PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part II)

September brought a lot of changes. 

Just about the time I began teaching, I discovered that I was pregnant.  The relentless nausea convinced me.

I needed to find a doctor, an obstetrician I could like…and trust.  My new friends, Lyn and Ted, knowledgeable about health-care professionals, came to my rescue.  Once I confided my suspicions to Lyn, she immediately recommended a couple of doctors who practiced together nearby.

Nausea propelled me to make an appointment.  After a routine test confirmed that I was pregnant, I began taking a prescribed med, but it didn’t lessen my nausea very much.  So I began to resort to other remedies.  My best discovery was…date shakes!

Happily, I could get fantastic date shakes at a shack along La Jolla Boulevard where it bordered Pacific Beach.  Not only did I revel in the flavor and texture of the date shakes, but their cold temperature also chilled my interior, dramatically lessening my nausea.  So whenever I drove that route to USD law school, I’d stop for a shake.  Once I arrived at USD, I discovered something else:  As soon as I stood in front of my class, the adrenaline that kicked in also kept my nausea at bay.

I was thrilled to be pregnant, but I didn’t relish having “morning sickness” that usually lasted all day.  First thing in the morning, I’d toast English muffins and smother them with apricot preserves. They helped me face the rest of the day.  I also had a crazy craving for club sandwiches, and I remember phoning a bunch of local restaurants to ask whether their menus included my new favorite dish.

Like every ob-gyn, Dr. Blank (his real name) prescribed daily vitamins.  When I brought his Rx to the drugstore, the pharmacist handed me a bottle whose label instructed me to take four pills a day.  But the pills were gigantic.  I couldn’t bring myself to swallow more than one or two of them a day.  I just couldn’t.  But I worried about it.  Was I neglecting my future child?  During my next doctor visit, I revealed my dilemma.  Dr. Blank was appalled. The pharmacist had read his handwriting incorrectly!  I needed only one of those monster pills a day.  Phew! 

Marv and I began haunting Mr. Frostie, a venerable soft-serve ice cream shop on Garnet Avenue.  Soft-serve ice cream wasn’t as good as a date shake, but it was cold enough to work for a while.  Later I discovered a great place for maternity clothes: The JC Penney store on Garnet.

One more purchase on Garnet:  A sewing machine I bought at the Sears Outlet, where a kindly salesman cheerfully instructed me how to use it.  I’d actually first learned to use a sewing machine in junior high in LA when I was 12.  (I bought the fabric I needed at the May Co. store on Wilshire Boulevard that’s now the site of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.)  But my skills had eroded, and I was happy to revive them.  I proceeded to make easily-sewn creations like maternity tops, ties for Marv, and baby pants in a gender-neutral fabric.

That September, America witnessed an exciting event in the sports world:  “The Battle of the Sexes.”  Because the event was important in my own world, I wrote about it after seeing the 2017 film loosely based on the big event [https://susanjustwrites.com/2017/11/20/the-battle-of-the-sexes-one-more-take-on-it/].  Here’s a chunk of what I wrote:

When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego.  I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.

I was watching the clock, assessing how long it would take me to drive from the law school to our recently-rented apartment in La Jolla.  Waiting at home was my handsome and super-smart husband Marv, finished for the day teaching math students at UCSD.

We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.”  I’d respond:  “Which one?”

Marv had snacks and drinks ready for us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match.  Nothing alcoholic for me.  Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses.  I think that came later.  I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to have them during my pregnancy.

Was it instinct or just dumb luck?  When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was vindicated.

I drove home with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.”  In the 2017 film, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly, portraying not only King’s triumph over Riggs but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.

Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.”  But the focus has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day.  By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own.  Watching the battle on TV, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.

As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  I’d answer “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.

I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter.  When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Marv and I were on top of the world.

Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria?  Euphoria that led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?

Maybe.  Tennis, anyone?

Later that fall, thanks to an appearance by diva Beverly Sills on a late-night TV show, we discovered that San Diego had an opera company where Sills had performed, and we eagerly bought season tickets.  One evening, I shoved my nausea aside and dressed in an elegant long dress that still fit me and headed for “Le Nozze di Figaro” at a downtown theater. The performance was so thrilling that we rushed out and bought the LP the very next day.  The season was filled with four other excellent performances, but “Figaro” remained our favorite.

In November, Marv and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving in Chatsworth, a suburb of LA, with my Aunt Sade and Uncle Sam.  (I liked to call my sweet Aunt Sade my “half-great aunt” because that sounded funny, but she really was the much younger half-sister of my mother’s father.)  We drove to Chatsworth and devoured a turkey-and-trimmings feast with Sade and Sam, their son Sid, and his family.  We loved being surrounded by their warmth that day. Scrutinizing my belly, one of them bravely asked whether I was expecting.  I happily replied yes!

In December, my mother made a visit to La Jolla, a big deal because she rarely left her beloved Chicago.  Mom’s travel wardrobe featured her very first pantsuit!  After seven decades of wearing nothing but skirts, she finally gave in and bought some stylish pants.  Mom slept on the cot we had purchased for our friend Arlyn, and, like Arlyn, she swore that it was comfortable.

Mom’s visit led to a few surprises.  Everyone in the U.S. had just started pumping our own gas.  Driving Mom somewhere, I stopped at a gas station, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and began pumping.  Mom gasped.  She was startled not only to see me performing this fairly new task, but also that I was doing it while pregnant.  Shocking!

Another surprise:  When we escorted Mom to Sea World, one of San Diego’s prime attractions, she took a look at the walrus and other sea creatures and suddenly warned me: “You shouldn’t look at these ugly animals. Looking at them…it’s not good for your baby!”  What?  Mom was a savvy businesswoman who kept up with the news by reading the Chicago Sun-Times every day.  Her bizarre warning had to stem from Old World thinking she’d heard long ago from her own European-born mother.  I was startled because it was the kind of thinking I’d never heard her express before.  Securely in the 20th century, I quickly assured her that these creatures would have absolutely no impact on my fetus!

On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated by taking Mom to a charming Italian restaurant that featured singing waiters serving a festive meal.  I wore a brand-new glamorous green maternity dress for the occasion and thought I looked smashing.  But something I ate unfortunately left an ugly stain I could never get out, so my memory of that beautiful evening is somewhat tarnished.

After Mom returned to Chicago, Marv and I took off for a weekend in Ensenada, a gorgeous spot in Baja California about 80 miles from San Diego, 62 of them on a somewhat bumpy road along the coast.  We’d traveled there from LA before we got married, and I had glorious memories of that trip. 

Our return to Ensenada was blissful.  We loved the breathtaking scenery, the food, and the lively but laid-back atmosphere.  (It wasn’t yet filled with tourists arriving on cruise ships, as it is now.)  We browsed the outdoor displays of ceramic wares and bought a colorful planter for our terrace.  It never occurred to me that we’d done anything unwise. 

But when I next saw Dr. Blank and told him about our trip, he was horrified.  He told me we’d taken a big risk by traveling to a fairly remote part of Baja California, where medical resources were much more limited than those in the U.S.  I could have developed serious medical issues in a location with none of the up-to-date care I would be able to get in San Diego.  And any attempt to travel back to San Diego could have taken much too long.  I soberly realized our mistake and was immensely grateful that we’d luckily escaped a medical emergency in Ensenada.

                                                                                                                                                                             To be continued….

Pacific Beach: An unforgettable year

(Part I)

The other day, while strolling down Union Street, a charming shopping street in my neighborhood, I spotted a tall man of a certain age across the street.  I could see him well enough to notice his shirt, brightly boosting PACIFIC BEACH in large red capital letters.

I caught his eye and waved, calling out “Pacific Beach!”  He gallantly waved back, and I went on my way.

But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget his shirt, a colorful reminder of an unforgettable year, roughly spanning August to August a few decades ago, and it reawakened my memories of that remarkable year.

We landed in San Diego in early August after a cross-country road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband (I’ll call him Marv) had a visiting professorship lined up at the University of California in San Diego, and I’d lined up a professorship (as an adjunct) at the University of San Diego Law School.  They were totally different schools, one a branch of the University of California, the other a law school located on the beautiful campus of a Catholic university.  But those initials—UCSD and USD—were so darn close.  One of my alumni magazines got my school’s name wrong and published a blurb stating that I was teaching at UCSD’s law school.  The only problem:  UCSD didn’t have a law school.

UCSD’s campus was, and is, located on the fringes of La Jolla, a posh (then and now) suburban-style area that’s actually part of the city of San Diego—although it likes to pretend it’s a separate city.  Marv and I, ecstatic to have escaped our life in Ann Arbor, began our hunt for a place to live near Marv’s campus. He would be spending all day every day there, while my commitment to USD was far less.  In the fall semester, I taught only one class, Poverty Law, one afternoon a week.  Teaching it required substantial preparation, but I could do much of it at home.

While we apartment-hunted, we stayed in a small motel on La Jolla Boulevard, where the proprietor showed off the exquisite tropical flowers she cultivated.  And we discovered nearby Pacific Beach, which featured a delightful collection of small restaurants and shops.  An early favorite was Filippi’s, a great spot for pizza we returned to again and again.

Our apartment-hunt led to our leasing a place that seemed to be a pretty good fit.  But while we waited for the telephone installer to show up, the kitchen’s fridge emitted a loud din that filled the entire apartment.  We extracted ourselves from that lease and kept looking.

A couple of family friends who’d left Chicago were now living in a beautiful apartment development on La Jolla Boulevard, not far from Marv’s campus and downtown La Jolla but still close to Pacific Beach.  We loved everything about it, but our first attempt to rent there resulted in failure.  Our friends encouraged us to keep trying, and when we tried again, the universe smiled on us:  the perfect apartment was available!  Not only could we rent a cheerful two-bedroom apartment with a geranium-filled terrace, but the development also featured two swimming pools, a sauna, and a great outdoor parking space.  We moved in quickly and soon felt right at home.  Marv and I loved splashing in one of the pools and tried out the sauna as well.

At the pool one day, I met a charming new friend:  a newly-retired nurse (I’ll call her Lyn).  We’d chat while we splashed around together.  Later she introduced Marv and me to her husband, a semi-retired physician (I’ll call him Ted).  They went on to play an important part in our lives.

We also enjoyed spending time with our family friends, Chicago transplants Tammy and Norm.  They were fond of a nearby pub called Bully’s and enticed us to try it.  It turned out to be a great neighborhood spot where Marv and I liked to linger in one of its red vinyl booths, relishing a beer and a perfectly-grilled burger.  When Bully’s closed in 2008, it garnered a heap of online comments bemoaning the loss of a revered pub.

After our furniture arrived from Ann Arbor, Marv and I began watching the Watergate hearings on TV.  We’d earlier witnessed some of the most dramatic events during the hearings, which began before we left Ann Arbor. The testimony of John Dean and Alexander Butterfield was especially notable.  Soon we resumed watching the televised hearings in La Jolla.  Marv was busy getting to know his colleagues and preparing for the fall semester at UCSD, but I was able to watch a big chunk of the gripping hearings, which featured one Tricky Dick revelation after another.  

In Ann Arbor, we’d also learned that Harvard Law Professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as a special Watergate prosecutor.  Although I’d never taken a course with Professor Cox when I was a law student at Harvard, I viewed him as a remarkably kind person, unlike many of the other, often arrogant, members of the faculty.  Walking through the tunnels that ran under the law school buildings (used by students and faculty to avoid Cambridge weather), I would sometimes encounter Professor Cox.  I firmly believe that he intentionally nodded, smiling, acknowledging me as one of the few women students at the time.  I would of course smile back, fervently wishing that I could be a student in one of his classes.

Later that year, now in La Jolla, Marv and I followed the notorious “Saturday Night Massacre” that resulted in Cox’s outrageous “firing.”  Live TV news coverage made clear what was happening before our eyes. We weren’t shocked by anything the Nixon administration was doing or had done, but it was nevertheless absorbing to follow every despicable twist and turn.

Meanwhile, we were relishing our new life, feeling immensely lucky to be in an exciting city filled with colorful flowers and charming Spanish-style architecture, as well as glorious views of the ocean we could see all along the coastline.  We walked everywhere in the gorgeous sunshine, surrounded by the beauty of a city jam-packed with countless inspiring sites.  The contrast with Ann Arbor, where we’d faced long gray winters and hot humid summers in a city that was far too limited for us, was stunning.

We discovered the extraordinary beauty of Balboa Park, and we spent many hours exploring its museums, flower gardens, and other color-saturated spots.  We also relished shopping and eating at a variety of businesses on Garnet Street in Pacific Beach.  (La Jolla shopping was usually a bit too pricey for us.) 

I almost never did any cooking that summer.  But on one visit to a local supermarket, I came across a piece of meat that spoke to me:  a brisket of beef.  So, one afternoon, with great anticipation, I put the brisket in our oven and took off for the Fashion Valley Mall some distance away.  I figured I’d be back in plenty of time, but I spent too long searching for the perfect top to go with my new blue pantsuit.  You can probably guess what happened.  I got home much later than expected and…I burned the brisket.

I very much wanted to have my own desk in our new home, and one of our bedrooms had a corner with just enough room for one.  Strapped for funds, we found a slightly-damaged desk at a random garage sale.  We promptly bought it, soon matching it with a hideous dinette chair I bought at a bargain-priced store.

August ended with a terrific change of pace.  A wonderful law-school friend (I’ll call her Arlyn) traveled from NYC to visit us in La Jolla.  Marv and I happily showed her all around the city we already loved, including a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo (where I wore my new pantsuit with the Fashion-Valley-Mall top).  Arlyn slept in our second bedroom (usually used as Marv’s office) on a cot we purchased expressly for her visit.  She swore that it was comfortable.

The three of us then took off for LA, driving together to the city where Marv and I had met and married.  We stayed in a small hotel near our old haunts in Westwood, where I blissfully dove into the pool as many times as I could.  It was Arlyn’s first trip to LA, and we were delighted to show her many of our favorite spots.  Our great trip to LA ended when we dropped Arlyn off at the airport just before Marv and I drove back to La Jolla.

September was about to begin, and the whole month looms large in my memory.  

Just about the time I began teaching my class at USD, I began to feel nauseated.  Astoundingly nauseated.  And the nausea was relentless.  Nothing I did could make it stop.

Was I….?

I was.       

  To be continued….

Happy Valentine’s Day? Maybe

 Much of the world celebrates today, February 14th, as Valentine’s Day.

Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year?  I’m wondering just who among us is.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who have a loving spouse or an ardent beau, you’re probably celebrating this year.

I was a member of that fortunate group during my loving marriage to my darling husband.  Our blissful marriage came to a halt only because a terrible disease ended my husband’s life.  I like to think that we’d still be celebrating our love today if he’d survived.

Since he died, I’ve had one or two romantic liaisons with others, but at this moment I’m in a different place.  Today my kids and grandkids are my primary givers and recipients of valentine cards and gifts, red and pink hearts splashed all over them.

Of course, today is a bonanza for some commercial enterprises.  Americans spent about $21 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2021, and experts predict that nearly $24 billion will be spent this year, making today the fifth largest spending event of the year (after the winter holidays and Mother’s Day).  Will inflation and supply-chain issues affect these totals?  Valentine’s Day is probably inflation-proof, and delightful gifts can always be tracked down.

Benefiting the most are florists (about $2.3 billion), purveyors of chocolates ($2.2 billion), jewelers ($6.2 billion), and sellers of other heart-emblazoned cards and gifts. 

Which raises another question.  Aside from elementary-school kids, required to bring a valentine for every other kid in class to avoid any Charlie-Brown-style left-out feelings, is anyone still buying valentine cards this year

I hope so.  I’d hate to see an end to the decades-long practice of sending sweet wishes to loved ones and friends on February 14th

While we’re still stuck in the middle of a pandemic, confronting scary international events, and facing ongoing political divisiveness, I find it heartening to recall happier, simpler times.

Today I’m thinking about an old friend and the valentines he gave me many years ago.

My friend (I’ll call him Alan R.) grew up with me on the Far North Side of Chicago.  We were in a pack of friends who attended the nearby elementary school.  This was back when all of us walked to school, walked home for lunch, and walked back to school again for the afternoon.

In 5th grade, I acquired a handsome “boyfriend.”  (Although we thought of each other as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” those terms simply meant that we had some sort of pre-teen crush on each other.)  My best friend Helene had a major crush on my boyfriend, but I was the lucky girl for whom he made a misshapen plastic pin when he went away to camp that summer.

By the fall, Alan R. had replaced him.

Alan was never one of the best-looking boys in our class.  He was tall for his age and somewhat awkward, and he tended to be rather hefty.  But he had a pleasant face and a pleasant way about him, and he became my 6th grade “boyfriend.”

In October that year, he invited a whole bunch of us to a Halloween party at his house.  Helene and I decided to don similar outfits—black t-shirts and skinny black skirts.  For some reason, we were trying to look like French “apache dancers.”  I wasn’t really sure what that term even meant, but I suspect that Helene’s savvy mother inspired us to choose that costume.  However it came about, we knew we looked terrific in our very cool garb.  We may have even added a beret to top it off.

Alan played the gracious host, and when the party wound down, he led us outside, and all of us paraded through the neighborhood, knocking on doors and yelling “trick or treat.”  It was a truly memorable Halloween, probably the most memorable Halloween of my childhood.

I don’t have a clear recollection of the next few months.  The days must have been filled with other parties, school events, and happy family outings.  But I definitely have a vivid memory of Valentine’s Day the following February.

When my classmates and I exchanged valentines, I discovered that Alan had given me two.  Not one.  Two.  And they weren’t the ordinary valentines you gave your friends.  These were store-bought pricier versions.  One was sentimental, flowery, and very sweet.  The other one was funny and made me laugh.

What exactly inspired Alan to show his affection for me that way?  We were fond of each other, but I don’t remember giving him a special valentine.

Looking back, I wonder about his decision to give me those two valentines.  Did he choose them by himself?  Did he have enough money saved from his 6th-grade-level allowance to pay for them?

As a mother, I can’t help wondering about the role his mother may have played.  Did she accompany him to the card store on Devon Avenue, the one where we all bought our valentines?  (A long-gone kind of neighborhood store most of us patronized back then.)  Was his mother standing next to him when he bought his valentines, offering her advice?  If she was, what did she think of this extravagance on his part?

I like to think that Alan came up with the idea and executed it all by himself.  He saved his money and brought it to the store with the firm intention to buy a valentine for me.  Then, when he saw the colorful display of cards in front of him, he couldn’t decide whether to show his affection with a flowery card or to try to make me laugh with a funny one.

So he bought one of each, and, head held high, he gave both of them to me. 

I hope I exhibited a response that pleased him.  I can’t remember exactly what I did.  But I know that his delightful gesture has stayed with me ever since.

Sadly, those valentines disappeared when my mother scoured our home one day and tossed everything she considered inconsequential.  But they weren’t inconsequential to me.  I still remember the thrill of receiving not one but two valentines from my caring beau.

Everything changed in 7th grade.  A new school, new boyfriends, and new issues at home when my father’s health grew worrisome.  As always, life moved on.

Alan R. died a few years ago, and I wrote this story about him then.  He and I had drifted apart long before he died, but his fondness for me during 6th grade never faded from my memory.

Did Alan’s flattering attention give me the confidence to deal with some of the rocky times that lay ahead?  Teenage years can be tough.  Mine often were.  But his two-valentine tribute stayed with me forever.

Thanks, dear Alan, for being a warm and caring young person, even at the age of 12.  Although our lives went on to have their rough patches, the valentines you gave me back in 6th grade have never been forgotten.

Try laughing

We’ve been going through a rough patch.  Name it:  Covid fatigue, our overly-partisan political scene, endless stories about Russia’s possible assault on Ukraine.

Can anything pull us out of the dumps?  The New York Times recently talked to a bunch of medical professionals who came up with a solution:  Try a little laughter.

A cardiologist at a med school in Maryland called humor not only a distraction from grim reality but also a winning strategy to stay healthy.  “Heightened stress magnifies the risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Michael Miller.  “Having a good sense of humor is an excellent way to relieve stress and anxiety and bring back a sense of normalcy during these turbulent times.”

Is there a scientific basis for the benefits of laughter?  Actually, there is.  Laughter releases nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, and decreases clotting.  At least two studies have demonstrated its positive effects.  In Japan, a study of older men and women confirmed that those who tended to laugh more had a lower risk of major cardiovascular illness.  And a study in Norway reported that possessing a sense of humor was associated with living longer, especially for women.

A neuroscientist at University College London, Sophie Scott, pointed out that laughter has been shown to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, thereby increasing the body’s uptake of feel-good endorphins.

Ready for more?  There may also be cognitive benefits. According to a study conducted at Loma Linda University, watching a funny video was related to improvements in short-term memory in older adults; they also increased their capacity to learn.

The Times noted that some hospitals have initiated formal humor programs, making funny books and videos available to their patients.  One nurse-manager who works with chronic-pain patients has tried teaching them laughter-exercises and other ways to enhance positive feelings like gratitude and forgiveness.  Although the stress of the pandemic could make the experience of pain worse, she found that humor helped her patients “relax and release their grip on pain.”  She advised patients to set aside time for humor on a daily basis (much like setting aside time for physical activity).  She also recommended having “laughter first-aid boxes,” where patients can stash items like joke books and funny toys. Instead of their simply taking a pill, she liked encouraging people to “cultivate the healing power of laughter,” helping them to be in control.

Dr. Miller added that he was trying to bring a dose of comic relief into his own medical work, and he believed that his colleagues had begun to do the same.  “The culture is beginning to shift—injecting humor and humanity back into medicine,” he said.  If you can’t change the world around you, you can at least “change how you view it.  Humor gives us the power to do that.”

So…if you’re thinking about choosing something to read or watch, consider something funny.  It may be tempting to opt for anxiety-producing suspense or stories fraught with horror, but if you need a lift, you’re probably better off with humor. 

My choice?  I’m off to watch one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Marine Biologist.  “The sea was angry that day, my friends”–but I won’t be angry or stressed.  I’ll be laughing!

A Remarkable Friend

This is a brief tribute to a remarkable friend, Karen Ferguson, who died last month.  You can read more about her life in the following obits:

New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/30/business/retirement/karen-ferguson-dead.html
Washington Post  https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2021/12/29/pension-rights-karen-ferguson-dies/

Why was Karen remarkable? As the Times noted, she was “a Nader Raider, one of a legion of young public-interest lawyers who flocked to Washington” in the 1970s to work for Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who was at that time a heroic figure on the American political scene.  She chose to devote herself to working on pension law, an “unglamorous-sounding subject” that was actually full of human drama, where she was able to champion workers’ rights and effect enormous changes to benefit their future.

I met Karen and became her lifelong friend when we were both students at Harvard Law School in the 1960s.  I had just moved into Wyeth Hall, the women’s dorm, during my first year, and the delightful Karen Willner was in her third year.  Karen’s warmth immediately enveloped me, a lowly 1L. Happily for me, we stayed in touch after she graduated.

While I was finishing my three years at HLS, Karen married John Ferguson, who decided to attend the University of Chicago Law School, and together they headed for Chicago.  Karen wrote to tell me that she’d begun working at a downtown Chicago law firm, where she was the first and only woman lawyer. 

During my third year of law school, I actually interviewed with that firm.  Disillusioned with the D.C. of Richard Nixon (my original destination), I was thinking about returning to Chicago, my home town.  Although I hoped to get a clerkship with a federal judge, I also interviewed with several Chicago law firms.  After chatting for a while, the recruiter for Karen’s firm told me outright, “We just hired our first woman, and we’re waiting to see how she works out before we hire another one.”  (This interview took place after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the recruiter was violating federal law when he said that.)  I’ve told this story many times, to the amazement of most listeners, and I like to add that I knew who that “first woman” was:  Karen.

When I returned to Chicago, I began working for U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman [please see “Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman,” a ten-post series beginning at https://susanjustwrites.com/2020/11/13/hangin-with-judge-hoffman/].  With both of us living and working in Chicago, Karen and I enthusiastically resumed our friendship.  Because John was busy with his law school studies, Karen and I saw each other many times in downtown Chicago.  And one memorable evening, Karen, John, and I went together to see “The Yellow Submarine” at a downtown movie theater. 

I was sad when Karen and John departed for D.C. after he finished law school (and began his career as an NLRB attorney).  But their departure led to Karen’s groundbreaking new chapter in her life as a lawyer:  her launch into helping people by reforming pension law, with fairness as her first priority. 

We managed to stay in close touch during the many years that followed.  My memory-bank is filled with happy memories of our long friendship, including wonderful times spent together in both D.C. and Chicago.

I loved following Karen’s career, deeply enmeshed in working on pension-reform legislation, including the Retirement Equity Act of 1984, signed into law by President Reagan, and the Butch Lewis Act, signed into law last year by President Biden.  I reviewed her excellent book, Pensions in Crisis (original title: The Pension Book).  My glowing reviews appeared in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on January 25, 1996, and the Chicago Tribune on May 13, 1996 (“Pension Problems Come Alive, Along with Practical Guidance”).

Karen’s never-failing efforts to establish a secure and adequate retirement system, on top of expanded Social Security, are still under discussion on Capitol Hill. 

I also loved learning about the wonderful family she and John created, including her son, Andrew Ferguson, a lawyer, writer, and law professor at American University, and his wife and children.  My review and discussion of Andrew’s important book, Why Jury Duty Matters, appeared on this blog in April 2013. [Please see https://susanjustwrites.com/2013/04/03/does-jury-duty-matter/%5D

One more thing:  When I wrote my first novel, A Quicker Blood (published in 2009), I named my protagonist, a young woman lawyer, “Karen.”  I later brought her back as the protagonist in my third novel, Red Diana (published in 2018).  Was I thinking of my friend Karen when I chose that name?  I was. And all of the current nonsense focused on the name “Karen” infuriates me.  Although there may be a few women with that name who have acted inappropriately toward others, it’s totally unwarranted to pigeonhole all Karens that way.  Just think of Karen Ferguson and all that she’s done to make the lives of hard-working Americans more secure.  That’s in addition to her being a delightful human being, beloved by everyone who knew her.

In short, I was supremely lucky to know Karen Ferguson and to call her my friend for over five decades.  I’ve lost—indeed, we’ve all lost–one of the very best people on Planet Earth.

A Christmas story? Not really

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”

Is this about the supply-chain issues hindering the search for Christmas presents this year?

No.  It’s not.

What is it about?  Well, some of you may recognize the “Christmas presents” quote as the famous first sentence in a famous book.  “Christmas won’t be Christmas…” is the memorable first sentence in the enduring classic, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

The sentence is spoken by Jo, the most prominent of the book’s “little women” and Alcott’s alter ego, a strong young woman who’s determined to create a meaningful life for herself.  Jo, her three sisters, and their mother make up a New England family confronting the Civil War and its impact on their lives, while the girls’ father is a doctor treating Union soldiers somewhere far from home.  Short of funds, the family faces a Christmas with no presents.

This extraordinary book has long been the favorite of generations of readers.  In my case, it was one of only two books that, as a young girl, I read more than once.  I was a voracious reader and usually moved on quickly from one book to another.  Little Women was an exception.  (The other was Black Beauty.)  I reread Little Women because it was so beautifully written and so relatable to me as a young girl who, like Jo, wanted to create a meaningful life for myself.

Little Women has influenced a number of filmmakers, most recently Greta Gerwig, whose 2019 version offered a new take on it.  The “Christmas presents” line is buried nearly halfway through Gerwig’s film.  In every other film and dramatization I’ve seen, Jo speaks that line at the very beginning of the story, just as Alcott wrote it. 

Now I’ll explain how the “Christmas presents” line in Little Women relates to my own life.  Not as a reader or filmgoer, but as a preteen taking classes at the long-gone and now legendary Harand Studios in downtown Chicago.

I’m not sure how I first learned about the Harand Studios (officially called the Harand Studios of the Theatre Arts), but once I did, I promptly asked my parents to let me enroll there. 

I was eleven that fall, turning twelve the following spring, and my father had undergone surgery for colon cancer during the summer.  Happily, he’d recovered and returned to work as a pharmacist at a drug store at Sheridan Road and Lawrence Avenue, about three miles from our apartment on the Far North Side.  He didn’t love this job, but it was a source of needed income for our family of four.  My mother helped, working part-time elsewhere, and her earnings added to our coffers.

I knew it would be something of an extravagance for me to enroll at the Harand Studios (hereafter “Harand”).  Although my mother loved and cared for me, I don’t think she was terribly eager to pay for my lessons at Harand.  But Daddy was a softie, enamored with his two red-haired daughters, and he often indulged me when Mom didn’t.

And so I turned up at Harand one Saturday morning, excited to begin this new chapter in my young life.  Daddy drove me the twelve miles from our apartment to the studio, located on the second floor of a corner building on North Michigan Avenue, not far from the Allerton Hotel.  Michigan Avenue was still a quiet boulevard filled with low-rise, often charming and unique buildings, like the Michigan Square Building encompassing the exquisite Diana Court with its sculpture by the noted Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. 

Riding downtown with Daddy was a special treat.  During that ride, I had him all to myself, and I didn’t have to share him with my older sister.  After he dropped me off, he drove back north about nine miles to the drugstore where he worked, dispensing medicine and advice to customers for the rest of the day.

That first morning, I climbed a flight of stairs to the second floor, arriving at the studio not sure what to expect.  It turned out to be a magical place, filled with rooms that focused on three areas:  drama, music, and dance. 

The studio was the brainchild of two sisters, Sulie and Pearl Harand, who came up with the idea of a children’s arts studio in Chicago.  Sulie had studied opera, at one point coached by Kurt Herbert Adler, who later became the artistic director of the San Francisco Opera.  She won contests in Chicago and played clubs across the Midwest, performing tributes to Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and others.  Turning to musical theatre, she created one-woman shows, traveling throughout the country to perform in them.  And while she continued performing, she and her sister Pearl opened the Harand Studios.  

Pearl, a former member of the Chicago Repertory Theatre, primarily taught drama while Sulie primarily taught voice.

For me, the drama lessons at Harand were the most memorable.  Maybe because my love for drama had begun early.  As a small child, I took the part of Jerry, the animated mouse who’d appeared in a 1945 MGM musical, “Anchors Aweigh,” starring Gene Kelly.  Kelly danced and sang with the animated mouse in “The King Who Wouldn’t Sing or Dance,” inserted in the film as a charming story Kelly tells a group of kids. 

I must have been the very young student of a drama and music teacher who enlisted me to perform Jerry’s role in a recital.  I have only dim memories of this event, but I distinctly remember my own musical number and reveling in the applause as my older partner (playing Kelly’s role) and I took a bow.

My next dramatic role came along when I graduated from kindergarten.  My teacher chose me to play the starring role in our class’s performance of “Sleeping Beauty.”  (Prince Charming was played by my classmate Richard Just.  I wonder where he is now.)  Once again, I loved the audience reaction to my Sleeping Beauty, garbed in a wedding-party dress my cousin Anna hand-sewed for me. (Anna, my mother, and I had chosen the pale blue organza fabric at the long-departed fabric department at Marshall Field’s on State Street.)  But I had to pretend to fall asleep on the hard wooden floor of the auditorium stage, and I recall being mad that I couldn’t lie on a soft sofa instead.  A prima donna at age 6!

I later appeared on that same stage in other productions (we called them “assemblies”).  The most unforgettable took place one February around the time of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I remember reading a poignant poem about Lincoln as well as portraying someone in his southern Illinois town.

Now, here I was, at age 11, immersed in dramatic pursuits at Harand.  And here was where the “Christmas presents” quote became a lifelong memory.   An abiding memory because Pearl Harand chose me to play Jo in the opening scene from Little Women, and I recited that line in many, many repetitions of that scene. 

At Harand, I also participated with enthusiasm in our music and dancing classes.  Music was usually supervised by Sulie Harand, along with Elaine F, a young and immensely talented pianist and singer.  Elaine was only 15 when she was hired to play at Harand on Saturday mornings and after school.  I vividly remember her piano artistry and how she taught our class some of the original songs she’d written.  (I can still sing much of “My First Big Dance.”)  I was lucky to forge lifelong friendships with both Elaine and her younger sister Natalie, another student at Harand.  To this day, Natalie, a steadfast friend, remembers that she “loved our Saturday mornings there!”

I enjoyed dance lessons as well.  Although my dance memories are pretty foggy, I do remember that we danced in a room with a mirrored wall and a ballet barre.

My best friend, Helene, who lived next door (and remains a friend), got wind of Harand and wanted to get in on the action.  She also recalls attending classes, taking buses to get there, but dropped out after a short time because she was “not talented!”  She and another friend, Renee, were “probably the worst ones” there.

But I was ecstatic about my Saturday mornings at Harand and kept going as long as I could.  When classes ended each week, I would emerge onto Michigan Avenue, sometimes stopping for a warm cookie at the small bakery on the first floor.  I’d catch a bus that would take me to my father’s drugstore, and my Saturday afternoons thus became memorable, too.

The drugstore had an old-fashioned marble-topped lunch counter, where Daddy would make sure I ate a good lunch, sometimes accompanied by a sugary beverage like a cherry “phosphate.”  I’d eat my lunch seated on a stool I could spin to my heart’s content.  Some of you may remember lunch counters like that one. 

They became famous a few years later when civil rights activists in the South protested segregationist policies, beginning in 1960 with a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.  The sit-in movement spread throughout the South, and places like Woolworth’s were ultimately forced to change their policies.

While I waited to go home with Daddy, I would carefully look over the drugstore’s merchandise.  I especially relished spinning the racks of paperback books and deciding which ones to show to Daddy.  Together we chose plays by Shakespeare and other classics, usually priced at the exorbitant sum of 25 cents.  I treasured our choices and saved them for years, until their cheap construction finally led to their literally falling apart.

At the end of Daddy’s workday, we’d climb back into our car, a 1948 Chevy, formerly a boring postwar gray and now a bright emerald green. (Daddy had hired someone to do the paint job.)  Together we’d drive home for dinner with my mother and sister. 

I never went much further with my dramatic pursuits.  That’s a story for another day.  But the “Christmas presents” line from Little Women has stayed with me, decade after decade.

Daddy died about a year after I began those classes at Harand.  The enormity of his loss changed my life and left a huge hole that remains today.

Those glorious Saturdays we spent together during the year before he died? They are enduring and powerful memories in my memory-bank, and they will remain there forever.

Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving 2021 has come and gone.  But let’s reflect on it for a moment.

As we celebrated the holiday this year, our country was facing a number of serious problems:  climate change, political divisions, the continuing coronavirus pandemic.  But we’ve had reason to be thankful for some positive changes as well.

Among the positive changes we can point to is the long-overdue recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, like those who were at the “first Thanksgiving.”  Unlike the traditional and untrue telling of the story of that event—a story that’s still perpetuated in at least some of the schools our children attend—the people who were already here (commonly called American Indians or Native Americans) did not view the Pilgrims’ celebratory feast as a happy one.

Even then, at the very beginning of our country’s history, the Indian people who were confronted with Europeans arriving on their shores viewed them not as welcome guests but as a threat. 

If that was indeed the judgment of their leaders, they were right.  The new settlers were oppressors who drove the native peoples off their land—in the words of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, these “ancestors…who stewarded our lands since time immemorial.”

Secretary Haaland, the first Native American appointed to a major cabinet post by a U.S. President and a former member of the U.S. Congress, spoke at a ceremony on November 19th, marking the 52nd anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island by indigenous people in 1969.  During her remarks, she announced that she had established a process to review and replace derogatory names currently attached to our nation’s geography.

Specifically, Secretary Haaland ordered the federal board tasked with naming geographic places, the Board on Geographic Names, to remove the term “squaw” from federal usage.  The Board, established in 1890, has in the past identified derogatory terms on a case-by-case basis, but more extensive replacements have also occurred.  In 1962, Secretary Steward Udall identified the N-word as derogatory and directed the Board to eliminate its use.  In 1974, the Board similarly identified a pejorative term for “Japanese” as derogatory and eliminated its use.

Most Americans may be unaware that the term “squaw” is a derogatory term used for many years to demean women, especially Native women.  But Haaland was outspoken in condemning it.  She said, “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands.  Our nation’s lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage—not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression.”

Several states have already passed legislation prohibiting the use of this term in place names, including Montana, Oregon, Maine, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Minnesota.  Legislation is currently pending in both chambers of Congress to address derogatory names on public land.

The new order to eliminate this woman-demeaning term presents a significant problem in California.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported on November 24th that an estimated 100-plus places in California carry the derogatory name.  These include peaks, streams, trails, and other geographic features.  According to the ACLU, there may be as many as 113 sites in California using this term.  Looming large are two small towns in Northern California called Squaw Valley, one in North Lake Tahoe, the other in Fresno County.

The Chronicle reported a statement by Roman Rain Tree, a member of a band of Native tribes indigenous to the Fresno County area, who has been organizing a grassroots effort to rename the rural town of Squaw Valley.  Secretary Haaland, he said, has made “a giant leap forward.  It restores my belief that the government has elected officials who will look after our community.”

The Chronicle also reported that the California State Parks have identified a number of geographic features carrying the name and intend to rename them, moving us “closer to the goal of reckoning with our past, making space for healing and promoting equity.”  Removing the term is seen as a priority.

More troublesome is renaming the towns called Squaw Valley.  According to the Chronicle, thousands of people have already signed an online petition to change the name of the town in Fresno County.  But some residents of the community have “balked at the idea, contending that ‘squaw’ isn’t universally offensive.”  A county supervisor said that “Squaw Valley is offensive to some, but not all.  … [T]he local community needs to be involved in that conversation.”

Meanwhile, the Tahoe ski resort, long named Squaw Valley, has already changed its name to Palisades Tahoe.  Now it apparently needs to do a better job of publicizing its new name.  A short time ago, I heard an ABC weather reporter still refer to it on national television as “Squaw Valley.”

The San Francisco Examiner also reviewed some of these issues on November 25th, writing about a ceremony to be held at Alcatraz Island on what most of us viewed as Thanksgiving Day but others viewed as “a day of mourning for Indigenous people, also known as “Unthanksgiving Day.’” This ceremony first took place in 1975, six years after indigenous activists occupied the island to claim it as a place promised to them in a treaty that was later broken by the federal government.  April McGill, executive director of the American Indian Cultural Center, told the Examiner that she hoped “people think about what the holiday really means and rethink it…[not] to do away with the holiday altogether but to remove the celebration of Thanksgiving, instead [to think of it as showing] gratitude for the fall harvest.”

At the same time, California is just beginning to reckon with its long and ugly history regarding the treatment of American Indians.  An essay by John Briscoe, published in the Chronicle on November 28th, outlines this history, noting that while California was admitted to the union in 1850 as a “free state,” it was, in truth, “conceived in genocide” of its Native Americans.  A long-established principle of law required the U.S. to honor the private property rights of indigenous peoples.  Instead, the state of California openly sponsored the “theft” of land belonging to the local tribes that lived here.  Indians were also subject to the state’s Indian Slavery Act (enacted despite being in violation of the state’s constitution) until it was repealed in 1937.

Serranus Hastings, California’s first chief justice, profited off the enslavement of Indians, and the law school in San Francisco that bears his name is now in the process of renaming itself.   Briscoe writes that Hastings, Leland Stanford, and many others acquired vast tracts of land through violence against Indians and made fortunes in real estate as a result.  “California Indians had rights guaranteed by law—American domestic law and international law—[including] the right not to be murdered, not to be enslaved, not to be stripped at gun and knife point of their ancestral lands.”  But, he says, each of these rights “was systematically and repeated violated by the state of California.” 

In 2019, there was belated acknowledgment of these wrongs.  Governor Gavin Newsom officially apologized “on behalf of the citizens of the state of California to all California Native Americans for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect California inflicted on tribes.”  Newsom also created a Truth and Healings Council to clarify the historical record.

Although we should never forget past inequities, which have occurred throughout our country and its long history, we should also acknowledge the positive changes that have taken place in recent years.  With Native American Deb Haaland as our new Secretary of the Interior, the U.S. may finally be moving towards equity for our indigenous peoples.

I, for one, am happy to know that some of these changes have happened in time for Thanksgiving 2021.

Dancing With Abandon on Chicago TV

He was a good-looking bespectacled teenager with a full head of shiny brown hair.  I’ll call him Lowell M.  He helped out after school at Atlas Drugs, the corner drugstore near the small apartment where I lived with my widowed mother and older sister during my high school years.

I grew to hate that cramped apartment and would often plead with my mother to move somewhere else, but she never would.  I eventually escaped when I went off to live on the campus of the great university 300 miles away that enabled me to make my escape by giving me what’s now called a “free ride.”

Back to Lowell M.:  When I exited from the crowded Peterson Avenue bus I took home from high school every day, Lowell was usually working at the front counter of Atlas Drugs, just across Washtenaw Avenue from the bus stop’s drop-off corner.  While the drugstore’s owner-pharmacist was busy dispensing meds in the back of the store, Lowell would dispense the kind of clever pleasantries expected of us, two of the best and brightest our high school had to offer.  He was in the class ahead of mine, and we happily chatted about school and a whole host of other topics while I would select a package of Wrigley chewing gum or some blonde bobby pins (which didn’t really match my bright red hair) or whatever else had brought me into Atlas Drugs that day.

Lowell must have taken a liking to me because one afternoon, out of the blue, he asked me to accompany him to Chicago TV’s “Bandstand.”  This was shockingly, astoundingly, incredibly fantastic, and I could barely believe it.  Somehow Lowell had secured two tickets to Chicago’s version of “American Bandstand,” an after-school TV show broadcast on WGN-TV.  I haven’t been able to track down anything about that show on the internet, so I don’t think it stayed on the air for very long.  But I’ve stored some vivid memories of it in my nearly overflowing memory-bank.

It was the late-’50s, and my mother had switched from reading the Chicago Tribune to the Chicago Sun-Times after my father died and we left our temporary home in LA to return to Chicago.  (I’ll save the story of that move for another day.)  But my father had been a faithful reader of the Tribune before he died, and I can still see the Tribune’s front page, proclaiming that it was the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.”  Its far-right-wing publisher, tycoon Col. Robert R. McCormick, came up with that phrase, and its initials—WGN—became the call letters of the Tribune’s radio station and later its TV channel.

During the semester I’d spent in LA, I watched its local TV’s version of “American Bandstand” when I’d get home from school.  Hosting high school kids from all over LA to dance on TV, it featured the exciting new pop music that was emerging all over the country. 

Now I was about to attend a TV program just like that one.

Why did Lowell ask me to join him?  I was never really sure.  Maybe, just seeing me at the drug store that day, he asked me on a whim.  But no matter.  I accepted Lowell’s invitation with alacrity and rushed home to tell my sister and mother about my upcoming appearance on local TV.  Dancing to the latest pop music, no less.

My sister kindly (and somewhat uncharacteristically) offered to lend me her smashing new top, a black-and-cream-colored number with tiny horizontal stripes (much more flattering than wide ones).  She was always more interested in fashion trends than I was, and for once I was grateful that she was.

Somehow Lowell and I met up at the appropriate time and made our way downtown to the Tribune buildings located on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.  We probably took the Peterson bus and transferred to the bus that ran along Michigan Avenue, but to be truthful, my memory’s a bit foggy on that score.  Eventually we entered the radio-TV broadcasting building, built ten years after the Tribune Tower itself, and we entered one of the 14 new studios added in 1950, probably one of the four designated for TV.

Ushered into the large studio, filled with other teenagers from all over “Chicagoland” (a term invented by the Tribune), we soon were dancing to the musical hits of the day.  My still-enduring favorites include “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley, “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes, and “Sh-boom” by the Crew Cuts.

TV cameras whirled around the studio, capturing Lowell and me in our own version of “Saturday Night Fever,” two decades before that film appeared.

I recall having a fabulous time, dancing with abandon to my musical favorites, and I thought that Lowell did, too.  But I was disappointed when Lowell never asked me to do anything else with him, like go to a movie (a favored pastime of my friends and me).  So it’s possible that he may not have had the truly memorable time I had. 

Did I continue to see Lowell behind the counter of Atlas Drugs?  Maybe.  At least for a while.  But my guess is that he eventually moved on to other after-school jobs that were more in keeping with his burgeoning interest in the business world.

As he approached graduation a year before I did, Lowell began dating a friend of mine who was in his graduating class, and the two of them later married.  Lowell went on to college, earned an MBA, and built a successful business career. 

I went in a different direction.  Fascinated by the world of politics, I pursued two degrees in political science and landed finally in law school, aiming for the kind of career I wanted to follow as a lawyer and a writer.

But the memories of my exhilarating afternoon at Chicago’s version of “American Bandstand” have stayed firmly lodged in my memory-bank.  I will be forever grateful to Lowell M, who—perhaps on a whim—opened the door to those dazzling memories so many years ago.

This story begins in Acapulco, but it doesn’t end in Yellowknife

The powerful earthquake that shook Acapulco and Mexico City a week ago made me worry about the damage that it might inflict on those two cities.  At the same time, it revived memories of the many trips I’ve made to Mexico during the past five decades.

My first trip, in February 1970, stands out from all the rest for a bunch of reasons.  It was, notably, my first encounter with the beautiful country of Mexico.

It also represented a tremendous leap from bitter-cold Chicago to a sunny and flower-filled part of the world I couldn’t wait to visit…as well as a total departure from months of hard work at my job.

Until the day I left Chicago for Acapulco–Saturday, February 21–I’d been largely preoccupied with my work as co-counsel in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restrictive Illinois abortion law.  We filed our lawsuit on Friday the 20th, and I took off for Mexico feeling a great sense of relief as well as anticipation.

Some background:  My first job after finishing law school was law clerk for a U.S. district court judge, Julius J. Hoffman.  [I’ve described my two-year clerkship in a series of blog posts beginning in November 2020.  Please see the first post in the series at https://susanjustwrites.com/2020/11/13/hangin-with-judge-hoffman/%5D  After leaving Hoffman, I assumed a new role that validated why I’d gone to law school in the first place:  a Reggie Fellowship, assigned to work at my chosen office, the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago.  [I’ve discussed the Reggie program earlier.  Please see https://susanjustwrites.com/2015/08/07/the-summer-of-69/%5D

As a Reggie, my goal was to achieve law reform for the poor, and I began to focus on my role as a lawyer working on behalf of poor women and men in Chicago. 

So, after a month or two as a Reggie, I conceived the idea of challenging the Illinois abortion law, which clearly had its most profound effect on poor and minority women.  My supervisor approved of my working on this issue, and I was soon allied with another woman lawyer (at the ACLU in Chicago), who became my co-counsel and lifelong friend.  [I’m currently engaged in a writing project focused on this lawsuit.]

After months of hard work, we filed our lawsuit with the U.S. district court in Chicago on February 20, 1970, and I left the next day for my eagerly awaited respite from work, my trip to Acapulco and Mexico City.

In lieu of traveling with a close friend or relative, I set off on my own, but I’d arranged to spend part of my time with another single woman who was also traveling on her own.  I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed sympatica and was knowledgeable about traveling in Mexico.  I’ll call her Sandy.

My first stop was Acapulco and a bargain-priced hotel located near some luxurious hotels.  Sandy, who’d chosen this hotel, arrived shortly after I did and assured me that we could safely melt into the crowd sunning themselves around a pool at one of the other hotels.  (Our place had only a small, mostly unused pool.)  So we probably violated all sorts of rules when we made our way to a crowded luxury-hotel pool, filled with the cool young people of that era, and lounged there, undisturbed, delighted to have escaped the frigid Chicago winter.

I immediately fell in love with Mexico.  Acapulco turned out to be a beautiful spot, exciting and still relatively unspoiled by American tourists.

After soaking up the sun and the nighttime scene in Acapulco for a few days, Sandy and I moved on to a large middle-priced hotel in a great location in Mexico City.  Sandy had taken up with a young man she’d met in Acapulco, and although I occasionally paired up with another young man, making up a foursome, once Sandy and I were in Mexico City I decided to go off on my own most of the time.  So I proceeded to roam parts of the city I wanted to explore, feeling quite safe wherever I went.  I impulsively purchased a ticket for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico and ecstatically viewed a stunning dance performance filled with music and dances reflecting many regions of Mexico, some incorporating the traditions of its indigenous peoples.  And I made a memorable visit to the National Museum of Anthropology.

Before leaving Mexico, I wanted to see some of the other exciting locations described in my guidebook, and I signed up for a small private tour whose guide would pick me up at my hotel one morning and drop me off there at the end of the day.

So early one morning, I headed to the hotel lobby.  Soon a large black car arrived, driven by a pleasant young man who spoke excellent English, and I climbed inside, joining a few other tourists who were taking the same tour. 

The driver took us first to Teotihuacan, about an hour north of Mexico City, where we saw its astonishing pyramids.  I energetically climbed the Pyramid of the Sun, feeling immersed in pre-Columbian Mexico.  (Teotihuacan dates back as long as 1000 years before the arrival of the Aztecs, and the pyramid I climbed may have been built in the 4th century.)  Seeing the view from the top was exhilarating!

We proceeded to make two other stops:  the charming town of Cuernavaca and the town of Taxco, for centuries a center of silver production.  The people who lived in Taxco mined silver long before the Spanish arrived, using it for Aztec ceremonies as well as jewelry. 

I climbed the steps of Taxco’s 18th-century church, the Church of Santa Prisca, and devoured a tostada, purchased at a nearby restaurant, feasting on the tostada along with the gorgeous view from the top of those steps.  The memory of that indescribably delicious tostada, and the view, has never left me.  After choosing a couple of silver pins at a small jewelry shop (I still cherish one in the shape of the Aztec calendar stone), I reluctantly climbed back into the black car for our return trip to Mexico City, knowing that this ride meant the end of my glorious trip.

En route, I discovered that I was seated with a friendly middle-aged couple who announced that they hailed from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada.  Yes, Yellowknife.  I’d honestly never heard of it before.  I later learned that it was the capital of the Northwest Territories, located on the north shore of the Great Slave Lake.  And it’s famed for its frigid weather.  The average winter temperature is about 30 degrees below zero, and it’s rarely above 40-below.  More than half of each year, deep snow covers the ground.

When this couple learned that I was single, they immediately began to promote Yellowknife, even though I’m sure that they themselves had happily escaped its astonishingly frigid temperatures.

Both husband and wife, sharing a mindset typical of 1970, jumped to the conclusion that I wanted nothing more out of life than to find a husband.  “Come to Yellowknife,” they implored, clearly eager to add to their ranks.  “You’ll find a husband as soon as you arrive.”  (Yellowknife apparently had an overabundance of marriageable men.)

I admit that I had trouble keeping a straight face.  But I immediately assured them that I wasn’t looking for a husband.  I had a fulfilling career and didn’t intend to move anywhere in search of a partner.  I hope I avoided being rude, never adding that, even if I did decide to move, it certainly wouldn’t be to a place like Yellowknife. 

If anything, I thought to myself, I’d move to an exciting new city and definitely somewhere warmer, not colder, than Chicago.

As it turned out, my trip to Mexico—a country loaded with brilliant sunshine and unlimited quantities of breathtakingly colorful flowers—actually did make me think about moving somewhere warmer.  When I returned to Chicago, I began to focus on a possible move, most likely to California.  (My earlier plan to move to DC had ended with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.)   During my Reggie training, I’d met the director of a legal services program, located at UCLA law school, who’d expressed interest in hiring me to work for him at the end of my Reggie year in Chicago. 

What exactly propelled me to move? 

I’d been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Chicago for a number of reasons. Aside from my job, which I found very meaningful, much too much about the city no longer charmed me. For one thing, I hated the long cold gray winters. The political scene, dominated by a benevolent dictator, depressed me. Repeated visits to the Art Institute no longer left me giddy. And I found the social scene sadly lacking. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t any male companionship. I’d been dating a number of young men. But none of them had struck a spark. So, in the absence of any compelling reason to stay in the city, I began considering my options.

Then there was a blizzard in Chicago on April 1st.  Using a popular term of the day, I told friends that it “radicalized” me and led me to think seriously about moving to California.   [Please see “A Snowy April 1st,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2018/05/%5D

I traveled in May to San Francisco and LA, both for job interviews and for a glimpse into the sort of life I’d have if I moved to one of those fabulous cities. The prospect of that life struck me as quite appealing and at least worth a try.

By June, I decided to give up the lease on my Chicago apartment, sell most of my furniture, and make plans to fly to LA in late August, where I would take that job at UCLA.

I’ve described elsewhere what happened once I landed in LA.  [Please see, e.g., “Another love story,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2021/05/24/another-love-story/ and https://susanjustwrites.com/2021/05/26/another-love-story-2/%5D

But here’s my belated response to that couple from Yellowknife:  I’m sorry I disappointed you by not adding to your frostbitten population.  I think you probably meant well, but your assumption that I would even consider moving to your hometown–to find a husband–was actually offensive.  

When we met, I was in no way desperately searching for a husband.  Thankfully, I never was.  I decided a few months later to leave Chicago for LA, not knowing how my life there would turn out.  But I never contemplated for even one brief moment moving somewhere like Yellowknife.

Instead, I headed elsewhere, aiming to find—and finding–a glorious future filled with warmth and many, many sunny days ahead.

“Thank you for not killing me”

   

No, I’m not addressing the still raging coronavirus or the global pandemic it’s created.  Although I could be addressing Covid-19 and its variants.  I guess I’m grateful to the virus and its cohorts for having spared me so far. (Being fully vaccinated since spring has no doubt helped.)

I’m addressing instead a group of people to whom I’ve said this line for years:  Careless, self-obsessed drivers.  Drivers who endanger my life every time I walk on the streets of my city.

I usually utter this sarcastic line when I manage to avoid being killed by the tons of steel propelled by drivers who are far more concerned with speedily reaching their destinations than with preserving the lives of their fellow human beings.

Pedestrian safety is a huge concern. I won’t dwell right now on the harrowing statistics that reveal the enormous number of pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by automobiles.  I’ll save those details for another day.

Today I’m focusing on my valiant attempts to preserve my own life.

Almost every day, I do a lot of walking in my mostly quiet neighborhood.  As I walk, I cross busy streets and less-busy streets.  My current route has changed somewhat in the past year, but I’ve always walked a lot along these same streets.

And I’ve always tried to protect myself by making some sort of contact with drivers.  In the past, I waved scarves and colorful tote bags to alert drivers to my presence.  And I’ve always tried to make eye contact with drivers who are approaching me.

The level of traffic on these streets has varied from month to month.

But here’s what’s important:  Whether the streets are crowded with traffic or not, many of the drivers haven’t changed.  They remain exactly what they were: reckless.  

And every time I approach an intersection along these streets, I’m in fear for my life.

I’m a driver as well as a pedestrian.  But when I’m driving, I respect pedestrians and their legally-mandated right of way in crosswalks.  Too many drivers are self-obsessed and do NOT respect pedestrians.  These drivers endanger my life.

My survival is at stake.  As I enter a crosswalk, I justifiably worry that a reckless driver won’t hesitate to make a barreling turn or come straight at me.  Why?  Because reckless drivers refuse to respect a pedestrian’s right of way.  Specifically, mine.

Even when some intersections have traffic signals that should protect me:  My walk sign is flashing, and the traffic-signal light is glowing a bright green.

I no longer carry the garish tote bags I previously favored (hoping to reduce my chances of being a “target” of criminal behavior).  [Please see my previous blog post, “Outsmarting the bad guys,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2021/08/06/outsmarting-the-bad-guys/.%5D 

But I still boldly swing any bags or other items I’m carrying, as well as the mask that’s dangling from my fingers when I’m outside (waiting to be worn inside).  I’m doing this in the hope that these rapidly moving items will increase my visibility and thereby save my life.

That’s why I mutter my thank-you line to countless reckless drivers–but especially to those who are breathlessly waiting to make a fast turn in front of or behind me.  Most of these drivers leave me only one or two inches of space as their cars whizz through my crosswalk.  Saving themselves, what?  Thirty seconds?  Forty seconds?  One minute?    

Brother, can you spare…another inch?

I know that I’m a stumble away from perishing in that intersection

Because if I stumble, I can easily become the victim of a massive assault on my body by a carelessly propelled vehicle. 

So, each time I cross successfully, I thank my lucky stars that I’ve survived one more time.  Once I reach the safety of the sidewalk, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

And I’ll mutter my thank-you line, oozing with sarcasm, one more time. 

I know the reckless driver isn’t likely to hear me.  But I’ll say it anyway. 

 “Thank you for not killing me.”

(A version of this post previously appeared on this blog, Susan Just Writes, in July 2020.  I’ve revised it for republishing in August 2021 because, unfortunately, it remains extremely relevant.)