By Caren Jeskey
Thank goodness for NPR. Tasty tidbits of information are almost constantly funneled into my voraciously hungry ears, nearly commercial free, thanks to public radio. KUTX out of Austin keeps me attuned to some of the greatest music of all time, old and new. That’s where I found the stunning voices of Alex Maas of the Black Angels, Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom, and the croons of a distant relative of Davey, Charly Crockett.
I relied on Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers to keep me company on many a cold Saturday morning when Car Talk was airing, even though I did not own a car. The Magliozzi brothers’ schtick was hilarious, brilliant, and comforting with their simple joie de vivre. When I got a car, I had countless driveway moments— when I could not turn the radio off since 1A or The Moth wasn’t over over yet. (That was before I had Bluetooth earpods; now I can take the shows with me wherever I go). Lore has it that they were revered, kept as indoor pals, and considered to have supernatural powers. Fossilized chicken bones reveal that some of our feathered friends received ancient medical interventions that set broken bones, and humans were buried with their two winged friends. Apparently the birds were a conduit to a desirable afterlife. It wasn’t until A.D. 43 when Romans made it to England that the growing British population realized that these prolific pets were rotund and tasty, and the masses needed food. Enter chicken and dumplings.
I was an apple pie American kid and chicken was a dinner time staple growing up. Shaken and baked, roasted, shredded for taco night, or fried and served with incidental greens and buttered honey biscuits.
As kids we couldn’t get enough visits to the Lincoln Park Zoo to watch their smooth white eggs crack open, gooey dinosaur bodies turning into fluffy yellow fur balls before our eyes.
That’s why, in the early '70’s, when my sister and I were offered the choice of a baby chick or a baby duck to take home from Easter Brunch at the Hotel Continental, we chose the tiny relatives of Kentucky Fried.
My Grandma Olive, who’d moved to Chicago at the age of 14 on her own, all the way from Wilmington Delaware, was a head cashier at this glorious hotel. We were her guests. My sister and I wore frilly dresses, white tights and black patent leather Mary Janes, and we each had a rabbit fur muff around our necks to nestle our chilly hands into. We felt very fancy. When we were sent home with baskets of plastic grass, chocolate eggs and live birds we were over the moon.
Ah, simpler times. When my folks were young enough to do foolhardy, spontaneous things.
This week I’ve been staying on Randolph near the lake, taking care of a friend’s little dog. On Tuesday I met colleagues at The Hampton Social for a light dinner. When we left, I walked one of them up the stairs to Michigan Avenue where we saw her bus, the 147, just closing its doors. I cheered her on as she ran towards it. The driver stopped and re-opened the door, and she hopped on. She gave me the thumbs up and off they went.
Just then I noticed many police sirens just north of there. I briefly wondered what was happening, then thought better of it. It had been a long day full of a broken down car and a mean bus driver on the Western bus. Instead of helping me figure out my Ventra app, he said that I must be stupid to have an app that I don’t know how to use.
I’d had enough stress, so I turned away from the sirens towards the stunning architecture. A far cry from my little rental home in Kenilworth Gardens. Eye candy galore.
I passed the Hotel Intercontinental and flashed back to the days when my Grandma Olive was still with us. Being in the restaurant business, she knew everyone. We were treated like royalty on our birthdays in high-backed throne-like chairs at Kon Tiki Ports, housed in this building. A stately statue of Nathan Hale in front of the Tribune Tower commanded a second look; I wondered who he was, and if his statue would last.
I crossed Michigan and came across a couple being photographed for their wedding, beaming without a care in the world. I looked over the railing towards the river and noticed the shape and structure of Trump’s building for the first time. In the past, I’d think “Rump” and turn away in disgust. This time I saw that the building itself is not hard on the eyes, albeit way too big. Looking east towards Jeanne Gang’s masterpiece my good sense returned. Nothing The Donald does is OK. Even though Trump Tower and Gang’s Vista Tower have a similar blue mirrored look, Trump’s building suddenly looked like a strip mall compared to Gang’s exquisite wavy towers.
Heading south, the sound of some very good blues emated through speakers out of a one man band. I noticed the Nutella Cafe for the first time and wondered what that was all about. Then I noticed the long line and stopped wondering; maybe another time.
I’ve been hearing deafening whirs and whizzes and backfires from cars late at night from my perch in a highrise on Randolph; likely versions of the street takeovers that Neil recently made mention of on his Facebook page. When reading the Sun Times story about these late night sideshows, I noticed the headline of another article where I learned a possible reason for the sirens of Tuesday evening. They were perhaps heading towards the horrible tragedy of a 36 year old man who had been stabbed to death on Ohio near Dearborn at the same time I was meandering around wondering if I should get some chocolate hazelnut dessert. As much as Chicago feels like home, sometimes I feel like the scared visitors from out of town who I used to think were being just plain silly.