Citizens Report American Irish Culture

March Madness with Danahey on the Loose

Video game fun/March Madness
The boys play a video motorcycle game at Spring Hill Mall.

March Madness? More like March Mildness for me.

So as March Madness turns to April foolishness, showers, taxes due and an eclipse of rock star proportions I’m looking back on my mostly middling month.

I’m not complaining about an allegedly mad month being mild for me. In the ALL CAPS age, where too many people are always SHOUTING at each other, it’s almost punk rock to be relatively calm.

Moderation is Greek to me, or maybe even Biblical.

Either way, here are the highlights, a look back at my March Madness. Or should I call them mid-lights?

I went to a beer fest and hit someone else’s local.

Ok. This happened Saturday, Feb. 24. A friend invited me down to the winter version of the  Naperville Ale Fest, which was outdoors in a park.

While it had been mild most of the winter, that day was sunny but a little more like an old fashioned winter afternoon.

It was good exercise to walk about on the brisk day. It’s also when the mild-mannered mantra kicked in.

While some may have seen this as a practice round for the March Madness that now is St. Patrick’s Day season in Chicago, me and my buddy – not so much.

There were so many beers to try. And ciders. And seltzers. I sipped maybe a dozen. But I didn’t even finish the samples. I’d take a taste, then pour out the rest.

Of course, this being Naperville, it was the best beer fest ever, right? I mean, everyone who goes online knows Naperville is the best town. It’s freaking Brigadoon, but one that never disappears. Instead, it constantly turns up in listicle stories.

Naperville is, indeed,  a nice place. They can’t help it if algorithms and lazy click bait websites love them.

Anyway, after walking back to the car, my buddy and I hit his local, Wild Tuna Sushi, for lunch.

Yes, that’s his local, which I think is cool, an out of the bento box choice of a place to be your hangout.

In short, it was a very relaxing way to spend a Saturday. Sure, on the way home my car almost got hit by a driver who ran a light. That can happen anywhere.

I shopped at Costco.

Could there be a more middling thing to do than to shop at Costco?

Well, for me it brings out March Madness.

From the goofy way the parking lot is designed, to the comically big ass shopping carts, Costco puts me on edge.

Plus, a good many of the shoppers there seem to be on a hell-bent mission to get 50 gallon jars of mayonnaise or whatever other bulk items they desire. The help all seems way too nice – as if they are being monitored and forced to make small talk with customers, based on a script.

I went there to buy beer. They don’t stock much but on a prior trip I saw a stack of Guinness products. Upon my return visit, all they had was an Irish sample box.

I don’t even like trying the samples at Costco. The setups make me sad. All the people cooking and/or handing them out seem to be well into their 70s. Half the time they are still preparing whatever it is they are supposed to be offering.

One poor woman was giving out laundry detergent packs. They had her hidden halfway down an aisle.

My conspiracy theory: these poor souls are indentured servants from some nefarious senior living facility. They are forced to give out samples to help cover the cost of their living arrangements. The can’t go home until they’ve sold their quota of cauliflower crust pizza.

My worry: One day, that will be me!

Big D's Urban apparel
Big D’s Urban Apparel was one of the last stores left at Spring Hill Mall.
The boys at mostly empty Spring Hill Mall during March Madness
The boys on a final visit to Spring Hill Mall.

I visited a mall before it closed for good.

I stopped by Spring Hill Mall twice in March before they shut it down for good.

One time, I took my friend’s grandsons on an otherwise gloomy afternoon. They played video games in a small arcade. It was one of the few remaining spots open.

The mall owner at the time put millions into revitalizing this mall. That happened less than a decade ago.

Times changed fast. Me, not so much.

I don’t shop online. I don’t like algorithms. I don’t like Amazon. I don’t like all the unnecessary packaging that goes along with virtual shopping.

I don’t even use Spotify for music. It’s ridiculous how much performers get from them and other music sharing services for their work.

For most stuff, I want to see what I am buying in person.

Yes, malls had their faults. But on a lonely afternoon, they were a great place to kill time, to watch people and to look at all the weird stuff being sold. Visiting was like going to a museum of capitalism.

Hey, in the suburbs in crap weather, your options for entertainment are limited. And now, where am I going to walk in winter during my senior years?

The second and final visit to the mall’s interior was mid afternoon on its final day of operation.

There were dozens but not hundreds milling about, taking pictures on their pilgrimage. Was this what the ancient Greeks did when they shut down the Athens Agora?

The visit was like a middling dream.

I saw a Korean woman singing karaoke in a manicure/pedicure shop. Sort of like Don Henley seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac, right? The sign on the door said they found another place to work.

The Chinese buffet staff said they were still looking for new digs. An Asian import store had the lights out, but the door was open. I remember seeing a mirror of some sort and a carving of an elephant. When I walked by again, the door was locked.

Before I left, I made a final purchase. Big D’s Urban Apparel had sweatpants marked down to $5 a pair. I bought two pairs. Big D is moving to a strip mall not far from the big, closed mall. I’m cultivating my very casual old guy wardrobe.

Me at the American Writers Museum
I stand by a fitting banner at the American Writers Museum.

I spoke at the American Writers Museum.

My buddy Allison and I wrote a book more than a dozen years ago about Irish pubs in Chicago. She now works at the American Writers Museum. The museum had a pub quiz fundraiser in advance of St. Patrick’s Day.

Between rounds, we talked about our experiences putting the book together.

I dressed like a modern Euro-gangster for the occasion – striped sweatpants, baby blue hoodie.

They had a nice-sized crowd of very pleasant people. They laughed at my jokes, even, or my attempt at them.

And the host moved the game along at a good pace. I’ve been to pub quizzes that have taken three hours. Painful. Like a deep cleaning of your teeth is painful.

The American Writers Museum event was to the point and a good time. Kudos.

By the way, If you haven’t spoken in public in awhile and get a chance, I highly recommend it. You can picture everyone in the audience naked. I didn’t. But you can if you want.

That would have been awkward. People afterward asked Allison and I to sign copies of our book! Humbling fun, sans the imagery.

I took the train downtown to the pub quiz.

As the highways are all torn up, I took the train.

A friend was going downtown for an event the same night as the pub quiz. So I had company.

It’s not that I don’t like taking the train. But I don’t.

The line downtown from where I live doesn’t seem to have been updated since the 1980s. When you’re traveling with a friend, you arrange two seats so you’re facing each other, right?

Only thing is, that only works if you are the size of grade school kids. Not a helluva lot of legroom this way, particularly for two bigger guys.

From where I live, it takes about 15 – 20 minutes to get to the train station. Then you have to find change to pay for the parking space to feed the machine.

The train from here takes almost 80 minutes to get downtown. Then you walk to wherever it is you need to be or cab/Uber/Lyft/bus.

So right there you’re talking about almost two hours. Then add the two hours when you repeat the process to get home. That’s assuming you don’t have to wait for a train, per there not being as many running at night.

Four hours commuting. March Madness, indeed.

Sure. Driving downtown from out in the sticks can take two hours or more. Typically though, the ride home takes less than an hour. You can find parking on an app for less than $15 and walk just a couple blocks to where you need to be.

In short, I’m glad I work at home.

Cowgirl Lily in the SPD parade.
Lily dons a green cowboy hat for the SPD parade.

I watched a parade but didn’t go out for any of the SPD nonsense.

Since the internet insists every word gets shortened or becomes an acronym, I’m calling St. Patrick’s Day season SPD.

Best fest buddy Tom’s grandkids marched in the local SPD parade. It was held eight days before the actual SPD. It will be interesting to see if this spring brings more locusts to the Chicago area than there were SPD events.

Toward that, what’s up with all the SPD runs? Did I miss something about the SPD mythology? Did Patrick work for Nike or Adidas?

Back to the parade. The kids asked me to watch them. Maybe it made them feel like little celebrities to have someone to say hello to along the route. It was nice to feel wanted, if just as a spectator.

I stood next to a family where the dad recorded pretty much the whole parade march past him on this phone cam. The modern world puzzles me. When and why would you re-watch this parade?

Past the parade, I was a good boy during SPD season. March Mildness, not March Madness, remember?

Inspiring my moderation was a story a friend shared. Around 2 or 3 a.m. the night after the big local SPD parade, a 20-something she did not know passed out on her doorstep. My friend wound up calling the police to get the young woman help. The police told her drunken strangers passing out on random doorsteps happens at least once or twice during SPD season. How spring break, eh?

Not that I will be joining a temperance league anytime soon, but that sealed the deal on my mood for SPD silly season.

I had some beers, whiskey and way too much corned beef at Tom’s. That was enough SPD celebrating for moderate me. That, and hitting a book sale on the actual SPD, where I grabbed some Irish books.

Oh. I also watched the SPD parade from Dublin online. Dublin appears to be turning into a spring break destination for tourists from the USA and elsewhere. This keeps pale people off the beaches, I guess.

I thought up a terrible name for a SPD season shot.

Too many places still think it’s cute to call a certain diabetic-inducing shot concoction an Irish Car Bomb.

Do people really need to be reminded that during the Troubles, hundreds of people on both sides died from car bombs exploding in Ireland and Northern Ireland? Even the American publican who came up with the name for the drink regrets it.

But hey. If you hear someone order one – and are bigger than they are – here’s a drink suggestion for them.

Ask them to order an Irish Famine. That would be where the bartender pours an ounce of potato-based vodka into a shot glass, then dumps the vodka down the drain. The customer is then given a shot glass with just a trace of vodka left on it. $20.

Tasteless and tasteless. Perfect.

They probably won’t get it – or get it. Still, it’s worth a shot.

Parade kid
JT walking in the local SPD parade.

I took a 5-year-old grocery shopping.

With my all-things-in-moderation, mellow mood (or attempts thereof), my favorite memory from March involves taking a 5-year-old grocery shopping.

This happened after the aforementioned parade. He asked to go with me.

Now taking three kids to a store is way challenging. They argue like siblings do. You have to struggle with them to wear seatbelts. They try to sweet talk or badger you into hitting the Dollar Tree.

Taking one who is in a good mood – awesome.

He helped get a cart. Then he grabbed the handle and put his feet somewhere underneath so I could push him.

The kid was fascinated by all the things you could find in a grocery store – particularly the freezer filled with cakes. He helped me find three kinds of Thousand Island salad dressing.

In the liquor department, he told the woman who was giving out samples all about his big morning marching in the parade.

He asked if we could buy soft drinks, not only for him, but for his brother and sister.

Then he helped me load the groceries into the car. Then he helped bring them into the house.

May you all have memories this seemingly mundane yet totally joyful.

I spent the last half of the month in semi-quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic started around SPD four years ago. To mark the occasion I wound up catching some sort of respiratory virus and pretty much in a self-imposed quarantine for the last part of the month.

They don’t call the state Illinois for nothing. A good many people I checked with had some sort of gunk going around this March. My version has mostly been coughing and congestion. So a moderate version of what the current plague might be.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve been sick this time of year. ILL-ini.

It wasn’t COVID. Or RSV. Or the flu. I know, because I went to the doctor. She gave me some Prednisone and amoxicillin.

As I had no appetite for a week or so, I wound up losing almost 10 pounds. Maybe I could market this virus as a diet – like Ozempic but without the expensive pills.

Again, I am lucky I work at home and can do most tasks required of me by phone or online.

Speaking of, there’s no truth to the rumor that you can pick up the virus I have/had by talking to someone over the phone, by text message, through email or social media.

I know it’s not true, because I made up the rumor myself. Feel free to spread it, though. That’s how the web rolls.

As for my nostalgic trip down quarantine lane:

I pretty much stayed out of stores and public places, but for my trip to say goodbye to the mall.

For food, I ate soup for a few days. Then I ordered a lot of drive-thru. Nothing new about the latter.

March Madness actually helped me get through this. Yeah, I watched way too much college basketball. NIT games, even.

I learned a lot. For instance, Oakland University is in Michigan and the team is named after a breakfast cereal, the Golden Grahams.

There’s a Grand Canyon University. It seems a bit like DeVry.

That kid from Indiana State, Robbie Avila, looks like he stepped out of a 1970s movie about basketball. DJ Burns from NC State looks like every player in the over-35 rec league.

Purdue’s Zach Edey has a future past hoops playing Jaws in a James Bond remake or Lurch in yet another Addams Family project. His game is old school. Fine. I’m tired of all the pointless three point shooting anyway.

Caitlin Clark on Iowa is fun to watch and one of the smartest players, maybe of all-time. Good for women’s and girls sports. Guys, stop beefing. Not everything has to be for us. Just like Taylor Swift. I don’t listen to her music, but I appreciate her game, too.

Oh, lest I forget, just in time for the holiday, the Illini made like the Easter Bunny and laid a big egg against UConn.

I don’t care how good UConn is. How the hell do you get outscored 30 – 0 in a game when you are a big time Big 10 program?

Yes. UConn is that good. The only way they don’t win the tournament is if the entire team comes down with what I had.

No moderation for them, I guess.

Happy April. Bring on the solar eclipse.

Empty wing at Spring Hill Mall.
The empty Sears wing at Spring Hill Mall.

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