Category Archives: Indiana

Driving around in a self-induced nostalgia trip

Reasonable facsimile of my rental car (courtesy of http://clipartix.com/)

Reasonable facsimile of my rental car (courtesy of http://clipartix.com/)

My current visit to northwest Indiana marks the first time I’ve driven a car since, well, my last visit there over a year ago. As a city dweller who hasn’t owned a car since Air Supply’s earliest U.S. hits, let’s just say that driving is not my forte. Night driving is a special adventure, during which I’m reinforcing unflattering stereotypes about Asian drivers.

The last and only car I ever owned was a hand-me-down 1968 Buick LeSabre that got about seven blocks to a gallon of gas in mileage. I gave it to my brother Jeff when I left for law school at NYU in the fall of 1982. I had learned during an earlier trip to New York City that, unlike your typical Indiana campus, universities in the heart of Manhattan did not have parking lots adjoining their residence halls.

Since then, I have been a creature of the subway, first in New York, and now in Boston.

This, of course, brings the adventure back to driving on those rare occasions that I do rent a car.

Oh, and speaking of Air Supply, I’ve once again used the unique experience of driving to listen to an oldies station that plays a lot of stuff from back in the day. As I wrote last year:

Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.

And so it is with this trip, as the pop sounds of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Styx, Hall & Oates, Cheap Trick, and others waft through my rental vehicle. I usually don’t immerse myself in this music at home — I’ll take the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Sinatra, and the like over more recent popular music anyday — but the post-adolescent oldies do bring back memories.

A view from the Garden

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This 1940s wartime era photo prompts a nostalgic moment for me, even if I wasn’t around back then and my soggy sentiments have nothing to do with the picture itself. This is the old Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the marquee features coming sporting attractions, including basketball games featuring Valparaiso University (my undergraduate alma mater) and New York University (my law school alma mater).

Valparaiso posted the pic to its Facebook page in connection with the appearance of the current men’s basketball team in the semifinal round of the National Invitation Tournament, which will be played in the modern Madison Square Garden next week. This year’s squad has set a school record for wins, including three in the NIT. A victory against Brigham Young University on Tuesday will put them in the tourney championship game, to be played later in the week.

The vintage photo shows VU players arriving for their game at the Garden. VU’s war-era team was one of the nation’s best, thanks to its successful recruiting of talented players who were too tall to enter military service. The team traveled all the way from the Hoosier State to play Long Island University, no small journey in the days before jet airliners.

The second marquee game featured NYU hosting Colgate University. NYU was a major college sports presence during the first half of the last century, and its basketball team played in many of the prominent arenas along the east coast. Today NYU is a non-scholarship Division 3 school, with men’s and women’s basketball teams playing very competitively at that level.

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We all have our personal narratives, and part of mine involves growing up and going to college in northwest Indiana, discovering something of the world during a final collegiate semester abroad, and then heading off to law school in New York City. To see both Valparaiso and NYU on that marquee, located on the wondrous island of Manhattan, symbolically brings together two educational institutions that have played important roles in my life.

As for Madison Square Garden, when I lived in New York I watched my share of basketball there, mostly Knicks NBA games. It was still possible back then to get cheap tickets (four dollars, then eight dollars) to sit up in the nosebleed seats. But when the Knicks were on top of their game and the Garden was rocking, well, it didn’t matter where you sat, it was quite an event.

After VU’s home court victory over St. Mary’s of California that punched the team’s ticket for the trip east, the public address system played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” That was my song, too. I hope their Manhattan sojourn turns out as well for them as it did for me.

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Related post

On being a college sports fan: A waif’s journey (2015)

Celebrating 219 Day in Boston: The Region Rat in me

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Last week on Facebook, I saw friends from my native Northwest Indiana posting stuff about “219 Day.” Of course I recognized 219 as the main area code for Lake County, Indiana, but I had no idea what this “Day” was all about. I would learn that 219 Day is a new “holiday” created by Hammond, Indiana mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., mixing local pride with a little tongue-in-cheek. The first 219 Day was marked by a food, drink, and entertainment event that drew thousands to the local Civic Center.

The humor is in the logo. As you can see, a rat is a part of it. To explain, Lake County and the City of Hammond are located in the heart of what is called the Calumet Region, named for the Calumet River that flows through it. Denizens of “Da Region” have long been called “Region Rats.” So the Mayor (and/or his public relations team) incorporated said rodent into the overall theme.

Although Mayor McDermott caught some flak for including the little fella in the logo — apparently some of the more refined residents didn’t fully appreciate the association — on the whole 219 Day was a rousing success and will now become an annual event. Personally, I thought it was a clever way of saying, hey, we’re going to celebrate our region without taking ourselves too seriously!

In fact, when I saw folks posting stickers for 219 Day on Facebook, I contacted one of my Region schoolmates, Dave Woerpel, now Chairman of the Hammond Democrats and a close associate of the Mayor, and asked how I might get my hands on one. Well, not only did Dave send me a couple of stickers, but also to my surprise he sent a 219 Day t-shirt (“219 Day, It’s all about Da Region”), which I proudly show off in the photo above. It is a fitting addition to my leisurewear collection. Perhaps some Bostonians will ask for an explanation!

I left Indiana in 1982, bound for law school in New York City. For a long time I thought I’d never look back. But I have come to appreciate all the chapters of my life, and growing up in Da Region is an important part of it. Over the years I have kept in touch with a handful of people from Indiana, and now — often via Facebook — I have reconnected with folks I had lost touch with for decades.

So yes, I enjoyed the humor imbued in that 219 Day logo. But I also regard that t-shirt with genuine sentiment, a welcomed connection of my past with my present.

Fighting Irish schmaltz: “Rudy” and “Knute Rockne All American”

When it comes to college football fandom, I’m not naturally rooted. My undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University, has a terrific mid-major basketball program, but for decades its football team has mostly struggled. My law school alma mater, New York University, doesn’t even have a football team, though it once was quite prominent in the sport during the 1920s and 1930s.

And so on Saturdays during the fall, I often fall back on my northwest Indiana origins, when I became a Notre Dame football fan. I may have no educational or faith connection to Notre Dame, but I can’t help it, I am drawn to its football team. (I fully understand that hating on the Fighting Irish is a time-honored football tradition in itself. Those who cannot bear to read this rest of this post are hereby given permission to click to something else.)

Two movies, “Rudy” and “Knute Rockne All American,” capture the mystique and mythology of Notre Dame football, augmented by forms of dramatic license inherent in most sports flicks. The Urban Dictionary defines “schmaltz” as “a work of art that is excessively sentimental, sappy or cheesy.” Both films qualify for in that category. But that’s okay, I enjoy both of them, perhaps because of — not in spite of — their soggy stories.

Rudy” (1993) is based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, a scrappy, undersized blue-collar kid who dreamed of playing for Notre Dame, set in the late 60s through mid-70s. The movie portrays his dogged determination in chasing that dream, fueled by numerous references to the storied traditions of the University and its football team. As befits your basic sports story, there are struggles to overcome along the way.

It is often quipped that “Rudy” is one of those sports movies that makes it okay for guys to cry. Personally, it doesn’t unleash the tear ducts for me, but it’s a heartwarming story nonetheless. Sean Astin makes for a likable, convincing Rudy, and the football scenes are decent. One might quarrel with some of the story twists inserted for cheap effect — the Notre Dame head coach at the time, Dan Devine, certainly has reason to be miffed at how he’s portrayed — but let’s remember that this is a Hollywood movie, not an art house film.

The movie also blows a kiss to Notre Dame and its Catholic traditions. A feature accompanying the DVD tells us that this was the first movie filmed on campus since (see below!) “Knute Rockne, All American.”

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Knute Rockne All American” (1940) is a paean to Notre Dame head coach and player Knute Rockne, the most revered figure in Fighting Irish football history. Rockne entered Notre Dame as a student at the age of 22, wanting to play football. As a member of the 1913 Irish squad, he teamed up with quarterback Gus Dorais to form the first potent forward passing combination in the history of the game.

After graduation, Rockne stayed on as a chemistry instructor and assistant football coach, eventually giving up a promising science career to become the school’s head coach. During the late 1910s and through the 1920s, he built America’s most successful college football program, leading the Irish to multiple national championships and becoming a national figure along the way.

If “Rudy” regards its main subject sentimentally, then “Knute Rockne All American” is an all out love letter to its protagonist, the University, and the sport of football. War clouds were hovering over America when the movie was filmed and released, and it appears to be no accident that it ties together football, faith, manhood, and patriotism as a thematic passage.

The movie stars Pat O’Brien as Rockne and a young Ronald Reagan as legendary Notre Dame football player George Gipp.

 

Lost traditions: The Sunday newspaper

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Not too long ago, a popular Sunday tradition was spending a good chunk of the day reading through the Sunday editions of the daily newspapers. Millions experienced the tactile delight of opening up a big Sunday paper, wondering what interesting stuff waited to be discovered. Even the advertising flyers were fun to page through, especially around holiday season.

The hefty Sunday newspaper has been a journalistic tradition for well over a century. One of my favorite coffee table books is Nicholson Baker & Margaret Brentano, The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898-1911) (2005), which celebrates Sunday newspapers published during the turn of the last century.

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The World on Sunday and the tradition of Sunday newspaper reading represent an aspect of pre-digital culture that may be hard to understand for those weaned on an online world where wishes for news and commentary are instantly gratified. Fortunately, some of the major newspapers still land on doorsteps with a healthy thud on Sundays, containing some of their best in-depth reporting, feature articles, and opinion pieces.

Growing up in Chicagoland

My Sunday newspaper habit goes back to growing up in Northwest Indiana, where local papers and the Chicago dailies were readily available. Among the Sunday editions that regularly got my attention were the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Hammond Times, and Gary Post-Tribune. The Tribune excelled at covering my beloved Chicago sports teams, and the Post-Tribune did a very good job with local news.

These papers deserve credit for turning me into a Sunday paper junkie. The Chicago influence was especially strong. The Windy City was a great, great newspaper town back in the day, fueled by the city’s colorful politicians, sports figures, and crime bosses. Beyond the headliners, however, the reporters and columnists who toiled for Chicago’s daily papers also had a knack for digging out the stories of everyday people. The human interest story had a regular place in the city’s newspapers.

Sundays in New York

When I lived in New York City (1982-1994), the Sunday papers were a special treat. The Sunday New York Times was an especially heavy load, a multi-pound door stopper packed with goodies and advertising circulars. The early edition of the Sunday Times would come out on late Saturday evening (and still does), and many a weekend night out included picking up a copy on the way home.

My personal favorite, however, was New York Newsday, the now gone NYC edition of the venerable Long Island daily. New York Newsday wasn’t as worldly as the Times, but it spoke more closely to the city’s middle class and did a superb job of covering local politics and sports. Its thick Sunday edition was chock full of extended features and commentaries. To this day, New York Newsday remains my favorite-ever newspaper.

And now in Boston

My Sunday paper of choice remains the New York Times. The Times has not abandoned the idea that the Sunday edition of a newspaper should be something special. I especially look forward to its Week in Review and Book Review sections.

The major daily here is the Boston Globe, and I have an online subscription. I have an on again, off again relationship with the Globe, and for now we are on digital terms only. In fact, despite a surfeit of subscriptions to printed periodicals, I increasingly get much of my news and commentary online.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t trade the remarkable world of information and news available online for the days of waiting for the paper to be delivered. I, too, have been spoiled by point and click access to news coverage from around the nation and the world. However, at a time when we can use more civilized, enjoyable, and affordable rituals in our lives, reading the Sunday newspaper remains a pretty good choice.

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This is a revised version of a piece I wrote for another blog three years ago.

Throwback Thursday: High school football benchwarmer

I'm actually in this photo, the very tanned young man in the 5th row.

I’m in this photo, the very tanned kid with black hair in the 5th row.

Some forty Augusts ago, I was sweating it out on a blazing hot northwest Indiana practice field, along with 60 or so other guys who wanted to play football. Yes folks, despite my lack of physical prowess and athletic talent, I was on my high school football team for several years.

The caption of the team photo above is a bit misleading. Any sophomore, junior, or senior who tried out for football and survived the grueling two-a-day August practice sessions was on the “varsity.” However, my role was to be practice fodder — a member of what today is called the “scout team” — helping to prepare the starting players and top reserves for the Friday night games. I would get to play in the Saturday morning junior varsity games, and occasionally at the tail end of varsity games when the result was quite settled.

Given that I wasn’t very big, you’d think that my “natural” position was running back and/or defensive back. However, my blinding lack of speed and quickness made that problematic, so the coaches put me on the line. Yup, I was a 150 lb. center, guard, and nose tackle. This was largely for practice purposes only, because unless the phalanx of guys ahead of me on the depth chart all suddenly got sick, hurt, suspended, or quit the team, no one needed to be concerned that I’d be in the lineup during key moments of a game.

At some point I smartened up and realized that this was not the most best use of my extracurricular time. I would get involved in activities such as student government, which proved to be a better match for me.

But looking back, I know the experience of high school football toughened me up in valuable ways. Lining up in practice every day against bigger, stronger, faster players, and getting up when you’re knocked down, may not be fun, but you learn that you can get up and be ready to go again. Plus, I liked being on the team. It planted the seeds for being a lifetime football fan.

Fortunately, my eventual absence from the team was not felt acutely. As one of my former teammates told me, “Dave, we missed you in football this year but managed to suck without you.”

Throwback Thursday: Old haunts and lasting friendships

I made an extended weekend trip to northwest Indiana for a long overdue visit with friends and family, one filled with both nostalgia for the past and appreciation for enduring friendships renewed.

Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.

I put the nostalgia machine on overdrive when I had some time to kill before heading off to O’Hare Airport. I decided to spend a few hours driving around to old haunts.

Early boyhood house in Griffith, Indiana

Here’s our early boyhood home in Grffith, Indiana. When our family moved to the neighboring city of Hammond, our aunt, uncle, and cousins moved from Ohio to Griffith to take our place in this home!

It started with a visit to our early boyhood home in small-town Griffith, Indiana, where my brother Jeff and I spent our early years with our parents. I had not been there in many decades. I was stunned to see a cozy little block with a narrow street. In my memories of being five years old, it is a big, humongous block with a wide street!

I also stopped at the Hammond, Indiana house that was home for most of my childhood through teen years. No real surprises there…it and the surrounding homes were much more as I had remembered them.

Now a Dollar Store in Highland, Indiana, this was the site of a warehouse-style outlet of the drugstore chain I worked for during an interim year between college and law school.

Now a Dollar Store in Highland, Indiana, this was the site of the warehouse-style outlet of the drugstore chain I worked for during an interim year between college and law school.

For some odd reason I wanted to revisit the sites of jobs I had worked before moving to New York for law school in 1982. During several college summers and holiday periods, as well as an interim year between finishing college and leaving for law school, I worked for Ribordy Drugs, a local drugstore chain that once had a couple of dozen stores dotting northwest Indiana.

It was standard low-paid retail store work, unloading delivery trucks, tagging merchandise, and stocking shelves. Although I grumbled about it at times, I now look back and realize that those experiences helped me to develop a work ethic.

When I graduated from Valparaiso in 1981, I intended to take an interim year before moving on to law school. Alas, so-called “professional” jobs were not in large supply for new graduates in recession-burdened Northwest Indiana. So I ended up returning to Ribordy Drugs, this time working at its new warehouse-style store, a local precursor of the big box chain stores that now dominate the retail outlets in the area. I worked there more-or-less full-time, while also doing some part-time reporting for a local community newspaper.

It was not the most exciting year of my life, but because I was filing my law school applications, it was filled with anticipation. My original plan was to head to the west coast, but when an acceptance letter from New York University arrived in the mail, I knew that I wanted to go there. In August 1982, I would leave for NYU and the Big Apple.

Mini-reunion of Valparaiso University friends and family members, in Valparaiso (photo by Don Driscoll)

Mini-reunion of Valparaiso University friends and family members, in Valparaiso (photo by Don Driscoll)

But let me get back to people. The photo above is from a mini-reunion last Friday of college friends from Valparaiso University and assorted family members. The company of Hilda, Mark, Brad, Don, Maggie, Dave, Dorothy, Jim, Elena, Abby, and Matt made for a most enjoyable evening. The many smiling faces in the photo were more than snapshot poses. We were laughing a lot, unearthing stories from back in the day and sharing news of the latest goings-on in our lives.

At my motel, I also bumped into another group of VU alums holding their own little reunion, including friends Sheralynn (and a most articulate contributor to a running e-mail exchange about the suspense series 24 when it aired) and Rachelle (fellow study abroad participant). Their sorority was doing a kind of Chicagoland summer reunion caravan that concluded with a visit to their alma mater. Getting to see them was an unexpected treat.

The next day, I drove to Hammond, where I joined with my brother Jeff and old friends Mark and Karen for a meal at the House of Pizza, a restaurant than enjoys legendary status for its uniquely excellent thin crust pizza. Mark and I have been friends going waaaay back to the 3rd grade. And all four of us have been going to House of Pizza since we were kids. Sharing a meal at one of Chicagoland’s many superb pizza places has become a sort of tradition during visits there.

I then met up for a visit with my long-time friend Katherine (going back to high school), who first took me to the local Community Veteran’s Memorial, featuring some very well done historical exhibits and timelines. We then went to one of the local casinos (none of which were around when I grew up there), where we enjoyed a first-rate meal and won $10 playing the nickel slots. (I cannot recall the last time I was in a casino. What a surreal world onto itself.)

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So here’s the lesson, especially for us nostalgia freaks: Old haunts are what they are, places of days gone by. It may be meaningful to revisit them, but they are of the past. When it comes to people, however, it’s about the present. The relationships built over the years may have their roots in long ago, but when they remain vibrant, and thankfully stripped of our my early immaturities (er, at least some of them), that is a pretty cool thing.

Exploring the ‘hood on our Schwinn bicycles

(Screenshot from Schwinncruisers.com)

(Screenshot from Schwinncruisers.com)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I grew up in the northwest Indiana city of Hammond, a small (est. pop. 100,000) working class city. We lived in a neighborhood known as Woodmar, which had something of a suburban look and feel. During the 60s and early 70s, it was a relatively safe and secure place to grow up. Parents didn’t have to worry too much about kids being out on their own, even during the early evening hours.

During grade school, a good bicycle was the primary means of attaining a degree of youthful independence, at least when it came to getting around the neighborhood on your own and meeting up with friends. Among the many brands available, the basic, one speed Schwinn Sting-ray was a popular choice. It was simple, sturdy, and easy to control. A big step beyond a child’s starter bike, it could move pretty fast when powered by an energetic grade schooler.

For me, the Sting-ray was my ticket to exploring the neighborhood beyond our immediate block. I could ride to friends’ homes, the parkway, our grade school, or even the shopping center. The bike had enough giddy up in it that in some areas I could ride (carefully) on the streets, rather than sticking exclusively to the sidewalks.

I’ll stop short of trying to paint this as an idyllic childhood, because I was bored at times and felt lonely on occasion as well. Part of me yearned for something more, even if I didn’t know quite what it might look like back then.

But such feelings are hardly unique among kids (or adults, for that matter). Overall I am fortunate to have happy memories of hopping on my bike to ride around the neighborhood.

Dreaming of spring training

If you're wondering what the sidewalks look like in many residential areas of Boston, here's one from my 'hood, taken last night walking home from the subway.

Baseball season approaches! Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what the sidewalks look like in many residential areas of Boston, here’s one from my ‘hood. I snapped the photo on Sunday night, walking home from the subway. (Photo: DY, 2015)

During this winter of our discontent here in Boston, baseball season seems as far away as the moon. Perhaps that’s why I find myself waxing nostalgic about the game, thinking back to my boyhood years when I became a fan.

During my latter grade school years, I discovered baseball, both watching and playing. The watching was inspired by my 80-something grandfather, who was living with us in Northwest Indiana and enjoyed Chicago Cubs games on television. He didn’t speak much English, but he could follow the ballgames, and so after school and during summers, we’d often watch with him in our little TV room. Here’s the song that would open many a Cubs telecast:

The playing was by way of my friends, who were big sports fans. A few were on organized Little League teams, but for most of us baseball was a pick-up game played on the local parkway, with improvised diamonds. I was terrible at first, but I had fun and kept at it, to the point where I could hold my own hitting and fielding.

In fact, my affinity for the game grew quickly, and the slightest sign of spring became reason to get out my baseball glove and bat. Once the temperatures hit the 60s, I would be full of anticipation for the coming Cubs season and for our parkway ballgames. I’d check the newspaper for news about spring training and search out neighborhood pals to play catch. I also became a fan of tabletop baseball games that used statistical charts and cards to simulate the performances of real-life baseball players — the forerunners of today’s sophisticated computer and video games.

As I got older my focus on baseball waned. But after I graduated from law school, I rediscovered the game. I was in New York City by then, and in the mid-1980s it was still possible to get Mets grandstand seats for under $10. I shared a pair of season tickets with friends during the Mets 1986 World Series championship season, and it was a blast. I also joined fellow Legal Aid Society lawyers for weekly softball games in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Yup, those were good years.

Today, I’d be in better physical shape if I was still playing softball, instead of anticipating the start of fantasy baseball season and playing baseball board and computer games! Whatever. Until this snow starts to clear up, any manifestations of baseball around here will be virtual anyway.

July 20, 1962: It was a dark and stormy day

Path of the 1962 tornado. We lived on Oakwood St, near the origin.

Path of the 1962 tornado, as marked by the yellow line. We lived on Oakwood St, near the origin. (Photo of TornadoHistoryProject.com)

With March on the horizon, we’re now approaching the severe storm season, and I’ll be paying attention to forecasts and reports about tornadoes, building on a fascination that traces back to my early childhood. And thanks to an incredible database, TornadoHistoryProject.com, I can track down the history and path of the very first tornado I ever experienced, albeit down in the basement of my childhood Griffith, Indiana home.

It was July 20, 1962. Mom had taken my brother Jeff (almost 9 months old) and me (almost 3 years old) down to the basement by the time the tornado passed over our house. After it was safe to leave the basement, I went upstairs to see that our swing set had been knocked over. That was the worst of it. Thankfully it was a relatively weak tornado, with no reported injuries. However, as I’ve learned from the Tornado History Project, it had some staying power, traveling nearly 15 miles.

This is one of my earliest and sharpest childhood memories. In fact, I cannot recall anything else from that time making such imprint. My next firm memory comes from over a year later, when I was watching President Kennedy’s funeral.

I guess this helps to explain why I’ve been so captivated by tornadoes. In recent years, I’ve been going on storm chase tours and hanging out on Facebook with storm chasers and other bad weather enthusiasts. I guess some experiences just stick to the ribs, yes?

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Related post

My first storm chase tour: May 2008 (May 2014)

 

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