"I'm sorry," I said, pausing the quickstep to my car in the windy Costco parking lot as evening fell last week. "But I have to ask..."
One of the beauties doing my job for the past third of a century: I can intrude into the lives of other people, autmatically, without hesitation or embarrassment, I didn't break step, tossing out my remark as I vectored past.
The man loading dozens of bright yellow jumbo boxes of Cheerios into the back of his car paused and looked at me.
"You must really like Cheerios," I continued, half statement, half question.
I stopped and introduced myself. He said he is Moha Bouacha, a member of the Winnetka/Northfield Rotary Club, and they're putting Thanksgiving food baskets together to donate to Good News Partners in Chicago.
"Rotary is all about service," he said, and immediately snagged me to speak. I told him I've spoken downtown at Rotary/One — so designated because it was the first chapter, founded in Chicago by a homesick New Englander on Feb. 23, 1905.
|Preparing food baskets
That merited a page in my new quotidian city history book,"Every Goddamn Day."
Their motto is "Service above self," such as feeding the needy at the holidays, a practice I'm in awe of, being essentially a self above service kind of guy. I feel charitable enough providing table space for 23 relatives at Thanksgiving.
Rotary is not all self-sacrifice, however. It is also about making beneficial connections. Research for the Rotary vignette in my book led to my reading "Babbitt," which contains a group modeled on the Rotary, and three other Sinclair Lewis novels, and writing about them in the newspaper. You follow a thread, it can lead unexpected places. Bouacha was wearing a purple NU sweatshirt, and I asked out that too. Turns out, he was associated with Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.
|Delivering food baskets
I should point out that by tucking Cheerios into their food baskets, the Rotary is giving out the most popular cereal in the country — almost half of American households regularly purchase Cheerios, or one of its numerous variants and brand extension flavors. Ours is one of them; my wife enjoys them dry, as a snack. Delving into the corporate history, I see there is the echo of a lawsuit baked into the name. Originally the half-inch wide life preservers were called "Cheerioats." But Quaker Oats brazenly claimed it had exclusive rights to the word "oats"— quite cheeky for a company that appropriated the reputation of a religious sect, against their will — so General Mills switched the name to "Cheerios" in July, 1945.