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On this first day of 2016 I am catching up with a promise to a terrific friend who lives in the historic heart of Chicago. I know there are many “hearts of Chicago,” and Peter Pero knows durn near every one of them. I know this because a few years ago, he shared a few of them with me as a friend and convivial historian. The post I’m writing here is part one of a two part ramble which will add pictures a plenty in part 2 by January 15.

Peter Pero has written a book — Chicago Italians  at Work — produced by Arcadia Publishing, and available everywhere. There are more than 200 pictures of “Chicago Italians” (surprise) from 1890 to 1970, and as someone once said “every picture tells a story.”   If you have even a passing interest in “the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down,” you should buy and enjoy the book.

Chicago is  THE CITY which attracted probably millions of people with stars in their eyes. Consider Second City comedy, the night life, the huge talent incubator for  people like Louis Armstrong and countless others who came to Chi’ BEFORE they went to New York City. A  poet or singer who proved capable in his or her home town — especially any home town between the Alleghenies and the  Rockies — could explore a world horizon in relative security. relatively close to the nest of Wichita or Paducah or Springfield. The city has always fascinated me as it fascinated another Springfield, Illlinois poet: Vachel Lindsay who made a big impression at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chi’ when he met William Butler Yeats. When I visited Peter Pero and walked with him down Michigan Avenue a few years ago, he showed me where the Cliff Dwellers Club met. Peter showed me a lot: the Hull House that Jane Addams made famous, the incredible art museum, the Chicago Museum, some incredible neighborhoods where I could almost hear the echos of bustling  Saturday street markets, Lincoln Park with its statue of Grant and so much more, as you will see in Part Two later this month.

You should know about his web site —

http://www.chicgohistorystreet.org

where you will learn more about Peter Pero and his services as a tour guide. He will not direct you to a bus with 30 adults and 20 crying children and a public address system that was obsolete when McGovern was nominated to run for president on the Democrat ticket. He offers one-on-one  and small group tours. He has contacts who know what he doesn’t, in case you have special interests. And it’s all family focused.

Peter Pero is the man to know when you want to learn about that wonderful city. Don’t wait for this blog’s Part 2. Visit his  web site and get to know this fellow.  You will be the richer for it.

Happy new year to everyone.

Live long . . . . . . .  and proper.

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I’ve been a fan of Springfield, Illinois-born poet Vachel (rhymes with HAYchel) Lindsay for more than 30 years. Vachel was a man. You’d be amazed how many people hearing the name pronounced correctly for the first time are surprised to learn that. He lived from 1879 to 1931. For years Vachel’s “place” was at the house on South Fifth Street and in the hearts of those who had read his poetry or heard him speak it to packed theaters and auditoriums all over the USA, Canada, England and even his own home town. I recite his poetry and talk about his fascinating life to anyone who will listen, and in the course of that reciting (not the same as reading it to pieces of paper while those gathered near listen and quietly plan their grocery shopping) I have witnessed countless Midwesterners come to appreciate the man and his gift to the ages: a legacy of beauty that touches our hearts today. Two of the newest “comers” to know Vachel are my friends Peter Pero from Halstead Street in Chicago and his friend Greg from near Galena. On Saturday, June 1, the three of us motored to Oak Ridge Cemetery where Vachel “rests” with his mom, dad, sister Olive and three sisters who died of illness early into their lives. Here we found Vachel, and we reflected on some of his poems.

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The best way to find Vachel is to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery’s administrative offices on Monument Avenue during weekday business hours. There you will be given a map of the grounds with the location of the Lindsay graves clearly marked.

Peter and Greg at Vachel's headstone

Peter and Greg at Vachel’s headstone

If the office is closed. drive to Lincoln Tomb which “towers” above the stones of lesser mortals and drive northwest on the well-maintained lanes. Look for the sign with the name and the arrow.

Job Conger poses beneath an important lane-side sign.

Job Conger poses beneath an important lane-side sign.

The gravesite is inspiring to this writer. To be close to the stones is to be touched by the spirit of the poet, PARTICULARLY if you have read or heard 10 of his poems — any 10 will do — or known of him longer than a week.

Almost two years ago Peter had arranged for me to recite and sing some of Vachel’s poems which I had set to music for guitar accompaniment at Chicago’s internationally known College of Complexes. On that occasion I also explained Vachel’s close ties to “The Windy City” of which there are many. One reason for his arranging for his friend Greg to come to Springfield was so I could acquaint a new friend with the poet and his works.

Peter Pero of Chicago

Peter Pero of Chicago

Earlier in the day I had recited Vachel’s “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” in the Senate chambers during our visit to the Old State Capitol in lyrical downtown Springfield. At the end of our tour of the Dana-Thomas House, the most completely restored home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright during his early years. I recited Vachel’s “On the Building of Springfield” for Greg, Peter and the others who had taken a wonderful guided tour. I will describe that tour soon here at Honey & Quinine. At Vachel’s place, I recited some more.

Job Conger reciting "The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down" the first Vachel poem he ever recited in public.

Job Conger reciting “The Mouse that Gnawed the Oak Tree Down” the first Vachel poem he ever recited in public.

There was no hurry. There never is at a cemetery. There was time to consider the life of probably the most famous native son of our city and be glad that he has touched our lives with his example and his poetry.

Soon it was time to depart. Supper time was approaching and there was a Shop N’ Save Supermarket calling to our appetites. We obeyed. I was grateful for Greg’s and Peter’s interest in Vachel’s place. They may never return to Oak Ridge Cemetery, but I am confident they will return to his poetry.

left to right to Job's right, the headstones of Vachel Thomas Lindsay, M.D., Katharine Frazee Lindsay, and Nicholas Vachel  Lindsay.

left to r8ight to Job’s rigtht, the headstones of Vachel Thomas Lindsay, M.D., Katharine Frazee Lindsay, and Nicholas Vachel Lindsay.

I know I will too!

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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At the Chicago History Museum gift shop I had purchased a Dover Press edition of Carl Sandberg’s book Chicago Poems (first published in 1916) and a unique souvenir shot glass with a metal medallion attached to one of its four squared sides. The woman behind the counter (beautiful, Nordic/Swedish, friendly) had begun to put them into a paper sack after carefully wrapping a generous layer of packing tissue around the glass, but I waved off the sack. “I’m a tree hugger,” I explained, and she graciously handed me the wrapped shot glass which I put into my front right jacket pocket, and the book which I had put into my inside left jacket pocket. I knew I’d be reading it on the train, and it was time to boogaloo back through Lincoln Park and onto Union Station. From my previous foray into the Windy City Wilds, I had learned to travel light and to return to the train station early. I didn’t want to be the 196th of 200 people boarding the southbound #305. The timing was perfect.  We arrived at 4:15 for the 5:15 departure, and there was an unexpected bonus.

En route to the bonus, a near panic as I entered the ground floor waiting area and stuck my hand inside my jacket to retrieve the ticket I had put into my shirt pocket. It was not there! I knew that’s where it would be, and the prospect of trying to board the train without it flashed before my eyes! I groped, guessing that if it hadn’t fallen out the bottom of my jacket, it might still be close to my shirt . . . . and I was right. I found it. Chances are that if I had n0t worn my vest to Chi’ from Spring’ that ticket would be blowing over the hinterland between the History Museum and Union Station. “CHEEses,” I thought to myself. “That was close!”

I arrived early in line at 4:20 with only eight or nine travelers standing or sitting on the floor. One was a late 20s fellow, sitting on the floor against a structural pillar, surrounded by about 8 pieces of luggage. He was in line for the southbound train that would depart from Gate C after mine. We talked briefly, and he asked if I’d watch his luggage for him while he went outside for a cigarette. “It’s been too long, man,” he said. “I’ve gotta have a smoke!” I wasn’t going anywhere, and I was happy to keep my place in line by his bags. He returned in about 20, a happier, satisfied man.

One thing about traveling with a guitar. I seem more inclined to talk with strangers, and strangers seem more inclined to talk with me. Hell, I could be James Taylor with a theatrical beard for a disguise. And any stranger could be an entertainment booking agent which I need badly.

About 4:45 a pubic address announcement advised all passengers planning to board the #305 who were under 18 and traveling alone and all passengers 62 or over to make a separate line at the entry portal. We would be the first to board the train. WONDERFUL!  GREAT IDEA! THANK YOU AMTRAK!          And so we did.
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It was a breeze. This time I placed my bag and guitar in the overhead rack. At 4:50 I sat down in a window seat that would be fine for photography, even though it was getting too dark for any pictures. Ten minutes after I sat, the rest of the passengers came aboard. Again, every seat had been sold. The train began to move at precisely 5:15.

Among them were several disappointed Chicago Bears fans festooned with a variety of “officially authorized” NFL attire. From their long faces, it was obvious their team had lost to the Green Bay Packers. Passenger Dave was a Bears fan. He sat next to me for the next few hours.  We said all of 10 words to each other for the duration.

It was what he didn’t say to me that moved me. Early into the trip he closed his eyes and sat quietly. When a call came in on his cell, he explained to the caller he was on his way, the Bears had lost and that he couldn’t talk now; he’d call back. Not long after, a second call came. It was obviously the person he had cut short earlier. He called her Jodie.  Their 11-year marriage were coming to an end. In the course of the conversation, Dave told Jodie he considered the 11 years “wasted.” They had two kids who would stay with her. He would stay at their house until the new year for tax and accounting purposes, but he would move out in January. Several times he tried to make it clear to her that even though she had not explicitly told him she didn’t want him in her life, it was obvious to him, and he was making it clear to her it was over. He didn’t understand why she wouldn’t say it.  Conversation over. Twenty minutes later,  another phone call. One of the kids. No conversation about the coming separation. Soon after, another call from Jodie.  Dave was concerned that she would not be there at the station to pick him up. Was he going to have to take a cab? He wanted to know. I don’t know that she agreed to be waiting. It was unsettled when he ended the call.

On the way to Chi’ they announced we would accelerate to 110 miles per hour on a stretch of newly improved track. From my window, looking at the countryside, it felt like we were going 110 mph. On the return trip at about the same place, they announced that typically we would travel at 110, but not tonight. There had been an “equipment malfunction.” No problem. I was in no rush.

In the meantime, I was getting sleepy and began to worry about missing Springfield. I went to the dining car tor a can of Coke with a glass of ice and brought it back to my seat. It gave me some energy, and I knew I’d be fine.

When the train stopped at Bloomington, several passengers exited the train, and Dave moved to sit with a friend a few rows back. I now had two seats to myself, and just to experience the view from the aisle-side I moved one to the right and brought my overhead book bag down. Then I took a self portrait.
PP1216-27Until I had departed the train, the trip had been terrific. It went south when I discovered there was not a single taxi waiting outside the station. This was a first for me. I roamed the lot; found not one. I even asked a few people obviously waiting for a ride if they were waiting for a cab. Three polite shrugs and shaking heads and one “No, I’m waiting for my husband who is coming to pick me up.” (lucky man) I was told by station personnel that cabs often parked by the curb on Washington at the “designated (there was a sign) cab parking place.” There was no cab, but a fellow was standing there. I asked if he was waiting for a cab, and he said yes, he had called one. I am guessing he was a first time cab caller from our station because I knew cabbies park near the entrance to the station. At that instant, I saw a Yellow Cab arrive probably 200 feet from us, close to the station entrance. I said “I see a cab right now. He’s over there,” and began walking toward it. . . .

I knew I had not called it, so my first words were “May I share this ride?” The driver asked if I can called, I said I had not and pointed to the fellow walking toward us. “It’s up to him,” the driver said. After determining that the other fellow’s destination was on the direct route to my home and that he would get out first, I took a seat behind him.

The ride was a breeze. I walked the last half block from the nearest street corner to my home. I walked through my front door and glanced at my watch. 10:01 precisely.

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

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I awakened about 9:30 after one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months. The location was Peter and Byung’s office-turned-guestroom on the ground floor of their condo, a scant 15 feet from the guest bathroom with the night light above the vanity. I had said my goodnights to my hosts and their friend Chris, a delightful woman whom I thought might go out with me if two of us lived in the same city. She was so charming that before I toddled down to the guest room with a final nightcap of all the Sauterne wine I could pour into a medium-size glass without likely spilling any, I gave her a copy of my book Confluence of Legends. It was third of three I parted with during my visit, the second of two I gave away.  I was so at peace with the world that I almost forgot about the pair of shorts (Fruit of the Loom if you must know) I had packed for the excursion. I did, in fact, think of them. I considered the circumstance. I hadn’t perspired much over the last day. Everything in the shortsall area was commendably clean and un-offensively scented. “What the hell?” I said to myself. “I’ll save these shorts for Monday.” And I did

!Peter had invited me to come upstairs to their living room and read when I was ready to meet the day, explaining he is a “night person (as is Byung) and would not likely join me until pretty well into the morning. I was fine with that. While waiting, I finished the Mozart biography I had started the day before on the train. It was a small book. Peter and I were munching sliced apple and sipping coffee by 11.
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Then it was time to roll. I can’t remember the names of the main roads traveled but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if Peter had not taken a liking to me when I recited at Vachel Lindsay’s house in October 2010, I would have passed to dust having never shared this vista on a Sunday morning in Chicago. I consider Peter to be the A.J. Foyt, the Mario Andretti, the Sterling Moss of high-speed driving!
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The second picture here has been slightly retouched.

First stop on the day’s itinerary was the Chicago Zoo.
PP1216-5This part of the zoo is a small farm which is there to educate children of Chicago who will never see a farm: denizens of the city deep, who will never travel to rural USA far removed from a four-lane highway. I know this because Peter is a Chicago historian and tour guide for hire among other laudable attributes.
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We parked in a free parking curbside area near the lakefront. “On a clear day, you can see Indiana from here,” he explained. I was happy to see the lake; mad a memo to self to see more of it after the weather warms.  The zoo was closed for the winter, but the walking paths we well engaged by many on foot.

From this board walk, visitors in summer rent paddleboats to putter around a large, sheltered pond close to Lake Michigan. This area is part of Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
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One way to be certain you’re in Lincoln Park is this statue of Ulysses Grant on horseback close to the lake. At Chicago’s Grant Park, they boast a fine statue of Lincoln so visitors will know they’re in Grant park. This is a long telephoto pic, and I would looooooove to spend an entire morning or afternoon roaming this territory and getting close to Grant’s statue and beachfront.
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Another way to know you’re in Lincoln Park is this statue of Benjamin Franklin. That’s Peter posing for a picture he probably never thought would appear in this blog. The morning was chillier than I looks here. We were walking into a moderate headwind. It was good to know that the return to the car would be helped by  a tailwind.

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Mr Franklin was in good spirits. Must have been his hardy Boston lifestyle!

We were heading for the Chicago History Museum, a major attraction which should be on every visitor’s itinerary. It’s across the street from a major evangelist’s church, a beautiful brown stone complex with a sanctuary that seats about 3,000, Peter explained. He knew that the Sunday service had concluded shortly before we arrived on the museum side of the street, and he was curious about the place. So was I. There were still many attendees exiting the building after socializing, and the atmosphere was incredibly warm. Not a frown to be seen. We had no trouble entering that famous sanctuary and taking a few pictures. No one approached us and asked who we were or the purpose for our visit. Everyone was focused on their reason for being there; not ours.
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I could have spent an hour photographing the sanctuary.

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PP1216-13This is the view of the Chicago History Museum from the front of the church.
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Photography inside the museum is a challenge because of  the contrasting bright lights and moderate overall ambient light. Human eyes adjust to it better than cameras, but the displays are a real “tour de force” not only of Chicago, but of the culture of the USA as well.

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The woman is reading a very interesting, nutshell chronology of the land and the city. I knew the instant I saw her that I wanted to photograph her, but she was moving to the right faster than I hoped.  I neither know nor care what the door is on the right, and I know it’s a visual “ersatz element in this picture, but I did not want to interrupt her to ask her to “pose” for a picture more to the left.  I would have lost the authentic moment, and I do like how she stood at this fleeting half a second as she read the text on the wall.
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My true “photo harvest” from the museum came as we approached the stairway to the ground floor.
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The second picture is from the same position at the top as the first, but I stood closer to the edge to reveal the poster.

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Looking back up in the direction from whence we came.
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A final savoring of line and form.
PP1216-20Visible to the right of the fountain (closed for the winter) is the Chicago History Museum. Across the street is Ellie’s where we ate a fantastic lunch. It was terrific.

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A last look at a memorable museum.

I had a train to catch (that would depart Union Station) at 5:15, and we wanted to be arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. En route back to Peter’s car — in fact almost across the street from it in Lincoln Park — we encountered this steel sculpture, another amazing presence . . .

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A pose of the wayfaring folkslinger (photo by host Peter). With Peter’s talent at the wheel, the trip to the station was a breeze.
PP1216-25Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

Coming next on Return to Chi’ (or) I Didn’t Even Change My Shorts,  I have a picture perfect return to my home town as a sobering story unfolds before my ears. Look for it Sunday.

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PP1215-4Visiting the Windy City the second time by Amtrak is a lot easier the second time than the first.  I knew that wherever I exited the station at street level, if I turned right or left and kept the station on only my right or left side, walking around the block, eventually I’d see the familiar CVS Pharmacy across the street at one of four corners I knew I would encounter,  and that was the corner where I would wait for Peter. The night before, I had explained in a brief phone call that I had shaved off my mustache, but I had kept the rest of the manicured full beard.  It was conceivable that without that advisory, he would have driven by that guy with the brown leather jacket that looked like the one I wore last year when I visited . . . and the same guitar . . . and the same dress slacks . . . and not stopped because I was missing a vital element above my upper lip. Happily for MOI, he recognized me. The time was about 10:40. The rain was light.

One of the first subject to come up after stowing the luggage and instrument in the trunk was lunch.  Peter assumed I had eaten on the train. He wasn’t hungry and he didn’t expect to be hungry for a while. It was 10:40 in the morning and I hadn’t touched food since 7 last night. I wasn’t famished-hungry, but my body was telling me it was time for more. Even so,  I can miss a few meals, and not have to buy new pants. Besides, I had not come for the cuisine, I had come to see the city. Soon we were barreling down a major avenue in the direction of a silent auction fundraiser at a visual arts gallery/studio which had been a beautiful large home in ages past in a healthy-looking neighborhood in the general vicinity of University of Chicago.  PP1215-5We arrived about 11:10 when they were taping yellow silent auction forms to a wonderful variety of creations already placed. More was on the way. Peter knew Laura, the director of the event, had taken a course at this house. The arts organization that had rented it for years had lost their lease, and the auction would raise funds to help the move to a new location if they could find a new location. I felt I was visiting a funeral home before the “guest of honor” was wheeled in and the chairs had been arranged. The event  — the silent auction — would begin at 1 pm, but we were welcome to look around, even go upstairs. There was a lot to see: within and from within. Former fireplaces were focal points in every room on the ground floor. I would have loved to have seen the large portrait that must have hung above the piano room pictured here. What was his/her name? Occupation? What had happened to the painting? It’s obvious in the picture that one honkin’-big painting had presided over that room possibly in the early 40s but not likely much later.
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We strolled past the piano room into the room where the wine would be shared. Everything was very much “in process.” I believe the hanging fabric was an artistic creation, but I didn’t get close enough to tell for sure.
PP1215-10I paused to take this picture before we drifted up the stairway to the second floor . . .
PP1215-9  In addition to the gift shop at that level were rooms which had been studios, maybe living quarters for artists. I could imagine being inspired by the natural light  and perhaps sitting for a portrait in the room pictured left.
PP1215-6The view from a window in the “gift shop” revealed a Unitarian church just down the street we would soon  walk by it on the way to building that might have served as home to King Arthur.
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On the way back to the stairs, I noticed the Soft Room with the door slightly opened. It was a fascinating concept. The “no shoes” warning was an excellent touch. If we had visited on a sunny morning with a little more time, I would have taken off my shoes and gone inside.

Peter told me about the place we were walking to, but I didn’t have my digital tape recorder, and I wasn’t taking notes.  It was much more than a meeting hall on the University of Chicago campus. The few pictures I took inside will say only what they can say . . .
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This was the central gathering  area. Forward here took us to a lecture hall if I remember right. To the right was a hall to other rooms and to the left was a stairway going up.

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View from a landing halfway up to the second floor shows a tastefully garlanded hand railing. I imagined this space in the 30s before plastic event registration tables and folding chairs contributed a touch of garage sale ambiance to the otherwise Harvard-esque tableau. It was time to go.

PP1215-13  The Smart Museum of Art, also on campus was next.  It was the highlight of the day.  I could have spent two hours here solo with a camera, pen and paper for taking notes.  The incredibly spacious lobby — big as Texas — featured a coffee shop with baked snacks, table and chairs. I seldom eat when I can avoid eating, so I had coffee, and it was excellent.
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This is the view of the lobby. A welcoming greeter is behind the desk on the right, refreshments behind him and tales and chairs in the center area. The large mural is a black & white composite photograph from Czechoslovakia (if I recall correctly)  created on a  fabric hanging that came together from four separate pieces, each about as big as Vermont. The photo above shows natural color photograph.  The mural is very interesting; lots going on  For the fun of it I created a colorless rendition from my original.
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This is the ‘grey scale edition.

By fully saturating the picture with my computer’s photo software, I “hyper-colorised it.
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I gave the same treatment to a closeup of one of my favorite parts of the wonderful mural.  PP1215-28 PP1215-29                                                                 The following photos are shared for the most part with no information about the art. I was floored, knocked out, by the variety and quality of what was displayed . . .

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PP1215-17 PP1215-18           PP1215-23                                                                                   PP1215-21                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               PP1215-24                                                             Here, my friend and generous host Peter reads about the table and chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.   It was approaching 2:15: time for lunch.
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Here’s the view of the opposite side of the enclosed yard as we departed for the excellent walk back to the car. There were people on the sidewalks walking places. No one got in the way. Faces were focused forward . . .                                                                                                   PP1215-31

       a closer view

Peter recommended a place called Steak & Egger. I was in no mood for breakfast, but I was game for anything but a filet of sole with the name Floursheim embossed into it.

Located in a former very high traffic location during the industrial age, the territory around was still busy after becoming home to many newcomers of Mexican and Spanish origin. Even so, the menu was in English. It reminded me of a Steak & Shake with a long counter overlooking the major part of the cooking area and surrounded by a wide “U” of tables and chairs. There was a lot of convivial patter and chatter, smiles everywhere and surprisingly busy for mid-afternoon. I was absolutely delighted with Peter’s taste in restaurants! After a delicious fried chicken special with mashed potatoes, string beans and a nice dinner salad. The owner kindly wrapped the thigh and breast I had not eaten in aluminum foil. I intended to savor the leftover for dinner  after I returned to Springfield. I honestly and truly recommend Steak & Egger to all friends and amigos y amigas visiting Chicago with time to find it. Peter took my picture outside before we headed for his condo about 4:15. You see here a satisfied man!
PP1215-32After unpacking at Peter’s and Byung’s I sat in on some Ph.D candidate students’ informal gathering with Professor Byung whom they addressed by her unmarried last name — Professor Soo, I believe. They were all deep into paperwork and final projects. most planning  to graduate next year.  The field was school administration. The friendly repartee between professor and students was as between colleagues focused on great mutual affection and respect and shared goals. After the conference, the students departed and friends began arriving for the Christmas party where I had been invited to play and sing.

It was a most terrific Christmas party!

Live long . . . . . and proper.

Next time on “Return to Chi’ (or) I Didn’t Even Change Shorts” our hero and his exceedingly kind host Peter visit Lincoln Park, the Chicago History Museum and during the long day’s journey into night, I listen to a marriage come apart as my seat mate argues with his wife about their coming separation on his cell phone. Stay tuned.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

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I had been on the train to Chicago about two hours before I toot the first picture. PP1215-1  The burned out  building across the track from our stop at Pontiac, Illinois  was typical of the mood of the rainy, dark and drab morning since leaving the Springfield Amtrak station at 6:32. The land tells a tale of woe in winter. The one ray of sunshine that entered my picture was a young woman who boarded the coach class car a few minutes after me, who approached as asked if the aisle seat beside my window seat was taken. “It is if you would like to sit in it.” is what I should have said, and whatever I said worked because  she sat down. From that point on, as the Number 305 began to roll, I knew I was one of the luckiest passengers on the train.

I was in no rush to be chatty, and neither was she; a good thing.  Thanks to the rainy sky and hour of the new day, the whole car seemed hushed. A few passengers, obviously aboard since St. Louis or before had taken advantage of the seats with spare empties and stretched, to occupy both in blissful slumber through the night. There would be ample time for talk in the coming 3 1/2 hours. I glanced peripherally in her direction as she pulled out a Sports Illustrated, thumbed through it, stopping to read an article, it seemed, then looked over some papers from a computer printer. This took about an hour and a half.  I stared out the window at the darkness, mildly perturbed that the seat was positioned awkwardly behind the closest window. To take pictures when the sun rose to the occasion, I’d have to lean forward. It was really going to crimp my modus operandi, but as the light began to creep into the morning, I knew I wasn’t going to photograph anything significant anyway with the rain drops all over the window. There was no point in gazing into the dark so I began to read a small biography of Wolfgang Mozart I had brought for such a glum circumstance.

My trainmate sat still, eyes closed, no doubt, dozing. I know this because people don’t open their months slightly when they are meditating or feigning slumber. When I first noticed, her head faced pretty much forward, but over the miles it rolled to her left. I know this seems crazy to confess, but I felt I was watching something sacred as she slept. I glanced at her probably five times over that quiet hour, and never for more than a few seconds at a time. I didn’t want her to awaken to see me watching her. After her nap we began to lob remarks back and forth, and gradually began to converse. The entree to what would be civil, convivial patter for the rest of the journey was my asking her, “Are you a dancer? I noticed you reading the Sports Illustrated when we started, and I thought you might be with a ballet or something.”

No, she was not a dancer although she volunteers for an arts organization in Quincy, Illinois where she lives and works. She was coming to Chicago to go shopping and take a break from the home town. We chatted about Quincy and the times I had enjoyed there when on the road selling Encyclopedia Britannica. I was surprised she had not yet visited the Quincy museum, across the street from what used to be the Lincoln-Douglas Hotel where I used to stay, now a home for senior citizens.  I introduced myself; told her my name is Job and asked her first name.
She was Anna Lee. BEAUTIFUL name! Later, after we had talked awhile, I asked if I could take her picture. She said “yes.”

PP1215-2

When I boarded the train, I had put my laptop computer carrying bag in the overhead luggage, but had placed my guitar, soundbox to the bottom and neck up, between my legs. Eventually, it entered the dialogue as I explained I was going to entertain at the Christmas party of some Chicago friends, Peter and Byung who had been visiting the Vachel Lindsay home State Historic site in 2010 when I was featured speaker at an event there.

As we rolled along I snapped a few pictures of the scenery outside, but my heart wasn’t in it. The weather was not my friend.  I recognized a lot of the scenery from my trip last year when I spoke, recited and sang at Chicago’s College of Complexes, thanks to the invitation and hospitality of my new friends Peter and Byung. I took probably three more pictures, and, two days later,  after reviewing them, decided none were fit to share.

As the train began to pull away from the Joliet station, I remembered to call Peter to let him know I was this far into the trip so he could start out for Union Station to meet me curbside by the CVS Pharmacy, I dialed his number.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . .   and discovered no answer and no voice mail! DANGIT! Peter had lost his cell phone and had told me earlier in an e-mail he’d be borrowing his wife’s on Saturday morning. I called her number five times. The only result was that I learned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his charming wife, Byung, had not set up voice mail! I had noticed Anna Lee using an Android or something like it earlier, so I asked if she could access e-mail with it. She could. And did. I gave her the information and we found Peter’s e to me in which he had given me Byung’s cell number. YES (surprise!) I HAD copied it correctly! I tried a few times more. NOTHING! Back to Anna Lee . . . Could she go back to that e-mail from Peter since all his e-mails include his home and office phone numbers. Maybe he had found his phone and didn’t tell me. . . . I called both numbers  . . . twice! No joy.  Anna Lee suggested she could e-mail him a note to call me on my cell. At least I would answer it. So we e-mailed him something cryptic with my cell number. . . . . . . . And in five minutes or so my phone rang.  WHHHHEEEEEEW!

Okay, all was set. No worries.  I gave Anna Lee my “Balladeer For Rent” folksinger card, and to my surprise and delight, she gave me her business card with an e-mail address.  As the train entered the dark part of the station, slowing to a stop, Anna Lee rose to get her luggage, and asked if she could pass me my laptop case. “Absolutely,” I said, and reached into one of the pockets, removed a copy of my book Confluence of Legends about my visit to Urbana, Ohio where I read a Vachel Lindsay poem and played/sang folk songs.  I explained I would wait for most of the passengers in our car to depart before following with my bulky guitar thanked her profusely for being such terrific company! She indicated the same satisfaction from our serendipitous encounter and went happily down the aisle.

My laptop case was full of my books: the afore-mentioned Confluence, plus Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois and Bear’ sKin, two of my  three poetry books and Springfield Aviation from Arcadia publishing. I had also brought copies of some Vachel Lindsay poems (I recite what I’ve memorised at the drop of a hint) and the Mozart biography. In one pocket were my hair brush, a bottle of after-shave from a grocery store. I had forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste, though I had brushed before leaving Springfield. Finally, I had packed a pair of clean shorts, Fruit of the Looms, for the return trip the next day. I needn’t have bothered.

The trek into the station up the escalator and over to the CVS to wait for Peter was a breeze, in light rain. I would have been as happy to be walking in magnificent downtown Chi’ if it had been raining cats and dogs. I had packed light, I had my guitar, some great memories from the trip with Anna Lee. I was looking forward to seeing Peter and Byung again. I wasn’t merely Springfield folk slinger; I was frikking James frikking Taylor! I was a frikking STAR! I was absolutely where I wanted to be!

. . . Coming next on “Return to Chi’ (or) I Didn’t Even Change My Shorts” part 2: I meet Peter and tour an art house preparing for a silent auction and the FABULOUS MAJOR University of Chicago Art Gallery!

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

 

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A friend from an advanced planet visited my home and my city last weekend. His name is Peter Pero, and the advanced planet is Chicago, which is my way of saying “it’s another world.” I know because I visited the city, his home and his charming wife Byung earlier this year when I was invited to share the story of Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay, his poetry, my poetry and s0me of my songs at Chicago’s College of Complexes, a club for citizens who like to think and learn. It was a fab weekend, I wish to bejeebers I could visit and perform there again, and if anybody’s interested, the full story of my visit can be found in my Honey & Quinine posts around March of this year. Peter wanted to learn more about the Lindsay fanatic, my city and  my aviation museum.

Friday night we had dinner at Casa Real on North Grand, not far from Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. The place was packed, and noisier than some jet engines I have stood next to. The food and service were excellent. After, we drove to a Shop’N’Save across the street and bought a few six packs of Michelob Premium Amber Ale. There was most of a gallon of Carlo Rossi Burgundy already at home in case that proved insufficient.

Peter was impressed with my collection of vinyl records. They seemed as rare as arrowheads to him. He was delighted to find my Phil Ochs album “All the News that’s Fit to Sing” in the rack. Phil was a passionate folksong writer/performer whom Peter remembered when Ochs sang at the Art Institute of Chicago some weeks before he committed suicide. Peter had not heard Ochs’ song “The Thresher” which I’ve been playing and singing since about 1968, and it was as much an education for him as his memories of the man were for me. I introduced him to one of my fave musician songwriters who lightened the sky like a Roman Candle and sadly faded to oblivion: pianist Biff Rose. I saw Rose twice on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, bought all three of his albums and mourned is sorry fade to ignominy. We listed to all three albums, plus some Basie, The Dillards, a Mike Nichols and Elaine May comedy album; also part of an album by Southern regional comedian Dave Gardner (who played Springfield’s Lake Club in the 60s; my father met him when he visited Roberts Bros. downtown to buy some clothes). The evening was a hoot, and it was a late night for the both of us: lights out about 2:30.

I respect the wishes of my house guests in the main — the worst exception being “Lenore” of the spring of 2009. I could write a book consisting mostly of my regrets about that wonderful encounter that went south faster than the Titanic, but with no permanent fatalities beyond the death of a dream. I’ll spare you the details —  and Peter recommended commencing the rest of the morning at 9:00 am. I was happy to oblige, but my morning commenced in my home office at 7, which is late for me.

A visit to the restored Lincoln-Herndon Law offices downtown was item #1 on the day’s itinerary. Unfortunately, the place was short-staffed, and the one person there was in he middle of a scheduled group tour. We heard him advising the gentleman at Tinsley Dry Goods souvenir shop, accessible through an open door at the back of the visitor orientation area on the Law Offices’ ground floor. Tinsley is a terrific gift shop for anyone seekiln’ Lincoln. We looked around; nothing lightened our wallets.

We went next door to Prairie Art Alliance’s Gallery II, delighted it was OPEN a little after 9:30 and equally delighted to encounter my friend, manager Jennifer Snopko at the welcoming desk.

Jennifer Snopko, proof positing that not all works of art hang on walls

I had not been there since playing and singing at their First Friday gallery reception, and it was great to see so much new art.

Peter Pero, visitor from an advanced planet at Prairie Art Alliance Gallery II.

watching tourists from other planets outside Gallery II

view from the front desk at Gallery II

With the permission of their chaperones, the young ladies outside Gallery II posed for Obewan Cameraguy.

The group tour was still underway upstairs at the LHL Offices, so we boogied across the street and half a block south to

 

 

The Golden Frog Cafe, which, sadly ceased operations seven days after our Saturday visit, offered some terrific souvenirs, among them this.

The Golden Frog where the creative thinkers group Writers Bloc was certain to be in session. Since I must work most Saturdays, this was my first opportunity to visit the new meeting venue.. The writers are all long-time friends of mine, and it was great fun to introduce my friend from an advanced planet.

We enjoyed a light breakfast and coffee, all prime chow and caught up with the peoples’ lives. Peter wisely decided to try a third time to visit the Lincoln-Herndon under-staffed Law Offices while we natives jabbered away in the usual way, and he returned later appearing satisfied with  his good fortune visiting the upstairs main event over there.  He was just in time to savor, following his return, the sounds of Bossa Azul, a local “bossa and jazz” trio I am happy to call friends.

Bossa Azul at play (and song) October 20 at The Golden Frog Cafe.

briDEEP, briDEEP, briDEEP

We stayed for a set of their scintillating strains before taking off to the airport.

Peter visits the Research Room at AeroKnow Museum

AeroKnow Museum is best seen in daylight. Yes, there are lights there, but daylight is the best time to see the six rooms upstairs. We were also less rushed than then previous evening when he arrived, parked his car for the entire visit  in the free parking lot, and I became host and tour guide in my pickup truck.  He seemed to appreciate the collection. Too bad he doesn’t live closer to Springfield. A friend who might want to help is a terrible thing to waste.

considering a model of a Japanese torpedo bomber in the Kits Room

It was at that point that the battery in my Sony Cyber-shot ran out of juice. To give it time to recharge, we departed for lunch at the restaurant Galery II’s jovial Jennifer had recommended for Peter’s first HORSESHOE SANDWICH (choice of meat on open-faced toast — white, whole wheat or rye — and smothered with french fries and an incredibly well-prepared cheese sauce), a Springfield landmark like Lincoln and Lindsay. The Brickhouse is located on west side of 5th Street between Adams and Monroe. Jennifer was absolutely RIGHT about their horseshoe sandwich. There were many customers, but the ambiance was commendably quiet, absolutely terfiic!  I was blown away by the sprinkling of chive on the top and the mildly “warm” seasoning of the sauce. I am not a hot sauce fan, but I totally enjoyed the treatment of the sandwich. It was too “hot” for the visitor from an advanced planet. When he asked for a simple lettuce salad, our server brought an AMAZING production of greens and a plethora of additional items (carrots, olives . . . all sorts of salad “fixin’s”) Peter was knocked over by its appearance, and so was I. He didn’t even want dressing on it; just wanted it to tame the seasoning of the cheese sauce. He gave half of it to me, which went home in a “doggie bag,” and I enjoyed it with dressing, with dinner Sunday night. I can’t wait to go back to The Brick House for another horseshoe.

We returned to the airport to retrieve my camera with battery charged, and then it was back to town to tour the Illinois State Museum.

outside the entrance, a happy surprise

 

I don’t know WHAT this is, but it was great to see the words of Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay and the artistic creation of my friend Felecia Olin!

information about the creation at the base

It was as interesting as always, and Peter was impressed.

posing with a creature that was native to these parts, even before Abe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Then we drove out to Washington Park to hike off some of the horseshoes we were digesting.The walk was excellent. Lots to see and photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

Foreground: Peter Pero. Background: Washington Park’s Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon during the annual PumpkinFest.

 

 

 

 

 

view of the carillon in late afternoon

 

Peter and inspiring sculpture

My friend Felecia Olin was having a one-woman gallery showing at The Pharmacy (visual artists organization) Warehouse,, walking distance from my home. We walked over there and spent about an hour. Because my Cyber-shot was out of battery again, I took my Canon EOS 20D SLR with a telephoto lens. I knew I would photograph everything  at atleast 70mm and up to 300mm, it was my only choice, and I thought it would be  great fun to play with it. I was right.

Around the gallery, people come and go, talking of Feliciangelo. (Sorry TSE)

 

a painting by Springfield artist Felicia Olin

 

visitors to FeliciaWorld, a terrific event

We walked home drank more ale on the front porch. Joining us was my guitar. We serenaded the lawn grubs for about two hours in the perfect autumn-crisp air and turned in early.

The next morning I occupied myself in my home office for two and a half hours waiting for 9 am, and it was time well spent. Then we walked over to my favorite breakfast restaurant a few blocks away and enjoyed another fantastic meal before heading out to the airport where Peter was reunited with his car, and he motored home to an advanced planet.

The visit was great fun. I felt like I was on VACATION.  As soon as Peter can find me a place where my songs and poetry — and reciting Vachel Lindsay’s poetry — are welcome for the cost of train fare, I intend to return north, and Peter hopes to bring an aviation enthusiast friend to Springfield, probably next year.

Thanks again to Peter Pero for the memorable visit and to you, the cherished reader of Honey & Quinine for reading this post. If you are into poetry, guitar, aviation or Lincoln and want to visit my town and stay at a semi-famous house where a visitor from an advanced planet slept two nights on a parlor sofa, let me know. I’d likely love to welcome you too.

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

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