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Day 7: The “Sweetness” of Chicago October 29, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in Chicago, Extreme Farewell Tour, national chemistry week.

October 27, 2006
South Bend, Indiana
11 PM

McDonalds - Chicago Theatre DistrictThe rain stopped overnight in Chicago, which allowed me to get out and forage for breakfast.  Aided by the Web, I found a McDonalds three blocks down from the Allegro, still in the Theatre District.  We’re coming to the end now, and we’re going to have to bear down on the Monopoly thing.

Unfortunately, there were no bears to be seen this morning, as we have now filled the sheet with everything but winners.  I was leaving the restaurant, with dejected mind and aching heart, sipping my Diet Coke, when a city worker approached me and said, “Can I have your stickers?  I only need one railroad for the $5,000,000.”  I said, “Ma’am, that makes you, me and about a million other people.”  I know she feels my pain.

The only thing to do was find a Starbuck’s and apply coffee to the injured area.  That turned out to be difficult, and frankly with the pressure of the Monopoly thing, I was a little miffed. I think no one should have to walk more than 15 feet to find a Starbucks and a McDonalds.  I did find a Dunkin’ Donuts, which was fortunate—it’s my road coffee “Plan B.”  Now we’re ready.

Walter Payton HighSal and I jumped a cab and headed north.  Our first appointment was at 8 at Walter Payton College Prep.  This is a new, marvelous selective school of high performing students, located in downtown Chicago, that specializes in math, science and languages.  It was named as a memorial to the late Chicago Bears’ running back whose own nickname of “Sweetness” was both a professional and personal description.  We quickly found the school office and Principal Ellen Estrada and teacher Maggie Folk.  They asked us if we needed any time to “set up” which we found unusual since we were expecting simply to have a dialogue with the first and second period classes.

Many people have recurring nightmares such as discovering you have a final exam in a course you don’t remember registering for.  When you have them, it means you’re under stress and you’re worried that you’re not performing well.  My particular performance nightmare is: it’s opening night of a play, I’m offstage but apparently the lead, the place is packed and the stage manager loudly whispers to me, “ What do you mean you never got a script?  Get out there, you’re on!”  If I’m particularly stressed, in the dream I’m also naked.

Maggie and Ellen explained that they had rearranged all the classes to give us a two-hour block in the auditorium with all the chemistry classes.  They thought we were bringing a major demonstration and hands-on show.  It is now 7:55.  Class begins at 8.  I can hear the stage manager whispering.  I checked to be sure I was dressed.

There was not much we could do.  I hadn’t even brought my computer that would have let me give a prepared seminar along with the dialogue.  We had no props, no materials, just the prospect of two straight hours of stand-up.  This is what dead in the water feels like, and it felt awful.  So, they unwound the class rearrangement and I simply spoke to about three classes for one class period.  Even that was a little difficult because the orchestra was practicing in the room behind me and I could barely hear myself think.  It pretty much worked out in the end, but I hated that we had disappointed them even though it was an honest misunderstanding.

So we headed back to the hotel.  Sal went back to DC and Marisa Burgener came on board.  At this point we are without a canonical TOT, but with a new HOTTIE who has some pretty fair TOT qualifications.  Marisa performed in, and later staffed “Up With People,” a dynamic musical review featuring young adults.  She is pleasant and energetic and is stepping in to anchor the week.  She knows the road and the pace of the XFT and is largely not daunted.  She is even a certified spotlight operator if we happen to need one.  (See previous postings for acronym glossary)

Our second appointment was cancelled and I had a tasty lunch that yielded NO winners.  Judith and LaTrease warned me that McDonald’s is not Marisa’s restaurant of choice, so she provisioned herself for the two days with a supply of organic flaxseed-green tea-vitamin-blasted-God-knows-what bars.   I looked closely at the “Cool Mint-Chocolate flavor.  Chocolate is ingredient number 32.  I couldn’t find any mint or for that matter any coolant.  The warning label says it contains “SOY AND SEEDS, MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF DAIRY, PEANUTS OR OTHER NUTS.  WE SOURCE INGREDIENTS THAT DO NOT CONTAIN WHEAT, DAIRY OR GMOs.”  I can’t tell what holds it together, but it looks like a cowpie.  The company slogan is “Simply delicious.” 

I’m still on for the grilled chicken sandwich, thanks.  I do feel a bit guilty, though, that I’m not sharing in the pressed leaves and twigs experience.

So, we were on our way to South Bend for the Midwest Association of Chemistry Teachers at Liberal Arts Colleges–mercifully abbreviated MACTLAC–conference.  To get there we had to fight our way through construction on the Tri-State Tollway.  The Tri-State is only under construction in years containing a July, and unfortunately we caught a spate of construction.  Well, it’s only an hour out of your life, lighten up.

What’s in the Player: No NCW trip is complete without John Mayer’s album “Room for Squares.”  It’s the only CD I know of with a periodic table on it.  It’s there because when John was a high school student with big musical dreams, his chemistry teacher was the only one to understand what he was trying to do in music.  Another example of a perceptive chemist.  Good music, good lyrics, good chemistry, great for driving.

Marisa brought some excellent tunes: uncommon, but directly experienced.  She heard the group Almost Recess at a concert that took place in a park across from her house.  It’s good a capella music, covering some songs even I knew on their album “Full Speed Ahead” including “King of Wishful Thinking” originally by Go West and “This Everyday Love” by Rascal Flatts.  There are also albums by friends of hers from her show touring days, such as Yawo—great African rhythms.

Finally we break free from the Tri-State and onto the Indiana Toll Road.  One fast stop along the way for a soda, and even Marisa had one.  No, we didn’t win yet.  Why do you ask?

MACTLACPhil Bays and Chris Dunlap, MACTLAC co-organizers met us at St. Mary’s, and we had dinner with about 90 chemistry professors from around the Midwest.  I spoke after dinner, but before chocolate fondue and beer.  They listened politely to the Chemistry Enterprise 2015 seminar while anticipating dessert and a refreshing beverage if the speaker would please, JUST WRAP UP.

Tomorrow we hit the finale, and the schedule is the tightest of any of the days.  The drive back through Chicago will be critical.  I certainly hope that Peterbilt we’re squiring around is up to the task.



1. Tasha - November 6, 2007

OMG i love this school .When I apply i hope that Iamable to get in.

2. coon - June 6, 2008

I go to wpcp

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