O’Hare After Dark

I’m here in O’Hare Airport tonight, waiting to catch a late flight home.  So far, at least, no one has assaulted me or tried to bodily remove me from a seat — but my adventure is not yet over.


There’s definitely a surreal quality to O’Hare after dark.  It’s an enormous facility, designed to accommodate huge throngs of passengers, so when night comes and the crowds have seriously thinned out, the solitary traveler is almost overwhelmed by the vast spaces.  There was a guy playing a solitary saxophone at the end of the walkway leading to Concourse 3, and his echoing notes perfectly captured the kind of lonely feeling that is created when you’re traveling alone, through oppressively large, impersonal spaces that make you feel swallowed up and almost nonexistent.

There’s no better advertisement for the pleasures of “home” than O’Hare after dark.

Dead Or Alive?

Don Rickles died today.  The insult comedian who was a mainstay on The Tonight Show and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and who delighted in calling people “hockey pucks” was 90.

abc-don-rickles-obit-jc-170406_mn_4x3t_384And this sounds terrible to say, but my first reaction to the news was:  “That’s interesting.  I guess I thought he was dead already.”

I feel very guilty about this reflexive response, but it happens all the time these days.  Some musician, comedian, movie star, or sitcom actor from the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s kicks the bucket, and you could have sworn they’d already gone to meet their maker.  I think the reason for that response is that, during their period of great fame, those celebrities are seen so frequently that they become expected, everyday sights on talk shows, in magazine articles, on game shows, and in guest roles on sitcoms.  Then, when their period of fame ends, as is inevitably the case, you associate their ongoing lack of presence on the popular scene with . . . death.  In fact, the only way you know for sure that they’re not in fact dead is if they suddenly get hauled out to award an Oscar or give a tribute to one of their just departed colleagues.

So, Don Rickles is officially dead.  Doc Severinsen, on the other hand, is still with us.

De-Mented

A few days ago our firm came out with its roster of attorneys and practice groups.  The roster lists all of our attorneys, and for associates also identifies their designated partner mentors.  As I scanned the roster, I saw that this year, for the first time in a very long time, I do not have any designated associate mentees.

As I mentioned to one of my colleagues, I guess this means I am officially de-mented.

I’ve enjoyed being a mentor over the years.  My practice is to take my mentees out to lunch on a relatively regular basis, buy them a good meal, serve as a sounding board if they want to talk about their plans and their problems, and offer my advice if the situation seems to call for it.  What older person wouldn’t like flapping their gums to offer advice to an earnest young person?  My mentees have become friends, and Kish and I have enjoyed socializing with them, having them over to our house for a cookout and cocktails, and hosting them for an annual holiday meal that has become a fun end of the year tradition for us all.

But, in reality, I’m confident that I’ve gotten far more out of being a mentor than I’ve given.  I’ve gotten to know some really fine people who might not have otherwise become friends, I’ve experienced the satisfaction of seeing my mentees move on to success, at the firm and in life, and I’ve gotten repeated reminders of how out of step my thinking is in the modern world.  Unfortunately, I also had to deal with one brutal tragedy that still hurts to even think about, when a wonderful young woman died long before her time — but I guess that’s part of being a mentor, too, in that you have to be willing to take the bitter with the sweet.

The other day I got a call from one of my former mentees who left the firm a number of years ago.  She was asking for a reference, and in her message she said “you’ve always been a great mentor to me.”  Of course I agreed to help if I could, and it made me feel good to think that she still views me as a mentor of sorts.  Maybe I’m not totally de-mented after all.

Going Out Your Own Way

There’s a reason — aside from getting helpful birthday reminders — to endure the political stuff and the paid ads and still participate on Facebook:  sometimes you’ll see a story that you missed the first time around.

I saw this article about Norma Jean Bauerschmidt on my Facebook news feed today, thanks to a posting by Dr. Golden Bear.  It’s old news, dating from last year, but the underlying message is timeless and bears repeating.

hotairballoonFor those who missed the story, Miss Norma was 90 years old when she received the news that she had uterine cancer.  Her only treatment option, which wasn’t likely to produce much in the way of positive long-term results, was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Miss Norma decided to chuck the treatment and live her remaining days traveling the United States.  She ended up on the road with her son, daughter-in-law, and their dog Ringo for about a year, visiting multiple states and national parks, taking her first hot air balloon ride (where the photo accompanying this post was taken), and trying her first taste of oysters, before the disease forced her into hospice and eventually led to her death.  Thousands of people followed her exploits on a Facebook page called “Driving Miss Norma.”  She died on September 30, 2016, and you can see her obituary here.

It’s a great story, and it made me wish that I had the opportunity to meet Norma Jean Bauerschmidt.  When people are faced with such end-of-life decisions, there is no right or wrong answer — you just have to be true to yourself.  Miss Norma chose the path that was right for her, and thousands of people were made a little bit better thanks to her decision.

One part of the story linked above particularly touched me.  During her year of travels, Miss Norma was often asked which spot was her favorite.  She always responded:  “Right here!”  It’s a good reminder about the importance of living in the present.

A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Keyless

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and many of my travels have required me to rent a car.  Through the rentals, I’ve been introduced to the wonders of keyless automobiles — at least, keyless in the sense of the old-fashioned, cut metal, keychain jangling in your pocket, keymaker and locksmith keys that I associate with cars.

img_3660We bought our Acura just before the keyless revolution really took hold.  It’s got a kind of awkward interim technology, bridging the gap between metal keys and totally electronic unlocking.  There’s a plastic part of the key with buttons that open and lock the doors and the rear gate, but there’s also a little button that you push to make a metal key flip out, and the car’s ignition requires the insertion of that metal key.  It’s as if the designer recognized the simplicity of electronic access, couldn’t quite bring himself to go the Full No-Metal Monty.

When you’ve been using metal car keys all your life, the electronic gizmos take some getting used to.  When I get into a rental car, habit compels me to look for the key in the ignition switch — but of course there is no ignition switch, just a button.  The “key” is a plastic device sitting in the cupholder.  You don’t need to touch it, or do anything with it; it’s very electronic presence is so powerful it allows you to start the car by stepping on the brake and pushing that button.  Because you don’t use the key to turn the car on or off, I always wonder how many people inadvertently leave the key in the car when they’ve completed their journey.  I don’t, because I’m anal about locking any car I use even if it’s totally empty, but I’m guessing that forgotten keys, and perhaps also stolen cars because the keys have been left in them, are a lot more common now than they were before.

I don’t mind the electronic keys, really; we’re living in an increasingly electronic age and you’ve just got to be ready for the next technological leap forward.  But while pushing a button and hearing the engine start is perfectly fine, in my view it doesn’t really compare with the tactile sensation of sliding that key into the ignition switch, feeling the rasp of metal on metal, and turning the key to hear the throaty thrum of the engine.

Creatures Of Habit

In an effort to get a bit more exercise into my day, I’ve been getting up earlier and walking for the last six months or so.  I leave the house a few minutes before 6 a.m., walk up Third Street, take a lap around the perimeter of Schiller Park, and head back home in time to get ready for the work day.

habit20I’ve noticed that, on my little pre-dawn jaunt, I see the same people, at about the same time, in about the same place.  The quick-walking bearded guy wearing a Kansas City Royals cap, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets, heading down Third to the Starbucks.  The guy smoking his morning cigarette next to the church.  The two women walking in the street wearing colorful, coordinated workout outfits.  The seemingly inexhaustible guy running around the park with his two border collies that always move to the other side of the sidewalk as I approach.  The two joggers carrying on an animated conversation.

I freely concede that I’m a creature of habit.  When it comes to things like exercise, I like getting into a routine and then following it.  I could mix things up and, say, walk down Mohawk rather than Third, or really get radical and walk in the opposite direction — but I would never do that.  I like taking the turn at the Starbucks, seeing whether there’s been any progress on the church repairs, and checking out the people pounding away on the treadmills at Snap Fitness.  And, from my experience seeing the same people in about the same place at about the same time, I’m not alone in my creature of habit status.

If you google “creatures of habit,” you’ll find a number of articles about how people can break their habits, and the positives that can flow from trying something new.  I’m sure that’s true, but I’m here to say that habits can have their value, too.  There’s a certain comfort in the sameness, a zen-like tranquillity in the known and the familiar, and a sense that a new day must be starting because I’m rounding the third corner on my way around the park and that guy on the bike is wheeling by, just like clockwork.

Routines can have their value.