This is not the first description of Zephyr's to appear in EGD, though Caren Jeskey here remembers it as a child, and I remembered it as a parent, specifically one who had to cope with a child who has spewed the remnants of a hot fudge sundae all over the ice cream parlor's immaculate white bathroom. I like Caren's memories better.
Son of Frankenstein was a six-scoop banana split that friends and I shared in the 80s at Zephyr Café & Ice Cream Parlor. You may recall the Art Deco style diner that rested on the corner of Wilson and Ravenswood for 30 years between 1976 and its demise in 2006.
Zephyr was opened by Greek restauranteur Byron Kouris, who Chicago also has to thank (in part, along with co-founder Mike Payne) for Byron’s Hot Dogs. Byron’s started as a little stand on Irving Park Road in 1975, and still exists in two outposts on the north side. There, you can order the Dogzilla if less than a half a pound of Vienna Beef is not quite enough. I’m not criticizing— Chicago fare is and has always been a tasty and plentiful staple in my life, and I have reaped its rewards. In fact, I’ve gained a solid ten pounds in pizza crust and French fries since I have returned.
I feel grateful for these extra pounds—honestly!—for they indicate pleasure and access to the finer things in life. (Don’t worry; I realize that Charlie Trotter’s might have been finer than Byron’s, at least in some regards). I also realize that being able to tell stories of my favorite teenaged ice cream parlors illustrates my privilege.
According to FINCA International, a non-profit microfinance organization with many accolades for their benevolent works, over 1 billion people on our planet live on $2.50 or less per day— less than it costs for a hotdog, fries and soda. This includes 280 million people in extreme poverty who live on less than $1.25 per day. No Dogzillas for them.
The children and families held up at our borders, simply looking for the good life, know all too well how this feels. Many will never know the indulgent bliss of childhood that I once knew.
Some my favorite memories include receiving badges boasting “I Just Made a Pig of Myself” at Farrells' in Woodfield Mall, and countless nights of fun, food and family at the Pickle Barrel on Howard & Western where, for some reason, we loved that the floors were peppered with sawdust. As I get older I am increasingly humbled at the good fortune I was born into, and surprised at how much I’ve come up with to complain about, nonetheless.
As Bob Marley said in his song Wisdom, “destruction of the poor is poverty. Destruction of the soul is vanity… the righteous' wealth is in his Holy Place.” In the song "Problems," his son Ziggy sings “All over the world there are problems… stop wishing, stop waiting, stop mistaking… we got to do our best and solve them. Stop wishing, stop waiting, stop thinking of a fairy tale.” Horace Andy sings “[I] hear the rich man complaining, he got rich problems. [I] hear the poor man complaining, he got poor problems.”
Now that I’ve come home to Chicago, I am determined to appreciate the international city full of opportunity from which I’ve sprung. A distant but favorite family member died today after a devastating, unexpected stroke. COVID has taught us that not only is death inevitable, but it's ever present for all of us. I am not a religious person. I do not believe in heaven, or an afterlife. When Bob Marley talks about the Holy Place, I think of heaven on earth. Making the very best of this one precious life.