By: James F. O’Neil

“Who is John Galt?”  –Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)

In this Ayn Rand book, characters are searching for a mysterious man but also searching for answers as to why things happen the way they are happening.

atlas-shrugged-coverAtlas Shrugged Book Cover

Things happen.  Not often explainable.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” is often attributed to a Cheshire cat and Lost Alice in Wonderland.  Lewis Carroll did not really write it exactly that way, but the famous quote now grows up with us–and the “story” is more “real” than the fact.

Alice and the Cat imgfave.com

Pic courtesy: imgfave.com

Alice and the Cheshire Cat

Now that is the essence of my search: “Where are we?” and “Who is Phil McCool?”

Here is my “real” story….

Automobiles have always played a part in my growing up: our ’37 Plymouth, the ’49 black and beautiful Ford, the green ’50 Chevrolet, and then the 1956 Chevrolet (which I learned to drive).  In these cars, we made trips and traveled to parts of Chicago to visit relatives, to attend dances, to laugh and dance in beer gardens, to see movies at the drive-ins, to have picnics, to take someone to school or to work. 

Our travels together, our games in the car together, were usually orderly and educational: songs, stories, reading, quizzes, and geography lessons.  Our family travels allowed all four of us kids to learn geography, the layout of Chicago and its suburbs–and farther. 

My mother possessed an in-born compass that came with her from birth: She always knew how to get where we were going–or were supposed to go.  My truck-driver dad knew the city and his bakery-truck delivery routes.  Sometimes, though, on more occasions than I can count, we’d all be sitting in someone’s driveway or on a strange street, looking to find our way. 

My mom and dad had to work it out before we began moving again.

The “conversation” went mostly like “I know where I am.  I’m turning here.”  Then into some strange driveway, pulling in, stopping, then backing out and turning around from whence we came.

We found our way.  And when young, we kids never questioned anything.

One time, though, that all changed.  I can hear my sister now, as the ’50 Chevy made its way slowly into an unfamiliar driveway, or maybe an alleyway.  There was a pause.  Brake.  Stop.  Clutch.  Reverse.  Motion.  “Where are we?” she dared ask.  Or maybe it was, “Who lives here?”  Without a breath of hesitation, my dad answered, “Phil McCool.  It doesn’t look like he’s home.”  And we backed out and away, to somewhere.

Thus began the question that got the answer–always: “Where are we?”  “Phil McCool’s.”  And we knew no different for losing our way.  We were never lost: we were making our way to Phil’s Place–geographically located in disparate parts of the city and in Cook County, in assorted neighborhoods, or in parts of downtown.

I never, ever, remember pulling into a gas station, hearing my dad ask for directions.  With Mom’s internal, innate GPS, my dad’s driving skills (Mom never learned to drive–ever), and Phil McCool in so many destination places, there was never a need for directions (or maps) to anywhere.

As we aged, Phil became a relative of ours, a member of the family, our personal “I-don’t-know-where-we-are.”  When our boys were little, sitting in the back of our ’66 VW Square back as we made our travels from Chicago to Wisconsin to Minnesota–and around other parts of the country–they heard often their mom and dad discuss (quietly, of course) direction or location, or whether the strange house we were in front of was Phil’s.  “Who’s Phil?”  They were told, “A friend.  He’s not home,” as I backed out of a driveway, or pulled away from a curb in front of a strange house….

Phil McCool lives….

He is that Irish friend of mine with me from childhood, who now helps me find my way when I am in need of direction.  He might be that friend of Dad’s who helped him so often find the right street or address for a delivery.  But mostly he remains for me a treasured memory of a sister boldly asking for the first time, “Are we lost?” 

And never having to ask that again.  We were never lost.  We always arrived somewhere–at Phil’s, maybe first–and then we found our way.  Somehow.  (And that might have involved even later, my asking an attendant at a gas station.  The Giver-of-Aid might have been Phil.  Never know….)

*    *    *


From The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas MacManus (1921; 1982):

p. 731: MacCool, Finn (Fionn MacCumail), 64ffp. 730: Fionn MacCumail (Finn MacCool), 64ff: (p.64) Chapter XIII: Fionn and the Fiann         “Fionn MacCumail (Finn MacCool), leader of the Fian (Feninans), …lived and died in the third century of the Christian era.”  [A.D. 283]

(p.65)  The Fian: “…a great standing army of…daring warriors, whose duty was to carry out the mandates of the high-king–‘To uphold justice and put down injustice,…’”

Finn McCool's Pub finnmccools.com

Courtesy: finnmccools.com


 (“…a Pub named after Finn McCool, the legendary giant of Irish folklore,…”)


©  James F. O’Neil  2013

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  1. martinjoneil said:

    And the tradition lives on–As I drove to far off places , a divorced Dad who spent a great deal if time in the car with my daughter Mallory, we were never without finding Phil McCool’s house in a pinch, he was alas never home. Imagine my surprise in my business travels when I found Phil McCools Tavern in Richmond Virginia – he wasn’t in that day. John Galt or Phil McCool…its all relative, right?

    • Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your taking time to tell your little story. And, Phil McCool does live with us Irishmen!

  2. Brilliant…makes me wish our wee island were a little bigger so we might get lost a time or two!

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