Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thank you to everyone who has checked out this blog over the years. I moderated this blog for the few years that I added posts to it. You can still read all of the original posts and enjoy the comments, but I won't be adding any new posts for the time-being, and the comments sections have been closed for a number of years. I moderated the comments section to keep it free of spam or comments that had nothing to do with the posts, but, unfortunately, I don't have time to do that anymore. If you wrote a comment that has not appeared, I apologize. My life became very hectic for a few years, and I couldn't keep up with the comments to be moderated or the blog itself. That said, I hope you enjoy what's here if this is your first visit. Sincerely, John McNally author of two novels set in Burbank (THE BOOK OF RALPH and LORD OF THE RALPHS)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Statiscally Speaking...

What do you want to know about Burbank? The odds of your neighbor being over 80? (The answer: slim.) Median number of rooms in houses and apartments in Burbank? (Scintillating!) Means of transportation to work? (Take a wild guess which is most popular. Hint: It's not the pogo stick.)

So, check out one of my favorite websites: City Data. Some stuff here is useless, but some of it's extraordinarily interesting and useful, and once you start comparing it to other cities, it becomes geometrically more interesting. ("Geometrically" may not be the word I'm looking for, but you get the idea. The information becomes less flat, more spherical.)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

McNally Returns to Duke's!

Yes, that's right. I'll be at Duke's Italian Beef Drive-in on Saturday, October 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. selling and signing copies of my books.

Stop by and say hello!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Burbank (California)

It's been a while since I've posted anything. Have I run out things to write about? Maybe. If someone could send me a photo of Henry's Hamburgers or, hell, I don't know, the Bicentennial Parade of 1976 that took place on 79th Street, I might be able to muster up some more anecdotes. (No, no, I'll post more soon. I promise.)

In the meantime, I'm typing this post while staying in the Safari Inn in Burbank, California. (The Safari Inn is featured in the movie True Romance by the way. You may remember a particularly brutal scene that takes place there. Nonetheless, here I am.)

And last night, I actually made it down to Beautiful Downtown Burbank (the original Beautiful Downtown Burbank, north of Hollywood), and although it's neither beautiful (not in any kind of Pacific Coast Highway way, at least) nor very large of a downtown, I was still charmed by it.

This morning, I returned to shop at the farmer's market, where I bought about twenty dollars worth of pluots. If you haven't eaten a fresh pluot, you haven't yet begun living, my friends.

These photos don't do it justice -- I took a few quick snapshots this morning -- but here it is, folks: that place of myth and legend. (Maybe next week I'll approach the mayor of Burbank, CA, about making our own lovely hamlet a sister city.)

You want some Hawaiian BBQ?
(For every five storefronts, there appeared to be a restaurant in four of them. I had Thai food last night, with a side of coconut rice. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.) Two hours of free parking (a better deal than anything in Santa Monica). Used bookstores. A movie memorabilia store. Street musicians. Some dude with two dogs resting on a bench with him. All good, folks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

John McNally's in Town All Week Promoting His New Book

Hello, folks.

I'm in Chicago and North Riverside this week (March 3, 4, and 6) to promote my new novel, After the Workshop. For information about where I'll be, click HERE.

For more information about the book itself, click HERE for reviews.

I hope to see you around!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

John McNally Returns to Burbank on March 2, 2010

Hello, folks.

If you're in the neighborhood, stop by Prairie Trails Library at 7:00 on March 2. I'll be there promoting my new novel, After the Workshop. Just be sure to call ahead to reserve a spot.

For more information about the book tour, click HERE.

For more information about the book itself, click HERE for reviews.

I'll read a few short excerpts from a few different books, answer questions, and sign copies of my books. Books will be for sale at the event. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Natural Disasters

On April 21, 1967, a twister hit Oak Lawn and nearby towns. According to WGN's website, "The storms resulted in 58 fatalities. The Oak Lawn twister continued across the Dan Ryan Expressway at the height of the evening rush hour, knocking a semi off an overpass, before proceeding out over Lake Michigan."

I don't have any memory of this. I was less than two. But I do remember my parents talking about this. We lived in Guidish Park mobile homes, across from the old Zayre on Harlem. If memory serves, the twister ended up ripping through a nearby trailer court, maybe where Chicago Ridge Mall is now? (I know it's no longer called Chicago Ridge Mall, but to me it will always be Chicago Ridge Mall, just as the Sears Tower will always be the Sears Tower.)

Amazingly, there's some footage of the twisters on YouTube. Here's one:

The closest I ever came to a twister was at a drive-in flea market, way south on Harlem (I believe), around Tinley Park. (I could be wrong about the specific location, so if anyone knows what I'm talking about, help me out here.) Anyway, my father and I were selling stuff at the flea market when we saw a twister heading toward us. It sounded like a freight train approaching very quickly. We got into my dad's truck and remained there until the twister had gone by. When we finally opened the truck's door, we saw that everyone's tables and most of the stuff they were selling had been blown all the way to the back chain-link fence of the drive-in. The twister had gone around us, but the wind was powerful enough to blow everything away. Also, there were dollar bills all up against the fence. And coins. Everywhere. Flea marketeers tended to keep money boxes next to their chairs, and these, too, had blown away. We retrieved what we could of our own stuff. I want to say this was late 1970s, but, again, my memory could be failing me here. I remember not being very afraid since I didn't know how much damage a twister could do. I guarantee you, I would be a hell of a lot more afraid today.

(Photo above courtesy of Paul Wrubel, which, in turn, is courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blizzard of Oz?

No, it was the Blizzard of '79. Remember it?

Where I live now, in North Carolina, schools are shut down at the hint of snow. I'm not kidding. Not actual snow. The whole city shuts down at actual snow. No, what I'm talking about is the likelihood of snow.

Which brings me to Chicago. January 13-14, 1979. I was thirteen and in the eighth grade. Our family was living in the condos near Reavis. Two things I remember: the difficulty of opening the doors to get outside, and all the cars in the parking lot entombed in snow. Everyone was out with a shovel, digging. Digging a path. Digging for their cars. Why, I wonder now. Did we go anywhere? Could we go anywhere? I don't remember.

Our faithful reader, Paul Wrubel, sent this photo. He writes, "If you walk 4 houses to the left, you'd be on Ford City Drive." I believe he's the one dangling upside-down.

What are your memories of the great blizzard? (I'm sure no one ever asked Michael Bilandic, Chicago's 49th mayor, this question. He pretty much lost his job because of the blizzard.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Marketing of a School or Team

I was a Kennedy Falcon and a Reavis Ram (I also went to Fry and Maddock but can't, for the life of me, remember what I might have been -- the French Fries? the Maddock Marauders!?). The marketing of a high school is intense (the school jackets; the two-pocket folders with a Reavis Ram on it; the pencils with the school's name in gold-inlay; even the gym clothes we wore: polyester with Reavis insignias on them). On a much smaller scale, our grade school sold us some crap, too. I owned a Kennedy Falcon's T-shirt. I'm pretty sure I have a Kennedy Falcon's pin, too, but why would I have bought a pin? Could I have won it for something? Unlikely but possible, I suppose.

All of this is by way of saying that a reader of the blog sent to me (a long time ago) some photos from his school and baseball team (I think these two were for a baseball team), and I'm finally getting around to posting them here. If you still have some of your stuff, I'd love to post it, too. Recently, I found a Kennedy Falcon ribbon...but, again, what the hell did I do to earn it? It certainly wasn't for winning the 50 yard dash, unless they gave one for coming in second to last...which I doubt. (You have to trust me when I tell you that I made a concerted effort not to be last.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ford City -- Redux

I found some interesting new stuff on a blog called Mall Hall of Fame.

For starters, here's the original design for Ford City.

And here's a list of Ford City's tenants in 1975:


WIEBOLDT'S (with Veranda Restaurant) / J.C. PENNEY (with Auto Center) / F.W. WOOLWORTH (with Woolworth's Grill) / Harvest House Cafeteria / Bressler's 33 Flavors / Minnesota Fabrics / Hallmark Cards / R and R Crossing apparel / National Tea Grocery / Ford City Restaurant / Tally-Ho Restaurant / Wurlitzer Organs / Frank's Shoes / Flagg Brothers Shoes / Musicland / Tobacco Teepee / Dunkin' Donuts / Super-X Drug / Saint Anne Shop / Gift Studio / Lerner Shops / Thom McAn Shoes / Pam's Young Folks children's apparel / The Knot Shop / Bond's apparel / Marc Allen Shoes / Singer Sewing Center / So-Fro Fabrics / Buster Brown Shoes / Karroll's / The Gap / Polk Brothers / Mailing Shoes / O'Conner and Goldberg Shoes / Orange Julius / Fanny Farmer Candies


JEWEL SUPERMARKET /Ford City Cinema / Talley's Pub / Ford City Bowling Center / Print King / Fayva Shoes / John M. Smythe Furniture / Turnstyle Toys


Pagoda House / The Shelf Shop / Nickleodeon Pizza / Park Magnavox TV and Stereo / Village Records and Tapes / Gingiss Formalwear / Ford City Karate / House Of Lewis / Allsport Sporting Goods / Tricks -N- Toys / Toby's Bridal / Ford City Key and Lock / The Loft apparel / Ford City Catholic Center

Had you forgotten some of these places? Also: How many damned shoe stores did we need back then?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Where I Bought Cigarettes For My Parents...

This probably seems appalling today, but, yes, kids used to be able to buy cigarettes for their parents. I did it all the time. Oftentimes, my mother would stay in the car while I ran in the store or the gas station and bought the cigarettes. My mother smoked Winstons; my father, Lucky Strikes. And so I would run in and buy two (or sometimes four) cartons.

From 1973 to 1974, we lived in the apartment building on the north side of 79th, between Normandy and Natoma. Across the street was White Hen. I was in the third grade in 1973, and at least once a week I would dash across 79th to buy cigarettes.

I loved White Hen. The first thing I would do is go to the magazine rack, which was located in the right corner of the store. I usually checked out Mad Magazine or one of the music magazines, like Cream.

But the highlight was buying Wacky Packages. If I was lucky, I could afford a package.

I was obsessed with Wacky Packages. Literally. A few years after I started buying them, my father, my brother, and I drove to Maine, where my aunt and uncle owned a small country grocery store. I must have stared so longly at the box of Wacky Packages that my aunt gave me the entire box. Imagine: An entire frickin' box of Wacky Packages! I was like an alcoholic, except with stickers. And gum.

I loved these things. Loved them! Here are a few from my day. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I'm Not a Famous Rock Star

There are many reasons why I'm not a famous rock star (I can't sing; I can't play an instrument), and yet I still sometimes wonder, Why am I not a famous rock star?

My mother didn't want me playing an instrument because we lived, for the most part, in apartment buildings. The two instruments I was drawn to -- piano and drums -- weren't conducive for apartments. The piano would have been too expensive, too large (I wanted a baby grand), and too loud. Drums would have been too loud and, if truth be told, probably too expensive. Oh, and probably too large.

But the primary reason I'm not a rock star is because the only instrument I learned to play at Jacqueline B. Kennedy was the recorder. Remember these little beauties?

It's possible -- likely, even -- that the recorder is a fine instrument. It's possible that it's a gateway instrument, leading the user to louder and more powerful instruments, like a twelve-string acoustic guitar or, hell, even a mouth harp. But the recorder didn't take with me. In fact, the only use I ever found for the recorder was as a weapon to fend off other, tougher kids looking for trouble. (Trust me: You could do some serious damage to the cranium with a recorder.)

But what if I had taken the time to master "Frère Jacques"? Or "Mary Had a Little Lamb"? Or "Carry on My Wayward Son"? Where would I be today, and what would I be doing?


(I shiver at the thought.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Book Tour Begins!

Yes, I have a new book hitting the bookstores -- Ghosts of Chicago. Check it out.

What this means is that I'll be all over the Chicago area (and the Midwest) for two weeks, starting Wednesday, October 8. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by. For a complete list of appearances with links, check out my website. I hope to meet some of you!

FALL 2008

Saturday, October 04, 2008
8:00 p.m., Reading/Signing for GHOSTS OF CHICAGO
The Convent at St. Michael's
1137 Braddock Ave.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Columbia College Chicago, Fiction Writing Department, "Fiction Writers at Lunch"
Reading and Discussion of new short story collection, GHOSTS OF CHICAGO
12:30-1:00 Book signing
Reading and Discussion of my anthology, WHO CAN SAVE US NOW?, with some of the book's contributors.
The Hokin Annex
623 S Wabash
Chicago, Il, 60605

Wednesday, October 08, 2008
GHOSTS OF CHICAGO official book launch!
Prairie Trails Library
7:30 p.m., Reading/Discussion/Signing
8449 Moody Ave.
Burbank, Illinois
Please Note: You Must Call in Advance to Reserve Seating!

Thursday, October 09, 2008
Irvington Branch Library
6:30 p.m., Freight Stories Reading Series.
Books will be available.
5625 East Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46219

Friday, October 10, 2008
Chinaski's Bar
8:00 p.m., John McNally reading with Windy City Story Slam. Books will be available.
$5.00 cover @ the door
1935 N. Damen
Chicago, IL

Saturday, October 11, 2008
Duke's Italian Beef Drive-In
11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Book signing.
8115 South Harlem Ave.
Bridgeview, IL 60455
708 599-0576

Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tamale Hut Cafe
7:30 p.m., John McNally reads, followed by Open Mic. Books will be available for purchase.
8300 W. Cermak Road
North Riverside, IL 60546

Sunday, October 12, 2008
1:00-3:00 p.m., signing for GHOSTS OF CHICAGO
Westfield -- Chicago Ridge (formerly known as Chicago Ridge Mall)
Ridgeland & 95th
Chicago Ridge, IL
If I'm remembering correctly, this store is located near the anchor store at the north end of the mall.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Prairie Lights Bookstore
7:00 p.m., Reading/Discussion/Signing for GHOSTS OF CHICAGO
15 S. Dubuque Street
Iowa City, IA 52240

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Green Hills Public Library
7:00 p.m., Reading/Discussion/Signing for GHOSTS OF CHICAGO
8611 W. 103rd
Palos Hills, IL

Thursday, October 16, 2008
Book Cellar
7:00 p.m., Reading/Discussion/Signing for GHOSTS OF CHICAGO.
4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, Illinois

Saturday, October 18, 2008
Nebraska Book Festival
more details to come

Friday, August 1, 2008

What We Read

This is less of a Burbank post than it is a 1970s nostalgia post, but since the two are inextricably connected in my mind, I figured I'd write a bit about it. Since I write books for a living now, people sometimes assume that I was reading Dickens and Shakespeare when I was a kid, but no: My favorite was Mad Magazine. Spy vs. Spy, anyone? Or what about that last page that you folded so that it became a different picture?

I even bought the paperback collections of Mad Magazine, which I read (looked at) on car trips.

Dynamite (see above) was another favorite, probably because the covers featured whatever I happened to be interested in at the time (i.e., Land of the Lost).

Whenever I could, I would by music magazines like Cream; occasionally, I would buy magazines that featured nothing but the song lyrics to a song. In fact, I'm pretty sure one of those magazines was called Song Lyrics. That way, I wouldn't botch the lyrics when I sang along to my transistor radio. (Did I mention that I wanted to be a rock star?)

Lastly, I loved ordering books from Scholastics. Remember how the teacher would pass around little order forms (I don't even remember catalogs, just a list of books), and you'd check off the ones you wanted? My favorite books were ones about Houdini, the Lochness Monster, and motorcycle daredevils. (Ironically, those are still three of my favorite subjects.)

Oh yeah...and every year I'd have to buy the new Guinness Book of World Records.

Remember the dude with the longest fingernails? Or what about the guy who could smoke something like, I don't know, a hundred cigarettes at once? (You think he's still alive?)

Ripley's Believe It or Not also made for some fine reading.

But my all-time favorite reading? TV Guide. In the eighth grade, using my dog walking money, I actually ordered a subscription. Good stuff. I still own this issue. Not sure why. I saw it in a box in my basement just the other day. Along with some copies of Dynamite. And a book about Houdini.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where Have I Gone?

Good question.

First, I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Then: I found out I had high blood-pressure, went on some medicine, had bad side-effects, went off, went on some other medicine, had bad side-effects, and went off. I've also been finishing the draft of a new book, doing publicity for my new anthology, dealing with various things having to do with the book coming out in October, and wrapping up revisions of a screenplay. Somehow, I forgot I was keeping a blog about all things Burbank!

I'll be in and around Burbank in October promoting the hell out of my new short story collection, Ghosts of Chicago. Check out the book tour section of my website, and if you're in the neighborhood, stop by. (I'll be adding more events over the next few months.) I'd love to meet the folks who've left messages here.

As for the blog, not to worry. I'll be back. I'm going to Los Angeles for two weeks, and when I return to North Carolina, I need to do some home repair, but I'll start posting again in the fall, especially once I return home from my jaunt to Burbank in October.

So: Hang tight. And I'll see you on the flip-side.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Know Much About History -- Burbank History, That Is

The wisdom teeth extractions -- I had all of mine pulled last week -- didn't go as smoothly as planned. Thank God for Vicodin! One thing I learned: It's damned near impossible to knock me out. The doctor gave me a sleeping pill to put me under. An hour and a half later, I was still reading the book I'd brought along. "Do you want us to top that off with a little gas?" he asked. "Sure!" I said (I'm never one to turn down legal drugs), and so I sat there for the next half hour with the mask over my mouth and nose, looking like a pilot on one of the Apollo missions. Nothing. They probably should have begun shooting at me with a tranquilizer gun or blowing poison darts at my neck, but they finally just gave up and pulled the teeth.

Enough about my teeth. Here are few fun facts about Burbank from The Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Did you know...

One of the earliest roads to run through the area was the diagonal State Road...By 1871, State Road attracted the attention of a Pittsburgh investor who laid out a subdivision along this route that apparently never materialized. Instead, German and Dutch truck farmers settled in the area.

1871 was the year of the Chicago fire, by the way.

Anyway, Burbank's history is apparently full of such false starts. A dude named A.B. Stickney -- name ring a bell? -- made plans for Burbank (before it was Burbank) to become a transfer station for the freight railroad, but the depression of 1893 nixed those plans.

In the 1920s, developers bought up a lot of the land with the hope of capitalizing on the subdivision boom, but "the ongoing drainage problems, poor roads, and inadequate water and sewer systems, as well as the Great Depression, dampened enthusiasm of many would-be buyers."

So, what changed Burbank's luck? The creation of the South Stickney Sanitary District in 1952, back when Burbank was known as South Stickney or Burbank Manor. Population tripled, "reaching an estimated 20,720 in 1960."

To avoid annexation by Chicago, Burbank became incorporated in 1970, taking the name from the already-existing Luther Burbank Elementary School. (Luther Burbank was a famous horticulturist, and, yes, he's responsible for the Russet Burbank potato that we all know and love, but...what's his connection to Chicago's southwest side again? Hmmm... Must investigate this futher.)

Oh yeah, one last tidbit: Burbank's population peaked in 1976 at 29,448.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

John McNally's Burbank Book Club

I'm cheating with today's post because I'm going to the dentist in a few hours to have all my wisdom teeth pulled. And I know you're all jealous! Why does HE get to have all his wisdom teeth pulled today? What about ME?

Okay, the first book recommendation -- Who Can Save Us Now? -- is a plug for a new book I coedited with the writer Owen King. It's an anthology of twenty-two short stories featuring brand-new supeheroes. But...WHOA...WAIT A MINUTE. Check it out. My story in the book is about a superhero who lives in Burbank. Duke's even makes an appearance in the story. Stevenson Park is in there, too. How can you pass up reading about a Burbank superhero? I mean, really.

The book should be hitting the bookstores by the end of the month, but you can pre-order one now by clicking on the title below.

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories

This next book -- The Golden Age of Chicago's Television -- is one of my favorite books on Chicago pop culture of my era. Inside, you'll get the skinny on Bozo, Ray Rayner, Frazier Thomas, and any other Chicago child's icon from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. It's a fun, fun book with great photos.

The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television.

This next one -- Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows -- is a good companion book to the one above, but its appeal may be more limited. What I appreciated were the lists of horror movies that were sold as "packages" to WGN and other stations, along with the histories of individual shows, like Creature Features. Still, it's hard to beat The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television with Bozo, Garfield Goose, and Dirty Dragon as subjects for a book. This one, on the other hand, is definitely more for the hardcore collector of Chicago childhood nostalgia.

Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Where We Shopped: Scottsdale

Scottsdale: 79th and Cicero (southeast corner)

If you do a GOOGLE photo search of "scottsdale shopping chicago," you'll see all kinds of beautiful stucco shopping centers with tall, majestic palm trees out front; and if you're like me -- often sleepy; frequently confused -- you'll start wondering, "Did I really live in such a place? Was Burbank even more beautiful than I remember? Was the southwest side actually Xanadu, and I just didn't realize it?" And then you see the word "Arizona" attached to one of the photos, and you realize that, no, where you grew up was full of mostly ugly strip malls, and the sky was often overcast.

Let's face it: the glory days of Scottsdale are over. In fact, I'm not sure I was ever alive during its glory days, but it was certainly more of a staple for shopping when I was a kid, and it certainly had more character than today's strip malls, what with its big-ass sign (not the one pictured above) and its asymetrical design. I realize I'm pushing my case a little too hard here, but I'll go so far as to say that Scottsdale Plaza was ahead of its time. If you go to L.A. today, all you hear about is the trend of the "open air" shopping center, which is usually a couple of blocks of stores, where walking outside, usually amongst some professional landscaping, is a huge plus. Now, Scottsdale didn't have the greenery, per se, but it did have the potential for it. And, as I said, it was structured interestingly.

The anchor store was GOLDBLATT'S.

Here's what I remember best about Goldblatt's: the pet store. If I remember correctly, it was just inside the entrance and off to the left. Just before my fourth birthday, I talked my mother into buying me a baby turtle.

A few days later, our trailer (we lived in Guidish Park) burned completely down in the middle of the night. (We made it out safely.) My father threw a few things out the front door before the fire engulfed the entire trailer: our finch (in its cage, of course -- it was probably brain-damaged afterward); a Code-a-Phone answering machine (a high-dollar item back then), and a few other strangely disparate odds and ends. It wasn't until a few days later that I remembered the turtle. When I asked my mother where it was, she had to break the news: the turtle, whose name I no longer recall, didn't make it out alive. So there you go: my indelible Goldblatt's memory for you. (Hold on a second: I need to blow my nose and dab my eyes.)

But hey: Do you remember the photo store? I believe that, too, was a Goldblatt's enterprise, but it was in a building by itself. I loved going in there and looking at the Super-8 projectors and seeing what movies they had for sale. (For the younger readers, here's a "I-walked-fifty-miles-in-my-bare-feet-to-school-every-morning" story for you. Probably about a year after Star Wars came out, a Super 8 movie of Star Wars was released. This was a BIG DEAL for anyone withe a Super 8 projector. I'm assuming Star Wars ran about two hours, give or take several minutes, at the theater. Well, a Super 8 movie ran, on average, 8 minutes. With sound (that is, if you wanted sound), it would cost probably twenty-five bucks. If you were wealthy, you might be able to spring for the twenty minute version, which cost probably in the neighborhood of forty or fifty bucks. To own even the eight-minute version of the movie back then would be the equivalent today of, I don't know, owning a Hummer and a Rolex.)

For the life of me, I can't remember any other store in Scottsdale. Help me. There was a furniture store down the way, right? But what else was actually in Scottsdale?

All right, folks: time to chime in with your own Scottdale memories. And if anyone has any old photos of Scottsdale, please (please) send them to me at for posting.

Ah, but to imagine what Scottsdale could have been with a little imagination...

(Photo of Scottsdale sign, courtesy of Renee Greco)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Where We Played: Rice Park

It's a wonder, really, that every kid in Burbank didn't end up sterile because of all the power lines that are draped across some of Burbank's parks. Maybe this was an urban legend, but I'd heard that the electric company donated some of the land to the city where several power line towers and transformers are amassed. (Most cities fence those areas off, by the way.)

In any event, the park where I spent most of my time wasn't one full of power line towers: Rice Park.

Rice Park sits behind Kennedy Grade School. I wasn't an athletic kid (in fact, from the second grade until eighth grade, I grew increasingly fatter by the minute), but I spent a lot of time at Rice Park. But doing what? I owned a tennis racket that I'd bought at a flea market, and I loved knocking tennis balls around, often over the fence, but I never learned how to play. I also loved playing Horse at the basketball court. But as soon as any other kids came up, I left. I was a magnet for trouble (maybe all fat boys are), and so I learned quickly to remove myself from situations before they happened.

One time that I didn't remove myself was shortly after our family had moved to that part of Burbank, and I was riding my bike up and over the dirt hills that sat over from and behind Rice Park. What I didn't realize was that Rice Park was a little bit like the island on Lost in that there were the kids who hung out in the park, and then there were The Others. The Others hung out over by the dirt hills, and they didn't like it when some fat, younger kid came riding up and over their hills. As was usually the case, I was outnumbered: about six or seven of them to me. The one I remember the best was this red-headed kid who was notorious for causing problems -- their pack-leader. He grabbed my handlebars while The Others surrounded me. I honestly don't remember what happened next -- they may have knocked me off my bike and given me a warning -- but I do remember that such incidents weren't uncommon in Burbank in the 1970s. The upshot was, I stayed away from the hills after that.

During the summer of 1979, I spent a lot of time by the Little League part of Rice Park, not because I liked baseball (I didn't) or because I was friends with some of the players (I wasn't). No, I started going because a girl from another part of Burbank -- a girl I didn't know but had started seeing riding her bike around our part of town and, as these things happen, developed an intense, heart-pounding crush on -- had begun going to the games. I had started losing weight, so my confidence should have been on the rise, but it wasn't, so I would merely situate myself and my bike near her in the hope that I'd catch her attention. And one day, while I was eating Milk Duds, she came up and asked me for one. That's all that happened. She asked me for a Milk Dud, and I gave her one. The fact that I still remember this should give you some idea of just how fricking excited I was! I didn't see her again until the fall, when she was (miraculously) in my high school Geometry class (I was a freshman; she was a sophomore), a class I would end up failing because I spent all of my time either talking to, or pining for, her. She would even walk with me to my locker after every class. There was only one hitch: She had a boyfriend who was three years older and could easily have been one of The Others. And one time she warned me: "I can't let my boyfriend know I'm walking with you."

Too bad. But at least we'll always be bound by shared Milk Duds at Rice Park and, uh, Geometry...or at least our mutual hatred of it.

P.S. I took Geometry over during the summer and got an 'A' in it, which further proves just how damned smitten I was of this girl.

What park did you hang at? Memories, anyone?

(photos of Rice Park courtesy of Renee Greco)

Friday, May 23, 2008

What We Eat: Pizza!

You can find edible pizza outside Chicago, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a pizza as good as even the average, run-of-the-mill Chicago pizza once you leave the outer edge of Chicagoland. Trust me. I’ve lived in central Illinois, Southern Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, D.C., North Carolina, and L.A. I’ve found some pretty good pizza in L.A. and in New York City (though, usually, I’ve been out drinking in NY by the time I end up at a place selling slices, so I’m guessing cardboard with tomato paste would probably have tasted okay by then).

As I’ve already noted here about a thousand times, I haven’t lived in Burbank since 1983, but I still get back there maybe once or twice a year, and if I’m in town for more than a day, I usually end up eating pizza somewhere in the neighborhood. Down below, I’ve listed places I either frequented or remember. Please correct locations and names if I’ve made any errors, and by all means, tell us about your favorite South Side pizzas.

Italian Villa

Italian Villa is located in Southfield Shopping, and it’s been there since at least the early or mid ‘70s, if not earlier. This is the pizza that my family ate the most, and this is where I tend to go when I’m back in town. Even when I haven’t been there for a few years at a stretch, the waitress recognizes me and, often, remembers my order. The best features of Italian Villa? For me, it’s the whole package – superb sausage; tasty sauce; excellent crust (thin but a bit chewy). Plus, there’s a blurry, enlarged photo of Pete Townsend doing the windmill to his guitar in the men’s bathroom. Also: Could the food be any cheaper?

Gino’s Pizza

If memory serves me, Gino’s was on 79th and Central. To the best of my knowledge, it wasn’t affiliated with the famous Gino’s downtown. I’m not sure why we ate here. Did my brother work here? Possibly. Anyway, our Gino’s experience was short-lived. I can’t even remember anything about it. Gino's was definitely around in the '70s, but I can't vouch for it before or after that.

Tafte’s (Tafde’s?)

I ate here only a few times, probably in the ‘70s. They were located somewhere on 87th, I believe, on the Oak Lawn side. Is that right? Not far from Central, I’m thinking. Here’s what I remember: A corn-meal crust? Yellow with holes poked through? Cracker-ey? A few years ago, I started talking to a Law professor here at Wake Forest, and we quickly discovered that we were both from Burbank, and so we started trading anecdotes. Apparently, his first job was delivering pizzas for Tafte’s (Tafde’s?). A small, small world. And if anyone knows for sure how to spell the damned name of the place, please enlighten me!

Phil’s Pizza

Phil’s was across from the Jewel on Ridgeland. I went through a brief – but intense – Phil’s stage. When I was in high school, before I could drive, my father took a roofing job in Indiana and had to stay over night while my mother was in the hospital, and so I started ordering Phil’s pizza, almost nightly, to have delivered since I couldn’t drive. (We never had pizza delivered, so this was true decadence.) I can almost remember what it tastes like, but what I remember for certain were the enormous, meatball-sized chunks of pale-colored sausage. I'll have to try it again next time in town; it'll be my first Phil's Pizza in 27 years. Oh, and if you're reading this Phil's, you can send coupons to me @ P.O. Box 7387, WFU, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. :)


Fasano’s is located around 83rd and Roberts Road in Justice. This was our default pizza when we tired of Italian Villa. I haven’t had one in years, though about ten years ago, when I was living in Iowa City, buy an extra-large one, throw it in the trunk, and drive it three and a half hours home. This place was all about the toppings – tons of toppings. A good pie, as I recall. It may be the heaviest of the thin-crust pizzas on the South Side.


Durbin’s is, of course, on 79th and State Road. I’ve only recently begun eating pizza at Durbin’s, and I only eat there when I’m drinking. It would never cross my mind to go there specifically for pizza, even though the pizza is pretty damned good. But give me about a dozen beers, and I’m all over the menu.

Oh, yeah. One last thing, for what it's worth: I'm a thin crust guy. There. I said it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where We Worked

Most of my friends' parents worked manual labor or trade jobs of one kind or another. Some worked for the telephone company; some were electricians; some were plumbers; some painted water towers. My mother worked in box factories until she had to go on disability in the early '70s for health problems. She hated not working and even tried returning to her job until she realized she couldn't do it anymore. My father was a roofer for most of his life, though he took about seven years off to try to make it on his own cleaning rugs and washing walls, but he eventually went back to the roofer's union and stayed there until he retired in 1989.

Growing up in Burbank, you had to be industrious. In grade school, I walked dogs and sold things. I sold knives (yes, knives), concert T-shirts, bootleg cassettes...whatever I thought I could sell. My first "real" job wasn't until my senior in high school when I worked as an usher at the Orland Square movie theater. Mostly, as an adult, I've been a teacher, but I've also worked shipping and receiving for a small electronics company, worked in a cafeteria, scored standardized tests, worked as a file clerk (or something like that...can't remember my title), did data entry, greeted people at a new mall (the most humiliating?), gutted buildings for surplus, worked in a library (mostly processing books and, once again, doing some shipping and receiving)...and on and on.

What did (do) your parents do? What do you do? And what jobs have you had -- the good ones, the bad ones, and all the ones in-between?

1970. Me and my father. The photo-booth at Zayre's.

2008 (this morning). Me and my father. My backyard in Winston-Salem, NC.