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Archive for March, 2012

Union Station waiting room, Chicago, Illinois

My friend and host Peter Pero moved through the traffic from Jane Addams’ Hull-House to a parking lot almost across the street from Union Station like A.J. Foyt on his way to his third win at the Indianapolis 500! We were extremely lucky. He carried something and I carried something up to the vista captured in the picture above. He directed me to the distant doors in the middle of the vista, we shook hands and the most gruelling part of the weekend trek began.

slightly retouched

On another day and time, sans luggage packed with books and a guitar, I would pause to photograph much more of the station than I’m sharing here, and I’m sure that’s okay with most readers because this has been a heck of a long series of postings.

slightly retouched

The walk to, and beyond the doors pictured below and the descent via escalator to the train boarding area beneath the streets of Chicago was a “walk in the park.” I knew I was on the verge of running late despite Peter’s free-wheeling acumen. I would be in one continuous motion except for stops of a few seconds to take the picture that follows this sentence . . . . . . l.  until I arrived at the line of passengers waiting to board the train south on track 16.  Yes, if you know “Chattanooga Choo Choo” as I do, it would have been more poetic to say “track 29,” but I’m running an honest blog here.

on my way to the escalator down to waiting trains on the other side of these doors

The large lighted boards showing the stati and track numbers of departing trains helped. Just the same, I asked who I would soon come to know as the future in-laws of a younger man with his girlfriend (their daughter) who had come to say goodbye as he returned to college in Bloomington-Normal. Conversation came easily. Glancing at the form-fitting hard-shell case clutched as though ’twere a bottle of single-malt Wild Turkey (which I could have used, but not until I was seated on the train), he said, “So do you play guitar?”

“Yes, I do,” I said. “I played last night at Lincoln Restaurant in the city. Do YOU play?”

“A little,” he said.

“If we find empty seats close to each other, maybe I can hear you play, and vice versa,” I said

As he nodded in the affirmative, the conductor examining his ticket began explaining he’d have to go have his ticket “checked at that counter over there” — or words to that effect. Soooooooooooooo, he embraced and lightly kissed his fiancée (No time for passion. Heyafterall, her parents and I were watching, and besides, they’d see each other again come Easter break), he semi-sprinted to that counter over there (or words to that effect), and I didn’t see him again.

My real challenge came after the conductor examined my ticket and  instructed me to  proceed to my car.  It became a schlep of epic proportion. As I walked with a few other passengers (at first) down the outside of what appeared to be an endless train,  my camera strap, hanging from my neck for many of the past 24 hours, began to really “grate” on me. Nearly every car with an open door had a conductor who examined my ticket and motioned me on down the line.  When the fourth or fifth conductor, seeing my physical distress with all my gear and my obvious anxiety told me there was no need to rush, I continued to walk at a forced, brisk clip. I didn’t believe the conductors. I was not going to slow down until I had planted my luggage and guitar where ever the heck they wanted it deposited and sat down in an empty. . . . .frikking. . . .  SEAT! Toward the end, I didn’t even raise my eyes higher than door level of the next car. I didn’t want to see the end of the train because I knew it would only disappoint me, being so frippin’ (not as bad as frikking, and I like the alteration here) far away.  . . . . .Finally I reached the right car, was directed to deposit guitar and luggage on a shelf in a lower-level baggage area, and find a seat. This I did gladly and continued up the narrow stairway.

The car was pretty full already, and I realized this was not the time for caring a rat’s behind where the heck I sat. Still, I was carrying a camera, and I was hoping for a window seat. . . . . I got lucky. It was the last time I would get lucky until I exited the train. I saw a young woman, 24 maybe, sitting next to the aisle on her right with an empty window seat on her left. I was too tired to turn on my “convivial spigot” so I settled for “tired cool guy with a beard.” My guitar was not in sight. “Is this seat taken?” I asked, pointing to the empty beside her. When she said “No,” I replied, “May I sit here?” and she said “Yes.”

Okay, so I must concede her “Yes” was the zenith of my luck on the trip and also the end of it.  She rose and stepped into the aisle to let me sit down and re-seated herself. Across the aisle and one row back were four of her friends, all young women and all apparently returning home from the weekend in Chicago. During the next 20 minutes as the train remained still, more newly boarded passed by, looking for empty seats. The car conductor instructed a woman a few rows forward to stow her coat in the carry-on shelf above to clear another seat. Over the public address system, a voice informed us the train was completely sold out. There was not an unaccounted for seat from stem to stern. WOW!  During an occasional lull in the trans-aisle banter, in conversation that could not have been more strained on her part if you had forced it through an oil filter, I learned she was a dancer that had performed with her associates at a Chicago event, and that they were all returning to Springfield. My tone of voice in these three- to seven-word blurts of tempered curiosity (me) and condescension (her) set the tone for the waiting 200 miles of motion southbound.  We would not say a word to each other by the time we were halfway to Joliet.

After the trip I decided she was not condescending; she was indifferent.

somewhere between Union Station and Pontiac

I was okay with that. I had my window seat but nothing to read. The book I had purchased at the Chicago bookstore — Charles Bukowski’s Post Office was in my bag downstairs, I remembered, and I was not about to leave my seat.

where most of the memories linger

lingering memories, slightly retouched

The first 60 miles or so were okay. Taking pictures was now my reason to live. My eye were focused to the left, to the outside, alert 100 percent of the time on opportunities for good pictures. This got a little “old” after a while. Friends of the dancers visited from their assigned seats forward and aft.  Happy talk, young woman talk. My mind wandered. I had no pen and paper, and that was okay too. The light was starting to fade, and I was in no mood to wax poetic. The most exciting part of the journey south, which occurred soon after I took the picture above, was when I stood up to take off my brown leather jacket.  It stayed safely under my legs until I arose to exit the train.

desolation rows

What touched me most from the view as we rolled out of the metro area — a view I had seen the previous day, but not so well since I was not in a window seat the day before — was the depressing wasteland: acres of truck trailers, hundreds of them probably not fit for the road, rusting away, junkyards, abandoned industrial areas. rubble and debris, broken limbs. backsides of abandoned warehouses with rotting equipment  . . . . a clickety-clack litany of woe.

How likely is it that the entrance to Hell is located near a railroad siding? Pretty good, I'd say.

Then not far from the last vestige of metro rot, a distant quarry or something that looked like it.

distant quarry through the railside brownery

I took several pictures of the panorama, and the picture above was the only one that came out at least as “passable.”

A brief improvement in the outlook south of Joliet, compared with what I had seen to that few moments, even the wind-driven electricity generators looked good.

The gray became blue and soon after. . . . the first wind farm I had ever seen.

Amtrak station, Pontiac

I had missed this view of Pontiac station on the way into Chicago, even though I was facing the east horizon both times, sitting on the right side of the aisle going up and the left side of the aisle coming down.  A little later I glimpsed Atlanta, Illinois, a small village near McLean, south of Bloomington. I had visited Atlanta, and played guitar and sung two or three Memorial Days and recited poetry in its beautiful octagon Carnegie library and written about its restored old-time grain elevator and  murals on the walls of some of the buildings.  As I had journeyed north the day before I even saw the red grain elevator. Going south,  I glimpsed that wonderful Carnegie library. I knew a train went through the town, but I never realized it was an Amtrak train. What memories and friends I shared in that village, so many long and distant years ago!

This could have been near Fargo, North Dakota. Instead it was a snowball's throw south of Bloomington-Normal; not a felicitous portent of things to come.

The weather began turning serious-bad south of Atlanta. I could just about smell Springfield even though we hadn’t passed Lincoln, 30 miles north of home. Even though the train was still north of Lincoln I was frippin HOME. This was my turf which I had known since I drove a 1966 Ford 2+2 Mustang up to Illinois State University to spend time with my paramour Sylvia Lytle. At this stage, I can name names. For all I know she was departed from this orb by the time she was 23. Who they HEY cares?

Coming in through the purgatory part of Illinoise's Capitool . City, an anonymous patch of eye-rubble with bricks and hints of humanity for company nearby. This picture was not retouched. The scenery looked like this for real.

The fatigue of the journey gave way to the thrill of seeing MY TOWN from the train, seeing familiar buildings and intersections as I could not remember seeing them, even though I have Amtrakd to Chicago four times. I was simply never so absorbed in observing as I was this day with my seatmate. And you know something? I don’t blame her a bit. What the heck does a 20-something say to a 60-something? More power to her and her happy compatriots. Bless them all, every vibrant vivacious one. 🙂 As she rose to exit first in the aisle, I did thank her for the window seat, and she said I was welcome.

I almost fell out of the exit door. The camera and luggage were shoulder-strapped round my heck, and the guitar seemed as big as a pair of snow skis. I caught my balance on that goofy, miniscule (for MY feet) boarding step and I returned to terra firma in standing mode swiftly strode through the station and into a cab with a friendly driver. The gear rode in back.

Less than 10 minutes later, I was home. I deposited my gear by the front door and returned to the street to take the picture below. Once inside, I doffed my leather jacket and reached into an inside pocket to investigate the source of the lump I had felt since donning the thing as we arrived in Springfield.  Out came the Charles Bukowski novel Post Office which had been in arm’s reach for the entire trip home. I’ll write more about the novel later here at Hon’ & Qui’.

Home sweet home at a long trail's ending.

The trip had been the most fun as I’ve had since I was 63, almost a year to the day before the trip just described,  when I visited Urbana, Ohio to read and recite poetry and  do a little picking and grinning. I’ve written about that trip here at Honey and Quinine.

Thanks again to Peter and Byung Pero, the College of Complexes and the fine citizens of Chicago for allowing me the privilege of sharing so much of your wonderful, toddlin’ town!

Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  and proper.

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a last look back, leaving Lincoln Restaurant, March 3

I’m an early riser when life and I are simpatico.  I would rather miss 10 pm to midnight than 5 to 7 am. Peter had suggested that if I awakened early (He planned to rise at the crack of 9.) I should go for a walk in the neighborhood and enjoy the feel of the territory. Sorry to report I did not, partly because I concluded if there were a way for me to get lost within two or three blocks of his condo, I would find that way, and I would never make the train back to Springfield. So I lay in bed a few hours, tried to think my way back to sleep and waited for sounds of stirrings upstairs.

Peter Pero of Fillmore Street

We were fast out the door and into the neighborhood, aiming for breakfast at one of the two nearby eateries.  We walked past the first, Stax Cafe on West Taylor Street because it looked packed. When we saw the line coming out of the front door of the other, we returned to Stax, an excellent choice.
I had my camera, but took no pictures. We were seated quickly, and it was obvious the joint was jumping. Our waitress, whose father works in Springfield, was as professional as they come. The place was more polished than the shoes of a battalion of US Marines!  It was pricey — $30 for two breakfasts, I treated my host — but it was worth every cent. I would return in a heartbeat.

brownstone promenade

fascinating railings on an old, old apartment building

close up of the front of the old apartment railing. Note the Sunday newspaper on the front porch.

This huge building was part of the Hull-House social services complex engineered and administrated by the legendary Jane Addams who had known Vachel Lindsay well in the early days of his national fame. She parted ways with him when the Springfield poet refused to protest US involvement in The Great War, later known as World War I. Peter explained efforts to establish several ethnic-specialized museums in this complex are underway. It would be a perfect venue for distilling and preserving Chicago's rich cornucopia of diversity and pride. I hope it succeeds!

Before driving off for more touring, I wanted to take some pictures from Peter and Byung’s rooftop, praying the light would be right. We had visited the previous late afternoon but the sun was retiring west. I did not want to look into a rising sun; wanted it to be on my back and thus, on the skyline I knew would be waiting.

Skyline from a rooftop. This picture has been slightly retouched.

the Toddle Town Troubadour "up on the roof"

not retouched

I had hoped to see something close to the streets that Vachel knew when he was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago which I photographed the day before.

Peter drove to Paulina at 17th, close to an elevated train on a route Vachel might have taken to school when he had the fare. Peter estimated it was about a two hour walk from this corner to the Institute.

Some day, in warmer weather, I intend, I hope with a Vachel enthusiast friend or two, to Amtrak back to Chicago, take a cab to the Art Institute and then, following a city street map, walk to Paulina and then straight south to see how far we can walk in two hours. I figure that will give us a decent idea of where Vachel lived from April 1901 to June 1902.  Who knows, I might meet someone along the way who knows about Vachel’s life at that time and can direct me to the specific building where he lived, if it’s still standing.

a Polish-Catholic church that Vachel would have seen, perhaps toured if he had walked past this intersection of 17th at Paulina.

A person obviously part of the church staff nodded, giving me permission when I asked if I could take a few pictures from the back. I thought on entering, "Gee, this is the kind of service I'd expect to see on a SUNDAY! Then the thought hit me: it WAS Sunday! Vachel Lindsay might have visited this church, maybe attended a few services here.

For decades, the church served predominantly Polish parishioners. On this day, it was obvious the language was Mexican. Note the sign on the wall remains Polish. Perhaps the Mexican newcomers are learning Polish as a second language.

What history! Absolutely amazing! Who needs to tour the world across an ocean? So much of the world waits for those who care to share it in Chicago!

Two big surprises I did not photograph. The first was the gift shop down the hall probably 30 feet from the sanctuary. A great variety of souvenirs and religious “gear” were sold there including a metal coin commemorating the church’s 100th anniversary. It was only $5, and in retrospect, I SHOULD have bought one; I could afford it. But I am neither Polish, nor Mexican, nor Catholic, nor of institutionalized faith, though I’m still on the books of a local Methodist church.  I bought a postcard for $2 instead. The second surprise came as we were leaving to walk back to the car. Several people with mini-vans were setting up tables on the sidewalk by the church. Peter explained that worship makes parishioners hungry and thirsty, and a little sidewalk mercantilism is common in the neighborhood. I’ve not encountered this in my sheltered corner of the world.

Near the church, a flock of pigeons landed on the sidewalk near us. Peter suggested they were hoping for a handout from departing parishioners across the street, or maybe from the bearded galute with the fancy camera taking pictures.

Okay, you two hungry, feathered picture hogs, you made it into my story. Fly safely, and God bless you! 🙂

Heading back to the car I saw the elevated train stop and had to take a picture.

El stop less than a block from the historic church.

Next on the agenda was a return trip to Jane Addams’ Hull-House. To save some money for parking, we found a place curbside a healthy hike away and took a short-cut through the campus where I took the following pictures . . .

campus housing

campus sculpture

The copper placard on the sculpture shows years of sky-borne precipitation.

This photo of the placard has been slightly retouched for easier reading.


We arrived a few minutes before noon so we visited the University’s student union. Peter had completed post-graduate studies at UC (or is it UIC?).

Noon came soon, and we returned to Hull-House to be greeted by Rachel at the front desk. She pushes a button to let the less-dangerous-looking strangers in to see the house . . . and explained no flash photography is permitted inside.

the front parlor downstairs

looking down the stairs from the second floor

Weaving was taught to women seeking employment skills in the "loom room" upstairs. The house is focused more on the teaching of the history of the women's labor movement than replicating every room as it would have looked at the zenith of Hull-House services.

Informative, well=produced presentations were key elements in much of the meticulously maintained upstairs.

Jane Addams' death mask of face and right hand

also upstairs

Jane Addams' bedroom

another way of sharing the earlier photograph

The Guillows model airplane kit manufacturer had a connection to Hull-House and thus merits presence in the gift shop.

Peter talks with the gift shop person.

We were getting short on time. After this picture was taken, Peter and I walked “with all deliberate speed” back to the car and headed for Union Station. Before going, I learned that Rachel, who was so convivial at the downstairs front desk, had never heard of Vachel Lindsay. I told her I had included his poem about how pronounce his uncommon name in my book Confluence of Legends, and promise to mail her a copy when I returned to Springfield. Less than a week after saying goodbye,

I did!

Coming next to “Visit to a Toddlin’ Town” . . . . a perfectly timed return to Union Station and the “sold out” train ride home. Stay tuned.

Live long . . . . . . . and proper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I had brought my camera, but there was so much going on, I didn’t take a single photo until after my presentation! This was a surprise to even me because the camera is an extension of myself everywhere I go. On this evening, I was neither reporter nor tourist, I was part of what tourists (had there been any) had come to witness with eye and ear. I was not going to dilute my presence by asking my hosts to pose for me. I concentrated on only one task: being the most interesting, urbane and gracious poet/folkslinger from the land of tall corn I could be.  I determined early into Lincoln Restaurant that I would not take a picture before I had “delivered the goods.”  Not for a nanosecond did I regret this approach.

Charlie Paidock, leader of the group, was one of the first people I met. Charlie and everyone I met there radiated CHICAGO with a “hale fellow well met” confidence and friendly handshake. After arranging my books on one of the two tables that teemed with literature about social issues of interest to those attending, I found a table with an empty seat and soon was happily chatting with Bernie Cahane who shared my interest in aviation and some others including Tim the videographer who would soon record the evening’s meeting from start to finish from his tripod next to my table. The activity was well-organized, and designated ladies and gentlemen made announcements, introduced distinguished visitors (if I remember right) and took care of business. The meeting had come to order a little bit past the designated hour to accommodate late comers, but when the time came for the featured speaker, Charlie introduced Peter who introduced me.

I had brought large-type copies of what poems I intended to recite, arranged in order. I referred to them mostly to see what poem came next, but as I recited each poem, I kept the pages turning so if I my mind went blank, I could refer to the text on the podium for fast backup.

After a few words of thanks for the invitation to come, I recited “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” played  songs of a few Vachel poems I had set to music with guitar and penny-whistle accompaniment and had fun. The audience was tuned in less than five minutes into the presentation, when it was evident that I was not going to lecture to them. With so many attentive people it was clear to me  that we were going to have a conversation, even though I’d be doing most of the talking,  We had solid eye contact every minute. They laughed in all the right places. It was a romp.

Because of Vachel’s ties with Chicago’s Harriet Monroe who launched Poetry, the magazine that truly put him into the national literary big league when she published his “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” as the first poem in the first issue of that soon-to-be legendary magazine, I recited that poem early into the conversation. I kept the pace tempered, and explained how the author had included notations that called for cymbals and a cacophony of musical instruments. I explained that if the poem is recited as it should be — not as a “jig” but as a procession, with proper emphasis and facial expression “every step of the way” through that poem, the poem succeeds very well without the theatrical contrivances. My recital of it, and the audience reaction proved the point.

“To the United States Senate” — a poem Vachel dashed off in a day, and saw it in the next morning’s newspaper in 1911, about a year before national acclaim, demonstrated his incredible ability for imagery that is as vivid today as it was the day it came off the newspaper printing press.

It was important to share a biography between poems, and the extemporaneous narrative served as  the thread that laced the poems together. I shared a few — but not many– of his late poems (among them “A Curse for the Saxophone”) because so many of his late poems were no well received on his exhausting “performance” tours. He called his style “Higher Vaudeville” because it was entertaining, but it never approached “low-brow.”  What Mark Twain accomplished not many years before with his witty repartee, Vachel did with his witty poetry and vibrant delivery.

As I approached the end of my allotted 45 minutes, I asked if I had time for one more poem and a final song. Several voices called out words to the effect, “Keep going. Keep it coming. Forget the time.”  That reaction was like finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk! The response was incredible. Ditto the question and answer period that followed.

I was asked what I thought of rap poetry. — Answered in a nutshell: It’s great that so many talented people are engaged so well in crafting the language. If we don’t sympathize with rap, it is likely because we don’t understand it, and one reason we don’t understand it is because rap is not intended for most Caucasians over 35 years old who think Bruce Springsteen is over the top.  Someone asked about the poetry slams at The Green Mill Restaurant, a legendary venue for poetry. — Answer: It’s wonderful, but I’m not a competitor poet who plays to the audience for the candy of approval.  Still, I applaud the venue and what they do.   “How do you write your poetry?” someone asked. —  Answer: Ideas for some of my best are nurtured in notebooks and computer files  over months; sometimes the poem writes itself and often, a melody comes with the words. “Please read us some of your poetry!” called another, and I did. It was another romp.  It ended because it was getting late — far  beyond the time slated, and the restaurant was getting ready to close.

As I was signing autographs, I realized I REALLY OUGHT TO HAVE a few pictures with the College of Complexes banner visible. The podium had been taken away, and the banner was down from the ceiling and rolled up for transport home. Happily the group re-mounted the banner and as I talked to people, I gave my camera to the first person who offered to take pictures following my earnest request. I don’t remember his name, but he did okay. Pictures were — again — the last thing on my mind.

V for the victory. I was much happier than the rather dour countenance suggests. Sometimes trying to look "cool and collected" makes a man look like a grumpy sourpuss!

Several of the sizable audience stayed to chat.

pickin' and grinnin' with new friends

This part of the visit was an exercise in vanity, engaged to have some images of the room and fine people who made it marvelously memorable.

more chatty chatty, returning to earth from the podium

My first roadie. I would gladly have missed selling five books to have had three minutes alone, talking to her.

Pictured above is Colleen. During the questions and answers she asked about my guitar because she had never seen one with nylon strings. After the meeting concluded, I invited her to play it. That she did while I signed books and chatted with those who stayed after. When it was time to LEAVE so the restaurant could close, Colleen graciously carried it out to Peter’s car while I carried books.

As things were winding down, an older gentleman whose name I cannot remember approached with a gift. We had been quickly introduced during dinner. He had served with Robert Oppenheimer during the development of the first atomic bombs during World War II and for  years after.  He shared Oppenheimer’s stance against further developing nuclear weapons and urged them to be eliminated, destroyed by all nations. He handed me a shoulder patch, disk-shaped. He said it was obvious I was a man whose views were akin to his own, he had had the patches produced decades ago to give to special people, there were not many left, and he wanted to be certain the Toddle Town Troubadour (my phrase)  came back to Springfield with one.

I have received no greater honor than this.

I was figuratively knocked off my feet! I stammered some polite thanks and that was it.  I look forward to learning his name, so I can remember his name. Quite a gentleman!

Peter and I motored to a nearby watering hole where I bought him the first imported beer, and he bought me my second. I kept the bottle. His take on how my presentation went was incredibly on the mark. I did NOT have them in my pocket at the start. My singing helped cement the bond from podium to tables, and I will remember the presentation as big league pitchers remember every move they made in a key game during the playoffs.  There was more — yet MORE — adventure to come, and it will be shared in the sixth and final part (probably) of Visit to a Toddlin’ Town.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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save lunch for here

The picture above was slightly retouched to make it more memorable as a “top of the blog” SPLASH image. There will be more from that venue loater in this post.

Host and friend Peter Pero drove seemingly casually in traffic that seemed to get more frantic as we headed to our next destination. Jane Addams, founder of Hull-House and tireless author of many books about women’s rights and better labor laws, had known Vachel Lindsay as he became a major poet in the nation and a major presence whenever he visited Chicago. I wanted to walk where he had walked and see what he had known so well.

rebuilt and restored Jane Addams Hull-House

from the opposite side

The House is on the Unversity of Illinois Chicago (UIC) campus. The University acquired acres of land in this old neighborhood and forced the relocation of Hull-House from its original location.

displayed by the entrance

also displayed on the front exterior wall by the front door

It's easy to see from this sign that open hours have changed over the years, and it's easier to overlay the changes than to replace the sign.

Since the House was/is closed on Saturdays, we vowed that if time permitted Sunday before I had to board the train home, we would return.

Peter parked the car in a lot directly across from the House, and it cost us 75 cents for 30 minutes. Paying for parking in Chicago is not like smaller cities like Springfield, and alone, I would likely never have figured it out. It is a better deal, if you can find a curbside parking meter, but chances are you will have to hike a while to get where you want to go. Chicago has eliminated free parking on Sunday. If they could find a way to meter oxygen, they’d likely charge for that as well, and that’s okay.  The visit was worth the quarters.

We then drove to a former previously predominantly Jewish mercantile part of the city where there is very little left of the old feel that visitors into the 60s would have breathed in as they strolled the sidewalks. A meal at the place pictured below was a MUST. I could smell the perfume of grilled onions half a block away.

ff

That's my friend Peter Pero posing for camera boy.

It's been here 72 years. On a warmer day, I could have spent an hour or two, eating as much of the menu as possible and photographing the citizens. I had a palpable sense of ARRIVING in a country I had occupied all my life. I ordered the house specialty, the Jim's Polish Sausage with onions; NOT the "all beef" Polish Sausage with onions. I sensed most people don't pay the extra for "all beef" and neither did I.

Peter almost inhaled his late lunch, but that was fine. He and other long-time denizens are corpuscles in motion in the life flow of the city. He’s used to eating fast. And he has better teeth than I. After I finished about half of mine, I wrapped the rest to eat later. We continued walking through the neighborhood.

The goal of our shoe leather sortie had been a bookstore Pete remembered on East 57th Street where he had arranged some months ago with the owners to sell historic pictures of the area as part of a fund-raising effort for one of his many passions: the history of the local architecture and labor movement. The bookstore sought was still where he remembered it, but it has new owners, a new name and a new inventory, though the historic pictures are still offered for sale there.  Powell’s Bookstores —  www.powellschicago.com  — sells closeout books and LOTS of them. The place still had that “new bookstore smell,” and everything was bright, clean and meticulously arranged. I took no pictures. I looked for aviation history, found none;, poetry, found none but almost bought the collected poems of W.H. Auden. Then I found a book that has haunted me, in a small way, since I purchased it; Poet Charles Bukowski’s first novel Post Office. It was paperback, published in England by Virgin Books — www.virginbooks.com — and cost me $4.95, a steal of a deal. More about this book will be shared in a future Honey & Quinine. We departed the fine store to return to the car.

The feel of the area has changed a lot since the 60s with modernized store fronts and few of the older merchants.

Sculptures like this give the place a "faux vivre" look (my term), imparting a hint of humanity, though any real person would have had to be certifiably inzane to have been dressed this way in the harsh late winter wind.

Coming in Part 5 of Visit to a Toddlin’ Town, my visit to the point of it all, the College of Complexes, a group of good people who like to think, to engage their fertile minds in the great machinations of our times, politics, social issues, and on one special night, the jabbering of a poet from Springfield, Illinois with a guitar, a penny whistle, some books and a story to tell. Stay tuned.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

 

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First "vista incroidable" as our friends the frog gourmands might say, as we began the tour de auto was the Merchandise Mart on Michigan Avenue. I understand it is still owned by the Kennedys . . .. or is it the Kennedies?

My host Peter was parked right behind the car curbside at the CVS across  from Union Station. When he saw me photog’ng the license plate, he exited his car with right hand extended, explaining he expected me to come out the entrance of the store.  Then he saw my baggage and guitar and the folly of such an expectation became APPARENT to him. Hoisting the load aboard was easy, and we began the first of two major drives around the city.

The lighter structure in the center is a church new to the city since I last visited. Traffic was surprisingly light at 2:20 on a Saturday. Even so, there was not a parking space to be found.

Pete asked me early where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, and I didn’t have a clue.  He is very much into architecture and history, particularly of the labor movement, and I enjoyed his convivial running account of what I was seeing, though I was not taking notes, and have forgotten most of it.
He offered to simply stop the car by the curb so I could photog the vistas, but I was more concerned with blocking traffic and as intimidated by the kinetic dynamic — even on a slow day in midtown — as a novice camper in the Rockies trying to sleep while listening to coyotes. He stopped long enough for me to phot’ the huge building that was built right over the site of the original Fort Dearborn, birthplace of Chicago, but I accidentally didn’t recognize it two days after taking the picture. The light from the distant star was sub-par for capturing the seen (pun intended), and so was my concentration as I tried to drink it all in. An incredible town!

home of the Chicago Symphony, less than half a block from the Art Institute where Vachel Lindsay studied from 1901 through 1902. I learned later from Peter that the famous Cliff Dwellers club, where Vachel spoke in 1911, just two years from making the big league as a poet, is on the top floor of this building.

I knew I wanted to photog the Art Institute outside, and that it would take a few minutes, so Peter dropped me off in front of the symphony/’Dwellers building and agreed to drive around the block a few times and then park by the Art Institute lions.

Close to camera right is the Chicago Art Institute. This building is now the point of entry for visitors wanting to tour the institute's galleries.

This picture has been slightly retouched.

This visitor was concentrating on her camera when I decided to photograph a fellow traveler in process . . . .

. . . . of photographing her companion posing under the lion.

I knew time was limited and besides, the light was barely nominal, so my attitude was “take pictures now and savor the visit later.” I did not want to inconvenience Peter by staying much longer. I DO want to return to this area, perhaps on a day trip in warmer weather, and spend some serious “hiking with my camera and perhaps a few Springfield friends” time.

After the couple departed, I "shot" my lion.

view from the top of the stops looking at where I had been a few minutes before

I could vaguely hear my cell phone under my jacket in the bustle of the pedestrian visit, but I could not answer in time, and I realized Peter was trying to connect with me. A glance to the north (I think) and I saw him, car parked curbside, waving me back to the wheels.  Soon the tour continued.

It was a fast and easy turn around two corners to arrive at the sparkling new back of the Art Institute which now serves as point of entry for students studying there. What I could see as I visited the copper lions, etc. gave no hint of what was waiting directly behind the original building.

The enrolled student side of the Institute. WOW!

In part 4, we will share the first visit to Jane Addams’ Hull-House, the former mercantile district and the best sidewalk-fronting eatery with the best Polish sausage I have ever tasted. Stay tuned.

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.

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The longest part of the journey was the ride between Pontiac and Joliet. Tom the 60-something truck driver who had let me put my garment bag of garments and mostly books on the floor next to his aisle seat across the aisle and a few rows forward of my window-seated friend Cindy and I began telling his story.  He had lost his job because of his cholesterol levels and was at significant risk for a heart attack. He resembled Carroll O’Conner, maybe Rod Steiger, but he was not as svelte as they.  He had been aboard the train since it departed Arizona yesterday and was facing a six-hour layover at Chicago Union Station before taking the final leg of his journey that would deliver him to somewhere in New York state where his mom lived. She was in failing health, and he was the only member of his large family who could return home to take care of her. To hear him explain, I figured neither would hang on to next Christmas, and he was as likely to bow out of the world first as she.

home of yesterdays bustle of dreams

The late 20’s blond, trim as a ballerina and her 3-year old pixie of a young lady two rows ahead of me, and who appeared to be the ballerina’s mother across the aisle from her were the prime listeners to Tom, one row back from him. The four seemed to have shared a lot of the past 24 hours together. I was conversational with him, and Cindy, beside me, occasionally looked up from her landscaping magazine as though listening, but didn’t advance the repartee.  The conductor on the public address system announced we were 15 minutes from Chicago.

leaving Joliet Union Station

The next several minutes flew by, despite a stop of maybe five minutes to let a freight train cross our track heading west.

cavalcade of gang tags and graffiti on the back side of Joliet

More Joliet. This picture has been slightly retouched.

As we neared the Big Windy I was amazed to see a fleet of watercraft sitting out the last of winter lifted by crane onto land storage and a few cocooned underneath industrial-strength Handi-Wrap  on the water for the duration.

riverside and incipient spring

I had to wonder about how many people in Chicago belong to these floating RVs? How much do you have to earn to put a sailboat into winter storage? It seemed hard to imagine that Chicago had the population to support so many boats.
a meadow of masts

If I had not been lugging books a plenty and a fine guitar, I would have savored the environs evident underground after slowly carrying the collecting ME down the coach-class car’s narrow staircase to the exit. There was no rush. Peter and I had conversed via cell phone, and he knew I was running on time. He would be waiting for me in a relatively low traffic area outside: on the north side of the station by the big CVS drug store.

somewhere under Chicago

My overwhelming interest as I took the picture above, was to get the heck out of that station and up to the CVS where I could breathe fresher air and escape the hustlebustle. In fairness I must say that no-one got into my face and tried to move me along. I’m sure kids with guitars are common. Even kids with beards. I also noted that I was the only passenger who was not holding onto an extended handle and rolling his luggage along. (Memo to self: ask Santa Claus for rolling Samsonite and soon! )

From here it was an earnest lurch probably 60 feet, past the sliding glass doors and into the modern part of the station. I wanted to make it to the surface quickly, so I didn’t bother navigating to the proper side of the understation. I took the first escalator going UP and rode. Exited into fresh air I would have thought a mite chilly had I been of a mind to care at that stage. Peter had said NORTH SIDE. I believed (correctly as time would prove) that there could be only four sides to the station at surface level, and I turned to the right, confident that if I kept turning right at the corners, I would eventually arrive across the street from the CVS.  One and a half sides later I saw it.

Thinking I’d be easier to see across the street from CVS I waited curbside for a few minutes with the stance of an anxious folksinger and feeling like a sack of potatoes that had fallen off a spud truck in busy Ciudad de Juarez. After five minutes of this antic I crossed to the CVS side of the street, diagonally across from a corner of Union Station. Almost immediately after setting up “stance,” I noticed a license plate of some interest, in front of another car parked closer to the corner.

The irony of seeing this plate parked across from a train station was not lost on me.

More significant that the irony was that as I photographed the plate, the fellow in the car behind this one exited his car and approached me with right hand extended. That fellow was Peter Pero, prime instigator of my visit to this toddlin’ town!

. . . . . . . Coming next time in Part 3 . . . . . .  a most memorable and enlightening tour  of some of the city that Vachel Lindsay knew during the two years he lived here.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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March has been good to me. In 2011, I journeyed to read poetry at Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio and visited the grave site of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) in Fr. Wayne, Indiana. This year, in one way, I went even further: Chicago, Illinois, 200 miles and a world away from Springfield. It began last October 22 when I presented the story of my Ohio trip at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth, in Springfield, Illinois. In the audience were Peter Pero and his wife Byung, visiting from Chicago after attending a professional seminar earlier in the day. When my presentation ended, Peter introduced himself, and we talked Vachel. The next day, I received an e from him in which he suggested I come to Chicago to speak at the College of Complexes, an informal group of people who celebrate those who like learning and exercising their intellect for the fun of it.  The group has met every month at Lincoln Restaurant, at the corner of Lincoln Avenue since 1951! My first response was something on the order of “Do I KNOW YOU?” He responded quickly explaining that we had me the previous day at the Lindsay house, he thoroughly enjoyed my presentation, and he was confident he could arrange a formal invitation from the group’s leader if I would consent to come. I’d have to buy my Amtrak ticket, but I could sell my books, and he and Byung would pick me up at Union Station, show me around the city, put me up for the night on a spare sofa-bed and return me to the station for the trip home. In a week it was set. Peter, an education consultant after teaching in Chicago public schools for 25 years would be in town March 3rd. Could I come then? ABSOLUTELY! Two weeks later, I had purchased my tickets.

About February, I put together a general outline of what I intended to share. The challenge was to make the audience familiar with Vachel by sharing a poem many would know he had written. That poem would be “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.” I also wanted to connect Vachel to THEIR CITY; easy since he attended the Chicago Art Institute, had worked at Marshall Field and had been a major presence in the city after he became world-famous with the appearance of his poem “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven,” which was published in the first issue of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, which was based . . . . where else? . . . . in Chicago. I would also recite “General Booth,'” but I was undecided re what else. People who want to learn of the poet have sources aplenty to inhale FACTS. More important was to deliver a fair representation of important Vachel poems recited ALOUD with the intonation and rhythm HE desired.

How did I know what he desired? As a high school freshman I heard his son Nicholas Cave Lindsay recite several of his dad’s poems at a school assembly. Vachel often included guides to how to properly express and feel his poems in cryptic notes that were published accompanying the text.

It did not occur to me that pictures of the man would not be needed, until Peter asked me if I would need a projector to show pictures on a screen as I did at the Historic Site in October.  I had not considered putting images on a screen because my College of Complexes visit would not share a series of events from a strange land (Indiana and Ohio) as an organic sequence with a beginning, saga and conclusion.  Peter was absolutely right, though: the audience deserved to see a picture of Vachel, and a picture of his Springfield birth place. I added a picture of his headstone at Oak Ridge Cemetery and a picture of me, all on a small full-color handout that included basic info about his Chicago connections, his life and death, and a little about the evening’s guest speaker. I sent the document ast a PDF to Pete and to College of Complexes (CoC) leader Charles Paidock. Charles forwarded the PDF to everyone on the CoC mailing list the day before I departed Springfield.

I called a cab at 9:00 am and while waiting on my porch saw my friend Thea Chesley approaching her vehicle, heading out to attend a local writers’ group meeting downtown. It was a good omen. We exchanged good wishes, and off she went. My cab arrived at 9:10, and I walked into the station at 9:30.

A northbound Amtrak passenger awaits the arrival of the train from St. Louis. That's the Illinois State Capitol building in the distance.

Initially I considered simply taking a sack of books and my guitar along. Then I realized the importance of the tooth-brush and a change of shorts . . . . then the importance of maximizing my visual impact on an audience of strangers. I packed two sport coats. One was the wild multi-colored production I’ve worn at almost every Springfield event and at Urbana University as well. Another was a green camel-hair sport coat, which I thought would “play well” with the Irish in the audience. As things transpired, I would wear neither in following Peter Pero’s excellent advice.

The additional clothes and their folding garment bag were host to about 40 of my books, and the thing must have weighed 60 POUNDS! BIG surprise. Combine that with my hard-cased guitar  in the other hand, and I understood the real challenge would not be my presentation; it would be the trek to my presentation.

View from the train.

I had expected a Saturday ride would be uncrowded, that I’d have room to write in a blank notebook my friend Barbara Robinette had given me some years ago and maybe even play a little music. WRONG! The car was almost full. I was able to hoist my guitar into the overhead rack, but the luggage was impossible. An older gentleman sitting solo invited me to put it on the floor in front of the empty aisle seat, and I did. I noticed a woman about my age sitting by the window with an empty aisle seat, and I asked if I could join her. The answer was “yes,” by the grace of God. I could not have been any luckier if I had dreamed that seat of travel mate.

also Chicago bound on Interstate 55 beside the tracks

My only regret was that I did not have a window seat.  Pictures I took, I took BY her, leaning forward without much thinking, shooting from the hip, as it were. Her name was Cindy. She was married to a football coach in Racine, Wisconsin, and she was returning after visiting her son and family in St. Louis. We started chatting convivially, I showed her my book Confluence of Legends about my trip to Ohio after retrieving one from my baggage nearby. She took it . . . . . and began reading it . . . . page by page . . . . the whole 32 pages. I didn’t want to interrupt her by talking . . . . maybe she hoped for that, and that’s why she began reading. Or, perhaps she enjoyed my writing; hard to say. We continued talking after she was done. Then I gave her the book. I had plenty in the bag.

Joliet, Illinois

Joliet station

Grandma and Daniel in the dining car.

I excused myself from Cindy’s find company while she was reading my book for two reasons: I was a little bit hungry, and I wanted to try for a window seat to take some more pictures. I succeeded, sat with the fine folks pictured above, on their way from Arkansas to Detroit, hoping to arrive in time to attend the pro hockey game that night with grandma’s Daniel. They had boarded the train a little after 1 am that morning, were riding in a private compartment, and had hardly slept it all because it was so hot in their room. They were fine company and conversation as I ate lunch: a fresh-cooked bacon-cheese burger, kettle-fried potato chips and a Mountain Dew for $9.50.

I didn’t take a single picture in the dining car except for Dan and gran’.

Part Two continues soon.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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