We don’t know where she came from, what her original given name may have been, or why she had come into such dire circumstances. One day she began coming to the back porch of my daughter’s house. Although her long coat somewhat hid the fact, she was emaciated. Perhaps she was able to smell the presence of other cats in the house. Or maybe she just sensed the kindness of those living inside. We don’t know. But she came asking to be fed and cared for and was taken in. They named her for her most prominent feature at the time: Bones.
As a precaution, the kids (actually bona fide adults now) took the stray to their local vet to make sure she was in reasonably good health and free of any parasites that might get passed on to the other cats, both of whom had been rescues. Bones was sorely underfed and bore one broken tooth, which the vet indicated almost surely meant she had been ejected from a moving vehicle (he’d come across those in the middle of the road before). Otherwise, she was a healthy long-haired adult cat, estimated to be about eight years of age. They took her home and began caring for her. Don’t ask me what miserable excuse for a human being inflicts harm on a defenseless animal. I have no idea, but I do know that I would love to see the punishment fit the crime when it comes to animal cruelty. Can’t you just see it? I can.
One thing became clear early on: Bones liked to eat. In fact in no time at all, she was no longer grossly underweight. But she also liked to play with her fellow housecats, Dorian and Finch, who did not share her zeal for romping and roughhousing in the least. Spats ensued and Bones had to be separated from the others. The hope had been that the three cats could become acclimated to one another over time. That didn’t happen, though, and after months of trying, much to the dismay of all involved, it became apparent that Bones would need to be rehomed.
My daughter Teresa had begun to put out feelers, including a post on Facebook that just broke my heart when I saw it. (Author’s note: I have no right to complain, as some years earlier, I had shared a post on Facebook that resulted in Teresa and her husband-to-be adopting the kitten who would become their Dorian.) My wife immediately asked if I thought it would be feasible to take Bones in ourselves. Twenty years ago, I would not have hesitated. But now? Karen had been struggling with mobility issues, I wasn’t getting any younger myself, and just keeping up with the house had become a losing battle. Then there was Leia, our large, black Shepherd/Labrador mix, who had coexisted with a cat (and even a rabbit) before but was now enjoying life as an only child. “No,” I replied, “probably not a great idea.” Although Karen accepted my answer, I don’t think either of us was too choked up about the thought of Bones being rehomed.
It was a cold, lonely night at the end of November. Karen had been hospitalized following a freak injury requiring surgery. I was home alone, doing some Christmas shopping on my laptop. I had ordered a few gifts for Karen but had not yet happened upon the one “special gift” that I get her every year. What does one get for a woman who, once she gets out of the hospital, will be stuck in rehab for weeks? I surfed and scrolled and wracked my brain but did come across anything worthy.
Well, there was one thing, an idea to which my mind kept returning. I kept on thinking about that cat and how much I didn’t want to see her sent away again. But how to make it work? Once Karen got home from rehab, she would be challenged just to take care of her own needs, let alone those of anybody else. In recent years, due to declining physical abilities, she hadn’t even been able to keep up with the dog — and I had done a piss-poor job of compensating for that. We had never cared for a longhaired cat before, but I suspected the shedding situation would be extraordinary. Despite all the reasons I shouldn’t have considered the matter any further, my mind kept circling back. Why? Because my wife had a long way to go before she could come home and having Bones would give her a good reason to fight for her recovery.
I reached out to my daughter that very night and together, we began to scheme. Bones would stay at her current home until Karen was home and settled, sometime after the holidays. The kids would wrap Bones’ vaccination record for me to give as Karen’s “big” Christmas gift. And when the time came, Tre, her husband, and their housemates (long story) would assist Karen and me in learning what we needed to know about caring for a longhair. As was often the case when I was a young boy, I could not wait for Christmas to come!
A number of long weeks later, on Christmas Day, a group of us went over to the nursing home where Karen had been placed for post-surgical rehabilitation. She was still non-weight-bearing on her left leg and had already grown tired of not being able to do so many things on her own. She was putting up a great front for the holidays but we all knew it had only been a front, nothing more. After all, who wants to spend Christmas in a nursing home?
Things played out exactly as I’d hoped they would. We presented gifts of varying shapes and sizes, insisting that she save the smallest gift for last, a number 10 envelope with a red bow on top. In all candor, Karen seemed to enjoy all the “lesser gifts” she received, too. Then we let her open the envelope. She unfolded the single sheet of paper inside and read it over, probably a few times, before that telltale look of realization crept into her face. She looked up at us and said just one word. “Really?”
We all nodded in response. Things might have gotten a little emotional for a moment or two, but by far the overriding emotion in the room was joy. I am convinced that I had made the right choice, for Karen as well as for Bones. Heck, for me, too!
The weeks that followed were long indeed, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Karen was still in rehab when our son left for his new home in Hawaii and also when her mom passed away. We managed to break her out for a run up north, to see Mom one last time and also to Teresa’s house for a farewell dinner for our son. Both day trips were undoubtedly helpful but neither of them was capable of making everything okay, and we all knew it.
The farewell dinner gave Karen a chance to spend a little time with her soon-to-be cat. Because the name Bones was no longer descriptive, Karen was tasked with giving her feline a new forever name, an assignment that my dear wife did not take lightly. She insisted that it must be a name with ties to royalty. Me, I had already gotten used to calling her Boney, but I was open to a change.
Once during the farewell event, I glanced over at Karen while she was holding Bones and in that moment, the look on my wife’s face told me everything I had to know. First, though Bones may not have realized it at the time, this kitty was never again going to have to worry about not having a place. But more than that, this cat’s forever “place” was in Karen’s heart. Boney cat, I thought to myself, you’ll be coming home soon. For good.
Right around the end of January, the nursing home’s PT/OT staff, the insurance company, and most importantly, Karen herself decided she was ready to be discharged. So on a chilly Thursday evening, three days after I had broken her out to attend her mother’s funeral, I brought my wife home. Two days later, our daughter and son-in-law brought Bones, who had not yet been renamed, over to her new forever home. They also brought with them a supply of food and a generous assortment of new cat paraphernalia.
I felt like a first-time adoptive parent, watching Boney look around in a state of bewilderment and hoping that she would soon adjust to her new surroundings. The initial transition took a little less than a week, probably not bad by cat standards but still a little tough on her new mom and dad, who at times feared that she would never warm up to them. In reality, after everything that she had probably been through, Boney just needed a little time before she would be inclined to trust again. We gave her that time, as well as some space, and before long we began to share experiences together.
Still, one question remained to be answered: What was her name? After weeks of consideration, Karen decided that the cat formerly known as Bones would henceforth be called Guinevere Bonaparte, the latter name added so that if I wanted to, I could continue calling her Boney cat. This proved to be unnecessary. Within short order, we both began calling her Guinnie cat. Similar phonetics, same number of syllables… hey, it worked.
And the rest is slowly unfolding history. Because of the broken upper-left canine tooth, which will have to be removed altogether eventually, Guinnie sometimes appears to have a bit of an Elvis sneer, but not always. She enjoys blanket-covered laps but if you overdo the petting, she’ll let you know. Guinnie cat loves looking out of windows (I can’t wait until more birds arrive) and despite being pretty small (about nine pounds, fur and all), she is utterly unafraid of Leia, the black princess, who is many times her size.
So far, Karen does all the brushing and shares some of the litter pan duty, because these are the things she can do. I do everything else, for now, which largely consists of feedings, vacuuming copious amounts of loose dog and cat fur, and cleaning up the occasional yark. On average, this puss sheds enough fur to produce another small cat every seven to ten days. Enjoys proximity when she’s not sleeping. Does not like to be picked up and held. And she has never actually bitten either of us but will occasionally do that soft “objection bite” thing to let people know when she has had enough.
One of our favorite new things is when we greet each other by touching noses. It’s the cutest thing. A little disconcerting when I’m asleep, though, and feel this small, cool nose pressing into my arm to let me know her highness has arrived. S’okay.
Her name is Guinevere, or Guinnie for short. This is her home now and she has decidedly become our cat. The journey continues.
People often use the phrase “life happens” as a sort of catch-all explanation for why things don’t go as planned. The implication is that life continually happens to us, the passive, unwitting masses. The actor Jim Carey has suggested that life actually happens for us. What I want to know is what do you do when life repeatedly and relentlessly attacks you from all sides? Huh? What do you do?
This story begins in late October, when my 95-year-old mother-in-law suffered what appears to have been a mini-stroke caused by multiple occlusions, which had until then gone undetected. Her son, a retired healthcare worker with whom she lives, rushed her to a local hospital ER, where she was diagnosed and admitted for treatment. Sometime after that, Mom was transferred to a rehab center for physical and occupational therapy.
A few weeks later, my brother-in-law and his wife were scheduled to be at a family wedding in North Carolina. The wedding was to take place on the same day as my daughter’s “big second wedding reception,” but I’ll get to that later. Our intent had been (a) for my wife to care for her mom in her brother’s absence, (b) to involve Mom in our daughter’s big celebration, and (c) to give Mom a nice Thanksgiving. In one fell swoop, all of this had become uncertain at best.
In the days that followed, after one of several visits with her mother at the rehab up in Lindenhurst, my dear wife suffered an unfortunate accident while getting into her car in a near-empty parking lot after dark. The result was an awkward fall that resulted in multiple fractures to her left leg and foot. She texted me from the emergency room of a hospital in Libertyville, “Please don’t get mad,” and proceeded to tell me what had happened. Our son, who lives in Rogers Park on the far north side of Chicago, miles closer than my own home, drove up to offer assistance. The medical staff at the hospital in question — and there seems to be a great deal to question — saw fit to splint my wife’s leg, told her not to put any weight on it, and promptly discharged her. Eventually, our son drove her home.
Meanwhile back in Plainfield, while our son was driving his mother home, our daughter, with the help of her husband and a friend, set up a corner of our TV room with a mini fridge, commode, food, beverages, and other accouterments, with the hope that my injured wife would be able to make do without risk of injuring herself further. In no time at all, it became clear that this was not to be the case. The following day, we were all working together to seek more competent medical attention for my wife.
I should mention that while all this is going on, I had arranged to work remotely in order to ensure that Karen would never be left alone in such a vulnerable state. I can only thank God and my employer, a family-oriented company not quite like any other I have experienced, that this was even possible. Even so, life just kept right on happening. I had been working away on an almost calm Thursday afternoon when the news came to me via email that my mentor of the past four years, also my direct superior, partner in crime, and friend, had “parted ways” with our company. This seemed odd to me, as only hours earlier I had neither seen nor heard any indication from the man that he had any intention of executing such a departure anytime soon. Hmmm. As is my nature, I reached out to people. No information was volunteered and I did not pry. I just let it go at that and went back to shouldering life as it continued happening. And believe me, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
A day later, a competent orthopedic surgeon examined my wife’s injuries, gave a rather alarming assessment of the “cookie cutter splint” that had been applied at the previous facility, scheduled urgent weekend surgery two days hence, and having declared that my wife should never have been discharged in her vulnerable condition, sent her to the emergency room across the street from his office.
Sometime after 3:00 AM the following morning, Karen was admitted to Silver Cross Hospital. One day later, on a Saturday morning down in surgery prep, we were informed that due to a testing oversight, surgery would have to be postponed. To say that Karen was displeased doesn’t quite cut it. Because she could not be safely discharged, my dear wife was now stuck in the hospital pending that surgery. Meanwhile, our daughter’s second wedding reception, two years in the making, was scheduled to take place that very evening.
You see, it’s like this. Two years ago, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our daughter got married. Teresa had always wanted a big feast of a wedding, like Karen and I had enjoyed so many years ago, but the pandemic restrictions rendered that impossible. At one point, Teresa and her husband-to-be had created a spectrum of contingency plans, ranging from a restricted ceremony with the two of them, a priest, and a witness at the low end, to a modest celebration of up to maybe 50 people at the high end. The latter is what took place, but the whole time, they vowed to follow up with a full-blown reception the following year, after all the restrictions had been lifted. Unfortunately, the following year still held some restrictions and much uncertainty. And so it came to pass that 2022 would be the year of the big second reception.
Karen had been in tears when she realized that she would not be attending our daughter’s big reception but nobody was willing to place her in harm’s way for the sake of attending a party. Still, we all vowed to do the next best thing. If we couldn’t bring Karen to the celebration, we would bring the celebration to Karen! All night long, an entire team was busy capturing elements of the celebration and streaming them to my wife. And believe me, it was a hell of a time. Being surrounded by friends and family enabled me to set aside all my concerns of the day, if only for the moment.
The following Tuesday, we were back in line for surgery, only this time it happened. Without going into the sordid details, the surgery ended up being every bit as involved as it had promised to be, involving substantial hardware to compensate for one repair that would not be possible. Still, it had gone smoothly, the surgeon assured me. As expected, there would be a lengthy recovery ahead.
Hours had passed before I was able to see Karen again. When they brought her back to her room, my wife looked like she had seen too many miles of bad road. I opted to let her rest and went to run all the errands she had assigned to me prior. By the time I returned to the hospital that evening, Karen was her old self again, with color in her face, a twinkle in her eye, and that unmistakable sense of humor that we have so long shared between us. We still had no solid indication of how much longer she would be in the hospital or exactly where she would go next.
Two days later, happy Thanksgiving! Karen was still in the hospital. Administrative red tape, undoubtedly lengthened by the holiday weekend, prevented us from knowing with certainty where she would be going from there, but we knew it would not be home. Based on recommendations from the social worker and from our primary care doctor, Karen selected a rehab facility close to home. But there was paperwork to be filed and then reviewed by somebody, somewhere, before we would have any kind of confirmation of the transfer.
Long before any of this had transpired, our son John had begun scheming an “event within the event” to take place on Thanksgiving Day, which would be hosted for the first time by our daughter Teresa. John assembled an entire team of accomplices, all working together below the radar of his significant other, Emma. Even her mom was in on it, agreeing to fly in from California the night before and be snuck into the house that morning, under cover of carefully orchestrated distractions. At the appointed moment, everybody came together and witnessed a beautiful and most eloquent proposal, all live-streamed to my wife’s hospital room, of course. There were many teary eyes, my own included.
Life, which always happens, had begun to cascade. The following morning, Emma would depart Illinois, first for her home in California and shortly thereafter to Honolulu, to start her latest job assignment. John will follow her sometime in January. Between now and then he will get their belongings moved from their Chicago apartment and move back home for a few weeks, along with their dog and cat. Then he, too, will be off to Hawaii.
But wait, there’s more! I woke up the Friday after Thanksgiving with telltale sinus issues that seemed to indicate I would be coming down with a cold soon. I was already committed to making a run up to see my mother-in-law and bring her some fresh laundry that I’d done a few days earlier. Not being able to make that run on Thanksgiving had killed me inside but with everything else afoot, it was impossible, simply too much — and I was the very last to admit it.
I stopped in Rogers Park to pick up John on my way up. During my last visit to see Mom, when I had picked up her laundry, she wasn’t sure who I was. I tried to help her remember, unsuccessfully, and went home feeling so deflated and alone. My son had this knack for drawing a reaction from his grandma, even if she wasn’t sure who he was, and so he gladly came along. We did better together than I ever would have on my own. I am grateful.
By all rights, this should be the end of my story and it would have been more than enough at that. But you see, life doesn’t just happen. Life continues to happen, sometimes relentlessly.
By Saturday morning, my “cold” symptoms were much worse and on top of all else, my senses of smell and taste had completely disappeared. After more than two years of testing negative for the COVID-19 virus, I had become convinced I was a “no-vid,” incapable of becoming infected. But my God, I had just spent a day surrounded by people celebrating Thanksgiving and then gone to visit my 95-year-old dear mother-in-law, stopping from time to time to visit my health-impaired wife in the hospital! Could there possibly be a worse time to contract this damned thing?
Of course you know what happened next. Not just one but two tests came back positive and I was instructed to quarantine for five days, to inform anyone whom I might have exposed, and to inform my employer and ask once again to continue working remotely. Please pause for a moment, look back on everything I have just shared with you, and try to imagine what this task might look like.
I do think I may be the most fortunate man alive. In addition to the outpouring of sympathy and understanding from my wife, my family, and my friends came nothing but solid support from my employer of almost exactly four years and a plan for moving forward from all concerned. And this is exactly what has enabled me to continue on in the face of life as it happens.
Now I am healing. My wife, still in the hospital, waits patiently for her rehab assignment. Various family members and friends are dealing with cold, flu, and covid infections, not all of which are related yet we recognize that we are related and hold each other up as we move forward. We have only one rule and that is to never ask, “What next?”
Unlike most of my stories, this one has no clear ending. Life happens, sometimes all at once. The thing is, life will keep right on happening until it ends. Whether you believe it is happening to you or for you, what you do with this ever-unfolding life is up to you.
Me, I’m still here, still standing, still moving forward. It’s been an interesting few weeks, though. And if you’re still here with me, reading along, thanks for hanging with me.
Good heavens, beloved readers, an entire riding season has passed since I last posted here! It was never my intention to be so quiet for so long. Time just got the better of me. I won’t let that happen a second time. Here is a recap of things that have transpired since I last wrote to you.
The new job I started last fall with Diaz Group LLC has continued to expand and evolve. The people there, at all levels of the organization, are top shelf and having spent so many years in the facilities maintenance, snow and ice management, and green industries, I’m definitely in my element. Although my title has not yet changed, my role with the company has become increasingly strategic in scope. This has become a unique opportunity that almost makes me want to thank my last employer, whose name does not even deserve mention on my pages anymore, for having decided to part ways with me. Of course anything can happen, sometimes without warning, but for now I am exactly where I want to be.
With my shoulder replacement completely healed, I was able to resume riding again. Getting the rust off my riding skills took me longer than I expected, in part because the layoff had been so long, but also because something that has changed between my ears. Even though my severe shoulder injury occurred while walking, not riding, just getting hurt so badly has made me aware of my vulnerability. That’s something on which I must continue to work because the wrong kind of fear can be dangerous when riding.
As I do every year, I kicked off the riding season at the beginning of May by attending Motorcycle Sunday in Aurora. This year’s event was made extra special when my son came in from the Quad Cities to attend with me, meeting up with another dear friend to hang out together, and then my daughter and her boyfriend, non-riders, came over to hang with the three of us for a while.
From spring through fall, I did much grilling, both at home with family and with my dear friend Ann up in Wisconsin, who like my son shares my love for cooking and is a very skilled cook in her own right. I used my little smoker a few times as well. Some dishes were better than others but all were quite flavorful and there were no total failures.
The smoker is new for me and a welcome addition to my culinary arsenal. Smoking foods, however, is far from a foolproof endeavor. In short order, I have already learned a couple of fundamental lessons. First, that just like any other type of flavoring, woodsmoke can be overdone. The smoke flavor should complement all the other flavors in play. Overdo it and you may end up with an unwelcome bitterness that overpowers all the other flavors. The second lesson I learned in a hurry is that you can’t hurry. When you’re slow cooking with a smoker, time is your friend, your ally. For best results, don’t shortchange that friend.
Last June, for the first time in years, my son joined me for the annual Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, which benefits the Middle East Conflicts War Memorial. I was grateful to have my son along. I only wish the weather had been more favorable. Despite the Freedom Run being a rain-or-shine proposition, and with significant rain in the forecast, attendance for the 2019 event was a fraction of what I’ve witnessed in past years. Indeed, we were hampered by an extended torrential downpour at the starting point. Still, I would like to have seen a better turnout. This cause deserves a better turnout. That’s why I was there, as was my son. In fact, I have been trying to get Ann to come down for this event since we began riding together — about four years now — but she has always had a conflicting commitment during that weekend in June. As it turns out, this was one time I was glad she couldn’t come. Not because I didn’t want her along for the ride — I always want her along — but she would have been miserable in that rain and the turnout would not have impressed her at all. Maybe next year.
July brought about two fantastic road trips. The first was a very long day trip with my wife Karen. The only thing that kept it from being an overnighter was that we couldn’t get anyone to take care of the pets. Ah, but it was a fantastic little road trip! We went to the Quad Cities to see Holiday Inn performed at a dinner theater called Circa 21, where our son John had been working as the theater’s Technical Director. As such, John was able to get us good seats, ate dinner with us and sat with us for the show, introduced us to the theater’s Operations Manager as well as some of the cast and crew, and then after the performance, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the theater. Karen and I returned home sometime during the overnight hours, tired but happy and more than a little bit proud, too.
As a venue, Circa 21 is a great theater. Actors come in from across town as well as across the United States to perform there. Dinner, served buffet style, is exceptionally well-prepared. We enjoyed a bottle of wine with our dinner and the bar also sells a variety of cocktails, including ice cream drinks. The show itself was excellent and was preceded by performances by the waitstaff. For the money, one would be hard-pressed to find any better theatrical entertainment value.
After missing the Midwest Motorcycle Rally last July due to my broken shoulder and subsequent replacement surgery (see My Summer Interrupted, Part II if you haven’t read the shoulder saga), I picked up Ann on a sunny Wednesday morning and we headed to Winona, Minnesota for a few days. What an awesome time we had exploring the area, on our own as well as with other rallygoers on the guided tours for which the MMR has become famous.
This year’s trip was particularly enjoyable for several reasons, not the least of which was that this was my longest trip of any consequence since I’d had my surgery a year earlier. The recovery period for shoulder replacements is measured in months, not days or even weeks. Most people don’t know this but during the first two months of my recovery, during which my physical activity had been severely restricted, Ann would “take me with her” on her daily walks by sending me photographs from the nature trails, river walks, lake shore, marina, farmers market, and more. She did her darnedest to keep my spirits up during what were some pretty dark days for me.
Besides getting to visit the rally’s new venue in Winona, Ann and I had also gone Dutch on a pair of matching Bell helmets with Bluetooth® communication headsets. This allowed us to talk to each other in a near-normal tone of voice wherever we went on the bike. Fantastic! Our Bell helmets also cut down on the wind noise in our ears, reducing fatigue as well as possibly some hearing damage, which for a half-deaf gent like me is important.
Labor Day weekend brought about one more road trip, which may seem like something but was still well below average for me. I picked up Ann on Friday morning and we headed for Cedar Rapids, Iowa with a stop in Rockford to see the Anderson Japanese Gardens. I had been there once before, years ago, and it made such a lasting impression on me that I felt compelled to share the experience with Ann. She loved it! From there we took Highway 2, a very pleasant motorcycle road, down to Dixon and then endured some endless road construction until we hit Interstate 80. Following a burger stop at Cerno’s Bar and Grill, a historic bar imported from Belgium and built by Pabst Blue Ribbon in 1898, we continued on to Cedar Rapids, arriving at our hotel that evening. My son John departed from work later in the day and joined us at our hotel that same night.
Our Saturday was a full one. A delightful friend of John’s named Marjorie, who hails from elsewhere in Iowa, met us in the hotel parking lot for a day of two-up motorcycle touring. We began with a hearty family-style breakfast at the Ox Yoke Inn in historic Amana. After everyone had eaten their fill, we strolled through the town, visiting the shops, tasting wines, etc. before gearing up and riding northwest to Anamosa, home of the National Motorcycle Museum and J&P Cycles retail store. We then went into nearby Stone City for supper at the General Store Pub. In hindsight, I guess we went pretty high on history that day.
On Sunday morning John, Ann, and I saddled up and rode into Illinois, stopping for a few hours in historic Galena, where we met up with another old friend of ours for a few hours before heading home. At that point, John and our friend Vern headed toward Chicago while Ann and I meandered back to her home in Wisconsin before I turned south and headed back home myself. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
A week later, Karen and I were making our annual excursion to the Sandwich Fair, which is hands down the best county fair for miles around. We tried to get the now-grown kids to join us, as they used to do when they had no choice in the matter, but getting four or more adults to rendezvous at the same place at the same time can be challenging. Still, Karen and I had our usual fun time. Can’t wait ’til next year.
In September, my son John and I met up after work and went to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago for a night of fantastic reggae/ska/club music. The opening act was Steel Pulse, a UK-based band that was the first non-Jamaican group to win a Grammy for Best Reggae Album. They were astounding, to say the least. I walked in not knowing who they were and walked out a fan.
The next performer was Shaggy, a Jamaican-born musician of whom both my son and I are great fans. Exactly how this artist has bridged the generation gap between John and I is not exactly clear, but we were beeboppin’ into the night.
The headliner was UB40, a group whom I have adored since the 1980’s. As Ann has also appreciated a number of their songs, I had hoped to entice her down to Chicago for this event, but as the show occurred on a Wednesday night and a late one at that, it was not to be. Hey, I never expected to see UB40 in person myself and my son John never thought he’d ever see Shaggy live and in person. I submit that the possibilities are indeed possible, so who is to say that Ann and I won’t see UB40 in concert sometime in the future?
For the sake of time and space, I have omitted several other highlights, but suffice it to say it’s been an awesome year so far. Soon the snow will be falling, but I may still get another ride or two in. Time will tell.
I know, it’s been a long post. If you’ve continued reading this far, as always, thanks for hanging with me.
I was only in the hospital for two days, but two days spent lying in a bed gives one plenty of time to think, to dwell, to obsess… and yes, to fear. My left arm had been bound into an immobilizer (picture a sling on steroids, with generous helpings of velcro and foam) before they wheeled me out of the OR. My entire left arm, held firmly in place by that synthetic getup, felt like a decorative sculpture of sorts that had been left beside me as a memento of my surgery. Dr. Saleem said that as soon as he got inside, he knew there was no hope of repairing the bone, but that the replacement had gone very well.
I wasn’t too choked up about having had my shoulder replaced but it was necessary, given the severity of my injury. I adapted. Learned to eat with one hand. Never once had to use a bedpan or one of those confounded plastic handheld urinals. All in all, I thought I’d been doing pretty well. Then about midway through the following day, the nerve block began to wear off in ever increasing waves. A cold, metallic achiness began to pulse from my left shoulder, right through the elbow, across my wrist, into the very substance of each knuckle, and ever down, down, down, until it seemed as though the pain had begun to drip from each of my fingernails. As soon as I’d realized what was going on, I rang for the nurse, who materialized almost instantly.
“Can I help you?”
“Hi, I seem to be having a lot more pain. Can you give me… oh, jeez!” Each successive wave of pain was worse than the last. Of course the nurse immediately understood what was happening and arranged to administer an IV pain med, in addition to adjusting the dosage and frequency of my oral medication. That worked fine, but could not be kept up indefinitely. We gradually weaned off the IV juice and tried reducing the oral as well, but found my pain threshold pretty quickly. Reducing the dosage and frequency of my oral pain med—an acetaminophen/narcotic combo—took quite a few days.
Two days after surgery, I was released from the hospital. I sure hadn’t felt ready for that. Right up until discharge procedures were initiated, my nurses wouldn’t even let me walk the few feet from my bed to the bathroom without an escort. How was I going to fare in my cluttered house, with its stairs and other hazards, to say nothing of the animals, one of whom had put me in the hospital in the first place? We would soon find out because I was going home.
The nurse removed my IV port with ease. My physical therapist made her daily visit, as did an occupational therapist, who tried to show me how to put my own shirt on, a pretty tall order for a guy who is afraid to move his left arm. Last of all came my dressing change and drain removal. Karen observed as the nurse carefully removed the original dressing. I looked away wincing as some of the more aggressive adhesive strips came off. The nurse chose not to warn me before yanking the sizable drain tube out of my arm, probably a wise move, but did apologize after I stopped yelping like a dog whose tail just had a car door slammed on it. Then with a new, much thinner dressing in place and a hefty band-aid placed over the former location of my drain tube, I was ready to go home.
Eh, I did alright. At first I was petrified anytime the dog or cat tried to come near me. In time, I adapted to life in my recliner. Leia, who had already earned the title of “The Most Expensive Dog I’ve Ever Owned” before this incident, gradually learned to approach me calmly and head-on rather than to my left side. I eventually allowed Jazzy to assume her duties as a medicinal cat and take naps on my blanket-covered lap. Me, I took my pain meds on time, did my therapy exercises three times a day, and slept a lot.
The pain meds and the immobilizer were my main concerns. I couldn’t do anything about the immobilizer, which I had to wear it at all times, except when getting dressed or doing my exercises. It was torture, but vitally necessary to protect my new shoulder as the bone and muscle tissues began to mend around the artificial parts. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything with that arm anyway, not even a Kleenex.
The opioid pain meds were a pain in and of themselves. On the one hand, they were effective if taken regularly. On the other hand, keeping an adequate supply was difficult and I ran out more than once while waiting for the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, and the insurance company to sync up. That annoyed me, as did the prospect of getting hooked on the stuff, so I began replacing every other dose with plain Tylenol. Eventually I was taking only over-the-counter pain relievers and before long, I was taking nothing at all. This of course took time, but over the course of two to three weeks, I did it.
About a week after I went home, I had my first follow-up with the surgeon, who was very pleased with my results. I also had my stitches removed and the incision no longer required a dressing. I just had to leave the steri-strips in place until they fell off on their own. A few days after that, I was cleared for actual bathing and celebrated by shaving my entire face for the first time in over 20 years, traumatizing my kids and several of my friends in the process. The following day I began regrowing my facial landscaping.
A day or so after seeing the surgeon, I began going to physical therapy three times a week, while continuing to exercise at home three times daily. At first I was afraid to move, but the therapists at Advanced Physicians are a top-shelf group of professionals who are apparently very used to dealing with big babies and had me doing new and exciting things in no time.
I was still homebound for several more weeks and having earned no paid time off at my new job, I made an arrangement with my employer to work from home to the extent that I could for a fraction of my usual pay. I was glad to be earning at least some income and downright grateful to still have my new job, which I loved despite some inherent challenges and shortcomings.
The weeks that followed were a continuum of baby steps forward. It seemed like every time I went to physical therapy, I was making some form of progress in my range of motion, strength, or my ability to add on another exercise. Everyday life activities, like showering and dressing, were also becoming easier.
Four weeks after my surgery, I was cleared to return to work, ramping up to full-time over the course of two weeks. But because I was still in the immobilizer, my wife Karen chauffered me to and from work, 35 miles each way, until I was able to do so myself. She must have really wanted me out of the house badly.
Five weeks after my surgery, I had another follow-up with the surgeon’s assistant, who cleared me to begin weaning myself off the immobilizer the following week and to begin driving, but only short distances. When I asked her about the 35-mile, 60-to-90-minute commute to work, she shook her head and said not to try that for several more weeks. The chauffering would have to continue for a while. Karen said she didn’t mind and we both agreed that we had been enjoying the hour-plus discussions we’d been having while stuck in traffic. Still, I was sad because of what was to happen in week six.
Last winter, while I’d still been living a somewhat normal life, I put together a motorcycle rendezvous near Green Bay that would take place over Labor Day weekend, now known as week six. A small group of people would be riding in from at least three different states. The idea was for everyone to arrive Friday, spend all day Saturday touring Door County on the bikes, and then each do our own thing from Sunday morning on. I had found the perfect hotel from which to base, the AmericInn by Wyndham Green Bay East, whose sales manager set me up with a block of rooms and everything. My friend Ann was to be my pillion passenger.
As that weekend approached, realizing that I was still months away from being ready to ride again, I had arranged for Ann and me to drive up to the rendezvous, hang with the group at the hotel, and then do our own touring by car while a friend of ours from Minnesota would lead the bike tour. Now it seemed like I wasn’t even able to drive.
Ann and Karen to the rescue! Karen drove me to Kenosha, from where Ann picked me up and drove me around for the rest of the weekend before returning me to Kenosha on Sunday so that Karen could take me home. Together the two of them solved all of my logistical issues.
And so there Ann and I were, up in Wisconsin on Friday morning, only to learn that the rest of our group had been canceling out since late Thursday night. In their defense, the weekend weather forecast for Green Bay and the Door County peninsula did include some chances of rain, although as far as I could tell, no day would be a complete washout. Nonetheless, the rest of our merry band had canceled. What to do?
What to do indeed! We had breakfast, went for a walk, and then headed for Green Bay. Breakfast was at a really happening place in Delafield called Lumber Inn. The food was great and the portions large. The walk was particularly enjoyable and also meaningful to me. See, during the first couple of weeks after my surgery, while I was basically stuck at home, Ann would take me along on her daily walks by sending me photos from her phone, promising that when I was able to do so, I could go along for real. And so I did. We saw deer, a turtle, fish, and people, some of whom had dogs. We spoke with some of the people and fed breadcrumbs to some of the fish. It was a pretty cool way to start out.
Our next stop was the Rahr-West Art Museum, part of which is housed in a Queen Anne style Victorian mansion in Manitowoc. The mansion itself is cool to see and the museum has some interesting pieces, both inside and outside. The facility is owned by the City of Manitowoc and admission is free, although donations are gratefully accepted.
Twenty or so years ago, whenever we were camping and boating over on Lake Winnebago, I would take my wife and kids over to Manitowoc and we always went to the big Wisconsin Maritime Museum down by the lakefront. Ann and I didn’t go into the museum, but we did enjoy a nice walk out back. I wanted her to see the USS Cobia, a World War II fleet submarine that had been built in Manitowoc. I had toured the Cobia a few times back in the day but would have had a difficult time passing through the hatches with one bad arm.
I also wanted to see if the Lake Michigan car ferry S.S. Badger was in port, but it wasn’t. We did walk past a pretty neat small ship called the Grande Mariner that was being fueled and “pumped out” by a couple of local tank trucks. I had never seen this vessel before, nor had I heard of its company, Blount Small Ship Adventures, so I made a point of Googling them after I got home. Apparently the Grande Mariner was doing its “Magical Lake Michigan” tour, a counterclockwise coastal journey that begins and ends in Chicago.
We walked along the Manitowoc River, where the Cobia is permanently docked, out to the Lake Michigan shore and onto a short concrete pier, part of the US Army Corps of Engineers Manitowoc Harbor Navigation Project. After all these years, I never seem to get tired of the sights, sounds, or smells of this or any of the great lakes. Ann took a few photos, while I took a photo or two of Ann taking photos. It’s almost an inside joke now.
Our last stop before reaching Green Bay was at the Trout Springs Winery in Greenleaf. What a delightful little place! The vineyard rows come right up to a small parking area in front of the main building. Free range chickens roam about the vineyard helping to keep the insect pest population in check. The tasting room is a friendly, inviting sort of place. Ann and I were greeted by a Welsh Corgi, who occasionally checked on us as we tasted several wines. We eventually selected an estate-grown wine called Rainbow Blush to enjoy in Green Bay that evening. Ann also picked up a Babordo Vino Nuovo port-style wine as a gift for one of her family members.
We arrived at the hotel in Green Bay late Friday afternoon and as anticipated, did not see one motorcycle in the parking lot. We kept to the planned itinerary that evening and went up the road to Wertel’s Tap for their Friday fish fry. A classic family-owned bar/restaurant, Wertel’s was positively hopping when we arrived. There are a number of larger, more prominent restaurants near the hotel, just off the interstate, but this little cash-only establishment further up the road draws a substantial local crowd. And why not? The service is prompt and friendly, the food is wholesome and well-prepared, and they have ice-cold bottles of Spotted Cow, which Ann and I both enjoyed very much.
I had worn my prized Ralph Marlin designer Three Stooges button front shirt that day and it did not go unnoticed. While Ann and I were at the lakefront in Manitowoc, someone with a group of motorcyclists lounging on the lawn called out a halfway decent “woop-woop-woop” to us and then during supper at Wertel’s, a delightful older gentleman addressed me as a “fellow Stooge” and proceeded to describe his own extensive collection of Three Stooges memorabilia in detail. I couldn’t help but smile, both times.
Ann and I met for the hotel’s “free” breakfast before heading out to tour Door County for the day. The AmericInn’s location, just off Interstate 43 and only a few miles south of Wisconsin 57, made it a perfect jumping off point and if I try putting this run together again next year, I would try to base the group out of this same hotel. It was clean, relatively up-to-date, and had a decent-sized indoor pool. The staff there is friendly and courteous, too.
Our first scheduled stop on the beautiful Door County peninsula was at Sturgeon Bay, the county seat and, I believe, its most industrialized community. Although this small city has a great deal to offer in and of itself, we were there to visit one fairly small park and then a much larger one. Both were worthy of our time. Ann and I got a little turned around looking for the Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial Park but once we were there, we couldn’t help but linger. Established as “a place to recognize and honor the memories of friends and loved ones who are/were motorcycle enthusiasts,” this well-maintained park is at once solemn and lighthearted, if such a thing is possible. It’s also peaceful and beautiful. The “Walkway of Remembrance”, a path paved with tribute stones, is emotionally moving, not only for what it is but for the mementos left behind by friends and loved ones of those whose names are inscribed on the pavers.
The sculptures and furnishings, all donated, are also noteworthy. Some pieces made us smile or giggle, perhaps as reminders that this park was not intended to be a sad place. All of them held our attention for one reason or another. Ann and I approached an impressive metal sculpture of an eagle—created and donated by Art Weborg of Sister Bay—and realized that it had been changing direction with the breeze. As Ann was shooting some video footage of this, I noted an example of the real thing soaring high in the distance. It was a very cool moment.
Over 25 years ago, my then-young family and I (along with some very close friends) visited Potawatomi State Park, on the shore of Sturgeon Bay just northwest of the city. While we were there, we climbed a 74-foot observation tower and were impressed by the view (and a brisk wind that had been blowing that day) once we had reached the top. Although I was younger then, I fancied the idea of climbing that tower again and showing Ann the spectacular views from the top. Imagine my disappointment upon finding that tower only to learn that it had been permanently closed due to “structural deterioration and safety concerns.” I couldn’t help but notice that some of the old wooden staircases seemed to be listing to one side or another. So there I stood at the foot of the old wooden structure, looking up toward the top, remembering how nothing of this earth is forever and suddenly feeling a bit structurally deteriorated myself. Ann consoled me and suggested that we continue our tour of the park, which still offers some wonderful views.
We traveled up the peninsula in a clockwise fashion, touring the more populated west coast along Wisconsin 42 before heading back down on the eastern side on Wisconsin 57. I won’t mention every town or every shop, but I will hit a few highlights for you. Predictably, some towns were rather crowded on this Labor Day holiday weekend, but most parts were quite tolerable. A case in point, Egg Harbor seemed to have more vehicular and pedestrian traffic than did most, but not enough to prevent us from stopping, shopping, and eating there.
We enjoyed lunch at a bar and restaurant called Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse, which is well-rated across various internet and social media channels—and for good reason. You might not expect to find a decent barbecue joint in this part of Wisconsin, but we found one. Fancy? No. Popular? Seemingly so. Crowded? Not so bad, though we weren’t there during a peak meal time. All I can tell you is the smoked meats were nicely done, the waitress was friendly, the portions were quite generous for the money, and the service was prompt. They only had one barbecue sauce on the table, but it’s their own signature sauce, which has a pleasant if mild flavor to it.
After lunch it was on to Fish Creek for a stop at Peninsula State Park, where 75-foot observation tower once stood. We learned from speaking with a helpful gentleman in a guard shack that this particular tower had been taken down two years ago. The good news, however, is that thanks to a fundraising effort, groundbreaking for a new tower was to take place in November. It’s too early to tell whether the same thing will happen at Potawatomi.
Still, Ann and I had a great time exploring the many views that this park has to offer. At 3,776 acres, this is Wisconsin’s third largest state park. It seems like a popular one as well.
We encountered only one bad traffic clog during our entire day of touring and we encountered it twice, once each way: a gapers block in front of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay that stretched for blocks in either direction. The pedestrian traffic in Sister Bay was substantial, too. Understandably so, because it’s a nice touristy town. Just the same, we chose not to stop. And there is no simple way around that town, unless you know the side roads, because the main drag, which is Wisconsin 42, leads on to the top of the peninsula and Wisconsin 57 also ties in there to take drivers south along the east coast. Something to be figured out before we go back, especially if we return with a group of motorcycles.
We continued north on 42 as far as we could, stopping in Gills Rock to explore a couple of shops and admire the view. It was already late afternoon, so hopping the ferry to explore Washington Island was not an option this time. We knew in advance that this would probably be the case. Door County has a lot more than can be experienced in one day. Another consideration, should we decide to attempt another motorcycle rendezvous next year, is that it may be worthwhile staying until Monday. We’ll see.
We made only one stop on our way down the peninsula’s eastern shore, mainly because we were running out of time, but that one stop was magical. Anclam Park is at the southern end of Baileys Harbor, a lovely, uncrowded community on the Lake Michigan shore. The last time my family and I visited Door County, we stayed at the Beachfront Inn in Baileys Harbor and absolutely loved it there. The inn is visible from Anclam Park and looking across at it brought back some fond memories of the days when my kids were still kids.
The lakefront was nearly perfect that afternoon and even though the park isn’t that large, Ann and I lingered there a while, enjoying the peaceful sights and sounds. Then we continued down Wisconsin 57 back to the hotel. Still pretty full from the big lunch we’d eaten at Casey’s, we opted to nibble on some snacks we’d picked up and drink one of the wines we bought at the Door Peninsula Winery earlier that day.
On Sunday, September 2, Ann and I ate another free breakfast, checked out of our respective rooms, and headed for home. But we had time to kill before Karen was to pick me up in Kenosha, so we took our time and made a couple of cool stops, the first of which was Lambeau Field. This had been my suggestion, but I think Ann wanted to see a little of Green Bay before we left. Nothing was happening there that day, but there were people on the property walking around and taking photographs, just like us. It was kind of neat and much easier to get to than Soldier Field, down by me.
Our next stop was at the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum in Oshkosh. This one was Ann’s idea and having never stopped there before, I was anxious to see this place about which I’d heard so much. It was cool! Lots of informative exhibits and their historic airplane collection is impressive, to say the least. As is the case with many places Ann and I had visited this weekend, we could have spent more time here than we did. I’m glad we stopped.
While we were walking the EAA grounds, Ann told me about a program called “Young Eagles” that was started in 1992 as a means of introducing young people to aviation. That sounded like a terrific idea to me and I wondered if a similar approach could be taken by the motorcycling community to get more young people interested in our hobby. For me, motorcycling has always been a sensory, experiential thing. I became a motorcycle fanatic as a small child, when I got my first motorcycle ride. There was something about the engine sounds and vibrations, as well as the way the motorcycle behaved as my older cousin worked through the gears and steered his bike through the neighborhood. All the multimedia endeavors in the world cannot take the place of taking a real motorcycle ride. There will be more to come on this subject, I’m sure.
We left the EAA grounds just in time for lunch and as luck would have it, there is a Friar Tuck’s located very close by. I had been to their Fond du Lac location with my son a few years ago, based on a recommendation from Ann that I would like their burgers (she was correct). Her parents were fans of Friar Tuck’s and now, so am I. Their decor can best be described as dark and dated. Their food offerings are fresh, hearty, generously sized, and quite delicious. If you are ever in Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, or Manitowoc at lunch or supper time, give them a try.
The only torrential rain we got all weekend long occurred less than five minutes after we stopped at Ann’s place to check on the cats, separate our respective purchases, and rest a while. Before long it was time for Ann to drive me to Kenosha, where Karen would meet us and take me home. Not counting business travel, my least favorite part of nearly every trip I’ve ever taken has been the end. Despite the rash of cancelations we had, this one was no exception. Sure, I had my limitations—I couldn’t even drive—but this had been my first road trip of any consequence since the accident. And with no small amount of help from Ann, it had gone very well.
Week seven brought the same thing that the week following Labor Day always brings: the Sandwich Fair. Established in 1888, the Sandwich Fair is the oldest continuing county fair in Illinois and has been a D’Aversa family favorite for about 15 years now. It’s not even our county—this is DeKalb County’s fair and we live in Will County—but we love this fair and haven’t missed it in years. Karen and I have already established certain traditions. I must have a foot-long Pronto Pup as soon as possible after we arrive at the fair. Karen requires an ear of roasted corn. We usually get cream puffs and/or eclairs. We visit all of the commercial buildings. If it’s convenient, we take in a tractor pull or better yet, a demolition derby. And Karen must visit with the sheep.
You read right. Like any worthwhile county fair, the Sandwich Fair has a comprehensive collection of animal exhibits. A number of years ago, we were perusing the sheep barn when a large, healthy-looking sheep all but jumped out of its pen to greet Karen as she wheeled by. The two conversed for a while, I took photos, and then we moved on. Every year since then, Karen looks forward to hanging with the sheep at the Sandwich Fair. Some visits are more fruitful than others. This year four sheep wanted to visit with her, three of them from a single pen. Of those three, one attempted to eat Karen’s hat. Both Karen and the sheep seemed to enjoy the encounter immensely.
At the beginning of week eight, I began driving myself to work. This was just one more baby step in a continual succession of small personal victories but to me, it was a milestone. If I could handle the 60-to-90-minute commute to and from work, I could handle longer drives, too—no more chauffering required.
At the end of week eight, with an estimated sixteen more weeks of recovery still ahead of me, my employer decided to sever our at-will employment agreement and abruptly did so. I will not say any more about this other than to confirm that what they did to me was legal and that I am no longer an employee of that company. How unfortunate for both of us.
I am publishing this post on the eve of the 2018 autumnal equinox, the first day of fall. My summer that was so unexpectedly interrupted will also be over with. That suits me just fine. I’d rather look ahead than behind, anyway.
In the photo above, I am sitting on my motorcycle with my hands on the grips as they would normally be. When this photo was taken, my son had to help me lift the bike off its side stand and my left hand was extended as far forward as it could go, just to rest on that hand grip. Today I can stand the bike up myself, though not with equal effort by both hands, and I can turn those handlebars lock-to-lock. By all accounts, I am still two months away from actually riding the beast, but suffice it to say I have already been in training for that eventuality for eight weeks now.
What lies ahead? Hopefully a new and prosperous employment situation—one with at least as many challenges but none of the shortcomings—but that’s just one component of what lies ahead, one of many objectives. From the moment of my painful freak accident on the evening of July 4, 2018, I have had one end in mind: recovery. To me, that means gaining back as much of what I have lost as possible: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially, etc. Beyond a doubt, I have come a long way already. Yet there is still more to be done.
This has been a long post indeed. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for hanging with me.
It had been a pleasant, relatively quiet Independence Day holiday for me. I had settled into my recliner for the evening, laptop in front of me, cool drink at my side. My intent had been to write a blog post about the two weekends I had spent riding to and from Rock Island, to see a couple of my son’s stage performances, and I was doing exactly that when someone in the neighborhood began setting off heavy mortar-type fireworks.
My wife ran to the sliding door to call our dog in. Leia, a high-spirited black Shepherd/Labrador mix, was afraid of fireworks and would not have been outside had we realized the neighborhood idiots were going to pull out the heavy artillery that early. Karen called several times and then stepped out onto the deck. She returned quickly, yelling out, “She’s not in the yard; she’s gone!”
Leia runs fast and jumps effortlessly. Once underway, she doesn’t really spring when she jumps; she merely raises her landing gear and soars over obstacles. At three years of age, she is still quite the puppy and she absolutely does not like fireworks. She had jumped our picket fence several times in the past, so as a precaution, we had installed some plastic “deer mesh” fencing several feet above our wooden fence. We would later find out that on this particular night, Leia had been so spooked, she flew right through the deer fence, leaving a large, gaping hole in one panel. But we hadn’t seen that yet and since my girl had never gone very far in the past, I went out after her without stopping to grab a leash.
Several minutes later, two of our neighbors were out combing the neighborhood in an effort to help me find my dog. Four or five blocks out, my neighbor Jim caught up with Leia along Joliet Road, a fairly busy street, and walked her toward me. Not having a leash, I took Leia by the collar and the three of us began walking toward home. We were with a block or two of arriving when my wife pulled up to the curb in her minivan. Recognizing the van at once, Leia veered toward Karen’s van and lunged with all her might, pulling me right off my feet.
What occurred next took all of a second or two. I pinwheeled toward the van for a couple or three yards before gravity took over. As Leia broke free of my grip and zipped around to the driver’s side of the van, where Karen had opened the door to let her in, both of my feet left the ground and went out behind me. An instant later I landed in bellyflop fashion, making full body contact with a concrete sidewalk. There is some speculation that I may have hit the side of Karen’s van with my left hand as I went down—she said it had sounded like something had hit the van hard and from her vantage point, she thought it might have been my head. I have no recollection of that. What I can recall are shock and pain. My torso had taken most of the impact on landing, or so I thought. The wind had been knocked out of me and I felt a wall of pain across my chest and stomach areas. My right elbow had taken a bit of a scrape and was bleeding. I felt no worse pain in my left arm than anywhere else. Yet.
“Do you need help getting up?” That was Jim, one of the nicest neighbors I’ve ever known. He had moved in to assist as needed and by that time, Karen was standing over me, too.
“I dunno, but let’s wait a minute before we find out.” I was still lying face-down on the sidewalk, trying to get my wind back and hoping the pain across my body would subside. My mind was not particularly clear. They stood by and let me wait a bit longer. Then I tried to get up.
The pain that fired through my left arm from shoulder to fingertips assured me that all was not right. I went loose again, lying prone on the concrete. “I can’t use my arm!”
Jim helped me to my feet and got me over to the van. I vaguely recall he and Karen saying something about the emergency room. After thanking Jim profusely, and our other neighbor, Tony, who’d been covering the area by bicycle, Karen drove to our house only long enough to put Leia in the house, and then drove me to the Edward Emergency Department of Plainfield, a component of Edward-Elmhurst Health and the only ER in town.
The 4th of July must be one of the worst days to need emergency care. It must rank right up there with New Year’s Eve and Christmas. I’m sure the people working those days see some very interesting cases. I’m also sure they’d rather be elsewhere. I know I did.
Before I go any further, let me state for the record that every staff member I saw at the Edward facility that night seemed friendly, courteous, and professional. Let me also add that most of our past experiences there have been positive ones. It was only in hindsight that I saw a dreadful comedy of errors unfold—and I was playing the unfortunate straight man in that comedy. Without going deep into every detail, here are the low points of what happened.
When we arrived, I nearly passed out walking from the van to the doors. Karen went in to get help. They came out to talk to me but all I could tell them was that I couldn’t see, that everything was going black. They brought out a wheelchair and took me inside.
After some preliminaries, they took me for x-rays. There were two techs in the room, both very nice. In order to take the x-rays, I had to stand in front of some sort of panel. I did the best I could but the room started going dark again. As soon as they were done, they let me sit down and once the images were verified, they wheeled me back to where I had been before.
A doctor on staff came in and informed me that I had fractured my shoulder. They gave me some pain medicine, a sling and the phone number of an orthopaedic surgeon to call the next day, explaining that the specialist would determine whether or not surgery would be necessary. I asked about the pain med they’d given me, which hadn’t seemed to lessen the pain at all. The nurse suggested that I give it more time.
They wheeled me outside and Karen brought the van around. I almost blacked out a third time but got myself into the van. The pain meds still hadn’t done much for me. We went home and as I walked in, rather than blacking out, I was hit by a wave of nausea. Fortunately, it passed after I settled into my recliner, where I spent the night.
As you read this, I want you to bear in mind that I had sustained a very painful injury, the extent of which had not yet been discovered or disclosed, and for which I had received no treatment other than x-rays, a sling, and a bottle of pills that weren’t anywhere near strong enough to take the edge off my pain. Anything that caused me to clench the muscles in that sector of my body set off a wave of pain strong enough to make me scream. I make no exaggeration here, I assure you.
The following day, Karen phoned the orthopaedic surgeon’s office and was told he wouldn’t see me because this guy is a foot and ankle specialist. I think it was at this point that we began to seriously question the “care” I’d received the previous evening. Karen called the ER back and left a message.
While this was transpiring, I contacted my new employer and explained the situation. I was supposed to be at work, but that was not possible due to the extent of my injuries, my inability to drive, and the narcotic-though-insufficient pain meds I was taking. I hadn’t been there long enough to earn paid time off or any benefits, for that matter. My only hope was to still have a job by the time this nightmare was over. My CEO was quick to allay my fears in that regard, which only increased my admiration for the man and for the organization he leads.
Karen then proceded to spend a few hours calling my primary care physician (closed) and a host of other offices, none of whom could schedule me to be seen timely. This includes the DuPage Medical Group, to which the foot and ankle specialist belonged. After spending substantial time on the phone with DuPage and getting nowhere, Karen declared them “useless” and vowed never to use them again if she has a choice.
I had taken to sharing my experience thus far on Facebook. I got lots of sympathy and a few well-meaning suggestions, but no outright help. That is until a friend of mine who works at Rush CopleyMedical Center in Aurora gave me the name of an orthopaedic group to call and the specific doctor for whom to ask. An insider recommendation!
Upon receiving the recommendation, Karen called Rush Castle Orthopaedics and requested an appointment with one Arif Saleem, MD, a shoulder specialist. Although the doctor himself was out of town—hey, 4th of July holiday—his assistant was willing and able to see me that very afternoon. Karen scheduled an appointment, hung up the phone, and just breathed for a while.
At some point, an Edward ER nurse called back insisting that the orthopaedic surgeon whose name they’d given me should still be willing to see me. Karen again relayed what she had been told. This was turning out to be anything but a fruitful conversation and I could feel my wife’s frustration building to a dangerous level, so I suggested she tell them we’d already found somebody else to see. She did so and that ended the conversation, but not my troubles.
Later that afternoon, the Physician Assistant saw me. She was friendly, professional, and by all indications, highly competent. Just one problem, she couldn’t tell much from the x-rays that had been taken at the ER the night before—yet another red flag concerning the treatment I’d received there, if you’ll pardon the exaggeration. So she ordered another set, which showed not just a fracture, but a severe one, involving a shoulder that was likely broken into “a number of pieces.” She wrote an order for a CT scan, which would be necessary to determine the best course of action, but added that surgery seemed quite likely.
At this point we obtained an appointment to see Dr. Saleem on Thursday, July 12, which would be eight days after my accident.
We couldn’t get the CT scan done that day, July 5, because it was late and because some front desk worker claimed they would need approval from my insurance provider—and that she had three days to accomplish that feat.
On Friday, July 6, the front desk called to inform us that no approval was necessary and we could schedule the CT scan. When Karen called back, the earliest appointment she could get at any location was on Sunday, July 8, four days after my injury had been sustained.
Four days had passed, so far. Again, any time I moved wrong or sneezed or the planets aligned a certain way, I involuntarily cried out in pain and then waited, sometimes for quite a while, for the pain to subside. This had become very disconcerting for my wife, my sisters, my friend Ann (herself a healthcare professional), and anybody else close enough to me to know what was really going down.
On Sunday, July 8, I went to Rush Copley Medical Center and had my CT scan. Then I went home. Everyone was very helpful, friendly and professional, but not one person gave me any indication that going four days without actual treatment of my injuries was the least bit out of the ordinary.
I repeatedly ran out of pain meds because prescriptions for opioids cannot be written for large quantities or to include refills. No skin off my banana except I was still experiencing substantial pain from my as-yet untreated injuries. I totally understood the need for strict controls but at that time I was not yet an addict in the making; I was just a guy who didn’t want to keep screaming in pain every time I upset the bag of jacks that was my left shoulder joint.
On Thursday, July 12, I met Dr. Saleem and instantly liked the man. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. I had sustained a severe compound fracture and surgery was indicated without question. Once in, his first option would be to try and repair the fractured head of my humerus, the “ball” of my shoulder joint. This seemed unlikely but was still his first option. Barring that, he would replace the joint. By approving both options, I allowed him to address my injury one way or the other. I would enter the OR as an outpatient. If he could save the shoulder, I would go home that day. If a replacement had to be performed, I would become a guest of Rush Copley Medical Center for a couple of days. Surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, July 17.
This, in a nutshell, is how Edward-Elmhurst Health allowed a patient to “get away” and end up being treated by Rush Copley, a hospital that doesn’t even serve Plainfield. On one hand, I’m gravely disappointed in the way my case was handled by the ER, from the insufficient x-ray images to the inappropriate surgeon referral, all of which prolonged the amount of time that passed between the day I sustained my injury and the day it was fixed. On the other hand, their actions allowed me to connect with a well-regarded shoulder specialist, thanks to a personal recommendation from a friend. So maybe I was better off.
By the time Tuesday, July 17 came around, I was ready to have that painful broken shoulder fixed one way or the other. My hope, of course, was that Dr. Saleem would go in and find a shoulder that could be repaired instead of replaced. When they wheeled me out of recovery and into an elevator instead of back to the prep room where I had started, I knew that wasn’t the case. As the nurse wheeled my bed out of the elevator and onto an upper floor, I said my first full sentence following surgery: “I take it I’m an inpatient now.”
To which the nurse calmly replied, “Yes, you’re an inpatient.”
On the evening of July 4. 2018, I sat down to write about what would have been one of my usual blog topics, but just a few paragraphs into it, a life-changing event occurred and I never went back to finish writing that post. Until now. At the risk of running really long, I’d like to start out with my original story and then roll right into what happened next.
There just wasn’t enough time. That’s been the running theme for me since last May, when I accepted an offer for what may become the most meaningful job I’ve ever had. That’s not the subject of this post, but it shapes many aspects of the story. Without going into gross detail, I am the marketing director for a strong local/regional player in an industry that is all but entirely new to me. The hours are long and they’re bookended by a commute that I can only describe as horrendous. Because I’m essentially starting over, I have to earn my keep, prove my worth, earn my perks, etc. But I do love my job so and have deemed my latest employment situation to be worthy of my efforts and dedication.
My son John is back in Illinois! At the beginning of June, he rode his motorcycle from his three-year temporary home in Portland, Oregon to Rock Island, Illinois, where he was once again working for the Mississippi Bend Players, a professional regional theatre group at Augustana College. He came out last year to act in one of their productions and also served as a construction intern. This year he once again performed in one of their productions, a seven-time Tony Award winner called Big River. For those not familiar, it’s a musical based on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was wonderful and I was there. Twice.
Photo by Ann M. Fischler
I was able to attend two performances of Big River, each on a Saturday night, one week apart. Again because of my new work schedule, everything had been somewhat tentative, so the basic plan both times involved me getting home from work Saturday afternoon, hopping on my motorcycle, and high-tailing it to Rock Island in order to arrive in time for the show. My other family members had similar plans but went on different days according to their respective availabilities. Under the circumstances, this was the best we could do.
On the first weekend, I was joined by my dear friend and pillion photographer Ann, who had timed her arrival in Plainfield to coincide with my own arrival home from work. After a few pleasantries and preparations, we were zooming west on Interstate 80. My wife Karen had attended the opening night performance the prior evening and was heading east at the same time. We kept an eye out for each other and somewhere between Princeton and the Quad Cities, we exchanged waves, each of us doing 70 MPH for a combined effect of 140 MPH. It was a quick wave.
We had a little more time on our way back the following day, so rather than stay on the Interstate again, we exited at Illinois 178 and enjoyed a little two-lane touring through Utica, Ottawa, and points beyond. This is a very picturesque pocket of north-central Illinois featuring curvy roads, wooded areas, a rolling river, and even a few interesting elevation changes. Many bikers and cagers alike favor this area, so we had plenty of company on this beautiful day. Still, we enjoyed this portion of the ride home very much.
The following weekend was similar but different. Once again, I hightailed it after work on Saturday, only with a different set of friends. We were attending the Saturday performance. My wife was bringing her 90-year-old mother in that afternoon to see the Sunday matinee the next day. This presented an excellent opportunity for all of us to gather for supper early Saturday evening at the Bierstube in Moline. My mother-in-law was the star of our party, but nobody thought to take pictures (just one more reason why I appreciate having Ann on board). Still, a good time was had by all. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the Saturday night performance of Big River. My wife, daughter, and mother-in-law did likewise on Sunday afternoon, much to the delight of my son, the thespian artist.
There is more, but we are quickly reaching the point at which my story got interrupted in a big way.
You may recall from reading my Rendezvous Run posts last June (Days One, Two, Three, and Four) that while the decline and fall of my day job as I knew it was unfolding—indeeed, weeks before I’d gone frolicking with my friends at the Midwest Motorcycle Rally in La Crosse—my son John had journeyed from his current home in Portland to the Quad Cities of Illinois in order to take his first professional theater gig with the newly formed Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island. On Friday, July 21, which turned out to be our collective day of termination for my now-former colleagues and me, I was scheduled to lead a small group of friends on an overnight motorcycle ride to see my son’s professional debut at the premiere of Wait Until Dark. And that’s exactly what I did.
By the close of business Thursday, July 20, I had dotted my i’s, crossed my t’s, bid my farewells, shed my tears, exchanged hugs, turned in my key, and walked away. Within hours, my friend Ann had come down from her Wisconsin home to prepare for the following day. On Friday morning, Ann and I packed up my bike and headed out to Yorkville, where we would rendezvous with two more friends, Eddie and Vern, who would be riding out with us on their respective Gold Wing touring bikes. My wife Karen, who does not ride, had gone to work that morning and would be meeting us in Moline later that day.
As long as it didn’t rain, our plan had been to meander, rather than travel via Interstate 80, the fastest, most direct route to our destination. It got plenty warm and humid, but it never rained during our ride, so we meandered. From Yorkville, we took Illinois 71 southwest through Ottawa, over the Illinois River and west along a brief but fun set of twisties past Starved Rock State Park. Just for fun, I took the group up Illinois 178 to North Utica, past the west entrance to Starved Rock, back over the river and east along Dee Bennett Road, along the north bank of the river, to the Army Corps of Engineers’ Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, overlooking the lock and dam directly across the river from Starved Rock. Everybody and their brother regularly goes to Satrved Rock, myself included. Far fewer check out the observation deck across the river. The Visitor Center provides some interesting information about the Illinois Waterway, past and present, and if you hang around long enough, you can observe commercial and recreational watercraft locking through.
Our next stop was in Princeton for lunch and a visit to an historic covered bridge just outside of town. We decided to take a chance on Rodeo Tacos and did okay there. It wasn’t anything fancy or over-the-top, but the place was clean, the food was freshly prepared, and the lady who took care of us was pleasant, if a bit laid back. While walking there from where we had parked the bikes, we came upon Myrtle’s Pie, formerly Myrtle’s Cafe & Pie. We would have had lunch there, but there was a notice on the door proclaiming that Myrtle’s no longer serves lunch, “unless you are having pie for lunch.” While eating our Mexican food up the street, we all agreed to save room for pie. What an awesome decision that turned out to be! Eddie and Vern split a slice of banana cream while Ann and I split a slice of strawberry rhubarb, warmed and served with a scoop of ice cream. It was all I could do to not lick the plate clean. I raved about Myrtle’s for the rest of the weekend, even though Ann thought our pie had been a litttle too sweet for strawberry rhubarb.
The red covered bridge is just off Illinois 26 north of town. Originally built in 1863 and rehabbed in 1973, this bridge is still in use today. We pulled off the road to walk around and take a few pictures. Only two or three vehicles passed through while we were there, which made it easier for us to take our time and look at everything. Before we left, Eddie decided to take his Gold Wing across the bridge and back, just for grins. Being the shutterbug that she is, Ann immediately positioned herself to capture the crossing on video, so I captured her doing so. This was just one of several fun moments our little group had enjoyed throughout the day.
The reminder of our journey was less than eventful. In fact, it was slightly miserable. By mid-afternoon, the temperature and humidity had both risen considerably. Because we were already north of Princeton, we opted to take Illinois 92 west to the Quad Cities. This turned out to be not the greatest idea I’d hatched that day. Highway 92 is extraordinarily straight, a characteristic that grows boring rather quickly when traveling by motorcycle. In effect I had condemned us to traveling on a road no more interesting than Interstate 80 would have been, only at a lower rate of speed with the hot sun beating down on us and our sweat glands working overtime. Under these conditions, it becomes all too easy to succumb to road hypnosis. We made it to the hotel alright, arriving almost immediatley after my wife had pulled in with her minivan, but we were all pretty beat and in dire need of freshening up.
Because foul weather had made its way into the forecast, we all opted to go over to the Brunner Theater Center together in the air conditioned comfort of Karen’s minivan. Once inside the center, we ran into Phil McKinley, the Broadway director and Augustana College graduate who played no small part in the founding of the Mississippi Bend Players (he was also a long-standing director the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus). Karen and I knew Mr. McKinley because he has directed our son John in a magnificent-yet-disturbing produciton of a play called A Green River, first in 2012 at Augustana College in Rock Island and again in 2013 at the historic Pabst Theater for the for the 47th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region III in Milwaukee (see story here). We also got to reconnect with Jeff Coussens, who directed Wait Until Dark. A professor at Augustana, Mr Coussens also directed John in a number of collegiate theater performances.
What can I tell you about the experience of being able to witness my son’s first-ever professional theatrical performance? Everything else I’ve covered in this Ups and Downs sequence pales by comparison. That performance was the culmination of a process that had begun when the kid was in middle school. Then came the high school performances, followed by the college performances, each milestone dwarfing the last. A theater minor became a theater major—I could write a small book about that turning point alone. Then came his studies at the Portland Actors Conservatory, over two thousand miles from home, a two-year program during which I was not able to see even one of his performances, each of which was surely heads above his already impresssive college performances. So there I sat, watching this thriller unfold with my son playing the nastiest villain in the story—and quite well, I might add. It was a proud moment.
After the show, we ran up the street to Legends Corner, a nice little bar and restaurant, for a late-night meal and drinks. John rode his motorcycle over to join us and was the center of attention, fielding everyones questions and savoring the glow. The boy made my night, though, when he announced that he would be free for a period of hours the following day, if we wanted to get together for a ride. I was all smiles at the very suggestion.
The next morning, Eddie and Vern took off early for home. Karen, Ann and I had breakfast, checked out, and waited for John to ride over to our hotel. Once he did, we headed for the river, to a small park I used to enjoy visiting while John was a student at Augie. Whenever I had time to kill by myself, I would end up there. It was cool to see it again because I hadn’t expected to. From there we headed west on U.S. Highway 6 for Geneseo and had lunch at Raelyn’s Pub & Eatery. It seemed like a popular place, the staff was very friendly and helpful, and the food was good as well as abundant. I had their Voodoo Burger and was very satisfied. My best advice is to go there hungry.
After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. John hopped on his Honda and headed back to Rock Island; Karen pointed her van east and took I-80 home the fast way; Ann and I meandered back aboard Miss Scarlett and were the last to arrive at our destination. In hindsight, that wasn’t the brightest idea, as Ann still had a long drive ahead of her to get back to her own home. Still, it had been an awesome weekend, a true high point among all the ups and downs.
So, I did it again the following weekend, only with a different group of motorcyclists. I didn’t even have to lead this time. My friend John took us south of the Illinois River and out to LaSalle for lunch at the Uptown Grill. It was a good pick for “polished casual American cuisine” with a somewhat upscale atmosphere, digital tablet menus, friendly (if a bit sparse) waitstaff, and nicely prepared food. On my recommendation, we saved room for dessert and took an indirect route to Princeton for—you guessed it—pie at Myrtle’s. This time I had the Dutch apple, served warm with a scoop of ice cream. I do not recall what everyone else had, but there was a lot of eating going on. I am reasonably sure that was not my last trip to Myrtle’s.
So as not to repeat my mistake of the prior weekend, we took U.S. 6 from Princeton all the way to our hotel this time. Highway 6 is simply a more pleasant road than IL 92, but it also didn’t hurt that the temps were cooler and the air less humid, too. We arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to freshen up before heading over to the Augustana campus. This time we went to Legends before going to the theater. It was nice to kick back with friends and enjoy a couple of drinks together. Meanwhile, my wife Karen drove in from Kenosha, where she had gone that morning to take her mom to a funeral. My eldest sister also came in with our nephew and his ladyfriend. Another friend of the family, who had attended Augie with John, had also driven in for the show. We all met in the lobby before going in. Yes, John had a pretty decent group of fans in the audience that night.
The play was even better the second time around. I enjoyed it thouroughly. Some of us stuck around for the “show after the show,” an extra bit of fun held in the black box theater upstairs that night. John did a little song and dance there, quite a departure from the dark character he had played in Wait Until Dark.
The only downside of that second weekend was that I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with my son as I had the first time around. But life is that way. Ups and downs.
The story doesn’t end here—John still has more tech work to complete before his gig is over, my search for the next big thing is still gaining momentum, and this magical summer is far from over—but this is where I choose to to conclude my three-part perspective on the recent ups and downs of my life. As I look back on these recent events, I realize two things about these figurative hills and valleys. First, despite outward appearances, these circumstances that have come to pass are not really ups and downs in and of themselves. Life, death, taxes, heat, cold, and so on are in essence neutral. We attach certain values that make otherwise flat terrain seem to ride and fall beneath our feet. That’s how ups and downs come into being.
The other, perhaps more important thing is that these ups and downs are neither detours nor detractions from the journey that is life. Rather, these ups and downs are the journey that is life. What a shame it would be to realize this only after we have drawn near the end of that wonderous journey.
Here’s to the ups and downs. To life! Thanks for hanging with me.
The day after I returned from having the time of my life at the Midwest Motorcycle Rally, I was back at work, bright and early on a Monday morning. One day later, I and all of my colleagues received word that my employer of the past eight years was on the verge of permanently closing its doors. At the end of the week, that’s pretty much what happened. I will not pretend that we hadn’t seen it coming for the past five months or so, but neither will I speculate on how or why my “other family” met its demise—because speculation is all it would be and besides, I don’t enjoy conducting post mortem exercises. What I will do is share some of my own introspective thoughts on the matter, to give you a glimpse of what’s been going on between my own ears lately. Could be fun.
But yes, as I write this for you, I am now in transition. Between opportunities. Looking for my next big thing. Those are all clever euphemisms for being unemployed. How’s that for a down. And unlike getting fired, I can feel no bitterness toward any of my former coworkers or even the owners of the company because they are all in the same boat, unemployed. Oh, it sucks, believe me.
But what’s done is done. I can’t even give you a hyperlink to the company’s website because it has been taken down. Back in 2013, I oversaw the total redevelopment of that website and had written a fair amount of content for its pages over the years. I also developed and delivered educational presentations on my company’s behalf at two national conferences of the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM). I helped bring a proprietary operating software system into being and wrote user documentation and training content for many of its components. My teams and I accomplished some tremendous things together over the years and I remain grateful for having been a part of that. What awesome opportunities I enjoyed during my tenure there! See? Ups and downs. Some of the ups were pretty awesome.
I have only dealt with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (aka unemployment benefits and services) once before. That was in 2006 and things have changed a great deal since then. For one thing, most activity related to unemployment claims have been moved online. In theory, this makes everything run smoother and faster, unless your last name has an apostrophe in it and various government agencies have dealt with it in different ways. This confuses the online system, causing it to throw one red security flag after another. I tried to “find my way in” online, but that only convinced the system that I did not belong there. The system locked me out and provided a toll-free number to call for assistance, if you’ll pardon the exaggeration. After spending at least 45 minutes on the phone, including hold time, the frustrated gentleman on the other end of the line also became convinced that I was not going to get into their online system—this despite that I had been there without issue in 2006. I am only too grateful that a SWAT team didn’t descend upon my home to confiscate my offensive apostrophe. In the end, I went down to the IDES office in Joliet and got it taken care of. Sure, it took a little time and effort. In all candor, the folks at the office spent more time trying to figure out their own software system than resolving my issue, which they really did in short order. Sometimes human beings are superior to machines, especially when it comes to dealing with the dreaded apostrophe.
I’m okay. In many ways, I’m stronger and better than I’ve ever been. Before we move on to Part Three of my Ups and Downs saga, let me share a bit of philosophy that a pretty cool Catholic priest once passed along to me: “When bad things happen, you can laugh or you can cry.” The implication of those words is that neither response is going to change what happened. What changes, fundamentally, is your response to what happened. This in turn shapes your perspective and your attitude.
Me, I prefer to laugh. Most if not all of my friends seem to appreciate that about me. I still fumble sometimes, but then I get back up, laugh about it, and move on.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
Thanks for hanging with me. As I indicated in Part One, there is more to this story, so please stick around.
Literally and figuratively speaking, the past few weeks have been filled with ups and downs for me. Life is like that sometimes. Take July 12, for instance. It was a Wednesday, a work day for many, but for me it was the start of a five-day vacation weekend—a major up. I was out early and on my way to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the 10th Anniversary Midwest Motorcycle Rally, an extended weekend of two-wheel recreation with some of the nicest people I have ever met—many of whom I only see once a year. Along the way that morning, I was to pick up my pillion companion and long-time friend, Ann, and I was quite anxious to do so, but Mother Nature had other plans.
Having seen that I would likely encounter rain before I got as far as Milwaukee, I had donned my rain gear and a full-face modular helmet before I even left home. A little rain is no big thing to an avid touring rider. If you travel by motorcycle long and far enough, sooner or later you will encounter weather. After I had passed O’Hare International Airport, I did indeed encounter rain, which started out light and got progressively heavier as I continued toward Wisconsin. By the time I got to Lake County, the skies had become quite dark, the wind had picked up, and elaborate lighting displays had begun to crisscross the skies around me. I opted to take shelter at the Lake Forest Oasis.
All things considered, I had made the prudent choice. Torrential rains, accompanied by copious amounts of wind and lightning, continued for some time. When it seemed like the weather had lightened up a bit, I texted a meteorologist friend of mine, just to make sure it was safe to continue. The news was not good. A second line of storms had been intensifying and was about to sweep in right behind the first. I would not be going anyplace soon. I had been messaging Ann all along and she was very supportive of my staying put, but I was not too choked up about my 90-minute layover.
Of course the rain finally cleared, never to be seen again during that trip. About 90 minutes later, I picked up Ann and after packing up the bike, we meandered on to La Crosse. Once there, after checking into our respective rooms and freshening up, we went for a swim and then caught up with some other early arrivers. Four years ago, I began going to the rally a day early on the advice of an experienced rally-goer. It was good advice because getting there a day early means having all day to get there and no scheduled activities to worry about immediately upon arriving. That suits me well.
Before the rally officially got underway on Thursday, July 13, Ann and I did a little riding of our own, mainly to test a little video cam that Ann had acquired. This device is capable of capturing tons of raw footage, making it an excellent addition to Ann’s existing photography/videography arsenal. Between that little gadget and our mobile smart phones, we were pretty much ready to capture our rally experiences that weekend.
And what a rally it was! We got to see plenty of old friends and made new ones as well. A number of us paid our annual visit to Rudy’s Drive-In, a La Crosse institution since 1933. I always enjoy kibbutzing with Rudy’s third-generation grand poo-bah Gary Rudy because he is just a great person to be around, but also because he rides a Victory Vision motorcycle, as do I. Rudy’s is a classic drive-in with roller skating carhops, top-shelf root beer floats, the whole nine yards. It’s where I go when I’m in La Crosse at the right time of year.
After hanging out at Rudy’s, we went back to our hotel and waited for sundown, so that we could partake in another MMR tradition, the Bug Run, a local jaunt to the top of Grandad Bluff, which overlooks the entire city and surrounding area. It’s a breathtaking view, especially at night. But that left me wondering, what does Grandad Bluff look like during the day? I had only ever been up there during the annual Bug Run, in the dark. Hmmm…
It turns out I hadn’t needed to wonder long at all because the following day we were scheduled to do the “Sweet Temptations” ride with my friend Dave Keene, author of Cruisin’ The Back Roads, a guide book to some of the best rides to be found in west central and southwestern Wisconsin. Dave is a very capable ride guide and even if I had known nothing else about the day he had planned, I could still be confident that we were in for a great day of riding. We started out with a fantastic ride along some picturesque Wisconsin back roads that led to Sweet Temptations, a positively delightful cafe and bakery in Whitehall. Their baked goods are their centerpiece, of course, but their menu items are also noteworthy. The Reuben sandwich I enjoyed there has got to be among the best I’ve ever had. Ann and I hadn’t really saved room for dessert, but we had some anyway. The place is that good.
From there we rode on (and up) to the Mindoro Cut, the largest remaining hand-hewn cut in the US, which also happens to be located at the highest point in the state of Wisconsin. Until then, I’d never heard of the place. But now I’ve been there, along with Ann and all of our riding companions of the day, thanks to Dave.
We enjoyed one more stop before concluding the day’s journey. You guessed it, we ran up to the top of Grandad Bluff, in broad daylight. Yes, the features above and the scenery below were both very different. Dare I say it? Separated only by about 18 hours, our two visits to the bluff were as different as day and night. Ha!
Meanwhile back at the host hotel, folks were gearing up for the Biker Games, an annual tradition sponsored by Mean Machine Cycle Parts of Elkhart, IA, followed by Movie Night, another annual tradition involving motorcycle-related movies shown outside in a laid-back-but-festive BYOB atmosphere. For the second year in a row, Ann and I did movie night in style, with meats, cheeses, assorted other snacks, and red wine shared between us.
On Saturday, July 15, we embarked on our second day-long guided ride, aptly entitled “Twisted Sister,” which was captained by another seasoned biker friend of mine, Greg Carson from Minnesota. You should have seen the smile erupting on my face as we crossed over the Mississippi and into Minnesota for a day of hills, sweepers, and twisties. Ann and I opted out of a last-minute add-on to the ride and returned to the host hotel just minutes ahead of the group, but we thoroughly enjoyed the ride Greg had put together.
Following the ride, we spent Saturday evening with other rally goers at or around the tiki bar at the AmericInn located across the road from our host hotel. We ate, drank, laughed, shared stories of our newly-made memories, and speculated on whether or not we were gathered at the future location of our beloved Midwest Motorcycle Rally. Time will tell.
And then it was over. That next Sunday morning—my first at the rally, I’d always left on Saturday until this year—was all about saying goodbye and going home. By the time I’d gotten myself up and over to the La Crosse Family Restaurant to have breakfast with Ann and some hometown friends of mine, many familiar bikes had already disappeared from the host hotel parking lot. When you spend as much time looking forward to an event like this as I do, no matter how magical the event turns out to be (as this one certainly was). the ending is always bittersweet.
That’s a bit of a downer, right? Well imagine my pleasant surprise when I looked up in response to my name being called out and seeing two rallygoers that I’d not seen in two years waving at me from the booth directly across from my table. Just seeing Dave and Maggie for those few moments washed away any trace of blues I might have been feeling up until that point.
And so Ann and I motored out of La Crosse together that morning, yet alone, free to discuss and savor all the memories we’d gathered over the past four days. We traveled east across the Wisconsin countryside on scenic two-lane blacktop, occasionally losing our intended route but never regretting it because as motorcyclists, we never really become lost; we simply discover alternate routes to wherever we are heading.
The only other down I experienced was after I had to drop Ann off at her home, say goodbye, and head on to my own home some two-plus hours further, alone. But even that wasn’t so bad because I knew we’d be riding together again soon.
As I said at the beginning, the past few weeks have been filled with ups and downs. For the most part, the ups and downs associated with this part of my story were of the geophysical sort. Over the course of four days, my friends and I toured some of the most attractive hills, bluffs, and ridges to be found in the areas we had been touring. Of course you know, there is more to this story. Thanks for hanging with me. Please stick around.
This photo of my father was taken in Blue Island, Illinois roughly four years before I was born. Ermelindo D’Aversa was born in 1922 in Montella, a small town in the mountains of southern Italy. My mother, Teresa Iuliano, had been born there, too, in the same year. My mother came to the United States as a young teenager. She married the man who would become my father in 1948, during a lengthy visit with family in Italy. Teresa then went home to America, as scheduled, and Ermelindo followed later, after he obtained the necessary funding and approvals.
In 1949, this man flew to the United States, arriving as he described it, “$200 in debt and with nothing but the clothes on my back and the suitcase in my hand.” While growing up in Italy, he had completed the then-required five years of formal education, but spoke little to no English, other than what he might have picked up while assigned to a company of British soldiers after the end of World War II. His role, as they moved from village to village across Italy, was to inform the frightened citizens that the war was over and that these English soldiers were not going to kill them. Go ahead, try to imagine what that job must have been like.
Prior to the war, my dad had been a policeman, a member of the Carabinieri. When the war broke out, he immediately became what can best be described in our understanding as military police. He spent most of his time patrolling an island where political prisoners, at least those who were not killed outright, were sent. The residents of that island could pretty much come and go as they pleased, but they were confined to that island.
My dad did not talk about the war much, not until the final years of his life, which is when I learned most of what I am sharing here. He had nothing good to say about war and he absolutely despised any movies or television shows that glamorized war, but it wasn’t until near the very end of his life that he spoke to me about why. In terms of all the carnage and destruction, he summed it up saying, “You can’t come back from that and be the same young, innocent man you were before you went.” He was in his late eighties and dying when we finally had these conversations. Until then, he had just kept it all inside.
My father was not a highly educated man, but he made the most of what he had been given. He had a very keen sense of right and wrong, which he considered fundamental and irrefutable. Indeed, he would laugh out loud at arguments that actions that were wrong yesterday could somehow be okay now. “Two and two cannot become five,” he would offer, shaking his head in amusement. He also possessed a very strong sense of respect for age and experience, even before he became the oldest… and even if the elder person were wrong. Once during a heated discussion about his own father, who had been very strict in raising his seven children, my father assured me, “Back then, if our father said two and two are six, we said yes!” Then I was the one shaking my head.
In 1992 I became a father myself. Not understanding what I was getting myself into, I did it again in 1993. Even then I think I understood that I could never be the same father to my children that my father had been to me, no more than my dad could have copied his father. It just doesn’t work that way. Still, I wish I could have done better. And when I look back at how much my father accomplished with so little, I feel downright ashamed.
Despite never having achieved a higher role than that of a non-union laborer, he put his three children through parochial grade schools, me through a Catholic high school, and darned near paid for all three of us to complete at least four years of college.
I’m guessing that he never made more than $30,000 a year, if that much, yet at his passing, following twenty years of retirement, one-third (my share) of his savings was still far more than my wife’s and my savings at the time, despite our dual incomes (and we couldn’t maintain the level of savings we had taken on).
Despite having been far less educated and far less articulate than me, he demanded more from his wife and children than I ever could—and he got it, period.
Yeah, so in view of all that and more, I tend to get a little down on myself as a dad. I’ve always been softer on my kids, more lenient, more willing to let them go see what they can accomplish rather than attach values to their desires. But I’ve also always been more of a free spender, a pleasure seeker, more willing to have fun today than put away for tomorrow. And my children, who are now adults themselves, have both examples to consider.
In the end, we reap what we sow. While there can be no doubt that I am my father’s son, I have clearly taken things in a different direction than he would have. That’s on me and while I may have some regrets, I make no apologies for the choices I have made. Those choices were mine to make.
And I’ll go you one better. I am grateful to my father for having made those choices possible for me, good or bad. I am proud of my parents, proud of my Italian heritage. And as a dad myself, I am proud of my children. Despite our own shortcomings, somehow my wife and I have given them a decent foundation upon which to build. The chapters they will write going forward hold many possibilities. Wait and see.