Well, here we are. The dreadful dragging, rocky and clamoring jump-start to the work week known as MONDAY. The very word bringing dread, it is first out of seven of our daily obligations to provide a business-quantitative benefit to the corporations that deem us acceptable enough to be provided a fixed quantity of bank notes. Bank notes with which we purchase a share in places to live, medical treatment for our various ailments, things within our respective yet unfair means and food on our plates. For how cut and dry things are as a clerk, I am coming off what turned out to be quite an emotional roller coaster of a weekend. I hope to properly exude the emotional cargo that rode atop the caravan that flung me into this week.
It begins as all carnival rides do, the excitement of walking into the prospect of fun; a way to relax and release pressure that entails a few small-batch brewing establishments that carry a quality set of beers that neither bloat nor immediately intoxicate. The first was a smokehouse anthology to begin the experience, a fantastic barbecue spot with a bevy of beers that made it difficult to choose only four per flight in adherence with the coupon we luckily nabbed. They were all well named, with the 5 Bridges Kolsch, Maplewood Fat Pug Nitro, Soundgrowler’s Leather Apron, and my personal favorite, the Spiteful God Damn Pigeon Porter. My date ordered a pleasant array with the likes of a Hibiscus Ale, Boulevard Jam Band, Solemn Oath Lu, and Buckle Down Brewing’s Shady Aftermath. While sipping from these delicious wee ounced quads, we made quick work of the barbecue brisket redneck fries. Julienned potatoes dusted in dry rub before drenched in cheese and bark plenty beef with a pleasant bite. Our attentive and informative staff led to a fantastic first experience overall, but we had plans and couldn’t stay for a main course whose bouquet flowered through the building. Our next and final stop, we hit the industrial park further north of the latter for one of our favorites. Solely selling their own beer and visiting ciders, it featured a predominantly Mexican menu, with traditional ingredients that follow the west coast playbook in their execution. It is the absolute best locally. I feel this way because all the other Mexican restaurants within the diameter of a reasonable travel distance from my home and my office (1 hour apart) are still suffering in their gentrified, bastardized tomato-and-lettuce hell from whence they may never return. It is cooked properly, dressed adequately and the available pepper sauces are legitimately made in house and beyond complimentary in flavor. Traditional Mexican street food, it is tacos and nachos and burritos with onion and cilantro, chihuahua cheese or queso fresco, and the burritos have correctly prepared pappas fritas, all tightly wrapped together in their fresh grill-pressed tortillas. They even do a mixed brunch on Sundays, as well as a delightful doom metal yoga with tacos and beer, with everything being fifteen dollars altogether. There was time to kill, so I relaxed on a cushioned windowsill, the booming demonic melodies thundering above us while our cool and crisp seven-ounce glasses rested atop overturned rustic wooden barrels. My partner unsheathed her phone, and the time spent waiting for our third party passed with the help of a few crossword puzzles that referenced the likes of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and novelists from the beginning of the 1900’s. We were pleased to discover a foursome was leaving their iron and wood tabletop precisely when our third arrived. We requested food and refilled our libations, proceeding to banter on about our personal and professional lives. Eager for the sustenance whose aroma wafted from the small short order kitchen, we guzzled our glorious brews and were rewarded with refills that became available punctually with our food. I love that quick little kitchen. Pleased with our meals, my two compatriots fled outside to meet their tobacco vices for a dessert of nicotine and humidity. Southwest Chicago lands are a gym class armpit this time of year. This did not stop the guitar salesman out front from setting up shop from the back of his truck, nor his adorable and loving Corgi, Cooper, from taking part in an emotional display of balanced reciprocity with our eager scratches and his round itchy haunches & loving demeanor. Before we devoted another half-hour to what was clearly one of the best boys, we exfiltrated and retired to our quaint apartment. Relaxing on the porch with some fresh water and allowing our bodies to filter the remaining calories and alcohol from our blood streams, we exchanged our modern interpretations of pleasantries and upcoming intentions for the weeks to come. Reaching the point in the evening where it was healthy to call it a night, we bid adieu and sought out our personal clouds to transport ourselves to dreamland, via the horizontal position.
Upon awakening to a bright Saturday morning, I made way to the exterior before riding shotgun for an hour to a lovely town in DuPage county. A member of my family has encountered a difficult scenario in life; after serving as a volunteer fire fighter, a coach of high school hockey and diving teams, running countless marathons (that included the Chicago and prestigious Boston iterations) and after teaching health class at the high school level for decades, it was discovered that a growth upon his brain stem was restricting nerve impulse traffic to his left side. After tests and examinations took place, it was found to be inoperable cancer and restricted him to using a wheelchair. The outflow of support and love for this man was incredible, bringing people and supplies from every corner of this community as fellow teachers, families and students did what they could to support both him and his family. As a further display of appreciation, these wonderful people held a small music festival on the street in front of his house. Complete with catering, a stage and PA system, musicians, a bouncy castle and a slew of audience members filtering through the event, it was incredible. Knowing only a fraction of the people, their effort and care with which he lived his life and helped others live the best of theirs, seeing the support in action left me in a state of awe that superseded how I originally thought of this man as a personal hero. He is why I will forever support good teachers at every level, that leave everything they have out there for the youth of the world to grasp. The shows of joy and sadness, that this event cultivated, led me to believe that it was all worth it. We begrudgingly said our goodbyes and made the hour trek home to prepare for the wedding ceremony of a family friend. I thought a lot about my Uncle and his family on that long roll home. The friends they made through the years that made themselves available for such an event made me swell with pride; first for being a member of this wonderful family full of people that lived this way on a regular basis, and second for being one of hundreds who was taught and advised by this unbelievable individual at a proximity not readily available to everyone. I felt genuinely lucky. Him and his family are a loving and hardworking bunch that deserves the best, and from what I saw that morning, they have it. A tearful morning, I ask that you and your religious figurehead bless everybody that helped and were present. The heart beats strong in their community and this was a day for family.
Following a pit stop for a card and gift for the future bride and groom, I donned my black suit and white shirt, choosing a purple and gold patterned tie to accent my socks; a goofy pair that carried surfing chihuahuas against a neon blue backdrop. It’s quickly apparent that I’ve been hitting the tacos a little hard as my formerly well-fitting slacks, from the beginning of the year, now cinch around my waist like a medieval corset. It appears I might have to establish some better eating habits. But now is not that time. Our travel to the small town in Indiana revealed a hidden gem- a shipwreck-themed bar & grill with great beer and booze, and a plate of buffalo fries- ‘taters in buffalo sauce, drizzled with bleu cheese dressing and topped with crumbled bleu cheese. I was in heaven before realizing my date would refuse to kiss me, advising that maybe next time I should “hold the mold”. She got her revenge by getting me a taste of a peach-flavored whiskey, that while pleasant in the front end, was less than apt to go down. I do not discredit my lovely counterpart’s ability to help me branch out and try new things, as this is something I love about her and will fiercely defend until my dying day- nor do I feel bad ripping this beverage apart, given that the staff was great, and the presentation was fantastic. All parties present did their part- She was eager to order, they obliged and poured four accurate and equal shots to all willing to attempt, myself included. I know they were accurate since the paper cups they used were Dixie-equivalent quality and delightful, designed like old-school liquid medicine cups with graduated measurements. Snake oil, this was indeed. A lilting, bright and fruity entry this stuff had. The finish it did not. Towards the end of the flavor was an awful and pungent smoke stack. A burnt woody conclusion that was entirely too heavy for this dogged whiskey. It quite literally tasted like I had just sucked down a concentrated liquified version of those cheap peach gas station cigars. Not horrible, and not worth publicly discrediting by name. It was an affordable and fun reminder of the occasionally downward-facing scenarios adventure holds for us, lest we forget that fortune favors the bold. I finished what was left of the buffalo fries, and ordered a neat snifter of Evan Williams in a meager offering to the bourbon gods that I would do right by them and return my palette to its rightful place of celebratory preparedness. I like to think that Bacchus and Dionysus, in their Roman and Greek iterations respectively, saw this as pleasing and rewarded us with a wonderful ceremony and reception. It was a beautiful setting, a lush grassy lawn in front of a courtyard that led to a calm blue-green pond, bordered by young willows and mature evergreens. It was an intimate, modern storybook wedding- a white cloth path that led to wooden chairs dressed in white and silver. Two young flower girls disproportionately distributing the contents of their baskets; one pinching solitary selections of the pink and yellow leafy rose parts, the other chucking fistfuls of the soft, candy-colored petals together at once, leaving a confetti explosion in her wake. The ring bearer was a young boy that matched the groom and his men, carrying two boxes atop a sliced round of tree with the bark intact. A wonderful display of family with great food, great music, an attending Sheriff’s Deputy by the bar, and a close friend of ours both officiating the ceremony and catching the bouquet to her family’s delight.
Feeling a bit stir-crazy after dancing our faces off and then being forced to sit in a car for an hour for the trek home from neighboring Indiana, we decided on stopping at our local brewery on the way back. The punk-and-wrestling-themed compound was a clean finish to a bubbly sort of day, providing refreshing brews and a patient wait staff, both to our tardiness and the expert handling of a difficult customer. The beer was delicious as always, a peanut butter porter that presented itself like a stout, but finished the conversation like a peanut butter snack. Just like our beers, we were finished and made our way home- eager for soft, cool pillows and a warm, comfortable bed.
Turning finally to the last portion of the weekend, we have the day known as one of rest. Usual to the modern day, this one was anything but. Heed my description not as one of complaint, but rather fulfillment. Ice picks of sunshine blasted into our room, waking us. Yes, us; we, the undead remnants of our formerly fancy selves. What was once beaming faces, bodies clad in formal garments, eager for the evening’s celebrations to commence were now beaten and dizzied vagabonds, emitting ungodly groans and wails of pain from sore limbs and angry intestines. While we did not consume copious amounts of alcohol the night before, the mixture of two days’ worth of individual beers, whiskey and soda as well as bar food and banquets turned us to forms normally reserved by the crypt keeper and his cruel mistress, Death, herself. Bidding my lovely darling an unfortunate farewell to fend for food and water amidst her state of recovery, I prepared for my bit of the weekend that left me solitary on my mechanical steed.
With this being the falling action of my weekend, I was eager to start my day, ready to take on the oncoming poundage that both the sun and mulch would be ready to issue on the behalf of the elder village’s grounds. I had agreed to deposit and groom five large bag’s worth of brown, shredded, earthy material back to the dirt from whence it came. Originated by that which it would assist in helping to grow. I made a brief stop for a poorly assembled, palm-sized ball of fat and grease which I washed down with melted Styrofoam-infused coffee, complimented by a review from an archaic form of information, advising the reader of the latest breakdown of open wheel racing taking place the world over. I missed reading the paper, as, I assume, did many other patrons. It made me feel important and the tangible aspect of reading with a kinetically operated object made the information feel learned. I actually retained the story about the last five years of Indy-Car standings when a leader seemed apparent with four races to go, whether it was with Scott Dixon in the lead, or Helio Castroneves… or from earlier years, like with Dario Franchitti. Ironically, two out of the three were robbed some time late last year at a Taco Bell drive-thru; not fast enough I guess. Speaking of quickness that has since fell past its respective prime, I came to the realization that I was at an elder oasis. Groups of seniors packed the fiberglass booths, clutching their respective print information and plastic coffee. Interesting that I was on my way to the elder village. I felt like I had undertaken an adventure, sent forth by the demigods in search of a bespoke wisdom rooted in manual labor and hard work. A balding bespectacled elder, much larger than myself, was sitting in an adjacent booth, staring at me. Neither happy nor angry- he was just staring without blinking. I felt as though we had a moment in time in which two parallel lives led us to two different locations, however it was this one in which we intersected. It felt as though he was looking at me, somehow try to say, “You can avoid my fate. Do whatever it takes.”. Our surreal figure seemed sad and lost. I also looked like shit so it’s entirely possible that he was thinking about me being some messed up kid, with my long curly hair and disheveled beard preventing him from looking away. Regardless his intent, his unending gaze gave me the creeps and I decided to move on with the day, no doubt looking uncomfortable while making peace with the fact I was uprooting myself in any way I could to pursue something better than what I had currently available to myself. This thought carried on as I made my way to the bathroom. Realizing immediately that I stumbled into an enclosed space with what sounded like an ill-tempered water buffalo, my daily routine would have to wait and I made my way back outside to the mangled machine of rust, cream-interrupted crimson paint, and dull chrome. A purple-amber glow emanating from the point of contact between the exhaust pipe and the exhaust head. She called to me. It was time to fly. All of my thoughts, that ranged from my own mortality and the unbearable concept of being, to the poor quadruped suffering in the lavatory, slipped away.
I’ve heard racers and travelers alike all describe motorcyclists as mechanical purists that were experts at ignoring risk. I’m sure at some point that’s true, but my relationship with the sport is neither one of elitism or ignorance. It’s one of love, knowledge and passion. To care for the ability to move about aimlessly, getting nowhere and somewhere all at once, is to know everything that goes into making the machine work as one. It is not to ignore the risks every time we straddle the mechanical marvels, but rather to understand and accept them for what they are. And we as riders, we know from the very beginning that the second we depart our destination, after mounting our dearest ally in the pursuit for true freedom, that we are already dead. Thin margins of error, the velocity at which we travel and the unprotected openness of one roaring atop an engine… well, it leaves little to the imagination. A world rife with distractions, we are forced to leave highways and thruways with their cellphone wielding bimbos & aggressive brunch-drunks, and take to the side roads. Mild and smooth, these are undulating heavens bordered by cornfields and soybean groves. I hopped the nearest one and headed west. My grandparents’ home is an hour’s drive as the crow flies, situated between farmland, industrial parks and a retirement community. I think of the experience and work compiled in places such as these. Granted, the quantity is greater in some more so than others, yet to qualify or quantify these people takes away from that which this place truly is- a village for the elders. Some are larger, some smaller, but they are all the same. Houses are borderline identical structurally minus some acute design details that all fall in with that which is predetermined prior to their arrival. Split levels in varying degrees of beige with manicured lawns and pretty groups of perennial flora and fauna. Smooth concrete streets that seldom see expensive rubber pace the twisting network, lay bound to this place. Designed to confuse intruders, these networks allow the local police their stellar record of response time. Young kids that are far from the age of true trouble, dismissed as punks for the mildest annoyance, lest they witness the local vigilante, an elderly man with his old, cracked, dark red impala, personally equipped with an orange construction strobe siren light atop his roof. His method of self-defense guaranteed to be a shaking fist and the local precinct on speed-dial. I stop at the security kiosk to advise my entry, lest I experience the pendulum of clenched fingers in my general direction. I pull through the neighborhood, the dull thump of my engine in low gear so as not to disturb the neighbors. I slide into a patch of shade given by a small tree next to the street in front of their house. I stop to examine the wooden sign next to the entry- a simple Italian greeting I’ve seen every visit since I was a kid.
A brief moment’s wait after a gentle press of the illuminated button results in a quick blast of laughter and joyful greeting by my family’s patriarch. A former pipeline salesman that worked with the city of Chicago and surrounding municipalities, my grandfather played hockey well into his early eighties. He is still a slender yet robust man, his wide smile and laughing eyes peering through large silver frames, in his aviator-styled glasses. I greet my grandmother with the usual warm smile and hug. Her wary look indicating her ER nurse’s intuition is still spot-on. Or I just continue to look like complete garbage- “So, you two had a rough night, huh?” as she giggled with a smirk and I nod in shame, my counterpart’s absence noted. I acknowledge the existence of a wedding the night before, omitting unnecessary details such as my desire to pay for a Sheriff’s whiskey and boogying to such hits as the electric slide. I advise her that I’m solo as the bike can barely handle me let alone the presence of another. She nods and asks if I’ve eaten, am I well and if I’m hydrated. I respond in the affirmative and beckon them outside to review the necessary work that needs to be done before we get off track and lose prime work time to either an angry sun or menacing clouds. After reviewing the patches of dirt that border their home, I get to work shuffling bags to their assigned locations, tearing them open and emptying their contents amidst ferns and fronds. The work is quick, taking me roughly an hour to empty them all and spread them around, neglecting a four-inch space between each patch’s border with healthy green grass. The empty dirt may serve as a gutter system, carrying away water and moisture to certain parts of their garden that may utilize it better than others. Brown dust and debris from the bags’ contents stick to my sweat-lined skin, leaving a dirt tan that will easily wash off in the sink. My clothes sticking to me like a low-grade adhesive, I make my way back into the house, seeking a cold water from the fridge.
Grandma drops me an ice pack for my neck. I’m uncomfortable- both tepid and steamy, so her gesture is appreciated. They chuckle in appreciation of the work I’ve done, and we relax with grandpa for what appears to be a modern western drama. The weather hasn’t turned south outside, so I let the cool pressure of the blue cold pack sink into my bones, the water in my condensation-fogged glass returning my body temperature to a more reasonable indoor degree. I relax and let myself get lost in the story of this wild west preacher, his son and a former prostitute. We take a moment to review the weekly email my elders have received from their local association, full of business matters revolving around current events and recent goings-on. Trivial matters for those of us present in the work force, such as those of how many children should require a guardian if visiting and using the pool, who has access to the popcorn machine and various scams circulating the compound. Brief blurbs of trespassing “punks” and curbing the local vigilante as the less-than ideal candidate to meet problematic issues should they arise. The hilarity of being a kid once and the chaos I must have caused sets in. Time is passing and my brain is growing tired. I initiate my farewells and advise my relatives of my intent to depart. We exchange pleasantries and salutations as well as a coupon for a retailer intended for my mother. I start my motorcycle and head home. The morning has been long, but the gorgeous hour-long drive back returns my mind to one of active peace and eagerness for rest. A little too eager in action, the local sheriff clocking me at a brisk 18 ticks over the posted limit before sternly advising me of local code and sending me into a panic attack when he mentions his observation of my laughing as I passed him. The otherwise imposing appearance of the man and his rookie partner appreciative of my stop and smirking at my delayed attempt at pulling up a mobile insurance app that’s fraught with technical issues. The presence of an error message and incompetent customer support staff acting as my savior, we exchange information, I get his card and mosey my way around the little turn-off in which I pulled after spotting the pulsating “cherries-and-berries” in the handlebar-mounted mirror to my right.
With the thorough execution of a traffic stop behind me, I arrive safely at home. Sauntering upstairs, I am eager for the warm embrace of my love in an air-conditioned condo and wanting for the relief a big soft couch will bring to my tired body. Queue the entertainment streaming service, an order for unhealthy, yet satisfying crab Rangoon’s, egg rolls & barbecue pork, and resulting heavy eyelids. I am tired physically and mentally, in need of a boring work week to fly by as quickly as it came so it can all be done, over and over again.