I noticed today that the city parking garage in the East Village - Parking Facility #69 at 824 N. Marshfield, opened 1959 says the plack, "Richard J. Daley, Mayor." Nothing terribly tragic about that, it's 1950s ugly and it cost $9 to park there, silly considering there is metered parking along Chicago Ave for $.25 an hour, and ample, though dwindling, side street parking. It was put there to help the merhants up and down Chicago keep their customers in the age of the automobile, the Chicago and Ashland low-rent shopping district seems to be doing fine, specializing in off-brand clothing, tasty junk food, and an increasing number of bank branches multiplying like Starbucks. Without the Goldblatts that once anchored the corner, there seems little need for a public garage. Maybe they'll let the city workers who work in the neighborhood use the lot now? Nah, it's gotta be condos.
What I'll miss, though, was the little mystery that will never be solved. The whold time I've been in the neighborhood, forgotten in a corner on the Paulina St side of the garage has been an old, dust-covered car. A swoopy old thing from the 30s or 40s, curved like a VW bug but big, like a car from a gangster movie. Except instead of black, this appeared to be red and white under the gray dust.
Funny how even after seeing it nearly every day for two and a half years, the memory fades quickly. I couldn't tell you what make it was, nor which parts were red and which parts were white. I peered through the chain link fence at the car most afternoons, wondering whose it had been and how long it had been abandoned in an out of the way corner of a forgotten garage. The tires were flat and the car was so filthy you couldn't see through the windows. Had it been there since the day the garage opened? "There's a body in the trunk. Some mobster. They parked him here 40 years ago and nobody's found him yet," I said to a co-worker. "Jimmy Hoffa," he replied.
It's gone now. The garage closed May 2, and they towed everything that was left behind. There are strange smudges on the cement from where the flat tires sat for so long. A little magic and mystery gone out of my world.
Speaking of junk food merchants, I bought a sandwich from a new place, Hank's Deli, today. "Hank" turns out to be an Indian guy looking for an American-style name for his convenience store. Really nice guy, a little older than my father, going a bit overboard with the customer service thing. "Is this enough Mayo? Would you like a little more?" etc. It takes a long time to make a sammich that way. It was pretty good. Cappacola. Just what the doctor ordered, or would if she weren't so mean.
After work I walked by the empty garage and found I had left my car's headlights on. Again. And the car wouldn't start. Again. I tried to call Trope but couldn't reach her, so I took the El home. An hour later she drove me back down to Paulina to give me a jump on her way to a knitting thing. It didn't work, scary clicking sound. I got back on the El and made the same ridiculous two-stop trip. At Western, the El lets off right accross the street from Margie's Candies. As I often do when I'm in a funk, I got a milkshake. At the counter was a crazy old guy, eighty-five years old if he was a day. Wearing a yellow shirt and an orange tie. Margie's kid? She'd probably be a hundred if she was still around. So maybe.
So Margie's Kid wanted to talk about the latest Bulls disaster, their loss by a buzzer-beating shot to the Washington Wizards, 112 to 110. Just another day in the life of a Chicago sports fan, really. Margie's Kid tells me he sat and watched them come back from twenty-five points down in the last 20 minutes. Then he left the room and missed the final shot, he told me. Matter of fact. Not implying at all that he shouldn't have left the room, or any of that superstitious sports crap. He complimented Angelo's shooting and the sportsmanship of both teams. A class act.
Most people don't realize that the Bulls still have fans that have been them since their first game. My grandfather is one of those. A few years ago he had half his pancreas removed. He was scheduled to have surgery at seven thirty in the morning, but he sat and waited five or six hours before they took him in. Consequently he missed the start of the Bulls game. Legend has it when he woke up, he waved for the doctor immediately. "What's the score, Doc?" He asked. The doctor started talking about his pancreas and such. "No, young man, the Bulls," says my grandfather. "What's the score."
I'm always going to prefer crazy old man hot dogs and diner food to mass produced Subway/Starbucks slop. If fast food is dietary pornography, Chicago's independent junk food is good old fashioned burlesque, with screaming yellow mustard pasties and a neon green relish feathered boa. I want to go back in time with these guys to the dawn of the hotdog stand, to the days when the Cubs actually got to the series before they lost.
The crazy old neighborhood guys and the vanishing old buildings and the car that hasn't run for forty years. They're all of a piece to me. These guys are vanishing from the world. I'd hoped that when they were gone the streets would remain to tell the tale, mile after mile of monuments to the people who made this place, however briefly, one of the great world cities. But I'm not going to get my wish. The neighborhoods are coming down now, even while some of the people who saw them go up in the 1920s are still around. When they leave us, the may leave without a trace, and it will be like all of it - the Jazz Age, Bronzeville, Riverview, Yiddish as a spoken language - never happened. I'm glad I bought ice cream from them while I still could.