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September 21, 2005 [ More archived home pages here ]

A Few Places In My Past

The James Taylor song, Places In My Past, is today's song. It signifies some of the people I wasn't able to hook up with in the last ten days or so. Except in my case, I will see those I missed again.

Last night I returned from a wonderful trip to the midwest. At 6:30 a.m., on September 10th I flew out from San Diego to Chicago on a direct flight and stayed mostly in the Chicago area until I returned. This page will cover much, but not all, of that trip.

When I landed at O'Hare airport around 12:30 p.m., that Saturday I soon was on my way in my Hertz rental car to one of my best friend's, Bill Artus' house in Munster, Indiana. First though, I had to stop and have a few White Castle hamburgers as is my tradition whenever I visit Chicago. Then I headed southbound on I-294 and paid expensive cash tolls on a jammed road for about an hour-and-a-half to get to Bill's house.

I can tell you that in Chicago with respect to roads there are only two seasons: Winter and -- CONSTRUCTION! They really know how to screw-up roads back there. At least in the hot humid weather that day, I could enjoy my CD's in an air-conditioned Taurus as I made my way through the labyrinth of construction delays.

About 3:00 p.m., I arrived at Bill's and for the next three days his family and I had a blast there. Before the rest of the family came home from their own outings, Bill and I went to one of our old favorite places to celebrate, the South Shore Inn, in Hegewisch (shown below).

There we laughed and exchanged our old stories of being together during our youth. At one point we talked about the time in 1971 when we asked the former bartender if he had any grain alcohol on the premises. That bartender went down in the cellar and found an unopened bottle from the time he had purchased the building at the end of Prohibition. The seal was still intact, yet the contents had evaporated through the cap over a nearly forty-year period about one-third the way down the bottle. Then he opened it and poured each of us a shot of it. Thirty-four years later, each of us can still remember the burning sensation of that shot!

We mentioned that story to the current owner and bartender named, Dean. Without Bill or I knowing, he went downstairs and retrieved the same bottle! Shown below is that bottle that appears not to have been used since Bill and I last took from it in 1971! That sure started a conversation in the bar right then and there. No, we didn't have any of the grain alcohol this time around. That bottle stands witness to seventy years of existence with Bill and I the only ones who ever drank from it. As Bill and I would describe the event as, "A Classic."

Bill and his wife, Lil, were gracious hosts to me and other friends and family members during my stay there. I also got a chance to meet another of my best friends, Angel Rodriguez on that Saturday and Sunday. It was Sunday at their house that the biggest gathering took place there when I treated everyone to drinks and pizza. My brother, Rusty, and his wife, Coletta, came over and it was good to see them again. I congratulated Rusty and Coletta on their tenth wedding anniversary. For several hours we all talked and told stories. It was a very wonderful day for me.

I miss my two best friends, Bill and Angel a lot. Bill is like a brother to me. Angel is very close to me too. All three of us have been through a lot together in our younger years. Angel and his wife, Linda, introduced me to Sherry back in May of 1972. I hadn't seen my best friends in over two years, I absorbed and sent as much love and mutual respect between us as I could. The entire Artus family didn't want me to leave their presence, but I needed to do that for the next leg of my trip.

On Tuesday, September 13th, I drove down to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I hadn't been there in 12 years. I went to school there for one and one-half semesters in 1968-69 before dropping out. This time I stayed at the Illini Union also known as the Student Union building. It was a completion of a circle for me to visit there this final time. I had a chance to think about much had changed there and how much I had changed over the past 37 years. A part of me says I should have become a professor there. I thought about that last week Tuesday as I sat in the Quad and watched thousands of students move about. That wasn't in my destiny, but sometimes I dream of things that might have been.

Below are some of the pictures I took during my stay at the U. of I. The first one is the far corner where I lived at the time during my freshman year at 412 E. Green Street. There used to be a large old home there where about 60 male students lived (shown second below, c.1981). Now it is mostly a parking lot with a store on it.

This is the room I stayed at in the Illini Union. I always wanted to stay there and this trip allowed me to fulfill that aspiration. It wasn't like the Hilton or a fancy hotel. It was probably a lot like it was when I went to school there.

This is the place I used to park my bicycle when I went to Chemistry class. Other than now holding newer bikes, it looks the same as it did in 1968. I failed Chem 101 and that result led me to my eventual departure from college back then. While I was at this location, a chill ran down my back as I recalled my failure at school. I can close a circle in life it seems, but it doesn't mean it's a smooth circle when I look back about it in my mind.

The next four pictures are of the Quad and nearby school supplies or school book buildings. The last two pictures are totally different from my school days there. In fact much of the area outside of the Quad is like my own version of, Back To The Future II. I couldn't identify with the dramatic changes there.

In the Quad I could conjure up memories of things I still hold dear to me. Outside the Quad, was just what mostly people would call "progress." I guess it's not for me to criticize change, but I can think it with respect to my inner feelings about the U. of I.

On Wednesday afternoon of last week, I returned to Chicago. I linked up with my elementary school friend, Bob Katzman. We hadn't seen each other in 41 years! As is the case with most of my old friends, we felt comfortable talking with each other very quickly. Bob autographed his latest book for me and I'll be writing a review here for that second book in the very near future. I'm sure he and I will have more communications in the coming months.

Wednesday night, I arrived at the home location of my daughter and husband. I stayed with them for the rest of the trip. Friday morning, Jenny took me to Marshall Field's where she treated me to lunch. Below is one corner of that famous Chicago landmark. I hadn't been there since the early 1990's. The second image is looking down from an upper floor.

Just across the street from Marshal Field's and Randolph and State street is a park. Decades ago that corner was occupied by a very nice restaurant with large picture windows facing the streets. It was a great place to take a date. Next to that restaurant to the west was the old Randolph Movie Theater. I saw the movie, Planet of the Apes there in 1968. Like so many other places in my life that no longer exist due to "progress", those two special places are gone.

Now just to be fair about "progress", I'm not totally against it. Take for instance the next thing that happened while Jenny and I were downtown last Friday afternoon. She took me to the Apple Store on North Michigan Avenue (shown below) and purchased a new Black 2GB iPod Nano for me! Now I can carry more music and now also my digital artwork with me. I love that new piece of technology. :-)

Before Jenny and I returned home, we stopped in the new Hershey's store just west of the Old Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue. This is one of the pictures I took from the doorway. Resistance is futile in such places for me.

By the way, my Great-great-uncle, was one of the firefighters who battled against the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. That Old Water Tower was the last thing standing untouched when the fire was extinguished.

Friday night, Sherry arrived in town so that we could all celebrate the wedding of our daughter's brother-in-law. We traveled to Rockford, Illinois for that evening event Saturday morning. We all had a wonderful time at the home of our son-in-law's parents. We hadn't seen them both together since their visit with us three years ago.

The wedding party was a great time to meet more of their extended family and I danced more that night than I have in years. Jenny and Sherry had me out on that dance floor several times. During one dance, I was the only guy on the floor with about ten women. I had started that particular dance with Sherry, but soon found myself surrounded by all the women in a circle when Sherry pushed me into the center. For some reason I remember briefly thinking, "Blood pressure don't fail me now!" Maybe Sherry sensed my same thoughts when she decided I needed to be back exclusively in her arms. :-)

At home now I feel recharged. I had a great time with everyone and the places I went. I hope Bill and Angel get to visit me out here in the next year. There is much to do as Fall starts to appear. Winter won't be far behind and the days grow shorter.

I closed out my Summer 2005 in style, back in Chicago, where I was born and raised. Back with my friends, back with my family, and back with special memories of my earlier life there.


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