The spirit of ChicagoWednesday, August 15, 2012
Failing With Gusto
When I worked downtown at a big Chicago insurance company as a single girl, my attention was never drawn to the men in suits. Instead, I had a huge crush on the cute cafeteria guy who gave me free bread. Why, you ask? The uniform. I have always had a thing for guys in uniform.
It should come as no surprise that I am married to a Chicago fireman. Back before Joe was hired by the city, he worked for a private ambulance service. Every time I saw him in his crisp white uniform, I swooned.
With three young sons, my exposure to uniformed paramedics has unfortunately increased. Our first ambulance trip occurred when Daniel was 5. He inadvertently stuck a screw driver directly through his eye. The paramedics were able to tend to Daniel's injury while simultaneously calming a hysterical mother with gentle words of comfort and humor. I was so grateful.
A few years later, Jack managed to catch his head on the corner of some furniture. I panicked as blood spurted six feet across the room. I immediately dialed 911 and basically threw Jack at the arriving paramedic with the solitary demand for him to fix my baby. He obliged.
Oddly enough, my own licensed paramedic is always at work when disaster strikes. Then again, if he was home, his typical response would be to "just put some ice on it."
I am in awe of the uniformed heroes of Chicago. As a neighbor and friend to many of these folks, I cannot get over how quick they are to laugh. With so much of their jobs steeped in horror and tragedy, they all seem to reach for humor first.
It's almost like they are mothers.
Some of my favorite people on the planet work at Joe's firehouse. There is a pair of exceptionally handy guys who relish building things. Some time ago, they were christened Phineas and Ferb after the Disney Channel's cartoon brothers who build triple decker lemonade stands and nuclear-powered roller coasters. They also are fierce competitors. Every summer, there is a battle of engineering superiority between various firehouses and shifts. This year was no different. The directives were clear:
- Build a machine capable of throwing a 16-inch softball super far
- Best of five throws wins
- NO EXPLOSIVES. There will be children in attendance
One shift opted for a catapult. Another chose a trebuchet. And the final group went with the "floating arm" trebuchet. The different architects tried to explain ratios and physics to me, but I became distracted by the hamburgers sizzling on the grill 50 feet away.
After the first three attempts, Phineas and Ferb appeared to be on the verge of defeat. With a solid year of bragging rights on the line, the team rallied together, adjusted some weights and somehow managed to launch a 16-inch softball directly into space.
The assorted crews gathered around, congratulated each other on their impressive efforts, and plotted next year's competition:
"I was thinking we motorize some shopping carts."
"I'd love to use a snow blower engine and build a speed boat."
"I like using plywood. Can we do something with plywood?"
Whenever I visit the firehouse and watch these men banter, laugh, and come together to keep Chicago safe, I take great pride in the example they set for my sons. Despite the heavy burden of responsibility in their professional lives, they still show endless humor and consideration in their daily lives. One minute may find them furiously debating the merits of A1 Steak Sauce and the next second they are hustling off to the scene of a terrible accident or fire.
They are Chicago. And I really can't wait to see what they build next year.
For more pictures and video, visit webandofmothers.blogspot.com.