Friday, October 18, 2013

Chicago evolutions; Is there now a city that lives on only in my head?

Every time I happen to be at State and Randolph streets, it triggers a childhood memory – an old advertising board for cigarettes that used to have a picture of a man smoking the tobacco product.

Maybe I'm not alone in remembering?
With real, live smoke coming from his mouth.

YEAH, I KNOW. It’s the kind of gimmick that only a 4-year-old would find amusing. But if my mind recalls correctly, I was 4, and I was downtown with my father taking in the ambiance of a crowded metropolitan area.

A sensation that still gives me a tingle in my spine every time I set foot in the Loop.

Although I suspect I’m the only person who walks by that intersection and has recollections of a more-than-four decade-old advertising billboard. They’re really getting their money’s worth.

Then again, it is far from the only memory I have that still registers in my memory whenever I’m in this wonderful Second City.

TO ME, A trip up the Dan Ryan Expressway always manages to cause some confusion round about when I get near 85th Street. Because a part of me expects to see the bright-red with white lettering advertising billboard for the Magikist carpet-cleaning company.

Those of you of a certain age know exactly what I’m writing about – the Magikist lips. Which may well have also had advertising signs on the other expressways. But the Dan Ryan sign is the one so burned in my brain that I always have to remind myself that it doesn’t exist anymore.

A part of me still looks for those lips
In fact, it has been gone for more than two decades – 1992, to be exact.

It is similar to the sensation I experience whenever I ride on the Dan Ryan or a commuter train and approach 35th Street.

A PART OF me looks to the north side of the street to see the worn-brick building with so many coats of whitewash all over it where the White Sox have played baseball since the days of Ray Schalk and Joe Jackson.

The "Cracker's" old field still sticks in our minds
Only it has been gone for even longer than those lips! Which may be a large part of the reason why the structure known as U.S. Cellular never gets its due respect – seeing it reminds of us what was lost! I suspect at times even the younger generation (there are people old enough to think they're "life-long" Chicagoans who are too young to remember Comiskey Park) knows it missed out on something!

Just on Thursday I was walking along Randolph Street in the Loop when I remembered the buses I used to take back when I was in college, and the way they would take me all the way into downtown from Bloomington, Ill., to the stations along Randolph, which also used to have those garish theaters before the area tried to convert itself into an “upscale theatre” district. One that I suspect is limited and second-rate compared to the "real" theater districts of New York City. Do we make ourselves look silly by comparison?
Yes, I recall how seedy the area used to be. Just as in the South Loop (particularly the area around the old 11th and State headquarters of the Chicago Police Department), one didn’t want to linger around either area too long. Although there’s a part of me to which my favorite scene in the Blues Brothers film were those few moments of stock footage (think of the Peter Gunn theme) of the seedier parts of Chicago leading up to the flophouse (transient hotel, to use the proper term) where Dan Aykroyd’s “Elwood Blues” character really lived.
WHOSE GHOST WOULD be more appalled at the modern-day status of Chicago -- "Cracker" Schalk in seeing his old ball field paved over into parking, or John Belushi's "Jake Blues" character missing his cinematic home that is no more? All of this always triggers memories to me of what once was, and will never be again.

Of course, it’s not just places that change. So do even the gadgets and gizmos that exist amongst us.

How common will this become?
Just on Thursday I noticed for the first time ever a newsbox that had been rigged up to accept credit cards. Just swipe your card through the slot, and you can open the box and take a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Is this the wave of the future? I could see how it would appeal to a younger generation that wants to think of money as something accessed through a card, rather than cash to be carried with them.

ALTHOUGH I WONDER how good an idea it will seem to be when the first time harsh Chicago weather causes the device to malfunction – either causing it to refuse to sell papers or causing it to charge someone $10 a copy. Maybe that’s a Sun-Times fantasy of a way to keep the paper alive! Or maybe it can record the card numbers of those people who think it's okay to help themselves to multiple copies of the newspaper!

All I know is that in the Chicago of my mind, people carry change on them when they want to buy a newspaper, perhaps after attending a ballgame on the northeast corner of 35th and Shields and passing those lips on the way back home.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The popularity of the Forgotten Chicago website makes me wonder if I’m not alone in remembering fondly what once was in our wonderful home city?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The particular image of the 'smoking billboard' was actually the board in New York City. The board at Randolph and State can be seen in this image: