Saturday, December 26, 2020

Texas notes: Tired

     Today's report from EGD Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey.  

    As my car turned the corner on 47th and Shields the tire fell off. At first it just wobbled a bit, so I went ahead and took the turn. As an optimistic teenager I was “sure” nothing was wrong. We got out and surveyed the damage to the long blue station wagon. A 1978 Chevrolet Caprice Classic was the tank my protective father decided his teenaged daughters needed, and he was correct. My friend Kristin and I had been visiting someone we’d met out at a club. Back then in the mid-to-late 80s, we pretty much danced our lives away. We had to fit school and work into the schedule, but house music (and later goth and new wave) came first.
     We’d dress up in designer clothes that I couldn't honestly afford, even with my job at Marshall Field’s, and we’d hit the clubs. There were parties at Operation PUSH, Mendel Catholic High School, Evanston Township High School, the Hotel Continental, The Muzic Box on lower Wacker, The Warehouse, and too many more to name.
     I lived it, but Wikipedia says it well: “The Warehouse became a hub for the people of Chicago, specifically black gay men. It was compared to a religious and spiritual experience. At the time, many black gay men felt excluded from the religious communities that they had been raised in.” We danced all night long to lyrics such as “gotta go to church y’all,” and “I’m every woman.”
     These clubs offered a culture of acceptance that was most welcoming. We’d arrive decked out in Norma Kamali suits, paisley Kenneth Cole shoes, shiny black riding boots and Marithé et François Girbaud baggy pants and silk shirts. We affixed sparkling broaches to the collars.
     We met Leon out dancing one night. He had an amazing haircut known as a “box,”— like Kid in Kid ’N Play. After hanging out at clubs, Ronnie’s Original Steak House and Water Tower Place for months—as we did back then—he invited us over to meet his family. We went over on a weekend afternoon and met his grandmother, siblings, and a few others. We watched TV, had snacks, and laughed our tuchuses off.
      When we left, Leon walked us to my car. We said goodbye and pulled away. Enter tire fiasco. As we took a look at the wheel I felt confident I’d be able to fix it. After all, I had a jack and a spare and I’m my father’s daughter. He made damn sure his children knew how to change a tire before we were allowed behind the wheel. Just then a group of young people came by to see what was happening. They took a closer look and realized the lug nuts were gone.
     Someone had stolen them. The crowd around us reassured us that they could help. They ran off, and came back with the six lug nuts we needed. We worked together and the wheel was fixed. We said goodbye and headed home to lie to our parents about being somewhere else for the day. We often found ourselves in parts of Chicago that are not considered safe. That’s why I know firsthand that Chicago is full of good people.
     Despite its trials and tribulations, I feel fortunate that my Grandma Olive hopped on a train from Delaware to Chicago when she was a mere 14. She moved into an apartment with other Irish girls and became a career cashier (including a stint at the Hotel Continental before my days of partying there). She met my Grandpa Carl at Oak Street Beach. They created my beautiful mother who met my dad at The Old Hangge Up, and here I am, with a heart full of admiration and respect for the city of big shoulders. It’s a complicated, yet special city and I am proud to call Chicago my home.


  1. I owned a house music club at 22nd and michigan called the PowerHouse.
    Frankie Knuckles was our DJ. Artists like JM Silk and Jamie Principle performed on our stage . I wonder if you ever came by?

    1. Wow! Yes! So nice to meet you, though we probably met back then. Please shoot me an email?

    2. Jamie Principle is one of my all time favorites. I can't get over his voice and poetic lyrics, oh and of course the beats such as in Cold World. My goodness.

  2. Having lived long enough to spend time in many cities, what stands out about Chicago to me is that although extremely diverse, there is some thread that runs through it that gives it its unique character. Friendliness? That's the best I can come up with.
    Sure, it has many troublesome holes and secrets but at least my experience has led me to wonderful people from all places and all walks of life.
    It's comfortable there.
    Nice tribute to Chicago Caren.

  3. My brother-in-law's grandmother was one of the Irish girls employed by the Palmer House, probably about the same time as Caren's grandmother time at the Continental. She had some wicked stories. And she was born on a June 10th, which made her inherently more interesting to me.


  4. Wow, Caren. You went down to West 47th and East 111th in the Eighties? Long way from Rogers Park. A world away. There was a lot of gangbanging and gunplay happening on the South Side, even back then.

    You were just kids, but you could have very easily "danced your lives away" if you ended up in the wrong places at the wrong times. And yet, you stayed healthy. You must have some very interesting tales about all those adventures.


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