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Southside with me

Five years ago, we visited Chicago and accidentally stumbled across the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  This is a small but absolutely fascinating collection of Middle and Near East antiquities.  We didn’t have enough time to thoroughly explore then, so I decided I was going to make up for that on this visit.

Old crosstown bus stop sign

Old crosstown bus stop sign

Initially, I was going to take the morning express bus down the scenic Lake Shore Drive to the university.  But because I was held up so long at the front desk trying to be sure they weren’t going to throw all our luggage out onto the curb (see yesterday’s blog entry), I missed the last bus.  So I decided to take the Red Line to the South side and ride the bus crosstown to the University.  The Fodor’s guidebook lists this way, but says “people unfamiliar with Chicago may wish to consider an alternate route”.   Geez.  It’s not that dangerous to ride a bus with black people in Chicago.  Yes, I was the only white person I saw for most of my forty-five minute trip.

Anyway, I arrived without incident at the campus of the University.  In addition to visiting the Oriental Institute, I also wanted to find Henry Moore’s sculpture “Nuclear Energy” which sits at the (approximate) location of the first controlled nuclear reaction (“Chicago Pile 1”).  Old pictures make it appear easy to find, sitting out by itself, but since its installation it has been hemmed in by other structures and if you don’t know where it is you’re probably not going to find it.


“Nuclear Energy”

I thought it effectively evoked the genie that was let out of the bottle here.

Tuesday afternoon, CVH and I took the Brown Line train way out to North Kedzie and Albany Park.  We found ourselves in a mostly immigrant neighborhood; it was almost like being back in Houston (although much colder).  There were Mexican stores,  Middle Eastern meat markets, Persian restaurants, a Lebanese bakery, Pakistani senior apartments, Korean restaurants, and who knows what else we didn’t get around to seeing.

Noon O Kabab - nice place, good food

Noon O Kabab – nice place, good food

Alas, the Phở shop was now defunct, and we ate at Noon O Kabab, which advertises with the tag line “Food with Persianality”.  Yeah, that’s pretty bad, but their way with food is much better than their way with English. We had Joujeh, Torshi, Kash-Ke-Bademjan, Aash, and Tadig, all washed down with a bottle of Almaza.  I can’t tell you what it all was, other than delicious.

Yes, it's good too.

Yes, it’s good too.

We stopped at La Plazita bakery.  Their sign says “Tenemos fresh deli sandwiches” – sounds fakey, but the desserts were genuine and made us feel like we were back at our old home in the Houston Heights.

Chicago Time

CVH needed to attend a professional conference this year, and decided on the American Society on Aging’s annual get-together in Chicago.  I decided to take the week off and tag along.

birdThe day started well before sunrise, like most days in Louisville (people do like getting up early in this town for some reason), and we were off to the airport.  While we waited on our plane, a little bird which had flown into the terminal was hopping about the seating area.  I tossed it some sunflower seeds from my trail mix, but it didn’t care for those.  CVH dumped some crumbs from her breakfast biscuit and it enjoyed those much more.

When it finally got time to get on our plane, I sat down in my seat and realized that I had left my coat back in the terminal.  I zipped back up the jetway to recover it before takeoff.  That caused quite a stir.

Luckily, this was not my train car.

Luckily, this was not my train car.

Due to thunderstorms over Illinois, it took the plane a while to get into O’Hare.  CVH took the bags with her to the hotel on the shuttle van; I, the train lover, took the Blue Line train downtown.  Unfortunately, I left the directions from the train stop to the hotel in my bag.  Fortunately, downtown Chicago is bordered on three sides by water, and on the remaining side by Chicago’s South Side, so you can’t go too far before realizing you need to change direction.

The convention was huge, and so it was held in the largest Hyatt in Chicago.  In fact, it’s the largest Hyatt in the world.  Yet, it had no pool, the room had no refrigerator or microwave, there were no washing machines (I am picky about washing my clothes).  It had a really tiny vanity, a room so dark you couldn’t see what was in your suitcase, and no fluffy robe, either.  So what were we paying their high room rate for?   To top it off, they got our reservation goofed up and tried to kick us out after one night.  I had one of those embarrassing discussions at the front desk: “Do you have a confirmation number?”

cta3I stepped outside and quickly discovered that I had forgot my gloves, so I went shopping.  I caught the #3 bus headed up the Magnificent Mile.  I sat next to a nice old man who reminisced about the days when you could get a three-course chinese lunch on State Street for $3.99.  He had been a wine and champagne salesman and said he sold one of the first contracts to Trader Joe’s when they were just starting.  He calculated that if he had been on commission he would have earned eleven million dollars on that sale, but then it was my stop to get off.

columbiaProbably due to the (relatively) mild winter, the Columbia store had all their hats and gloves half-price and I bought a nice fleece pair.

rtt.outsideThat evening, we decided to go to Manny’s (the best matzo ball soup in the universe) for dinner, and wouldn’t you know – they recently changed their hours, but not their website, and they no longer serve dinner on Mondays.  So we came back downtown and ate at Russian Tea Time.

Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff


Stuffed Cabbage

RTT has killer Russian food and drink.  We enjoyed the hearty bread (nearly a meal in itself), cabbage rolls, and beef stroganoff.

Climate change

I don’t know what caused it, but it was 27° (81° F) here yesterday afternoon

sunand this morning it snowed.


Vance Packard is alive and well

Vance Packard - Google him.

Vance Packard – Google him.

A while back, the paper towel people came up with a great idea: pick-a-size.  They started perforating their sheets at half size.  This, I felt, was a great boon to us paper towel users.  Almost always, unless the dog has made a mess on the floor, I only need half a sheet of paper towel.  Suddenly my paper towel rolls were lasting almost twice as long!

It seems that it didn’t take long for the paper towel people to notice this.  I opened a new roll yesterday and tore off “half a sheet”.  It was a good two inches wider than the old “half sheet”.

How to change a life

One of CVH’s facebook friends posts a question on a regular basis.  This week’s question was “What book has changed your life?”

I will set aside the metaphysical question of if one can change their life (for after all, you only get one).

Recently a dear old friend gave me a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Flight to Arras, an autobiographical account of his time as a reconnaissance pilot in WW II.  At one point, he muses on the issue of what makes us who we are:

No single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us.  To live is to be slowly born.  It would be a bit too easy if we could go about borrowing ready-made souls.

It is true that a sudden illumination may now and then light up a destiny and impel a man in a new direction.  But illumination is vision, suddenly granted the spirit, at the end of a long and gradual preparation.  Bit by bit I learnt my grammar.  I was taught my syntax.  My sentiments were awakened.  And now suddenly a poem strikes me in the heart.

I told CVH “IBM System/360 Principles of Operation”.


Brown County

The mornings are getting chill, the days shorter, the trees are taking on vermillion hues, and like the swallows to Capistrano, Hoosiers in south-central Indiana make their annual trek to Brown County.

Well, we don’t live in Indiana, but Brown County is only about two hours away.  So we decided to take a day off and signed up for a bus tour to go.  Since neither of us can stand the way the other drives, a bus trip just makes the whole day go a lot smoother.

The bus left town, taking the new Lincoln bridge over the Ohio River.  The Lincoln bridge is seen below on the left.  The thousands of pesky pedestrians in the photo were cleared before we drove across.


The bus cruised north through Indiana until we reached our lunch spot, The Brown County Inn.  It’s a cute place, with a rustic barn motif.  We ate in the decidedly barn-like dining room.


Then we had our picture taken outside.


One reason to visit Brown County in the fall is to walk through the woods, admiring the hills and colors and commune with nature.  The other reason, and the path we took today, was to go shopping.  There are dozens of shops, some tourist traps, some not, and we took advantage of the beautiful weather to walk around and get an early start on Christmas shopping.

There was a mysterious buffalo in front of the town hall.  It appears to be standing there while leaves fall on it.


sealAnd I believe that is the intention.  It seems that, as part of the Indiana bicentennial this year, buffalo statues were erected and painted across the state.   (Why buffalo?  I don’t know.  Perhaps because there is a buffalo on the Indiana state seal.  But then why is there a buffalo on the state seal?)

But we were in no mood to ponder such recursive questions, we just went shopping.  And we had ice cream at Miller’s.


We found some irresistible framed artwork and a friendly cat at one studio.


A nice vacation day.  Took my mind off the first floor of our house.

Home renovations – Part 6

The new toilet finally arrived.  The ladies are pleased. And a nice thing is that it’s “chair height” – that extra inch and three-quarters is surprisingly comfortable. Especially at our age.


A big plumber showed up and took out the old commode.  He picked it up and said, “This is the heaviest one I have ever had to lift.”  My wife told him they don’t make them like that anymore.

He then brought in the new one, a tiny little thing.  I said, “You’re a big guy for a plumber.” (He stood about six-five.)  “Tell me about it,” he replied.  “I spent four hours this morning under a kitchen sink.”

The new toilet flushes what seems to be a tiny amount of water, so I don’t think you’d want one if you had teenage boys in the house, but it should meet our needs fine.  Because the tank is so much smaller than the old one, the unpainted wall is now exposed.  Fortunately, the painters left me the leftover paint so that I can touch this up myself.  More problematic is the fact the the foot print of this commode is smaller, so I have a gap between the commode and the edge of the vinyl flooring.  The floorers did not leave the extra vinyl, so I don’t have anything to patch it with.  I am mulling my options.

Outside the bathroom, we’ve left a short section of the old carpet on the stairs so that our infirm dog can still get up and down.  Once she has gone on to the big kennel in the sky, I’ll tear that out and restore the hardwood stairs underneath.

Home Renovations – Part 5

I gave up looking for my screwdriver bits and just bought a set at our neighborhood Harbor Freight (our neighborhood has all the conveniences, if nothing else).

33-Kenya-flying-toiletToday I got a call from Lowe’s that my new commode had arrived and that I should speak with someone at the service desk about picking it up.  As mentioned before, I had already paid for delivery and installation.  I checked my credit card statement.  I had been charged for the replacement toilet, but there was no credit for the returned toilet.  Since I needed some parts for a window screen anyway, I drove down to Lowe’s and went to the service desk.  I told the clerk that I had received a call about my special order.  She said she would have someone from plumbing bring it up.  I told her the story about the toilet.  Her eyes darted all around while I was talking; I could tell that she was having difficulty maintaining interest.  When I got to the part where I wanted my money back for the commode that had been returned, she said “You’ll have to come into the store for that.”  At that point I could see I wasn’t going to get very far with her.  I pointed out I was in the store already.  She called for the Head Cashier.

Not our head cashier, but I'm sure just as nice

Not our head cashier, but I’m sure just as nice

The Head Cashier was very nice, but couldn’t figure out how to refund my money and still be sure the toilet would be set up for installation.  At this point in the evening, there did not appear to be anyone higher up the ladder than he still in the store, so he told me he would talk with his manager tomorrow.

I was able to get the parts for my window screen, and the guy in the window department was very cheerful and helpful.  Turns out he had just built screens for all the windows in his house, and shared some nifty tips he had learned from YouTube videos.

Aviation Heritage Festival

Aviation FestivalToday we went to the Aviation Heritage Festival at our neighborhood airport, Bowman Field.  As I have mentioned before, it’s a historic airport (hence the “Heritage” part of the title, I guess); the oldest continuously operating airport in the U.S.  It was also a huge hub of activity in the late thirties and forties.

Some of that activity was relived today when dozens of historic aircraft were on display.

There was the beautiful Flagship Detroit DC-3, which I had seen before,

Curtis Jenny

Curtis Jenny


a Curtis Jenny,

Lockheed 12A

Lockheed 12A

a stunning Lockheed 12A Electra Junior (fastest airplane in the sky when it debuted in 1936), and one of seventy built,

thirties airplane


another really cool airplane of the era which make and model I neglected to make note of,


RC airplanes

RC airplanes

a number of RC planes,

Ford Tri-Motor

Ford Tri-Motor

Ford Tri-Motor

Ford Tri-Motor

and a Ford Tri-Motor, with its corrugated skin.

I got to fly in the Tri-Motor. It was billed as the very aircraft that Neil Armstrong first flew on (at the age of five).
Here it is, coming in to the terminal.

Tri-Motor interior

Tri-Motor interior

We all get on board.

As we approached downtown Louisville, and I looked out the window past the landing strut and radial engine and saw the modern skyline, I couldn’t shake the creepy feeling that I was in a version of that Twilight Zone episode “The Odyssey of Flight 33”.

The flight had its pluses and minuses. First of all, I didn’t have to deal with the TSA, so there was no x-ray, taking shoes off, etc. The seats were incredibly comfortable (especially compared to what you get on airlines today): cushy, and with more head, leg and shoulder room than even I could use up.

However, the three huge radial engines were loud, and some of the exhaust spewed back into the cabin. And the winds buffeted the plane around; it wasn’t bad on our short demo flight, but would bring up your lunch after a couple of hours, I think, and there is no toilet. But then, there’s no food or beverage service, either.

Home renovations – Part 4

By now, “renovations” no longer seems to be the right word to use.  “Repair” is closer to the mark.

toiletWe picked out our new toilet.  I was going to have a handyman buddy pick it up and install it with me (he works reasonable) until the Lowe’s salesman told me that they offer next day delivery and install for $185.  Somewhat pricey, but I was in a bit of a hurry to get a toilet working downstairs again, so I paid it.  That was ten days ago.  The installer showed up today and said the toilet would not fit in our bathroom (they don’t make toilets that way anymore he said), and we would have to special order another.  Would arrive in about a week.  Of course, this also means that the chances it will fit the footprint cut in the new vinyl (the wrong vinyl that was installed in there in the first place, remember) are essentially nil, and I will have to replace the flooring in the bathroom again.

I did get the big hole in the entertainment center fixed, but the new blinds aren’t up yet.  Somewhere in all the commotion I lost the bits to my electric screwdriver.