I have found the newest cool place to hang out on weekends. It involves good times, lots of people, and animals! I know you’re probably thinking ____ but it’s not. I’m talking about turtle racing!
I was recently exposed to turtle racing, which is probably the coolest thing in the entire world. Yea, I see that confused look on your face and yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. A bunch of people getting together to watch turtles run from the start to the finish line. You think it’s crazy? You’re absolutely correct!
What happens is every time you make a purchase, you receive a ticket, which then goes into a bucket. From that bucket, and throughout eight rounds, six turtle jockeys (TJs) are selected to race. Prizes are awarded to the fastest and slowest turtle. City slickers from and around Chicago and turtle enthusiasts from around the Midwest gather and celebrate warmly like old friends. We let our guard’s down as we cheer on our four-legged, shelled comrades, share stories and life lessons, and have a little bit of fun.
As my luck would have it on my first trip, the track announcer wearing his awesome turtle hat called my number and I was up first. Although my turtle, Jolanda #5, didn’t inch toward victory or anywhere really, I said arrivederci to my new four-legged comrade and vowed I would return with an entourage of my friends to dominate the track.
Upon my second trip to the turtle track with my band of brothers, I immediately knew that my chances of becoming a turtle jockey that night were slim to none. Since it was their first time at the track and I wanted them to have a full experience, I decided that if my ticket number was called, I would pass it on to one of them. After all, while winning is important, I am in the having fun business.
Why is this important? It is in the sporting world, as demonstrated by the turtle race, that we see what humans are capable of. It’s a place where compassion, teamwork, skill, and fun all come together. To me, however, this is not the only place where these traits show up in society. One experience I’ve had in the last week especially contributes to this belief.
Unlike other places that provide free meals for the underserved and the needy, The JUF Uptown Cafe provides those populations who receive their services with some extra dignity. Instead of standing in line to wait for some slop to be plopped on their plates, attendees are seated and served restaurant style. But this arrangement only scratches the surface.
Much like you may make friends with a favorite waitress at your 24/7 dining hangout – FYI mine’s Melrose Restaurant – the diners at The JUF Uptown Cafe had the opportunity to chit-chat with me. I, along with the volunteers I teamed with, was able to find out how people in need are really similar to me, a person with a steady job and a roof over my head. The latest movies (King’s Speech), favorite hobbies (HAM radio – am I allowed to say that on a kosher blog?), and best places to hang out in the city – besides turtle racing – were all served up during our dinner time conversation. At the end of the meal I really felt full, but not with food.
I never had been a waiter, but volunteering at The JUF Uptown Cafe was something that I could get used to. I took off my apron and said goodbye to the staff, feeling inspired by the hard work that they do. If we can cheer a turtle to the finish line with the hopes of winning a free t-shirt, it should be just as easy to band together to support people, especially those in need.