Saturday, May 30, 2009

Street Dance

The enormous flatbed semi-trailer was pulled along the side of a quiet, tree-lined street in our neighborhood. The bed of the trailer, which I later learned was 45 feet long, was loaded with 14 concrete pipe sections, each of which looked to be about 3 feet in diameter and 4 feet long.

The driver got out of the cab, walked the length of his rig and released a fork-lift device at the back of the bed. This allowed the nearest pipe to be rolled off the bed, supported by the fork, and gently lowered to the ground. The driver then rolled the pipe a few feet before blocking it with a 2 x 4 chock. He casually rolled off the next two sections of pipe in the same manner, climbed back into the cab of the rig, moved it forward about fifteen feet, and repeated the entire process with the next three pipe sections.

I watched, fascinated by the control this man had over such large chunks of concrete. By the time he got to pipe number four, he had added a new step to the dance: another length of 2 x 4 was placed before the penultimate section of pipe to ensure that only one section rolled off the bed at a time. By section number seven, yet another step was necessary. The driver had to place a 2 x 4 across the width of the flatbed about half-way down its length so that the remaining sections of pipe wouldn't pick up too much speed as they rolled along the bed. He knew exactly where to place this barrier so that the momentum of the rolling pipe was slowed. A couple of times, one of the pipes would take off at a slight angle or look perilously close to steamrolling its way to freedom, but the driver had yet another 2 x 4 in his hand, which he used much like an elephant hook to correct the wayward object.

Finally, my curiosity overcame me. From the safety of the opposite side of the road, I opened conversation by yelling, "There's quite an art to this, isn't there?"
"Yeah, and today's my first day on the job," the driver replied.
Stunned, it took me longer than it should have to see his mischievous grin. "Nah," he admitted, "I've been doing this for a long time."
Indeed, his hair was gray and his skin leathery, but he moved with the grace of a man half his age.
"So what does one of those things weigh?" I asked.
"Twenty-five hundred pounds or so," he replied, casually correcting a pipe that had started rolling off-center.

I watched for a few more minutes, not wanting to be a nuisance or a distraction. Visions of runaway 2-ton pipes careening down Sheridan Road kept me quiet, and eventually, I resumed my walk. Later, when Woki and I were on our second stroll of the day, I noticed that another load of pipe had been deposited, bringing the total number of concrete sections to 28. This time, I ventured closer. I went up to a section, which on its side stood as high as my waist. I pushed just a little. Nothing. I pushed it a bit harder. Still not even the merest sense that it might move. I probably could have pushed with all my might (not that I would have dared) and never have budged any of those babies one inch. They sat inert. The magic was gone. It had only been the skill of that man whose name I never asked that made 2500 pound ballerinas out of concrete pipe.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Two Ways to See It

In Lake Forest there is, natch, a Lake Forest Preservation Foundation "committed to preserving the historic visual character" of the town. There are, without doubt, some architecturally interesting buildings scattered around town as well as some elegant homes and beautiful mansions. In recent days, plastic placards have been placed in front of a number of these edifices declaring them to be "historic award recipients." While I think it is fine to acknowledge the architectural merits of these places, the placards themselves are tacky.

Contrary to some notions, Lake Forest is not comprised exclusively of impressive, stately homes. Although a few big estates do exist, and there are some "McMansions" in the newer developments, they are outnumbered by "ordinary" houses. There are even some very modest dwellings here, some of which are in poor repair. One such place is not far from my house, and Woki and I often pass it while on our walks. It sits low and squat on a tiny scrap of land. The paint is mildewed and peeling, the roof is half tarpaper, half corrugated metal, and there are only a couple of small windows. The scrubby yard is littered with plastic toys, bikes and an old snow shovel. Definitely not a realtor's dream.

The other day as we walked past, I saw that some wag had swiped an "award recipient" sign from a more prosperous neighbor and put it in the front yard of this place. Amusing, at first glance, especially as a flip-off to the self-congratulatory Preservation Foundation. But if it was meant as a slap at the less fortunate in a land of plenty, then it's another story entirely.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lake Forest

I'm still trying to figure out this blog stuff. Last Thursday, I went to an excellent presentation on blogging given by Laura Hansen, Cindy Kurman, and Helen Gallagher. These people really know their stuff, and I learned a lot. One thing that became clear is that good blogs have a focal point.

I struggled to think of something that I could use as a springboard for all the things I want to write about: observations, opinions, anecdotes, and sometimes just plain fiction. Hmm. It was a tough puzzle. Whenever I am confronted with the various puzzles life has to offer, I walk. My dog, Woki, and I have covered many miles working through the tricky bits of life.

This time, however, we had gone only a couple of miles before those little synapses clicked into place and I realized the answer was beneath my feet. And all around me. Lake Forest. The place I live. The place I have had a love/hate relationship with my entire life. It is a place with a certain reputation thanks to history, gossip, and writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Judith Guest.

Lake Forest, however, is not easily defined when one knows it well. It is a complex place that, while it by no means reflects the rough and tumble of the "real world," has its own heady mix of glamor and ugliness, charm and dark behaviors. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone lives in a mansion, drives a Rolls Royce, and has more money than God. But certainly that element is here, too. (Wouldn't they cringe to be referred to as "an element"?)

Like many others, I am definitely not in the RR category. Over the years, I have often asked myself, "What am I DOING here?" Perhaps the answer is: observing. There are so many interesting things that go on here beyond the stereotypes. I will have anecdotes and opinions, and much of what I observe I will spin into fiction for all sorts of reasons. In addition, I hope this blog will be a little window into the world of Lake Forest, at least as I see it, for those who are curious.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Eighth Grade and Beyond

The season of graduation--that most cliched of all thresholds--is once more upon us. Whether or not the graduation is our own or that of a sibling, child, friend, or even parent, the event inevitably brings to mind the question, "What happens next?"
By one of those odd confluences that Fate is so good at creating, this past weekend held two back-to-back events for me that simultaneously raised and answered that question.

On Thursday evening, I was privileged to watch a particularly talented group of eighth graders from Oak Grove School perform the musical Bye Bye Birdie. These kids were amazing. They sang, danced and acted at a level far beyond their years.
The other event of my weekend happened to be the 41st reunion of my own eighth grade class. Jeez, where did that time go? As the teenagers in Birdie sang, we had "a lot of livin' to do."
We lived through Flower Power, Woodstock, Watergate, the BeeGees, Travolta and disco, Dynasty, detente, Clinton and Lewinski, Oklahoma City, two Bushes, and 9/11. Our personal histories are a panoply of travel, careers, marriages, and divorces. Our children reflect the complexity of our lives: some are beautiful and accomplished, some are severely troubled, some are all, or none, of the above. Most, but not all of us have survived to our mid-fifties in spite of stupid decisions, alcohol and fast cars, drugs, and our own genetic time bombs. We are, by our shared history, a group who love and quarrel and ignore each other by turns. Oddly, at least in my case, the bond seems to grow stronger with time so that I am compelled to write a blog perilously close to cheese level about people I consider as an extended and rather eccentric family. (Yes, even you Mary and Martha who were so mean to me in sixth grade.) (Penny, forget it. You can still go to hell.)

So what I would love to say to the eighth graders of 2009 is: remember, you do have a lot of living to do. Live wisely, live well. Because in a nanosecond or two, you will look around and say, "OMG, I can't believe our eighth grade play was 41 years ago!"