Chicago Trip

Every year we go to Chicago to visit old friends and see the new restaurants, stores and, of course, bathrooms, that Nate has been keeping his eye on during the previous 12 months. Trips are usually accompanied with developmental leaps and, though those advances are less pronounced as he gets older, Nate was different this last week. The way he said things, the way he interacted, were, dare I say, more “normal.”

Here are a few examples:

On Christmas Day, Rob, Joey and I went to see The Fighter. We didn’t get out of the theater until around 7:30. Still on Eastern Time, we were all very hungry as we proceeded with a very Jewish Christmas – movie and Chinese food. When we picked up Karen and Nate at the hotel, the Westin in Wheeling, and headed to Golden Chef, Karen told us how the two of them had hung around in the room. Around 7 or so, Nate proclaimed he was starving.

“I really was,” Nate chimed in as his Mom told the story. That phrase, “I really was,” was new to us. It showed Nate was listening, thinking, and reflecting on what he was hearing and what he felt. The delivery was pitch perfect.

When we got back to the room, Nate faced Joey as they sat on the two adjacent Queen sized beds.

“Joey,” Nate asked. “Do you like girls?”

“Yes,” Joey answered, waiting for the usual follow-up about Johnny Test, one of Nate’s favorite cartoon characters. But not this time.

With his head down, Nate said in a quiet conversational tone, almost sheepishly, “What girls do you like?”

We were all shocked by this, so much so that I had to tell Joey to answer. He did, with someone who will remain nameless for this post. I asked Nate if he liked any girls in college, and he haltingly said “Maybe.”

“That was the first real conversation I ever had with Nate,” Joey said afterward.

Nate had a moderate list of “toilaroids” he needed to take. I asked him how many he had. Usually he follows with a number, but this time he said “Not many.” Another sign of growth. As Dylan said, “Something is happening here, and I don’t know what it is.” But it’s good. 

There were some typical Nate moments.

The funniest moment came when Nate was getting undressed for the night. He stood next to Joey’s bed, where Joey was lying down. With his underwear still on, Nate took a comic turn.

“I’m naked,” he yelled, covering himself up, arms crossed over his midsection

“No you’re not,” said Joey. With that, Nate dropped his drawers.

“Oh, now you are,” Joey horrified at what he saw, calmly commented. We all cracked up.

We rode the elevator at the Westin with a black couple, probably in their 30’s. Nate was staring at the plastic bag the woman held and, he was getting ready to say something. I can always tell: his face starts twitching a bit, as if he’s gearing up but not sure if he will speak and how.

Very sweetly, he spoke.

“Hello black lady, what restaurant is that from?” he inquired as he pointed to the bag.

“Bob Chinn’s. It’s very good,” she answered kindly. Bob Chinn’s Crabhouse is legendary in Wheeling.

I wasn’t sure if she had heard him, or not, but I felt compelled to explain when we got out on the fourth floor. She was very nice about it.

Our Chicago trips are usually bittersweet. We love Cooperstown but sorely miss Chicago. It’s the car rule that all musical choices are at the prerogative of the driver. Joey doesn’t drive, so Karen and I give him some say when we’re behind the wheel.

Rob was in the passenger seat, Joey in the way back and Nate behind me in the middle row.

“Can someone play ‘It’s All Too Much?'” Joey begged.

Rob found it and, shortly after the opening guitar and organ riff, Nate spoke.

“This song is a little sad.”

I sort of heard him, but he was speaking low and I asked him to say it again. He did, and in a quick he was in full blubber. Nate misses our old home the most. He’s very nostalgic for Lincolnshire and the surrounding shopping centers. Once, the boys, my good friend Dan and myself saw Yellow Submarine at The Music Box Theater on Southport Ave in the city. Maybe the song triggered that memory.

We all get so sad when Nate’s sad. I kept asking him what was wrong and, finally, he spilled it.

“I’m sad about leaving Illinois.” He had pulled his black down hood over his eyes to cover his tears, and in the rear view mirror, I could see the lower half of his face, his bottom jaw jutting out, quivering.

“Do you want to pick a new song?”

He picked “Magical Mystery Tour,” thinking that would make him happy, but it took a long time to rebound. I could see Nate trying on lots of happy faces in an attempt to will the tear drops away.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to end 2010 and Nate is ready for his return trip. His plans for us have already begun.


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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3 Responses to Chicago Trip

  1. Before we got to the store Joey said to me If Nate has a tantrum I can handle him. When asked what they thought the puppets were feeling the children in the audience needed no prompting immediately shouting out words like sad disappointed and jealous..Siblings will commonly have negative feelings some might never connect or want to connect with their autistic siblings but the good news is that typical siblings often turn out to be more compassionate and caring than average. Single dad Ron Barth says his autistic 9-year-old Daniel dominates everything so I have to make special moments with Nicole age 15 like taking her shopping without Daniel.

  2. Your story is a great inspiration and reminder to why autistic families should travel.
    Please contact me as I would love to feature your story on my http://www.autisticglobetrotting .com web site.

  3. Jeff Katz says:

    Nate’s Chicago story can be found on under inspirational stories/guest writers.

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