Mondays with Mike: Songs in the key of life

March 28, 201610 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized

When Beth and I saw Bonnie Raitt last week at the Chicago Theater, I looked around and had a laugh—it was all 55-65ish people like ourselves, grayer and more, ahem, prosperous-looking than when we all first listened to Bonnie decades ago. But something in the air felt the same (and it wasn’t pot smoke).

The warm-up band—the California Honeydrops—was fantastic. A rootsy mix of horns and great vocals and harmonies. And then Bonnie came out. She looked exactly as she’s always looked, which is to say cool, naturally sexy, and kinda tough in a good way. And she’s 66.

Sweet Home Chicago at the Kennedy Center tribute to Buddy Guy.

Sweet Home Chicago at the Kennedy Center tribute to Buddy Guy.

When she did a number from Luck of the Draw, Bonnie noted that the album had come out 25 years ago. Which just doesn’t seem right but it is, and that’s just how it is now. And I remembered Beth and I seeing her at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., back then in, gulp, 1991. Her then-husband Michael O’Keefe joined her on stage for a duet, which completely stoked the crowd. And I remembered running into our friends Karen and Jim, who extended their condolences—my father had recently died. I remembered how bewildering that all still was, and how much their kindness meant.

Back at the Chicago Theater: When Bonnie did a Sippie Wallace tune from her very first album (1971), I was reminded of my sister, when she brought home a new album from college during a holiday break. She and her dorm pals had discovered this cool girl singer named Bonnie Raitt who played a mean slide guitar. Kris played it for me, and I was hooked as a teenager, way back then. And I remembered how much good music my big sister introduced to me.

Then Bonnie did a song that was written by a member of NRBQ, a band that warmed up for her when I saw her with my friends Mike, Susie, and Pick at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. back in the 80s. And I remembered all the good times we had back then, camping along Skyline Drive, and just sharing home-cooked meals.

And during Bonnie’s final encore, well, I went into full teary-eyed nostalgia mode.

Pick and I go back to 1978. We met when I was a college student on a D.C. internship.

And I’ve known my friend Kenwood since we were freshmen in college—we became roommates as sophomores and have been fast friends ever since. Let’s say we have stories.

When I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1979, I was one of the lucky few who had a job waiting for me—in D.C. with the same organization where I’d interned. I was a green kid away from home, lonely, and living in an expensive place on a very modest salary. Pick took me under his wing—and his friendship helped keep me above water. We hung out together, and eventually, when he decided he wanted to save a few bucks by taking on a roommate, we moved into the euphemistically named “Country Club Towers” apartment building.

One thing, though: Only a couple weeks after we’d moved in, my old buddy Kenwood would be visiting. He was on the tail end of a months-long motorcycle journey. He’d been on the road, camping and rarely sleeping in a bed, and when he arrived, well, that’s how he looked.

He announced his presence by pulling his motorcycle onto our apartment’s first-floor patio. I wasn’t sure what the neighbors would think, but I was more concerned about how my new roommate would take it all.

Pick didn’t blink. Kenwood ended up staying a few weeks, and somehow, the Culpeper, Va.-born gay guy—and the Mossville, Ill., country boy with long hair and bug splatters—hit it off splendidly. They even sang some hymns they both knew from childhood churchgoing days. Who knew?

Over time, the three of us adopted a song from Bonnie’s Home Plate album called Sweet and Shiny Eyes. It’s a simple little tune written by Tom Waits that recalls a road trip with friends. Over the years, we’ve been known to sing this song and drink a toast to one another on our birthdays.

So yeah. Music is pretty damn amazing. If you’re keeping score, in a two-hour span in a theater in downtown Chicago, I was transported to my hometown when my sister was still alive and introducing me to cool stuff from college. To my college dorm room in a triple in Hopkins Hall. To Washington, D.C. where I met friends from exotic places like New York and North Carolina and Virginia. To our lives and friendships in Champaign-Urbana.

Thanks Bonnie.

And here’s to great music, and all my great friends.

Guest post by DJ Mermaid:In France, they'll call her DJ Sirène

March 26, 20168 CommentsPosted in careers/jobs for people who are blind, guest blog, travel, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

DJ Mermaid is learning French now.

Dj’s dream paradise

by DJ Mermaid

Bonjour mes amis!

My bedroom wall decor!

My bedroom wall decor!

Every mermaid/DJ has to have her own get-away! Mine happens to be on an entirely different continent.
As you may have guessed, we have arrived in Paris, France!! (Not really, but in the post we have, OK?) My dream itinerary for Paris and the rest of France goes something like this:

Day1: Get off plane and go freshen up at the hotel (make sure hotel bed has view of La Tour Eiffel and call the window bed before Mommy does). Have a picnic under La Tour Eiffel consisting of four things: bread, wine, cheese, and assorted box of macaroons. Ride up to the top of La Tour Eiffel and take a ridiculous selfie!

Day 2: Go to La Louvre and see statue that Daddy fell asleep in front of when he was in Paris once before and other historic paintings/sculptures. Take a Stroll down La Champs-Élysées and see the jewelry they have for sale (I would like an emerald ring engraved with lilies of the valley). Go out to dinner at a famous bistro and order deux chose: A ham and fromage sandwich (or croquet monsieur) and a chocolate hazelnut crepe.

Day 3: The French countryside: Go to a charming little shop and get some escargot (snail) and green bean stew/dish. Take a class on how to make a croissant — a buttery, flaky pastry authentically French. Go to Versailles — King Louie the 14th’s lavish and extravagant palace. Take a train ride back into Paris

Day 4: Take le Metro up to Montramarte – the artist district that has a lot of fabric stores, and buy a blue silk embroidered with white doves. I will also buy some French makeup and Chanel’s No.5 perfume.

Day 5: Final Day in Paris. Go to Palace Luxemburg. GO HOME!!

Well, that’s the end of my 6th post.

Going totally blind today

March 23, 201622 CommentsPosted in travel, Uncategorized, Whitney

One good thing came from the fall I took in December: Breaking my hand convinced me to apply for a Taxi Access Program (TAP) card.

The TAP card gives taxi discounts to Chicagoans whose disabilities make it difficult to access regular public transportation. Just “tap” the card on a screen in the back seat the same way others tap their credit cards and receive a discounted ride (taxi drivers are reimbursed for the remaining cost by the Regional Transit Authority).

Where is that darned bus?

I won’t stop taking the bus–at least when the sidewalks are all clear.

My pride prevented me from applying for a TAP card before. I felt perfectly capable of taking a regular Chicago Transit Authority bus with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney to the memoir-writing class I lead in Lincoln Park every Monday. That was until it started to snow and was difficult to get to the bus stop. And then I fell and broke my hand. I wore a cast for six weeks. I started to think, gee, maybe those cards are intended for people!

I called the RTA to apply. The RTA sent reams of paperwork, Mike helped me fill the forms out, we mailed them in, the RTA called me for a phone interview, they set up a time for me to come to their office in-person, I arrived at the RTA office and answered more questions, Whitney led me to a bus stop and an RTA staffer trailed behind to watch us step onto a bus. All this to see whether I’m “disabled enough” to qualify for a TAP card.

I don’t berate the RTA for putting me through all those hoops. I blame the scoundrels who fake or exaggerate their disabilities to use service animals, park in handicapped parking spots, and get cab discounts. In the end, I passed the audition. Or, I guess I failed: I qualified. My TAP card came in the mail last week! Perfect timing, as I’ll need it on my totally blind day today:

  • 10:30 a.m. Call Flash Cab to Use TAP card for cab ride from our apartment to Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA)
  • 11:00 a.m. Attend first ever special hour-long tour at MCA for people who are blind or have visual impairments
  • Noon Review tour with MCA staff and share suggestions and recommendations for the next special tour
  • 1:00 p.m. Phone Flash Cab for pick up at MCA and ride to Chicago History Museum
  • 1:30:p.m. Attend first ever touch tour created by the Chicago History Museum for visitors who are blind or have low vision — it’s a 90-minute highlights tour of a permanent exhibition called Chicago: Crossroads of America (can you believe both of these are on the same day?!)
  • 3:00 p.m.
    A friend who is meeting Whitney and me to join us on the Chicago History Museum tour will walk with us to La Diosa to enjoy a delicious early dinner together — La Diosa owner and manager Chef Laura Martinez is, you guessed it…totally blind
  • 4:30 p.m. or so Call Flash Cab to use TAP card for taxi ride home.

My TAP card won’t work on Uber or Lift or other ride-sharing services, but all the registered cab companies in Chicago are supposed to accept them. I like to use Flash Cab, however. They have a long history of being respectful to riders with disabilities, and Flash Cab drivers are familiar with the TAP card and how it works — I don’t have to worry that they’ll question the TAP card or make a fuss about accepting it.

If it weren’t for my new TAP card I don’t think I’d sign up for so many things in one day — I’d be too anxious about bus routes, getting to new bus stops, knowing what commands to give Whitney when we disembark — excuse the dog pun — at a new and unfamiliar corner. Thanks to TAP, I’m actually looking forward to going totally blind today.

Mondays with Mike: Bring an adult to work week

March 21, 20168 CommentsPosted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized
This Sox fan won't miss him or his kid one bit for even one day.

This Sox fan won’t miss him or his kid one bit for even one game.

A Major League Baseball story has gotten a lot of headlines (inside and outside the sports section), produced a tsunami of social media incontinence, made it easy for sports hate radio hosts to fill time, and generally annoyed me. (Non-sports fans: bear with me—the story touches on multiple hot spots.)

Last week, Adam LaRoche, a player for my Chicago White Sox, announced that he was going to step away from baseball. This was like a Christmas present to a Sox fan: He was absolutely awful last year, and if he played this season, he would’ve earned 13 million dollars of the White Sox’ money.

It seemed noble: His skills were in sharp decline, he’d already missed spring training time because of back problems, and he’d be walking away from a lot of money.

Not so fast. He wasn’t quitting because he concluded he sucked and would be stealing the White Sox’ (and a little of my) money. No, it was because he could no longer have his 14-year-old son along—in the locker room, on the field, on the plane—for most of the team’s games. He’d been allowed that privilege last year, but after a horrible season by the Sox, a team executive asked him to dial back the amount of time the boy was around this year.

But LaRoche ignored the request. The executive spied the teen son on a spring training pitcher’s mound, the incensed exec drew a line, and LaRoche quit.

To me, that should be the end of it. But no. Cue the hot-button stuff:

He-said, he-said: LaRoche said that he had a verbal agreement with the White Sox, and the White Sox were reneging. But there was no contractual agreement, and –- by my reckoning, saying it wouldn’t be a problem if a player brought a kid along some of the time looks a lot different than giving the kid a locker and a uniform and having him around for 125 of 162 games.

Organizational politics: His fellow players were quick to stand up for LaRoche and son, arguing that the son was a good kid, and that none of the players had a problem with it. Except some did, as reported by this venerable columnist. And as this column points out, given the ridiculous reaction of LaRoche and some players to simply asking that the kids spend less, not no time around the team, it’s easy to see why players, coaches and staff would have gone straight to management instead of trying to talk to the player.

Life-work-family balance: Everyone strives for it. And everyone—outside of LaRoche and a couple players—seems to understand that trade-offs are involved. I know executives (men and women) who are constantly on the road, who work long hours when they’re home, and they come to grips with the painful trade-offs. They understand they can’t have everything. I worked some long hours when our son Gus was young and eventually stopped because, well, I knew I was missing something and I was fortunate enough to be able to call my own shots at that point. This Chicago sportswriter sums it up pretty well in a column called White Sox Kidding Themselves.

So, I think you can sort of tell where I stand on all this. As in, don’t let the door hit you on your way out, Adam. And that goes for…. But there are a couple last thoughts—

The player-son thing at MLB parks has a deep tradition. Ken Griffey, Jr.—who will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer—spent time with his father and the Cincinnati Reds. Prince Fielder hit batting practice home runs at Tiger Stadium when his father Cecil played for Detroit. It goes on and on.

But: None of these kids were constant fixtures. Griffey, Jr. says he joined the team four or five times a year. It was a privilege, not a right.

Finally, about that father-son-baseball thing: I hold it kind of dear. I’ve noted in other posts that I played catch in the back yard with my dad for hours on end. And there’s that Field of Dreams ending.

But I’m not possessive about it—it doesn’t have to only be fathers and sons playing catch. In fact, my mom was a much bigger baseball fan. I talked baseball with her more than I ever did with my dad, and my mom taught me to swear at players through the TV, a coping tactic that is our twisted version of stress management.

And, this: the times, they are a changing, as Mo’ne Davis exemplifies. Whether or not some MLB player’s daughter is eventually the touch point for a locker room controversy, I don’t know.

But I do know this: Adam LaRoche says this was all about family, by his own words. But he has a wife—and oh, a daughter, too—and somehow he wasn’t so dedicated to that part of his family that he felt compelled to quit earlier. Or to have them along in the clubhouse.

Guest post by DJ Mermaid: Giddy-up DJ!

March 19, 201610 CommentsPosted in guest blog, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

DJ Mermaid rides Horses? Who knew?!

by DJ Mermaid

My life isn’t a Western cowgirl movie where girls get to ride around on horses screaming like dying banshees. I do have Walk On Farm to my advantage though.

DJ Mermaid rides!

DJ Mermaid rides!

Walk On is a horse riding farm hubbub dedicated to helping Americans with cognitive and physical disabilities. I have been riding Equestrian-English Style on their lovable horses since I was about three years old.

My favorite — not that we are picking sides here — is Foxy. Though you might think he is a Palomino because of his name, he is actually a brown Appalachian Mountain Horse with white spots.

Riding lessons isn’t all Walk On Farm has to offer, though. They also offer a horse grooming class right before my lesson. You really get to know the horses and where all of the equipment goes on the horses. That is very important for when you go to represent Walk On at the county fair 3 years in a ROW!!!!!!!!

I don’t usually ride Foxy during these events because he isn’t a new horse. I ride another horse named Rocky (who is equally as handsome). Cuteness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Walk On has a great team of people who help me there. Mary Illing, the program director, is SUPER NICE and really cares about her horses and her participants. Walk On has many volunteers who act as “side-walkers” and “leaders.” A side-walker is someone who walks along with the horse and rider to make sure the horse doesn’t buck (a kick so strong an untrained rider would fall off like eraser shreds on a paper) or try any other antics. A leader is someone who leads the horse other than the rider.

Walk On has many fun games to play while we are riding. Some of them include “Red Light, Green Light” and “Horse Hangman.” Walk On is a very fun stable and program to participate in.

That’s the end of my 5th post!