - while a few others were about the recipient and how much that person means to me. One letter was a rambling travelogue of my evening train ride (where I wrote most of the letters) and another was a short story written in one hour, between Chicago and Joliet. The importance of this project to me was two-fold: first, it instilled the habit of writing every day (a practice I don't observe with my fiction writing, though I really should); and second, it forced my out of my introverted shell in reaching out to others. I think the project was good for me, and hope my correspondents appreciated my effort.
Boy's gotta have it.
An anniversary of sorts
Fifteen years ago today, I had my first date with Julie, the woman who would soon become the love of my life. It was actually an accidental date - we worked together, and planned to meet a co-worker and her sister at The Cue Club, an upscale pool hall in Chicago on Sheffield near Diversey. But there was a big snowstorm, and the other two couldn't make the drive in from the suburbs, leaving Julie and me (we both lived in the city) to ourselves. I had been interested in her for more than a year but still hadn't gotten up the courage to ask her out, and so that evening (with plenty of pool and many drinks) proved to be the perfect opportunity to get better acquainted. Julie has readily admitted ever since that she had no interest in me before that night, but something was definitely sparked there, and when I finally asked her out later that week she enthusiastically agreed. We've been together ever since.
Interestingly enough, that was the only time we were ever at The Cue Club together. The place closed years ago, as did the locale of our first formal date, Dolce Vita on Armitage. Fortunately our relationship has fared far better than either of those two places.
Boy's gotta have it.
This past weekend, I found this interesting snapshot in a box of old family photos. As you can see, it's a man standing outside a movie theater (the poster is for Jezebel, starring Bette Davis), apparently on his way inside. Based on the man's general build, hair color and attire (hat cocked to the right), along with the fact that the photos in the box are all from my mom's family, I'm pretty sure this is my grandfather. The movie's appearance dates the photograph at 1938. I'm very glad to have this unique view; almost all of the other photos in the box are standard, straight-on posed shots, but this one almost has an artsy feel to it.
Special thanks to Michael Leddy for identifying the movie, based on just that visible portion of the poster.
Month of Letters - REMINDER!
Just a reminder that I'm doing Month of Letters right now. The first two letters are already mailed, but at the moment I only have two other people who have indicated interest in hearing from me. If you want a good, old-fashioned, hand-written anachronism filled with my generally lucid musings, drop me an email (pete_anderson [AT] comcast [DOT] net) with your snail mail address. Or if you're sure I already have your address, then just leave a comment below. I may even include some thoughtfully chosen ephemera with your letter. Don't miss out!
Boy's gotta have it.
Sweet book, sweet history, sweet design.
Maddie, 11-year-old blogger.
Month of Letters
I think I'll give this a try: The Month of Letters Challenge.
I have a simple challenge for you.1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.All you are committing to is to mail 24 items.
2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
Care to hear from me via good old-fashioned snail mail? Drop me your address at pete_anderson [AT] comcast [DOT] net. I can't guarantee that whatever I send will be earth-shattering or even enlightening, but I'll do my best. (And now, thanks to this project, Aztec Camera's "We Could Send Letters" will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.)
(Via Boing Boing.)
Boy's gotta have it.
First lines, 2011
The last time I ran a "first lines meme" here was in 2007, and since I so enjoyed that self-indulgence then and it's very slow at the office this week, I thought I'd run it again. Below are the first lines from my first blog post of each month of 2011. The skinny: Royko and drinking, novel writing update, indie rock, local publisher, bad poetry, Summer of Classics, photography and Chicago history, politics, obsessing over a single phrase from a 100+ year old novel, Maurice Sendak, saving an architectural relic, Joliet history and my tenuous connection to it. Yes, that covers most of my obsessions, though admittedly I don't really think about Sendak that often.
January: Mike Royko, "How To Ease That Hangover" (2.7mb download)
February: Hüsker Dü did the job last evening, and I eked out three or four pages of line edits.
March: The iPod shuffle-played the following for my walk from train to office...
April: Chicago-centric publisher Lake Claremont Press is running a sale on its stock of returned books.
May: For the same reason that I once avidly watched such cringeworthy TV fare as The A-Team, The Tim Conway Show and Quincy, I can't help but appreciate the sheer awfulness of the poem "Abbottabad".
June: "The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." -Thomas Hardy
July: I was pleased to recently see the first photo, shown above, at Shorpy.com.
August: The really mind-boggling thing about the budget mess is that the debate could be this acrimonious without any of the final proposals including even a tiny increase in taxes.
September: I have a new post up at the Contrary Magazine blog, about a single phrase from Jude the Obscure.
October: The Guardian has a great profile of Maurice Sendak.
November: The rapidly-expanding electronics chain H.H. Gregg reportedly plans to buy and demolish the former Michael Brand Brewery complex at 2500 N. Elston, for a new store location.
December: Here's an interesting historical piece in the Joliet Herald-News about the old Porter Brewery, including a column by the late John Whiteside on the Feds' attempted crackdown during Prohibition.
My retro/throwback/old-school/geezer self loves this. I have two of these computers in my messenger bag, and use them daily.
(Via The Week Behind.)
Hilton Head, Day 9
Day 9: Berea, KY to Joliet
Not much to say about Kentucky, expect that even if Google Maps tells you there's a Starbucks on the north end of Richmond, you shouldn't necessarily believe it, and you definitely shouldn't bypass the Starbucks that you saw earlier, right next to the expressway. Our unexpected and unnecessary detour ended with us getting back on the expressway without stopping, and finally grabbing coffee in Lexington. Oh, and also that Kentucky handles ramp closures better than they do in North Carolina. Unlike our Asheville misadventure, the detour signs in Louisville easily got us onto I-65, over the bridge and into Indiana.
After all of the thrilling mountains, curvy roads and ramp closures of the southern end of our drive, it was almost comforting to get back to the flat, predictable terrain of the Midwest; that's a typical Indiana view in the first photo. And definitely comforting to finally get back home, where our lonely cats were thrilled to see us. (Julie's family did check in on them daily while we were away, so the cats weren't neglected.) That second photo is Mud sitting on my lap, where she hopped up within seconds of me plunking down on the couch - and she didn't seem to stop purring for about two or three days. We felt likewise. Great trip, but great to be home.
Hilton Head, Day 8
Day 8: Hilton Head to Berea, KY
Saturday was the first leg of our long drive home. We packed up the car and drove off the island. Though we do enjoy Java Joe's in Hilton Head for our daily espresso, it's mostly for the convenience (a two block walk from the condo) and not necessarily the taste, which is actually nothing out of the ordinary. So before we left I looked up coffeehouses in the broader vicinity, and saw a listing for Corner Perk in Bluffton, the first town on the mainland. What a terrific little place - cozy (actually, like Java Joe's was at their former location), very good espresso, friendly and helpful staff. And we picked up a bag of locally-roasted coffee beans to take back home. Highly recommended.
I-40 between Asheville and Knoxville is the most spectacular stretch of interstate highway I've ever experienced. It rams right through the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests (on the North Carolina-Tennessee border) and is filled with twisting, anxiety-inducing curves, sheer rock walls (many sheathed in steel mesh to keep falling boulders off the road) on either side, and soaring, tree-covered mountains that were just turning to fall colors as we passed through. It's actually a fairly short stretch of road (maybe 20 miles) that feels much longer with the white knuckles it often brings on. After that we stopped for dinner in Knoxville before continuing north to Berea, Kentucky, for a much-needed overnight stay.
Hilton Head, Day 7
By Friday, things were definitely winding down. Though eager to squeeze in a few last-minute things, we were also bracing for the long drive ahead, and longing to be home. We enjoyed a round of mini golf (Maddie's first) and went back to the beach for one last stroll. But the weather had started to turn, and a stiff wind from the east whipped down the beach. That first photo is of the mini-sandstorm we walked directly into (I was still scrubbing sand off my shins the next day) and we soon turned to head back. One more walk toward the setting sun, and a lovely shot of Julie and Maddie standing in the surf. (The sight of those surging waves naturally prompted the quoting of "The sea was angry that day, my friend...like an old man returning soup at a deli", from Seinfeld.)
The changing weather - the forecast for the following week was rainy and colder - confirmed that it was time to go home.
Hilton Head, Day 5
On Wednesday, Maddie was gung-ho to fly a kite on the beach, which surprised me since we've only kited once at home and she's never really prodded me to do it again. So we stopped at a kite shop near the condo, bought a kid-friendly (easy to fly) kite, and headed to the beach. In no time she had it aloft, despite the winds being light. A very pleasant experience, and much more successful than when we tried at home.
As for the second photo, I often lag behind when we walk the beach at sunset, hoping to catch quietly beautiful moments like this one.
Hilton Head, Day 4
At Hilton Head we walked the beach at least once a day, and always at sunset. We were constantly on the lookout for shells (and, in Julie's case, shark teeth - unsuccessfully). The shells we found were small (few were wider than a nickel) which made us quite excited to come across the hand-sized conch shell shown above. A shell this big would normally have been quickly grabbed earlier by some other beachcomber, but when we were there it was close to sunset with few other people around, and the high tide was receding, so the shell hasn't been exposed for long. We eagerly picked it up and brought it back to our condo.
When we got back, Maddie shook the shell several times and, hearing a rattling sound, insisted there was a critter (likely dead) inside. Julie and I scoffed at the idea, and Julie held the shell under the streaming faucet to rinse out the sand. Imagine our shock, then, to see claws suddenly emerge! Julie screamed and dropped the shell, and a hermit crab came halfway out before disappearing back inside. After a brief outburst of yells and screams all around, we calmed down again and decided that we obviously couldn't keep the crab, and had to return it to the ocean. Maddie and I walked back to the beach in almost total darkness, and she tossed the shell (with crab still inside) as far as she could into the surf. That done, we lingered to enjoy the sight of the very last traces of sunset, as shown in the second photograph above.
As we walked back, I said it was too bad that we couldn't keep such a great shell. Maddie replied that keeping the shell wasn't nearly as important as saving the crab and returning it to its home. Great kid, huh?
Hilton Head, Day 3
Our first full day in Hilton Head had us renewing old acquaintances, and discovering but also saying goodbye. The local coffeehouse, Java Joe's, is still thriving, and once again became my daily morning stop as I fetched espresso for Julie and myself, and brought it back to the condo for a lazy morning. But sadly, the natural food store Healthy Days closed earlier this year after thirty years in business. We first found the store on last year's trip, just after Maddie was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and the owner there was wonderfully helpful in recommending gluten-free foods. Fortunately, we were comforted at dinner time to find that Mellow Mushroom, the Southeast-based pizza chain, offered gluten-free pizza. We ordered carryout, and were delighted to discover the best GF pizza we've had yet. We only wish they had stores near our home.
On the discovery front, we stumbled across The Courtyard, a combination used bookstore/yarn shop tucked away in the back of a retail center. We look for used bookstores everywhere we go but didn't think Hilton Head had any, which made this quite a pleasant surprise. And Julie's an avid knitter, which made our visit even more appealing; she's been to plenty of bookstores and yarn shops, but can't remember ever seeing a combination of the two. It's a warm, inviting place with plenty of chairs for relaxing and browsing. The photo is of the store's rare book corner (all rare, apparently, other than that bottom shelf with the $2 and $3 signs). I was particularly intrigued by an old first edition of a short story collection by the playwright Thornton Wilder, though when I saw the $130 price tag I gently put it back on the shelf. Between the three of us, we picked up six books for a ridiculously cheap nine bucks, with my own haul being Peter Orner's Esther Stories and J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man, both of which I had already wanted to read. The Courtyard will definitely be a regular stop on all future trips.
Hilton Head, Day 2
Day 2: Knoxville, TN to Hilton Head
After driving I-40 through the spectacular Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests (more on that later), a deliberate detour into Asheville, NC brought us to Green Sage Coffeehouse (shown above) for espresso. We discovered Green Sage on last year's drive to Hilton Head, and it's become one of our must-stops along the route. This photo was taken on our way out of town, shortly before a ramp closure lead to a rousing game of Lost in Asheville. Our matrimonial bond was somewhat strained  before we finally decided to take the interstate loop all the way around town, which despite being the long way at least got us back on track.
Then a long drive across geographically featureless South Carolina brought us at last to Hilton Head. (True, most of Illinois is flat as a board, but at least there you can see the terrain for miles and miles. In South Carolina the interstates are thickly walled in with trees, and you can hardly see anything.) Our first walk along the beach brought the unexpected and totally delightful sight of dolphins leaping offshore, over and over (though, sadly, too far out to get any good photos with our iPhones). Earlier, we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly right across the street from our condo for provisions. I took a long look at the beer aisle and was tempted by several New Belgium varieties before realizing how little sense it made to drink Colorado beer in South Carolina. So instead I went local and opted for Palmetto Brewing Pale Ale, from Charleston. Though far from earth-shattering, it was a good basic ale that I enjoyed for the rest of the week.
 Julie's comment (below) reminds me that I failed to mention the best part of our Asheville misadventure: once we were back on the right road, she turned to me and said, "See? THIS is exactly why we're never going on The Amazing Race." We both had a good laugh, and were friends once again.
Julie, Maddie and I just got home from a week's vacation at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Since I don't like to broadcast the fact that we're out of town (might as well run a Craigslist ad for house thieves), I refrained from any vacation-specific posting to my blog while we were away. So now that we're back, I'll run a daily photo diary of our trip, with each posting occurring ten days after it actually occurred.
Day 1: Joliet to Knoxville, TN
After driving the length of Indiana and seeing numerous billboards for various sin palaces ("adult superstores", liquor stores, fireworks stores, etc.) near the Kentucky border, Julie wondered aloud, "Are we really in the Bible Belt?" and then shortly afterward answered herself with, "I guess you can't have salvation without sin." (It was interesting to note that billboards like these seemed to be clustered at the northwest and southern borders, as if Illinois and Kentucky are uptight/conservative states whose citizens are eagerly welcomed by the more permissive Indiana.)
This photo was taken along I-75, just north of Carysville, TN. Though you can't see from the photo, just beyond this massive cross is an establishment called Adult World. There's no church nearby, so there's no obvious reason for the cross to be standing there. It's almost as if the cross people put it there to shame the customers of Adult World, giving them the guilts for whatever they might be buying or browsing at the store. The proximity of those two landmarks is one of the most appropriate sin/salvation metaphors I've ever seen.
Sunday in the park with Maddie
Farewell, Elliott Handler
An icon of my childhood has passed away, albeit an icon whose name I didn't know until today: Elliott Handler, co-founder of Mattel, and - even more important to me - inventor of Hot Wheels. I don't know what my childhood would have been like without Hot Wheels. I hope he thoroughly enjoyed speeding down the bright orange track of life.
Champaign on my mind
For some reason I seem to be strangely preoccupied with Champaign (and Urbana) this year. First, a few months ago I finally finished my first novella, Wheatyard, which is primarily set in C-U. Second, last week I belatedly discovered the Vertebrats, a much-loved band that thrived in the twin cities before breaking up in 1982; I had only been familiar with a few of their songs, an inexcusable omission now rectified after finding a copy of their wonderful anthology A Thousand Day Dream at a used record store. Then last night I was saddened to learn that my favorite campus restaurant, Zorba's, was burned out of its building by a fire in March and now faces an uncertain future...sigh.
If I close my eyes and really concentrate, I can almost smell the soybean-processing stench wafting over from the Kraft plant on the other side of town.