The longest way home

The long ride, cycle, train, walk home


It starts with a seven-minute walk from my desk to the bike rack at the entrance to Navy Pier.

There’s an elevator ride in there too.

For most of Chicago’s bitterly cold and blustery winter that walk is fairly benign if not altogether banal.

You wave to bored shopkeepers walking down the middle concourse of the pier or get out in the brisk wind and chill air to enliven yourself after a long day of work. Usually the former.

But in late spring, on nice days by our standards, they begin to show up to the pier like zombie hoards.

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Writing: The Nightstand

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but something happens in the spring. I can write a thousand words every day in winter, but when the sun comes out, I want to live it not tell about it.

Still, things happen every day. Lessons are learned, experiences are had. Some you catalogue out of a sense of duty, some are buried away for contemplation on a rainy day, and some are fleeting, like a cool breeze on a warm day.

This is why you write every day. Some of us have minds like vast containers capable of storing every imaginable thing. And some of us have minds like cluttered drawers, chalk full of the detritus of our travels and adventures. 

My nightstand looks like this. I cannot cram the old drawers shut any longer. The bottom drawer is full of small things that remind me of long ago. There are marathon bibs and medals, an action figure I’ve always loved, a badge a friend gave me, papers and notebooks I save, even if there are just a few notes in them. The top drawer is full of newer memories, manila envelopes with old tax statements, a knife I earned on an outdoor adventure, some newspaper clips from my reporting days and a leather pouch with some favorite pipe tobacco in it. 

Writing is like this. You file away the pieces of your experience in sentences and paragraphs for later reference so you don’t have to make up the details later on. 

You write to capture all the in betweens, the intangibles leftover from the stuff in the drawers.

I this way, you have a more complete picture of your life or the life you’re trying to create.

Bloody Moon

Bloody moon scared me to death as a kid
along with nuclear war and apartheid

Or maybe I hated the idea instead, like
the Rapture and being left behind

Four fears and an apocalypse to keep me
awake all night and praying for a soul

All of the signs and then some to dwell on
For Sunday mornings and Sunday’s school

Israel and promises too numerous to keep
let alone remember or even understand

My world in a prophecy, life shortened
all hope in the hereafter, the after life

After everything else there is tomorrow
but you never really know until then

Until after the stars fall from your skies
and the moon turns red, red like blood

Life in the slow lane

He crawls the car out of the garage and backs down the driveway in the  same amount of time it takes me to get out of our neighborhood and onto the main streets.

He stops and checks over his shoulder before he backs out into our street.

He looks down at the transmission stick and purposely slides it from reverse through first, second, third and into Drive like some slow-motion space movie launch sequence.

Then he looks up and presses down on the accelerator with his foot, easing the car forward almost painfully.

All of this is deliberate. Practiced, calculated maneuvers that he is committing to memory.

I’ve never taught someone to drive before now.

And I don’t remember when or how I learned everything I did.

It requires an inordinate amount of patience to sit here and watch a young person learn responsibility in real time.

But I’m telling you something you probably already know.

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My Own Allegory of the Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park

In hindsight, a trip to a cave for spring break might not have been the best idea considering my claustrophobia.

Yes, I love exploring and adventuring as much as the next guy.

But tight quarters with more than 100 of my fellow human beings fighting for the same space and air is more than I can handle.

My claustrophobia set in after I worked in Ukraine as a reporter at the Kyiv Post in 2004.

I attended a rally in Maidan with a million people and got sucked into the crowd. I was swept off my feet and carried for many yards against my will.

Something from that moment stuck with me, and I hate crowds to this day.

A secondary, albeit lesser, phobia is of being on something like a bus, train or plane where I cannot leave the trip at any moment of my choosing.

The standard Mammoth Cave National Park tour provides the perfect setting for both of these scenarios.

The Historical Tour, which we signed up for, often features more than 100 people and two guides.

Though it does go through the larger caverns of Mammoth Cave, there are a few parts where you do not want to be stuck with 50 people in front of you and 50 people behind you.

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Anatomy of a free hotel breakfast buffet

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The hotel lobby was quiet when we exited the elevator.

A few families sat quietly shoving spoonfuls of egg product into toddler mouths and picking at fruit bowls.

My kids surveyed the lineup of biscuits and gravy, toast, yogurt, cereal, egg and meat products and waffles.

It was a unanimous decision.

I quickly read the instructions and poured a cup of batter on the hot iron, which produced an alarm that made the lady at a nearby table jump and spill her hot coffee.

I flipped it over and silenced the buzzer.

The timer read 2:58, so the kids poured themselves some juice and went to find a table.

In that small timeframe, the once serene buffet was inundated with three different families like an invading army.

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Living Spontaneously: Losing my travel companions

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Pit stop at the fastest place on earth.

After a rough week of being sick and then dealing with the devil more than usual during a shortened work week, the weekend loomed like a colorful piñata.

The potential was palpable, but I would have some convincing to do.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we used to pack the kids up on a whim and drive to Mexico for spring break.

The first time we did it was after a particularly rough quarter at college. I wasn’t completely convinced I was doing the right thing, and the stress was eating away at me.

I discovered we had $1,000 leftover from student aid that could be used for living expenses , and at that point in time, I needed to do some living.

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I don’t know how to raise a daughter, so I read her princess books

The Princess and the Goblin

We started in on the princess books with gusto.

I read them in an exuberant voice, hoping she would ignore the deliciously difficult words so characteristic of late 19th century British literature.

She most certainly did not ignore those words.

“What does being cross with his wife mean?” she said, after I finished the first page of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess.

“It means he wanted to be angry with his wife,” I replied and tried to trudge through the difficult text.

Why on earth would I read Phantastes, The Light Princess and The Princess and the Goblin to my seven-going-on-eight-year-old daughter?

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Life Before Internet

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The last 15 years of life before the Internet were a magical time… Or so historians might write one day.

For me, the start of the digital revolution coincided with my own independence.

When I look back at 15, the year before I could drive, the year before freedom came my way in the form of my own vehicle, the year before girls, the year before work, the year before Tim Berners-Lee thought interconnectivity would be a good thing for this world, I see the last vestiges of a simpler time glowing like the embers of a late-summer fire.

Maybe mobile and smartphones were the bigger revolution, but when I was 15, I still dreamed. I went camping with my friends and spent time at coffee shops without staring at a screen every five minutes.

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Because Science

Science is beautiful. If you stop to observe it.

It’s not just the results of experiments and their intrinsic  value that are gorgeous to see, it’s the structure and the mechanics of the science being done that are so delightful.

They are delightful, because so often we only read about the results. We never find out about the work that went into making the experiment.

Today I hit my friend Shane Caldwell up for a tour of Argonne National Laboratory, where he works as a nuclear physicist.


Behind that concrete wall lies Blue Gene P, one of several generations of supercomputers used in many scientific applications.

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