Monthly Archives: April 2015

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 2

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I came back to the Chicago area for a number of reasons.  In fact, I had so many reasons to be here, it would have been hard to justify not being here.  Simply put, it was where I needed to be at this particular time, despite the fact that I now live elsewhere.

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The primary reason for my visit was to meet my family’s newest member; my nephew, who was born only a week before I arrived back in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, where both my parents, and my sister/ brother-in-law live.  At the age of 8 days, I got to meet him, and was able to subsequently spend some time with him over the course of the following week.  However, as I sit back at my home in Denver, I cannot help but think of what I am missing out on being 1000 miles away from “home”.  Specifically, I am thinking of this newborn baby, who will go through different phases of development, possibly on a daily to weekly basis for some time to come, as life changes at a faster pace for children than it does for adults.  Even if I come back twice a year, there are phases in his development I am destined to miss.  That is just the way it is.

However, my mind also drifts to all the rest of my family members, as well as my friends, back here in Chicago (as well as the surrounding area).  While adults have lives that do not go through changes in as rapid of succession as children, and it is easier to “catch up”, we still do have experiences on a daily basis.  And, as much as some people post much of their daily lives on social media, or do a decent job of keeping in touch, I do wonder what I am missing.  I dwell on the fun daily events, strange occurrences and “inside jokes” that made all of the people around me so much fun to be around.  But, I also dwell on the ups and downs, and the times when someone important to you just simply needs some encouragement, or, conversely, some advice.

I was wearing a suit the day I met my nephew, as I was on my way to the first of a number of events I would also attend over the course of the week.  This one, a wedding for one of my good friends from college, in Northwest Indiana.

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Here, not only did I get to witness the big day for the bride and groom, but as is common with events like this, I got the chance to hang out with several other friends from college.  In a way it was just like it was back in the day.  There are some people in all of our lives who we can not see for weeks, months, years, and still just pick right back up where we left off as if we had just seen each other the previous day.  I am blessed to have a good number of people like this in my life.

However, there was an obvious difference between now and then, and that is children.  Some of my friends also traveled a significant distance to be at this wedding, and they did so with children.  It is actually pretty inspiring to me, as they had decided somewhat spontaneously to travel to Indiana for this wedding, and were still able to do so despite having a 5 year old and a (not quite) 5 month old respectively.  And, they stayed at the wedding longer than many other people.  It makes me think of a future chapter of life, that my involve children of my own, with a lot more hope, that maybe the “your life is over” camp are significantly exaggerating when they describe the impact starting a family has on one’s life.  So, as was the case with so much of my trip, I was simultaneously living out a past “chapter” of my life, while also getting glimpses of a future “chapter”.

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In fact, the rest of my week was also partially a baby/child meeting tour.  I wanted to try to see as many people, and take part in as many events with my friends, as possible, while still spending a significant amount of time with my family and my new nephew.  Luckily, many of my friends were able to work with me schedule-wise to create a successful trip!  And, I got to take part in all kinds of activities ranging from simple lunches to crazy nights out in large groups.  Over the course of the week, I was living the life I had lived as a child, as a young adult, and as I will live it in the future.  In a way, I spent the week in one place, but in another way, I was in too many different places to count.

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The Chicago metropolitan area is centered around downtown, where trains from all directions converge, as do countless people every day.  It also includes countless suburbs, and even Northwest Indiana.  It is a place where, much like my experiences over the course of the past week, people are doing everything from working hard and playing hard, to relaxing, to trying to do the best the can to raise a family.

And, when I see my newborn nephew, or any newborn child, I see the great equalizer.

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Every single person, from the most successful to the biggest failures, from Bill Gates to habitual criminal, from the most personable to the biggest asshole, began as a vulnerable newborn infant, just like this.  No matter who someone is, they started out in this position, as a baby, completely dependent on someone else to survive and reach adulthood.  And, in the pool of newborn babies at the hospital at any given time, are people that will one day go on to become influential individuals both good and bad, people that will make their families proud, but also people who will one day disappoint, and people who will be nothing but kind and generous to their fellow human beings, but also people who will treat others with contempt and recklessness.  But, for now, each child I met over the course of this week is just a child, a person trying to figure out the world around them in various stages.  All we can do for them is give a good example.  Over the course of the week, I found myself repeating one phrase to the children I had encountered; “A positive attitude is contagious”.  When I smiled at a child, they would often smile back.  It is basic human nature, and one of the most powerful tools we can take into our day-to-day lives to produce the best possible outcomes.

Visiting the Past and the Future- Part 1

It was an average day that I suddenly found myself in a strangely familiar place. Wednesday the 22nd of April is a day where most people are simply going about their daily routines, particularly in suburbia.  But, on this day, I unexpectedly found myself headed west on 159th Street, entering the town of Homer Glen, Illinois. And, although I have not been here in nearly a decade, traveling this stretch of road brought back a flood of memories from my college years.

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Homer Glen is just over an hour away from both my parents house and my University.  I was never here for an extended period of time, nor did I come here on a regular basis. However, I had made several friends who were from this area, and ended up partaking in some social events here. There are plenty of other places I could go and encounter a similar amount of memories.  However, this visit came unexpectedly, and on a trip where I am already visiting a plethora of places near and dear to me, from past chapters of my life.  Maybe that is why the images from my past came back to me so powerfully.

Most of my memories from this place involve standard young people shit; drinking, debauchery, partying, etc.  However, some of them involve some specific experiences that remind me of the way my life truly was. One summer evening, we had used a friend’s house in this area as a meeting point, as we had on several occasions, particularly in summer.  We had all not see each other in around two months, which, for 20-year-olds used to being at college together all the time, seems like an eternity.  As a result, we spent roughly 20 minutes taking pictures.  I don’t even remember why we took so many pictures, but we did so until the one person with even less of an attention span than me finally had to put a stop to it.  His exact words were “I love you guys, but we need to do something.”

Looking around, I eventually realized that I was not even really in the same place that I had remembered.  At that time, the area between Orland Park and Lockport was called Homer Township.  It would later be incorporated as the town of Homer Glen.  Instead of the four-way stop signs I had seen throughout the area, signaled by red flashing lights in all directions, most intersections here now have full traffic signals.  McDonald’s is now accompanied by a bunch of other establishments, and an extension of Interstate 355 has been built just to the west of town. So, although some of what I saw looked familiar, and brought back memories, there is not way to avoid clear evidence that this is now a completely different place than it was a decade ago.

One mistake I tend to make is to associate certain past experiences with a specific location. Periodically, I need reminders that when I think of a set of experiences from my past, I am really looking back to a “chapter” of my life, which, unfortunately, cannot be truly relived no matter how hard I try.  College is a chapter of life, and one cannot return to this chapter of life by simply moving back to their college town.  Even those who chose to stay in their college town enter a new chapter of their lives when they graduate, one that commonly involves either graduate school or their first “real job”.

Not only is this physical location fundamentally different from the place I had all of these experiences, but I also, unfortunately do not have the same relationship with some of the people I had these experiences with. The different physical surroundings right in front of my face serve as a clear reminder that the chapter of my life, with all of the memories that I am suddenly flashing through in my head at nearly lightning speed, is unequivocally over. AlI I can do is smile, and remember with fondness the small part of my life this place once played.

For the entire week, I have been visiting both the past and the future.  We travel for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes for business, sometimes for relaxation, and sometimes for pleasure.  Sometimes, we travel to places to attend specific events and visit specific people.  And, while some trips are primarily about exploring places we have yet to be, and about having experiences we have yet to have, others are about places we have already been, people we already know, and experience we have already had.  For me, this trip, which I will discuss more in Part 2, is turning out to be a hybrid.  On this trip, I am trying as best I can to balance relaxation with activity.  I am trying to visit as many people as possible, but also to have quality experiences, as opposed to simply rushing from one activity to the next. I am also, in a way, visiting both the past and the future, as I can see my life’s previous “chapters”, but also some of my life’s future “chapters” in the places I am going and the people I am seeing over the course of the week.

The Future of Transportation

This weekend, I got a glimpse into the future in an unexpected place … Wyoming.  Not to say that I have any kind of preconceived notion that Wyoming is backwards in any sort of way.  It is just that in mainstream American culture, people tend to look elsewhere for glimpses of the future.  More frequently, people will look to the latest gadgets being developed in Silicon Valley, the newest fashion designs coming out of New York, or even a new dance craze coming out of a place like Miami before they look into anything going on in a more remote area of the country.

However, my experience in Wyoming this past weekend felt oddly futuristic, albeit in a more subtle way.  As a travel lover, I pay close attention to all issues related to transportation and how we get around.  We are a mobile country full of people (such as myself) who love to be in motion.  And, regardless of what changes, I sincerely hope we (as a nation) never lose that zest for life and exploration that draws us out of our homes, and out of our day to day lives, to new places, experiences, and adventures.

While many novels and films set in the future immediately focus on some kind of major technological breakthrough that ultimately changes the way we live, the changes we actually observe are typically more gradual.  And, while many people are anticipating electric, driver-less cars coming out of Silicon Valley, over the last fifteen years, we have achieved some less high-profile, but still significant changes, such as the proliferation of hybrid cars, incremental efficiency improvements, a general increase in interest in bicycle commuting, and a few new rail lines in some cities.  Once again, nothing monumental, but the results of these changes, and how they impact our lives is easy to spot.

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These gradual changes were on display this weekend when I, for the first time ever, got to drive on an 80 mile per hour road.  Prior to today, the highest speed limit I had ever observed had been 75.  In fact, it was just last year that speed limits on interstate highways in many parts of Wyoming increased to 80 miles per hour.  Higher speed limits can at least partially be attributed to vehicles becoming both safer and more fuel efficient, as historically these two concerns have prompted many to feel uncomfortable about high speed driving.

When I see the 80 mile per hour speed limit on Interstate 25, I see the future.  Growing up in the Midwest, I rarely got to drive on roads with speed limits in excess of 65 miles per hour.  I would commonly go 80, but doing so undoubtedly meant the risk of a speeding ticket.  The same speed here is not only legal, but almost necessary to keep up with the speed of traffic.  Over the years, a significant number of states have decided to allow higher speeds on their interstate highways.

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This is not the only transportation trend I observed in Wyoming this weekend.  In Wyoming’s largest city, Cheyenne, it is hard not to notice a newly built Greenway system, designed to accommodate the increasing interest in cycling, and the increased use of cycling as a form of transportation.

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And, while there are many places (such as Denver, where I live) that have built trail systems like this many years ago, Cheyenne is still ahead of the game.  As more people bicycle to get places, I expect to see many more trail systems like this one pop up in smaller to mid sized cities across the country.

Cheyenne is also ahead of the game when it comes to new and innovative road design.  On the south side of town, a diverging diamond intersection has been built to handle the large volumes of traffic that occurs when a highway has multiple popular rest stops (truck stops) at one exit.

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This particular design is best suited for intersections like this one, where most of the traffic is either turning left or right (in this case entering or exiting the highway).  A majority of U.S. States have yet to successfully implement a diverging diamond interchange.  Yet, people who live in or travel through this area have seen a significant reduction in congestion at this interchange.

When I see the future of transpiration here in Wyoming, I see a bright one, and also a realistic one.  I am not waiting for some pie-in-the-sky innovation that should suddenly fix all of our problems.  But, I see incremental improvements, as there is one commonality in all of these developments, the desire to accommodate people.  While speed limits are increasing on highways across the country, they are not increasing everywhere.  In fact, last year New York City actually decreased its speed limits on surface streets.  At first these trends appear to contradict one another, but both are actually helping accommodate more people.  Maintaining slower speed limits on surface streets in town is seen as accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists.  We are moving towards a world where drivers can drive a fast but comfortable speed and arrive at their destination quicker using limited access highways, meanwhile pedestrians and cyclists feel increasingly comfortable choosing not to drive places as they travel on Greenway-ype trails, and/or surface streets where their safety is at only minimal risk.

Accommodation of different types of people, who live different types of lives, is important beyond just methods of transportation.  If we are going to live within a diverse nation like this one, let alone a global society, we must learn to live with those who chose to do things differently than us, and not let these differences lead to violent conflict.  Although some people would probably never look to a place like Wyoming for clues as to how the future will unfold, I am quite proud to be the kind of person who can see value anywhere.  And that, despite the current political situation in our country, I can go to a place like Wyoming, but also to a place like New York, and enjoy the local culture.  It is not that I do not have strong opinions opinions about anything, it is just that I refuse to view everything through the lens of the current red-state blue-state divide that so many people focus on.  Those who view all places, ideas, and even people through this lens place unnecessary limitations upon themselves.  Recently, at a bar, an acquaintance of mine actually suggested that political affiliations are a strong consideration for potential one night stands.  Needless to say my respect for this individual evaporated that evening.

If we can find ways to accommodate one another, such as maintaining both high-speed interstates and safe places to walk and bike, we no longer need to fight with those who do things differently than us.  The more we do so in all areas of our lives, the better we will be equipped to handle the diverse world that we have, and the more opportunities for meaningful experiences we will be able to take advantage of.