Burning Gas to See the Sights-Yellowstone

In my last travel post, I wrote about our time in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, This story is about our time in Yellowstone National Park.

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Yellowstone National Park is a magnificent place. It sits in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, a state that is mostly flat. Driving through Eastern Wyoming is dull. Except for the occasional pronghorn antelope, one sees only empty rolling flatlands encircled by barbed wire. Eventually the Wind River Mountains appear on the horizon, and the geography changes.

We drove north out of Jackson Hole and passed the snowless Grand Tetons for the last time.   Yellowstone Park is next to the Grand Tetons and is a short hundred mile drive.

Our original plan was to stay in Old Faithful Inn and to spend a few days looking at all the weird and wonderful geophysical thermal anomalies that comprise Yellowstone. The plan evolved into a one day drive through with lunch at Old Faithful Inn. As I explained in an earlier post, getting a room at Old Faithful on very short notice is the same as winning the Mega-Lottery.

We chose to tour Old Faithful Inn because it is a magnificent structure made entirely of logs harvested from the park. It is one hundred and seven years old, and a National treasure. It is also the centerpiece of Yellowstone Park.

Old Faithful Geyser is a few steps away from the front door of the Inn. When the Inn was constructed, most people traveled to the park to see the geyser. They still do. In the old days, they came by train and continued by way of a yellow bus to the inn.

The main lobby of the Inn is several stories high. There are two giant fireplaces to take a chill out of a weary traveler’s bones. All the stone is from the park. The main architecture of the building was pre-planned as most buildings are. The details of the interior could only have been done by an artist using material gathered from the Park on site as the structure went up. Only Walt Disney could have envisioned the railings, and the gussets that make up the guard rails and sconces in the lobby.

We timed our lunch around the geyser. Ever since discovery of the park by John Colter a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the geysers has been spouting off on a cycle of about one hour. Of course it was spouting off longer than that, but it wasn’t until 1806 that Colter recorded the discovery.

Peggy and I watched two cycles of the geyser and toured the shops in between. The sun was getting low and we had to move on. I deliberately took a longer drive out of the park to give us a view of the many geysers, and boiling mud fields, and paint pots as we could see. We got lucky and sighted a small herd of buffalo and some elk too. I also got to hear an elk bay for a mate; the scariest noise I’d ever heard.

Our Yellowstone journey ended as we passed through the West Entrance. It was amazing to see how quickly the forest was regenerating itself from the fire a few years earlier.

Here are some of the pictures from this segment of the trip.

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Still In Shock

The latest offering of my Steppenwolf Theater subscription is a play titled “Sex With Strangers.” I am still in shock over this play. First of all, it is very current. The characters and the content of the play is now. I thought I was hip, but after viewing this story I am not sure.

Sex With Strangers has two characters: Ethan and Olivia. He is twenty four, she is thirty something. Ethan is a Blogger who writes about his sexual conquests. He has writen a book about the one hundred or more sexual different encounters he has within a single  year. While he is writing, he blogs about his encounters. Olivia is a serious novelist who has no knowledge of the internet and of Blogging for fame.

I had serious problems with the story within the first act. The play opens with Olivia reading a book while sitting in a modestly outfitted home. There is a knock on the door. She ignores it. The knock turns into a pounding and shouting. A man’s voice is shouting let me in. This is where  I have a problem. She goes to the door and lets the guy, a complete stranger, in.

They talk to each other like they know each other, but in fact, are complete strangers. The place turns out to be in Michigan during the winter. Olivia is there to write. Ethan went there to do the same. He is totally disappointed however, because there is no internet service. He is suddenly lost. No phone, no computer connection, he is stuck with Olivia and the old fashioned method of communicating via conversation.

Within the first act and only after a short time of getting to know each other two complete strangers have sex. The only thing they have in common is that they write. The sex scene is portrayed by the set going dark. In the first half of the play before before the intermission, the lights go dark four times.

Although I was totally shocked by the content and the culture portrayed by these characters, this play was totally enjoyable, and understandable.

Stephen Louis Grush who played Ethan only had one flaw. He was tattooed over much of his body. The ‘toos, although current and contemporary, left me wondering about the guys sexuality. He also resembled a man I knew on my job. I kept seeing Chris not Ethan.

Olivia played by Sally Murphy was totally hot.  I only hope she has mopre sense in real life than her character had.

Both actors gave very convincing performances. All in all, this story was among the very best I have seen at Steppenwolf.

Five stars * * * * *

Toy Trains Go Serious

Many men have memories of a toy train set from childhood. Usually, the train was a gift from Santa or maybe even Dad and Mom. The train sets had names like Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx.

My own recollection is one of spending hours of great fun running the train around the Christmas tree imagining trips across country as the engineer. The set I ran was never really mine. It belonged to the family. In our house, Christmas was the only time the train came out. Our parents allowed us to set it up after decorating the tree. The track layout was an oval with an extension forming a second longer oval. Two switches allowed the engineer to take a shortcut across the short oval. We also had a steel-truss bridge, and a crossing gate.

My dad worked for the railroad and he encouraged us to be interested. In my case, the encouragement was minimal since the mere sight of the set coming out of the closet made my juices flow.

Yesterday, Grandma Peggy and I visited the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club open house in New Lenox, IL. The size of the layout is amazing. The club claims it is the largest 3-rail O-Gauge layout in the Midwest, and I believe it. I have seen one other layout that I think is more impressive, and it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The museum layout is different, in that the trains use only two rails.

"The Great Train Story" exhibit in t...

Image via Wikipedia

The Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club formed in the spring of 1994. The membership is over one hundred and fifty. They own a seven thousand square foot industrial condo clubhouse, and use every square foot effectively. Several new projects are in process as the members continue to build their railroad.

We spent two hours inspecting the details of the villages and watching one of the longest container trains I have ever seen give it a realistic experience. The container train was one of four to six trains running on different  rails all around the layout. They even had a short line trolley shuttling between two points. One very obvious omission was a passenger train, even though several vignettes were train stations with people waiting for trains to arrive. The club probably did that on purpose to remind us of the lack of passenger service available in America today.

The mezzanine level contained three traveling layouts which the club takes to  shows away from the clubhouse. These layouts really amused little kids. One was a carnival, with rides, another had a Thomas the Tank Engine train, and the third layout allowed the kids to play with wooden trains.

I got a valuable education in photography during my visit. It shocked me to learn that my point and shoot camera got what seemed like good photos with the available light. Near the end of the visit, I turned on the flash to photograph a very dark scene, and realized a huge difference in color. At home, I realized all the photos taken without the flash are blurry. It never occurred to me that the camera would keep the aperture open longer to gather light; an automatic time exposure. The blur happened because of my shaky one-handed reach toward the vignettes. All of the moving trains blurred because of the speed at which they were moving. I must get over my reluctance to switch to video mode. I’m just too old for video photography, even though I won awards for my home movies a very long time ago.

Follow this link to the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club website where they have lots more photos.

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http://www.clrctrains.com

Bicycle Commuting in 1952

BIKE COMMUTING

After the first couple of weeks of riding the streetcar to high school, it was time to ride my bike back and forth.  She was hard to convince, but Mom finally relented and allowed me to do it.

Why it was so important for me to do it, I don’t know.  Maybe it was the adventure of riding a little over three miles from home on streets that were all strange. My paper-route basket was able to carry my books without any trouble.  This was the first school year that I didn’t deliver papers in a long time.

I plotted a route to take Woodlawn Avenue south all the way to the dead-end at 99th Street.  A right turn swung me toward Cottage Grove.  A left turn put me on Cottage Grove Avenue where I followed the streetcar tracks up to 103rd Street.  At 103rd Street I ducked right under and through the  viaduct to Dauphin Avenue. Dauphin runs parallel to the Illinois Central tracks in a southwesterly direction. It is a narrow street with little to no traffic.  I stayed on Dauphin up 109th where it stopped. I zigged west to Eberhart which turns into 110th place, and finally dead ends at South Park Avenue (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). I rode the sidewalk along the Mendel property fence to the school gate. On a busy day, I might see two cars during the trip. The twenty-five minutes  it took to ride was less than using the streetcar, especially if the cars were running slow.

Bike route from home to Mendel High School

I parked in a very long bicycle shed with room for fifty bikes behind the Rec Center.  It had three walls and a roof.  There, I locked my bike to the rack and walked the path to the building.  The total distance was short, but I felt like I had ridden to the end of the world.

It wasn’t long before the days got shorter and the weather turned nasty and I was back on the streetcar again.

Following A Secret Dream

Presented here is a photo of Soldier Field, Ch...

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FOOTBALL

The football team at Mendel was as young as the school; one year old.  The young team played games, but always against the Freshmen/sophomore teams in the Catholic league.  Football in the Catholic league was a huge sport.  Since most of the Catholic schools were boys only or girls only, the teams meant a lot to a school.  The dominant footballs teams were from Carmel, Leo, Fenwick, Saint Rita, and De LaSalle.  There were others, too, but these schools dominated the league.

I remember reading about “Red” Gleason, the coach from Leo High School. Leo played in the championships often.  Winning the Catholic school championship meant playing at Soldier Field against the public school champions for the All City Title.  My brother Bill went to St. Leo when Red Gleason coached the Leo team to a championship.

I secretly dreamed of joining the football team.  My limited association with the game came from playing “tackle” on the lawn next to the rectory. Tackle games were few because we had to wait for an evening when Father Horvath was out. I didn’t know about shoulder pads, hip pads, padded pants, jerseys, or helmets. None of my friends did either. Most of the time we played “tag” games in the schoolyard, or on the street in front of the house.

One day, during the spring of my first year, an announcement came: “Anyone wishing to try out for the football team should come to the gym at 3:30 to meet Red Gleason the new head coach.”

Wow!  I thought, Red Gleason, a chance to meet ‘the man’ himself. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could rush to the gym to sign up.  Finally, the last bell rang and we rushed to our lockers to put away our books.  There was plenty of time to get to the gym, it was only 3 p.m.  I got there early to stand in line with what seemed like  at least two hundred boys. All of them were anxious to try out for football.

At three-thirty, Fr. McNabb walked into the gym with a short dumpy man, rather portly, with thinning reddish hair.  I recognized him from the pictures I had seen in the newspapers. Red Gleason is really here.

Father directed us to line up single file and shoulder to shoulder. The coach and Father McNabb passed by the line for inspection.  Coach stopped in front of each boy and looked him over head to toe.  Sometimes he asked for a name, or some other question, and occasionally, he even shook a boy’s hand.

It took forever but he finally got to me.  He stopped, looked at me hard and asked, “How much do you weigh, boy?”

I really didn’t know my weight so I answered, “about 90 lbs.”

“Be sure to come to tryout in summer.”

I was in heaven.  Red Gleason asked me to try out for the team!

Of course, the largest obstacle I faced was not the team tryout, but it would be talking Mom and Dad into letting me do it.  Neither of them knew much about the game except that you could get hurt.  I had all summer to do it; now I just wanted to celebrate.

Ideas flooded my mind for how to convince them. After a days of deliberation I decided to work hard all summer to earn my tuition so they would have to let me do it.   The summer of 1953 became the longest summer of my life, and  was also the one that changed my course in a way that tested me beyond all of my dreams.

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