Note: First published on Blogger on June 10, 2006.
Unfolding the Map
In this post, Sal gets to Chicago. I'll reflect on Chicago mostly and whatever else comes to mind. As usual, click the image at left to get to the updated map.
"I arrived in Chi quite early in the morning.... I dug Chicago after a good day's sleep. The wind from Lake Michigan, bop at the Loop, long walks around South Halsted and North Clark, and one long walk after midnight into the jungles, where a cruising car followed me as a suspicious character.... The fellows at the Loop blew, but with a tired air, because bop was somewhere between its Charlie Parker ornithology period and another period that began with Miles Davis. And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has come to represent for all of us, I thought of all my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same backyard doing something so frantic and rushing about. And for the first time in my life, the following afternoon, I went into the West."
On the Road: Chapter 3
The first time I ever saw Chicago, it was from the air. What a lucky way to see it! I had flown into O'Hare from California on the first flight I ever took. I transferred to a small plane run by Air Wisconsin -- I later learned it was commonly called "Scare Wisconsin" -- and the small, 10 passenger or so prop plane took off. We flew up and over the city, straight past the shore and out over Lake Michigan, on our way to Benton Harbor, Michigan. Seeing the city from the air was magnificent. I had never seen a city so huge, with so many buildings that were that tall. Unfortunately, I don't remember picking the Sears Tower out of the bunch, but I do remember the John Hancock building off to the left side, the side I was sitting on.
When I next saw Chicago, it was on the trip from Benton Harbor to Milwaukee, my new home, by car. However, we took the loop around the city, not the freeway through, and it sat on the horizon, a bunch of tall buildings framed only by my imagination. Later that year, I made my first trip to Chicago, but didn't see much of it. I was headed down for a party and had visions of getting lucky with a young lady I thought highly of. Alas, that didn't happen.
When I finally got to know Chicago better, I liked it immensely. New York likes to consider itself a tough and gritty place, and I suppose it is in various sections. Chicago just seemed to be tough and gritty place all around, even within the Loop. It's where the beef of the heartland hits the china of the chic urban landscape. Don't get me wrong -- Chicago has everything you could want in a city. If you want to be a hip highrise dweller in a condo overlooking Lakeshore Drive, you can. And if you want to live on the Southside, eat polish sausage (that's pronounced sassage) and get in evening fights in the bars, you can do that too. But you have to be willing to brave brutal winters, ungodly hot summers, and perpetual highway construction. Those things, and the Chicago Bears, bring everyone together. Chicagoans will bitch about their city but they will defend their Chicago against outsiders at a drop of a hat.
Sal wanders around this landscape, most likely after arriving at Union Station or in that general area, which was probably even more tough and gritty in 1947. He makes mention of bop and jazz, which is interesting because I consider Chicago more of a blues city than a jazz city though it has both. The blues, as in those electric blues that developed out of the influx of all the Delta bluesmen riding the rails into Chicago looking for a place to live and places to play their music.
My sister Pauline's friend (and hopeful "more than that"), Ernest, just moved to Chicago to take a job at the Apple store (he's one of the Apple genius's). I don't know if he'll delve much into the gritty Chicago, but it always lurks there just below the surface. Literally. There is a pub on Lower Wacker Drive, the multilevel street that runs through the heart of Chicago's Loop, called the Billy Goat Tavern. On Lower Wacker, it exists in almost perpetual twilight. The tavern is famous for a couple of reasons. First, it was THE place, and may still be, for Chicago journalists to hang out and rub elbows with the politicians and other glitterati of the Chicago scene. Second, it was the inspiration for John Belushi's repeating sketch on Saturday Night Live, Cheezborger, Cheezborger, No Coke, Pepsi. It is the only place I've ever been that served Schlitz Dark on tap. In fact, before I went there, I didn't even know there was a Schlitz Dark. It is an easy place to spend an hour and find that you've spent six. Perhaps Sal looked into that subsurface Chicago. I'm sure Jack Kerouac did.
If you want to know more about Chicago and the jazz and blues of the times:
Next Stop: Joliet, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa