Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SafeWay Livery

There's a new taxi service out this way, and that's a good thing. It's really hard to get a cab out here.

A couple of summers ago, I was waiting for the bus at 51st and Ashland around 5:45 a.m., trying to get to Midway for a flight to California to see my sister. The 51st Street bus is pretty slow and irregular. Though the Ashland bus is pretty quick and consistent during rush hour, it was so early in the morning I had no idea what to expect.

While I was waiting, a guy in a van pulled up and rolled down his passenger side window. I was staring at him hard, thinking, "Who is this guy? Do I know him? Is he a neighbor? Is he somebody's dad?"

"Do you want a ride?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm going to Midway,"I said, thinking he must be somebody's dad, right? I just didn't recognize him. So I didn't have a good feeling bout it. But I waited.

"I'll give you a ride," he said, but I stayed put, waiting for the punch line. And sure enough, it came. "For a blowjob."

"No thanks," I said, and he rolled away. About one minute later, an actual yellow taxi came in sight, heading south on Ashland. I ran into the middle of the street, waving my arms and hollering, "hey, hey, taxi, hey!"

The guy stopped. I remember him at Bob, the Communist cab driver. He lived over on Winchester south of 51st. He was about to get off shift and had a bag of McGriddles on ths shotgun seat to take home to his daughters. He told me he grew up in West Town and had the choice back in the 60s of buying here or buying there. He bought here. His aunt bought in West Town. "Now she's a millionaire," he said. I got his number and used it a few times. But then I lost it and that was the end of reliable cab service.

Until now. Before Christmas, I was walking along Ashland and spotted a flyer on a pole for Safe Way Livery. 24 hour service. They'll haul stuff for you. Rates below metered cabs. The office is so close to my house you could practically spit from there to here, so the drivers ought to be able to figure out where to go. No more cabbies at Midway whining about short fares for me, I thought. I just get off the plane, call Safe Way, and go.

That's not quite how it's worked out in practice. Most of their drivers are local, so they know the way to my house. But most of them don't know their way around Midway Airport. The two times I've been picked up there so far, we all figured it out, but it took so long I might as well have taken CTA for the time. Door-to-door service with luggage still almost made up for it, but it was a close call. Dropoffs at Midway have been much more successful. My favorite guy so far is number 8 (I hope I remember that right). He's probably about my age, has teenage kids and started doing this to make some money in between other business stuff--maybe selling real estate? I forget. He has a decent car, played ball in college and expects his children to go there, too, so an interesting person to talk to without being too far out of my usual experience.

My most recent ride was quite a contrast. First of all, speaking of ride, his could have used some pimping. I got in the back seat and sank so low I thought we might hit the ground. This was after a good hour of navigating unsuccessfully via the dispatcher to get him to the Kiss N Ride dropoff/pickup point in front of the Midway Orange line stop. He got as far as the parking lot but couldn't figure out the rest of it. So I went over to the parking lot and found him. With another passenger. Of course I assumed she was his girlfriend or something, but he explained pretty quickly on that she was a regular rider who had agreed to put off her trip and come out to Midway so I could get picked up faster. Obviously I was very grateful and told her so.

The funniest small-world part came about three-quarters of the way home, as we were driving up Damen toward 51st. He mentioned he had gone to Triumphant Charter School back when it was at 49th and Seeley. Years ago it moved south and is now run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School, but this guy was there in the day when I knew the principal and some of the teachers. Sure enough, he had one of the teachers I knew. "She was one of about three teachers I actually liked in elementary school," he said. He's 25 now and trying to decide what to do--maybe computers. It's not clear to me whether he finished high school, so I'm thinking not. But I'll have to tell our mutual acquaintance that I saw him. She'll remember him, I bet.

If you're interested in Chicago charter history, CPS still has a Tribune story about the end of Triumphant and how it was taken over by Shabazz. The story documents both Triumphant's academic gains with some of the city's hardest-to-reach students and its financial mismanagement problems, which caused the shutdown.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Taylor Mali on what teachers make

Here's the video I was trying to post, about what teachers make:

UIC/Noble Today

Yesterday I tried to work the block. I called Junior's house and his dad answered the phone. They sounded interested, but his dad said they would call me back to confirm yes for sure. Then I went to Christina's house, but nobody was home. Then I went to see School Lady and her 8th grader. Her little sister and her dad were home, so I gave them the time and address for today.

I RSVP-d to UIC College Prep to say I had one family for sure and possibly two more. But I only got the answering machine, so I was a little worried maybe they had already left (it was 4:30 on Friday when I called) and they had given up. But I figured I should just try to get as many people to go as I could, and just show up.

Later, I went to the Brady's and knocked upstairs. Their younger daughter/sister, now in 8th grade, had Christina's number. Her mom said they would go--she'd drive. I was really happy about that. They had been at the session yesterday morning. One of the older girls, who goes to Rauner, helped explain the school. They got a family on Paulina to apply.

Junior called me last night to say they would go, but my cell phone ran out of battery so I got the message this morning. I called and they said Junior and his mom could drive me over with them. (Whew!--Medicine Man's not here so I couldn't use the car.)

We got there early, about 9:30. Fortunately someone was there working, and let us in. (Thanks, Marty! Afterwards, Junior and his mom were surprised and pleased you spoke Spanish with them.) They held the meeting in a UIC office building on Halsted just south of Roosevelt. The school will be near UIC Medical Center, by Ashland and Polk, which would make it reasonably easy to get to from here--hopefully it would be an easy walk from the Ashland bus.

The principal, Mr. Sicat, arrived at 10. He was great, very energetic and personable, and didn't seem to mind we only had one family present. He spoke a little Spanish, and I translated summary versions of things for Junior's mom. He explained how Noble Network schools work in terms of uniform and discipline--Junior's mom really liked that. Junior got interested in the idea of learning more about medical careers. He actually helped translate at the hospital for his mom when she had to go to the emergency room for the ruptured placenta.

Mr. Sicat gave me a tip--it's possible to get students on the wait list for Noble Network schools through their main office. I'll have to try to do that for the kids who missed the session today, especially Danny and Christina.

Dorothy Stops By

I got home from out of town yesterday afternoon. As I was closing the front door, I saw a woman in a pink coat across the street. "That's probably Dorothy," I thought. "I'd like to know how she's doing, but not right now." I was trying to recruit people for the UIC/Noble information event in the previous post.

But Dorothy beat me to the punch. I'd been home for about 10 minutes when the doorbell rang. "OK," I thought and opened the door.

She looked good--not too sick. She'd been in jail again, but then she got to go to treatment at the Women's Treatment Center. "I like it there. It's nice," she said. "They have nice beds. I'm going back on Monday. I'm staying with my sister this weekend."

She had lost my phone number, so I gave it to her (home, not cell). They wanted to put her on house arrest but she didn't have a phone for the box. "I'm not taking anybody's box ever again," I warned her. "You know I didn't have a working phone for a month after the last one."

"I know," she said. She lost out then, too, because we couldn't pick up any callback messages from treatment programs because I couldn't get the phone to dial. "And he went to jail anyway, right?"

"Yeah," I said. "He's out now, though. He got probation."

Dorothy was looking for some bus fare, of course. She wanted ten dollars, which seemed like a lot, but I know I can run through 10 bucks of bus fare pretty fast when I have to go a few places. But I had spent most of my cash on my business trip, so I only gave her five bucks. "This'll get you started, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, this'll get me started," she said, disappointed but not too much so. Once again, I hope it doesn't get her finished. I just never know if she's really using it for what she says she's using it for, or if she's totally conning me, or if she's been fine but now about to go on a relapse bender since she's sprung for the weekend.

So far, my gut says she's working her program and trying to get somewhere.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

UIC/Noble Applicant Info This Saturday

If you are reading this blog and are an 8th grader/8th grade parent from Back of the Yards, or know someone who is, or even if you are in a different neighborhood but you are interested in applying to the UIC/Noble charter high school that will open next September, you're invited to this event:

Saturday 1/26, 10 a.m.
1253 S. Halsted
Metered parking and a garage that costs $2 for less than two hours are nearby.
Information will be presented in Spanish and English.

It is very hard to get applications for this school. You must attend the session to obtain an application, and this is the last chance to do that.

If you are reading this and plan to attend, could you email me at I am supposed to call them Friday at 5 p.m. with a head count.

I muscled UIC/Noble into doing one more Saturday session--their last scheduled session is Friday at 10 a.m. in the same location, but I'm out of town and I knew my neighbors couldn't make it at that time due to work schedules. Danny's taking the selective enrollment test that morning, so he can't go, but I'm going to get an application for him if it kills me. I left a message for Junior--he'd have to miss CCD, but I think his mom would go for it--she's really worried about high school for him. I need to get Peter Pan's mom's number--they used to live near the original Noble Street in West Town and Peter Pan is interested. If his older sister applies and gets in this year, he'd have sibling preference next year. Peter Pan is a bright kid with leadership potential, but his teachers agree with me that he could go either way really easily, so a good school to keep him on track will be important. Noble is pretty strict, which would be good for him, I think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Teachers Make

OK, I'm too tired to upload this video so you could watch it here, but go to You Tube now and watch this link from Taylor Mali about what teachers make:

Thanks to District 299 for pointing it out.

My favorite part: "You wanna know what I make? I can make kids work harder than they ever have in their lives. I can make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor, and an A- feel like a slap in the face."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Demolition and Construction

The storefront on the northwest corner of 50th and Ashland was demolished sometime last week. Yesterday I was on the Ashland bus with my head in a magazine and didn't even look up until I got off at that corner. "Am I at 51st?" I thought, because it didn't look right. The emptiness of the lot had entered my awareness, making me think I was at the next block south.

Then I looked up and found myself staring at a pile of broken boards, with a bulldozer parked next to the pile. I was thinking about going back to take a picture but I may not have time before I have to get on the road again this week.

Meanwhile, interior work continues on the Goldblatt's building at Ashland and 47th. I still don't know what's going in there, exactly, or if I did, I forgot. If any local readers know what's happening on either site, please comment and fill us in.

Joey Made It!

Whoo-hoo!! Joey made it to Marwen last Thursday. I asked him how it went and he said, "It was really cool." You could hear the coolness in his voice.

Hey, I found a web site about Digital Clay, the stuff he is working with in his class. The basic software is really cheap, only $38.

Joey wanted to know if he could go box today. The Chicago Youth Boxing Club web site doesn't say, and he said he had the manager's number, so I told him he should call and find out. This weekend I will spend some real time with Joey and hear how the boxing is going, too. I could hear his mother saying something in the background and heard Dawn's name, but she hasn't called or emailed me, so I don't have any news. If she does, maybe she'll call me back.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mysteries and Kudos

The big mystery on my mind this week: did Joey make it to Marwen? I'm out of town on business, so I don't know. He called me the day before his class and said his dad would take him, so I told Medicine Man he was off the hook this week. I'll find out when I get home Sunday. Stay tuned.

It's interesting--I'm staying with a high school friend and his family in Columbus, Ohio during this business trip. They are contemplating sending their twin preschool-aged boys to a fancy private school. I listen to their mother with half an ear open and think about Joey, danny, Junior and the rest with the other.

Quite frankly, I wish we could just reverse things so the kids who really needed all that private school stuff got it and the more together families stayed in public school. I guess I'm a communist or something equally awful.

Meanwhile, on the kudos, a friend/colleague emailed today to tell me Marshfield Tattler is among Chicago Magazine's picks for best local blogs. Whoo-hoo! Thanks to you, dear readers and linkers, for giving it the visibility to make this possible. The story's not on line yet, but I'll post the link when it is.

Happy weekend, all!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Fun with Science

My three friends from across the street came over yesterday. Junior needed to get his homework done. He had to describe various kinds of indicators you use in science, like pH paper, or litmus paper as I knew it back in the day. This got us talking about acids and bases, so of course I decided it was time to drag out the baking soda and vinegar. Fortunately we had some white vinegar in the house. I wonder if you could do a science fair project about the reactivity of different kinds of vinegar with baking soda--white vinegar, wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar, for example. I think I just wrote them in order of decreasing acidity, so less reactivity with baking soda, one would imagine. But how would you measure less reactivity? Less fizz? hmmm...

Anyway, the guys liked watching the baking soda fizz when I poured vinegar on it. We all tasted it afterwards. The youngest one was the first to try after I demonstrated. "Just try it--you'll see it doesn't taste as sour now."

The littlest one went for it. "Yeah, you're right," he said. He didn't get grossed out or anything, unlike Junior or Junior's buddy, who really made a face after his taste.

I called my mom, the retired chemist, before we started, just to make sure we wouldn't blow anything up. I hadn't done this in ages so I didn't remember if it was just a little fizzy or if it got hot or anything. Mom Chemist suggested putting the bowl in the sink just to be sure it wouldn't fizz up and hit somebody in the eye, since I don't have goggles. It was fine, quite tame, of course. Now if I knew how to make one of those volcanoes....

Joey was kind of into volcanoes a couple of years ago. We made a volcano in the snow, but just kinds of drew on some lava trails. It would be cool to make a model volcano that fizzed thanks to baking soda and vinegar. I think I saw that on the Brady Bunch years ago.

Anyway, there are way cool things you can make yourself at Tinkering School, like this cool bottleboat submarine. Thanks to Alexander Russo at District 299 and the Science After School blog for linking to a video talk by the founder of Tinkering School, which led me to his site.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Joey and I found the evidence out back this afternoon. A bunch of feathers splayed out on a patch of my back yard, a bloody wishbone about a foot northeast of the feathers, and a bright red organ of some kind in between and a little to the southwest, forming three points of a triangle.

Joey spotted the bones first. "What's that?" he asked me.

Then I saw the feathers. "I bet that cat got a pigeon!"

"Oh, yeah!" He spotted the organ. "Is that the heart?"

"I don't know. I don't know what a pigeon heart looks like. Don't touch it--use a stick."

"I know that," he said, in that teenage "don't call me stupid" kind of voice. There was a long metal rod lying around and he poked at it with that. "Why didn't the cat eat it?"

"Good question," I said. "I don't know why not. I eat chicken hearts."

Joey was pretty intent on hypothesizing how the cat got the pigeon. "He must have jumped from here, see..." I think he was speculating that the cat first got some feathers, then wrestled the bird down and ate most of it in the bone area. I don't know if he had a guess as to how the heart or whatever organ got to point three. There wasn't very much of the pigeon left, so I wonder if the cat carried most of the carcass away and the heart or whatever fell out.

Hmmm.. we're Crime Scene Investigaation: Veterinary today. It was a nice break in a long writing day.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Clinton, Obama, Alinsky and Me

Thanks to Alexander Russo at District 299 for linking to a fascinating Washington Post article that outlines Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's connections to Saul Alinsky, whose model of community organizing got its start here in Back of the Yards.

I have to say I think Alinsky would be rolling in his grave if he knew the state of community organizing in Back of the Yards today. The organization he founded here, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, is best known today for its van that takes seniors shopping and for its ballet folklorico ensemble, which are very nice programs but certainly aren't bringing hundreds of people to the aldermen's offices to get sidewalks and streets repaired, for example. There are rumors to the effect that previous leadership in the organization used its history and prestige to arrange various deals for personal advantage. I will say no more since I can't prove anything.

Meanwhile, though the Peace and Education Coalition has done a lot of good in its 10 years of existence, it's an organization of organizations, not a group that builds grassroots muscle directly.

Someone I know who used to work for the IAF told me bluntly that Alinsky wouldn't have much use for people like me. Activists, Alinsky would say, are useless--loners out doing their thing, not growing local leaders or generating power from the masses. They are just brief flashes in the pan, mostly about charity or a single issue, not about empowerment. But I don't know that one can say Alinsky's way left a great deal of impact here, if you look at where our neighborhood is now.

As for our Democratic presidential candidates:
Both Obama and Clinton admired Alinsky's appeal for small-d democracy but came to believe that social progress is best achieved by working within the political system, and on a national scale.

I'm not sure I buy that working inside the political system on any scale is the only alternative to Alinsky, or that Alinsky's way of doing community organizing is the only way. I don't know exactly what the Logan Square Neighborhood Association would say about how it views Alinsky, but I'd give my eyeteeth to have a group like that here.

Dawn's question to me a while back is still rolling around in my head: "What makes some things work and some things not work?" she asked. She said this in the context of having tried unsuccessfully to organize an after-school program at Big Picture that would draw kids from multiple schools.

I thought about two projects I was working on at the same time, one struggling, one going gangbusters, and said, "The two things I know help some things work are money and talented people."

But the really mysterious thing about making something work is generating the energy to get it done. Community organizing is partly about knowing what issues have enough inherent energy to mobilize people, and also about knowing which people have enough energy to mobilize to get the job done on an issue. I think project management is about energy, too--picking a project that is doable based on the energy (money, people) available, then managing the money and the people needed from beginning to end.

Here on the block, I try to pick projects I think I can do on my own or with just a little help from people or groups I feel very comfortable with: Medicine Man, Su Casa, Big Picture (though they are quite stretched). Without more Spanish-language skill, it's really hard to build a wider network. So I'll be going back to class later this month.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is Julian is getting out of the joint. Tonight. He got two years' probation, and I didn't have to spend a cent on a lawyer. Whew.

The bad news is Dawn didn't go to school yesterday. I don't know what happened today. She sent me an email over the weekend. This is what she wrote:

i also hope you had a nice x-mas and new year best wishes and i also never forget what you told me about you wanting me to graduate specially since your phone # that is nice sorry for many decision that i am taking i know that they are not the best ones but i OK and i wish you could understand in but that is not going to happen because you are not in my position i would really appreciate for you help you are a special person and i do now do you bad in what you expect from me.

I hear she wrote something similar--saying essentially, thanks for the good advice, but I'm not going to take it-- to one of her friends from Big Picture who has been urging her to go to school and stay out of trouble.

So I guess it's time to focus on Joey and make sure he makes it to Marwen. His first class is next week and I will be out of town. Sure hope his parents come through on this one.

Indoor Soccer Opens

The Tribune ran a story a couple of days ago about the large new indoor soccer facility at Pershing and Ashland. I've been past there since it opened and there sure are lots of cars in the parking lot.

Chicago Indoor Sports has four large fields, one small one, a game room and a computer room, among other amenities. Apparently it is the first indoor soccer facility in the city. I'm glad it's near us and I'd like to find out how to get to use it. In the comments, someone who has been there says they've had Ultimate Frisbee games, too.

I remember the first time I was at that corner, more than 10 years ago. I had just gone to the old Board of Education offices on Pershing Road to get a substitute teacher card. I came out and had really no idea how to get home from there. (I think someone had given me a ride down? I don't remember.) It felt like a complete wasteland. A northbound Ashland bus came by and I ran for it like it was the last helicopter out of Saigon.

It's very nice to see that corner drawing traffic and being used for something so popular. Plus, I know the site required some environmental cleanup before starting construction--let's hope they did it right so it's in better shape now and for the future.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bowling & Pizza!

As I promised Peter Pan, today was the big day for pizza and bowling. Sixteen kids showed up! We actually needed both the Su Casa van and Medicine Man's car to fit everybody. The van was running very slowly due to the cold, so I'm grateful I didn't stick with the original plan to go to Waveland Bowl.

We went to Lawn Bowling at 67th and Pulaski. They only take reservations for groups of 20 or more, and we were 18. We were lucky--they gave us four lanes right away, and threw in a couple of extra frames for everybody since we were only bowling one game. (With 17 bowlers, I figured one game would be plenty.) Our high scorer was Medicine Man, with something like 112. Peter Pan bowled two strikes back to back, and one of the Brady girls bowled a strike in her first-ever game. The two kids from Su Casa who came along were good bowlers--the older girls made the sister feel welcome, and she was the winner in their group.

The only thing I didn't count on was the pizza was really slow--they only had one working oven, so they could only heat up one pizza at a time. Once the aging blond behind the counter/bar realized I was trying to feed 16 hungry children, she threw in a couple of big bowls of popcorn for free. "You must have the patience of a saint," she said.

"I only brought the good kids from my block," I said. Not quite true, but I didn't bring anybody I was really worried couldn't handle it. Medicine Man, who has had his share of chaperoning hard-to-manage kids, was impressed with how well-behaved our crew was. They cleaned up after themselves, and once they understood they had to wait for the pins to be reset before taking their second turn, we were all good.

The wait for the pizza was tough, but Medicine Man tried to teach them some complicated game involving slapping your hands on the table in a pattern. It was quite funny to watch the youngest ones try to figure out when it was their turn to slap the table.I'm sure it was a college drinking game minus the beer. Later I got our two tables (yes, we basically had a boys table and a girls table) to play Telephone. "Nothing rude, right?" said one of the boys. Right. They managed to crack themselves up just fine without getting nasty.

Medicine Man took some pictures, so if you know me and you want to see them, email me and I'll put together a list to send out a Picasa album or something. (I don't want to put kids' photos up on the Internet without some level of protection.)

Next time we'll skip the pizza there and try the new Chinese buffet up at 62nd and California.

Oh, and just about everybody kicked in at least a few bucks. Those who didn't, I knew why and it was no problem. Peter Pan's mom tried to give me a fifty and I handed her a twenty back. I would have handed back more but I was planning to put it on a credit card so I didn't have that much cash with me.

The best part was, after I parked the van at Su Casa, I came through their house to go out the front and one of the two kids was practicing her bowling swing in the hallway!

Joey's New Year's Resolution

...appears to be to do his homework. I am not arguing. (I do wonder if his folks took away his game until he gets his project done, like they did when we were trying to get another book read last year. It is an effective motivator.)

Last night I was at Joey's house and his mom had been nagging him about his homework. "He's mad," she told me (with a little of that wry parental amusement I'm beginning to understand).

"I've been working on it," he told me. I went over to his room to see what he had. He had a folded up piece of orange posterboard, the book, Bone #5, which he had barely started (not surprising, since we know he can't read worth a lick yet), and some practice writing the title in cool-looking script letters. I asked if he wanted to come read the story at my house later this week and he said yes. He was on my doorstep this afternoon. I dropped my deadline writing project instantly and started reading the book to him.

For a kid with signs of dyslexia, he's sure into the alphabet. (Maybe that makes sense, actually. Apparently he can look at each letter lots of different ways, and that's the problem when it comes time to read something. See The Gift of Dyslexia, which I still have to read.) For Christmas I got him a book on calligraphy and a cool set of pens, paints and inks to do illustrated manuscripts. He had just the book until today, and he had already started learning one of the alphabets with just a pencil. This afternoon, after we got a couple of chapters into Bone, we took a break and opened up the calligraphy set. He tried writing my name and adding some flowers. It looks cool.

He took the set home and in the few hours between 3 and 8:30 p.m. (some of which he was bowling and eating pizza), he figured out how to use both nibs in the set and used them to write Bone in this incredibly fancy black lettering with gold trim. If his first try looks cool, the second looks truly amazing.

So we read the entire book in one day--I got hooked and couldn't stop reading in the middle myself--the chapter endings are classic cliffhangers and you always want to know what happens next. I did manage to stop before the last chapter and take a little more time for business before starting the pizza and bowling fest mentioned above.

When we got back, I took myself out to dinner at La Cecina. Just as I was wrapping up, my cell rang. It was Joey. "Maritza, are you home? Can I come read the book?" He had to wait for me to come home, but within half an hour we back into it, immersed in the last chapter. As a graphic novel, it probably had fewer words than Goosebumps and went faster, but the ideas were more complex: is war the answer? is power the only good? Stuff like that. We didn't talk too deeply about those issues--I mostly kind of checked in with him as we went along, asking comprehension and prediction questions, sometimes asking how he thought characters felt and why they were doing what they were doing. We'll talk about the bigger ideas on Saturday.

For now, he can draw the picture of the pivotal part of the book for the main part of the posterboard, and do a box of characters along the side. We'll do the more writing-oriented stuff together on Saturday after we get back from signing him up for a class at Marwen.

It just kills me--he totally gets stories when they are read to him--he loves movies--he just spent most of this break watching and re-watching Stomp the Yard--but whatever inner glitch is in there between his eyes and his brain is keeping his nose out of books. Dang. Do I have to get a master's in reading to help him out or what???

Oh, and he brought me a DVD of the DaVinci Code. "I thought you'd like it," he said.

"I read the book," I told him. "I've been kinda wanting to see the movie."

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