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Speaking of talking…

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI’ll own up to this at the onset: I love to talk.
I’ve always liked to chat, banter, chew the fat, converse, gab, yap. Some would say I’m a great conversationalist. Others would conclude that I have a big mouth. Truth is, it’s probably a combination of the two.index
I’ve always enjoyed shooting the breeze, even as a child. In fact, when I lived with my grandmother, her sister once insisted that I not answer the phone when she called. I guess my aunt wanted to avoid the long conversation she was in for if I picked up the receiver.
I routinely telephoned my mom at her downtown office to check in after school. She often reminded me that it had to be a quick call. She was at work and could not have extended conversations. I doubt I ever heeded her advice.
I’ve always gravitated to chatty people. My Irish grandmother could talk a blue streak. She was in her element at a wake, working a room like a politician. She loved every moment.
Over time, I perfected the skill, learning to engage practically anyone. It’s easy if you show an interest in the things that are important to them—family, hobbies, work, for example.
Want a surefire way to start a conversation? Inquire about where someone grew up. I, for example, had no idea that Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer and Evergreen Park High School Supt. Beth Hart are Tommy More people from back in the day. I lived in St. Thomas More parish. We know many of the same people and could talk forever.
I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to my grandmother and me. And my younger son, Mike, reminds me of her, too.
Mike knows everyone in our neighborhood and always has the latest scoop. Like me, his gift of gab is accompanied by a great sense curiosity. He often bounds up the stairs to my bedroom to tell me the latest news he’s gleaned by chatting up someone or the other.
A close friend of mine—who also works as a writer—suspects that some people confuse curiosity with nosiness or prying into their business. But he and I are convinced that the desire to question, to learn more, is part and parcel of our trade, not an attempt to be intrusive. We’re genuinely are interested in what you have to say.
Of course, these attempts at conversations have helped us suss out the idiots among us. They are the ones who say little not because they’re shy or bad conversationalists, but because they are stupid.
For example, a young woman who worked with my friend and me at a weekly newspaper chain once told us that she wanted to transition into public relations for many reasons, including, “You get to pick colors.” Occasionally, my buddy will send me a text that says, “You get to pick colors.” More than 25 years later and I still laugh.
Of course the trade off for a talkative person is the ability to listen. That’s the tough part of the deal. If people are going to listen to you yammer on about your children, golf game, vacation or latest DIY project, you’d better be all ears when they want to talk about their work, family or friends.
It can be boring. My friend is going through youth sports with his two children. Coaching, living and dying with wins and losses. I don’t care that much. That stuff happened for me a decade ago. But I have to remember that when my son made travel baseball teams and succeeded in multiple sports, my friend patiently listened to the stories about his achievements.
That said, people who can’t or won’t listen fascinate me—especially those who make it clear that they have little no time for conversation. Maybe I should be envious of them. The ability to shut someone down could be considered a skill.
It happened to me the other day. I got a call from someone seeking some important information. I assume it was important or they wouldn’t have called. I didn’t have the information at my fingertips, but promised to get it. I asked a few related questions and was told, “I don’t time have to chat.” Wow. Well, don’t call if you’re busy. It’s not as though I asked about the upcoming Bears season.
Earlier that day, I had to drop something off at person’s house. I didn’t know the guy and was happy to hand him the item and leave. Instead, he invited me inside. He started to talk about his upcoming vacation, his kids, his job. He did most of the talking. I was happy to listen. He seemed like a nice guy. We probably could have chatted for a long time.
Suddenly, however, he glanced at his adult son and said to me, “He wants me to let you go.” I was confused for a split second, but realized that the guy was wearing a Bluetooth headset. His son must have called him to convey the message.
“Lose this guy, dad.” Who knows, maybe they were going to eat dinner and or head out. No matter. I shook the guy’s hand and left. But I was sort of surprised at whatever scenario occurred to get the word to dad. Whatever, the stranger with the big mouth was driving away.

No charge for car battery and bonus bucks to boot

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I recently purchased a new battery for my car, but the transaction was unlike any other I’ve experienced.
I stopped at a local auto parts store, asked if they had a battery for my make and model and if they would install it. Within minutes, the new battery was in, the old one was out, and I was standing at the front counter waiting to settle up.
That’s where the confusion began. I walked to one register and was directed to another register where an employee asked me if I was “all set” or something like that before handing me $136.
Something seemed amiss. I was getting a free battery and $136? What a deal!
I stayed at the counter for a moment wondering why I received the money I owed the store. Rather than say something right away, I walked to my car, counted my money, recalled how much I had at the start of the day, factored in my other purchases and was positive the store screwed up.
I explained the situation to the manager, who reviewed the register receipts and found the cash drawer to be about $275 short—the $136 I was given plus the price of the battery that I never paid the store.
That’s a lot of money. My wife has worked in banking and retail most of her life, and having a cash drawer shortage is a very big deal.
The store manager summoned the employee who rang me out and said, with a hint of astonishment in his voice, “You gave him $136?”
The funny thing was, the employee wasn’t embarrassed, apologetic or ashamed. Instead, he tried to put his mistake on me, saying that I indicated all was well when he completed the transaction.
Funny, I sort of figured that retail employees know enough to charge customers who come in for goods or services. Giving money away is not typically in the business plan. If the guy was unsure of anything about my purchase, he should have asked.
The employee walked away from the counter until the manager, sounding like a father admonishing a young child, said, “Don’t you have something to say?” The young guy looked clueless until the manager told him to thank me.
I wasn’t looking for a “thanks.” I returned to the store only because I wouldn’t feel right about driving around with a free battery and $136 in my pocket. It’s dishonest.
I did tell the young man that a lot of people would have pocketed the money and never returned. Maybe he figured he’d be disciplined because I returned.
But the employee’s reaction or lack thereof reminded me again that there’s a lot of poor customer service out there.
I’m not sure if some people who staff stores, answer phones, work in restaurants and so on are ever trained to properly treat customers. Probably not. Others likely just don’t care.
They’re working thankless, minimum wage jobs. They don’t expect to keep the gigs for long, and if they get fired or become overly frustrated, they’ll just move on to a similar job.
It’s not entirely their fault. We’ve all had a part-time job with the insufferable manager. Bosses have a job to do, but when they fail to respect the employees, the work can become miserable real fast.
But no matter the reason, the customer pays the price for poor customer.
Thankfully, bad customer service is still the exception rather than rule. And I’ve learned that if you have a complaint about service, talk to a manager. They’re the ones who understand how to treat customers.
To wit, I have a warranty on my newer car. I had minor repairs done at the dealership a few weeks ago and was charged $160 for the diagnosis fee and some small parts—both not covered by the warranty—surprise, surprise.
I asked about the unexpected charges and, without hesitation, the general manager cut the invoice in half. He wanted me to leave happy, he said. If it cost him a few bucks, so be it. He wants me back when it’s time to buy another car.
I had problems recently with my hot water heater. I called my plumber, who worked his magic and had it repaired in no time. No charge either. We have a relationship. I’ll be calling him again for bigger work or I might refer him to a friend. He knows this, so why nickel and dime me on the little stuff?
When the recent storms hit and we lost power for two days, a refrigerator full of food spoiled. I emailed a detailed list and monetary value of the food to my insurance agent and a check was in the mail the same week. This is just one reason why he is my insurance agent. Availability and endless efforts to save me money are two others.
Seems there’s no gray area when it comes to customer service. It’s either really good or just plain bad. Giving away auto parts and money might be considered both.

Hoping for the nightmare to end

  • Written by Don C. White

A segment of the Civil War is examined closelyHistory-Don-White-logo

As the year 1864 began, the war-weary citizens of the Confederacy as well as those of the
Union had tired of the fighting.
When was this nightmare going to end?
How many more lives of the youth of America were to be sacrificed to complete, either the sundering of the nation or the healing of the nation? They looked to the leaders as they pondered these questions. They wanted answers that neither Arbraham Lincoln nor Jefferson Davis could give them as to when this terrible scourge upon the land would come to an end.
The leaders on neither side could not have imagined that the war would last this long. But it had. Now, in what would be the last full year of fighting, neither side gave any sign of stopping. Yes, there had been peace overtures but so far nothing that could bring the sides together.
For one thing, President Lincoln never considered the erring brothers to have left the Union.
As new territories entered into statehood, the total count carried on as if no state had seceded. From
Lincoln’s standpoint there could be no peace unless and until the nation was once again united. He
would not budge an inch from this position.
Most of the armies began the year in winter quarters, safe, if not snug, warm, if not well-feed,
Fighting would begin as soon as spring arrived. Meanwhile, the Confederate Navy kept busy with a number of torpedo attacks. The one most people remember occurred on February 17 off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina where the submarine H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic with the loss of five of her crew. Tragically all hands on the Hunley were lost.
The torpedo attacks continued through-out the year and destroyed a number of Union vessels.
The most well-known naval battle of the year took place on June 19 off the coast of Cherburg, France between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. The Confederate Raider had captured over 60prizes valued at more than $6 million. On this day, she met her match and was sunk with nine hands lost and many captured.
Late in 1863 and early 1864, some newspapers in the north began a campaign calling for
U. S. Grant to become a candidate for president. He had been a Douglas Democrat before the war but was behind President Lincoln 100 percent by this time. Also, around this time, Grant was being touted to become Lieutenant General of the Army and supreme commander of all Union troops.
Of course the talk of Grant for president was a concern for Lincoln. He knew better thananyone what this itch could do to a man. He needed to be reassured that Grant had no aspirations to run against him. At this stage of the war Lincoln and Grant had never met. Lincoln turned to the Congressman from Galena, Elihu Washburne for some insight on Grant. Washburne told Lincoln that Russell Jones of Galena knew Grant better than anyone.
Mr. Jones was a U.S. Marshall serving at Chicago. Lincoln sent for him to ask if he thought
Grant was the least bit interested in running for president. He offered Lincoln a letter he had recently received from Grant that stated as long as Lincoln could be retained in office, he, Grant, had no interest in running in 1864. This information assured Lincoln so that he could move ahead with the promotion of Grant to Lt. General and commander of the army.
From that moment forward things moved quickly, with Grant going to Washington on March 8, 1864. At a White House reception Lincoln and Grant met for the first time. The next day at a cabinet meeting Grant was presented his commission as Lieutenant General. Lincoln said in part, “The Nation’s appreciation of what you have done, and it’s reliance upon you for what remains to do, in the existing great struggle, are now presented with the Commission, constituting you Lieutenant General in the Army of the United States. …”
In Grant, Lincoln finally found the man that he had been looking for to lead the Union troops to victory.
Another item of interest that took place late in 1863 and early 1864 was the arrival of an armada of Russian ships docking at New York and San Francisco harbors. They spent the winter enjoying the sights and hospitality of America. Some reports say that a number of U.S. military officers along with Mrs. Lincoln were entertained on a shipboard reception. This over-whelming show of force in support of the Union sent a strong message to the Confederacy as well as to England and France that the North had a friend in Russia.
Meanwhile, fighting occurred at Averysboro, N.C.; Paducah, Ky.; Pleasant Hill, La. and
Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The fighting at Fort Pillow is known yet today as the Fort Pillow “Massacre”.
Accounts differed as to the number of troops killed, but after an Investigation it was determined that
nearly 350 Union men were killed. Most of the 262 African-American troops stationed there died in this battle.
Confederate losses were near 100, killed and wounded.
General Grant wasted little time in planning the spring offensive. In his first meeting with
George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, Meade offered his resignation. He believed that Grant would want to put one of his western generals in command, so he offered to step aside. Grant would not hear of it; he wanted Meade to continue as commander. This move was the right thing to do to maintain the morale of the army. As the campaign progressed the Army of the Potomac would become known more as Grant’s Army than Meade’s.
On the 17th of March Grant and Sherman met at Nashville to finalize plans for the spring offensive. Grant was in a hurry to return to Washington, so he had Sherman and General Grenville Dodge travel to Cincinnati with him so they could hammer out the details of the campaign. For two days in a hotel room they poured over maps and paperwork to come up with a “grand strategy” to end the war. General Dodge was there to keep track of the details of their plan.
At the end of their meeting it boiled down to Grant going for Robert E. Lee and Sherman going for Joe Johnston. Sherman was given command of the Military Division of the Mississippi and
Grant would make his headquarters in the East, not behind a desk in Washington, but traveling with the Army of the Potomac.
Grant and Sherman’s plans fit perfectly with what President Lincoln had wanted since early in the war. In Grant he had found the general that could and would get the job done. Both armies were to keep constant pressure on Lee’s and Johnston’s armies.
President Lincoln told Grant, “All he ever wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take responsibility and act. . .” Soon, Grant had his first run-in with Secretary Edwin Stanton. As Grant began ordering troops away from the defenses of the Capital, Stanton thought he should intervene and countermand Grant’s orders. When Grant wouldn’t back down to the overbearing Stanton, Stanton said they had better go talk with the President. Grant agreed and when Lincoln asked him to state his case, Grant said, “I have no case to state. I am satisfied as it is.” Stanton then stated his case and Lincoln answered, “You and I, Mr. Stanton, have been trying to boss this job, and we have not succeeded very well with it. We have sent across the mountains for Mr. Grant, as Mrs. Grant calls him. . . and I think we had better leave him alone to do as he pleases.”
With the matter clearly stated, Grant was able to organize and plan the campaign without further interference. General Meade’s Army of the Potomac was to follow General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wherever it went. General Benjamin Butler was to disrupt and destroy
General Lee’s line of communications and General Sherman’s forces (Armies of the Ohio, Tennessee
and Cumberland) were to advance through Georgia against Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s
Army of the Tennessee.
By the beginning of May 1864, the only remaining question was whether Grant or Sherman would be the first to move upon the enemy forces. It was Sherman in the West on May 4 who began to move south out of Chattanooga, Tennessee towards Atlanta, Georgia. Sherman’s three armies numbered 98,000 troops and Johnston’s forces totaled 62,000.
In the East the Army of the Potomac (118,000 troops) opened the fighting against the Army of
Northern Virginia (61,000 troops) at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864.

– Don C. White is a Palos Hills historian who loves delving into the Civil War. His columns run on occasion in the Reporter.

Inside the First Amendment - Remembering a man who championed freedom

  • Written by Gene Policinski

Freedom of Speech has lost one of its most eloquent voices.

John Seigenthaler, 86, led The Tennessean newspaper in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., was the first editorial director of USA Today, and was the founder of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.
Seigenthaler died July 11 after being hospitalized briefly. More than 4,000 people lined up for the visitation at the First Amendment Center on July 13, and his funeral was conducted on July 14.
During John’s 40-plus year tenure as a journalist, he more than lived up to the old charge of that profession to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Even in his later years, when he left daily newspaper work for his beloved First Amendment Center, his voice and his passion for justice raged on.
Whether it was lobbying for long-delayed college diplomas for now-aged former students denied graduation because of their civil rights work, or parole and then freedom, rather than the death penalty, for a woman he felt was unjustly sentenced – he worked, advised, strategized and inspired others to demand fairness and action.
He helped integrate Nashville churches by assigning a black reporter for the first time to do The Tennessean’s weekly report on Sunday sermons – just one of the many ways he took a larger-than-life role as editor in opposing bigotry, and pursuing claims of corruption, cheating, and back-room dealing in local and state government.
 History notes that Seigenthaler was knocked unconscious in Montgomery, Ala., while attempting to rescue two Freedom Riders from a Klan-led mob, while serving as a personal representative of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Rising high above him on the wall behind his desk chair is a large, faux copy of a painting of the signing by the nation’s founders of the Declaration of Independence, framed and presented by his Center colleagues. Visitors often did a double take when they realized the historically incorrect painting had one more inconsistency – John’s face had been artfully painted-in where the painting portrayed Thomas Jefferson. As he entered his 80s, Seigenthaler joked that he felt old enough to have been around for the signing.
But age was not that kind of barrier to Seigenthaler, known for having several projects in the air at one time – and for a meeting and travel schedule that would exhaust those half his age. Whether debating the finer points of First Amendment law or relishing in the ins and outs of Nashville political life or researching books or preparing for TV programs, Seigenthaler was the embodiment of the concept that supports the First Amendment: The “marketplace of ideas.”
John Seigenthaler lived a life dedicated to encouraging the greatest possible number of his fellow citizens to participate in that marketplace and to using their First Amendment freedoms to the fullest. Each year, he’d review the results of the annual State of the First Amendment national survey, showing that most Americans can’t name all five freedoms in the First Amendment – and redouble his efforts to raise the score.
Just recently, Nashville named a downtown walking bridge across the Cumberland River in Seigenthaler’s name – to recognize his work in seeking equality for all, but also to note an incident in which 50 years ago as a young reporter he grasped the clothing of a man attempting to jump from the bridge railing – holding him until police rushed up to assist.
No doubt many words will be spoken of John’s many roles as editor, publisher, founder, author, TV host, lecturer, educator and more. But I think he’d be very happy if we remembered him with just five: Religion. Press. Speech. Assembly. Petition.
And while the customary end for a news story was the proofreader’s mark “-30-”… I think the more appropriate one for John is (based on the number of words in his beloved First Amendment) is this:
“-45-”
 
Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Stolen camera leads to a steal of a deal

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorDo you believe in miracles?
What if I told you that being robbed produced one of the most miraculous experiences I’ve ever had?
I already feel your skepticism. Understandably, if it hadn’t happen to me, I’d have one eyebrow up too. Nonetheless, keep an open mind. Believing is the only prerequisite for receiving.
My zodiac sign is Libra. Not that I’m into astrology but for visualization, go with me.
Libra represents the scale. If I were balancing the contents of my heart, putting my family on one side, my camera would balance the other side perfectly. I’m a diehard memory keeper. The only thing more important than capturing the moment is experiencing it.
One of my most memorable moment to date occurred in the summer of 2011 while my family and I vacationed in a rented timeshare found online. There were scenic lakeside parks, blue-green grass that felt like a pillow to my feet amid an on-site golf course. The luxurious amenities within our villa left me salivating to become an owner. When the concierge offered free water-park passes to sit through a timeshare presentation my thoughts soared on clouds of possibility. “Can we afford this kind of lifestyle?”
As the presentation closed, I was abruptly brought back to ground-level by my husband’s fist hitting the table saying, “Are ya’ll crazy? Thirty-thousand dollars!?”
That was the end of that.
We returned home and resumed our modest lives.
I reminisced by viewing my pictures. It left a grumbling hunger in my stomach as if I were being starved. I decided to look on the timeshare resale market. My search unveiled multitudes at a fraction of what the developer was asking. I raced this exciting find to my husband with a gasp of having just crossed the finish line!
He didn’t share my enthusiasm.
A reduced price was one factor. There are annual dues, booking fees and maintenance cost associated with owning. “I’m fine with renting,” he said with a firm stance.
Totally disappointed, I sulked.
Being the great guy he is, a compromise was made. I was given the green light on a purchase. Two days into our three-day right of recession, I had a dream that pressed me to cancel the contract. It was still too expensive for our budget. We killed the deal and I was back at square one.
I couldn’t move on. I was fanatical about finding another one.
I started working with a resale agent. I gave her my price range, desired location and budget for annual maintenance and she went to work. Problem is, that husband of mine wanted no part of it. For him, the deal was off the table, indefinitely. To smooth things over, he agreed to treat the family to one last weekend getaway before school started.
In a twist of fate, my resale agent called while we were on that trip. “I’ve found your exact specifications,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it.
We were at the very resort she was speaking of. We loved it.
But, loving it wasn’t enough to move my husband. I was convinced it was Divinity who’d orchestrated us being there during that call.
Tight lipped with an attitude ,I reached for my camera. Browsing my pictures would lighten my mood right?
Wrong!
Matters went from bad to worse as I discovered the camera been stolen at the water park! I did everything short of asking for an Amber Alert to no avail. We left the resort without its recovery.
The possibility of missing a milestone of my girls on camera drove me bananas.
I went to eBay to find the identical model for a replacement. Once located, while trying to bid, I realized I didn’t have my eBay password. After searching through archives I found a conversation I’d had three years earlier with a relative.
He recommended eBay for buying timeshares on the resale market. I had completely forgotten about this dialogue. After placing my bid for the camera, I curiously typed in the resort my resale agent offered us.
Flabbergasted, I found a timeshare for sale at that resort and our specifications listed verbatim, it was a two-bed, two-bath, villa with enough points for a two-week stay during prime season. Opening bid started at $99. It remained open for seven days. I wasn’t near the computer when the bid closed. An e-mail confirmed our win. No one else had even bid. It was ours for $99.
But that’s not the miracle.
I came from a poor family. We were evicted numerous times. Many of which the sheriff, accompanied by his shotgun, would escort us and our belongings to the curb.
In the scramble to escape the humiliation, my mother would only take our basic necessities into our next temporary living space. My childhood photographs are etched in my head. All of our family albums were lost in translation. My camera being stolen sent me into a psychological frenzy. Yet, after winning the timeshare, I celebrated about my camera being stolen. That thief led us to a steal of a deal!
There’s a saying, “All things work together for good.” The miracle is discovering the good in the midst of the bad. New businesses get launched from layoffs. Laws are passed from injustices. Illnesses create foundations that fund research for cures. The miracle is gaining an understanding that, what’s happening to you, may be happening for you!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.