Sept. 19, 2011—
The guy down at the middle of the bar told his friend how he didn’t do anything this summer. I overheard it because the bar is as small as a penny in a fountain.
I asked Jackie for a bar napkin. It was interesting that in a season as compacted as summer in Chicago you can’t do anything.
Bar napkins are good for three things: wiping up junk, drying tears and aborbing thoughts. With a borrowed blue pen I jotted down some of the things I hadn’t done this summer:
Missed seeing the Cubs win much.
Did not go to the historic Centennial Beach in Naperville, nor did I see Russell Crowe swim at ‘The Beach’ when he was living in the neighborhood while filming a movie.
Did not have a picnic along Lake Michigan.
I didn’t do any part of a planned 20th Anniversary of my first Route 66 trip—-which would have included seeing the great Skeletons in Springfield, Mo. Lou Whitney, the band’s ageless bassist knows a lot about Beach Music.
I did learn that the Mill Race Inn closed.
I used to go to the Mill Race Inn a lot when I was younger and summers seemed longer.
The restaurant was in Geneva, about a 60-mile drive away from my home in Chicago. The Mill Race Inn opened in 1933 in a refitted low-level blacksmith shop along the Fox River. I was told it closed for good in January. It was Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s favorite restaurant between 1997 and 1999 when he lived in a 23-room home up the river in St. Charles, Of course. It was by water.
I had lots of memories at this place. I went there before my first homecoming dance and was very nervous about pinning a corsage on my date’s dress with a plunging neckline. I learned to rebel against bizarre dress codes at the Mill Race Inn, which during the mid-1970s strongly encouraged jackets and ties for men and even teenagers. A rack near the entrance was lined with horrible evergreen suit coats whose sleeves only extended above my wrist.
Humiliating, by every lofty suburban American standard.
Steve, my best friend from high school had his wedding rehearsal dinner at the Mill Race Inn. I covered the first press conference for the minor league Kane County Cougars at the Mill Race Inn. That later parlayed itself into hundreds of books that now sit in my publisher’s storage locker not far from the dead restaurant.
The summer trifecta of the Kane County Flea Market, a Midwest League Cougars game and a post-game stop at the Mill Race’s outdoor Gazebo along the river became one of my summer traditions. Many years ago after a ballgame I sat on the Gazebo bench looking at the ducks in the river and told my friend Chris that if I wasn’t a journalist I would have wanted to be a veterinarian. I can still hear her laughing.
That bench is gone now.
It turned out my last visit to the Mill Race Inn was a surprise birthday dinner a couple of years ago. My birthday falls in the bright promise of summer’s beginning. I was blindfolded. She drove. I thought we were going south but we traveled west into a June sunset. It was an early June weeknight and I was surprised the restaurant was pretty empty. I felt change in the air.
The last owners have blamed the economy and flooding from the river. I can tell they just didn’t care as much as previous owners. Things sustain with attention and care.
The Mill Race Inn will remain a place in time. I keep knocking around this quote NW Indiana regional photographer Gary Ciadella (he’s in my archives) uses from Robert Gard.
No place is a place until things are remembered.
I can’t get it out of my head. I mentioned it to Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez last week when they were on a bus promoting their upcoming road movie “The Way” in Chicago. Their movie is all about change. They paused, liked it, and asked where the quote came from. All I knew was that Gard was a mid-20th Century Wisconsin folklorist. But his line helps me reflect.
I didn’t do much of anything either this summer.
But I visited beautiful places.