The Irish Catholic Hajj Lived

The trek towards Middle America is daunting in an Econoline van, 700 miles and 11 hours long.  Yet the draw for a 17-strong contingent of Philadelphia area products from the Roman Catholic Church and school systems is irresistible, as witnessed by a core group that has made the South Bend trek to University of Notre Dame football games 17 times now.  

The underside of an obscure card table, inscribed with the names of past participants documents the participants from year-to-year.  Those making the Hajj for the first time dutifully add (R) to their names to signify their rookie status.  We also made habit of marveling at the precision organization, courtesy of Major General (Honarary) Edward Brady (Father Judge ’74), and execution.  Staying out of the way – unless called upon – for fear of ruining the mojo.

The group was not nearly as rowdy as might have been – and probably was – years ago.  Then again most of use are on the downhill side of 50 or below sea-level of 60!  It does seem to mute the wackiness.  The one exception being the call to “Huddle up!!” by Staff Sargeant (Hon) Lenny, a call to imbibe shots of intestinal fortitude.

You learn to celebrate Life more managably as you grow older.

Friday was for a tour of the Notre Dame campus, steeped in history not limited to football.  As a Philly guy, never quite bitten as badly by the ND bug, hearing the story of John Cardinal O’Hara (former Philadelphia Cardinal of the Archdiocese and President of Notre Dame) next to his marble crypt is one example.  The Battle of Gettysburg story of Reverend William Corey, steadying New York’s Irish Brigade in the hours before their date with Destiny at Little Round Top and the wheat field, is quite another.

As for the football experience, the pageantry and loyal following the Fighting Irish inspire is evident at every venue.  For me, the excitement generated by the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, on Friday particularly with the horn section warming up the crowd inside The Rotunda was simply spectacular!


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Saturday, the focus was FOOTBALL … not to be overshadowed by perhaps the nicest stretch of weather shining down on the Best Tailgating Experience ever!  (OK … Honestly the guy with the satellite dish and 40+ inch screen might have an edge here.)  It’s difficult to imagine a better day.

The Miami of Ohio – Notre Dame game was anticlimactic, given the obvious talent gap and the Irish’s ability to step on Miami’ s throat in the 1st Quarter (Final: ND 52 – Miami 17).  But the highlight truly is that there’s much, much more to enjoy at the Notre Dame Football experience than just a lopsided victory!

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View of our rental’s backyard in the vicinity of the University of Notre Dame

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The Irish American Hajj

Sixteen men, one determined young lady, two Econoline vans (bench seats), 700 miles, 11 hours … A journey meant for the die-hard fans of The Golden Dome, The Fighting Irish, Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and other Legends of the Gridiron ….

An American Hajj (Commitment)

A two-decade tradition expanded to include wannabes and hangers-on.  The planning intricate, resourceful, learned … Leadership the envy of military staffers ….

We depart at zero-dark-thirty for the University of Notre Dame with kisses from the women folk left behind. (Admittedly some of which are not all that worried about more spacious beds, cooking for one, and quiet evenings curled up with Netflix.)  The assault vehicles are loaded; GPS devices homed in; coffeed up and leisurely fed by one weekend widow, we are Oscar Mike!

The Summer of Orange Discontent

Description=ab23638.jpg AB23638 (RM) Traffic cones along side of road Taxi

Official Flora of Orange Summer

Many have heard the lame joke, made at times like these … “What’s the State flower of (fill in your favorite State/Commonwealth in dysfunction)?”  The punch line is pictured to the right.

It’s been one of those Summers in my little slice of Heaven on Earth.  Seems every week I am running into large rectangular announcements that “This road will be closed beginning on (month-date.)”  The amount of road work going on is enough to set commuters’ neck hairs a quivering!

My guess is that the Silver Lining in all this traffic disruption this Summer is a good sign for The Economy as a whole; but it truly wreaks havoc with the rate-of-productive-effort vs. travel time ratio.  And for some reason this Summer has seen much more infrastructure investment than any other Summer I can remember.

img_0036Summer’s tend to be most beneficial to blooming orange cones; but this one might set a record, not just for orange cones but also for orange detour signs (announced weeks in advance) and the deployment of the Flagger Forces of Evil.  I have joked recently that any hostile power, looking to pose damage and mayhem to American society would – as their first step in subversion – invest heavily in Flagger Force franchises.

Those guys are EVERYWHERE.  And even though they might seem innocuous, they control the smooth flow of American auto society.  Too perfect a cover for a nefarious force looking to nonchalantly position themselves at numerous strategic venues and choke points.  Reminds me of German efforts to sabatage the Allied response to the Nazis’ World War II offensive in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge).  They sent commandos to infiltrate behind Allied lines, disrupting communications and responses by – among other things – changing routing and destination signage!

img_0035It’s getting to the point where I am recognizing Flagger Force operatives moving from one choke point to another.  That cannot be a good thing!

My work commute is generally a non-invasive, relaxing commune with Nature along the secondary and back roads of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (Hatboro, Upper Moreland, Abington, Cheltenham).  No stress, relaxing scenery, manageable traffic …

Until this Summer anyway …

On any given morning, I can find two or three of my favored secondary roads impassable due to construction or repair work.  From the all too obviously needed bridge rework to road re-paving to power-line tree trimming to sewage and water line installations to God only knows what, it has been a particularly active Season of Infrastructure!

Terwood Road (closed since July 5) has been a real kick in the commute, a direct route slicing east-southeast through bucolic settings guaranteed to settle the most nervous commuter.  Worse yet, the popular route’s closure in an area not exactly brimming with non-invasive alternative routes, throws other east-west secondary routes in the area into complete disarray, forcing me to use primary routes (e.g. Route 611) where the driving is closer to Mad Max: Fury Road than psyche-settling leisure.

UPDATE:  Just days after posting this, Welsh Road (Route 63), another rather vital East-West commuter link, particularly for PA Turnpike access in eastern Montgomery County, had two sections narrowed to one lane (one for bridge work crossing over the Turnpike); had another stretch east of Washington Lane completely closed for God-only-knows-what, and is being resurfaced!!

It’s both maddening and reassuring in the “Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure” way of thinking.

  1. Roads – and the utilities running along and below them – are essential.
  2. Roads take a beating.
  3. Roads require maintenance and semi-regular investment to maintain long-term utility.
  4. Maintenance and Investment Time sucks when moving from Point A to Point B!

There’s NEVER a good time to do it.  And when it’s being done, it’s never a good time for anyone … other than the good people (so far as we know) of Flagger Force!

Just shoot me already … (That was sarcasm, FF!)

Dream on, Cranky Man …

Looking for a little help interpreting a dream I had last night.  Please help me to understand this, as I am sure there is a message in there somewhere.

When people ask if you dream in color, I certainly do.

SETTING:  I am bike-riding (definitely a dream clue!) in a semi-rural area with a well maintained bike path. The area is not recognizable to me (post-dream analysis).  I come to a bridge obviously under construction with concrete pathways both around and through the construction zone.  For some reason, the temporary path has several rather steep drop-offs that I can barely navigate, but do successfully.

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Dr. K (Gerald McRaney)

At one such drop-off  another biker joins me, an (much) older guy dressed for some reason in white shirt and dress pants.  It wasn’t until I woke up, replaying the dream that I recognize the gentlemen as none other than Dr. Nathon Katowski – Dr. K – from the NBC series This is us“.

Potential Predilection Admission:  OK … OK … Yes, I have been playing catch-up on the new NBC series I had been hearing so much about. But I can see no basis for a connection between the TV show and my dream.

Gerald McRaney really has nothing to offer in the way of fatherly physician advice or insight.  He simply looks at one of the drop-offs and mutters, “What the f—!”  (Apparently I also dream in expletives.)

As we emerge from the bridge construction site, we come onto a broad field strewn with rough boulders about the size of basketballs.  (Is this a detailed dream or what?)  Here the path separates left and straight across the clearing.  Dr. K goes straight; I go left!

MEATY DREAM ACTION:  As I pedal off, I glance over the good doctor’s way.  He’s about halfway across the field.  Then I see them!  Two … then three cute little bear cubs pop up right in the midst of Dr. K’s path.  He’s off his bike, so I shout to him a warning to “Stay away from the cubs!” … even though at the time I see no momma bear.

momma-bearNot sure if he hears me or not, but at that point one of the cubs breaks off in a run and the stupid doctor (We all KNOW better, right?!?) runs after the cub.  And suddenly, there is momma bear on hind legs though only slightly taller than the now-doomed doctor!

I’m too far away to do anything but yell for help.  Besides, I’m certainly not stupid enough to go bear fighting.  Meanwhile the bear and Doctor Doomed are kick-boxing (I kid you not …).  The bear then grabs Dr. K around one shoulder and starts body punching the crap out of the helpless human.  (For the record, I do like the Dr. K character. So that’s one theory out the window.)

I am reduced to waving my arms (not at all sure what that accomplishes) and screaming for help.

After what seems like an interminable period of time, some guy comes out of nowhere with a handgun – not a rifle or shotgun – and proceeds the shoot THE DOCTOR!!  Then he shoots at the bear …

The last image I had – probably before being elbowed awake for snoring – was Dr. K on the ground, but still alive.  Heck, he wasn’t even bloody, just lying there on the ground.  His shooter/rescuer was standing over him and firing at something unseen in the near distance (likely NOT Mandy Moore).

Please provide your Dreamy Interpretations as a Comment!  One important factor I neglected to mention … This dream occurred in the wee hours of Valentine’s Day morning. (That doesn’t mean anything, right?!?)

Be advised … All first-time commenters must be reviewed and approved before their comment will appear. Thanks for listening!  – Cranky Man

An American Hajj

hajj – an honorary title given to an individual who is engaging in pilgrimage. The honorific title “Hajj” stays with him, even after his return from pilgrimage until his death, quite often as a permanent title and part of his name with friends and public.

main-buildings-golden-dome-university-of-notre-dame-library-of-congress-lc-dig-highsm-18705One weekend this coming September, I will embark on a pilgrimage to the one of the most important sites for American Roman Catholics.  No … not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, not the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa … not the Vatican …

I will be attending my first football game in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame!

No doubt in some yet-to-be-discovered scroll tucked in a Galilean sea cave resides an ancient admonishment for all Roman Catholic citizens of the United States to make The Pilgrimage of The Fighting Irish at least once in one’s lifetime!  I’m sure of it.  It must exist … for how else to explain this overpowering physical attraction to The Program???

This is a phenomena with which I grew up in Irish Catholic Philadelphia during the 1960-70s.  It’s been a fascinating thing to witness, especially when few – if any – of those adults and children with whom I grew up actually attended Notre Dame!  The dedication is real and pervasive to the point where many families and friends set aside at least one weekend each football season to make the annual pilgrimage.

Frankly, an Irish Catholic’s love for Notre Dame football is not all that difficult to decipher as a natural development of growing up in undeniably wholesome and homogenous settings, where The Church was a central and integral part in the lives of our Parents and Grandparents … and thus onto us.  It’s a confluence of Sports and Religion unique in its roots, devotion and enduring strength.

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Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and friends

It’s origins likely the outgrowth of the rise of collegiate football in the decades preceding the existence of the National Football League (NFL); and the result of The Fighting Irish’s success and broad appeal in the collective conscience of those proud Catholics. While “the greatest generation” – the generation of my father and uncles, Irishmen all –  lived its formative years, Notre Dame football was a constant presence.

My father was born in 1919.  The years of 1918-1930 were the Knute Rockne years.  A twelve-year stretch consisting of FIVE undefeated seasons and SIX where no more than 2 losses were booked by The Fighting Irish!  So it’s not hard to see how a generation was immersed in the success and glory of Notre Dame football, even in a time long before football polls, National Championships, and the dreaded BCS.

Unfortunately, the lack  of clear-cut test for determining such pressing issues as football supremacy begot arguments that probably sent many an Irish-Americans into Saturday confessionals

For some reason I was not bitten as severely by the ND football bug as so many were in my extended fraternal family.  I like Notre Dame football; enjoy watching; and always pull for them when I catch their broadcasts.  But the fanaticism never took complete root.

In my family, I have had uncles and cousins make the pilgrimage as once-in-a-lifetime excursions or as regular visits.  I had at least one cousin buried in full Notre Dame regalia.  So many funerals and a few weddings had references to The Fighting Irish.

It’s a guy thing … a Catholic thing … a family thing …

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A family thing … Brother Pat and his two sons, Joseph and Andrew

Yet despite all that kelly green DNA, I never had the Irish-urge to see Notre Dame play locally or even think about taking the trip out to South Bend.

That changed a few weeks ago, when a close friend suggested we go out to God’s Country with mutual friends, who have made ND football an annual gig.  I demurred at first … again not smitten with the ND bug.  Then I found out my brother – a true ND football devotee – had decided to join the very same group from his home base on the West Coast.

Though I may not be a Notre Dame football disciple, I am certainly a huge fan of family, friends, fun, and good times.

What better reason could there be to embark on such an American hajj?!?

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“Hidden Figures”, unexpected lesson

hidden-figures-posterYour typical Saturday night … a reason to make plans a few days previous with friends for dinner and a movie … so why not combine the two?

That’s how a few hours of entertainment morphed into unexpected perspectives on one of the unnoticed parts of American history and the race into space.

Hidden Figures“, nominee for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars, is the story of three African-American women who played important roles in the United States race to get man into space.  The movie plays out at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA in 1961.

The three women – a mathematical genius (called “computers” long before the electronic versions), an aspiring engineer, and the de facto supervisor of a group of a pool of data transcribers – struggle to gain respect and recognition in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration‘s (NASA) space program in the Jim Crow South.

The twist – both interesting and discomforting – came in the form of WHERE we decided to partake of food and adult beverages while catching a good movie.

Carol had arranged for us to see a movie Saturday night with friends.  We decided to try a local franchise of the Studio Movie Grill in Upper Darby, PA .. a township, seamlessly fused to the west side of Philadelphia.

images-2 The immediate western suburbs of Philadelphia – like West Philadelphia itself is largely African-American.  No surprise that the audience was almost entirely black.

And not a problem …

But it had not occurred to me what would result from the intersection of movie and audience demographics.  That realization came shortly after the movie started.  We had made a fascinating choice in movie, given the makeup of the audience. It would be an interesting evening, enjoying “Hidden Figures” (a firm recommendation, dear Reader) and noting the differences in perspective.

Perspective was easily observed.

Four African-American women, roughly my age and dressed for a night out, were seated next to me.  As the evening war on, between a flatbread pizza and mac ‘n cheese (a firm NO, dear Reader), we watched a great story.  While I enjoyed the history of the story, they were connecting with Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary on an entirely different level.

There was a bit of verbal audience participation … encouraging advice, pleas to speak out, silent but deep disgust.  I could feel it, but I couldn’t really.

At one point in the film, I laughed when Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) scurried frantically across the Langley campus.  Then I realized she was on a one-mile round trip to use a “colored only” ladies room because one wasn’t available in the building to which she had been assigned.  I stopped myself short and listened.  There was no laughter, only the murmurs of those who grew up knowing such things as intimate history.

I learned what I thought I knew I could never ever really know.

FWIW …. I thought the movie was very good, the story compelling.  Although I have only seen Hidden Figures and La La Land (also very good) on the Best Picture nominee list, I would have thought Taraji Henson deserved a nomination.  Octavia Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and should receive strong consideration.