It rained autographs – and swear words — at Cubs Convention

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineMost people who read my columns regularly know I am not much on sports. The only real sport for me is politics, but lately politics has become mean and it’s just not fun to cover any more.
I always thought I’d make a better sports writer. Writing about athletes would definitely attract less anger.
 Last week, I took my son Aaron to the 30th Annual Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. At first, I was disappointed.
 The Cubs bring in old and new players who sit on stages and sign autographs for fans who wait in long lines. My first autograph line ended just as I was about to get an autograph from some Cubs player I didn’t really know. He decided he had enough and left the stage.
I was left wondering if I just wasted a whole lotta money.
But the next day, it rained autographs. My son collected more than 60 on baseballs from current players like Starlin Castro to former players like Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith.
The lines were horrific. Standing there for up to an hour to get a quick autograph and a photo with the player was difficult and boring. It was a mess. The conventions had been held in the past at the Hilton, where I was told the lines were better organized, and more fun.
Have you ever seen the autograph of a player, or anyone, who has been writing his name over and over again 200 times in one hour? Sometimes, the signatures just don’t make sense. To ensure we didn’t forget who signed what, I created an iPhone App to take pictures of each autograph and then enter the name. It also let me add a photo of my son (and myself a few times) with the players. (You can see a lot of the pictures on my Facebook page at
Despite all the convention rah-rah about the Cubs going to the World Series, there was a touch of reality. Most players were courteous. Some were just downright mean.
And the fans?
Well, the Sheraton was filled with drunks. “Drunks” and “Cubs Fans” are synonyms. Fans literally brought cases of warm beer to the hotel, opening them as they dropped off their cars, packing the bottles into backpacks. The f-words flew everywhere. Loud and annoying.
Foul balls I can handle. Foul language, though is one of the reasons I hate going to Cubs games, although White Sox games are not much better.
 I got to see friends, like Wayne Messmer, who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the convention opening. He posed with my son and gave him an autograph too.
The only thing that made three days of standing in line less gruesome was Shula’s Steak House, which has the best steak and lobster in Chicagoland.
 But Aaron got most of his autographs outside the lines, waiting for the Cubs players as I sat in the lobby nearby. Some of the players only signed in clout lines where you had to know someone or have a lottery ticket. That sucked. Most of his signers were in the lobby. It was good to see him having fun.
Next time, though, I’ll buy all the baseballs and plastic cube cases from Oak Lawn’s Baseball Card King, where I know I would have saved a lot of money. The convention was way too expensive.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

You know my bucket list will be heavy on the Civil War

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logoI don’t think it is too late to begin working on my bucket list.
I believe it is a very appropriate time, especially after my open heart surgery at age 76 late last year. How many of you saw the movie, “The Bucket List”? It stars Jack Nicholson, a very rich guy, and Morgan Freeman, an average guy, who share a hospital room; in a hospital owned by Jack Nicholson.
Needless to say he wasn’t too happy about sharing a room with anyone, but that was the hospital policy.
And he set the policy.
In the movie, the Nicholson character was so rich he could afford to go anywhere and do anything. So after he and the Morgan Freeman character bonded somewhat, they decided to go to work on their bucket lists.
Well, my bucket list does not include anything near what they did in the movie; such as sky diving, traveling to the Great Pyramid of Khufu or racing cars. Needless to say I don’t have the money to try any of those adventures.
That doesn’t make me mad or jealous of those who do.
It does make me understand that what I have on my bucket list still may not be 100 percent attainable, but again, that’s okay with me. Throughout my life, I have never given much thought to a bucket list. My wife, Helen and my sons, D.J. and David and now my grandchildren, Athena,
Nikola and Samuel have just done things as the opportunity came along. And for the most part,
I think we have had some good times and made some good memories. I hope they feel the same way.
As for my list, I don’t even really have to leave the good old U.S. of A. to accomplish it.
Of course many items on my list will include things related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
That should be no surprise.
The list is not necessarily in order of how I want to accomplish them. Beggars cant’ be choosers and, as with many of you, it would require the winning lottery numbers for one of the really big jackpots. Oh! The other thing is I have been told you have to buy tickets on a somewhat regular basis to have a chance to win.
The following is my list and it will be subject to change as I grow older and may be less able to complete it.
•Spend many more years with my wife.
•Be here to watch my grandchildren grow into adults.
•Take a trip to Disney World with my wife, sons and their families – my treat.
•Take another trip to Washington, D.C. – including a visit to the White House and talk with a president, visit Ford’s Theatre and as many of the other sites as I have time for.
•Visit a few Civil War battlefields with my grandchildren.
•Write a book of historical fiction about my great-great-grandfather who served in the Civil War.
•Take a cruise down the Mississippi River on a paddle-wheeler and see as many Civil War cities and sites as possible.
•Attend my 60th reunion at Limestone Community High School bear Peoria in 2016.
•Have time to check my family history to see if any other grandparents fought in the Civil War.
•Take a trip to Salzburg, Austria. (I know – I said that I would not have to leave the country to fulfill my list – but this is the one exception.)
I have been given more time on this earth for whatever reason. Many of us don’t know for sure what our purpose in life really is. After my heart surgery last year, I truly believe that there is a reason I was given more time and I want to use it to fulfill that purpose. (Of course, being there to watch Samuel grow up is one.) No, I am not waiting for a sign from above or to be struck by lightning – I will just take it one day at a time and try to do my very best for humankind and see where it leads me.
As an aside, besides all of the cards, calls and well-wishes I received during my heart adventure, I want to thank all of the customers at Ace Hardware who said they read the article in the Reporter. It was wonderful to talk with you and especially those who shared their stories of heart surgeries.

Don C. White is a local historian from Palos Hills who has written a book on the Civil War.

Simpler times when garbage can lids had meaning

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineElections have changed a lot over the years. These days, it’s about representation, equality and fairness.
But there was a time when it was all about garbage can lids.
I grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side when Daley’s Democratic Machine had the city in its first headlock.
You really didn’t hear much from the politicians, and most people wanted to stay away from them, until election time. That’s when the precinct captains, usually a neighbor you knew, would come by and ask you to commit your vote to “our” candidate. It was really “his” candidate, but he was “our” friend.
Back then, we didn’t scream about skyrocketing crime and violence. The “murder rate” didn’t exist. We were just happy to live where we lived.
Who locked their front door?
But there was one problem.
Garbage can lids.
We had a cement trash bin that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The waste haulers had to shovel the trash from the cement bin into the truck. It was a lot of work.
But sometime in the 1960s, someone came up with a new invention. The galvanized garbage can. They weren’t painted. They were just silver. And there was nothing more important than the lid, which as it turns out, was stolen, a lot.
Who stole the garbage can lids?
I’m not sure. My dad always suspected it might be the precinct captains.
What I mean is the garbage can lid in the 1960s was a lot like the T-Top panels popular in the late 1980s on Camaros. The two glass T-Tops would always get stolen, and you would have to go to the auto dealership to buy replacements, which ran about $600. Who benefited from that arrangement? The car dealers, who we always suspected of stealing them so they could re-sell them.
And that brings me back to the garbage can lids. My dad was convinced the precinct captains stole the garbage can lids. He noticed that lids were often stolen from the homes that voted, or were in the voter rolls.
Because just before every election, the precinct captain would come by, knock on our door, ask us to vote for “our” candidate, and then promise to get us a new garbage can lid.
How did he know?
Eventually, they cement-paved our alley and removed the now unused cement garbage bins. And, we forgot about the garbage can lids. Who needed garbage covers anyway?
Of course, at about the same time that garbage can lids became a non-essential item of sanitation or vote bribery, we noticed an increase in crime, something similar to what is sweeping Chicagoland today. I’m just saying.
Every time I hear about a series of street gang related killings over a weekend, it makes me think back to the 1960s, when all we cared about were garbage can lids at election time.
The only thing that came close to replacing a garbage can lid during an election that I can remember was in the 1970s, when John Fary was the congressman representing the Southwest Side. Fary, who was a decent guy, would hand out little replicas of “toilets.” His way of reminding you that his name was “John.”
I wonder what would happen today if precinct captains went around handing out garbage can lids or little toy toilets to voters?
These days, I guess, we’ve come to expect a little more.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

When life knocks you down, carry yourself in an upbeat manner

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorHe said he wants a divorce.
When I first heard the word “divorce,” I thought for sure it was an exaggeration.
Shanett Coleman of Chicago has been one of my best friends since I relocated from Terre Haute, Indiana nearly 20 years ago.
She’s known for being a drama queen.
And yes, one might argue we’re cut from the same cloth. However, upon hearing her husband, of then five years was leaving, I quickly commented, “He’s not leaving. You just had a baby. He wouldn’t! Your marriage is just going through the normal adjustment of having an infant.”
She cleared her throat and retorted, “Is it also normal for him to commit adultery?!”
Shortly thereafter, to my surprise he did leave. With her cup half denial and the other half hope, she never filed for divorce.
Over the following five years, I listened as she cried and complained of how life dealt her a bad hand. And, she wasn’t receptive to being consoled by me. I was a constant reminder of what she’d lost. My husband was present and actively involved in the lives of our children. “How could you possibly know what I’m going through?” she’d ask me with disdain.
I lacked compassion.
I wanted her to, get over it!
So, our friendship went on sabbatical.
She was always in my thoughts even during our time apart, I’d refer to her as one of my best friends. After two years, by divine intervention, we were reunited.
“What’ve you been up to?” I asked with enthusiasm as I met her vibrant smile and warm hello in our local Sam’s Club.
“I’ve been putting all my energy into the Lord and my son.” she replied as she further explained it was his seventh birthday and she was picking up his cake. We exchanged information and resumed our friendship, just as if we’d never been apart.
We spent morning after morning catching up on the previous two years. She was still married, to an estranged husband.
“Still?” I said, trying not to sound judgmental but totally failing.
“I know. I know. But, I told the Lord, I’m ready now. I’m letting go.” she said, desperate for my buy-in.
This time, I believed her.
Something was different and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
One day, while on her job of 11 years, one of the executive directors walked by. His superior position left little interaction between them. Nonetheless, this day he stopped her. “I’d like to do something nice for you. May I?” he asked.
Not one for turning down a freebie she interjected, “Sure, what would that be?”
She said she thought he wanted to buy the office staff lunch.
He responded with, “My wife and I would like to buy you a car.”
Shanett had been driving a raggedy ol’ beat up Acura.  The engine hadn’t stopped but I can’t say the same for the stereo, air conditioning and heat.
As a single parent, she’d chosen to forgo repairs to allow her son privileges she otherwise couldn’t afford. She said she wanted to compensate for the absence of his dad.
So, diligently she worked, many nights overtime so her son could swim and play chess, soccer and violin.
This executive didn’t know her financial situation.
Nor did he know she was a single parent.
All he knew was she worked in his firm and drove a car that clanked through the parking garage with a smile on her face. In the office, she was courteous, respectful and always there. He was a man with the means to be a blessing and she happened to be his targeted recipient. Within a few weeks of his offer, she was driving a gently-used, metallic silver, Honda Accord.
She was humbled to tears. She wrote him a letter of gratitude.
“I’ve worked for this firm 11 years,’’ she wrote in a portion of the letter. “This company has afforded me the opportunity to provide my son with a good life. I admire the culture of my workplace. The pleasant environment and opportunities to advance are what keep me loyal. I also appreciate this company’s initiative to give back through work programs like the one recently started for underprivileged inner-city children.
“I’ve modeled my personal life after some of the values I’ve seen displayed here. My son and I volunteer for organizations every holiday so that we too can do our part to give back. Working here has definitely increased my quality of life. From the ability to attend Broadway plays to luxury dining and even the professional ball games, I’ve been exposed to a life I would ordinarily not be able to afford. I earn a decent wage but being a single parent is hard. I make sacrifices. One being to continue to drive a car that needed to be replaced. You provided a gift I never expected and couldn’t have possibly earned. I believe your act of kindness is God’s grace and favor over my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity, may it be returned to you with the same measure.”
This man’s act of generosity refueled Shanett, several months later, she received a pay increase, accompanied by a promotion. This is a great reminder that we should be mindful of our attitude regardless of our circumstance.  
Ask yourself, “Do I present myself in a way that would cause someone to desire to bless me?”
You never know whose paying attention.
Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Who had idea for blue ribbons? Who cares? It was a great idea

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Every week, I turn the B-Side into my editor, Jeff Vorva, for editing. He takes a look, makes any necessary changes and sends the column to the production department to be laid out on the page. Simple stuff.


Last week, however, Jeff made a strange comment about my weekly column.


“I’m happy to see you’re following all my ideas and suggestions for the column,” he said.


I had no idea what he was talking about. The column topics, for the most part, are my idea. Jeff has his own column to write and impress us all.


He persisted. Many of my columns were his really brainchild, he said. I merely followed up by putting his genius thoughts into words.


Heck, he even wanted an apology. How dare I use his thoughts and ideas and make them my own without giving credit where credit was due.


No, Jeff didn’t really say any of this. He and I are adults. And adults don’t bicker about who should get credit for good ideas.


Or do they?


January 2 was an unseasonably warm day, which was ideal for all the volunteers who gathered at a Starbucks in Oak Lawn before hitting 95th Street and tying big blue ribbons to every light pole on the village’s main drag from Harlem Avenue to Pulaski Road.


It was an organized effort that took some planning and coordination. But the results look great.


Ribbons were fashioned from plastic blue table clothes purchased at dollar stores. From what I understand, one tablecloth equaled eight ribbons. Each team of volunteers was assigned one or two blocks, and in no time the ribbons were everywhere.


They look great and their purpose is even more impressive: remind people driving along 95th Street that Oak Lawn supports it police force. And, cops in Oak Lawn know the community has their back.


All sorts of folks volunteered for the grassroots effort, which was promoted big time on local Facebook groups. And, yes, there were local politicians helping out—Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Tim Desmond—to name a few. They were joined by candidates for village board.


But the real question is: whose idea was the Tie One On initiative. We must get to the bottom of this.  We can’t let the wrong person get credit.


Did Trustee Desmond advance the idea? Or did a supporter who lives in his district get the ball rolling?


You know politicians. Hiding in the weeds ready to leap on any good idea and make it their own. How dare they.


And, to top it off, Desmond is running for re-election. Certainly, a few photos of him tying ribbons to poles would help him out at the polls.


Not to be outdone, Desmond’s opponent, Cyndi Trautsch, volunteered as well. I’m sure she was eyeballing some political advantage.


Here’s a thought: knock it off.


Who cares who came up with the idea to tie blue ribbons to street poles? It was a great idea that bore tremendous results. Heck, I’ve seen blue ribbons in front of houses throughout the community put up by people who wanted to get in on the gesture. Other towns have done it as well.


I truly don’t care if a trustee, resident or Frederick Pabst had the idea of tying blue ribbons to poles and trees. It was a great idea that sends an even greater message.


These are tough times for the police. And I don’t care if their shield says NYPD or OLPD, they take a risk every time they hit the streets to defend the community.


Sure, we all have some story or another about being pulled over by the police and getting a ticket we didn’t deserve. No one said the cops were perfect. But their job is tough, risky and often thankless.


But try calling them in the middle of the night when you think you saw or heard something in your backyard. I’ve done that and the response was timely and professional. I’m sure many of you have experienced similar scenarios.


They’re the last line of defense between civilized society and chaos.


Granted, the blue ribbons are merely a symbolic gesture, but I’d appreciate the effort if I was a police officer. And, the Tie One On initiative proves that the community can come together for a good cause. It’s what sincere, well-meaning adults do. Fingering pointing and one-upmanship are not.