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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.


Day 6: Back Home in Indiana October 27, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in Chemistry, DePauw, Extreme Farewell Tour, Indiana, national chemistry week, Purdue.
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October 26, 2006

Hotel Allegro, Chicago IL

11 PM

I think Bill at WGREthe closest thing to the feeling of waking up at home is waking up in the town I went to college.  I walked, and sometimes crawled its streets for four years.  I woke up this morning in Greencastle, Indiana, just as I did regularly for four years in my youth.  Many of  the buildings at DePauw haven’t changed in the thirty-five years since I stopped actively living there or the hundred before I got there; even so there have been great additions and more are on the way.

WGRE FMNow, to be fair, I seldom woke up as early in those days as I did this morning because I had an early breakfast with Professor Jeff McCall, with whom I roomed for a semester my senior year.  Today Jeff is a media expert and sought-after pundit.  And to think, I knew him when.  Jeff set me up for an interview with campus station WGRE where I was once program director, and helped him get his introduction to radio.

Bill and Percy JulianAfter breakfast we went to the Percy Julian Science Center, where the department of chemistry and various other sciences is housed.  In the center is the ACS Chemical Historical Landmark honoring the synthesis of physostigmine by DePauw graduate Percy Lavon Julian, one of the first African-Americans to receive a PhD in chemistry in the US and a giant in the field, both scientifically and business-wise.  He achieved that synthesis in Minshall Lab, which was built in 1901 and demolished nearly 75 years later.

I took my first three years of chemistry in Minshall Lab.  That anything was synthesized there ever is a miracle in my eyes—I certainly couldn’t.

Bridget Gourley, Chair of the Chemistry Department, was my faculty host, and I was invited by Connie Shim on behalf of the Chemistry Club.  There were about thirty students there, and I regaled them with stories of how I was pretty much lucky to graduate at all, given how much fun I had.  I was exaggerating, but not much.  I also tried to leave them with some thoughts about managing their careers in a world of globalization—pretty much a short review of the Chemistry Enterprise in 2015 report.

Indiana is cold and rainy this week.  We left Greencastle for points north after a brisk, damp walk.  Soon it would be time for lunch—time for us to get back on the McD Monopoly program that we missed out on yesterday.

We bought supersized everything—not to eat it, mind you, but for the game pieces.  We are slowly sneaking up on the victory that will certainly be ours, now lacking only one of the pieces for each of the top money prizes that will write our names in the annals of Project SEED forever.  No jokin’, as they say at Red Hot and Blue, we’re smokin’.

When we arrived at Purdue, Jessi Fautch quickly led us out to the Klondike Elementary School, home of the Fighting Nuggets.  Care to venture a guess about the school colors?

NCW Experiments at Klondike Elementary (Home of the Fighting Nuggets)The ACS at Purdue and the Purdue chapter of Iota Sigma Pi took on this project.  Klondike is a great school and we saw about 60 really sharp third graders.  Kurt Keyes, Gianna Starck and Kelly Hutchinson did a marvelous job of making salt dough with all these kids.  The synthesis kind of got away from one of the groups, which had to repeatedly retitrate the water and flour to get the right consistency.  This eventually resulted in a rather larger ball of dough.  Klondike also has a nice little garden where there are memorials to a couple of former teachers.  They also have a couple of goats in the garden as well.  I doubt there is symbolism.

NCW SpecialAll of West Lafayette is celebrating NCW, and I have to congratulate the Purdue department on its public outreach.  Notice the day spa that is advertising an NCW special.  After a fast tour of the Purdue department by Mildred Rodriguez, we headed toward Chicago.  Lots of guy discussion: cars; sports; occasionally cars; sometimes a little sports. You know.

Speaking of cars, we’re in a Ford Explorer, following on our Chevy Equinox, we continue our celebration of National SUV Week.  We sit about 15 feet above the road, in full command of all we survey.  And it has a really good turning radius too.

On the way, we stopped in my home town of Crown Point, Indiana.  I wanted to show Sal around a little, but at the same time see I wanted to check the development progress of our old farm.

Regular readers in this space will remember that last year at this time we had sold the property and 50-year contents of my parents house.  I told you then how strange it was to see it empty, and in the rear view mirror.  Some work has been done to prepare the area for development; the house is still standing, but the inside has been stripped of hardwoods and fixtures; windows have been broken out by accident or vandalism, and it generally looks similar, but somewhat tired and bruised.

I didn’t feel as badly about it as I thought I would.  It was almost like viewing a beloved relative at a wake.  You know the identity of the body there, but stripped of a soul, that’s not the person you remember.  I remember Christmas after dinner, noisy with children and loud with relatives conversation; the smell of my mother’s baking; breezy summer evenings on the porch.  And I realized that stripped of its soul, it’s not the house I remember.  Amazingly, I felt nearly nothing.  It just was.

So we headed toward Chicago in our eighteen-minus-fourteen wheeler.  Somewhere at the farm I managed to get a stick jammed in the undercarriage, and we had to turn the radio up so we couldn’t hear it scraping the ground.  We got to Chicago, and the stick is still making that noise.

We’re staying at the Hotel Allegro downtown because that’s where our first appointments are.  This is a new old boutique type hotel; kind of hip, kind of homey.  Fireplaces and alternative music in the check-in area.  I’m not sure I fit here unless, remembering Huey Lewis, it’s hip to be square.  We had dinner in the bar and watched the game.  At 8:30 there was room at the bar; at 11, it was packed with people about the age of 30.  This is not my tribe.

What’s in the player:  Sal’s Salsa Sampler.  Sal brought along a CD of music with a strong Latin beat—some Shakira, some old Marc Anthony, some Enrique Iglesias some Santana.  Not too surprising from Sal, the drummer.

It’s also comforting to be in Chicago, a great city.  Tomorrow is Walter Payton High.

Day 4. Food comes to the foreground. October 25, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in casinos, Chemistry, Evansville, Extreme Farewell Tour, national chemistry week.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
11 PM
Aztar Casino Hotel, Evansville, IN

Breakfast came at the bountiful breakfast bar of the Casino.  They had a unique dish; kind of their own version of “Toad in a Hole.”  Take a piece of toast, cut out a 4 inch diameter circle, drop in an egg and fry it in situ.  Then put the little 4” toast piece back on as a hat over the egg.  Nice, but no match for the elegant simplicity of the Egg McMuffin.

Today we were all over Evansville.  First off, I spoke to a group of HS students from a number of schools in the Evansville area after they had participated in a Mole Day chemistry bowl.  Of course, it was a sub-optimal situation; I had to follow longtime ACS activist Marie Hankins who did a great demo show.  Marie is the first person I’ve seen who will use dry ice to blow up a soda bottle…indoors.  She does it inside a 50 gallon polyethylene waste basket and stuff still goes flying, to say nothing of a huge report.  She says she has to be careful or the ceiling tiles suffer.  These types of experiments outdoors typically draw police from ten miles away.

Turoni’s For - Get - Me - Not - InnThen it was time for lunch.  An ACS staff member, Rebecca Achurch is a former resident of Evansville and a fellow DePauw alum.  She wrote us to make sure that we knew that a trip to Evansville was not complete without a meal at Turoni’s pizza parlor.  So insistent was she that LaTrease, Dennis and I decided to go there for lunch instead of Corky’s Bar-B-Que, which initially brought tears of joy to LaTrease.

Once in Turoni’s we ordered the house special, augmented by anchovies.  I can’t get anchovies on pizza at home because Mary says they will crawl over to her half of the pizza, but that’s just wrong.  If you just put them more than an inch from the border there’s no problem because they’re so slow you have the pizza eaten before they can crawl that far.

Dennis and LaTrease also had a House Salad.  LaTrease was sorely disappointed by the Lettuce Salad at the Root Beer Stand yesterday, and declared that for the rest of the trip she would be ordering House Salads.  I didn’t understand.  It was billed as a lettuce salad, and she got a bowl of lettuce.  By analogy, what would you get when you order a House salad?  A bowl of houses?  And that’s better?
I’ve had a hard time with salads on the road lately.  Lots of fast food salad places only have “Lite Italian” dressing as a fat free option.  Lite Italian has the taste and consistency of a rather thin NCW slime recipe.  However, it can be retrieved.  Squeezing a packet of ketchup into it and mixing thoroughly turns it into kind of a sundried tomato vinaigrette.  Peppercorn Ranch is harder to synthesize in the field using the materials at hand.

By this time, our trip to Evansville was turning into a Rachel Ray restaurant review.  We even started making the “mmmm” sounds she makes for the camera during her Food Network show close-ups.

The house salad showed up with slices of peppers and pepperoni.  The vote was mixed.  Also, the Root Beer was not up to the standard set yesterday, but to be fair, it’s not Turoni’s Salad or Turoni’s Root Beer, it’s Turoni’s Pizza, and it did not disappoint.  Thin crust, lots of stuff including pepperoncinis baked right in.  Mmmmm.

Southern Indiana StudentsIn the afternoon I had an hour with students at the University of Southern Indiana, and we talked about the state of chemistry in 2015.  I was hosted by Marie, section Chair-Elect Mark Krahling and Jeff Seyler, acting department head.  A good crowd; bright kids and an interested faculty working to grow the department and the university.  I did better this time because I didn’t have to follow fire and explosions.

Indiana-Kentucky Border Section at the Western RibeyeDinner with the section was more oriented to the University of Evansville, and the section officers.  Conversation at one time turned to that regional southern Indiana treat, fried brains.  Brains can be had as a sandwich on a bun or, in some places, as a side order with eggs.  The BSE scare of a couple of years ago moved the standard brains from beef to pork.  One observer noted “it just isn’t the same.”  Yo Rachel: Can I get a “Mmmmmm” to that?

At the Indiana-Kentucky border section meeting it was great to see Rama Konduri, who is a ball of energy for the Younger Chemists Committee, and Ihab Odeh, current section chair, both from GE.  Brian Lynch from U of Evansville introduced me at the section meeting, which had a number of business majors as well as upper-level chemistry students.

It was also nice to see Ken Miller, eminence grise of GE’s polycarbonate technology group.  Ken and I were grad students together back when there were only 67 elements.  There are too many stories.

After the seminar, LaTrease and I went to check out the Casino.  Casino marketing is wonderful, leading you to believe that such places exude non-stop excitement.  There is a huge wall of winners who pocketed unheard of sums—literally HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS.  It’s difficult to resist getting some fuel for the gaming expedition by stepping up to cash a check, obtain a credit card advance, or pawn the rental car you came in.

I have to go every now and again just to remind myself what it’s really like.  We put $2 in a nickel slot machine, and it took about 10 minutes to lose it.  I suspect that the result would not have been markedly different if we had put $2000 in a $50 slot machine.  We were too tired to attempt the experiment at the blackjack tables.

Maybe it’s just that having had a statistics course ruins the idea of success at a game of chance, wall of winners notwithstanding.  I had hoped to have some pictures of us at the slot machines, but my camera was flagged, stripped of pictures and impounded.  It was for my convenience and security, you see.  Apparently what happens in Evansville stays in Evansville.  Perhaps that’s best.

So tomorrow is a 5:00 call and off to Cleveland.  There will be no casinos, but there may be pizza.  Mmmmmm.  Thank heavens I have my elastic waist pants.