Saturday, November 12, 2022

Northshore Notes: I love you, Gene Hackman

     And if you suspect I was pleased to find a photo that includes both Gene Hackman AND luggage, well, you're right.

By Caren Jeskey

     “The Nanny costs $29.95 and is available at Chicago Trunk and Leather Works.” Somehow, this electronic babysitter that beeps when your child wanders too far never really took off, as far as I know. Luckily, Chicago Trunk and Leather Works at 12 South Wabash also sold Tumi suitcases and leased-out aluminum Halliburton briefcases. The shop opened back in the days when local phone numbers started alphabetically: 312-FR2-0845. By the time I found them in the late 80s, the store was owned and run by Ken and Ron Levine, whose grandfather created the business.
     Selling luggage and leather wallets in an old-school storefront on Wabash was the ultimate Chicago job as a teen. I felt urban and cool when the Red Line screeched towards downtown from my north side digs. “Watch the closing doors!” the ever cheerful conductor Michael Powell called out. (Yeah, so I was groped once in a CTA station, but I'd say just once counts as fortunate). Exiting somewhere on State, piss soaked tunnel air — tinny and cold in the winter and acrid in the summer — chased me from the platform all the way up the escalator. Mouth breathing was worse because then you could taste it. The reward came as olfactory senses yielded to the aroma of Garrett’s popcorn at street level. The fetching aroma of caramel and real cheddar cheese beckoned me into the shop to bag up and weigh out a portion. If I was sad, the bag was bigger. If I was happy, just a nibble would do. 
     The store hosted a gang of misfits, sitcom style. There was Betty, who seemed quite mature to me at all of 30. Her daily costume included perfectly coiffed finger waves, matte red lipstick, and a smart two piece suit 
à la Mad Men. There was Tom, who mostly stocked but would pitch in wherever needed. Tom and Betty (not their real names; I wouldn't want to injure somebody, even at this far remove) would fly apart from each other if I climbed the stairs to the storage loft too quickly and caught them in a tangle.
     Brad was the sweet, funny guy with smiling eyes. A member of the family. My kind boss Ken seemed to bring the best out in everyone. Ken and his wife Shelley took me under their wing and we became friends. When the store opened a second location, I happily took my station at 900 North Michigan in the new Bloomingdale’s Mall, as we called it. One day Ken, always looking out for others, pulled me aside. “Caren. We have a very special guest here. Gene Hackman. I want you to take care of him. Focus on what he wants, and don’t make too big a deal of it.” I did as I was told. Parents out there, I BET you wish your teens listened to you as willingly as I did to Ken.
     I helped the poised and respectful Mr. Hackman — who knew how to treat the help — pick out a wallet for his wife. As I handed the star his bag, I said “Mr. Hackman. My mother always tells my father that you are the only man she’d leave him for.” He laughed, of course, and offered “would you like me to write her a note?” We found him an 8x10 lined piece of notebook paper. He wrote “Dear Myra. I love you. Gene Hackman.” I wrapped it up and gave it to her as a gift for Christmas.
     "Dear Friends: As one who has experimented extensively with life in the home and community, using real people in true-life situations, I doubt that any playthings could prepare a child for one millionth of what is going to hit him in the teeth, ready or not." 
              —Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night


  1. Cool that you met him. He's a great actor.

  2. Nice story. I imagine many of us have had our chance meetings with celebs. Of course that's part of Neil's job so that doesn't count. Mine were less cool and less interesting.
    Vonnegut is so quotable. My favorite is, "“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”

    1. I'll send that quote to my dad who'll love it. :)

  3. I met Bill Veeck at Murphy's Bleachers in the 80s, a few years before he died. And I've had conversations with Mary Ann Vecchio ( 1995 and in 2010). She was the screaming teen-ager in that infamous and haunting 1970 Kent State image. Does that make her a celebrity? Unfortunately for her, yes. Her life has never been the same since.

    1. Almost unbelievable Grizz- Kent State. Very good thing to remember.

    2. So Jeff and Sandy were dating? And then they both the same parking lot? What are the odds? Over the years, I had heard that they were good friends, but no more. Who's to say?

      Also read, decades ago, that Jeff had been seeing someone named Nancy, but her name is all I know about her. Nobody seems to know much about who she was. You'd think she'd have come forward by now. Or maybe not.

      And I recently learned that Jeff and Mary Ann Vecchio had briefly spoken to one another on that tragic and fateful day. A half-hour or so know the rest of the story. And thanks to that photograph, so does the whole world.

    3. Poor girl. At 14 she was "sentenced" to 6 months of a juvenile home for running away.


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