Sunday, February 6, 2011


It’s been a heck of week, a cold week, the coldest week I can recall in the twenty-two years I’ve lived in Phoenix. My ficus trees are dead – dammit. It was cold enough to hurt your face, if that makes any sense. The automatic sprinklers watered the baseball field outside my classroom each morning and you could have ice skated on the puddles all afternoon. I had this fantasy of secretly tossing a little water onto the concrete outside of my door and asking a couple of choice freshmen to leave the classroom. I’ve seen the trick in movies. It’s not the kind of thing that happens in an Arizona desert city.

A few of my students competed in an academic competition across town. I served as sponsor and chauffeur. Would you believe me if I told you those kids made fun of my family Chevy Astro van? Well, they did, all the way out and all the way back – both days. They made fun of the cracked windshield, my broken blinker and the dents on the sides. They made fun of my busted taillight. And they made fun of the fact that the front doors wouldn’t open, forcing the front passenger and me to crawl in from the back. It kind of got to me when they called my family van a “creeper van.”

“Hey!” I told them, “Did you ever consider that this is the kind of car you gotta drive when you have five kids and a teachers’ salary? Huh? Did you?”

“How come teachers always complain about their salaries?” one of them asked.

“All you got to do is look at this van,” another kid came to my rescue.

“I happen to like this van. It reminds me of the broken orb on George Bailey’s staircase in it’s a Wonderful Life,” I said.

“Who’s George Bailey?” two or three of them asked at once.

By the way, the radio does work. I demonstrated this for my kids by playing A Prairie Home Companion all the way home Saturday night. For some reason, teenagers don’t fully appreciate Garrison Keillor. Got to tell you, I appreciated their lack of appreciation for Mr. Keillor.
The team didn’t exactly break any records. We had a few kids drop out, leaving us quite shorthanded. The highlight came when my students demonstrated the ability to sing that Journey song with the line, “Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit…”

It was a good moment. I mean, nobody took home a trophy or a medal and they made fun of my van, but all of my kids knew all of the words to very cool song. It was a very cool moment. Yeah, cool enough to help me appreciate my profession, my wise cracking students, and my 2000 Chevy Astro van.