Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Break in Chicago (1971) (2017)

You know, I just love to play pretend. I always have, and I still do.

My (real) wife and daughter and I went to Chicago this (real) past week, and we had a great time (really). Part of the great time for me was that (pretend) Hoptown 1971 me went, too. The Chicago Tribune has browsable archives online, and the Museum of Classic Chicago Television has a robust YouTube channel. These really make it easy for a 48-year-old man in 2017 to pretend he's on vacation in Chicago in 1971. In fact, there's so much great old stuff available online, my pretend 1971 vacation figures to keep going for a good while even though my real 1971 vacation has ended.

Real 1971 me actually did live near Chicago. When I was 2 or 3, my dad took a job with a construction company in Highland Park, Illinois, a swanky northern suburb, and so my parents, younger (but still older) brother and I moved from Evansville, Indiana, to an apartment there. It was a huge deal with implications for my whole family and me forever.

For one thing, I don't think Mom and Dad would've ever moved to his old-home Kentucky directly from Evansville. He hadn't gotten far enough away from it, either geographically or rhythmically, either for him to pine sufficiently for it or for her to be convinced that being away from Kentucky was diminishing him. But, by 1973, we are moving away from the Chicago traffic and economic and social pressures to Paducah, and, ultimately, I'm writing for The Heath Post (as opposed to The Reitz Picayune or whatever the public high-school newspaper is called on the west side of Evansville).

Another thing is that the move to/from Chicago turned my family into people who at least think of ourselves as fearless counterculturists. At the front end the move in 1970, my mom and dad become the people in their Silent Majority circles who leave the known (a house they built amid their families) to the ... well, maybe even worse than the unknown, the familiar-and-feared (Chicago in the near wake of the 1968 riots and Democratic National Convention). Then, three years later, after a period of lavish, modern living with stuff like Mexican restaurants and professional sports, we chose against that life and moved to cheap property in Kentucky for Dad to teach himself (from books checked out of the Paducah Public Library!) to make and sell primitive pottery (kind of like the old brick-making W√∂hlers back in dear old Detmold). These life choices have no precedent in our broader family, and they aren't depicted in TV sitcoms or long-distance commercials. To this day, my Mom and Dad's pod of the family is thought of as the kooky pod, and we like it that way. Highland Park is a big reason why.

Finally, the move turned me into a bit of an only child. I came along late--my dad was about to turn 43 when I was born in 1968, and my mom was almost 40. They already had 16-year-old and 11-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl, so, by the time I came along, they had already checked all of the Greatest Generation parental boxes like lead a Boy Scout troop, serve as an elementary-school Room Mother and pour a backyard swimming pool. Even though one brother moved with us to Highland Park, the relocation was sort of like a retooling of a sitcom (Coach and Shelley Long are out, and here come Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Alley). Instead of parenting another hand-me-down Evansville kid, Mom and Dad tried some different stuff with me. I was hardly ever spanked. They took me to the library and neighborhood park a lot. I played with G.I. Joes and Sun Oil football stamps. I watched a lot of Mister Rogers and Sesame Street. Part of all that was the inevitable churn of kid culture over 10 years, but part of it was about raising an only-ish child in a suburban Chicago apartment instead of a fourth kid in the same, ol' Evansville ranch.

So, anyhow, going back to Chicago last week with my own spouse and child was pretty evocative stuff. And I found myself evoked in quiet moments to pretend all sorts of fun stuff--that I was real 1971 Dad, that I was real 1971 kid me, that I was Hoptown 1971 adult me, that I was the son of Hoptown 1971 me, that I was Hoptown 1971 me with real 2017 daughter in 1971, etc. Pretending is fun, but, when you are as sophisticated and experienced of a pretender as I am, it can get pretty complex to keep the storylines straight.

The scenario I spent the most time pretending was 48-year-old me vacationing from Hopkinsville in 1971 with wife (kind of real wife) and my 8-year-old son (kind of real 1976 me plus a little real 2017 daughter), and, in this happy storyline, it was just absolutely driving the boy insane that his dad kept wanting to drive the routes and find the sites in the 1939 Illinois and Indiana WPA guides. This was a blast.

We need a new muffler. Or something—I don’t know anything about cars. But we need something. The car is really loud. The engine is loud. Plus, Dad has the radio cranked up and the window cracked, so his cigarette smoke blows out of the car. 
It’s a little boring in the dark because you can’t see anything, but it’s also kind of nice. This seat’s comfortable. I’m in the backseat, stretched out. I’m almost too tall now to do this, without folding my legs at the knees. But, for now, it’s pretty comfortable.
It’s just a little cold. Just a little.
The Bulls are on the radio. We’re still in Indiana, but we must be getting close to Chicago. I collect basketball cards, and I like hearing the names. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Bulls play on TV, but I know most of these players from the cards. I wonder if Jerry Sloan is nice. Dad loves Jerry Sloan.
It smells kind of cold. It does. The air from the window is a little chilly. It and the smoke are back here. It smells good. I smell a little gasoline, too. I like smelling gas.
I wonder if Mom’s asleep. Dad hasn’t said hardly anything since supper. What time is it? 
It’s boring, but I like the driving out in the country more than in the cities at night. In the cities, it’s good because the lights flash into the backseat and I can look at my cards. But Dad’s nervous about driving in the traffic, and Mom’s nervous about looking at the map, and that makes me nervous. In the country, like I said, it’s boring, but it’s also kind of nice because nobody’s nervous. Dad’s just driving, smoking cigarettes, listening to the Bulls … I think … maybe he’s just thinking. I’ll bet he’s not even listening to the game; I’ll bet he’s thinking about something else. And I think Mom might be asleep, or she’s just sort of sitting there looking out the window at the dark. I don’t know. But it’s kind of nice, even though it’s kind of boring.
This seat’s pretty comfortable. I’m getting sleepy.
Initially, I was going to have us all pretend to stay at this place, but that's too little of progress on Day 1 of driving even to pretend. So, we got to Chicago all in one day--it just took a while (real and pretend).

And I think this place is where we pretend stayed (my parents and I stayed at this place in real 1978) ...

I imagined all sorts of places we might and might not have gone while we were in town ...

Of course, a lot of the time was spent checking out what was on TV. All pretend and real versions of 1971/2017/whenever me love TV ...

I'll tell you another thing I spent a lot of this pretend 1971 doing is looking at "The World's Greatest Newspaper" (from what I've seen, the tagline gets no argument from me) ...

I really love seeing the comics and other features they don't carry in the Kentucky New Era, especially Mac Divot ...

And Doonesbury ...

It was just a great week in every way.

Comments flow ...


  1. Well, you never know what you're going to learn on a Friday/Sunday morning in 1971/2017.

  2. OK, so it turns out that this golf-mob story in the April 23 Chicago Tribune appears to be the start of reporting that leads to this famous fight between La Costa and Penthouse. Here’s some really macho writing from Ronald Koziol and John Husar in the Chicago Tribune story:

    The scene, less than 25 miles from the California White House, is La Costa Country Club, where the Professional Golfers Association’s vaunted Tournament of Champions started today on a golf course financed by Teamster union pension funds and in an atmosphere sprinkled with hoodlum figures.

    The tournament, involving a cream of the crop field of the past year’s tour winners only, is in its third year at a spa owned by former Las Vegas casino operators, some with ties to organized crime.

    Since the club’s beginning seven years ago, many high level personalities have been drawn to the posh retreat, where known hoodlums have mingled with unsuspecting guests.

  3. The story goes on to tick off a bunch of provocative names of people who are authorized to sign tabs for food and drinks at La Costa: Sandy Koufax, Tom Harmon, Sid Gillman, Bill Rigney, Desi Arnaz, Phil Harris, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra (apparently just a one-time visitor), Bing Crosby (though it’s doubtful he had ever actually visited) and Bob Hope (ditto). A justice of the Pennsyslvania state supreme court is said to have been offered a $100-a-day condominium at the club at no cost, the story says.

  4. And etcetera and etcetera, blahblahblah ... here's what I want to get to ... so this investigative piece by the Chicago Tribune, on the host of the PGA Tournament of Champions ... OK, it turns out that the Mac Divot comic strip that I discovered on my 1971/2017 Chicago spring-break vacation was distributed by the Chicago Tribune syndicate.

  5. And Mac Divot was illustrated by a guy who lived in Los Angeles and worked for Dunlop. I can't wait to see what Mac Divot does with this La Costa scandal in the weeks ahead (or, more likely, doesn't touch with a 10-foot pole).

  6. Oh, and--one final Mac Divot note--that illustrator also drew for Jonny Quest. I knew there was something familiar about his art.