Friday, September 03, 2010

Youngest Son takes a trip; parents follow

It's high school football season again in the Curmudgeon home. I've mentioned this in passing in prior essays. It is not just any old football season, either. It is Youngest Son's senior year -- and his last football season ever.

"I love college football," Youngest Son said last night as he flipped channels between any of about 63 college games then in progress.

"If you love it so much," I said, "why don't you try and play in college?" He's looking at small schools for baseball as it is. If one could play both sports in college -- and if one is not Bo Jackson -- it would probably have to be at a smaller school. (Yes, Cub fans, I know all about Jeff Samardzija. Be quiet now.)

Youngest Son is still nursing bruised ribs from Sunday night's game. He swiveled to look at me to gauge whether I was being serious or merely obtuse. "Dad, I'd be dead." He turned back to watch Pitt-Utah or maybe it was South Carolina-Southern Mississippi. Maybe he switched channels again. Time passed. "I love to watch college football," he amended.

Youngest Son was watching TV while allegedly washing clothes in anticipation of his trip today.

Ordinarily, Illinois high schools play other high schools in the same general vicinity. The term "general" is relative. My son's school belongs to a conference that has teams in the far south suburbs, close to the Indiana state line; in the southwest suburbs; in the western suburbs; on the northwest side of the City and in the northwest suburbs; and pretty darn far up in Lake County, closer to Wisconsin than to our house. When Oldest Son was in high school there was a temporary conference realignment. That year, we also had a road game in Kankakee.

But -- still -- none of these destinations is more than an hour and a half away. Except at rush hour on Friday, when one needs to get to most of the football games.

(In the Midwest, we measure distance by estimated travel time, not by distance. I gather this is a regional thing.)

Anyway, we are in the non-conference portion of this year's football schedule. Schools get to schedule a couple of games against teams that aren't in one's own conference. It is a way for some schools to pick up 'quality' games that may help in playoff seedings. Some schools like to schedule East Cupcake or North Marshmallow so that everyone on the squad gets some game experience. My sons' high school has generally tried for one of each. Thus, last week's tussle was against a school from the Catholic League Blue Division. (For the uninitiated, the Chicago Catholic League is about as tough a high school football league as there is anywhere -- including, I say with a hint of parochial pride, anywhere in Texas or Florida. Donovan McNabb went to Mount Carmel, for example.)

This week's game was supposed to be against a Chicago public school. Some of the Chicago public high schools have great football programs -- Morgan Park is a current power. Dick Butkus came from Chicago Vocational. But the level of competition is pretty uneven. The football coach (who doubles as AD) isn't saying which school he had the contract with for the second game of this season, only that the school canceled out at the last minute, leaving him to scramble for a replacement. He thought he found someone in Wisconsin, he said, but that did not pan out. Eventually, he found one other school in the state with an open date.

It was the one and only school available -- and it's five hours away (300 miles, if you must).

Later this morning, Youngest Son and his teammates will board a highway bus and head out for far southern Illinois. Although it's still in the same state, for us in Chicago, southern Illinois might as well be a different country. You don't have to get much south of I-80 before folks start speaking with a twang. Youngest Son's destination this weekend is a lot further south of that. I remember taking the kids to Springfield years ago. We made a day trip from Springfield south to Vandalia, Illinois' second capital (after Kaskaskia). Abraham Lincoln was in the legislature when the capital was in Vandalia; it was there that he helped broker a deal that moved the capital to his adopted hometown of Springfield. The old capital building became the Fayette County Courthouse.

We couldn't help but notice all the prisons -- and the signs warning against picking up hitchhikers -- on the blacktop around Vandalia. Someone once told me that the best farmland in Illinois is all north of Springfield. South of Springfield, I was told, the only industry is prisons. (I can only apologize to the good citizens of southern Illinois for the preceding two sentences -- I assure you, it is not an opinion that I hold personally. It is merely something I've been told.)

Youngest Son's destination this weekend is south of Springfield. South of Vandalia, too.

Naturally, Long Suffering Spouse wants to go see the game. I do, too, really. I'm just not looking forward to 10 hours of driving. "What if he gets hurt?" asked Long Suffering Spouse. "We have to be there." (Moms are always worried about the kid getting hurt; dads are always concerned about the kid doing well. OK, fine, dads are always concerned about the kid not screwing up.)

Sometime tonight, after the rush hour subsides, if it ever does, Long Suffering Spouse and I will venture out. We'll find some place to stay along the Interstate when we can drive no further. Hopefully that will prove to be close to our intended destination. The game is tomorrow afternoon. (I'll be looking out for prisons, too.)

But, in the meantime, Youngest Son left us this morning. All the football players were presented with giant bags in which to lug their football gear. Youngest Son also had a backpack for his books and small bag for his non-football clothes. On his last trip to the car, Long Suffering Spouse produced a $20 bill. "Would you like this?" she asked.

The kid is clearly in good shape, with very sharp reflexes, at least judging by the way he snatched the proffered bill from his mother's hand.

"They are going to feed him, you know," I protested, but already too late to save the $20 bill.

"But what if he needs something extra?" Long Suffering Spouse asked.

Youngest Son kept moving toward the front door.

"He's just going to use it to play cards," I said.

The lightbulb went on over Long Suffering Spouse's head. She wheeled toward Youngest Son, who by this time had almost made good his escape. "Don't you dare gamble with my money!"

"Why would I gamble with your money?" Youngest Son called back, affecting an attitude of wounded innocence.

I followed Youngest Son out the door, if only to answer his question. "Because you don't have any money of your own to gamble with," I said quietly.

"Well, there is that," he said, quieter still, and he stowed the last load of gear in the car.

"I hope you win enough to pay for Homecoming," I said. Homecoming is next weekend.

"So do I," he said, closing the car door.

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