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The El Stop (Remembering Chicago)

Greeting Cards

Nadya Johnson

Joined January 2009

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The Train Still Stops There, but it Doesn’t Stop for Me
(Best Viewed Large/ Click on Image)


3359 views (4/11/156

Sweet Home, Chicago…. but like Classic Coke, the taste is not the same…

From a print I took in 1994 while waiting for my train to work. Not night – very early morning – too damned cold to even snow and I could barely click the shutter! That’s how it gets in Chicago at 32 below; you have to keep a can of WD-40 in your purse because when you get home your locks are frozen solid and without it, you’re not getting in. Cameras freeze up too.

Not to mention fingers, even though you’re wearing mittens over gloves! The liquid in your eyes will turn to ice (not a joke!), You can’t wear any jewelry or the metal freezes to your skin. Breathing is a painful matter (feels like you’re sucking liquid nitrogen) and you can bet, you have to layer up — I mean, really layer up! — with so many pairs of socks, tights, pants, sweaters, coats, gloves, mittens, hats all one atop the other — in the end everybody on the street looks like the Michelin Tire Man. You have about a 15 minute window. After that, any skin exposed to cold like that will suffer frost bite.

This is why that standard California greeting isn’t all that popular in winter, not around Chicago… you know the one. “Have a nice day!” DON’T even say it. Not in January, not when that Arctic Clipper’s in, not when the place is colder than the far side of Neptune’s farthest moon! Because you’ll more than likely get a gruff response. Beginning with an F.

No, the weather’s not the best n Chi-Town. Fact is, summer’s even worse than winter to a lot of us. A famous Chicago writer once said, “To love Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose.” (Nelson Algren). Could be, you have to spend a lot time there though, to understand that. Or. better yet like me, grow up there. I guess the part about the broken nose is pretty easy. It’s the “Why I Love Chicago” part that’s hard to grasp.

Well, they’ve made a lot of progress. I don’t think the view is like this, anymore. Probably, they tore this building down some time ago. If not, I guess they’ve got it clean and spiffy now – regentrified – probably, divided up the building into pricey lofts. Not that long ago, I went through the neighborhood after being gone again for years, but I didn’t even recognize the place. It went from artsy, ethnically diverse, Bohemian and rough around the edges in the 1990’s (Wicker Park was called Chicago’s Soho, then) to downright posh – a ritzy, most respectable area in which to live, or so I’m told. Of course that means the vintage brownstone which I might have bought in 1988 for $40K (and later rented in the early 90’s for the grand sum of $650 USD a month) now would sell for $3 million give or take, and that downstairs flat would run me $2,000 monthly, minimum!

Wouldn’t have it, though. It’s not the same.

First off, the Busy Bee is gone. It was a long-established famous Polish restaurant just beneath the El train. You could choose between the diner half, with old wood booths and cracked formica tabletops (they also had some yellow vinyl stools along a lonnng counter, always piled high with fresh kolatchkis under glass ) or, you could choose the other room where there were red linen table cloths and candles on the tables, each with a single little flute that held a rose. Same menu either way. Best perogi’s in the city – and the other menu (burgers, steaks, etc.) wasn’t anything to sneeze at, either. The place was always elbow to elbow with a loud and happy crowd: including one old homeless gent who used to bring his violin inside and play, and people sang along and sometimes, danced. Bill Clinton ate there .. more than once. They had his picture up.

Now it’s a Chinese noodle house with purple neon lights. No homeless violinists welcome! Ditto for the guy with the accordian who also used to wander in and entertain the crowd with polka-music, albeit slightly tipsy every night.

Friar’s joint is gone, as well (that old greasy spoon was there since 1930-something). Best breakfast skillets on the avenue. Plus, they let you sit and read your paper practically forever on a snowy day, and kept filling up your coffee cup and all you had to do was laugh (kind of) at the lousy jokes the waitress told. And, put up with being “Babe” or “Doll,” or with some people, “Hey, asshole!” No one said the joint was elegant. Jake and Elwood would have fit right in. Oh, yeah — sorry – almost everyone who went there smoked, as did the waitress – and the cooks, as I recall – and no one really gave a damn. Not like Friar’s had a playroom! Or a kiddie menu, either.

The Myopic Earwax — also gone. That was just across the street. It was a REAL coffee house, not a sterile clone like Starbucks. You could grab a chair (not a one matched the other in the joint) and sit for hours writing – maybe drawing – (many people did) listening to the jazz, drinking coffee out of big heavy stoneware cups with a shot of Torino (any flavor) if you had the yen for that.

The Occult Book Store – gone.

Quimby’s Queer Books – also gone. Wasn’t what it sounds like, either! Quimby dealt in off beat comic books.

All those little galleries tucked away down long dilapidated halls in worn, dilapidated buildings.. all those artists (Outsiders, I believe they called themselves… ) like the woman (I forget her name) who did burlap mannequins – had them hung by dozens from the rafters in the dark and called it Soft Sculpture — gone.

There were so many clubs and bars within walking distance of the house, we always said we’d have to live to 99 just to make them all! Like the rowdy country bar we went to now and then, the Goth joint just across the corner, then that other place where you could hear heavy metal in the basement, then go up a flight of steps for poetry on Tuesdays — Gone.

This, that, the other – gone.

Now they’ve got a Mickey D’s, a Carl’s Jr. and a Walgreens. Wendy’s too – didn’t really count the Starbucks, and a whole raft of shi-shi Vegan eateries; a strange mix too, but not a recipe I like.

My beautician just upstairs from Friar’s greasy spoon, who favored raging-bright flamingo-colored hair and dressed in what can only be described as Punk- slash-Hippie Goth (speaking of eclectic combinations) — plus she burned so much jasmine incense you would nearly choke – plus she brought her cats to work and if you didn’t like them in your lap you could damn well pick another beauty shop – (and oh, you better like Zep! Loud enough to wake the dead) — she is outta there, as well.


Not sure where it’s gone to, My Chicago — maybe Elwood Blues could tell me!

But I think he’s left the building too.

(To anybody from Chicago, please note I took a WEE bit of poetic license when I wrote this. The club with heavy metal in the basement and the poetry upstairs was in another neighborhood. But not too far away, Also, I COULD be wrong about the way it’s gone … just my personal impressions of the changes and the way suburban sprawl has crept into the city where it just does not belong! That’s if it belongs anywhere, but that’s another story for another time, I guess!)

One later note… Quimby’s didn’t close, they only moved. Ditto for Myopic Ear Wax. Live and Learn! lol

Taken with my Canon AE-1/ a print later scanned, multiple effects in Photoshop were added for the ambience and light. And Chicago Grunge Effect!

Artwork Comments

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