A Preview of Winter

Miserable windy and cold today. For October anyway. In January, this would be a break from the deep freeze. In any case, it’s been October cold since Friday, with temps just below freezing by night.

On Thursday, when it was merely cool, I mowed the grass, front and back. During late summer, the lush greens had given away to dry brown, which suited me. I thought mowing was over for the year. But then the rains came — one of the wettest Octobers on record, I read — and greened things up again.

I could have skipped it anyway. But I’m just a little too much of a grew-up-in-the-20th-century middle-class householder to let it pass. So I mowed the lawn on October 26, the latest in the year I can ever remember doing that.

Now I’ll have a dandy lawn underneath the snow. Except it will be covered with leaves, because I don’t discard lawn leaves any more. In that way, I’m going green: leaving your leaves to nurture next year’s grass will be the thing soon. It also helps that I don’t want to do it.

Harvey and Irma

Harvey and Irma sound like an elderly couple living next to your grandparents 50 years ago. Actually, Irma was a woman living in the house next to my grandparents in Alamo Heights back in the mid-century. I have no idea whether she was a widow or, as my grandma would have put it without being remotely judgmental, an old maid.

When I visited my grandma as a young boy, Irma was kind enough to let me play in her yard and even on her front porch, and I think gave me snacks sometimes. I’m certain Irma is long gone, like grandma, but when I walked by her old house last year, it looked a lot like it used to, unlike my hard-to-recognize grandparents’ house.

Out of curiosity, and because I was busy today and so had the urge to spend time profitlessly, I checked the list of hurricane names at the National Hurricane Center, which is maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Tropical cyclone names have a six-year repeating pattern, alternating between female and male names in alphabetical order, except names beginning with Q, U, X, Y or Z, which are skipped all together. I remember when men’s names joined the list in 1979; it sounded odd at first, but normal pretty soon after.

So how many names on the Atlantic hurricane list are as old-fashioned as Irma? A few. Hazel, Beulah, Edna, Agnes, and Eloise have been retired, but Ida and Bertha are still on the list. Arguably names like Florence and Karen and Joyce are on their way out, but not yet. At least the WMO hasn’t picked up the likes of Brooklyn, Madison or Nevaeh. I’d go along with Moon Unit, though.

If Irma’s as fierce as it seems to be, the name will probably be retired, along with Harvey. That would leave an I name and an H name open. Alas, Igor is out — there was a storm of that name in 2010. Hortense is out as well, after a 1996 storm of that name.

One Hot Morning in Paducah, Kentucky

The weather forecast for Paducah, Kentucky, on August 21, 2017, called for partly cloudy skies. Ah, but which part? As good as weather forecasting has gotten in recent decades, that’s beyond its competence. When waiting for a solar eclipse under partly cloudy skies, you just have to hope for the best.

In the mid-morning that day, at least, partly cloudy meant high, thin cirrus clouds that probably wouldn’t obscure the eclipse too much. They certainly didn’t block the bright sunlight. So we went about our business. Mine was business. I got up early in the morning and wrote and filed and edited and so forth, continuing what I’d started Sunday afternoon and evening, compressing the day’s work into the morning, so I’d be free to watch the sky in the early afternoon.

Late in the morning, we checked out of the motel and headed to downtown Paducah, to seek out a late breakfast. We didn’t want to be distracted by hunger while looking up at the totality, nor during much of the drive home afterward. A scattering of stores along the way, and a few downtown, offered eclipse-related souvenirs.

That was the case even before we got to Paducah. One small-town restaurant not actually in the path of totality had a marquee advertising eclipse burgers and eclipse shakes, whatever those were. Officialdom, in the form of flashing highway signs, had also taken to warning drivers about traffic around the time of the eclipse. One sign — in rural Indiana, I think — said that pulling over to the side of the road to watch the event was unsafe.

All the way down to Kentucky, the radio mentioned the event, both in the form of news and deejay patter, some of it not very bright. On the morning of the eclipse, I spotted people wearing t-shirts commemorating the event. I know it was a superstitious feeling, but I thought that was a bad idea. Wearing a shirt about an event that hadn’t happened yet, and which could be spoiled to errant clouds? That’s just asking for cloudy trouble.

We arrived at about 11:00 for late breakfast/early lunch at the Gold Rush Cafe on Broadway. Gold rush indeed. The place was doing a land-office business. There was a 30-minute wait for a table, we were told. While the rest of my family waited, I took the opportunity to scout out the place where I’d planned to see the eclipse, a few blocks away at or near the McCracken County Library, which was holding an eclipse-themed event starting around noon.

I made my way from the restaurant south on 4th St., to Washington St., where I turned west. At Washington and 5th St. is the library, a modernist joint with a small area of greenery and trees next to the building. People were already gathering there, their cars filling the parking lot behind the library. Looked like an OK spot, as did the plaza across Washington from the library. I turned north on 5th past, amusingly, the offices of the Paducah Sun, and headed back to Washington. Another block east and I was back at the restaurant, sweating profusely. (Is there any other way to sweat on a hot summer day?) It was about 90 F and the sun was strong under those thin hazy clouds. Not perfect, but very good skies — if it would last another two hours.

We only waited about 20 minutes to get a table. The restaurant was abuzz with eclipse talk. The people at the next table, two of whom were wearing science-nerd t-shirts, talked about it. A woman at another table talked of seeing another eclipse in Australia. A bearded fellow at the table next to ours, eating by himself, talked to his waitress about where he might find some eclipse glasses. The place was full — more business than they usually get on a Monday, I figure — and the event seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

Later, I saw the restaurant’s Facebook page, which posted that morning: “Ok folks, I don’t imagine many of you are running around downtown today…. we’re taking our last orders at 12:30 so that way we can go see the eclipse as well. Thanks for your understanding!”

As for eclipse glasses, I’d acquired some Celestron brand shades online the month before, when I’d read that such glasses shouldn’t be used after more than three years. The ones we have from the Transit of Venus are five years old. That’s erring on the side of caution, since I don’t really know whether they degrade enough to be hazardous after five years.

Then, of course, there were reports of substandard glasses, either made carelessly or purposely so. If made with intentional disregard for eye safety, that’s as bad as making bogus antibiotics. Bastards. So that’s in the back of one’s mind, though I’d tested the glasses the week before in my back yard without ill effect. I’m glad to report that our Celestrons seem to have protected us.

As for a shortage of eclipse glasses on the day itself, there was none. The library was giving them away, and so was an antique shop across the street from Gold Rush Cafe (or maybe selling them, I didn’t ask).

While eating lunch, the skies outside dimmed for a short spell. I knew it was too early for the partial phase of the eclipse, so that meant only one thing: clouds. When we emerged from the restaurant some time after noon, white, fluffy cumulus clouds punctuated the sky. The kind you don’t mind seeing any other time. Some were sizable. This was bad. Periodically the sun would be obscured for a few minutes.

There was nothing for it but to wait. We spent a while in the antique store. I bought some postcards there, because of course I did, including an eclipse souvenir card. Glad I found it. The artist is Jane E. Viterisi, apparently a local artist.

At about 12:30, we went to the McCracken County Library. The crowd wasn’t enormous, but sizable. People were milling around, parked in chairs and sitting on the ground. Just about everyone had glasses. We tried our eclipse glasses out for our first look at the event while in the library parking lot.

There it was, through the shades that excluded all other light: a fat orange crescent sun. Quite a sight all by itself, and getting leaner all the time. Meanwhile, the skies around the sun were clear, but clouds lurked elsewhere. Totality was coming.

Back Yard Flora ’17

Today was a mostly sunny, warm August day. The beginning of declining summer, though the grass and bushes are so green — there’s been a fair amount of rain this summer — that it looks more like June. The dry browns of August are missing this year. So far.

Around noon, I wandered around my back yard taking pictures of flora. Why? Why not?

I also spotted some back yard fauna, lurking in the greenery.
The dog chews on the plants this time of year.

Why? Why not?

8/8/88 &c.

August 8, 1988

On this particular confluence of numbers for a date, I went to work. After all, it was also a Monday. VW started today as editorial assistant. At last we get one. After introductions and a basic editorial meeting, I spent a fair amount of the morning showing her how to use the VDT.

At 11 or so, I met a writer named SB. Seems like he could do good work for us. Works part-time now for another local mag that I’ve never heard of.

Lunch: KD, JD, VW, MS and me at Dick’s Last Resort, which opened not long ago at North Pier. I think there are others in Dallas and Houston. The place has its staff pretend to be rude. Restaurant motto: “Can’t Kill a Man Born to Hang.” Had a bucket o’ beef ribs & fries & slaw & bread. Was good.

[I checked just now, and the Dick’s Chicago location at some point moved to Marina Towers. It’s still a relatively small chain, with 13 locations, according to its web site. I went a few other times during the late ’80s, and maybe once again when I moved back to Chicago.

Dick’s used to serve — maybe still does — Mamba, pride of the Ivory Coast brewing industry. Actually a malt liquor, not a beer. Came in pint bottles with a croc and a map of Africa on the label. I bought one once just to drink something made in République de Côte d’Ivoire.

Not bad. Had the empty bottle for some years, but it disappeared at some point.]

In the afternoon, got a surprising amount done. Queried participants in the Mortgage Roundtable, interviewed an industry cockalorum, and more.  After work, had a hard time getting home. The El was jammed with Cubs fans going to the big-deal, first-ever night game at Wrigley.

Got home, a postcard was in the mail from Bill K. He says he’s in love and that “Elvis lives.” At 7:30 or so, I headed north on the El, away from all the hubbub, to go swimming. As I was walking to the pool from Davis station, it started raining hard. Got to the pool, swam. Less crowded than usual. Still raining some as I walked back to the station. Down to a drizzle by the time I got home, but I understand the big night game was called because of it.

[Sure enough, it was called. I seem to remember that Royko was there, and the next day in his column said he was tired of people telling him that God didn’t want night games at Wrigley. One was played to a conclusion the very next evening in better weather.]

Bucktown Sunday Morning

At about 5 pm on Friday afternoon, wind and rain and lightning struck Chicago’s northwest suburbs with special fury, knocking down trees and large branches. Itasca was particularly hard hit.

Lilly, whose train from the city was due later that evening, found herself delayed by a hour because of debris on the tracks near Itasca. On Sunday morning, we drove through that town on Irving Park Blvd. and saw several large trees laid low, including one on top of a building.

Our neighborhood didn’t get hit quite so bad. But we did get hail for a few minutes. Smallish ice pebbles that made some noise, but did no damage to the roof or the car that I could see.

Bucktown Chicago 2017By Sunday, the weather was very warm and steamy and not especially violent. Just the kind of day for a walk in the city, which is where we were going as we drove through Itasca. For a stroll I picked Bucktown, which is directly north of Wicker Park.

I didn’t live, dine, shop or play at all during my late morning amble, except that I was a living being as I passed through, and maybe I “played,” in the sense that walking around and looking at things isn’t work, unless that’s what you’re paid to do.

I don’t remember hearing much about the neighborhood during the late ’80s, but by the late ’90s, Bucktown was known as a gentrifying area. The gentrifying process is now mature, in that the area’s not a cheap place to live, though I suppose Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and their ilk still outprice it.

With the cost, you get amenities. Such as a statue of a bovine looking through a telescope, or maybe a fanciful theodolite.
Bucktown Chicago cowAnd shady residential streets to walk down. That turned out to be an important feature on Sunday, as temps climbed toward 90 F.
Bucktown, ChicagoBucktown features a fair number of interesting older buildings put to new use.

Bucktown Chicago 2017Bucktown, ChicagoAs well as new construction.
Bucktown, ChicagoAlong with some interesting detail sometimes. This figure looked out from just above the entrance to an older brick building on Damen Ave.
Bucktown Statue of LibertyYou never know where you’ll find Statue of Liberty-like images. The statue deserves to be called the i-word, but that word has been beaten to death in our time. My own favorite use of Liberty Enlightening the World — or La Liberté éclairant le monde to be more than pedantic — was a sizable one I saw years ago over the entrance of a pachinko parlor in Osaka.

The Rains of July 12, 2017

Around 7 this morning I wasn’t entirely awake, but a loud clap of thunder decided I should be. It was the first of several. Rain seems to have fallen earlier, in the wee hours, but around then it started pouring with gusto.

That didn’t last too long. But a few hours later, it happened again. And a while after that, one more time. A lot of rain had fallen by midday, though not as much as some unfortunate places north of here, such as Mundelein, Ill., in Lake County. Many of the flood pictures in this Daily Herald item are out that way.

Our streets were passable, the lower level of our houses dry. For us, it wasn’t quite the Inundation of 2008. Still, at about 2, returning from an errand, I noticed a neighborhood park, about a mile from my house, that was largely underwater. I happened to have my camera.

July 12, 2017 rain

July 12, 2017 rainJuly 12, 2017 rainAll of the water in the pictures is not normally there. A small creek runs through the park, and while I’ve seen it expand with rain, I’ve never seen it go Incredible Hulk on the rest of the park.

Flowers in the Snow

Not the Blizzard of 1888, but they say the Northeast got a lot of snow. We got three or four more inches last night and into the morning. More than in January or February, and enough to catch the back yard croci in early blossom.

Flowers in the Snow 2017They’re hardy flowers. I’m sure they’ll survive the day or two of snow cover.

The snow’s already mostly melted off the streets and driveways and sidewalks, so it hardly counts as a nuisance. Still, it’s hard to believe the view from the back door will look like this in three months.

Recent Wind Incidents

During most of the day yesterday, and especially late into the evening, brisk winds blew around here. I fell asleep listening to the strong wind, and while that can be a soothing sound, it’s much better if you’re in rental property.

In the morning, when calm air had returned, there was no visible damage. Some items outside on the deck had been moved around, and a few small branches had fallen. It all made me wonder: if the rotation of the Earth ultimately moves the atmosphere, how is it that the wind isn’t always like that? Or worse, like it is on the gas giants, with their perma-storms? What makes a calm day on any part of the Earth?

When returning from Texas Sunday before last, the wind was up as the plane came in for its landing at Midway, making one of the bumpier approaches I’ve experienced lately. About two minutes before touchdown, when even the flight attendants had buckled down, suddenly one of them got up, wetted a towel, and dashed past me — I was on row six or seven — and helped clean up a few rows back, where a woman had thrown up. Then the flight attendant, navigating her way as the plane bumped around, made it back to her seat for the landing. Expert moves, clearly.

On Sunday, February 19, a few days before we arrived in the city, a handful of tornados hit San Antonio. According to the Express-News on the 21st: “The National Weather Service confirmed late Monday morning an EF-1 strength tornado with 105 mph and a path length of 4.5 miles touched down on Linda Drive near the Quarry shopping center.”
That’s a few blocks from my mother’s house.

Fortunately, an EF-1 is a weak tornado, or I’d be writing a very different post. As it was, she lost power for a while, and it looked like a neighbor’s fence had been damaged, though it’s possible the fence had already partly fallen through neglect. Otherwise my mother’s house wasn’t damaged.

A few days after the hit, we noticed some damage to a small shopping center a few blocks north of her house — bits of missing signage, broken tree limbs and roof problems, mostly. Also, some workmen were taking down a damaged ornamental brick wall at a nearby apartment complex. Better to have no tornadoes, but if you have to have one, a weak one is what you want.

Thursday Residuum

Remarkably rainy January so far. Even when it hasn’t been raining these past weeks or so, the skies have looked pregnant with rain. So it’s been a wet January, not an icy one. That was the case at UIUC, as the last of clinging frozen matter thawed, as it might in a normal northern March.

UIUC January 15, 2017

Blame it on climate change? I’d be tempted, but weather isn’t climate. Besides, there’s a blizzard lurking out there in the near future, or at least heavy snow. Winter will not be denied.

A few days ago, I approached a four-way stop to make a left turn. Directly across the intersection another car arrived to make a left turn. To my left, a third car arrived to make a right turn. We all got there at about the same moment. We all made our respective turns concurrently. Can’t remember when that happened before. Had a fourth car to my right wanted to make a right turn, it would have been truly remarkable, but we had to settle for a three-way synch.

At a World Market last week, I saw bottles of Tito’s Handmade Vodka for sale. I couldn’t ever remember actually seeing any before, as opposed to hearing about it, though I don’t go to a lot of liquor stores.

Last month, I heard Tito himself on the radio, pitching his creation. He didn’t quite sound like his high school self, no one would, but it was him all right. I was pretty sure I hadn’t ever heard advertising for Tito’s beyond sponsorships on public radio (the ad I heard was on a commercial station). Maybe Tito’s needed to up his ad budget in the face of competition.

I’m most of my way through the book River of Doubt, about the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition into the deep Brazilian rainforest. Reading it, you think, how did anyone survive that trip? They faced untreatable diseases, looming starvation, dangerous animals, venomous bugs, an extremely hazardous river, a murderer among their crew, and the potential for Indians to attack at any time and wipe them all out. At one point, a very sick Theodore Roosevelt seriously contemplated overdosing on morphine. Not too end his pain, but to avoid being an impediment to the rest of the expedition. His son Kermit wouldn’t allow it.

Amazing how close TR’s bio came to ending with, “Led expedition down the River of Doubt in Brazil, 1914. Never seen again.”