Wednesdays and public transportation

Trip Start Aug 07, 2008
Trip End Aug 12, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Illinois
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week.  Well let me qualify that with...the work week. First of all, I get to arrive at 8:20 instead of 8 (hey, 20 extra minutes really makes a big difference, especially now that it's dark when I get up in the mornings).  The next great thing is Wednesdays are chapel day, which means my whole schedule (and that of the rest of the school) is different and therefore a novelty to everyone involved.  It's hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm rockin' the gym during chapel, except to say that this is not your ordinary chapel session.  The leader is a man named Mr. Hunter, who is hands-down one of the best story-tellers I've ever heard.  You could hear a pin drop during one of his stories, which is saying something considering I'm always stationed to sit amongst the kindergarteners, who are notorious for having the shortest attention spans.  Every pair of eyes in the school is riveted to Mr. Hunter, hanging on his every sound effect and antic.  The stories always have a message or a moral, and the kids always talk about them the rest of the week, which impresses me.  This might be because each student writes a chapel reflection, and each week the principal chooses a half dozen or so from the week before to come down and read theirs in front of the school.  I personally would be mortified in their shoes, but no matter their age, they're always good sports about it, and the rest of the student body cheers them on like they've just won an Oscar or something.  It really is a very supportive environment, this whole having K-8 in one school thing, and one I'd really not been all that familiar with before this experience.  The best moment always comes in the beginning during "roll call," when Mr. Hunter stands in front of the bleachers and calls out grade by grade "Where my 8th grade An-GELS?!!" (Angels are their mascot) and the entire class in question responds with a fist-pumping and seat-vacating "WHAT-WHAT!"  He goes all the way down to the kindergartners, who, now that we're a couple weeks into school, are finally getting the effort up to be as loud as possible, which granted still comes out like an adorable little squeak.  There is also a lot of singing, and the majority of songs are ones I can join in on because they're from my Sunday School days, but with some new-to-me movements and rhythms.  We also do the school stomp, which is a series of claps and stomping and knee slapping that I am still trying to get the hang of while the kindergartners next to me, who are blessed with perfect rhythm, have had down pat since day one.
The coolest part of my Wednesdays though, or rather when I feel the coolest, is after chapel when we convert the gym into the cafeteria.  This involves pulling down the tables from the wall, ushering the students to get in line for hot lunch, and putting away the bleachers.  That last job is mine, and it is one that every kid in the school covets.  The bleachers are electric though, involving plugging in a cord and pushing the "in" arrow, which is why I'm the one who does it and not the students.  While they're walking to their benches, lunches in hand, a great many students plead "Can I do that Miss Dunning?" but I can only direct them to start eating.  It really is cool to watch though, because these are not your ordinary bleachers: they have back rests that fold down as they're being pushed in, which is a sight to behold.

On Wednesdays I also do my regular duties of helping in the cafeteria, holding detention for K-3 (there's not too many of them at that age), gathering up the kids who ride the bus, and helping the kindergartners with Homework Hour during the after school program.  Except their homework usually consists of writing the letter of the day for a couple of lines, and then we go out to the playground to get their energy out.
My other favorite part of Wednesdays is getting to spend an hour in the library.  So far I've been cataloguing boxes of books.  This is the first year Holy Family has had a library (since this is a new building for them, there's actually room for one), and its librarian is retired from the Chicago Public Schools and now volunteers her time and experience at Holy Family.  She has so many connections that she hasn't bought a single book: the boxes and bags overflowing with books have all been entirely donated.  So for one hour, I take a stack of books and type in their ISBN, place barcodes on the covers, scan the barcodes into the system, and stick a pocket on the inside cover for the "date due" card.  Most of the time I get incredibly sidetracked because it's too tempting to read whatever books I'm scanning!
Speaking of books, this past week was Banned Books Week, to spread awareness of books that people have tried to ban over the years and generally celebrate the fact that we live in a country that supports free speech.  Last Saturday I went to a read-aloud downtown on the Chicago Tribune plaza, sponsored by that newspaper and the ALA.  They had a couple dozen authors lined up to read throughout the afternoon, but I went to see three of my favorites from childhood: Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  Each read selections from their books that have caused controversy as well as letters or emails from concerned parents, mostly.  I was just thrilled to see these incredible women in person, and a big surprise was that they were not only signing books, but also giving them away.  So I now have a copy of The Giver signed by Lois Lowry, which I really need to reread since I first read it in 5th grade.
The Tribune Plaza is on Michigan Avenue, in the middle of what's known as the Magnificent Mile.  This is definitely the more touristy spot in town, as well as more high end, with every store imaginable begging you to shop til you drop.  Which is something that's easy to resist when your monthly budget is less than a pair of jeans at some of those places!  It's fun to be among the crowds though, and the sidewalks are wide and the buildings are beautiful.  The weekend before last I also had my first experience on Navy Pier, another tourist hot spot, when I met up with another LVCer for a concert at the end of the pier.  This is the place with Chicago's famous Ferris wheel, and plenty of arcade games and places to get food and good people watching.
Last Sunday I took part in a Where's Waldo photo scavenger hunt around the Loop and general vicinity.  This event was the brilliant idea of Helen, the kindergarten teacher at my school, who went to the Minnesota equivalent of PLU, and her husband Matt.  Their inspiration was their 10 month old son Matias, who they dressed up as Waldo (Helen painted red stripes on a white onesie) and were wheeling around Millennium Park (we found this out later) in his stroller.  I didn't know anybody, but I fit in because I met Helen's sisters, whose names are Heather and Hannah, so we bonded over the "H" sisters things.  They also have a brother names Hans (Michael, are you glad we aren't Heather, Holly, and Hans?).  Anyway, I was on a team with Matt's parents and two others, and the five of us had a great time trying to get as many points in one photo as possible.  The premise is each team is given the same list of items to potentially find, with each assigned a point level according to difficulty (finding Waldo was the highest at 10).  The catch is that each team is only allowed 10 photos, so you really had to connive to get as many things in one photo as possible, to make that photo "worth it."  For example, some things were a pay phone, a trolley, a Bears jersey, someone high-fiving a bus driver, but also harder to find things like a wedding party or a wild animal.  We had three hours and could only use public transportation.  It was a whirlwind afternoon and lots of fun, and I definitely learned new parts of Chicago from these four natives.
Speaking of public transportation, it's kind of been a love/hate relationship lately.  This is because they are doing construction on our Brown El line each weekend for three months.  I found this out because two weekends ago it took me nearly double the time it usually does to get downtown into the Loop, and the same thing happened this past weekend, so I asked a friendly CTA worker in a fluorescent vest and he told me very cheerfully that I should expect these kind of delays every weekend until Christmas.  I was doing ok with the "we're down to one track so we're waiting for another train to pass" situation, since that's for safety, and even backing up on the same track we just traversed was an interesting experience, but if it averts running into an oncoming train, that's fine too.  But when they make everyone get off at Belmont, a station about halfway to downtown, and make you get on another train?  That is a little annoying.  And then the driver comes on to announce that oh, by the way, the entire east and north side of the Loop is closed to Elevated trains for more construction, so if you need to get over there, you must get on a Red line train which goes underground.  It just takes a lot of planning, and thank goodness I know the system!
I don't mean to dis the El too much, because it's still super fun to ride and really a much better option than walking or even bussing most times.  And as much as I love the El, there's nothing like an unpredictable bus ride in Chicagoland for a little entertainment.  Who needs Six Flags out in the suburbs when you can take a ride on the craziness that is Route 82 Kimball/Homan?!  Oh and the way the bus deals with stop signs.  You've heard of a California Stop?  Where you kind of just roll through?  Well let me introduce you to the Chicago Stop, which is to say, non-existent.  I've seen more people blow through stop signs in the past month than in the rest of my life!  And maybe I have a small sample, and it's just this one corridor of the city, but it's so prevalent.  And we're talking not just quiet little neighborhood intersections, but the main arterial my bus goes on.  Cars do it, buses do it, I've even seen police cars do it.  Buses think they adhere to a separate, parallel set of traffic laws to the ordinary ones.  For example, even though it's technically a two-lane road, buses drive on the shoulder, pull up to traffic signals, etc, all while creating their own right lane.  Pretty soon, the cars are following suit and the marked-two-lane street becomes an unofficial four-lane.
You also have to be careful which bus driver you get.  Some of them drive like they're trying to beat their own personal best times between stops.  Which wouldn't be so bad if the stops weren't every other block!  I mean, these very bouncy, jerky bus rides provide my neck with quite a workout, especially when I'm reading, or napping.  Depending on the driver, my commute has taken anywhere from 43 minutes to an hour and 3 minutes.  Each bus stop is actually a street name, and I have the big ones almost memorized between my apartment and school.  The next stop is flashed on a reader board at the front of the bus above the windshield, and a recorded voice announces it each time.  This comes in handy because all I have to do is listen or glance up and I can instantly tell how far I have to go.

And the people I meet on the bus are just characters!  I could write a book conjecturing on each one's life--the teens, the young parents with their strollers, the different cultures.  There was the lady who showed me her rosary, the man who told me about his car detailing business (sorry, I won't be using that), the students who are on their way to school in uniform, which I always use as a conversation starter.  Some people are talkers and some just stare out the window.  Some people are courteous and some take up all the room.  Like I say though, never a dull moment.
In other news, I am posting this entry from school because our wireless internet has been out for nearly two weeks at home.  To make a long, long story short, AT&T is not on my list of favorite companies right now.  If we were paid a nickel for every minute me or one of my housemates spends on the phone with them, we'd probably exceed our joint food budget.  This whole saga has made for some interesting dinner conversations though, as we try to remember what life was like before the internet was such an integral part of it.  If you ever want to try an experiment of No Internet for a Long Time, just have one of your housemates accidentally push the reset button on the modem.  Just sayin'.  And it's not like we're totally attached (ok maybe a little), but we just want to read and respond to emails, check the bus schedules (which they don't have paper copies of, by the way), and maybe get an update on news on the days we don't get a newspaper.  We all have internet at work, but at least for me I definitely don't have time to use it during the day, so I've taken to staying longer after school.  The most recent time we talked to AT&T, they mentioned October 8 as a possible day that service might be restored, so we'll see.
Tomorrow I'm taking the MegaBus (similar to Greyhound, but Midwest-centric) to Milwaukee with my co-LVCer Emily for a conference.  It will be nice to have a change of pace, not just being a different city but also having a couple days off of school.   I'm hoping to look out the window the whole time and see some changing colors on the leaves. 
I will post more photos once we ever get our home internet back or I feel inspired to track down some free Wi-Fi.  Happy October!
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taiscealai on

Sounds like fun!
Heather, I am just picturing everything you are getting to do around Chicago and it makes me want to see it firsthand! (Though I love the photos you post along with the entries,they help a ton.)

I love that you got to meet those authors for Banned Books week. Isn't it awesome kids are still reading the same books we did? Somehow it comforts me. I got my mom a pin for her birthday that says, 'I read banned books!' - banned books are awesome!

Your bus rides sound quite entertaining. I've often felt like just by watching some of the people on buses that I ride I could write a story of their lives...

I also loved reading about your school. Sounds like it's similar to mine in ways(I've learned kids are kids no matter where you are- kindergarteners are always squirmy)but different in some of its structure. I want to see your chapel storyteller!

Can't wait to read more of your adventure!


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