Category: Journaling Along – Misc. Thoughts of An Author


There are people of all sorts on trains and today (12-12-15) is no exception. Watching your fellow passengers can be most entertaining as long as they don’t realize you’re watching. Let me explain.

Take today for instance. It’s the second train of the day and people are piling on as if it were the last of the night. Seated before me is a medium-aged senior totally engrossed with the racing form. As it turns out, he’s a regular. He has a discussion with the conductor about another regular racing aficionado who left his gold racing card on the train by accident. The conductor is holding on to it but he hasn’t seen the man in a while. It’s no surprise when the passenger gets off at Arlington Park Race Track.

Then there’s the family who never takes the train but who’s afraid they’ll be bored and so brings every electronic form of entertainment known to man in order to avoid communicating with each other.

There’s a man with his nose stuck in a book and another who squiggles with his stylist on what looks like a Nintendo DS. Perhaps he too is recording what his fellow passengers are doing.

Two women across from me have been talking non-stop since they got on and that’s been nine stations already. There’s no sign that they’ll run out of things to talk about. If I didn’t have earbuds in listening to Frank Sinatra I’d most likely know their life’s stories.

Across from me on my top deck perch is another regular. She’s always worried the conductor will forget to take her money and today is no different. Even after she has her ticket she follows him with her eyes every time he goes by. Maybe she just has a thing for conductors? Still, she does wear a wedding band. I guess a man in uniform is an exception to the rule.

I always come across the group that comes aboard and talks so loud you want to put the old library sign up about being quiet. Likewise I find the vacationer who obviously has never been on a train in their life and brings enough luggage aboard to clothe the whole car. They practically bring a steamer trunk aboard and they wonder where they’ll put it. I wonder too.

Occasionally, and it’s getting more and more rare, you’ll find the dreamer who gazes out the window and actually enjoys the passing scenery. They have that whimsical look in their eye and I sometimes wish I could go where they are. It looks like a nice place.

It used to be that newspapers were king. These days the most popular devise on the train is the cell phone. It has many uses. Such as being a music player. From my own experiences I’ll admit I use it to drown out the cacophony of voices coming from all angles. It’s a camera for those all important selfies to remind us twenty years from now on Facebook where we were, who with and what we looked like. Both of those uses have some validity but there are other devises designed for those purposes. The biggest use for the cell phone is sending text messages to other people and avoiding talking to the people you came with who are seated in front of you. The reality is, why would you talk to someone right in front of you if you can text someone else?

Of course there are surprises. Like the little girl playing tic-tac-toe with Grandma. Funny how that came to pass since it was only fifteen minutes ago that she was busy fighting with her little brother. The conductor needed to break that one up. Strange power that man has. He asked once and the fight was over. Grandma and Grandpa asked and the children were deaf. Does that mean the conductor is a miracle worker who can restore hearing? I guess so.

Depending on how far the passenger has to go and what time of day it is you’ll see some strange commuter sights only found on the train.

This early morning I find a woman putting her makeup on. Her arms are shock absorbers that go up and down as we bump along the rails. She’s a pro who doesn’t smudge her mascara. She’s also a procrastinator or why else would she be doing this on the train?

Of course I have the man sleeping with his head on the window as a pillow. In the winter this sleeping arrangement becomes difficult fast. Since it’s December I wonder if his face is numb to the cold. Mine would be freezing. I touch the window and immediately bring it back. It needs warming.

And you see train passengers come in all forms. They dress in business professional style, sporting gear, casual and even pajamas. They come in large groups, as a couple or a loaner. They need one stop, half or all the way into the city. Work or pleasure is their objective. They either take the train to save money, avoid the hassle of rush-hour and the hell of parking or because it simply is the most convenient. Training is for some an acquired taste, for others a way of life and still others an adventure. It’s not for everyone but it is one of the oldest forms of transportation that continues to bring wonder to many a rider. If you haven’t taken a train before I encourage you to take a ride. It may not be for you or it could be a life changer.

ALL ABOARD!!!

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Let me just start by saying that I went to the victory parade last week. That one sentence tells you that I am a fan and that I think highly of our players. Now, standing in the sardine can of fans I overheard others talking. Some where saying that there were a lot of fans present that were not True Fans. This was based on the notion that a True Fan was one who followed the team’s exploits before they became champions. There I must put my proverbial foot down as I disagree with the statement.

I myself am a recent convert to the sport. It is true that by the time I joined they had already won a cup in recent years. That alone would put me on the list of non-true fans. Here I raise my hand and put up a disclaimer and prove myself to be a True Fan. How? By claiming ignorance. I did not know that they’d won a cup when I began to follow. Therefore, I am not one of those newbies who jumped on the bandwagon as they say just because they were a winning team.

My journey began shortly before the playoffs began in  2013. I’d never been a fan of any sport and I didn’t particularly mind or care. My Dad, for no apparent reason, one night suggested we turn WGN on and listen to a hockey game and see what we thought. We weren’t sure after the first game so we tuned in another night and gave it another shot. At first, I think we all had headaches. At least,  I know I did. I kept going back and forth in my mind where the puck was and trying to get it out of danger’s way. After all, at that time I didn’t know the names of the players. Knowing which side of the ice the puck was at was the only thing I could hold onto and so hold I did.

Given half a dozen games listened to, I began to recognize the player’s names. I no longer had to move my eyes back and forth or make my finger move from one side of my knee to the other. I knew when we were safe and when we weren’t. I started to see patterns and understand the rules of the game. In short, I was hooked. When I figured out that the team was going into the playoffs I got excited. I didn’t understand exactly what it took to reach the final win but I knew we were getting closer with every game. I held onto that. I read the newspaper. At that time, I was alone in Hockey. I didn’t know anyone who was a Fan. I had no one to ask questions of. I was a lonely practisioner of the sport.

As the Hawks got closer and closer I listend eagerly to every game. I missed none. I didn’t go out of the house when the game was one because the game had a life of its own. That night when we played Game 6 against the Boston Bruins was an eye opener. They were tough and I was sure we were headed to Game 7. Then suddenly the puck found the back of the Bruin net and I, along with everyone else, felt sure overtime was at hand. After all, there was almost no time left. Then, out of nowhere the puck was once again in the Bruin net. 17 seconds had elapsed since the tie and now if they could hang on for just a little bit more, they had the coveted Cup. It happened. I listened as John and Troy exploded and my family went wild from our own livingroom. We were Stanley Cup Champion Fans!

The next season was eagierly awaited and with it brought the knowledge that there were others like me out there who loved this sport just as much as I had gotten to. It was a wonderful feeling. I went almost a whole year without ever seeing a single game. I didn’t have to see a game to know what went on. The games were brought to life to me by two men who had played the game and who now told a new generation what was going on at ice level. The newspapers showed me what the players looked like and between the two  I learned much. In fact, I know more about the rules than many of my fellow fans who watch the television. They say I’m missing something by not watching the games, I say they are missing something by not listening to the games. Maybe we’re both missing something but the reality is that we are all Hawk Fans. That is the most important thing of all.

So now I’ve been a fan for over two years. I’ve been with the team almost every game through the ups and downs of the seasons. I’ve heard and watched the players get hurt, return and show the world that they are a force to be reconned with. The Hawks prove they are the team to beat on a regular basis and they have enough Stanley Cups in recent years to show the whole hockey world that they are champion stock. So am I a True Fan? I think so. In the end that’s all that matters.

As I write this I stand behind the counter of a small four pump gas station. I know times have changed. With the passing years innocence has been lost and with it the general trust of a nation. No longer can there be doors left unlocked. Cars no longer can be found left standing idle and the owner vacant from his seat.

The world has truly changed. Coming into my little gas station over seventy miles from Chicago you know you’re in rural America and yet like the big city you will find things locked. There is a key to the propane stand, a key for ice and separate keys for the restrooms. The men’s room even had its key stolen block and all once upon a time.

Who would have thought thirty years ago that we’d have to pay for such things as water and even air to fill our car tires? These days we even buy soil for our gardens (though the gas station draws the lines there.)

Gas today will begin at $3.59 and it’s gone down 20 cents in the last few weeks. A propane exchange will cost $16.99. The cheapest cigarettes are $5.23 a pack.

I think of my not so long ago youth. Gas was $1.39 a gallon. I don’t know what propane cost but I don’t think I was much, for if it was my neighbors down the clock wouldn’t have bought a new gas grill three years in a row when theirs got stolen for the third consecutive year. Cigarettes couldn’t have been as high then either. My best friend’s dad was a trucker and he always seemed to have a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip. They never had much but he always had his smokes.

It’s not just the cost of living that’s gone up. It’s our very sense of being that has changed. Think to when you were a child. How often were you actually in the house? Were you playing baseball or stickball in the street? Did you go exploring around the woods or in the creek? Did you collect rocks, feathers or even bits of string? How often did you stay out until your Mom called you in for dinner? Didn’t you go out again as soon as you finished and stay out until it got dark?

I did all that and I’m only 28. I was behind for what the world had already become. I lived and imagined. I still do. I believe that fun can be made on your own and not manufactured. I believe that children should be allowed to be children. They can learn how to behave and still have the freedom that belongs to them.

These days the children of America by and large, whether they live in the country or the city, whether the family has money for food or not, these children live in front of the television or the computer. They gain weight eating snacks, their vision dims from looking at the glow from that TV or monitor and they develop allergies because they don’t experience the great outdoors. In an age of freedom we have voluntarily caged ourselves.

As Americans we live in the greatest country in the world. We have the most advantages. Why do we squander them? Why do we live the way we do?

I don’t have the answer. All I have is a call. Don’t wake up one morning with regrets. If you do now, make a decision. It’ll change your whole life and you’ll find that if you didn’t like yourself or your life before, you will now.

Good luck.

There once was a time when living well was not so hard. All we had to do was eat well and be aware of our surroundings. If we did that, we tended to be all right most of the time. It was that other fella that got in the way that upset the apple cart.

Today things are very different. While fruit and vegetables are a renewable resource and the advent of refrigeration and freezer trucks makes it available all over the nation, all year round, some places still seem to be left behind. Produce is not available to everyone simply because the grocer doesn’t provide it for his clients.

I know this to be true. I live in a small town in the Chicago Midwest. Population 9,000, there abouts. A few decades ago we were a self-sufficient community. Then a big box store moved into town and slowly but surely the downtown began to fail. It’s a familiar story. Many of you have experienced the same thing. Last month our last regular independent grocery store closed its doors for good. It tried everything in the last twenty years to stay open. It expanded. It shrunk. It changed into a cost plus food outlet center and then it just died. Today, I get my groceries from the big box store that closed down the downtown.

There you can find almost everything that the small mom and pop stores had. What it lacks is consistent service and quite a few of the essentials of a healthy life. You can get all the variety of chips, pops and snack foods but the real life sustaining foods are missing. When it comes to fruit – apples, oranges and bananas are the choices. In the summer you can get some additional fruits but these only last a few months and then they’re gone until the next year. To get actual food you have to leave town and go to a neighboring town.

Another problem is paying for this real food. Chips and pop are cheep. It’s easy to budget those items into the household accounts. But trying to figure out how to pay for peaches when they’re $2.99 a pound and a pound is only about 4 pieces of fruit can be frustrating. It’s gotten to the point that real, unprocessed foods have become luxury items. We buy them when a guest is coming over. Day to day life leaves no room for them and our health fails just as the grocery store in my town failed.

In this day and age we have so much at our fingertips and yet there seems to be a forgotten measure of life. We don’t think of ourselves as healthy people because we don’t think of our health and so we aren’t healthy anymore but we don’t know it. We have too many over-weight people and too many who are bordering fat that still think they have nothing to worry about. They look to their neighbor and say – well there’s a lot of us so I must be okay. That simply isn’t true. There are a lot of people who don’t pay any attention to what they’re doing to their bodies and that is wrong.

They decide to go to the doctor only when they are forced to and then if they don’t have insurance a bomb is let off over their heads. To get a doctor to look at you and do some lab work the cost has reached $800 for the uninsured. If you forgo the lab and just do the question and answer portion of the exam it still costs enough to make you wince. It’s reached the exorbitant rate of $200. Now with prices like that it seems that we should be extra sure to watch our diets. It might cost more to eat healthy but in the long run it costs less and we feel better.

 

What would life be like if nothing ever happened?

WRITING IS?

Writing is a free-for-all of all of thoughts and activities. Anything that comes to the mind or any action the body can perform can be translated to the written word. Life is creativity and a huge supply of both the mundane, mediocre and the fantastic. All can be wrapped up in one package known as Pandora’s Box. Once opened humanity will suffer from a jarring strain on the nervous systems that threatens to implode.

 

The reality is that we can’t stop the inevitable from happening. We can advise, warn and tell others not to do things but in the end we can’t stop them from doing what they will. Destiny is the unknown and we are indeed powerless to understand it or prevent it.

OLD?

Old, what defines old? Is it a time, an age or a memory on the verge of forgetfulness? Some shop owners define an antique as being any object of fifty years but does that mean that when we ourselves slight forward from forty-nine to fifty that we too are old? If our memories hold true, if we can get up and journey onward doesn’t that mean we haven’t reached the winter of our lives?

 

I submit that to be old, one no longer remembers self. Time itself has forgotten that way of life. Our history books inform us of that other time and place before our parents and grandparents were thought of.

 

Let’s start from the beginning. I used to walk everywhere. For over a decade I walked the mile there and back again to work. People said, why don’t you buy a car? I had a perfectly good reason. I wanted to save enough to buy my car outright, afford the insurance and have money set aside for repairs. Therefore, I didn’t buy a car until I felt I’d saved enough.

Since then I’ve done way more driving than walking and I’ve felt a little guilty about it but I continue to drive. It is way easier to be lazy despite the fact that the price of gas keeps going up and I could be saving more money for other things if I kept up the walking habit, at least part of the time. I wanted to rekindle that habit but I didn’t. Then I was forced.

My car’s fan belt broke Monday night and since then I’ve been walking. I know I’m out of shape. I feel it. I tire out easier and I find myself thirsty at the end of the journey (I didn’t used to have any of these problems.) yet, I know these are all benefits in disguise that will help me stay strong and healthy but there are other benefits too.
There are so many things to see when you walk that you’d never get the chance to see driving. We simply go by them too fast to focus on anything we’re seeing. Life becomes a blur. What do I mean? Well, today I took some pictures of what I saw as well as some mental notes.

Would You Notice These if You Were Driving?

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A piece of tree left on the phone line.

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The Beauty of Newly Opened Tulips

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Leaning Lilies

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A Skittish Rabbit

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The Newspaper Box with Cartoons Pasted On It

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A Car Proclaiming MUD LIFE and Covered in Mud!

Mental Notes:

1.) Would you guess that on someone’s screened in porch there would be a table with a garden gnome and a statue of Godzilla sitting side by side? I wouldn’t have come up with that detail for one of my stories because Truth is Stranger than Fiction and I wouldn’t have thought of it.

2.) Would you really realize that it was warming up outside if you were in the temperature controlled atmosphere of your car? I don’t think so but while walking I feel the change. I know the sun is shining and I know that the wind has picked up.

So the next time you go outside your door notice the five senses. Give a sniff to the air. Mine smells of Donuts from the local Bakery and a bit of fragrance from my neighbor’s dryer running. Look to the sky and notice the plane flying overhead. Hear the chirp of a bird and feel the crunch of gravel under your feet. Taste some peppermint you find in a patch growing beside the walkway. You will feel alive and doubtless better about yourself and whatever your situation might be.

Have a nice day!

Another day has dawned and with it has come another tug of war between the seasons. Today’s forecast in my Chicago Midwest calls for showers and some thunderstorms with the coming of night. We are to reach 50 and only have a low of 40. All this seems to contradict the light snow that was falling outside my window at 6:30 this morning. Yet, by 9 this morning the snow had been replaced by light rain. Gone was the dusting of Winter and in was the rebuttal of Spring.
Like all years, Winter is at war with Spring. Snow, frozen soil and gusty winds are Winter’s weapons. In combat Spring brings warm rays of the sun, singing birds and a people who stand behind his coming. In time streams will flow free, shoots of green will spring forth and the natural order of rebirth will begin again.
Soon snow shovels, spray bottles of windshield deicer and boots will be things of the past. In their place will come umbrellas, sunglasses and visors. The great American pass time, Baseball, is right around the corner in only a few short days or weeks we will relish our time outdoors again. Sunday drivers and picnics will soon come. Spring will be here soon and remember to be on guard. Yogi Bear will be on the alert for your Pic-in-ic basket.

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When the sun sets on the day, it isn’t over. There are hours yet to be lived before the clock tolls twelve. In that time last night I looked up above the horizon of winter silver and saw a sliver of moon. It was clean and bright but there wasn’t much of it.

A pencil thin line outlined the sky where a celestial object reins supreme over the night. Near the bottom was a crescent. I half expected to see a small child throwing out his fishing line but if he was there, he was invisible to my eye. As I looked on, the clouds ambled by in slow waves of murky white.

There were no stars this night. Closing my eyes I heard the gentle whisper of the wind blowing across the snow. Opening them again I spied the glistening sparkle of flakes being tossed in the air. They danced magically and seemed to float into the long infinitum of eternity.

Winter is not always cold. Sometimes it’s warm and youthful. It’s the season of giving and sharing, a season for making new plans for the year and a season for being true to ones self. Winter means snowmen, gingerbread cookies and milk to warm up again before returning to the snowball fight. We needn’t grow too old to remember the joys of winter. Close your eyes and go back to your childhood. Think of the fun and think of how alive you were. When you open your eyes keep those thoughts close to your heart and do your best to live that life of wonder again. You’ll find you are a whole lot happier.

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When you listen to a hockey game on WGN radio there are a few things that are given. Such as a great announcer doing his job to let his listeners know what’s going on. There’s a speed and the sound of skates skidding on ice in a dance of sport.

Each game is different but you never know what to expect. If it’s a hard team you’re against they might play harder and if a weaker team, slower. That means that they might lose and sometimes they do. There are also those crazy games, games that make little or no sense. Last night was that game. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames game had it all.

What am I talking about? Bouncing pucks that both goaltenders didn’t see and wished could be taken back. Then there was the goal by the Hawks that didn’t count though clearly the official called it wrong. Next came the Hawk’ goalie being switched in the middle of the second period. A point was given here and one there, always the points bounced back and forth (with the exception of the 2-0 in the first minutes.) when a power play came around it wasn’t the team with the extra man who scored but the team minus one. Two power plays yielded two short-handed goals, one for each team.

When the third period began the score was 4-4 and the Flames had gone to their relief goalie. Even-Stevens was the pace of the game. At the end of 60 minutes both teams were still tied with the same score they had at the beginning of the 3rd. With the record of Calgary 4-4 in overtime and the Hawks 0-5, it was anyone’s guess. In a short time it all turned around again and Calgary scored one more and won the game at 5-4.

For fans this is a disgusting loss. The game was not pretty but the loss was hard to swallow. If that one goal earlier had counted, there would have been no need of overtime and the Hawks would have won.

Sloppy play and not so good puck management = a game of wow and whoops, oops. Better luck next time, Hawks. We’re watching.

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