Sunday, December 27, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

When I was ten years old my dad took the family out to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Cincinnati Reds. The date was July 28th and it was a remarkable game. It was remarkable for several reasons; one was both the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds had some all time great players including Pete Rose and Johnny Bench for the Reds and Bill Buckner and Bruce Sutter for the Cubs. The other reason was the game turned out to be one of the longest and highest scoring games in Cubs’ history. After thirteen innings, several hotdogs, a container or two of Borden’s Frosty Malt, the Cubs won the game 16 to 15. I came across the old 25 cent program today. Attached is an image of the inside page—click on the image to get a better view.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Area North of Greenbrier

During the early 1970s the area around Greenbrier began to expand. One small development of single family homes called Cedarbook was added almost as an extension of the original Greenbrier neighborhood. One project that was never completed was called Randhaven. Randhaven was to be multi-family housing units not too different from Greenbrier Apartments. But the builder ran out of money and as seen in this view of the area in 1975 the buildings were left unfinished. There they stood for several years. As a kid they presented just another adventure. As I talk about in Last Hand there were many things to do in the Greenbrier area such as unauthorized fishing, roaming the nursery, and going to the White Hen. Rand Haven was unique because it was like having your own local war ruins. Most of the buildings were void of any roofing, all that stood there was concrete, bricks and some stone rubble. If you had the nerve to enter one of those death traps, you'd also find the rusty iron stairwells to climb. The days of adventure with Randhaven lasted several years. Eventually the area would be cleared and build up at the Pointe Apartments.




Click on the picture for a closer view.

 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Seasons Greetings

My brother Steve would typically send out some creative Christmas cards. This one was probably from 1985 or so when he was still in his dragon phase. Note the dragon drawn sleigh.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Signing and Discussion at the Arlington Hieghts Memorial Library

You can register now for the book discussion and sale of Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era at Arlington Hts Memorial Library on Nov. 19th here: http://tinyurl.com/yhdhxdn

I hope to see you there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Last Hand Book Discusions, Signings, and Sales in November

Saturday, November 7, 2009  - The 2009 Sugar Plum Holiday Market

Time: 10:00am - 1:00pm
Location: Bell-Graham Elementary, 4N505 Fox Mill Blvd. St. Charles, IL 60175

Friday, November 13, 2009 - Holiday Shopping Extravaganva

Time: 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: Juliette Low Elementary, 1530 Highland Ave. Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Thursday, November 19, 2009 - Last Hand: Book Discussion and Signing

Time: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Location: Arlington Heights Memorial Library. 500 N. Dunton Avenue Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Saturday, November 21, 2009 - Last Hand: Book Discussion and Signing at Read Between the Lynes Bookstore

Time: 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: 129 Van Buren Street, Woodstock, IL

Learn about my book discussion at the Arlington Heights Rotary Club on October 8th here: http://tinyurl.com/yz6rqbv

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Suburban Growth

One of the side stories in the book Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era is the rapid suburban growth during the 1960s. Between 1950 and 1970 the population of Arlington Heights grew 640%. This led to the doubling of the number of schools in Arlington Heights Elementary School District 25. Around 1975 the population leveled off and the number of school aged children dropped rapidly as families in the area aged. Two aerial photos show this growth one of Greenbrier and surrounding area in the Spring of 1963 and the other seven years later in 1970. Both pictures are in the book and provide glimpse at the growth during that period. I’ve added a third photo here of the same area in 1975, so that you can compare them. Some things to look for are the addition of Route 53, Greenbrier School, and Rand Jr. High (Only 3 pods complete) between 1963 and 1970. Click on the photos to get a better look.


Note: The street running through the center of Greenbrier in 1963 is Verde Drive. The two schools are not marked in the photos because when I made them for the book the print would have been illegible.






Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Idea for the Book

What gave you the idea to write the book?
The idea of the book stemmed from a number of different feelings that built up over the last twenty years or so. It was at about that time that I went overseas to Germany to live and study for a period of two years. It was the time of the Reunification and German society was changing. It was a special and unique time to be in Germany. Unbeknownst to me, American society was changing too. The mindset shift, from the Cold War world to an open one, was tremendous.
While I was in Germany, I had little contact with any Americans. The first Gulf War was underway and I had become an American Ambassador of sorts to all of the Germans or foreign students I’d meet. This gave me a heightened sense of my own American identity, as I would describe American social and cultural life to my new friends.
The American identity that I represented, however, was going through a major change. During the Second World War and the Cold War the American public had an almost unified understanding of what it meant to be an American. In the years following the Cold War there seemed to be a trend to replace that identity with concepts of diversity and multiculturalism.
Years later, with most of my family gone, living in the same place I grew up, with a son now growing up in that same neighborhood, I couldn’t escape how much had changed. Some of the changes weren’t limited to the geopolitical changes but also included advancements in technology as well as other social and cultural changes. I found myself telling my son stories of past American suburban life, as I did to my German friends a number of years before. It’s those stories that led to the book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era.
A glimpse into the past—The Greenbrier Fourth of July Bike Parade 1964. video

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Steve's Doodling Mind

Click on the picture to get a better view.

Why Greenbrier?

Over the past few months I’ve been asked various questions about the book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era. The next several days I’m going to post answers to some of those questions. The first question deals with the subdivision that is the setting for the story.

Was Greenbrier unique enough of a place to grow up to make it a worthy topic for a book?

Much of the experience of growing up in the Greenbrier subdivision during the Cold War was common to many middle-class American communities from coast-to-coast and very representative of Chicago suburban life. What makes Greenbrier a worthy topic, is that American communities, culture, and family life have all changed over time. Some of the changes that have taken place have been by design, while others are a result of changing technology. Regardless of whether one believes the evolution of American society has been for better or worse, the experience of having grown up in a place like Greenbrier has become very unique. I wrote the book with the ultimate goal of transporting the reader to that time and place to observe American family life that is part of an irretrievable American past.

Greenbrier in 1975

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Daily Herald

The Daily Herald wrote about my book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War in today's paper http://tinyurl.com/mkf7dz

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Book Signing on September 19th

I will be selling and signing copies of my new book:
Last Hand A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era

at the St. John’s 35th Annual Flea Market and Craft Fair, September 19th from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Location:
St. John United Church of Christ
1475 W. Algonquin Road
Palatine, IL (The southwest corner of Algonquin and Roselle roads)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Video Trailer of Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era with reviews

The video trailer provides a glimpse into the world of my book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Video Preview of Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era

video

The embedded video is the first view of the video trailer I will be spreading around the internet. I will also post a youtube version with reviews. I you enjoy the clip feel free to help spread the word.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Signing at Local Art Fair

I will be signing copies of my new book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era at the Arlington Heights Art Guild’s 38th annual art fair "A Walk in the Park" at North School Park on Sunday, August 23rd.

The book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era, is a tale of the life and death of an American Cold War family living in Arlington Heights. The book takes the reader on a journey back to a bygone era before laptop computers, digital TV, and cell phones. The reader experiences the carefree summer days of the 1970s, attends public school, enjoys holiday traditions, rides along on a summer road trip, and sits in on a game of the all-but-forgotten (but once popular) game of pinochle.

The book is a blend of family memoir with social and cultural history. It portrays the changes occurring around greater Chicago, as the book recounts the migration from the city to the suburbs after World War II and the growth of the Chicago metropolitan area as the new expressways, shopping centers, and subdivisions appeared. In addition to family lore, the story is infused with the music, entertainment, customs, and local recreation of the time, making it clear why this era was so unique in American history.

You can learn more about the book and read excerpts at the book's website: http://www.lasthandthebook.com/

Friday, July 17, 2009

Death of a Legend

The news of Walter Cronkite’s death may not seem too significant to younger Americans. And while I wasn't a huge fan of Walter Cronkite in later years, there is little doubt as to his influence on the American psyche of his time. There have been many newscasters since but there was something about Walter Cronkite that made him unique that is difficult to describe to a younger person. To say simply he was the most trusted man on TV doesn’t convey what that really meant at that time. It’s hard for a twenty-something to have a feel for the cultural significance of network TV before the advent of cable. And Walter Cronkite was THE TV Network anchorman icon of the Cold War Era. It wasn’t that the majority of people knew Walter Cronkite, it was that EVERYBODY knew Walter Cronkite. He was part of American culture – like Coca-Cola.

Ed McMahon also died recently. Like Johnny Carson and Walter Cronkite, it was as if a family member had passed away. These people where part of your family every evening.

Today there are hundreds of shows and channels to choose from on TV. And there is the internet to occupy our time. Although the country is still tied up to mass media culture, it’s no longer a unifying force but rather a divisive one. Walter Cronkite really represents another America, one that was gone before he died.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Norris Center

While cleaning out a closet recently I came across a poster my brother Steve did for the Norris Center while he was a student at Northwestern University. Steve was a film student at Northwestern from 1979 until 1983. I remember him working many hours at the Norris Center which is a student center at the university. When Scott and I would visit him, he was always busy doing some art project for them. He made t-shirts and posters. Scott and I would drag him away to play pool or ping pong and maybe a game or two of Robotron.

Steve even made a cool promotional film for the Norris Center. I didn’t see the film until fairly recently. They showed on the day that they were dedicating a plaque in Steve’s honor, remembering his work in film and his Norris Center roots. So, if by chance, someday you’re visiting the Northwestern University Campus, stop by the Norris Center, and play a game of pool. And, if you still have time, go and ask to see Steve’s plaque and artwork display.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

They Bankrupted Themselves

I remember it well. It was November 9th , my brother Steve’s birthday, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was opened so that East Germans could travel freely into West Berlin. I had taken that semester off from college in order to make enough money to continue my studies. What did I study? German and History. So, there I was, washing glasses at the bar and grill I worked at, looking up at the TV screen as one of the most significant events in German history was taking place. I was in Berlin just two summers before in June 1987, about a week before Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Tear down this wall” speech. I knew on November 9th that I’d go back again.

That was the beginning of the end for the Eastern Block countries and ultimately the Soviet Union. Everyone in the media seemed surprised at the events taking place. There was some uncertainty as to what might happen next. Would the Soviets intervene? To anyone really paying attention what happened wasn’t all that surprising. The fact was the Soviet Union was bankrupt. So was East Germany. The socialist utopians bankrupted themselves and with it destroyed the quality of life for billions of people. Could there have been military action on the part of the Soviets? Maybe, but they were tired. They didn’t have any money. Their economy was in the crapper. The other Eastern Block countries were equally or more broke than the Soviet Union. There just wasn’t anything left. The East Germans were pretty lucky because they had wealthy cousins in the West. For them there was a future and the hope of capitalism and freedom. Others would try to make their way west to find hope. And many did, here in the United States.

Now Berlin is a different city, a very beautiful and modern city. But looking back on those days I can’t help but wonder, what would have it been like if there was no West to provide that hope of capitalism and freedom? Would mankind have endured another Dark Ages? Or will it yet? We just may live find out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thoughts of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

When I was a little boy of about four or five, I used to love Disney movies like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I enjoyed the songs and the creative dancing. I guess that’s not so uncommon for a little kid. But there was something about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that always freaked me out slightly; the Child-Catcher.

The Child Catcher serves the evil Baroness of Vulgaria (a country were children are imprisoned). Regardless of how brave I may have been as a five year old, the Child Catcher always scared me. Probably because he was so freaky looking with his long straight black hair, pale skin, and oddly shaped nose. He dressed all in black but darned a colorful robe to entice children.

The scene where the Child Catcher kidnaps two of the children in the story is always what frightened me most. He disguised what was a caged carriage to look like a circus carriage, like one you might see at an amusement park, to ensnare the kids. He was sneaky offering the kids sweets and goodies as he sung out to them.

You’re probably wondering, why, at the age of forty-two, would I be thinking of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Well, that should be obvious. His funeral has been shown on just about every TV station in the country. I know what you’re thinking…”No, Tom, that’s Michael Jackson’s funeral.” But I’m here to say, I think Michael Jackson transformed himself into the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. If not, it’s a bizarre coincidence. I mean, it’s bizarre several ways. First, is the fact that when the movie came out in 1968, Michael Jackson was an impressionable nine years old. Second, is the unusual similarity in appearance. And the third weird connection would be the child molestation charges combined with the enticing Neverland ranch.

What puzzles me is our culture’s fascination with Michael Jackson. Sure, he was very talented but there many talented people on TV and radio. His music was very popular but there are other popular artists like the Beatles who I think are tied to the culture. If I’m around when Paul McCartney dies, I don’t expect around-the-clock coverage on every channel. I must be completely out of touch because I can’t think of anyone whether entertainer or world leader or anyone in between that should be covered by the media as Michael Jackson’s death has been treated. Maybe I can’t relate simply because he reminds me so much of the Child Catcher. At least I can finally put that childhood fear to rest today.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Special Edition being sold at Frontier Days on July 4th and 5th (Arlington Heights)

Special editions of the new Chicagoland memoir, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era, will be available at Frontier Days in Arlington Heights on July 4th and 5th.

Last Hand looks back at a lifetime of relationships lost to the passage of time in this witty memoir of family life in the northwest suburbs of Chicago during the Cold War. The book provides a snapshot of American life of a bygone era as the reader takes a journey back to a time before laptop computers, digital TV, and cell phones and experience the carefree summer days of the 1970s, attends public school, enjoys holiday traditions, rides along on a summer road trip, and sits in on a game of the all-but-forgotten (but once popular) game of pinochle.

Because the story takes place in Arlington Heights, a one-time Special Edition of the book has been printed for the Festival and will be sold at a 25% discount for those people visiting Frontier Days.

Copies of the book, as well as free bookmarks, will be available at booth 40 of the Craft and Marketplace area of the festival. You can find more information about the book, including excerpts, at the book's website, http://www.lasthandthebook.com/

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Remembering Dad this Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Path to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

“The path to Hell is paved with good intentions.” There’s another Dickism for you. (See earlier post)

Those words ring all too true in America today. Every intrusion on our freedom by the government (either State or Federal), at least since I’ve been born, has been done with good intentions. The various “Nanny State” initiatives were all enacted to save me from some bad consequence and in some ways even from myself or from my family. We have a very thoughtful government here in Illinois, when they are not lining their own pockets. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that when an Illinois politician takes the White House that he shares that love with the rest of the nation. And there is no time to lose.

I’ve seen our potential future. In the summer of 1987 I stood at the Berlin Wall. I was in Germany for the Reunification and in the fall of 1990 and during 1991 and 92, I toured many cities in East Germany and saw what shambles the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands = Socialist Unity Party of Germany) left behind. The country was broke, the currency was worthless, buildings everywhere were in disrepair, and even the streets that rivaled Illinois for pot holes. As I walked down the streets of Leipzig, I could only shake my head at number of video cameras on the street, used to watch the citizens every move a few years earlier. East Germany was a police state that didn’t tolerate dissent and interfered with peoples’ personal lives, if they were deemed a threat. But the Stasi (State Security) watched them anyway to be sure they weren’t.

I believe the members of the SED loved their country. Like an over-smothering parent, they watched and dictated every move their children made – because they “knew” better. But they didn’t know better. A government doesn’t really ever do anything well and efficient. One reason is because of the lack of competition. In the event there is competition, instead of becoming more efficient, it’s easier to change the rules to eliminate your competitors. Even if they eliminate competition domestically there are foreign competitors. In that case you might want to create or join a world organization defines the rules to your liking. The next thing you might do if people still don’t willingly join you is you lock them up or ruin their lives, just like they did in East Germany. There are times when government can be like a cancer, the more it grows, the more damage it does. The question in the United States today is; will we diagnose it in time?

SOZIALISTISH
ARBEITEN
LEARNEN UND
LEBEN
(Inscription on the back meaning "Socialist Work, Learning, and Life")

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dickisms

Some words or phrases seem to be generational and others regional and some that seemed to belong to Dad alone. Dick Price had certain catchphrases he used all the time—so much so, that if I used one of his phrases in the presence of my brothers, he immediately called it out as a “Dickism.” While he didn’t invent any of these phrases, he most certainly made them his own:

1. Never send a boy to do a man’s job. (A phrase commonly used when playing cards—such as if a player underestimated what was needed to succeed, by playing too low a card, only to lose it to a higher card.)

2. Now that’s an “I gotcha!” (Referring to when someone gets duped or cheated.)

3. Come on, clown! (A reference to all other drivers on the road, while Dad was driving.)

4. Devil hates a coward. (Commonly used when preparing to take a risk or chance.)

5. Know what I mean, jelly bean?

6. Do I have to get your attention? (A phrase you didn’t want to hear as a kid. Having Dad get your attention meant getting smacked for not behaving or following directions—but at least we got a warning!)

7. Just like downtown. (Commonly used upon completion of something done correctly and efficiently.)

8. Ragamuffin. (A poor ragged child—an appearance I commonly had during the summer months of the ‘70s. My son thought I made this word up.)

9. Misery loves company! (Dad’s way of saying, if he had to suffer through something, I should join him.)

10. Eat to live, not live to eat. (A Ben Franklin quote that Dad liked. Ironic coming from Dad, who later claimed he was on the “See Food Diet”—everything you see, you eat.)

'70s song of the day, The Night They Tore Ol Dixie Down by The Band

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First they came…

“Give me a hand, will you buddy?” asked Dad one afternoon during the summer of 1979.

Dad needed me to help him with one of his many projects. This time he was making a table to use in our utility room, out of what seemed to be spare lumber in our garage. As always, Dad had a Viceroy cigarette dangling from his lips, as we measured and marked the two-by-fours to cut. We might make mistakes from time to time adding to the comical element of helping Dad. I’m sure I learned a new curse word or two during the process as well. Although I felt like it was torture at the time, those projects were some of the best father and son time we had.

You could argue that smoking killed my dad but it was part of his personality. Both of my parents smoked. Both of my parents suffered health problems related to their smoking. I grew up around them smoking at dinner, playing cards, driving in the car, and during the odd projects we’d do around the house. I’m not a fan of smoking. I don’t smoke and have never been inclined to smoke. But I don’t hate smokers.

Since the days of 1979 the tobacco industry and smokers have been targeted by the ever growing Nanny State. Today, smokers are treated like lepers, banned from restaurants and bars, shunned from office buildings, and taxed into poverty. In order to turn up the heat that will eventually lead to banning of smoking altogether, the Nanny State needed a victim; those people exposed to secondhand smoke. In other words, people like me. While working on my book I came across a press release from the Action on Smoking and Health with the headline:

“Parental Smoking Kills 6,200 Kids Each Year and Costs $8.2 Billion; But Law Is Finally Beginning to Crack Down on Major Form of Child Abuse; At Least Fifteen States Will Take Away Custody if Necessary to Protect Kids”

Let’s face it, smokers are an easy target. I mean, who, besides another smoker, would sympathize with their plight. Well, ironically, me. You see, for me to accept the premise of the story by the Action on Smoking and Health and lawmakers of their ilk, I would have to consider my father and son time with Dad actually child abuse. And that would be a lie.

As a student of German history, the smoker’s plight reminds me of the poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller, First they came…. There are several versions of the poem, but here’s my own version.

First they came for the smokers I did not speak out Because I’m not a smoker.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

When it comes right down to it, I can walk away from secondhand smoke, but I can’t escape a Nanny State that suppresses free will. And eventually, neither can you.

"70s song of the day, "Smokin' in the Boys Room" by Brownsville Station

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“The American’s Creed”


What a bachelor’s degree means today, the high school diploma meant in Dad’s time. Students who completed high school and became good American citizens were highly prized in postwar America. Upon graduation, each student at Nicholas Senn High School received a letter from his or her local congressman, Edgar A. Jonas, along with William Tyler Page’s “The American’s Creed.” I believe the goal was to reinforce a sense of community and duty to the United States during the Cold War. The Creed embodied everything that many Americans held sacred, such as love for America and its Constitution.  Click on the image for a closer view. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Golden Rule

In honor of the quickly approaching Father’s Day, I’ve decided to add some stories of my father over the course of the next several days. Some of the stories will be funny and some serious but all have a message. While these are stories of my father, I don’t think they are necessarily unique to him, but reflect many attitudes of his generation as well as American culture of his age. I think the story below illustrates this best.

The Golden Rule

While I was a college student in Murray, Kentucky, I didn’t own a car, and I only traveled home on vacation breaks. Dad always made arrangements to pick me up. On one such occasion, an acquaintance of mine called me to ask if I was going to Chicago for Thanksgiving break. She wanted to know if I could take a friend of hers to meet his sister in Chicago. I told her I could, and arranged a time to meet her friend. Her friend turned out to be a foreign exchange student from Columbia, aptly named Columbio.

Columbio stood five foot seven, and was slightly plump, with dark hair and large glasses like Harry Caray. Although he was likely twenty-something, he looked like he was in his late thirties. I only spoke with him briefly, to arrange our departure time. Before we picked him up, I really didn’t know anything about him, other than he wanted to get to Chicago to meet his sister. I called Dad and explained we’d be bringing Columbio along, which of course was fine with him.

It wasn’t unusual for us to drive other students to Chicago during school breaks. Dad arrived a day ahead of time, and we’d get dinner, before he picked me up early the following day. The day came for us to drive to Chicago, and Dad was right on time as usual, so we packed up and headed home.

In the car, we began to make small talk with Columbio, which was a challenge at times as he struggled with the language. Dad was always a little funny around foreign students—he prompted them to tell him how much they liked America how nice it was to be here. In our discussions with Columbio, we discovered that he planned to get a hotel room somewhere in the city, then call his sister after his arrival and arrange to meet her the next day. Dad thought this was crazy. We had a spare room, so Dad offered it to Columbio, and told him we’d help him meet up with his sister.

Columbio stayed with us that night, and the following day we headed to the studio at Columbus Plaza while we waited for his sister to arrive. As it turns out, she didn’t know the city very well, and it took some time for her to meet up with us. Dad played tour guide while we waited--he gave Columbio a map of the city and told him how to get around. Columbio probably understood a third of what Dad said, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. We also carefully arranged the time and place to pick him up for the return trip to Kentucky. He really went out of his way to help Columbio, someone he barely knew. That was Dad—always sticking to the Golden Rule.

'70s song of the day: "I Got a Name" by Jim Croce

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Flip of the Switch

Different news stories and events can have such an immediate and lasting influence on one’s life. When I mentioned what I thought was a household name to my twenty year-old daughter—she had no idea who I was talking about.

The story I was telling my daughter took place during the late ‘70s. It was a time when “Christmas Break” was renamed at school to “Winter Break,” which, dur­ing the snowy Chicago winter of 1978-79, was an appropriate name.

It was during that first day of winter break, while driving home with Mom after a brief stint of Christmas shopping, that I first heard on the radio the story that rocked the Chicago area that Christmas season: The story of a contractor named John Wayne Gacy and the discovery of bodies buried in his crawl space. The young men, the serial killer murdered and buried under his house, were around the same age as Steve and Scott. This reality had a chilling effect on my parents, as it did on many of the peo­ple in Chicago area and the rest of the country. It would be several months before the excavation of the house was complete and all bodies were found. In the meantime, the newspapers would report as bodies were discovered, continually reminding the community of the sickening crime.

In Illinois, Gacy, who was later convicted of murdering 33 young men, became the poster boy for the death penalty. I don’t think you’d be too hard pressed to find a volunteer to “flip the switch,” so to speak, in 1979. While Gacy may not have earned any mercy, it’s possible the supporters of the death penalty in Illinois were a little too eager to apply the same standards to other criminals.

As it turns out there were a number of convicts on Death Row in Illinois that were wrongly convicted. On January 31, 2000, then Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions. It seems like the worst case scenario was taking place all too often in Illinois. Since that time there hasn’t been a public outcry in favor of the death penalty but then again there hasn’t been another case like that of John Wayne Gacy either.

'70s song of the day: "Le Freak" by Chic

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Old Commercials

When there were only seven channels on the TV to choose from, many of us watched the same shows and consequently saw the same commercials. And we saw them over and over again. Certain commercials had jingles that are hard to forget. Some of those jingles were nationally promoted products like Coca Cola and McDonalds but some of them were regional.

I’m sure there are people my age who know their own regional jingles that I would never recognize. There are of course many from the Chicago area that I’ll never be able to forget. Many can be found on a website I came across called fuzzymemories.tv. If you’re from the area or are curious about past Chicago TV culture, you should check it out.

Here’s one of my favorites: Call Boushelle now at Hudson 3-2700

'70s song of the day, "Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fill 'er Up

There was a time when service was important and the customer was king. Depending on the business and industry, service to the customer may still be important. One of the biggest changes in customer service that I experienced took place at the local gas station. Anyone my age or older will remember that gas stations used to be all about service. Like something similar to a drive up restaurant, you’d pull up to the pump, your car tripping a bell in the station telling the attendant there was a customer.

He would come out to the car with a friendly smile and ask, “What will it be, today?”

“Fill ‘er up with regular.”

The attendant would proceed to wash your windows and check your oil while pumping the gas. It was nice. But that’s the pleasant image of how that service worked.

Many changes come when demand changes. In the early days service and professionalism were important. Appearance was important. All gas stations offered full service. Standards gradually slipped. A gas station attendant’s service and appearance could vary greatly from station to station or even at your station of choice. There was also a chance that they might recommend unnecessary service. Customers became more wary, at least I did.

At some point in the 1980s many gas stations began to offer self-serve pumps, where the gas was slightly cheaper. Now the choice between waiting for a slow gas station attendant, who didn’t appear to know what he was talking about while trying to sell me on the idea of an oil change and me getting out and pumping my own gas for less money, was obvious. It must have been obvious to the majority of other people too because it wasn’t long before you couldn’t find a full service gas station anywhere.

Today, when I pull up to the pump and see the high prices, I think back to a time when you actually got some service for your money. Sometimes it’s funny how your perspective changes.

'70s song of the day: "The Streak" by Ray Stevens

Friday, May 15, 2009

Buckle Up

During the 1970s I spent a good deal of time visiting with Grandpa Hinesley. There were times while my grandma would be taking a nap that I would sit down and play a game or two of Dominos with Grandpa. And we would converse. Grandpa Hinesley loved to tell stories of the past and I loved to listen. He’d seen many changes over the course of his life, in culture, in technology, and in politics. Often he would tell the same story multiple times. It didn’t bother me. As I listened to the stories, I never once considered that one day, I would be sitting in Grandpa Hinesley’s chair.

I guess with the passage of time one should expect changes. We’ve seen quite a few just in the last twenty years. It’s sometimes the little changes that you don’t really consider. One of the many changes that always intrigued me was the evolution of seat belts and seat belt laws.

If you grew up in the 1970s or earlier, you probably had to develop the habit of putting on a seat belt when you entered a car. That’s because almost nobody wore seat belts. Why is that? Was everybody ignorant back then? No. One reason was that in the older cars, many of which had one continuous seat, it seemed like seat belts were an afterthought when it came to designing the car. They were almost always only lap belts. I remember people believing that you might be worse off with a seat belt because it would break your back or cause some other unintended injury. Besides after the first week of owning a car, seat belts would often disappear between the seat cushions.

In the 1980s as cars became smaller, safety became more prominent. Seat belts improved. They improved so much that it wasn’t too difficult to form the habit of putting them on. I did. But there was still a mixture of older vehicles on the road, where strapping on a seat belt was still inconvenient. Then came the first seat belt laws. Whether you agree with mandated safety laws or not, the evolution in the law is a great lesson in civics.

In Illinois, the first seat belt laws ran into trouble because of the possible infringement of personal liberty and conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, so only those drivers pulled over for another offense could be ticketed for a seat belt violation. Over time, maybe because of some court ruling, I don’t know, the law changed so that a driver could be pulled over for a seat belt violation alone.

I can’t help but think of the warden’s comment after punishing Luke in the movie Cool Hand Luke “…it’s for your own good.” and Luke’s response “I wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Captain.”

Since that time car seats and booster seats have been added to the list. All of which I used and would have used without the law.

As I sit and converse with my son, I know his world will also change with time. I wonder if he knows it.

'70s song of the day: "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks

Thursday, May 14, 2009

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

During the editing process, I cut out certain sections I’d written for the book because they didn’t seem to move the story forward but could stand alone. Below is one such section. It’s the fascinating story of Willow Creek.

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

While growing up, if we had extra time on our hands or if there was a good film in the theaters, my family headed out to the movies. We were movie junkies. It didn’t matter what genre of film either. The quality of movies could vary during that time from great movies like Jaws or Star Wars, which had lines of anxious movie-goers that would wrap around the theater, to really bad movies like Old Dracula, which might draw five people.

We had several good movie theaters in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. In the mid ‘70s, many of them were showing disaster movies. Woodfield Theater was showing The Towering Inferno and Randhurst was showing Earthquake that had the added gimmick of Sensurround, a special sound system shook the theater during the movie. We’d venture out to the local drive-in theater on occasion but I don’t think my parents liked it very much when we stole glimpses out of the rear window at some adult movie playing on another screen. So we didn’t go to the drive-in too often. Sometimes I wasn’t allowed to see a film because I wasn’t old enough, so Mom would bring me and a friend out to see a kids’ movie.

During early months of 1975, I invited a friend to join me to see Snoopy Come Home, which had been re-released at various theaters in the area. One such theater was Willow Creek Theater in the village of Palatine. Willow Creek was very close by, just one exit south off of Route 53 on Northwest Highway. Our family would go there from time to time when there was a good movie showing. There was nothing unusual about going to Willow Creek to see a movie with a friend except that at the time, unbeknownst to us, there was a controversy brewing between the Palatine community and Willow Creek Theater.

During the early 1970s, movie theaters were a little different than they are today. Many of the theaters were independently run from each other. The screens had a tendency to be bigger than they are today and some theaters only had one screen. If a small theater happened to land a dud, like, say, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, it could kill their income and they would struggle to stay in business. To make matters worse, there were a lot of bad movies during the 1970s. To offset that problem, some theaters ran re-releases of popular movies. That’s how I saw movies like The Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. These were the days before video or cable and if you wanted to see an uncut, uninterrupted film you had to go to the theater. Another way to get additional revenue, common to that time, was to show adult films late at night. In the early ‘70s that’s what the operators of Willow Creek Theater decided to do to help their struggling business.

Trouble began in January of 1975, when Willow Creek began showing the film The Sex Shop and people in the community complained to the village. The controversy played out over the course of the next three months in the headlines of the local newspaper, The Daily Herald. Willow Creek management argued that it was a matter of survival, while the protestors worried about a bad element coming to Palatine. By March, The Village of Palatine looked into possibly banning theaters from showing X-rated films within its borders. In Mid-March, Willow Creek Theater relented and chose to no longer show adult films. Willow Creek was faced with the problem of staying in business. Then something unexpected happened.

About seven months after vowing never again to show adult films, Willow Creek Theater gained a new tenant for Sunday mornings. The newly formed Willow Creek Community Church began to hold Sunday morning services at the theater. Led by Bill Hybels, the unconventional church grew quickly in popularity, focusing on people who felt they didn’t belong in a traditional church. It grew and grew. Meanwhile, Willow Creek Theater plugged away and every now and then showed a good movie. By 1981, realizing they had outgrown their theater home, Willow Creek Community Church had built a new spacious complex in South Barrington and made the final move in February. This didn’t help the theater. Within three years of the move, Willow Creek Theater was out of business and remodeled into a banquet hall. Willow Creek Community Church, however, thrived and has grown to become one of the biggest churches in the country and the name “Willow Creek” can be heard all around the world.

Of course, I didn’t care much about adult films, or church for that matter, as I stood in line at the concession stand before entering the theater to watch Snoopy Come Home. Mom gave me a little spending money if I went with friends to the movies, so I wanted to make good use of it.

“I’d like a large buttered popcorn and medium coke.”

After getting my popcorn, my friend and I along with Mom entered the almost empty theater to find a seat. I bet Mom was secretly glad they didn’t put in the wrong film.

'70s song of the day: "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Will you accept the call?

In the summer 1977, when Led Zeppelin was touring the United States and Jimmy Carter was President, I was swimming on two swim teams at the age of ten trying my best to become the next Mark Spitz. Obviously that didn’t happen. But it was after those practice sessions that I would do something that I haven’t done (in the United States) for at least twenty-five years; I would use a payphone. I dialed the operator and made a collect-call to my mom to have her pick me up.

“I’d like to make a collect-call.”

“What’s your name?”

“Tom Price”

Ring Ring

Mom’s voice was instantly recognizable, “Hello, Price residence.”

“I have a collect call from Tom Price, will you accept the call?”

“No.”

By 1977 Mom had become clever enough to not accept the call, knowing already what she had to do.

The one area of technology that never seems to stop changing is the field of communications. In 1977 when I called Mom on the payphone, that was my best option. If I had the means or inclination I had several other ways to get her the message, although I would have beat the message home if I simply walked the way. I could have sent a telegram or a letter. Fax machines weren’t yet commonplace. There weren’t many other options open to me. And in 1977 if no one answered the phone, I was out of luck. There was no voice mail and our first bulky answering machine didn’t appear at our house until the early 80’s.

Today communication seems to be a priority – everyone is super important and must be able to be reached at a moments notice. The first sign of this trend seemed to be the beeper or pager. These were typically only carried by the “most important people” who would wear them like they were someone so indispensable the world would stop if they couldn’t be reached. But technology didn’t stop there. Off the top of my head I can think of three new wireless communication tools, in addition to older methods, that allow you to get a message out either by voice or text. Would I have been better off in 1977 with today’s technology? I guess that depends on your perspective. If Mom missed my call in 1977, I would have had an excuse to meet up with a friend and maybe go to the White Hen or have some other adventure.

'70s song of the day: "American Woman" by The Guess Who

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beginning After the Finish

This is my first entry into the world of blogging. The idea of blogging came to me after finishing my book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era. I intend for the blog to be an extension of some of the themes and topics I discuss in the book. Those topics will include; childhood in the 1960s and ‘70s, suburban life around Chicago—both past and present, family life, ’70s culture, and maybe some material that didn’t make the book. Like the book, I hope it will provide a glimpse into an American past, which may be recent, is nevertheless gone forever.

I hope as I address these topics you’ll join in with your thoughts, opinions, and memories. And if you haven’t already, perhaps you’ll take a look at my book and join my family, if even just for a moment.