Sunday, September 23, 2018


     Riding a Divvy down lake street earlier this summer, I passed the Reliable Plating Corporation, 1538 W. Lake.  
     I paused, straddling the bike, and took this photo. Why? I thought the scene beautiful, the compressed, san-serif letters, the quiet insistence of the word, the interplay of faded red brick and beige concrete, the machine age entryway, with those metal doors and round windows, like a robot's face.
      Then there was the business itself. The metal plating industry just doesn't get into the paper much, so I phoned the company. Maybe I could come visit? Write a little story to go with my portrait of their business face.
     I called a few times. People don't call back anymore.
     Eventually I reached a person in authority. No, sorry. No interest. Couldn't get off the phone quick enough. 
     As the line went dead, I thought of saying: someday, your business will be gone, and you'll be gone, and I'll be gone. Only the story I would have written might remain. Don't you care about that?
     Only that probably wouldn't have helped, and I didn't say it.
     So no story. Only this, the shadow of a story never written.
     And a phantom ache. I suppose it stung, a little, to be scorned by an obscure metal plating company. Like what I'm doing is dirty. I'm sure they had their reasons. All those metal-plating chemicals, where do they go when they're done with them? Down some sewer perhaps? I shouldn't speculate. Sour grapes.
    But I will trot out the photo, and the concept of reliability, on this, the day after the last day of summer. I didn't want to write a post, frankly. But I squeezed one out, a dyspeptic, carping thing that I instantly knew was never going to see the light of day. 
     Being a professional means you know when your stuff isn't up to par. That's not a general indictment. Even noble Homer dozed. Sometimes I write a sentence, a column, and sit back and think: That doesn't work. 
     So we will try again, no inspiration needed — inspiration is for amateurs, I like to say, and though this blog isn't really a commercial affair, it is a commitment I made when I titled it. You expect me to be here, and here I am. Heneni, as Moses says to God. Reliable.
    There, that works. And if it doesn't, it will have to do for today. 


  1. And i am sure that i am not alone in saying that i sincerely appreciate your commitment as well as the effort it takes to do this everygoddamnday.
    I pray it hasn't already become a burdensome task like cleaning the gutters. If so, you owe us nothing.
    I do want to say that i enjoy reading damn near everything you've ever posyed here. I look forward to it so much that your post is the second thing i do each morning.

    1. Thanks Paul. I was just a bit under the weather this weekend. Made me cranky. It was such nice weather, and I was sofa bound. But Edie made chicken soup, and that always helps.

  2. Thanks for being reliable, Neil. It's good to look and find you there.

  3. What a shame. I love looking at old buildings and often wish I knew their history. I also love old brown and grey stone homes and wonder who originally built and lived in them. Soon enough they will be demolished to make way for another glass and steel high rise and that also will be a shame.

  4. Works for me. I think we all appreciate "Every goddamn day" and should probably say that more often. Thank you.

    I like the photo a lot. It's symmetry is what attracts my eye. Then my eye picks the scene apart, finding what isn't symmetrical about it. The red hydrant on the lower right wall, the bell above it, and what looks like a light bulb on the upper left wall. Asymmetry is pleasing to the eye, although I can't for the life of me figure out why the letters in the sign run off to the right of the doorway. How hard would it have been for the sign guy to start a little to the left so that the word would be balanced over the door?

    1. Maybe there used to be some company insignia or logo there? Otherwise, mystifying as you say.

    2. Or maybe just an unreliable sign guy.

    3. There does seem to be a scar to the left of the R, above the amber light, possibly an alarm indicator. I would be surprised if RELIABLE was the original tenant. I"d guess the building dates from late 40's, early 50's, like many small shops similar to it in Niles where i grew up. Many friends found work in these places during high school or summers while in college. On Harlem Avenue, Complete Screw Products always merited a snicker from us infantile teens. It was a simple brick and concrete structure like Reliable, but without the stylish entryway. Somebody spent a few hundred extra dollars for it and at least Neil noticed it for us, and for the person who created it. Thank You, Neil.

  5. Honestly, if they had welcomed you, you might not have gotten as charming a post out of it as this one.

  6. Glad you tried. I go past Reliable somewhat frequently and have also felt a tug of curiosity. Provided you're still game for a local plating subject, there's Nobert around the corner up Ashland. Like Reliable, and other plating places, their solid metallic signage catches the eye far better than their peers in similar industrial trades.

    At the risk of turning this into a food blog, let me recommend riding a mile further west to go past Vita Foods. Their otherwise non-descript entrance is framed by what looks like a tile mosaic suggesting herring in a sea.

  7. Tommy Henrich was a star on the championship New York Yankee teams of the late Thirties and the Forties. He was known as "Old Reliable"...which would be a good moniker for Mr. S. He shows up every day and you can count on a good read every day. What more could you ask from a wordsmith? Five years and counting. That's a lot of keystrokes, and a lot of balls hit out of the park. Most people I've met couldn't do it.

    The company website states, right out of the box, that "Reliable Plating Corporation is a family-owned business with more than six decades of experience serving the industrial community. We have an investment in maintaining high ethical standards for meeting our business and environmental responsibilities. Reliable is housed in over 60,000 square feet containing process facilities, material handling areas, offices and environmental controls."

    That's a facade that fairly screams out the words "Art Deco", which reached its peak in popularity before World War II. But the business probably dates to the early Fifties, at most. Did some other business exist there before they moved in? From the look of the bricks and stone work, that may have been the case, but the age of the facade is difficult to determine. A Thirties Deco building would have had more streamlining,and more horizontal and vertical metal lines. Either a short-lived outfit attached the the facade onto an older building, some time after the war, or else Reliable did it later on. Looks like there were other letters above the door, as well.

    What makes the building look so authentically and Deco are the doors, of course, and the stone entrance way...but especially those translucent glass block windows. My guess is that they replaced the original glass windows in the Sixties, for security reasons. Many, if not most, West Side businesses that did not flee the area turned their facades into fortresses, out of both fear and necessity. We're talking Lake and Ashland here.The area may be gentrifying, but the decades preceding the comeback were anything but gentle.An old friend did repairs on the CHA properties in that neighborhood, back in the day.. His war stories will curl your hair...or straighten it.

  8. Most of the company building burned to the ground in 2006 and they rebuilt in this location (not the original) just down the street.


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