Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! US 30 Drag Strip Reunion

In the 1960s, hot rods with names like “No Big Thing,” “Gearbox,” “Breakout,” and “Old Injun” would show their stuff at local race tracks. One of the best loved in the Midwest was the US30 Drag Strip.

On a cloudy Sunday in September, race fans gathered to honor the iconic drag strip. The track, which is no longer in existence, was located in Hobart, Indiana, and drew racers from across the Midwest.

The AHRA counted US30 as one of its flagship courses. Chicago’s WLS radio would enthusiastically advertise the event: “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! At smokin’ US30 Drag Strip . . . where the great ones run!”

The track opened in 1957, some say maybe even 1954, in the early days of organized racing. Located near Chicago and in the race-crazed state of Indiana, US 30 became a social gathering for three decades of faithful fans until it closed in 1984.

The Sunday show was an anticipated reunion of old friends, as fans swapped stories and showed photos of the glory days of racing. Dave Janosz, now of Tampa, FL, said, “The track was special because it was my first introduction to the world of drag racing. For me it was magical. The sounds, sights, and smells were intoxicating to me.”

The reunion drew a variety of cars (and their owners) that used to race US30. On display was a 1941 blown Willys Coupe, “Gearbox,” owned by Tom Gearhart, of Griffith, IN, and Randy Tavoletti, South Chicago Heights, IL. The coupe was raced in the 60s and 70s. Gearhart said, “When we bought the car it was a basket case.” After restoration, “it has been racing ever since” at tracks like Wiley, KY; US 66 in Joliet; and Byron, IL.

Their buddy, Chris DeYoung, of Glenwood, IL, also raced US 30 in the 60s; he was 21-years-old. “It’s not like it is today,” said DeYoung. “We’d live in the back of our trucks for the three-day meets. I remember taking baths in the creek.”

One interesting fact about US30 Drag Strip is that a racer named Ron Pellegrini claims to have raced the first “funny car” there. At the reunion, Bruce Zirzow of LaPorte, IN, brought his orange Cougar funny car. Although the car was built in the mid-60s, Zirzow acquired it in 1988. “I didn’t know they made Cougars into funny cars when I was a kid.”

Tony and Sue VerHulst, owners of “Old Injun,” a 1956 Pontiac with a 389 engine, first met each other in a garage. Their Pontiac, a former race car, is now their daily driver. Curious about the name, the couple drove all the way to Oklahoma to meet the original owner.  “Old Injun” was built in the 60s. In 1975, it had already garnered nearly 300 trophies. They want to restore it. “We’re trying to get it back to how it was in the early 60s,” said Tony.

A few sprinkles and overhanging clouds did little to dim the enthusiasm of the crowd. US30 may have disappeared from the racing circuit, but her memory lives strong in the hearts of these die-hard race fans.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feeling a little cheesy

Every two years, the tiny Wisconsin town of Monroe holds a cheese festival. Known as the "Swiss Cheese Capital" of the United States, the town (population of approx. 10,000) is crowded with an influx of 100,000 party goers, standing in block-long lines to eat fried cheese curds

We were invited to Cheese Days by our good friends, Marty and Sue, who always dress in cheesey costumes. Hosted by their gracious cousins, Betsey and Larry, our festooned group walked past blocks of Victorian homes to the center of the town square and plunged into the festivities.

Marty and Sue set the standards high for Cheese Days garb, so we joined in the general craziness. We dressed as our favorite types of cheeses: French Brie, String Cheese, and Aged Cheddar. I know. Pretty cheesey, right? One of my friends says we looked "gouda." OK - no more cheese puns.

Cheese Days began in 1914 when local businessman attended a neighboring town's "Sauerkraut Days" and figured Monroe could compete. By the second year, Monroe had 20,000 people attending the event. Our hosts even owned a vintage Cheese Day hat from 1940.

We saw cheese sculptures, by Sarah the Cheese Lady, carved from cheddar and swiss. We drank home-made soda and ate bratwurst. Our friend Marty ordered his traditional swiss cheese sandwich. I was happy with my apple dumpling, topped with ice cream.

The fest held a classic car show, showcased bands on three stages, and shopping. There was also a tent for their home-grown Swiss Colony company - the mail order catalog place that sends those festive towers of petit-fours. Yes - you definitely have plenty to eat at cheese days.

On the way home, we stopped at three HUGE antique malls in Beloit, Wisconsin, and (of course) a cheese shop to buy some fresh curds, a block of Aged Swiss and Wisconsin beef summer sausage.

If you want to go, plan ahead - they do this once every two years - and hotel reservations are hard to come by!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gracefully Aging

My daughter told me recently that I am a part of the "gracefully aging" club. She intended this as a compliment.

It came about when I was helping her choose an outfit to wear to junior high school. Because we werein the midst of spring, I suggested that she put a cardigan sweater over her t-shirt. "Mom," she sighed. "No one wears cardigans in my school. Except, maybe, the old teachers."

"What? They're so cute! I wear cardigans," I insisted.

"Well...they look good on you," she said, back-peddling quickly.

"But aren't they only worn by older teachers?" I pushed. Ever the diplomat, my beautiful and much younger offspring replied, "Yes, mom. But you look great. You're part of the gracefully aging club."


I am in my mid-forties. Actually, later mid-forties. I am only three short years away from the dreaded AARP application arriving in the mail. There are things I would want to wear that are definitely too young for me.

It is true. I'm aging. We all are.

"There is a new sense of beauty
in your 40s and 50s and beyond."

As a middle aged adult, I understand now the conflicted feelings women have about growing older. I know that we don't want to stay young forever. I'm glad I'm past the awkward years of acne and angst. But I also understand now a comment my mom once made when she said she felt like she'd slipped too quickly from feeling awkward to  being older. Why can't we stay perfectly in the middle?

Actress Demi Moore made news earlier this year when she collapsed unconscious in a state of physical depletion. The 50-something actress is known for looking like she never ages at all - and apparently avoiding growing older is one of her main goals. Her second husband, Ashton Kutcher, was much younger than her. She reportedly drinks Red Bull and eats next to nothing in an attempt to maintain her youthful figure. And, the efforts are killing her. Friends are concerned that in Demi's efforts to avoid growing older, she might be killing herself.

I don't want to be young forever, but I wouldn't mind aging gracefully.

A few of my favorite actresses qualify in that category: Audrey Hepburn, Dianne Keaton, Meryl Streep. My mom is another. She has always seemed younger than her actual age, and has always looked beautiful to me.

These are women who weren't afraid to change. Their bodies and faces no longer looked like they did in their teens and twenties. But, rather than strain to falsely replicate what they had, they retained their beauty and actually took on the years with grace and dignity.

There is a new sense of beauty in your 40s and 50s and beyond. It might be wider at the hips. It may be sprinkled with gray. But it can also be more confident and less self aware. There are fewer people to judge you and more of life to enjoy.

You can wear a cardigan or flared (not skinny) jeans or a one-piece bathing suit or lower-heeled sandals because you want to and because they make you feel great - not because Seventeen magazine declare it to be the new fall trend or because you desperately want to fit in.

You can chop your hair short or quit dying it to cover the grays. You can realize that your weight may no longer be what it once was. You can enjoy a good walk at an easy pace and a cafe au lait (yes, please, to the cream).

What did the poet Robert Browning say so well?

"Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fong Fest: Tiki Fun at Chef Shangrila

Polynesian dresses were the order of the day as Chicago area Rockabilly types welcomed fall with the First Annual Fong Fest - a tiki fest featuring food, vendors, bands . . . and no palm trees anywhere.

Bands, with names like The Hot Rod Huxters, The Concussions, The Dyes and The Neandrathals, graced the main stage wearing crazy get-ups from rubber skeleton masks to fur caveman outfits. Chicago's mayor of Rockabilly, Mr. Ken Mottet, emceed the two-day long event.

Luckily, the temps had dropped to a respectable mid-70s, so the fur-wearers weren't sweating. It wasn't until 9 pm that the skies opened and guests rushed under the canopies or inside the restaurant to keep from washing away.

Tiki vendors sold home decor and vintage clothing.

My husband, Milt, inside the Chef.

We enjoyed the company of John and Tina (my friend and fellow blogger at Retro Fashion is My Passion).

Go go dancers, a group named The Janes, entertained the crowd with choreographed group routines and outfit changes.

Our hosts and the organizers of the event, Coalby and Dave, are good friends to North Riverside, Illinois, Chef Shangrila. "The Chef", as it is affectionately called, opened in 1975. Its owners have decorated it head to toe in traditional Polynesian decor with lots of bamboo, tiki heads, and a koi pond.

Rockabilly bands are frequent guests at the Chef, playing on select weekend nights. For this fest, the Chef served up Hawaiian tacos, fried rice, spring rolls, and mini-bbq sandwiches with sweet potato fries. Tropical drinks, including their famous Dr. Fong, were in ready supply. A few vintage rides were also on display.

We are glad they are restarting this festive event - it gives us a good excuse to break out our floral shirts and shell necklaces.

Thanks for the first Fong Fest, Chef Shangrila! For more info on this fabulous Chicago-area restaurant, go to:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

This is one of my favorite photos of my grandfather, or "Papa" as we called him.

Papa (on the far right of the photo) retired from John Deere and Co. in Moline, Illinois. He worked long hours at his job in the foundry, work that was probably not particularly fulfilling. Yet, he got up at the crack of dawn, put on his work pants and boots, and took his black metal lunch box packed by my grandma each morning. He worked hard.

My grandma, Honey, worked too. She labored in the home. She took odd jobs as a waitress or in a factory. She was determined, no matter what her circumstance to care for her children. Here she is at a coffee shop where she worked (on the far left of the photo).

Most people in that generation were used to "labor." They did not see work as we see it, as a means to personal fulfillment. They weren't worried about their "calling" in life. They worked to put a meal on the table, to pay rent, to survive.

According to Forbes magazine, Labor Day was first celebrated in the United States on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City and was planned by the Central Labor Union. The Labor Day parade of about 10,000 workers took unpaid leave and marched from City Hall past Union Square and ended in Wendel’s Elm Park for a concert, speeches, and a picnic.

Labor Day is not just about a day off, but a time to honor the 155 million men and women currently in the United States work force. I think there is something good and real and honest about putting in a hard day's work. Sweat equity, they call it, where you are invested in something that is worth doing.

We have it easier today than our forebearers. In the late 1800s, reports Forbes, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks to eke out a basic living.  Also, children as young as five or six years old worked in factories and mines.

One of the foundational Bible verses of the college where I teach is to "Study to show yourself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth." 2 Timothy 2:15.

I like that. I want to be a workman like that - studying and working and teaching and housekeeping, not for glory, but for God.

Whatever you do, the Bible tells us, we are to do it with all of our heart, mind and soul. Whether we are pushing papers at an office or changing a baby's diapers. Whether we are mowing the lawn or teaching a class, each job is to be done to our best ability.

That is a challenge. In our age, we aren't used to facing challenges, especially if the reward is not imminent. We will gladly work for increased pay or opportunity, but we find it difficult to be steadfast when the hours are long or the job unrewarding.

Labor Day marks the official end of the vacation season and, for many kids, the return to school. But, today is a day to rest and relax and kick up our heels for the moment.

So, Happy Labor Day to all of my fellow workers, who commute long hours or search for a decent paying job or faithfully serve from home.