By Larry Teren
The early afternoon of July Fourth seems like a good day to take a pleasure drive around the Chicago metropolitan area. Pleasure drives are something I do rarely these past few years, what with the cost of gas as it is. Now that a gallon is about 90 cents cheaper than it was a few months ago at its highest, I guess I can afford this one luxury on a day no one will be calling me at an inconvenient time for computer help.
I invited Ma to come along- to get her out of the house into a car for a purpose other than to go shopping or to fulfill an obligation to go visit someone. We were both relaxed which is unusual since I am typically screaming obscenities or making gestures at other drivers who switch lanes without signaling or are going five to ten miles an hour less than the posted speed limit in front of me.
Usually it is because they have a frigging cell phone either glued to their ears or held in one hand while trying to read a text. But I’m respectful- I generally check the obituaries the next day to see how many jerks I cursed into an early demise so I can sign their web-based funeral guest book. (“So sorry to hear about your relative’s death.. Was it sudden?”)
100 degrees outside but in the car the air conditioning kept us cool, calm and collected as we drove southbound along the Outer Drive and Chicago’s amazing lakefront. Despite being the main national holiday of the United States, we saw few boats out on the lake. Those that did traverse within sight of the beach front had their sails billowing in a slight wind. Driving past the dock inlet between Belmont and Fullerton it seemed strange to see what appeared to be an entire fleet of motorboats moored to their parking spots. Was it the heat or was it the high cost of fuel?
We stayed on the Outer Drive as we curved past the exit to North Michigan Avenue. It was nice to see that the iconic The Drake Hotel sign still up considering all the real estate changes that have been going on in the past five to ten years. Continuing further south we made note that Navy Pier needed that Ferris Wheel to garner attention.
Coming upon the infamous ‘S curve’ in the road was no longer nerve-wracking as some engineering genius figured out how to smoothen the shift and placement of the pavement without causing drivers to quickly slow down and make a couple of hard turns of the wheel.
Approaching the point where it was appropriate to turn back and head north, we made a right two stop lights after the S curve and drove west back to Michigan Avenue at a corner anchored by the Art Institute. Emblazoned on a sign in very big letters was the name of an artist they were promoting. Made no difference to me. The last painter whose name I’d recognize probably died at the turn of the century or is Leroy Neiman still kicking?
I mentioned to Ma that despite the cleanliness of the streets (the first Mayor Daley made sure of that), the area looked old but not quite retro. Unless you have to go downtown on a regular basis, I guess you don’t think much about the place.
Several times on Boul Mich I had to maneuver the car around others with out-of-state license plates who were stopped on the street to witness what the local gentry took for granted. Don’t these yokels know about “move it or lose it”?
Heading back north on the Outer Drive, it was apparent that the police were out in full force at the several beach fronts to block traffic from entering until another vehicle exited back to the Drive. The boys in blue were making sure that the hot temperatures did not create hot heads.
Coming to the end of the drive at Hollywood Avenue, rather than go directly ahead back towards Peterson, I elected to turn right and go onto Sheridan Road, which hugged the lakefront as much as possible, or at the most one block in. I wondered aloud how many people went to sleep at night in those condos worried that they would wake up in the morning adrift in the lake.
The road took us past Loyola University where it now bent westward to join up shortly with Devon Avenue if one stayed on a direct course. Maintaining the karma, I stayed to the right and kept with Sheridan. We quickly drove past what had once been the Granada Theater but torn down and replaced with a handful of retail facilities. The Granada was another in the stable of grand movie palaces built by Balaban and Katz. The so-called inventors of AIR COOLED movie houses during the Great Depression era, they placed huge blocks of ice in the rafters with several fans forcing the icy sediments to the patrons below. It was at the Granada Theater that I first saw The Music Man back in the early 1960’s. For a kid living on the West Side, to have his parents take him and his siblings all the way up north to watch a larger-than-life film presentation was awe-inspiring and never to be forgotten.
We stayed with Sheridan as we drove past the northern boundary of the Chicago city limits, better known as Howard Street. The road did a slight curve around a cemetery. Once we reached Main Street, I decided it was time to head back for real now and take Ma home.
Ma asked how much gas I had used and I replied it was a quarter of a tank but not to be concerned as I chalked it up to my vacation budget for the year.