Pea Pod Prototype

Black and White image of Delibike in Buenos Aires

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The Pea Pod Prototype

During the second semester of freshman year I befriended a boy named Frank, who lived in Roseland. He also rode his bike to school every day. He told me about a really great after school job he had delivering groceries for Tumey’s grocery store at 115th and Wentworth. Frank said the store owner could always use help on a part time basis. He probably wanted to quit his job and needed to recruit his replacement.

At home, I approached Mom with the idea of allowing me to work at Tumey’s after school. I already rode my bike to school, and the store was just another half mile further. She agreed and I went to Tumey’s with Frank to apply for the job.

My bike had a big basket mounted on the front from my paper route, and it was ready for the job. Mr. Tumey hired me for two days a week. At first I didn’t get to deliver anything. Mr. Tumey handed me a broom, and told me to sweep the floor. I did a great job of it. Next, he asked me to stack cereal boxes on the top shelf. I used the tongs on the end of a long pole to put them up there. The next time, he gave me a bucket of ammonia water, a brush on a pole, and a large squeegee. He took me outside and showed me how to wash the windows. Each day I went, he had another job for me.

Eventually, a telephone order came for groceries. Mrs. Tumey made a list on a paper-bag. When the list was done she wrote the address on the same bag. The Tumey’s knew all of the phone customers very well because the same people also shopped in the store when they could.

Mrs. Tumey ran around the little store collecting all of the items on the list and put them into a box. Mr. Tumey cut the meat items and wrapped them. Once she completed the list, she added the bill and recorded the amount on a receipt in her book. One copy went to the customer, the other stayed in the book.

It was time for delivery, and they called me from my sweeping job to take the order. Finally, after a couple of weeks at work I would be delivering groceries on my trusty bike.

The box looked very large, but I put both arms around it and lifted. Wow! That box was heavy. I could barely make it out the front door. Outside, I stood in front of the bike holding a box which made the veins pop out of my head. How do I get the box into the basket when the bike is leaning over on the kickstand? I took the box back in, then came out and propped the bike against the building. I wrestled the box up into the basket. It hung up on the wires half way in. That’s stupid, I told myself, the next time I’ll fit the empty box into the basket before she loads it up.

During the next challenge I rode three blocks with this huge load up front. My Sunday newspaper loads were heavy too, and I was accustomed to a loaded front wheel, but this box was at least double the heaviest paper load.

With every bump I heard bottles clinking against each other. Now, I know why Schwinn sells a delivery bike with the small front wheel and the huge basket. I wished I had one right then and there! My basket stood high above the wheel and made the bike unstable with a high center of gravity. On a delivery bike the load is low to the ground. A delivery bike also has a kick stand that holds the front wheel straight and off the ground. It keeps the bike rock solid. The basket is lower and wider making it much easier to load and unload.

My first delivery went to a customer who lived on a block of two and three flats. This lady lived on the third floor. I had to use the open back stairway for delivery. Somehow, I wrestled the box out of the basket. The road vibration had settled it in place. Miraculously, the bike didn’t tip over while I pried the box from the basket, and nothing fell out.

The box weighed at least thirty pounds, and I weighed ninety. The climb up the stairs was like climbing Mount Everest. By the time I got to the last landing my arms were tired, my legs were shaking, and I could feel the box slipping out of my fingers. What did I get myself into, I kept thinking?

God was with me all the way because I made it. I pressed the bell with a knuckle and then rested by pushing the box against the building. The lady took her sweet time to answer the door but finally came. She told me to place the box on the kitchen table. I politely handed her the bill and she paid. Ceremoniously, she awarded me with a quarter.

As I rode back, I felt a cold breeze drying the hot sweat from my back.

That first trip taught me a lot about packing boxes, and making them lighter. It made sense to split a large heavy load into a couple of trips.

The Tumey’s had a son named Gil. He didn’t work in the store. Gill came home from school in his baseball uniform. He played on the Fenger High School team and practiced after school. He came in, kissed his mom, said hi to his dad, grabbed a snack, and disappeared to the apartment upstairs.

When the store closed at 5:30 I rode home taking every short cut I knew and rolled in at 6:00 p.m. just as Mom put supper on the table.

Hand Made In the USA

One of my favorite times at Mendel was the wood shop class. The class met three times a week for two hours. I had some exposure to woodworking from my grammar school experiences at the Tuley Park boat building shop. This class was different. Father Hennessey, my instructor, believed in teaching the basics. At Tuley Park, I jumped into a project and started cutting wood. At Mendel, I had to learn the name and function of every tool before Father let me touch a single one.

For the first assignment, Father H. gave me a block of maple wood to square up using only a chisel and a square. It sounded too easy, but I almost didn’t finish the assignment on time. Father H. came around the benches and asked for the piece. He inspected every corner, every edge, and every surface for square and for flatness. If any sliver of light showed under the square he bounced the piece, and sent me back to the bench to do better. The piece also had to be within the tolerance he specified.  Father Hennessey was a tough, but fair teacher.

The next project was a more complicated. We had to make a chevron-shield with separate wooden letter “M” applied to it. The last project was a table lamp that looked like a hand water pump. Pushing on the pump handle turned on the light. This little lamp was in continuous use over the years serving me well at all of my desks.

Fr. H. was a tough disciplinarian. If he caught you using a tool incorrectly, he jerked it out of your hand, and hit you with it. He also had a habit of squeezing the muscle on your shoulder, the one that stretches from your neck to the shoulder. It hurt so bad that I dropped to the floor to get out of the grip. Fr. H. hardly ever had a problem with anybody in his class.

Safety was paramount in the shop. During my semester there was not a single incidence of injury. Even though the school shop had all the power tools as I used at Tuley Park, I never got to use any of them.  Only Fr. Hennessey ever used the tools powered by electricity. The experience gave me an appreciation for the term “handmade.”

The ‘AV’ or Main Street America

High school gave me a freedom to explore.  Classes ended at 1:50 p.m. and basketball practice didn’t begin until 3:30,  that gave me an hour to walk up to Michigan Avenue.  It is a brisk five minute walk from the school, and up the hill to the “Av.”

The “Av,” short for Michigan Avenue, formed the central business district for the Roseland, and surrounding neighborhoods.  The “Av” and “Main Street America,” were one and the same. Walking down MIchigan Avenue between 103rd St and 115th St was the same as walking down the Main Street of Lowell ,Indiana, or Morris, Illinois. Small businesses covered both sides of the street from 107th to 115th.  There were clothing stores, shoe shops, a shoe maker, drugstores, Gately’s People Store, Walgreen’s, a small bike shop, barber shops, photo studio, and more.  Anything needed for life could be found on the “Ave”. There were restaurants, taverns, Dentists, and Doctors mixed in between and above the stores.  At the top of the hill on the corner of 111th and Michigan stood the Mocambo Night Club.

One of my favorite places was the soda fountain at Walgreen’s.  After a day in class, a coke hit the spot.  Mom shopped at Gately’s whenever she needed a special dress. Gately’s ran a bakery and food shop on the lower level.  One of their specialties was the French doughnut.  These were made on the automated donut machine.  I could watch that thing for hours.

The machine consisted of an ovular trough filled with hot cooking oil.  The start point was a dough dispenser, which plopped a ring of raw dough into the oil. The plop cooked in the oil as it moved around the oval.   A new plop followed as soon as the first was out of the way.  Once the plop reached the halfway point, a submerged basket lifted up and flipped it so the uncooked side was in the oil.  The half cooked donut continued to the end where it was again lifted and flipped out of the oil onto a tray as a fully cooked donut.  A worker arranged the finished donuts on the tray. She gave a final touch by sprinkling them with either powdered sugar, dipping them in chocolate frosting, or into plain sugar. When completed, she traded the full tray for an empty, and moved the full tray to the display case.  The process never stopped moving. Today, if you go to a Krispy Kreme donut shop you will see the same donut maker amazing people the same way it amazed me fifty-five years ago. It is also the same machine that amused me  in Hillman’s basement sixty-five years ago.

The Cianci Photo Studio was on the west side of the Ave between  at 113th.  They always featured examples of their work in the window.  High School graduation pictures were among their specialties.  When I graduated Mendel I had my studio picture taken there too.  My ugly face was one of the pictures they put into the window.  That was great from a girl chasing point of view, but I took a lot of flack from the guys.

I often visited the bike shop to look for parts to customize my bike.  There was something about the smell of the shop that turned me on.  The shop was not one of the modern sterile bright show rooms of today.  It was more like an old hardware store where the aisles and walls are stacked with shelves loaded with parts.  The difference being a hardware store didn’t have bikes squeezed into every inch of available floor space.

The owner of the shop was a gray haired man who wore an apron. His hands were black with dirt and grease.  The looked liked my hands when I cleaned my chain or rear wheel with a strong solvent.  The dirty grease gets into every pore and every fingerprint.  It was at this shop that I bought an eleven-tooth cog for my rear wheel.  A classmate from Roseland introduced me to the mechanical advantage offered by sprockets. He told me that putting a smaller sprocket on the back wheel would make the bike faster.  What he taught is correct but that “faster” also requires more torque.  Torque is required to turn the crank.  The force exerted on the pedal transmitted through the crank arm is torque.  The smaller gear required more torque, and since the crank arm is a fixed length, the force has to increase.  I found myself standing on the pedal to get enough force converted to torque to pull the chain that turned the small sprocket.

Once I got the bike moving with this sprocket, pumping continued to be harder. This extra effort got me to thinking that a bike really needs many sprockets on the back wheel. For starting from a dead stop or for climbing hills, a large rear sprocket is needed. Once you gain speed the sprocket can be smaller.  A multiple speed bike, what a novel idea(1952).

In 1972,  I bought a bike for my wife at the Schwinn shop in Evergreen Park.  I bought her a ladies model 5 speed, exactly what I had invented in 1952.  I told the shop owner that if Schwinn was smart they would add the multiple speed rear wheel onto a fat -tired cruiser.  The guy told me it was a dumb idea and that no one would buy it.

A hardtail mountain bike.

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Two years later a kid name Gary Fisher from California put a 5 speed wheel on a cruiser and started riding it up a mountain just so he could have the thrill of coasting down at high speed.  The mountain-bike caught on, and a fad began which pumped new life into a failing bike industry.  The new sport of mountain biking became a rage.  Schwinn finally woke up in the late seventies and sold a crude mountain bike.

The Av was a major commercial area until the late sixties.  By then, shopping malls displaced Main Street.  On the Southwest side of Chicago, Evergreen Plaza became the new hot spot for shopping. One by one, the businesses on the Av closed. The street became quiet, and the storefronts boarded.

Dancing on Wheels

Boys rollerskating. "i took a lot of pann...

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SWANK

“There will be a skating party this Thursday night at the “Swank Roller Rink”, came the announcement over the P.A. during Mr. Mills’ class.

What is a skating Party? I wondered to myself. I had to find out. During the lunch break, my friends told me about roller skating.  It seems I was living in a cocoon all by myself.  Most of the kids knew of the Swank Roller Rink, they knew where it was, and they had been there before.  I never heard of indoor roller skating before.

The rink was at 111th and Western.  It was one bus ride down 111th to get there from Roseland.  Many of the boys who attended Mendel lived in Roseland.  I made up my mind to go just to find out what it was all about.  For me, the trip to 111th & Western Avenue seemed like the end of the world.  After all, Western Avenue was the West border of the city.  From my house the total distance was seven miles and three streetcars.  It took me an hour to get there with waiting and all.

The cost to get into the party was 50 cents, plus skate rental.  When I arrived, a big crowd of kids were already there. The girls surprised me the most, I didn’t expect that.  It was a mob scene with kids lined up to rent skates; others were already skating on the big open floor.  They skated in a big circle around the outside walls of the ring.

I got my shoe skates and sat on a bench to put them on.  For a long while, I just sat there afraid to get up.  Finally, one of my buddies saw me and coaxed me to stand up and try.  Whenever I clamped my steel wheel skates to my shoes, I was stable, and when I had my ice skates on I was great, but these shoe skates were different.  Shoe skates had wide wooden wheels and the rink floor was super smooth.  The combination just looked too slippery.

I sat there watching other kids like me get up and fall on their asses.  Others were walking on the skates, holding onto the rails or whatever was near by.  It was hard to look ‘cool’ when your legs were slipping out from under you and you were on your backside every few steps.

I finally got up enough nerve to get out into the action.  At first, I stayed around the edges to be close to a grab point.  The good skaters stayed away from the outside, so it seemed safer there.  It wasn’t too long before I felt comfortable and was skating with ease.  Then I noticed some of my buddies going around backwards.  They could switch back and forth from forward to backward and look good doing it.  Where was I all these years while these guys were skating at the Swank?

A whistle blew and the music stopped.  “Clear the Floor” came the announcement.  Thank God, I thought, “couples only”.  Bunches of couples stayed on the floor.  I was amazed at their ability.  Some of the girls wore short skating skirts.  The organist, who sat in one corner of the room, played a waltz.  The lights dimmed and the couples got to have fun.  I never saw so many talented people gliding around in total synchronization to the music.  It was impressed by the beauty of it al.  At the same time, I was thinking that I’d never be able to do that.

The dancers flowed around the floor to the music.  Guys moving forward, girls backward with spins that ended in a side-by-side swinging glide.  It was fun just watching.  Soon the music ended and the lights came up and the “All Skate” announcement came.

The traffic on the floor during an all skate was thick.  Some were skating backward, couples were dancing, some were racing and then there were guys like me all holding on for dear life trying not to fall down and get run over.  The idea of falling down and getting my hands run over by skaters kept me concentrating on my balance.  Skaters did fall, but when that happened a safety marshal blew his whistle and skated to where you were to help you up.  At least three of these guys skated in the center of the oval waiting for an accident to happen.  They also made sure that skaters weren’t doing things to make it unsafe for others.  Just like a cop in a squad car, the Marshal came to get you if you were skating too fast, playing tag, weaving, or just being a jerk.  It was their job to keep things fun, without injury.

I really enjoyed the dances and looked forward to the chance to sit and watch.  The fox trot was a cool dance, as was the jitterbug.  By the end of the night I was wishing that I could dance and look cool too, not to mention having a girl partner to skate with.

At 10:00 the party ended and the rush to get out began.  The trip home took longer because the street cars didn’t run as often that late.  I’d get home around 11:30; Mom waiting for me, and Dad snored away.

The next day, at school, everyone had a great time talking about each other’s ungraceful falls and their awkward attempts to make contact with girls.

Mendel scheduled skating parties twice a year, but announcements for parties sponsored by other schools came often.

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.

Social Networking circa 1952

SOCK HOPS

Many wonderful new worlds opened up to me in high school.  It seemed like every time we listened to the announcements during home room class a new activity was born. This time it was the “sock hop.”

My social life was never lacking because of all my friends around the block.  In grammar school we stuck to each other like glue.  We hung together, we danced, we played games, we laughed and told each other our deepest feelings.  When high school entered our lives, it all changed.  We were still friends but our common interests were gone.  All of us were developing new ones.  We had new activities to attend. Now, we met our high school friends at these activities rather than take our grammar school buddies with us.  The school frowned on bringing boys from a different school to a Mendel social function. It was okay to sell them a ticket to a ball game but not to a dance. In a way, attending high school was like belonging to an exclusive club which was members only.

Up until that time, I had never heard the term ‘sock hop” before, but my new buddies, who were already in the know, told me I had to go because it was a great place to meet girls.  I could have taken a date to a sock hop, many boys did.  I was too afraid of girls to do that.  Even though I danced a lot with the girls of Avalon, this was different.  These girls were strangers and I’d have to talk to them.  It wasn’t easy for me to come up to a stranger and begin a conversation.  My mom was great at it. She made friends with people in an instant.  Dad was quiet. He had to force himself to meet new people all the time on his insurance job.

The sock hop was always on a Friday night. They began in mid-fall during football season, and continued through the basketball season. Many times they were right after the pep rally, and bon fire. They were simple dance socials organized for the purpose of getting the boys to meet girls and vice versa.  We always had a live band of high school kids who played the latest music.  At least one band member was a student at Mendel. We had to take our shoes off to dance on the sacred basketball floor; that’s why it was a ‘sock hop’.

There were a number of Catholic schools In the Roseland area. Saint Louis Academy was one of them.  Saint Louis was an all girl’s school located on State near 115 Street, and about a mile from Mendel.  The priest in charge advertised our event at all the neighborhood girl’s schools.  The word always got out, and there was always a good crowd at these dances.

Homecoming Dance, Not a Sock Hop, 1956

 

In my first year, I attended as many hops as I could.  Each time, I met a buddy and we stood on the sidelines drinking a coke, eyeballing the girls dancing by themselves.  We poked each other when a particular girl peaked our interest, and dared each other to ask her to dance.  I always thought the girls were too good for me, or too pretty. I never believed a pretty one would ever accept my offer to dance. The girls all seemed so old and mature. Most times it took me all evening to build up enough nerve to ask a special girl to dance. Then, when I finally made my move, another guy asked her just before me.

It was easier to talk to someone if you were dancing a slow dance than if you did a jitterbug.  That limited the number of chances I had to meet someone.  Since most guys could dance slow, but not fast, the competition was fierce.  (It just occurred to me as I am writing this that I was a good dancer, and loved to jitterbug. I should have taken advantage of that skill to meet the girls.  Duh!!  Not too dense, it’s only taken me fifty-eight years to figure that one out!)

The dance ended at 10 p.m., then everyone went their own way.  Many parents waited outside in cars to pick up their daughters.  A few older boys drove home from school, but most of us took the streetcar home.

In that first year that I attended the sock hops, I never developed enough nerve to ask a girl for a date after the hop.  I finally got enough nerve to begin asking girls to dance, but never had the nerve to go past “see you at the next sock hop” when it came to furthering a relationship.

Every time I attended a sock hop I took a step away from Avalon and a step further from my friends on the block. My freshman year at Mendel was my ‘breaking away’ experience.  We were all growing up and expanding our horizons, but desperately holding on to each other at the same time.

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