A Brief Interlude

prudential building, large picture
     I made a brief pilgrimage to the Prudential Building (left and below), where in early 1971 I had what was perhaps the single most significant experience of my life. I've written a brief version of this experience, and a poem about it, elsewhere.

the author in the lobby of the Prudential Building, where he had a momentous experience in 1971

     A little later, I found myself mistakenly whirled in the centrifuge of the Chicago freeway system. No damage was done, really, and I got to see a little more of the city that way. This picture shows an exit lane around Belmont Avenue. I got off there and had a couple interesting little adventures.

traffic on the Kennedy Expressway
It looks like there's not much traffic because I'm in a special getting-off lane.


     The photo above was the last one on my disposable camera. I got off at Belmont, not far from its intersection with Cicero Avenue, in a cacaphonous neighborhood of traffic, strip malls and shops, and, it seemed practically every ethnicity in the world. I noticed a Dunkin Donuts, where a cup of coffee would buy some time and space to plan. I was due in a couple hours at Klas, a Czech restaurant in Cicero, where my friend Alice had told me Capone hung out in the '30s.


    It would have been nice to get a shot of the young woman standing in front of the donut shop, holding an upright metal pole around 10 feet tall. There was no indication what she was doing with it, or where, if anywhere, she was going. It had the look of some obscure austerity, like those of early Christians who spent years living atop pillars.
    Finally, I could restrain my curiousity no longer.
    "What are you doing with that?" I asked.
     Her English sufficed for her to say, "For my home." It wasn't an austerity. I had to be satisfied with that.


     After consulting maps and striking up a conversation with a nice fellow cooling off in the donut shop after his warehouse job, I thought I had my bearings, and set off toward Cicero. The catch was that the map in my Atlas only showed the major streets, so it was a longer journey than I'd realized. But I had time, and enjoyed the ride.


     Having gassed up the car in preparation for returning it to its owners at O'Hare at 8 AM, I had one more thing I wanted to do: get it washed, to remove all traces of the desert and Great Plains bugs who had met their end on the windshield and body of the car. A couple miles down Cicero, I noticed a little drive-by car-wash and got a ticket for it at the adjoining gas station.
     Driving the car to the car wash entrance, I found an orange barrel blocking the way. I moved it. Practical jokers, most likely. Would the gas station guys have sold me the ticket, if the car wash was broken?
     The answer to that question turned out to be yes! As I pulled into the carwash, the water started spraying, but the metal contraption holding the sprayer shot up and hit the car directly across the windshield, then started dragging along the car's body. I sprung into action, opened the door and pulled the thing free before any damage was done, as a thickset Latino fellow rushed into the bay shouting, "What are you doing? It's broken!"
     "But they sold me a ticket!" I protested.
     "I see," he said. "Yeah, you done nothing wrong." The always-right customer, I felt better.
     " Hold on a minute," he continued. "I'll wash your car myself. Lemme go tell those guys first not to sell any more tickets."
     In a minute he came back, soaped up, and thoroughly washed the car, while I listened to NPR and sipped diet coke. He brought the phrase "work like a horse" to life, not stopping until he'd done a thorough job washing, waxing, and drying the entire vehicle. I shook his hand and thanked him profusely.


     I pulled into Cicero only a few minutes late, turned at Cermak Road, where Alice had said Klas Restaurant is located, and walked into a shop to ask how far it was. A little later I met Alice and her husband Santos for a delicious meal. Alice, who has just published  her first book, is a friend from the Poemhunters website.
     After dinner, Alice and Santos took me upstairs in the labyrinthine restaurant to show me a room whose walls displayed some original murals based on Russian fairy tales.
     Before long, I was back in a state of the kind of awe I'd felt in Utah. Here in this restaurant in a town with a longtime reputation is for toughness, I'd found a treasure-house of Art.
     I could have gaped at the paintings for hours! What I did instead was walk and run 3 blocks to Walgreens and buy another disposable camera.
      Dismayingly, it turned out to be a total dud. But as we were leaving the restaurant I mentioned to one of the owners, a young man named Bob Biddle, what a treasure I felt the paintings were. He told me he has lots of good photos of them, and would happily e-mail them to me.
     I'm hoping he will, and that you can see them. I tell you with no obligation to the restaurant (whose food I did enjoy): if you're ever in the area, it's worth your time to go see them on the walls!

* * * * *      

     After dinner I drove to a motel fifteen minutes from O'Hare and went to sleep. At 7 AM I left the car, and a card with a thank-you note, in the parking structure at the airport for the Chicago area family to pick up. By lunchtime I was in St. Louis for a visit with mom and a few days of R & R.

I hope you've enjoyed my trip. Thank you for coming along.



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