August 30, 2015

Long run today, I was thinking about Hot Dog Plus

One of my first jobs I ever had was working at Sammy Skobel’s Hot Dog Plus. This was almost 40 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. My hometown had a very small storefront that sold Chicago style hot dogs, beef sandwiches and Simplot Krinkle Fries. This small little shop was big in my little town. Every kid and adult knew of this place. To me it was the place that brought everyone together to a unanimous opinion. The food was the best. As a kid, I thought this was fine dining. I could go in, and purchase a hot dog with the works, a pile of fries and a coke for a buck and a half. They would wrap the Hot Dog and fries in paper if you ordered to go. Sammy’s wife would wrap mine to go even if I was staying because it tasted better that way. As a swimmer, I was constantly in search of calories and Sammy’s filled the bill. As soon as I was old enough, I went in and applied for a job. I figured I would get a free hot dog every once in a while, but what I really got was so much more. There are experiences in life that are life-changing and this experience came with valuable lessons. Working at Sammy’s was filled with great lessons. I was a mediocre swimmer when I met Sammy and his wife and I would be captain of the team not too much later.  You see, Sammy was the most inspiring person I ever met. He is legally blind, a top-notch athlete, and would never dream of taking no for an answer. He also has the most positive attitude of anyone I have ever met. He taught me to see the world the way he views the world. There would never be a challenge that was too great after I met Sammy. I remember on his soda cups was a saying that, at the time, I had never heard before. “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits”. I adopted this as my mantra. I teach it to my own son, who is the same age as I was when I worked with Sammy. When I worked at Sammy Skobel’s Hot Dog Plus, JPD started running races on the weekends. Sammy got wind that my dad was running races and Sammy wanted in. He needed a guide and my father happily agreed. Sammy would proudly tell me his exploits as a roller-skater. He once held the record for roller skating a mile and skated professionally when roller skating was a big deal. Pictures all over the shop proved his point. The Chicago Distance Classic 20K proved to be no problem for this “fit as a fiddle” athlete. Me, I barely finished. Dad and Sammy had a great race and continued their success in subsequent races. Sammy would ski the slopes in Colorado and introduced me to the place that I now live with pictures of him and his son on great mountains. He always told me that I could choose my own path. That was new to this 15 year old. He always led by example and made me crave the positive mental attitude that he taught me every day. I went back to my hometown and saw him one day, 30 years after I worked for him. He immediately recognized my voice and wanted to know everything he had missed in the last 30 years since he had “seen“ me last. I told him that I had succeeded in my life because of the great lessons he taught me when I was 15 years old. I heard he was sick and I want to wish him the best. God bless you, Sammy Skobel!

Sun comes up, moon goes down. Favorite song today: 44 Blues performed by Memphis Slim.

Sun comes up.

Sun comes up in the east.

Moon goes down in the west.

Moon goes down in the west.

August 29, 2015

Recovery run today, I was thinking about the Cubs.

JPD is a Chicago White Sox fan. I can remember very early in my life going to see a White Sox game at Comiskey Park. I will never forget the feeling as I came up a tunnel to the seating area and seeing the largest field of green that I had ever laid eyes on. It must have been early spring and the green was in stark contrast to the dirty gray to black snow that I had been playing in for the previous four months. Baseball is as important to those on the South Side as it is to those on the North Side of the city of Chicago. When I was young, I was not allowed to go to White Sox games with my friends because the Sox had lights and played at night. Wrigley Field, the home of the Cubs was a different story. Wrigley had no lights, they had donated the steel framework to the war effort and never replaced them. As a result, all the games were played during the day. Because they played day games and we lived a quick ride away on the Chicago Northwestern train line, we were allowed to go to the games on our own as early as 10 years old. Special games were still the ones that JPD and Dr. S. would take us to in Comiskey Park at night. Traveling to Comiskey for a night game seemed much more sophisticated to me, like we were going to the theatre or a symphony. Day games at Wrigley felt like we were merely being allowed to travel to the park. Both the Cubs and the White Sox struggled to win when I was young, but I saw many more Cub games than White Sox games in my developing years.

As the month of August turns to September, we are in a familiar place. The Sox are six games out of a wild card spot and the Cubs are playing well, firmly entrenched for the last wild card spot. The last World Series in Chicago was won by the South Siders so I refuse to be arrogant (really? Not!). With September and October right around the corner, the Sox fans are wondering what entertainment we might have in store. Will it be the cursed Billy Goat, Steve Bartman, the Miracle Mets or some other highly entertaining finger-pointing? The reality is that, and Cub fans don’t even acknowledge this point, the whole city will be rooting for the Cubs; including the fans on the South Side (they won’t admit it either). JPD would lead the parade if the Cubs could bring home the final W.

n.b. I wrote this one day before I read the August 31, 2015 Rich Cohen article in Sports Illustrated. “Wrigley Healed” Wow, the drumbeat begins early this time around. What a great writer, highly recommended for further reading.

My ride arrives after a particularly grueling run. Favorite song today: The Lady is a Tramp performed by Frank Sinatra (and a great horn section).

Thanks to the First Responders!

Thanks to the First Responders!

August 28, 2015

Speed workout today, I was thinking about sports.

The year 1964 began in a bit of a malaise. Dad was in law school at Loyola University in Chicago. There were six children in an already crowded household in Park Ridge and maybe too many boys. G.I. Joe was officially introduced early in the year and the boys were dominating the yards and alleys in the neighborhood. Many do not know that the Saletta’s had not moved into the house next door yet and JPD was starting to learn the ropes from Ollie Ulvilden. Ollie lived in the Saletta house and made his presence known very early in Park Ridge. Ollie was a sales representative for Wilson. You know, Wilson, famous for footballs and probably even more famous for Tom Hanks’ famous buddy in the movie “Castaway”. Wilson was a volleyball. The FedEx box from the movie could have also contained a football, a basketball, a baseball glove, a golf club, golf balls, or a myriad of other sporting goods products and still be dubbed Wilson. When mom and dad were moving into the house in Park Ridge, my father was carrying a handful of boxes, a lamp and probably a child when a voice called out from the bushes, “Incoming!” A football appeared from over a hedge in a perfect spiral, my father dropped everything in his arms to make a beautiful over the shoulder catch. Dad would have danced and spiked the ball if that behavior had been invented yet. Instead, an impromptu pick-up football game started that lasted the rest of the afternoon. That was Ollie, the Wilson sporting goods salesman who lived next door. My father couldn’t believe his luck. Mom was in the process of giving birth to a football team and a company representative from the largest sporting goods manufacturer lived within a football throw! This was going to be his ticket to the big leagues. When John F. came along, Ollie and dad began to devise a plan that was unbeatable. Dad already had the T formation for a future Bears team. There would be baseball in the spring, football in the fall, basketball whenever, this was great. In reality, the Chicago area was basketball crazy. Dad’s alma mater and current law school, Loyola University, just one year earlier had beaten the mighty, two time defending champion, Cincinnati Bearcats 60-58 in the NCAA Division I Final Four championship game (it wasn’t called March Madness or the Final Four yet, that was a later invention, probably from Ollie). The Loyola Ramblers had started and finished the game with the same five young men on the court, no substitutions. This would be the Dolan boys one-day. They would be outfitted and coached by Ollie and dad. They just needed one more boy to fill up the roster.

The morning sickness began to appear early in 1964. Dad and Ollie figured that mom would soon give birth to the fifth boy and together they would be the future starting line-up for the Loyola Ramblers. It was all set. Ollie would outfit the boys and dad would coach them to greatness. Early training had started before young John F. could walk. Dribbling was his specialty. I was just toddling around at age 3 when I found myself practicing the hook and ladder, give and go play. Ollie and JPD had it all planned. As summer turned to fall, mom started to look more like she had eaten a basketball. The baby was kicking and dad was convinced that he was posting up in-vitro and almost ready for the starting line-up. Mom and dad left the kids with a babysitter after my father had passed the bar exam that fall. Mom, dad and bun in the oven traveled to Springfield, Illinois so my dad could get sworn in as a lawyer. Oh, happy day!

Meanwhile, the girls in the greater Chicago metropolitan area were preparing for the arrival of another four boys. The Beatles were coming to Chicago for the very first time. They would perform at the Chicago Amphitheatre and the town was topsy-turvy over their arrival. Ollie and dad were oblivious to the fact that the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had just cracked the Billboard charts. Instead, they were humming to the tune of “I Want to Hand You the Ball”. September turned to October and the tension mounted. Mom was due the third week of October and her O.B. GYN from two doors away was practicing jump shots with dad and Ollie. Everyone was convinced that JPD was on a roll and another boy, his fifth, was on the way.

Dad had memorized the way to the hospital by now and arrived early with a young mother experiencing labor pains. Dad knew the drill, this was the seventh birth. Check-in, up to labor and delivery with mom, he would take his position in the waiting room ready for tip-off. He sat down and watched some riveting TV. He watched The Fugitive, a couple of Twilight Zones, an episode of Gunsmoke and still no word from the nurse. What was taking this baby so long, this new arrival was going to be late for practice. Just then the nurse walked in and asked “Mr. Dolan, Mr. James Dolan?”

My father switched off the TV and responded, “Yes.”

“Mr. Dolan, I am happy to inform you that your wife has given birth to a beautiful baby girl. She is waiting to meet her daddy”, the nurse replied.

All thoughts of basketball glory were forgotten. Finally, a girl! Four boys in the house was enough to test the sanity of anyone. He now had another baby girl. He had forgotten what that was like until he saw the sweet little baby. It was October 22, 1964 and mom and dad had another baby girl. They decided to call her Kathleen Therese after dad’s beloved sister, but everyone knew her as Tootsie. While there is only one Tootsie, K.T. quickly morphed to Katie. Phyllis McAuley had been saying prayers to St. Therese, so she asked mom to help her out and name the baby after St. Therese “The little flower”. Considering this little flower had sprouted in a garden of boys, mom thought this was a slam dunk. When they arrived home on Fairview Avenue, the neighborhood celebrated the arrival of this little flower. The kids in the neighborhood built all sorts of special carriers and wagons to tote her around. Basketball became a distant memory as the season started, the Loyola Ramblers tanked that year. Katie was now the baby of the family and the little flower of the neighborhood. Even Ollie was pleased and he brought her a baseball glove which one of the boys quickly claimed as his own.

The smoke has cleared. Favorite song today: I Want to Hold Your Hand performed by the Beatles.

Clear Skies

Clear Skies

August 26, 2015

Track workout today, I was thinking about shoes.

Running shoes can take you a long way. Find the right shoe and a tremendous amount of foot problems are solved. When JPD decided that he had found the right shoes, he never changed them for thirty years. Well, he changed his shoes. Wingtips during the day, New Balance 990s for the runs. They still sell this shoe and it still comes in that battleship gray that is so stylish. JPD would cycle through running shoes much faster than his beloved wingtips. One of the running gurus suggested that you limit the mileage and buy a new pair every 500 miles of running or so. I mentioned that the running buddies probably ran over 60,000 miles. That would be 120 pairs of shoes. That is a lot of pairs of shoes. Growing up, I remember that for a while my shoes size was the same as my Dad’s. There were always a dozen or so pairs of shoes in his closet and for my purposes, they were essentially brand new. I would wear the shoes until I was forced to find a final resting place, like the dumpster. I am sure that this was OK with dad because most of his boys could save a few bucks on shoes. His closet was always full of these shoes.

I recently bought a pair of my own New Balance and the most comfortable pair I could find was the same style that he wore for all those years. I could have bought them in many different colors, including Day-Glo green, but I chose battleship gray in honor of JPD and the unique foot DNA that he shared with me.

The crowds gather for my track workout. Favorite song today: Born To Be Bad performed by George Thorogood and the (Delaware) Destroyers.

Packin' 'em in!

Packin’ ’em in!

August 25, 2015

Progression run today, I was thinking about distance today.

I woke up ready for my run this morning and the battery on my watch was dead. I plugged the watch into the USB for recharging and ran without the watch. The watch has some great features that record location, time, pace, heartrate, total steps, altitude, calories burned and the list goes on and on. I can Bluetooth my phone and check text messages and control my music on the watch too. It is a Fitbit and I love my watch. I look forward to seeing my run data and it helps me to coach myself toward a better pace. I remember when JPD got a digital watch back in the 70s. It did not take him or his running buddies long to memorize every mile post on their many routes. These mile markers could include a fire hydrant or an oak tree. The mile posts were permanent fixtures that, when combined the tick tock of the liquid crystal diode Timex watch and the GPS computer in their heads told them everything they needed to know about their run. These guys had all the information they needed to succeed.

If I were to do a quick “back of the napkin” calculation to figure out how many steps the buddies took, it might shed some light on these runners. Figure they ran for 40 years together, conservative estimate is about 30 miles per week. Sometimes they ran a whole bunch more, sometimes less. I take about 1600 steps for every mile. So, 1600 steps X 30 miles X 52 weeks X 40 years. That’s 99.84 million steps. Don’t forget, Grumpy walked from the train station in downtown Chicago to his office about a mile away and back to the train every day over that span. So, it is safe to say that Grumpy and the buddies easily took 100 million steps apiece over that time. That is over 62,000 miles. Ok, these guys ran around the earth over 2 and half times. No wonder Fr. Jack Wall made a notable exception to a personal rule last month and blessed my father’s feet. Thanks Jack! He deserved that!

Still smoky at sunrise. Favorite song today The Parting Glass performed by the Pogues.

Smoky Sunrise

Smoky Sunrise

August 23, 2015

Long run today, I was thinking about socks today.

The running buddies looked forward to the morning runs. There was an opportunity to discuss the news of the day, get some exercise and plan for the next race. The amount of people that would show up for a run depended on schedules and travel but rarely would the unpredictable weather factor into your decision to show up for a morning run. These guys watched over each other to the point that if you did not show up one snowy morning, and the buddies suspected you were still snug in your bed, you better hope that the rock flying through the bedroom window did not hit your lovely spouse. For this reason, there was very little dissent. The buddies were business owners, executive managers, professionals and were all titans in their communities. Not everyone had type-A personalities but they were all strong leaders. Because of this, they all had strong opinions. Some might have been partial to fiscal conservative policy and others might favor a tax and spend liberal stance. This might be a good reason why they ran so fast. Comments directed at the wrong individual might result in a short sprint. We call them interval workouts today, the buddies might refer to these as rundowns. When I would join them for runs, conversations would center around family and catching up on the latest news. Sometimes, the conversation would turn to what foolish thing a local, state or federal politician had recently been accused of doing. Heartrates would rise, the running pace would quicken but someone in the crowd would distract the conversation toward more mundane things like, “Where did you get those socks?”

“I got these at S.S. Kresge, 10 pairs for six bucks”.

I never looked close enough but, now that I think about it, the same runners always seemed to run with blue stripes or red stripes on their knee-high tube socks. They never changed the color but they all always showed up the next day for another run.

Smoke from the California, Oregon and Washington wildfires. God bless all the firefighters! Favorite song today: Blues Before Sunrise performed by Eric Clapton.

Smoky Haze

Smoky Haze

August 22, 2015

Recovery run today, I was thinking about cars.

Jimmy was a patient and positive guy. As I continue to recount these stories, I am amazed at how resilient he could actually be. We grow older, we grow wiser.  As I began to grow older, there was a period of my life that I was not growing wiser. I understand that these are collectively called the teenage years. When I was old enough to get my driver’s license, there was a car in the driveway meant to be for the general use of the licensed drivers in the household. To me, this meant only one thing. It was my car. Oblivious to the fact that there were now seven licensed drivers in our house, I had my heart set on the freedom of the open road. The car was a 1973 Volkswagen 412 Fastback. It was yellow, not a pastel yellow but more of a cross between an over ripe banana (it had rust spots) and a caution sign. The car was in great shape when my father purchased it. He bought it as a slightly used car from a work colleague. The “licensed drivers” in the house began to put their own stamps on the car. These stamps presented themselves on the left-front quarter panel, the rear right quarter panel, the hood and all four doors. Hence, the rust began to overtake the steel body of the car and further enhance the over-ripe banana image.

As mentioned, Jimmy was a positive guy. There were notable exceptions to this trait and one was the VW 412. Jimmy hated this car. He hated it while parked in his impeccably swept driveway or parked within an eight block radius of his house.  It is extremely important to mention two things. First, we had a single file driveway and if you had your car in front of all the others, it was a Sisyphean exercise to move all the cars out before you could pull your car of choice out of the driveway. Second, Mt. Prospect city parking ordinances forbid parking on the street from 2:00 am to 6:00 am, every night. In other words, you had to park your cars in your driveway. While my father hated this car, I absolutely adored it. I had pet names for the car and kept bumpers and rear-view mirrors on the car securely fastened with love, duct tape and bailing wire. German engineering is well-renowned to be the finest in the world but this car was falling apart from the outside, inward. One particular design feature of the car put serious question into the engineering prowess of the German engineer. They put the car battery under the front driver’s seat.

One night, after a particularly long night of studying or some other activity, I came home in the VW 412 and was the last to pull a car into the driveway. A very important rule was that I was required to pull my father’s car out of the driveway, pull the Volkswagen in and then pull my father’s car in behind the Volkswagen. This would allow my mother to drive him to the train in his car, not any other, without having to jockey cars. It was late, I was tired so I reasoned to myself that I would get up early and move the car so it was not blocking dad’s car. I pulled in, parked the car behind my dad’s car, entered the house and fell peacefully asleep in a warm bed.

Before the dawn, my father arose for a morning run. It was a cold damp morning but perfect for running. As he came to the end of the driveway, he saw the ripened banana car behind his car and said a prayer for my well-being. After finishing what might have been a refreshing run with the buddies, he returned home, showered, readied himself for work, ate his breakfast and grabbed the key to the yellow Volkswagen. My mother would be warming his car for his ride to the train station. He approached the VW cautiously, teenagers could not be trusted and he expected to find someone or something sleeping in the car. He opened the door, which almost fell off its hinges (up, then out was the proper way to open this door) and entered the vehicle. After what I am sure was an extended trial and error period trying to actually start the car (neutral, twist down then turn the key), the beast roared to life. Jimmy was feeling pretty proud that he had accomplished this task but still hoped that the neighbors had not seen him in the vicinity of the monstrous car. He was about to put it into reverse when he caught a whiff of something. He was not sure what he was smelling, teens tend to leave foodstuffs in their vehicles, lockers and book bags. Nevertheless, he popped the car into reverse and began to back it out of the driveway. The smell was stronger now and was easily identifiable as smoke, something was burning. Not only could he smell it, he could now recognize that smoke was filling the car. Halfway down the driveway he slammed on the brakes, stopping the car and exited the vehicle. Something was on fire and he did not know what. Jimmy peered into the vehicle and could not identify the source of smoke nor could he see any flames. As his attention turned downward he now saw that his precious London Fog raincoat was fully engulfed in flames. For anyone growing up in an urban setting, the London Fog was part of all of the dad’s daily uniform. You purchased a London Fog once, maybe twice in a career. Now this standard component of his daily wear was on fire. I can only imagine that he immediately removed the raincoat and threw it on the wet, muddy ground.  He then proceeded to stomp out the fire with his polished black wingtip trying to prevent the embers from damaging his Brooks Brothers dark blue pinstripe trousers.

When the Mt. Prospect forensics squad and fire investigators had completed their investigation, it was determined that the London Fog had caused a short, while my father was trying to start the car. The battery under the driver’s seat set the box cut, wide lapel, tan London Fog raincoat ablaze. The blame for the incident was directed at an unnamed German engineer that had created the battery storage design flaw. Although Volkswagen had never actually recalled the 412 Fastback for this glaring error of design, I too felt somewhat responsible for what had transpired. Although there were no serious injuries that morning, I do remember being awakened at an earlier than anticipated hour that day.

This car, only yellow. Favorite song today, Ring of Fire performed by Johnny Cash.

More yellow!

More yellow!