Decatur: The City With A Big Heart

YEARS AGO, our newspaper office was located next to Subway on North Park Street when I wrote a column about “panhandlers” constantly asking me for money when I walked down the street to and from my office.  
I decided I wanted to make sure those who constantly asked me for money for a meal were going to use the money for food and not drugs. 
So, when I was stopped on the street and asked for money for a sandwich, I offered to step into the handy Subway and buy him or her a sandwich and soft drink -- but I wasn’t going to give them money.
Several, who indicated to me they needed money for a meal, would usually walk on down the street when we got close to the front door of Subway.

OTHERS, who had asked me for money for a meal, and actually accompanied me inside Subway, I learned later, tried to sell the sandwich and drink to someone else in the restaurant a few minutes after I left.  
In one extremely creative move, a panhandler who left the Subway shop with me with a sandwich and drink I had bought him, went back into Subway after I walked on down the street and asked for a refund for his sandwich -- the one I had purchased for him!
An employee told me about it the next day. 

ONE panhandler, when I offered to go inside Subway and buy him a sandwich and drink because he was hungry, told me he actually preferred to have KFC chicken and, if I would give him the money, he would walk several blocks and get a meal there.
I told him the offer was for Subway and if he was hungry, he should accept the offer. 

ONE local resident, after reading my experiences in that earlier column, sent me a “Human Services Directory”, a sheet of paper listing where help (including food) was available for those who needed a helping hand -- and many of those resources were within walking distance of where panhandlers ap-proached me.
I carried copies of that list, and, when I was approached for money to buy something to eat, I would buy the meal -- but I would also give him or her the sheet listing where free food and other services were available. 
I even read the names and addresses (in case they couldn’t read) of a few of the closest places. 
In a couple of instances, I offered to walk there with them, but my offer was rejected. 

I’M not mentioning those experiences again to give myself a pat on the back or demean anyone who is in need or struggling with life’s problems.
What I did was very small compared to what many people in our community do in going out of their way to help others -- including panhandlers.
My “Human Services Directory” approach was not meant to drive people away from seeking help, but to give them several options where they could get some of their basic needs free of charge -- food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment (if needed). 

I KNOW that Decatur area people constantly open their hearts to help those in need and huge efforts, like the Community Food Drive, and so many others, demonstrate the  generosity and compassion of my fellow citizens.
Every week, in this newspaper, there are stories of people and organizations helping make life better for those who need a helping hand.
If you need help, Decatur is a community that will help you -- simply out of the goodness of its heart.

SINCE our newspaper offices moved to the Millikin Court Building several years ago, my encounters with panhandlers are not as common -- but that doesn’t mean the need for help, whether it is accepted or not, has disappeared.
The need is even greater now.

I’VE FOUND, in this community, people who help people, individually and collectively, whether it’s a panhandler on the street, or members of a family struggling to cope with the problems besetting them.
That’s why I am so thankful to live in the “City with the Big Heart” and never want to leave.
May God bless those people who are always helping others in need, while He comforts and strengthens those who are in need.
God cares about all of us and, deep down, that’s what all of us need to know -- especially in dark, cold times.

* * * *

Posted 11/21/14

Touched By The Angel On Eldorado Street

IT’S been a little over a month ago since a reader asked for information about the statue of an angel that is located above a fountain at 1210 East Eldorado Street.
I found very little public information about the angel.
However, through the responses of our readers to the article, the “mysterious” angel is not mysterious any longer.

AS MOST of you know, from reading a follow-up article in the “Editor’s Notebook” in the Oct. 22nd edition, the angel is located on property next to where The First Church of The Living Dead” met in the old AIW Union Hall on the northeast corner of Jasper and Eldorado.
Glenn Portwood informed me the building was used for religious services and The Church of The Living Dead painted it black and put the sculpture in the lot next to the building. 
“The Church took its name from the scripture which says ‘We are all dead in trespasses and sin’.” 

THIS WEEK, I received an email from Tiavi Rudow, who identified himself as the CEO and President of The First Church of the Living Dead.
Tiavi said the statue was the work of a Japanese immigrant to the United States, whose name is Kosa Sato.
“He is a very talented artist who works with concrete and also does painting as well as miniature statues,” said Tiavi, who added that Sato has paintings on display at Donnie’s Homespun Pizza in Decatur.

TIAVI said the artist was a member of their congregation and built the fountain and the statue.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to run the waterfall this year due to water pipe damage over the winter and have been unable to have it repaired as of yet.”

I ALSO heard from John Patkus, who confirmed that a Japanese American artist named Kosi (John spelled his name with an “i” instead of an “a”) created the statue. 
“Kosi lives in Decatur,” said John. “I see him around occasionally. He is hard to understand since English is not his first language.”
John added that “the statue is made of chicken wire covered with cement. The statue is probably three years old. Kosi would like to make more statues.
“The First Church Of The Living Dead has been around in one form or another for over 20 years. It claims to be a Gothic Christian church that was started by some high school students. There are still a few original members around.” 

JOHN SAID, “The group has met in homes, in the park, and in restaurants. They consider themselves to be artists and dreamers.  For over ten years they met in the building on Jasper and Eldorado. They built the little garden next to the building for prayer and meditation.
     “At one time, they had church services and concerts in the building. About two years ago they stopped most of their activities in the building and pursued other activities. Thanks to Facebook, we keep in touch and look forward to a new season in our lives.” 

NOW we know who created the statue and fountain that can still be seen at 1210 East Eldorado Street.
Although the statue was created for a little garden of prayer and meditation, it has been responsible for attracting the interest of a lot of people to learn more about that church.

I HAVE not been able to contact the artist.  That’s the final piece of information that we need.
It’s evident that anyone who can take some chicken wire and concrete and sculpt that impressive work of art has an amazing talent.
A few people have written to me to indicate the Bible doesn’t refer to any such being as a female angel, but this artist has created a statue with his concept of an angel.
Regardless of the gender of an angel, this statue located in an open lot that stands next to a big empty building along a busy street, has attracted a lot of attention and most people see the depiction of a heavenly being as they pass by. 
There’s not much doubt that many people driving and walking on Eldorado Street have been “touched by an angel”.

Posted 11/14/14 

Today, the building at 217 South Maffit Street,
where Romano Pizzeria was located over a
half century ago, has its windows boarded up.  

A Good Memory Now Has A Name

I WAS in high school in the late 1950s when I ate my first piece of pizza. 
I bought it at Romano Pizzeria at 217 South Maffit, a little storefront a half block south of East Wood Street.
That was years before the pizza business swept the country and numerous franchises popped up everywhere -- including Decatur.

ROMANO’s was strictly a carry-out business and, as soon as I got my driver’s license, Romano Pizzeria was usually a Friday or Saturday evening stop. 
Since cellphones wouldn’t come along until decades later, I usually drove to Romano’s, ordered my pizza and then waited in my car and listened to the radio until it was done.
The large pizza cost $1.00 or $1.50 and, since Romano’s didn’t have inside dining, I did what a lot of teenagers did -- I drove to Steak ‘n Shake (with my date), ordered Cokes and we sat in the parking lot and watched all of the “cool cats” cruise through the parking lot in their automotive creations while we listened to Dick Biondi sing “On top of old pizza all cover with cheese” on WLS.
All was right with the world back then -- we had Romano’s Pizza, Steak ‘n Shake with curb service and AM radio.

I DON’T think I ever saw anyone working inside of Romano Pizzeria other than an attractive woman, probably in her thirties, during the years I bought pizza there. 
I always wondered if she was an employee or the wife of Mr. Romano -- but I never asked.
Later, Romano Pizzeria moved to a location on South Jasper, behind Johns Hill Middle School.
I bought a lot of pizzas at Romano Pizzeria -- especially at the South Maffit location.

OVER THE years, when I would be out covering a story for this newspaper and drive by the former locations of Romano’s, especially the Maffit Street location, I thought about all the times I had bought pizzas there and wondered what had happened to the woman I always saw there that seemed so nice.
I was going to ask a member of the Jim Romano family about how they were related to the Romano of Romano Pizzeria-- but, for some reason, I never did.

EACH WEEK, when we are in the process of putting this newspaper together I scan the obituaries to see if anyone I’ve had contact with over the past half century, has passed away.
Obviously, by the very nature of what I do as editor and publisher, and serving as mayor for a number of years, there’s almost always a name, or names, I recognize from the present and past.
As I grow older, it seems like the number of names increases each year.

LAST WEEK, I was glancing over the obituaries in this newspaper and I read that Marie Potrafka had passed away at the age of 93.
I did not know her -- at least I didn’t think I did.
But I was wrong.
Then I read in her obituary that she “owned and operated Romano Pizzeria for over 24 years”.
Marie Potrafka was the woman I always saw when I picked up my pizza!
Her maiden name was Romano -- the name given to her pizza business. 
She was always there because she owned the place. 

MARIE Potrafka’s obituary stated that she “loved cooking and baking cookies; remembered special occasions in the lives of others by sending a countless number of cards throughout her life.”
She impressed me in my teenage years as a woman who would do kind, thoughtful things for others.
I find it interesting that, although I never knew her name until now, I always remembered how she treated me when I came into her business.

WE NEVER know the extent of a positive impression that we create in the people whose lives we touch as we travel through life.
An action that we do, or the way we conduct ourselves, even in what we would view as insignificant contact, may cause that kind attitude to be remembered by someone decades later.
I remembered Marie Potrafka over the years, not by name, but by the positive impression of goodness she unknowingly left on me. 
Now, I have a name to put with that special memory that I’ve revisited countless times during my life -- Marie Potrafka, the owner and operator of Romano Pizzeria.

* * *

Posted from print edition of the Decatur Tribune Nov. 7, 2014

The Surrey: Tasty Memories From The Past

A CITY of Decatur employee stopped me on the street the other day and asked if I could remember where “The Surrey” restaurant was located downtown.
The answer was easy for me, even though The Surrey disappeared decades ago.
It was located in the 100 block of East Prairie Street in the first building east of the alley, on the north side of the street.

TODAY, The DemirCo building occupies the entire north side of the block from the alley to North Water Street.
Talbot’s, a tenant in the building, is located over the site where The Surrey building stood.
Inside the restaurant, there was some of the most beautiful woodwork and paneling that you could see anywhere in our city.  It had stools for a counter, plenty of booths and a mezzanine.

I ATE lunch there often when I was a young businessman downtown.  My lunch was the same every time -- chopped steak, potato, two onion rings, a side salad and iced tea. The cost was $1.99.
The service was always great and it was a meeting place for a lot of the people I became acquainted with downtown.
One of the waitresses is still a subscriber to the Tribune after all of these years and often ends her notes to the newspaper with “Your friend from The Surrey”.

WHEN I became publisher of this newspaper in the late 1960s, I moved it into the former Shinners Market building that was located in the first storefront east of The Surrey.
Businessman Phil Hecht, who owned a lot of property downtown including the Shinners Market property and the three-story “Hecht Building” that occupied the rest of the north side of that block, remodeled the market building for the Tribune.
It was very convenient for us to walk out the front door of the Tribune, take a few steps and walk inside The Surrey.

AS THE newspaper grew, we needed more space and I moved the Tribune to another site. My visits to The Surrey became infrequent.
Over time, “The Surrey”, like a lot of other restaurants downtown, closed its doors and faded into local history.
New Art Beauty Salon, which had been located in the 100 block of South Water for many years, moved into The Surrey building and was there for many years before the building, along with the Shinners Market building and the Hecht building, plus the entire west side of the 200 block of North Water Street, were demolished in the 1990s. 
All of those buildings, and a ton of memories for a lot of us,  just disappeared.  Rising in their place was the new multi-story retail and office building which is a great asset to the downtown area.

MANY YEARS ago, when the subject of “The Surrey” came up in this newspaper, a reader wrote to describe how she loved going to The Survey, first as a kid, and then as an adult.
“I wanted to go to The Surrey,” she wrote. “I always ordered the same thing, a shrimp salad (that was really loaded with those tiny salad shrimp) and covered with the best Thousand Island Dressing that I have ever eaten. I’ve tried plenty since then, but none of them ever compared to The Surrey’s.
“I always accompanied the salad with a big chocolate shake. We sure don't have as many personable restaurants nowadays as we did years ago. What a sad day it was when The Surrey closed its doors.”

WHEN I was asked the other day where The Surrey was once located -- the first thing I thought of was the $1.99 lunch I bought there decades ago and how good it tasted.
I think, as many of us look back on restaurants that we liked years ago, we not only remember where they once stood but our favorite food that we ordered there -- and how the taste of that particular food never tastes as good today as when we ate it at a particular restaurant, like The Surrey.

TODAY, a lot of the restaurants from years ago are gone, so we can only point to the site where they once stood. (I’m still looking for a photo of The Surrey.)
Although the restaurants may be long gone, the memories of the great food that we ate there can still be savored as tasty morsels of the past -- and bring a smile to our face.
The Surrey was one of those restaurants that does that for me.

* * *

Posted From 10/22/14 Print Edition of the Decatur Tribune.

A Sunny Afternoon Drive Into The Past

A FEW DAYS ago, I decided to do what I do every once-in-a-while. 
I drove by some of the places that connect me with my past and the people I shared it with.
Since I’ve spent most of my life in Decatur, the connections are many.
There are always good memories, sad memories and inspiring memories -- but when I take a drive around Decatur I’m always refreshed by what I see and the memories generated.

ONE OF the places I drove by was the site of the house on West Packard where I lived with my parents when I attended Roosevelt Junior High School.  The house was demolished several years ago and there is only an empty lot where it once stood.
A City of Decatur employee gave me the opportunity to tour the house before demolition started -- and it was apparent the “spirit of family” it had housed had departed into the corridor of time.
The house was cold, empty and a huge tree limb had crashed through the roof. I walked through every part of the house and remembered how it once was when we lived there. 
When the house was demolished someone even saved a piece of the woodwork and gave it to me.

I ALSO drove by Roosevelt, a few blocks away on West Grand. It is now an apartment complex.
I remembered that, on Roosevelt’s last day as a school, after all of the students and teachers had left, I was able to get into the building and walk the empty halls and enter the classrooms where teachers like Miss Svendsen had once taught me and so many others. One of our sons attended Roosevelt.

I DROVE by the Steak ‘n Shake locations, which were my favorite places to eat when I was a kid -- and my order was always the same: steakburger, french fries and a chocolate milkshake, which were delivered to the window of our car on an aluminum tray.
The Steak ‘n Shake on Eldorado is no longer there, replaced by a Subway restaurant.  The Steak ‘n Shake building on North Main remains but the restaurant hasn’t been there for many years.  
While the new Steak ‘n Shakes are great, I still miss the old ones.

I DROVE by the Caterpillar plant on North 22nd Street and remembered my first job in Decatur -- a sweeper on the grader line, pushing a broom and separating cigarette butts and used hot welding rods into tubs.   
It was the lowest rung on the ladder in the plant but a solid job. My dad and brother also worked there. It has changed a lot over the years -- and so have I. 

I’VE NAMED only a few of the places I visited during my sunny afternoon drive into the past. 
In a touch of irony, during the years I served as mayor, I was part of the process that approved the demolition of the house where I lived on West Packard, was involved in some of the final stages of the conversion of Roosevelt to an apartment complex, as well as the construction of the new Steak ‘n Shake on Pershing Road and worked in support of the enterprise zone for Caterpillar -- the company that gave me my first job in Decatur decades earlier.
WHEN Caterpillar’s Decatur plant celebrated its 50th anniversary, I issued the proclamation and spoke at the news conference -- but I wasn’t asked to sweep the floors or separate cigarette butts from used hot welding rods.
Everything had come full circle because the very reason my dad and our family moved back to the Decatur area from Peoria was his involvement in the opening of the new plant.

IT’S almost eerie of how each of us can trace the twists and turns our lives take over the decades and how we got to where we are now.
Had it not been for Caterpillar opening its new plant in Decatur in the 1950s everything that has happened in my life and the memories of the past decades would have never happened.

MAYBE it seems silly to some to take such a trip into the past, but I’m very sentimental and I find taking a drive around the city I love not only encourages me about what’s happening today and what will happen, but is a reminder of how blessed I’ve been to live and work here for so many years -- and it all started because of dad’s single decision in the 1950s.
I have to stop now. All of this writing about the past is making me hungry for a steakburger, french fries and a chocolate milkshake.

* * * *

Posted From Decatur Tribune Print Edition 10/4/14

‘Christine II’ Disappears From Parking Lot! 

SINCE I wrote a couple of columns about my technology-possessed newest car a few months ago, I’m still being asked by readers how I’m getting along with “Christine II” these days.
As you may recall, I named the car “Christine II” after the movie “Christine”, the demonic, automotive star of that scary movie.
From the day I bought “Christine II”, she has been nagging me to do things, interrupting radio programs, sending me messages and even restarting herself without my permission...or so it seems.

I THINK the last time I wrote about “Christine II” I indicated that I fully expected her to drive off on her own and leave me stranded somewhere.
I was joking, of course.
My brother-in-law in Texas read my column and sent me some information about driverless cars. I read this morning about the Cadillac that’s coming out in a few years which will do the driving and the car’s operator can sit back and enjoy the ride.
We’ve always had that option.  It’s called being a “passenger” instead of the driver of a car. 
So...big deal.

THE OTHER day, I needed something from Farm & Fleet so I parked “Christine II” far away from the entrance in a section of the lot where the doors wouldn’t get nicked up.
I figured not anything bad could happen if the car was isolated in a wide, open area of the lot.
So, I walked the distance to the store’s entrance, found the item I needed, paid for it and walked out of Farm & Fleet headed for my car.

THEN, something really strange happened.
“Christine II” was gone!
I kid you not. She had vanished!
I continued to scan the lot for a few seconds and all I saw was some guy who had the trunk lid up on his car.  He looked as if he was getting ready to get something out of it.
His car was the same color as my car.
Wait a minute!
His car was my car!

I STARTED walking briskly towards my car and, when he saw me coming, he started walking away and left my car’s trunk lid open.
I knew he hadn’t taken anything because there wasn’t anything in the trunk to take and he wasn’t carrying anything away with him.

WHAT IN the world was my car, “Christine II”  doing with her trunk lid open and some stranger checking it out?
Apparently, when I walked away and hit the remote button to lock the car, I must have hit the trunk lock instead and popped it open...at least I guess that’s what happened.
The trunk lid must have been up all the time I was in Farm & Fleet.
The stranger, seeing the trunk lid open with nobody near the car, was apparently curious enough to check it out -- and that’s when I showed up!

IF YOU are the man who was looking into the open trunk of a car parked in a deserted part of the parking lot at Farm & Fleet recently -- you don’t know how fortunate you are.
Had I returned to “Christine II” a little later I might have seen the trunk lid partially closed with your two legs dangling outside -- like the jaws of a crocodile clamped down on you!

WHEN I was a kid in school we would sing: “Never smile at a crocodile. No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile. Don't be taken in by his welcome grin. He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin.”
That pretty much describes “Christine II”, so stay away from my car. 
Don’t be “taken in” by her open trunk lid.
You have been warned.
You know, some days, I think I’m editor of “Car & Driver” magazine, instead of the Decatur Tribune.

Posted 9/12/14

* * * *

Sometimes, Irritations Are Blessings In Disguise

ONE recent Saturday I jumped in the newspaper’s cargo van and headed for a service station to fill up the gas tank before one of our employees would use it to haul Tribunes on Wednesday. 
I had a lot to do that day and the interruption to take the time to fill up the newspaper cargo van was going to make the day even busier.
So, I drove the van up to the only pump available, which was behind another car.
After the driver of the other car finished filling the tank, he drove away,
Within a very short time, before I could drive out, a car was driven into the vacated lane in front of me, facing me.
I was going to have to back up to get out of the lane -- which is not that easy to do with a 3/4 ton cargo van. 

I FINISHED paying for the gasoline and climbed into my van and started to carefully back up so I could work my way out of the station.
After I had slowly backed up to where I could get free, I stepped on the brake pedal and it went all the way to the floor! I had no brakes!
Since I was moving only a few miles per hour in backing up, I was able to pump enough braking out of the pedal to get the van stopped -- and then the brakes were completely gone!

WHEN I climbed out of the van and looked underneath, brake fluid was flowing out all over the place.
A station employee came out, looked at the van and indicated something had happened to the brake line.
He said he could fix it, but it would be Monday before he could look at it, since the repair department was closing for the day.
So, he towed the van to the back of the station and I was going to call someone to pick me up, but -- for the first time since I started using a cellphone many years ago, I had left it at the office.
I borrowed the worker’s phone to make the call, find someone to pick me up and wait as my day disintegrated.   

MONDAY, the employee at the station called and said repairing the van was going to require more expertise than they had and asked if I had a preference to where it should be towed.
So, I had him tow it to the auto repair business of a man who has done so much work on that van that he is on a first name basis with it.
There’s a lot more I could write about this incident, that started with just putting some gas in the van and continued with one of my frequent excursions into the Twilight Zone  -- but I’ll stop. 
IT WAS all pretty irritating, but then I started thinking about everything and realized what a blessing it was that it happened the way that it did.
Let me explain. 
If the driver who had pulled into the station and parked his car in the opposite direction had not done so, I probably would have driven out of the station with no brakes and wouldn’t have gone very far without hitting, or being hit, by another car the first time I tried to stop.
Someone, including myself, could have suffered serious injuries -- or worse.

WHAT if an employee of the Tribune had been delivering newspapers in the van when the brakes gave out?  He could have been injured or could have injured someone else.  What if it had happened on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday -- creating all sorts of problems in getting the newspapers delivered?
If it was going to happen, could it have happened at any better place than where it did -- where a tow truck was within 30 feet of the brakeless van?
I had received some real “breaks” on the “brakes”.

AFTER I thought about all of those possibilities, why in the world should I complain or feel any irritation?
Sometimes, when irritating things happen to us, they can be blessings in disguise and may prevent something much worse from happening.
That’s why, the next time someone causes me an inconvenience, I will smile and say “Thank You” -- at least that’s my plan for now. 

Reprinted from Sept. 3 edition of the Decatur Tribune.

* * * *

My Newest Car Has A Mind Of Its Own

I BOUGHT my first car when I was in high school. The old (even then) 1951 used black Chevy had an AM radio, a clock that didn’t work, a straight shift transmission, an accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, lights, a few other basics and no air conditioning.
It was simple and easy to drive, like all cars manufactured in the 1950s.
I really liked driving that car through the Steak ‘n Shakes on Eldorado and North Main Street.
I have a lot of fond memories of that time and having the freedom that a car brought to my young life.

FAST FORWARD to 2014 and the car I bought a few months ago.
It has so much technology built into it that I feel it is driving itself and I’m just along for the ride.
I have a few other cars (including the 1979 Classic Corvette) but I bought this car to drive back and forth to the office. 
I opened the door to the car when it was dark and, with all of the illumination, buttons and lights on the dash, I thought I was climbing into the cockpit of a jet.  It lights up like a Christmas tree.

  THE CAR is always sending me messages -- and sometimes it talks to me. (Honest, it really does.)
I’ve received quite a few FINAL NOTICE emails and letters from OnStar informing me that my car’s trial subscription to the service will expire soon unless I renew.
I don’t need or want OnStar.  I drive back and forth to the office and it takes about 5 to 10 minutes on heavily-traveled roads.  It’s true that I could get in an accident someday and not be able to call for help, and OnStar could do it for me,  but that’s not happened in all of the decades I’ve been driving, starting with that used 1951 Chevy.
Besides, that’s another $300 a year.

THE CAR is always beeping to warn me about something.
Nag. Nag. Nag.
Once I was messaged (while I was still on my first tank of gas) that it was time to have my car serviced -- I hadn’t even driven it a hundred miles!
One early morning I was driving to work on South Side Drive, listening to WSOY, and just at the moment something was being said that I really wanted to hear -- the radio went dead! 
A few seconds later, OnStar comes through my radio and gives me the “Final Notice” speech!
I hit the radio’s off button but the voice kept talking.   I couldn’t shut it up!  
My car is possessed!

A FEW DAYS ago, I shut off my car after arriving at the office.  For some reason, a few minutes later, I walked back to the car and the engine was still running.
Had I not gone back, the car would have been running all day -- or until it ran out of gas. 
I’m going to check the service manual to see if “exorcism” is included in the warranty.
I HAVE no problem with modern technology and use it extensively in the production of this newspaper.  I would hate to go back to the old way we published the Tribune decades ago.
But, it seems to me that dealing with a lot of today’s technology, does not relieve stress but creates a lot more.
Honest, I really like my car but I come from a generation where the car responded to me, instead of me responding to the car. 

IT’S GOING to take some adjustment on my part, but I have to admit, I doubt if I do anything beyond learning the basics of how to drive from my home to the office. 
I have an eerie feeling that, if I’m ever in an accident, the voice will come over the radio to tell me “you could have killed us all!” or “you should have let me do the driving!”.
Or, if a police officer pulls me over for speeding, the car will tell the officer “I told him he was driving too fast, but he doesn’t listen to me!”

SO, IN this age of technological advancements, one of the greatest “improvements” (if you want to call it that) in automotive history is that we’ve taken the nagging “back seat driver” and put “it” in the front seat. All of this reminds me of the movie “Christine”, which was the name of the car that had a twisted mind of her own.
Guess what? Christine has a daughter, Christine II, and she parks herself at home in my garage!
I’m writing this, instead of speaking it, because I’m afraid my car will hear me and I’ll be walking home tonight.
Looks like I’ll be driving my ‘79 Corvette a lot more this summer -- but please keep that just between us.
Christine II may be listening.

* * * *
Posted 7/30/14

* * * *

Cruisin’ Decatur In The ‘Mayormobile’

BACK IN 2003, when I was elected to my first term as mayor of Decatur, my brother, Sam, found me a Classic 1979 Corvette in southern Illinois.
Sam was a life-long lover of cars, boats, airplanes, motorcycles -- about anything that had an engine in it, and he was a mechanical genius.
He got that “gift” from my dad.

SAM, who had a Classic Corvette, and I, along with others in the family, met for pizza at Monical’s every Friday night for many years.
I had always liked Corvettes, back to my high school days, when every teenage boy dreamed of having either a Corvette or a Ford Thunderbird.
Sam was going to find me one.

WHEN he found one and called me about it, I bought it “sight unseen” and he and one of his daughters brought it to my house.
I figured if Sam thought it was a good deal, it was a good deal.
He wasn’t going to let anyone cheat his little brother.
I fell in love with the car as soon as it arrived at home.

WHEN Gary Anderson was mayor he started the tradition of the “DECATUR” license plate being on the mayor’s car, so, when another mayor took office, he inherited the plate.
There was no doubt what car the “DECATUR” license plate was going on when the plate came into my possession.
It was going to be on the Corvette, because it was a “classic”, like Decatur, and it was a “muscle car” like the strength of our city and its residents.

OVER THE years that I served in the mayor’s office, I would take the time each week to drive the Corvette around the city to look at projects that were underway, check out complaints that were received at City Hall and attend ribbon cuttings and other official duties.
The Corvette became the “Mayormobile”.
Sometimes, when the stress of the mayor’s office got real intense, I would take the Mayormobile for a ride around the city and would always feel refreshed.
I found the number of times I needed to go for a ride in the Mayormobile increased proportionately with the number of years I was in office. (smile) It was always nice to pull up to a stoplight and have the person in the car next to me, compliment me on the job I was doing, or give me a thumbs up.
There were a few instances when a finger instead of a thumb was used, but, I figured the driver got confused, or maybe his thumb didn’t work.
Driving the “Mayormobile” around Decatur was something I really enjoyed.

DURING the winter, I always stored the car, and I still do today.
Obviously, after I left office, the next mayor received the plates, and I think they ended up on a city councilman’s car where they remain today.
I didn’t drive the Corvette much after I left office and it was in storage most of the time.
Over three years ago, Sam passed away, and I think I only drove the car once during the following summer.
The past two years, I haven’t driven it all.  

I WENT to the storage facility the other day to see the Corvette.  The dust on the car was thick enough to write on it with my finger.
I tried to start it, but the battery was dead.  
It was kind of sad.  
It was like I had left an old friend alone for too long.
As you know, I’m pretty sentimental about such things.  I probably should sell it but it is hard to let go since my brother found it for me and because I really had a lot of good times driving it.

THE Mayormobile is going to need some work done on it to get the engine back to where it was when I drove it down Eldorado with the top off and the wind blowing through my hair.
It’s difficult for me to decide whether I want to spend the money to get the Corvette back in good running condition or sell it to someone who can work on it and enjoy it like I did for many years.
I know that now is the time to do something with it, with warm weather finally hitting, but it’s hard to say goodbye to an “old friend”.
Besides, in its “heyday” it was the Mayormobile so it deserves a little respect for those good years and fond memories of when we cruised Decatur together.

Posted June 5, 2014

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'The Milkman' Was Special Part Of Our Neighborhood

Many of the comments readers send to me are woven around pleasant memories of their childhood in Decatur when the community was much different than it is now.
With all of the advances in technology to make our lives easier -- I’m not sure they’ve made the quality of our lives any better. 

A recent note came from Christie Smith of Elmhurst, Illinois, who wrote: “One of my memories from my childhood was our milk delivery from Meadow Gold.  The milk wagon was pulled by a horse.  I think we called him ‘Jonesy’.
“We looked forward to having the horse clip clop down our street.  The company used the horse long after it was necessary because people loved it.
“I grew up in the 40s and 50s in Decatur.  I always wondered if anyone had a picture of the milk wagon and horse that went down Riverview Avenue.”

I looked back into my “Scrapbook” archives and found a series that I did on “The Milkman” in 1997.
This week, the photos and article are published on pages 4 and 5 of the print edition of the Decatur Tribune and I’ll have more next week.
In answer to Christie Smith’s question, I didn’t find a specific horse named “Jonesy” but I did find several other horses which are included in the series. Maybe one of our readers has a photo of that particular horse.
AS I looked through those old Scrapbook articles and pictures, I couldn’t help but think of how simple life was back then.
Even though the dairies quit using horses in 1957, I remember them pulling the milk wagons when I was a kid.
Actually, I have more memories of when the milkman delivered from his milk truck to our home on West Packard when I attended Roosevelt Junior High School.
There was a special insulated box on our front porch where he placed the milk very early each morning.

What I found especially interesting at the time I interviewed some of the milkmen in 1997 was how trusting people were back then. 
I can remember when most people didn’t even lock their doors at night and often the milkman would go into their house early in the morning, before anyone was out of bed, and put the milk in the refrigerator!
Today, very few people leave their doors unlocked overnight and many homes have security cameras, night lights, burglar alarms and a couple of locks on each door --just in case someone tries to enter the house. 
We’re a long way from the milkman days of yesteryear -- not only in time, but in trust of others.

Long gone are the days of the milkman making his rounds in the neighborhood and being an important part of our day.
Some of the comments made by milkmen on pages 4 and 5 are probably difficult for younger readers to believe.
The milkman was like a family member and we trusted him. 
Today, any non-family member  coming into a house at 5:00 in the morning is likely to be greeted with gunfire and a 9-1-1 call!

“The Milkman” not only represented an era when horses and milk wagons made their way down the streets of our neighborhoods, but a time when people trusted each other.
I know the progress we’ve made over the years has made our lives easier, but it has also cost us some very important life qualities that we already had but never fully appreciated until they were gone.
The “clip clopping” of the milkman’s horse coming down our street has gone silent -- along with many other sights and sounds of our childhood that seem so special to us in 2014.

Posted 4/27/14

Paul Osborne
Editor & Publisher

Columns Are Printed With The Most Recent Displayed First

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The photo across the top of the page shows the northeast corner of downtown's Lincoln Square and the statue of Abraham Lincoln marks where he gave his first political speech.

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