From the monthly archives: "May 2010"

May 28, 2010—

Maybe this is how my reporting career began.

I was 10 years old when I first sat in the smoky, stinky balcony of Chicago Stadium. On March 12, 1966 my Dad took me to my first Chicago Blackhawks game. In the third period the Blackhawks Bobby Hull fired a wicked slap shot past New York Rangers goalie Cesare Maniago to become the first player in the National Hockey League to score more than 50 goals in a season.

Apparently I was excited by all the beer and confetti.

I still get excited by beer and confetti.

Everyone in Chicago is talking about bandwagon jumping as the Blackhawks play in the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Sports radio guy Dan McNeil has declared there is no need to submit your resume as a Blackhawks fan. Then in today’s newspaper, he laid out his resume as a Blackhawks fan.

Two minutes for high shticking.

I am not here to do that. While people reminisce about Bobby Hull, Red Hay and Lou Angotti (they did get assists on that historic goal) and the good ol’ days of the Blackhawks, I wonder what happened to Chicago’s late night Dixieland scene. Look at this program (upper right): How about that “House of Dixieland” with the best Irish Coffee in town?

In one sense, the collective improvisation of Dixieland jazz is not unlike a power play in hockey. And Dixieland’s greatest hits include “St. Louis Blues” and The New Orleans Feetwarmers’ “Maple Leaf Rag.”

Go Hawks! I’ll be celebrating in the Shakey’s Pizza of my mind.

May 24, 2010-

     It took too long to take my first bike ride to Humboldt Park this spring.

     Humboldt Park is a rambling 3 1/2 square mile area on the near northwest side of Chicago regarded as the cultural capital of the Puerto Rican midwest. On Sunday the park was filled with people despite the bandwagon jumpers who watching the Chicago Blackhawks hockey game. [Quick—who is Lou Angotti?] The sound of salsa music filled the air and fathers played soccer with their sons. I could smell the richly grilled steak and onions of the jibarito sandwich.

     I live on the border of Humboldt Park and Ukranian Village, my favorite bridge in  Chicago. I don’t hang around the park at night. A couple of winters ago I met a young music fan in a Baltimore, Md. rock club who got rolled in Humboldt Park after walking home from a gig at the Empty Bottle. He lived to talk about it. He even smiled about his innocence.

    I often ride my blue 1970s-era ocean blue Schwinn cruiser to the park alone on a Sunday afternoon. I prop the bike on its steady kickstand and sit on a sidewalk by a peaceful lagoon. Sometimes I skip a stone across the water, like I did when I was a kid. During the day Humboldt Park is more tranquil than parks closer to Lake Michigan.   People move at a slower pace and there is more romance in the air. Hand in hand, eye to eye. The heart is naked.

    It becomes easy for me to take an assessment of things and realize who I can be. I don’t see any big fences. I feel young again.

May 19, 2010

I got up at 7 a.m. last Sunday after spending all of Saturday night listening to Nashville icon Pat McLaughlin sing roadhouse soul at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, Ill.

My mission was to eat a Cudighi Yooper sandwich at Fifth Third Field, home of the Midwest League’s West Michigan Whitecaps just north of Grand Rapids.

The Yooper—not to be confused with major league hurler Brandon Looper—is a spicy coarsley ground sausage patty smothered in white cheddar cheese, roasted onions, Marinara sauce, green and red peppers and served on a sesame seed bun. ($5.75).

The Cudighi (pronounced could-a-key) Yooper was chosen by fans in a pre-season contest that drew more than 23,000 votes.

The Yooper edged out the Declaration of Indigestion. The Declaration is a half-pound footlong hot dog-Philly steak covered with green peppers, onions and Philly cheese sauce, served on a large sub roll ($9). Only 56 votes separated the two items so the Whitecaps added each item on the menu for this season.

The Yooper is popular in the Upper Penisula of Michigan. It was invented by an Italian immigrant who settled in Ispheming, Mi. He deployed mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce on his creation. I’ve been told you can find the Yooper at joints like Jasper Ridge Brewery and the Wayside Bar in Ispheming. The Yooper has also surfaced in Green Bay, Wis.

The Whitecaps Yooper is drenched with so much cheese and sauce that it is served with a fork and a stack of napkins. I settled in my seat with my Kane County Cougars stats briefcase, a bottle of water and Marinara sauce dripping down my stubbled chin.

Children moved closer to their parents.

But weight, there’s more.

Last year West Michigan garnished national attention with its Fifth Third Burger, a 4,889-calorie monster consisiting of five one-third pound burgers with cheese on each slice, crunched tortilla chips, lots of chili, a half cup of salsa, lettuce and tomato served on a custom made 8-inch bun ($20). Any fan who downs the burger in one sitting (during the course of a game) is given a free t-shirt. Their picture is installed on a nearby Wall of Fame sponsored by a local cardiologist (just kidding). The burger is still part of the ballpark menu this season.

Weird ideas that were rejected in this year’s fan voting included the Pink Panther, a hot dog bun covered in icing and filled with pink cotton candy, a Twinkie Cheese Dog, and the third place finisher, chocolate covered bacon that attracted an amazing 6,326 votes.

10:30 p.m. May 4

We had Mary Frances Veeck—who turns a glorious 90 years old this fall—and her daughter Marya on our little weekly radio show this afternoon:

They talked about their life with late Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Veeck and his underreated appreciation of art. I nudged Mary Frances about the story she told me in 1986 where she and Bill would send off a bottle of Champagne to a celebrating couple.

 ”We had a history of that,” she said in a 1986 interview at Bill’s beloved Miller’s Pub in Chicago’s Loop. “We were married about six months and we went to a restaurant at a racetrack in Arizona. We arrived a little early and we saw this long table set up. Whenever Bill saw a long table, he immediately thought he was supposed to make a speech.

“Well, the people who owned the restaurant told us this was to be a rehearsal dinner for a wedding,” she said. “Bill immediately says, ‘You and I didn’t have a rehearsal dinner; maybe we’re not really married.’ The people later sat down and we were looking at them, saying that’s the bride’s side and that’s the groom side and they seem to hate each other. Bill was a wreck and he was worrying about this.

“So we sent over some bottles of Champagne, and as they drank it Bill said, ‘See, they like each other’.”

After talking to Mary Frances and Marya today I know old school class never goes out of style.