For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
March 20, 1996 - Arbor Day, the Great Waukegan Carwash Robbery
At last the truth can be told. I was one of the two Caped Avengers who thwarted the great Waukegan Car Wash Robbery.
My crime fighting identity in those days was "Red Diamond." My partner and mentor was Mike Milligan, "The Blade." I was 10. He was 12.
It started out like any other night, with our usual patrol of the block. This was no small task. Our block had houses on two sides of the long rectangle; the other two sides had a host of little shops. There was a McDonald's, a fish store, a gas station, a laundry, a factory, a liquor store, a barber shop, a grocery store -- and a car wash.
The patrol took about an hour. We did it every night, rain or shine.
We knew something was different as we crossed over the laundromat -- a reflected light where we were used to darkness. We were on the roof of the building, just coming up on the rickety wooden plank we placed to let us climb over to the car wash. Then we heard it: the tinkle of broken glass. Two low voices.
The Blade motioned me closer. Carefully, we inched above the front door. We heard: "Where's the cash drawer?" "Behind the counter." "It's locked!" "Here, try this!" Then we heard banging.
It was the moment we had been waiting for, all of our lives, the moment we had trained for.
First we both stomped around on the roof. Below, the men froze. "I called the police!" the Blade shouted. "I know who they are!" I piped. Then we looked at each other and grinned.
Then we stopped grinning. A head popped up at one end of the building. "It's some kids," said a voice. "Grab them!" said the other voice. The first man started scrambling up.
The Blade and I ran back to the plank, danced across it, then kicked it free. We could hear the man swear behind us, and start looking for a way down.
We tore across the roof, dropped along a gutter. Then, we dived into our escape path, a route worked countless times in the dark. Through the alley, over the picket fence, along the brick wall, and finally, a leap into space, high above the back yards of our neighbors ...
There were three willow trees. We hit one, swung along a high branch, connected to the next tree, swung, grabbed for the next, and landed running. In just minutes, we were safe.
The next day, we huddled over the newspaper headline: "CAR WASH ROBBERY INTERRUPTED." The store owner expressed gratitude for whatever mysterious event had scared off the robbers. Nothing had been stolen.
Our eyes narrowed. We clasped hands. "The Blade," I said. "Red Diamond," he replied. The Mystery Men of Waukegan.
The point of this story is, I trust, perfectly plain. If it hadn't been for those willow trees, evil might have triumphed.
And that brings us to Arbor Day.
See elsewhere in this issue for the complete list of Arbor Day activities. But I would be remiss if I didn't highlight two of them.
First, at 9 a.m., April 20, we will be planting trees and shrubs at the new Parker Library. We are looking for both volunteers and donations, although the Town of Parker and the Friends of the Parker Library have already made significant commitments. The same morning, our own storyteller, Priscilla Queen, will entertain the children with more tales related to trees. The Parker Senior Center will provide refreshments.
Second, Larkspur will be participating in this countywide event for the first time this year -- planting trees along the inner road of the park.
Again, do look elsewhere in the paper for more opportunities to participate in the planting of trees, or for a complete list of contacts. And this year, vow to help.
Why? For truth. For justice. For the American Way.