Streets & Sanitation

[A repeat from October 28, 2012]

For 5 plus years, I was an Assistant States Attorney – Felony Trial Division in Chicago.  My daughter was born in the middle of a brutal two week murder jury trial (for which I go back every three years to testify in parole hearings to argue against release of the killer).  Donna went into labor at about 2:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning.  I called my friend and partner in the case and said “Charlie – Donna’s having the baby. You’re gonna have to handle things today.” His response “Congrats but be here tomorrow.”   

The next day, I showed up at the office with my arms packed with files and three boxes of cigars.  So picture this — I’m in my office passing out cigars, smiling, yabbering, guys wandering in and out when suddenly a large chap appeared at my door.  He was wearing bib overalls, high rubber boots, thick shirt and a hat.  He leaned against the door frame.  “Is there a Scott Petersen here” he asked.  We all turned.  I raised my hand.  “Yeah.  That’s me.”  “You missin’ anything?” he asked.  I felt pockets.  Jacket.  My checkbook!  It’s gone.  “My checkbook” I said.  He held it up waggling it between two fingers.  “I found it on the street.”    I quickly dipped into my wallet for a twenty.  “Here” – I said taking the checkbook.  “Thank you. I apprec. . . ” “No.  That’s okay,”  he held up his hand.  “I’m with Streets and Sanitation.  I want you guys to know — we have a lot of good people in Streets and Sanitation.”    I then said “My wife just had a baby.  Can I offer you some cigars?”  He looked at the open box.  “That I will take.”  He grabbed a large handful of stogies and disappeared.

It’s funny how things happen – and there are moments of intense clarity.  Obviously I’ll never forget the birth of my daughter (I was there 🙂 ) but I’ll also never forget the integrity of that stranger.  Streets & Sanitation . . . . .  

The Sikhs

(A summer repeat from August 8, 2012)

The terrible shooting last weekend at the Sikh Temple in Milwaukee prompts me to offer a few words on the Sikh religion.  First of all — Sikhs are not Muslim . . . . .  

The Sikh religion began in the early 1600’s  and today is found mainly in the Punjab area of India.  The three tenets of the religion are:  equality of humankind; universal brotherhood of man; and one supreme God.  Sounds pretty good to me. . . . . Though there is belief in the teachings of 10 gurus or teachers [prophets?].   All Sikh men have the same name “Singh” and all Sikh women are named “Kaur.”   There is a belief in reincarnation and there is an emphasis on ethics, morality and values.  Sikhs abstain from alcohol, drugs and tobacco and they do not believe in “miracles.”   During WWI and WWII, Sikh regiments served bravely in the British Army – suffering more than 200,000 casualties.   

Generally, Sikhism has had cordial relations with other religions though there has been strife in India with Muslims (after the partition of India in 1947) and Hindus (over possible creation of a Punjabi state).   There are 5 exemplars of faith which all begin with the letter “K”:  Kesh – uncut hair that is wrapped in a turban; Kanga – a wooden comb; Katchera –  cotton underwear worn to remind one of purity; Kara – an iron bracelet symbolizing eternity; and Kirpan – a curved sword of varying lengths.   It’s the Kesh and turban that get Sikhs confused with Muslims among the uneducated.  

The Hindu greeting in Hindi is namaste (one recognizes divinity in the other person).  In the Punjabi language – and among Sikhs – one says sat sri akal (“God is the ultimate Truth“).   Both phrases (offered with hands together) sound pretty ecumenical to me . . . .     

Breakfast Tips

(A summer repeat from May 2, 2013)

I’m not talking Cheerios, strawberry pop tarts or cold pizza (a breakfast staple of mine long ago).  I’m talking “tips” (gratuities) in restaurants — for those who serve you breakfast.   Lemme ask this — you go into a restaurant and order a cup of coffee for $1.50.  What would you leave as a tip for your server?  15% is 22-1/2 cents (rounded up to a quarter). Yes? Maybe 30 cents if you leave 20%?  Your server would probably give you the “big spender” look, shake her head and walk away.  Me?  I’d probably leave a buck.  Or two.  Especially if I’m nursing 5 refills of java while reading the newspaper. 

I remember reading an article a few years ago – that has guided me – on tipping.  Especially for breakfast.  “Breakfast servers” the article said, “are always deservant of a higher percentage tip than those who serve you dinner.” Why? Because bacon and eggs with toast, hash browns, coffee and orange juice may cost you nine bucks. And you walk out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills and smiling for the day.  Dinner may cost you three sawbucks and a fin.   Who gets more tip for the same work?  Yep. . . . .

I don’t want to seem frivolous but on those occasions when I’ve gone out for breakfast and the bill for Donna and me is $20, I may leave a $5.00 tip.  Maybe $6.00.  Why?  Because the server works just as hard (probably more so) filling the coffee cups, water glasses and balancing multiple plates.   Of course if service is bad, I’m quick to adjust downward too.  

In restaurants where I am known (“uh oh – it’s Petersen“), I will also be generous.  After all, why not?   Again, I am not being frivolous.  I believe I’m being smart.  A generous tip makes for a happy server.  And it seems to make me welcome when I come back.   

The Rock Island Line

[A summer repeat from May 15, 2014]

In 1845, the Chicago Rock Island Railroad began with a charter penned in the City of Rock Island, Illinois. For 130 years, the Rock Island Line hummed and drummed across the landscape of America. Until 1975 when a federal judge in Chicago ordered the famed railroad into bankruptcy. On December 10, 1977, a one day auction was held in the old LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. Tables, chairs, paintings, rolling stock and office supplies were sold off from the old railroad. There were also several hundred “tote” boxes full of archives of the railroad. All were filthy dirty and all were sealed. Any bid was on the contents. Sight unseen. The local news touted that perhaps the boxes contained a letter of Abraham Lincoln or Stephen Douglas – both of whom worked for the railroad. I was drawn – like a moth to flame – and I bought 45 boxes of “stuff” at $3.50 a box. I crammed the boxes into the trunk and interior of our Plymouth Valiant. And drove home. Donna thought I was nuts. Until I opened the boxes. . . .

There were hundreds of letters of U.S. Congressmen, Senators, Vice Presidents of the U.S., members of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chicago mayors. There were Aldermen like “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and “Hinky Dink” Kenna. Original letters of Clarence Darrow. It was a trove of major value. And I ended up selling most of the material to the University of Iowa. For many times what I paid for it. It was then I went on a three year quest – to acquire the rest of the defunct railroad’s archives.

After scores (hundreds?) of phone calls over three years, the squeaky wheel got the oil. A gusher. I was told the rest of the Rock Island Railroad archives were housed in a 10 story, 100,000 square foot building at Polk & LaSalle. No one had been in the building for several  years. “I’ll buy it” I said. And did. I bought the entire contents of the building for $500. They handed me the keys and it was mine. The only hitch — I had to get it out in 4 weeks. Within a few hours, I had the contents sold – to the Universities of Iowa and Oklahoma (Norman). Iowa had first choice and Oklahoma got the remainder. I walked alone through the 10 floors. File cabinets. Boxes of files. Empty desks. Coffee cups ringed with dried coffee. A mausoleum. Over the next few weeks, I orchestrated eight 48 foot over-the-road tractor trailers. Loading up the goodies. I looked back, walked out and locked the door.

I still have a few things from the RI. A ceremonial spike. A slice of track. Oh – and yes – a few old letters. In 1998, I delivered a paper to the Chicago Literary Club. Telling the whole story. It’s online at  The Rock Island Line. Was a mighty fine line. And it was sure good to me.

Avocados for Breakfast

[A repeat from August 20, 2013]

Avocados for Breakfast” sounds like the title of a steamy romance novel set in Northern California.   “Hey Martha, would you like an avocado for breakfast?”  “Oh Henry, you sweet talker. . . . ”  

I have breakfast every morning.   For my breakfast, you might make a face – shake your head – and say “Are you kidding.”

I try to eat a healthy breakfast.  Oh I know – if there’s leftover pizza or spaghetti carbonara in the fridge, I’d likely grab that and some coffee.  But that stuff does not make for a sparky day.  Usually it’s high fiber (bran) cereal, blueberries or banana and coffee. Lotsa coffee. . . .  Maybe once or twice a week, I have an avocado (with a little Newman’s salad dressing) and a banana. And the obligatory coffee.  More and more though I’m drifting toward avocados for breakfast. . . . . 

Avocados are a magnificent food.  One of the healthiest you can eat.  And avocados are among the least contaminated so there is really no need to buy organic (see post of July 12, 2012, for the “Dirty Dozen” foods which you do not want to buy “conventional”).  And avocados are simply delish.  I make my own guacamole (smooshed avocado, finely-chopped cilantro and lime juice – that’s it) and have it for a meal.  Heck – guacamole for breakfast?  It doesn’t get any better.   


Al-Shabaab. Boko Haram. ISIS. The Taliban. Al-Qaeda.  And other Muslim terrorist organizations.  We read about ISIS digging its poisoned fangs into London.  Paris.  Manchester.  But we also read about horrible violence in Nigeria.  Yemen.  Iraq.  Teheran.  What is interesting is that the vast majority of all terrorist attacks occur in Islamic countries.  And the vast majority of victims are Muslim.  

According to a 2011 National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) report, between 82% and 97% of all terrorist victims are – Muslim.  The reason for the 15 point gap is that the NCTC was unable to verify the religious affiliation of some victims.  One problem is that of the 72 different sects of Islam, many of them hate each other.  And thus there is internecine violence in Muslim countries.  They all say the shahadah (“there is no God but Allah . . . “) and yet they are killing each other like flies.  And then there are the evil, corrupt and mainly uneducated terrorist groups that have an equal opportunity plan of killing everyone. . . . .    

I post often on religion — and frequently on Islam.  As I suggested on August 6, 2015, most Muslims are of the Mecca variety (generally peaceful) — not the Medina types (fundamental/caliphate-driven).  

Next time you read about 63 people killed in a car bombing or an attack on a wedding ceremony with 45 fatalities or a suicide bomber killing 51 women and children in a market, note that it probably happened in the Middle East or Central Asia.  When it happens again in America or Europe (which it likely will), we can at least take heart that all of humanity – regardless of religion – should be in this together against the Godless forces of darkness.  

Home Run!

Since post number one in 2011, I have frequently referenced my various recipes and culinary creations.  I enjoy cooking and look forward to prowling the aisles of Fresh Market or Whole Foods seeking inspiration for new dishes.   Sunday was no exception.

I diced and skinned a large acorn squash; diced two bunches of organic carrots; sliced a dozen large Shiitake mushrooms; and then chopped up a yellow onion.  I sauteed the mix in the usual olive oil (high heat to begin then low heat for about 40 minutes) stirring frequently.  Seasoning is optional depending on the crowd.  I’m partial to light pepper, turmeric and garlic powder.   I also made a salad with mixed greens – heavy on the arugula.  And added fresh mango, papaya and banana – topped with a light avocado dressing.  

Grilled chicken breasts marinated for a few hours in mango sauce was the main course.  The chicken could have been pounded lightly (a wine bottle usually works better than one of those kitchen hammers).  The meal was accompanied by a nice Liberty School merlot.  Dessert – as a concession to my granddaughters who joined us – consisted of gluten-free double chocolate chip cookies.  

Pow!  This meal was out on Waveland Avenue. . . . .    

A PSA on PSA – An Update

In my post of January 10, 2016, I spoke of issues relating to my elevated PSA (“prostate specific antigen“).  Past tests have been negative.  But the PSA numbers continued to remain high.  My urologist at the University of Chicago suggested a brand new test (developed in the last year or two) – called the “4K” test.  Instead of measuring PSA which is helpful but not determinative (and often unreliable), the 4K test measures four “kallikreins” (metrics which can more readily identify prostate cancer).  He also recommended an MRI with a contrast dye this time.  This too is readily new – and provides “highlights” of trouble areas.  

I had the 4K test and the MRI with contrast dye.   The 4K results are  reported in percentages:  “less then 10% chance of having a significant cancer (Gleason score more than 7).”  The MRI was even more optimistic (translation:  less than 5% chance of malignancy).   The two tests together were highly optimistic.  

Some men have a genetic propensity to higher PSA.  Prostate size can affect PSA and the aging process (lot of that going around) can elevate PSA.  And then there’s cancer. . . .     

It’s not fun to hear about medical issues (or non-issues).  But I believe it is important to my brethren  (and the brethren of my sisthren) to know about these two new means for detecting prostate cancer.  

Prior to 1988, prostate cancer was diagnosed by palpitation of lumps or hard nodules.  Then a biopsy.  Or – a man would develop chronic back pain (and then be diagnosed).  In 1990, the PSA test became widely used.  But elevated PSA often resulted in unnecessary biopsies – or surgery.   It is only in the last couple years that new diagnostic tools have been developed:  4K and contrast dye MRI’s.  Thank heaven for modern medicine. . . . .    

Busy Beavers

I’m an easy sell for books recommended by friends. My Boy Scout pal Bob mentioned that he enjoyed reading Lily Pond by Hope Ryden.  The book, published in 1997, chronicles Ms. Ryden’s four year stint – observing a family of beavers in Harriman State Park in New York.  The book sounded a bit mundane but given my friend’s  recommendation, I found a used copy on Amazon.  When I read the preface by Dr. Jane Goodall, I thought – this could be good.  And it was.  

We are introduced to the species Castor canadensis by meeting a family of beavers (each had a name).  After some preliminary introductions, Ms. Ryden offers a brief history of the aggressive beaver pelt trade two centuries ago.  Beaver pelts made beaver hats and other adornments and thus trapping (with steel jaw leg traps) was uncontrolled.  Beavers were near extinction by the early 1800’s.  As of 1800, the beaver population of the Adirnodacks had been reduced by more than 99%.  And then things slowly got better.  And beavers were given protection.  Fast forward to the mid-1980’s when Ms. Ryden began her four year surveillance.

Winter.  Summer.  Spring.  Fall.  Ms. Ryden observed the growing family of beavers.  She knew them by name – and they knew her.  We see the circle of life.  Joy.  Sadness.  And the occasional humans who try to poach, hurt or destroy.  

If I had it to do over again, I’d probably read Lily Pond in the winter. A more quiet time.  By a fireplace.  The book is gentle.  Compelling.  And thought-provoking.  When I finished the book, I actually felt like I was part of the family.