Tyranny Of Trains

More accurately the tyranny of the train schedule. I have not taken the commuter train for over four years now. But tonight one of my former employers was having an alumni reception. I hadn’t been to one for several years. Thinking I was smart I drove from my far north suburban office to the train near my house. I would avoid fighting the traffic going into downtown Chicago. And since the reception was 2 blocks from the train station it was to be easy in, easy out.

Except for one thing. the trains leave infrequently. Starting with the 7:35 pm train they run once an hour. The event started at 5 and I did not expect to see many people I know and even fewer people I care about so I thought I would catch the 6:44 train. After all since I left the office early, I had work to do tonight. Well 6:44 came and I was still there. In fact while I had been checking my watch periodically it was 6:43 when I noticed the time. No worries. I was still having a good time and the next train was in less than an hour.

You would think that maybe I would have learned my lesson about checking the time more frequently. You would be wrong. I glanced at my watch at 7:32. I had been ready to go for at least 20 minutes and now I had three minutes to catch the train. Possible if I hurried. Except that I could not find my coat check slip and the two women working the coat room would not let me just take mine. Finally find the slip, grab the coat and run as fast as I can. Too late by 3 minutes.

My choices were to hang out at the station for 57 minutes or take the L. For those unfamiliar with Chicago the L is the peoples form of transportation while the commuter trains are for the well to do suburbanites. Actually, with the CTA raising fares on the L the price difference is less than $1. It is just slower, makes more stops, is more crowded and less comfortable. But trains run every 15-20 minutes.

I felt the need for movement so I walked the 5 blocks to the L only to find that the train that goes directly to my stop quit running 25 minutes ago. I would now have to start on one train and transfer to two others. Now I remember why I hate to take the L. There were at least 27 stops from the one I got on to the one I got off at. It would quit moving or stay at a station for several minutes for no apparent reason. I pull into my stop 90 minutes later (it would have been a 25 minute car ride) only to see the 8:35 commuter train pull into its station at the same time. I saved 0 minutes.

When I worked downtown and took the train every day I had developed a sixth sense as to when I had to shut down my computer pack up and run to the station. In 8 years I missed my train 3 times. Now I lack all sense what-so-ever.

BTW. The alumni reception. It was worth an hour of my life at most, not the 4.5 hours it ended up taking to interact with people I once had a connection with. Despite my best efforts the conversations never exceeded polite triteness. “Life is good. I now work at ____. Nothing really new. Good to see you. You haven’t aged a bit.” OK that last comment had depth but the rest was shallow. I would rather be by myself with a book or music than spend time interacting at that level. I had no expectations of gut spilling but I always hope for a nugget of something meaningful. Nary a nugget to be found.

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Get That Flu Shot!

Contemplating getting the shot doesn’t count. Being at a client site on the day they are administering shots to the people you are working with doesn’t count. As proof, just two days before I came down with the seasonal flu I did both.

To put things in time perspective that would have been Thursday October 8. By Saturday my body was telling me that something was wrong. However I attributed the tiredness and the achy feeling to my workout– these have been so infrequent that I just figured it was all due to being out of shape. By Sunday the combination of aches, pains, fever and congestion worse than a Chicago rush hour made me realize that it was the flu. If only I had taken the 45 minutes to go to our company clinic. 45 minutes seemed like such an inconvenience. Or better yet if my company had made flu shots available at my work site more than the two days I was traveling on business. As it turned out the 45 minutes would have been a great investment.

Speaking of business, while clients can be very understanding of your illness on a personal level (rest, go to the doctor, take care of yourself were consistent comments) that does not mean that their work product can be late! So Monday with fever raging I was working at home trying to delay what I could and think well enough to deliver on all that remained.

Then to add to my personal pain, literally, I coughed. This was one of those violent, retching body shaking, come out of nowhere coughs. You could hear the sound of the tendon in my lower back rip. It ripped even more when I coughed again 2 minutes later. I now had screaming level, constant pain in my lower back. It hurt to sit. It hurt to stand. It hurt to breath.

By this time I had time for one, and only one doctor appointment. I had to choose. internal medicine for the flu or orthopedic for the back. No contest. I  made an afternoon appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. Fortunately no disk damage. I left with prescriptions for steroids, muscle relaxers and narcotics. If  I were to take the latter two there would be no driving or even thinking straight. I skipped the narcs so I could work and because I have an aversion to excess drugs.

By the next day the fever broke and the constant pain left. However for the remainder of the week I had bad cold symptoms, could not stand up straight or walk stairs without pain and was exhausted all of the time.

Next year I take the flu shot and as soon as it is available I am doing the H1N1 vaccine. The pain/time trade-off makes it worth while.

Yom Kippur At JRC: Part One

I have written about our time at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, better known as JRC. It is time to write again.

Though my family was not overly religious I grew up in a very traditional synagogue. By that I mean long services, prayers mostly spoken in Hebrew (for which I can sound out words but do not know what they mean), and professional shushers that would roam the aisles should any congregant attempt to chat with his neighbor. Shhhhsh.

The Rabbis’ sermons were of the hell-fire and brimstone variety. He would either be telling us what we were doing wrong as sinners or alternatively to  telling us to support the state of Israel, there were no other topics. Women had no role in these services. They were lucky not to have to sit in a partitioned off area as they do at an orthodox service. These were serious and stern services. The dress code was suits and ties, though admittedly this was decades before business casual changed our sartorial expectations.

It’s not that I disliked my family synagogue. I knew of nothing different. The cantor had a beautiful voice and many of the tunes I learned there are hauntingly beautiful. This was my opportunity as a terrible but enthusiastic singer to belt out songs under the cover of prayer and of being one of hundreds of voices.  I learned to pray solemnly–even if I did not understand the words I was pronouncing.

The JRC has a radically different approach to the holiday services and to the ideas of community and the role of a synagogue and its congregation. It did take me awhile to get past what I consider to be “prayer–lite” and the relatively casual dress of the congregants. (Yes, I can be shallow enough to judge people on how they dress as opposed to who they are.)

Once I saw past the superficial the substance of what Rabbi Brant Rosen and Cantor Howard Friedland brought to me as a Jew and a human it was hard not to like this place. Our time as a congregation on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the year will be a good example of what JRC is all about.

Throughout the night and next day that make up this holiday, Rabbi Rosen communicated themes of community, commitment to the improving society, finding a connection to G-d both individually and collectively and understanding the spirit, not just the law of the holidays. The individual prayers are shorter than the tradition I grew up with (which bothers me at times) but the level of spirituality is higher.

If you are looking for a stern lecturer spewing fire and brimstone, you are in the wrong place. Rabbi Rosen– Brant– is passionate about many things but his delivery is that of an everyrabbi. He is calm, casual, caring, and funny (including a willingness to laugh at himself). He sets the tone for the service and for the service and for the community. Or perhaps JRC  found a rabbi that reflects his congregation. I am not involved in the congregation though we have been members for 12 years. But during the high holidays I get a sense of the long time and involved members and they appear to  share Brant’s characteristics and the desire to do good as well as be good.

Then there is Cantor Friedland–Howard. I have a strong distaste for people who pretend to care but are clearly insincere. I have come to refer to these people as the anti-Howards. While many care only if a cantor has a great voice, I care about whether the cantor has a great spirit. Howard brings both.  He is a perfect complement to Brent. I have not yet found the “team” to compare them to. Certainly not The Lone Ranger and Tonto for Howard is not a in a secondary role. Perhaps Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, at least as we know them from their portrays by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Both men of substance who work well together. ( I am not sure that the characters fit completely but Brant/Howard any objections being compared to Newman and Redford?)

Since the set up has taken so long I am splitting this story into parts one and two. Part Two will discuss the wonders of this particular Yom Kippur.

Before I go, let me share two more things. First, below is JRC’s self-description form its website which can be found here.

 JRC is a Jewish community known for our joyful spirituality, life-long learning, and a deep commitment to social justice. Located in Evanston, Illinois, our members come from all parts of Chicago and its suburbs. We are an inclusive congregation, reflecting the rich diversity of the American Jewish community – our JRC family includes interfaith families, blended families, young people, senior adults, people of color, and gays and lesbians.

JRC is much more than a synagogue – we are a community committed to a Judaism that makes a difference in our lives and in the world.

The second is a point I found out when I went to the website . Rabbi Brant Rosen has been listed in Newsweek as one of the “Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America” . Read more about this here.