Sunday, May 27, 2012

Morning drive

When I finishing up first grade in 1977, age 6 1/2 at the time, my family moved from McVicker Avenue near Riis Park in Chicago to Rascher Avenue on the Northwest Side near Oriole Park. We moved during the first week of May -- generally too late in the school year to even bother switching schools. At the time, I was going to Trinity Lutheran School, which was around the corner from the McVicker house. We weren't Lutheran, but the school was so close and my mom was so nervous (I'd be crossing the busy Fullerton Avenue to get to the Catholic school) that for kindergarten and first grade, I went to Trinity Lutheran. May 1977 was my last month there.

We moved five miles away, and somehow, I had to get to school. My mother didn't have her driver's license yet, so Dad drove me in every day. I don't remember specific conversations with him as he drove me in. I don't even remember if I sat in the front seat of the Century or not.

What I do remember is what those mornings felt like. The level of sunlight -- a calm sunlight -- that covered the city. The cool yet still warm air coming through the open car window (this must have been on gorgeous May in Chicago). The 20 minutes or so after leaving home before we got to school -- a trip that took only two minutes at our old house.

I remember the route we took. We got on the Kennedy Expressway at Seminole and Ozanam, joining the traffic of thousands of cars heading downtown. I was especially fascinated with reading road signs at this age, so those couple miles on the expressway were captivating. We got off the Kennedy at Austin, which shared a exit sign with Foster Avenue. From there, it was a straight shot down Austin to Wrightwood, a right turn, past the street we used to live, and then to the school.

And I remember the music I heard on the WLS, the Big 89, generally the only station we would listen to on the AM radio in the Century. Larry Lujack DJ'd the morning drive, but 35 years ago, morning drive DJs still played a fair amount of music. I've blogged often about how songs take me back so vividly to a moment and/or a place in my past; the songs of May 1977 are no exception. The playlist in my mind (and yes, on my iPod):

Sir Duke -- Stevie Wonder
Rich Girl -- Hall and Oates
Right Time of the Night -- Jennifer Warnes
Southern Nights -- Glenn Campbell
When I Need You --Leo Sayer
The Things We Do for Love -- 10cc
Don't Give Up on Us -- David Soul
Gonna Fly Now -- Bill Conti

Someone had to drive me home from school, and I think it was Dad every day as well. I wonder if my grandmother picked me up a few days. I do remember Dad driving me home while he was on duty (he was a police officer, I think in plain clothes by 1977) with another police officer, who was impressed that at age 6, I was reading street signs and getting at least close on the tough ones by our new house ("Oconto"; "Oleander"; I probably struggled with "Osceola").

The commute didn't last long -- just May and a few days after Memorial Day. First grade ended. Except for a few chance meetings, I wouldn't see my old classmates again after starting at a new school by the new house. I wonder if that separation is why that morning commute in May 1977 stands out so much. It was the run-up to the ending, just like the weeks before graduating high school and college were memorable run-ups as well. I found some of those old classmates on Facebook, but 35 years later, I don't know how to explain why I'm sending a friend request.

A few years ago while visiting Chicago, I tried replicating the morning drive to Trinity Lutheran School (which has closed and is leasing its space to a charter school). I turned on the aforementioned song list on the iPod, drove into Oriole Park, got on the Kennedy at Ozanam and Seminole, and drove to school. It wasn't quite the same. Maybe because I did it in July and the light and air seemed different (although, in theory, it should have been exactly identical light conditions). Maybe the neighborhoods, en route and near McVicker, look different than in the '70s. Maybe because I was the one driving and not a 6-year-old passenger.

I've driven my own kids to school in May, though I haven't tried the 1977 playlist (maybe I will try that this week). And similar to my attempted Chicago recreation, it's not the same. The boys are used to the commute -- not as novel as my one-month routine necessitated by a move to a new neighborhood. I don't listen to much Top 40 on the drive in, so they don't either (though they will celebrate when a newer song they like comes on; Michael just did that a couple weeks ago to Owl City's "Fireflies"). Spring 1977 was all about transition. Maybe at its core, transition isn't forgettable.

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