Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicago Blackhawk's Stanley Cup Parade

(All photos courtesy of

I sit on my couch right now with little butterflies of excitement in my chest, watching the 2010 NHL Hockey champs
taking their tour of Chicago's business district from the tops of double decker busses. Red busses no less. I am in love with this city.

As a kid, I attended two of the six Chicago Bulls rallies in Grant Park. It was so packed and so loud. We couldn't see anything. We could hear the players. I distinctly remember hearing Scottie Pippen's voice and Norm Van Leer. We took the train up in those days and just being on the trains was crazy because people were decked out in full fan gear. If there was an actual parade I don't think I knew about it. Standing in Grant Park was pretty special though, one of my cherished city memories.

I was also at the 2005 White Sox rally and it was amazing. I was scheduled to work that afternoon at Depaul University's bookstore, where I worked as an assistant textbook manager at the time. I decided to get
downtown early and stand amongst the sea of faces in the crowd ready to cheer on my team. I didn't expect it to be super packed because in this town, the Cubs seem to rule. But the crowds were 12-15 people deep along LaSalle Street. It was absolutely amazing. The busses. The people. The free squeezable souvenir baseballs. The ticker tape. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

Now I watch from 150 miles away on my computer and the feelings are still just as strong. I've watched from the busses dep
arting the United Center all the way to their approach to Michigan Avenue. The Shannon Rovers are playing, leading the procession. The players are
being interviewed, overcome with emotion and in just as much awe as the crowd probably is. It is almost better to be watching it on TV because we're getting the players perspective. And the ticker tape is thicker than in 2005!

Let me pause to say I've not been a huge hockey fan. The Hawks owners didn't allow games to be showed on TV and we never went to games. Baseball was the sport in my house growing up. But I am an Olympic fan and always watched a few hockey games. I have watched several Hawks games this year, including the many nail bitting moments of the Playoffs.

Michigan Avenue has never looked so packed. The city is awash in red and I am just loving the sights. I LOVE my home city. Ferris Bueller could not have been filmed anywhere else! There are few places where people hang out of skyscrapers, parking garages, climb lightpoles, children being foisted into the air.

The players are currently waving to the crowd. Patrick Kane is lifting the Stanley Cup. The ticker tape is so thick you can barely see anything, even on TV! The crowd's cheers overpower the sound of the announcers on WGN TV. Jonathan Toews appears to be shedding a few tears. Or maybe he's sweating from the heat. Now he picks up the MVP trophy. Let's not forget the western conference championship trophy is somewhere on one of those 10 busses as well!
I have no idea how they city plans to get the players off the busses and down to the stage at Michigan Avenue & Wacker Drive. The schedule is already behnid, so what's a few more minutes of delay? It's Chicago fashion, right? (Although I am impressed that this whole event will not cost
Chicagoans a dime).

Its time to sign off. The speaking will start soon and I think the players have already said what they could say to the news media riding the bus with them. The pictures
on days like this speak so much louder than words.

Congratulations Hawks! As announcer Pat Foley said the other night, "Lord Stanley's new address is now Sweet Home - Chicago!"


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

3.2.1.....SCHOOL IS OUT!

I attempted to blog on Monday but was down and I haven't gotten back over to give you a taste of the end of the year wrap up. So here goes!

If you recall from an earlier post, I had a senior who should have failed my class but their parents appealed to get the student a chance at graduating and my class happened to be the F closest to passing (at a 48%). I had set a deadline of 8am on Friday morning to submit the project that accounted for 75% of their final grade. If they did well and displayed hard work - I would pass them. If not, well, I wasn't going to go the extra mile for this student.

I had no finals to give this day. I came in around 7:45am just to be there for this student. Otherwise I technically could have arrived around 9am. I also had every single test graded and all my grades posted with 3 exceptions.

I paced the room a bit and at 8:00 stood in the hall when the bell rang. My student was nowhere in sight. At 8:01am I sent an email to the principal and counselor and told them the student was late and they had missed the deadline. Around 8:10am I went on with my day, putting textbooks away in the bookroom, using a scantron machine to print out question analysis sheets for my electronic tests and checking my mailbox just in case something had been turned in down there. You can probably guess what happened next.

Around 8:14, after visiting a fellow teacher, my student walked into my room and said they had the project for me. I told them I wouldn't accept it as it had missed the deadline, set a week and a half earlier. Here is a kid who told me they'd get it done in two days so that it could be complete prior to graduation. Now a week even after that optimistic submission date they were late. I ended up taking the envelope they presented and stated that I would make no promises. They said it was the earliest they could arrive this morning. I replied "Then you should have thought ahead and turned it in yesterday." You might predict their response - "I didn't have it done yesterday." Oh really??!

I fumed in my office for a few minutes. I paced. I talked it out as my department chair listened and agreed that this was ridiculous. I refused to open the envelope. He was curious and leafed through the pages. I could tell just by what he said out loud that things were missing. He suggested I go down and talk to the principal again. I blew it off for a few minutes trying to simmer down and then went downstairs, doing a few errands on the way, hoping the physical movement would allow me to rationalize. The principal didn't have much to say, other than the student was still in the counselor's office. I was a little frustrated at the lack of guidance I was getting from my administrators over this whole thing, although, as stated before, I understand why they didn't want to tell me what to do. By the time I got to the counselor's office the student had left. The counselor suggested I grade the project and then decided what it would have gotten.

So I graded it. As with every other student who turned in late projects, I downgraded each part of the rubric one grade from what the student would have received. All in all, the student received a low grade and, even being generous as I was on grading this project, their final course grade was still only a 59%. Had the student turned it in on time, they probably would have passed. I found out later from the counselor who had spoken with the father that his child had not worked on it at all until last minute and had been up late the evening before doing it. That right there backed up the grade I had originally given and was the root of this students' issues. The first being a lack of responsibility and consistent procrastination. But also a lack of parental interest and push to get their child to do what they should be doing.

So I spent the rest of my Friday cleaning my desk, filling out failure forms, missing book slips and filing papers. I had a pleasant rest of the day and after work went to lunch with a few coworkers and then that evening went to the end of the year staff party which was followed up by a night of cheering on the Blackhawk's Playoff game at my house.

Thus we arrive at the last day of the school year this past Monday. At 8am we had a staff meeting which was essentially a good-bye to the staff and a thank-you, good luck send off to those who were retiring. I then went back up to my office and cleaned off the surface of my entire desk, which was a pretty substantial task. I really was just stalling for time and digging for things to do. I wandered the building and talked to people. It was somewhat surreal. I will be back in the building a few times over the summer but it felt a little like a good bye. By the time I'm back in the building full-time I'll have had a wealth of experiences and will probably still be processing them all.

Monday after school was supposed to be the Buddy Shuffle. The new teachers and their mentors were going to have a cuisine tour of each other's houses as an end of the year celebration. After months of planning, Buddy Shuffle fizzled out and it ended up being a party at my place followed later on by a night at my department chair's house for Rockband Night. A lot of time was spent at my place talking, eating and laughing. We even pulled out Settlers of Catan, my favorite game which I have now gotten everyone hooked on. (Its hard to find, as it is a German game but its like Risk, Sorry and Monopoly all rolled into one with a built in method of play that keeps the game short).

Since school let out I have been extremely lazy. I have a list of errands to do before I leave for Italy but I am soaking in the ability to have nothing pressing to do. It's a purposeful rest as the next few weeks before I leave are pretty packed.

This Sunday I am going to join my fellow DAR women to pass out flags on Michigan Avenue for Flag Day. I'm also joining my high school friends for our traditional blanket pass, which occurs whenever one of the women in our group have a baby (the last being in December).

The week after is a possible show to work in the middle of the week followed by 2 days working for the Eagles. Got to admit this show is going to be a tough one, as none of the band members speak to each other and will probably need a bunch of runners for them, in addition to the opening acts (hopefully I can work with Keith Urban's folks again as I did 2 years ago on the Kenny Chesney tour). Then its a few days rest before soaring off to the land of wine, cheese, sun and serious history. As our tour guide is bound to say, "This is not a vacation. This is a tour." There will be no rest for the weary until I get back to the States!

Ciao per adesso. (Goodbye for now).


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

9th Annual Bike the Drive

Chicagoans are a blessed group, living in a city where the lakefront is lined with miles of recreational lanes, often crowed by bikers, marathon trainers, rollerbladers, walkers, pets and people crossing in bikini's who don't realize that serious athletes are about to run them over.

Yet in 2002 a new bike path was created, or rather, redesigned for a day. I am proud to say I was among the first to "take over" Lake Shore Drive on a bicycle amongst a large crowd of cyclists. And I've done it every single year since then in a variety of different weather conditions.

That first year was a bit tough. The route started at Buckingham Fountain and every rider was directed north towards Hollywood and then back south towards 57th Street. It was crowded and as memory serves, around 70 degrees. I biked with a contingent of 20somethings from Park Community Church. We had walkie talkies and although we got separated into a few groups, had a blast.

In the years since I have gained a biking partner in my Dad and his friend Ron. Over the last few years we've not only had bikes stolen (that were locked up) but had a particularly unpleasant ride the pouring rain for the better part of 2 hours. Imagine being in jeans in the rain for two hours. Now add sitting on a bike seat and pedaling. Thankfully, that doesn't describe my situation that year but it certainly happened to someone in our trio. We were so wet biking the 5 miles to the starting line and to meet up with Ron that I thought about turning back before beginning the 30 mile trek through the city. But we saw Ron, standing in his poncho and decided we couldn't get wetter and to just do it. It makes for a good story and carries with it fond memories. Every year BtD gets better. And this was perhaps the best yet!

I wake up around 5am on BtD morning. Partially to see Lake Shore Drive completely empty with not a car in sight but also to catch a glimpse of the first bikers heading towards the Loop from our windows at 2800. This morning almost always guarantees a brilliant sunrise and 2010 was no exception.

Dad and I left the house around 5:30 and met up with my dance friend, Kathryn, who was joining us this year for her inaugural ride. There was no wind to speak of, a rarity in the Windy City, and even fewer bikers as we headed to Fullerton to get on Lake Shore. The organizers created two check points this year, Fullerton being one of them, the other being on the south end near 31st street. There were men dressed in black suits who looked more like secret service than volunteers. Obama was in town (he and I arrived to Lake Shore Drive at the same time the previous day - needless to say he got the right of way in his helicopter and motorcade while I sat in traffic which was finally diverted to MLK Drive). Anyway, we conquered the hill near Lake Point Tower and reached our meeting point at the Arch outside the Modern Wing of the Art Institute on Columbus Blvd.

Around 6am, later than usual, we began our ride heading back north towards Bryn Mawr. The sun was still rising and glinted off the buildings in the loop. I'm enough of a pro at this ride to know where the photographers are located along the route. The first is always right near the Lake Point Tower hill. I seem to never get in a shot with Dad but I think we were successful this year at this very spot, both waving with ridiculous, happy smiles and sunglasses on. The bike north was full of conversation and talk of changing gears as we hit the multitude of small hills heading north. Lake Shore Drive south of Irving Park is still in need of paving and there were gaping potholes in places. So long as you didn't change lanes you could stay on the bike without trouble.

We sat at the Bryn Mawr turnabout a bit longer than usual, taking in the weather and resting our legs. This year there would be no wind at our backs to blast us through the 15 miles south towards the Museum of Science & Industry. We got back on the bikes and made our way south. Trump Tower is now complete and I got a gorgeous shot looking west over the River. I try this shot every year but there is always a bike or two in the way. This time, still pedaling, this may be one of my favorite Chicago photos ever taken.

Just before the southern checkpoint we saw an Ambulance departing the northbound lanes. The entire traffic of bicycles heading north had been stopped. (Turns out the biker than was taken away died 30 minutes later, apparently of a heart attack.) We see an incident every year, although this year was mostly blown tires or families trying to wrangle their younger members back into the fold. The lawn outside the Museum of S&I is a great resting place. We tend to spend most of our break time down here in the sun, whether we need a break or not. There was food available here unlike last year. Let's just say the handicapped biker table was laden with foodstuffs while the main bike refreshment stands were empty. People tend to head south first anyway, it has less hills and much nicer city views and food tends to disappear quicker down here. Apples and water were in full supply though and we sprawled on the great lawn chatting away as we had the whole ride.

It turns out our long delays cost us a bit on our final 7.5 miles. Had we been just 5 minutes earlier we could have completed the course on Lake Shore Drive. Yet the volunteers stationed down at Museum of S&I started yelling on bullhorns to get back on and ride or we'd have to finish the course on the Lakefront path. They were right. We were just minutes from the cut off. Traffic on southbound Lake Shore was already being opened to vehicles, squad cars leading the procession. That was our 2nd sign. We are usually up near McCormick Place when the Vehicle parade begins. We had barely gotten to 35th street this time around. At 31st they diverted us onto the Lakefront Path. I was disappointed. I always finish on the Drive. But it worked out just fine. Ron and Kathyrn had never seen the Path this far south. And my favorite bike spot in all of Chicago is down here. If you haven't seen it, there is a waterfall off the back side of McCormick Place near the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Garden. Boats pass by going and in and out of Burnham Harbor and back in the day, before Mayor Daley carved it up, planes would fly in and out of Meigs Field. It is still a great sitting spot, and perhaps nicer now that former Meigs Field (now Northerly Island) is a nature preserve AND concert venue which supplies me with work on occasion.

Just north of McCormick is Museum Campus, home to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. The best view of the city is from the Shedd. In the summer you will see newly married couples and bridal party's out for photo op's. On a crystal clear day like this past weekend, it was just another chance for a great photo of my hometown. Again, I'm a biker in motion, but the angle makes it sort of artistic. Not bad when on a moving 2-wheeled object you take a photo that has Willis (Sears) Tower, Aon (Amaco) Center and Trump all in one shot!

We reached the finish line in about 2 hours 50 minutes of biking, over 3.5 hours in total. We chose not to eat at The Gage, our traditional spot and also avoided all the SWAG at the celebration in Grant Park. We caught a few bars of American English who were playing at the finish line and headed to Michigan Ave. to lock up the bikes. With the famous Lions standing guard, they'd be fine, right? Especially when decked out in Hawks helmets. (I love Chicago and its random "fandomizing" of famous statues). Outside the Art Institute we found a perfectly, safe, empty set of bike stands to lock up our bikes. After a short tour of the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute (waiting for the cafeteria inside to open at 11am) we ate lunch in the courtyard inside the Art Institute next to a fountain with a single duck getting lots of handouts. Sadly, upon gathering the bikes, we found Kathryn's conspicuously missing. She handled the loss with grace and composure. I'm not sure I could have done it nearly as well.

All in all, a great extended weekend in Chicago. It felt like a mini vacation! And of course, I left to head back to Champaign at the same time Obama left to go home. Figures we'd be on the same schedule! Next year I'll do the 10th Annual Bike the Drive. I think I'm going to also march in the Memorial Day Parade with my fellow DAR ladies. One year at a time...