Sunday, June 03, 2007

My kind of town, still

The city of Chicago, reflecting multitudes. I took this picture by shooting right into "The Bean," as Anish Kapoor's undulating sculpture, a highlight of beautiful Millennium Park, is called by locals. If Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards was going to be like this I'd have no complaints at all and would in fact bring my own shovel to pitch in and help make it happen. Chicago's Frank Gehry component, the Millennium Park bandshell, is a lot more inspired, and inspired, than the "Miss Liberty" (ugh!) planned right across Fourth Avenue from us.

The park wasn't ready when I last visited Chicago in 2001; in fact, I wrote a Stagebill article about the organizers, who were on edge about getting all the necessary funding. But they did, and the results are terrific. Chicago has also stolen some thunder from the "first city" by hosting the first, excellent production of the Brit hit Jerry Springer--The Opera,which runs at the small but commanding Bailiwick Rep through July 8. And I hadn't realized how much I missed stuffed pizza till we hit Gino's East (back at its old location since a move, but in a sleeker, street-level building), Giordano's, and Carmen's (which has the edge on cheese, but Gino's still comes out on top).

We hadn't ridden the El in years till our short sojourn the week before last, on unusually hot days. It's now color-coordinated, and the Red line took us past familiar haunts like Wrigley Field and the Aragon Ballroom to Howard Street (so cold and windswept in winter) and the Purple Evanston line. The hue is of course derived from Northwestern's school colors, but those colors are one of the few things the town has retained since I was there last in 1997. The good news is that those who opposed the McDonald's when I was a student (not me; I went once every week, before my cholesterol and triglycerides started spiking) won the battle; it closed years ago. But the war has been lost. The old storefronts remain, and you can still get a Gutbuster-size Dr. Pepper at Buffalo Joe's, but in place of the Sherman Snack Shop is a Cosi; wine bars, wine shops, and big brand names proliferate; J.K. Sweets serves "international cuisine" along with its cookies; and Carmen's Pizza, a local legend, has been shunted to a dimly lit building in the shadow of an 18-theater megaplex that adjoins a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

If that thing, around Church and Maple--which, to be fair, looked quite posh from a quick tour of its lobby and has six art cinemas to go along with the 12 showing Shrek the Third--had existed when I was a student, I never would have gone to Chicago as much as I did. Back then, at the dawn of home video time, Evanston had the much-missed Varsity, which became a Cineplex Odeon theater showing nothing but campus favorite The Big Chill till it caught a big chill and shuttered, a theater on Main I think, and a small multiplex on Central that I slogged through all kinds of weather to attend.

While the campus has added a few new buildings, including a moderne complex for the Medill School of Journalism steps away from ivy-encrusted Fisk Hall, it felt happily unchanged, though smaller (well, I was smaller, or at least younger, and thinner, then). Have a look. Just ignore the massive condo projects going up in the back of the frame. I thought we were in Evanston, CA, and not Evanston, IL, but such are changing times.


Brooks of Sheffield said...

You're breaking my heart with this post. But at least Gino's is still there. That's encouraging.

Robert Cashill said...

I was really surprised to see that SBX was gone, or has moved; what do students do for used books in Evanston?

And the Loop is really cleaned up, too; indeed, all of the major Chicago thoroughfares have largely been stripped clean of noise and funk, in favor of luxury hotels and chain stores that take up whole blocks.

We were surprised that Gino's has only been opened since 1966. I thought it had been there forever. The proprietor said the "catacombs-like" prior structure was nearing collapse. You can still see the original vintage walls at the new and still open one it opened on Ontario, home of the biggest freestanding McDonald's I have ever seen, in 2000.