A few weeks ago my oldest son Scott, asked how it was that as a sophamore in high school I was able to run a 4:23 mile back in the 1970's. I explained that I did not have a cell phone or other social media to distract me and that I spent a lot more time outdoors than he does. The story is a bit more complex than that.
Poetry in Motion
Neither one of my parents drove a car. They both had very limited vision. As a family we walked everywhere, or took a city bus. I also seemed to have had a bicycle from earliest memory. My mom's favorite mode of transport for me was a skate board, primitive by today's standards , it had steel wheels which made a heck of a racket on the sidewalk! It was much easier to keep track of my whereabouts. perhaps one of my earliest defining moments was during the summer of 1968 when I watched the Mexico City Olympics on television for the first time. I decided that I was going to be an Olympic runner, I was ten years old.
That school year I quickly gained the reputation of being the fastest runner in my grade. I didn't go to my local elementary school. I went to one across town because they had a special program for students who were visually impaired. My brother Tom, and I took the city bus to school in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoons if we had waited too long we would walk the two miles home.
The Lion's Club was very generous towards me. One of the clubs focuses is the blind and visually impaired. I received a typewriter as a gift to help me with my school work. They also paid for me to go to summer camp for several years. The camp was located on the outskirts of Lake Villa Illinois, Camp Ravenswood. It was called Lion's Camp when we were present. It was not unusual for me to go off on my own during large group activities, that is until I got caught. I would sneak off behind the trees lining the camp and go for a walks around the roads that circle the lakes area. Sometimes I even made it into town and back without being caught. This was the beginning of the " I wonder what is around the next bend in the trail/road" mystery that would plague me the rest of my life. I eventually got caught every year and finally was invited not to return to camp.
The following summer my parents decided to send my younger brother and I to St. Athanasius School instead of the public middle school which had a dubious reputation. My brother and I would again, be given money for the bus. At some point early on in that school year I started a game of chase with the bus. It was two miles from home to school and I would start running when I got to Central Street. The bus moved faster , of course, but it also had to stop for lights and to let passengers on and off. Sometimes my brother would join me in the race.
On most days I was able to beat the bus to school. At some point during the three years that I attended St. A's, they started taking us across the street to the large parking lot next to Dyche Stadium where the Northwestern Wildcats, called home.
I would run or sneak my way half way down the parking lot and then run across the street and run a lap around the stadium. While I never personally got caught I know the practice of taking the students to the parking lot for lunch recess was ended at some point. You see, when I showed up for school on warm mornings I had worked up quite a sweat and would do the same during lunch too. Those nuns were aware something was up but never could quite figure out why I was always so sweaty. On one occasion the stadium gate was open and I went inside got down to the track and ran a lap before the track team came out with the coach. The coach yelled at me and wanted me off the track but the college boys defended me and let me run a few laps with them. They were amazed a kid could run more than one.
I was a scout briefly during my junior high years. Two events stood out. there was an event where all the neighboring scout troops walked around the town of Evanston. It was called Beat the Bounds. Due to my constant running I was able to accomplish this feat with relative ease compared to my troop mates. The scouts also held a Klondike Derby one year. It was a bob sled race. I remember being able to pull much more than my team mates due to being in such good condition.
Green Bay Road Bike Trek
In 1972 my brother and I snuck out of the house and jumped on our bikes. We began a bike ride from Evanston to the Wisconsin state line through the early morning hours. We followed Green Bay Road as much as possible north. I'm pretty sure we reached the state line or very close to it. I remember passing near enough to the new Zion nuclear power plant on the shore of Lake Michigan. We arrived back home late morning made excuses for being gone so early and collapsed into bed for a few hours of sleep. I don't think our parents ever knew about this adventure. I was 14 my brother was 13 we traveled about 72 miles round trip.\
Many Happy Returns
In eighth grade I shattered the 600 yard run record at St.A's. I didn't know we were going to be running that day and I came to school wearing my camping boots!
On Mother's Day of my eighth grade year I presented my mom with all of the bus money that she had given me over the past three years. I had been hiding it under my mattress. She never forgot that gift.
My Last P E Class
My parents divorced the summer between my middle school and the start of high school. I moved with my mom brother and two sisters to the west side suburb of Oak Park. It was at the very beginning of the school year and I went to my first days of high school knowing no one at all. Around about the third week of the school year the PE teacher Mr. Slack, had us run for ten minutes around the track while a partner counted our laps. I ran more than two miles in that ten minutes and Mr. Slack witnessed me doing it. I'll never forget him announcing that that was the last PE class of my high school career and that I was required to report after school to Mr. Gummerson and the Cross Country Team, and after that to him in the winter since he was the track coach.
Highs and Lows
At one particular dual meet against New Trier West high school I was particularly successful. I started the meet by running the two mile event. .I finished the race well under ten minutes by lapping even the second place runner.. Later near the end of the meet I came back and ran the mile. In uncharacteristic form, I hung back until the final lap. Sprinting in the final 3/4 of a lap I literally won the race by a nose. It was very unusual for a distance runner to win two races in one meet- a high point for me. During my senior year of cross country the team captain was to be chosen by looking at race times and place finishes. The fastest times and the best finishes were mine to claim. The coach decided that the team needed co-captains. Perhaps it was the fact that I was soft spoken, in any case my pride was damaged. Midway through the season I spoke to over 1000 students at a pep rally in our auditorium for all fall sports. It was a tough order, asking students to come to a cross country meet when there was football to be had! Near the end of my high school career I was offered a partial scholarship to Grinnel College in Iowa if I ran for their Cross Country and Track Teams. I chose not to take advantage of that fantastic opportunity. Good grades did not come easily to me and I found I had to focus pretty hard on academics in order to succeed.
Listen to the World
One thing that did keep me away from trouble was DX'ing. One evening I went with my step dad to visit a friend. They had a fancy radio with lot's of dials and gauges. It was a short wave radio. after some basic instructions I was left to my own devices while they chatted in the kitchen. The first station that I tuned in was "RSA" or Radio South Africa. I was blown away to be listening to a broadcast from a place half the world away. On our way home I shared with Dave how impressed I was and he told me he had a radio that I could have. It was made by Hallicrafters and was model S-77A. A basic set, I learned to use to great efficiency. The first station that I picked up after running a long wire antenna was Radio Budapest from Hungary, where my dad's father was from. I had learned that if you write down details of the program and some notes on the strength of the received signal that the station would send you a QSL card verifying that you had received one of their broadcasts. I learned to tune in to thenweak signals through the static and fading of long distance radio reception. Eventually I branched out into AM radio, as well. during my high school days I was able to hear broadcasts from 32 states from my listening post (station) in northern Illinois. I also received signals from five Canadian provinces, as well as several stations from Mexico and two from central America. On the short wave bandwidths I received broadcasts from seventy seven different countries. some of those countries like, Yugoslavia and Rhodesia no longer exist, while some others like Syria and Somalia do not have stations anymore. Listening to short wave radio broadcasts taught me numerous things. I learned to have patients, listen well, set goals and I gained a fulfilling appreciation for the rest of the world's cultures.
From as close as a mile away in the case of WOPA to neighboring towns:
to a little farther afield:
KFI Los Angels heard one evening in Chicago! At another late night listening session I received a station in Happy Valley Labrador, Canada at only 250 watts!
KDKA in Pittsburgh was the very first radio station to receive a commercial operating license.
On the short wave side of things, when I received this broadcast from Albania in Europe- mind you, they were boasting of finally achieving electric lights for 50% of their population! Albania's only ally at the time was communist China.
I actually belonged to the Radio Moscow Listeners Club. I sent over two hundred QSL requests from more than thirty cities within the Soviet Union.
Some years later a postal clerk shared with me that if I ever requested a passport that the clearance process would take longer since the post office undoubtedly was keeping tabs on all my behind the iron current mail. Years later I learned that he was right. I was also able to receive signals from stations that belonged to the Soviet Socialist Republics. This card from Armenia is a particularly colorful example.
How about Radio Peking before it's official name change to Beijing. I listened as China experienced the Great Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Tse Dong and then the Great Leap Forward. The card at the bottom is from Radio Pyongy (more…)