Thursday, June 19, 2014

How I Met Your Mother -- Lizzy Edition

I was divorced from my first wife, Nikki, in 1987, thankfully with no kids to worry about. After the divorce I started dating again and decided to clean up my act.  If you do the math you'll see that I was 39 in 1987 so this involved a new wardrobe, a new hair style (including coloring the gray away--a stupid move especially since it came out looking green sometimes), and joining a gym.

I began going to a low-impact aerobics class, mainly because there were some very hot babes taking the class and if I was in the back row the view made up for the "pain" of the aerobics. I developed a "talk before class" kind of friendship with the married woman who was always to my right in the back row. ("Donna big boobs" was how I knew her.)

Fast forward to the night of January 28, 1989. I had been out for dinner at Big Jim's in the Greenfield area of Pittsburgh with a friend who had been best man at my first wedding and we were heading home. For some reason we were both wearing our seat belts -- something I didn't always do in those days. We were driving up Bates Street hill from Second Ave. and a big Caddy was driving down the hill and made the left onto the on-ramp to the Parkway without yielding, causing a near head-on at a combined speed of perhaps 70 mph (35 for each of us.) My 1984 Audi 4000 did not have airbags, but the worst that happened (besides a totaled car) was that my friend got a bruise across his chest from the seat belt. (For the record, since that day I always wear my seat belt.) Best case had I not been wearing the seat belt is that I would have been too banged up to go to the gym on the following Monday and what follows would not have happened.

On that Monday, January 30 I did make it to the gym and when I entered my normal low impact aerobics class I immediately noticed that Donna wasn't there. Just before class started an exceedingly cute blonde took Donna's normal position and I immediately noticed nothing on her ring finger. At some point during the class the instructor said "grapevine left" and being as coordinated then as I have ever been, I immediately moved to my right and collided with the cute blonde.

A Cute Blonde
As I helped her up we got into a conversation and I asked if I could buy her a Coke after the class in the gym's snack bar. After she said yes, she spent the rest of the class asking herself "why did I agree?" But she showed up and I learned that she normally was in the high impact aerobics class, but that night she had arrived too late to get a space and so had tried the low impact class. If that hadn't happened, or if Donna had shown up, or if I hadn't been so dazzled that I lost track of left and right, or if I hadn't been wearing a seatbelt the Saturday before, etc. I would never have met the love of my life -- Barbara, and there would be no Lizzy.
Another Cute Blonde

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chopped Liver Memories

This article originally appeared in the December 1989 issue of Trains Magazine and is used here with permission of Kalmbach Publishing, the publisher.

In the summer of 1958, when I was 10 years old, my parents sent me away for eight weeks of summer camp for the first time. In those days it was customary for Wisconsin camps to transport their campers from Chicago by train. Camp location and train schedules dictated which train was utilized, but nearly always the railroads provided special cars for the campers on regularly scheduled trains. Camp Day-Cho-La as mine was called was located on Green Lake near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and utilized Chicago & North Western’s new bi-level Peninsula 400 for transport.

A week before my departure date, the trunk containing my clothing and other camp items was picked up by Railway Express for shipment to camp. As the date approached, my sense of excitement (and nervousness) increased. This would be my first significant trip without my family. Following camp instructions, Mom had packed me a dinner to eat on the train since we would not be getting to Fond du Lac until around 7pm and to the camp much later. At this point I can only recall two things about the meal that she packed, there was more food than any two kids could eat, and there was at least one homemade chopped chicken liver sandwich. So it was that one very hot weekday afternoon in mid-June my mother and I, dinner in hand, boarded a C&NW commuter train at the suburban Ravinia stop, bound for Chicago and the camp train.
A Bilevel 400

Chicago & North Western Passenger Terminal
At the C&NW Passenger Terminal we were met by my father, who worked in downtown Chicago and had left work early to see me off on my journey. After registering with the camp counselors, we had some time to wait in the sweltering station before I boarded. The railroad had provided a bi-level commuter coach for the campers, and I can recall settling into a pair of seats configured face-to-face at the front of the left side of the car. As I was meeting my fellow campers I heard a tapping on the right front window of the car. There was my father, worried about the heat and spoiled food, and as I watched he wrote words to me in the (atypical) dust on the window.

It’s been 30 years since that day [now 56], and virtually everything to do with that trip is gone. Luckily my parents are both still around [Dad passed in 2010, Mom passed in 2013], but the bi-level Peninsula 400 is no more, its equipment living out its final years in Amtrak Chicago short haul service. I had occasion to drive by Green Lake in 1976, and the camp was abandoned. The Chicago & North Western passenger station lasted well into the 1980’s before being claimed by the wrecking ball and replaced by a skyscraper. But I still have memories of that day. Every time the temperature soars into the 90’s and higher, I can picture in my mind my dad’s last minute note to me: