Thursday, July 21, 2011

Take the 'A' Train

My very first paying job was in Chicago.  After looking for a job at want ads and interviewing daily for a month, I landed one as a research technician at a laboratory located inside Wesley Memorial Hospital, now a part of Northwestern University Hospital System. That was August 8, 1961. My whole family moved to Chicago from Manila.  My father was sent as an attaché to the Philippine Consulate in Chicago and the rest of us came as his dependents.
Wide-eyed  yet unfamiliar with my new surroundings, I noticed that at around 4:00 PM, the radio was turned on.  Bill, a high -schooler who comes to wash our glassware, tunes the radio to the broadcast of the baseball game. Since I was not aware of what’s going on I focused on the musical theme that opens the show. It was lively, jazzy, a bit jumpy and very catchy to listen to.  After a few days I could hum it from memory.  I looked forward to the daily broadcast not to listen to the baseball game but to listen to the theme song.  At the end of the broadcast, I could not care less which team won or lost.  I only knew that the theme song would come on once more to close the show. As I listened to the tune I vowed that I would remember this tune and use it as landmark of my first job in America and my initiation to life in the U.S.A.
It never occurred to me that the theme song could have a name and that it could be a standard composition borrowed by the radio program.  I assumed it was composed for the radio program.  The melody rings inside my head.  I hear the blaring of the trumpets and feel the fast tempo set by the drum beats.  It was only years later that I found out that the tune is a composition by Duke Ellington called “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
The early years in Chicago were spent working and going to school, pursuing my master’s degree in chemistry. I took the “A” train of the Howard line to stop at Jarvis, an “A” station.    As a graduate student, I concentrated on getting “A’s” in my courses. Upon completing my degree, I worked at Abbott Laboratories, a workplace beginning with the letter “A.”
As I replay “Take the A Train” in my mind, the picture of a young girl wearing a white lab coat in Room 262 comes into view.  I had the task of analyzing the concentration of sodium and potassium in the plasma of patients with muscular dystrophy using flame photometer.  Three times a week in the evening, I walked through the connecting underground tunnel to attend classes at Northwestern University. Later on, I met a friend taking the same classes I took, Helen Chu, who invited me to run quickly to her apartment nearby to have a home - cooked meal before class.
At noon, I walked through the tunnel to come out on the sidewalk next to Lakeshore Drive to view Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier building nearby. The lake breeze gently blowing my face and hair felt refreshing. 
Once a month, all of the members of the research team would be required to come for a 6:00 AM breakfast and seminar.  Breakfast was served at the cafeteria and paid for by our research leader.  One or two of us would be assigned to give a presentation to the group which numbered about 16.  I was  asked to give a presentation on volumetric glass ware.
The days at the lab and at Northwestern University were enjoyable. I was introduced to the ordinary custom of greeting, smiling, helping and conversing. I picked up a few lyrics of songs sung by Bill von Eickman who sang songs between assays.  I also learned a few Christmas songs notably, “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Silver Bells.”
I moved on to other phases of my life associated with other songs: –
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” – my days as a Montessori teacher at Near North Montessori School
“March of the Soldiers” from “The Nutcracker” – my days directing and teaching at my own school, Glencoe Montessori School
Songs of salsa, cha-cha, swing, rumba, bolero, merengue, waltz and fox trot -my days studying and enjoying the art of ballroom dancing.
I am not quite sure what songs will stand out as I begin my second career in teaching after a brief retirement.  Once again I will be teaching young children in a Montessori Charter School.  Perhaps I will revive the songs from “Hair” – “Good Morning Star Shine” and “Let the Sunshine In.”  I know I will keep on singing as I continue taking the “A” train and know that “This Train is Bound for Glory. “ Amen.