Monday, October 19, 2009

Hey Queen -- How Do Ya Like Chicago So Far?

While riding on the MWRD bike path near Evanston on this past beautiful Sunday afternoon, I ran into a very nice girl from the North of England. While riding astride for a mile or more, we chatted about the odd British propensity for class consciousness, the Falkland's Island war, the impending demise of the British Labour Party, George Orwell, Patrick Pearse and sundry other matters that quite appealed to my Anglophilic disposition.

I found it telling that she, English born, was riding an American-made Trek, while I, Chicago born, owned a Nottingham, England-made Raleigh.

But it got me thinking about the English in Chicago.

There is a rich tradition of English and English-American involvement in Chicago, but it has been largely overshadowed by the much more populous subsequent waves of immigration.

The first Mayor of Chicago was a total WASP named William Butler Ogden.

He traveled here from New York in 1835, because his nincompoop brother-in-law had sunk $100 k as a real estate investment into swampy, onion field land alongside Lake Michigan in a place called Chicago.

Ogden came here to sell off the deeds for anything he could possibly get for them -- pennies on the dollar, if need be.

He was amazed when after selling merely 1/3 of the holdings he had already recouped all of the investment. The WASPs were sharpies back then, and Ogden bought as much Chicago real estate as he could possibly get his hands on, sold it, became a de-facto billionaire by today's standards, decided to hang around and was elected Chicago's first mayor.

The Brits entered the picture again in 1871. After the Great Chicago fire devastated the city, Queen Victoria ("we are not amused") was anguished at word that the great Chicago library was destroyed and at her own initiative, scoured Britain for books to send to Chicago to rebuild its library collection.

That was nice of the old girl.

Fast forward to 1920.

That was when Chicago had its last Republican mayor, Big Bill Thompson.

Today Republicans like to claim moral superiority over the corrupt Democrat machine (as well they can -- but it's easy to be as pure as the driven snow when you have no boodle to pass around) but back then the GOP machine were total crooks.

Big Bill's chief financial backer was a well known Chicago philanthropist by the name of Al Capone.

Enough said.

But by 1920, waves of Irish and Germans had descended upon Chicago (my ancestors on both sides included) and had become the dominant electoral cohort in the city.

The Micks and the Krauts were not at all favorably disposed toward the British Limeys.

Big Bill knew which side his electoral bread was buttered on, so in 1920, when King George V of the House of Windsor was touring the US, Mayor Thompson told him to stay the hell out of his city.

When a reporter asked Big Bill what he would do if George V decided to come to Chicago anyway, Mayor Thompson said, "If King George sets one foot in Chicago, I'll punch him in the snoot."

The King stayed away. Big Bill was re-elected.

Fast forward to 1959.

Then the child-Queen, Elizabeth II, only 33 at the time, came to Chicago to celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which linked Chicago and ports in the British Dominion of Canada with the Atlantic Ocean.

When the Queen was alighting her ship in the port of Chicago, a throng of gruff, boozy, Chicago newsmen gathered around her and began shouting questions.

When she had been ashore no more than a minute or two, one of the paunchy, red-nosed scribes yelled out, "Hey Queen!! Howdya like Chicaguh so far???"

Not, "Your Royal Highness, what are your thoughts upon coming to Chicago?"

But "Hey Queen!! Howdya like Chicaguh so far???

The answer is lost to history.

But the question and questioner will be long remembered.

Is this an amusing place, or what?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chicago Pols React to Obama Nobel Prize

Obama: Can you believe they gave me the friggin' Nobel Peace Prize?

Daley: I wish I could get in on a deal like that!!

Blagojevich: That thing's fuckin' golden!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Daley's Disposable Tropical Palm Trees

(This was first posted in October. But as we wade thru snowdrifts this morning and contemplate below zero wind chill temps tonight, it may comfort us to know that a few short months ago, our City government was giving us a taste of the tropics -- by planting expensive tropical plants in our parks -- which they then, proceeded to throw away as the climate became inhospitable.)

Chicagoans awoke this morning to the news that their city government has been hard at work conjuring up new ways to regulate their behavior and pick their pockets at the same time.

Three new possible fines to contemplate.

First, if some neighborhood Mrs. Kravitz doesn't like the sound of your dog's barking, you can now be fined up to $250 a day.
And now if you get caught idling your diesel truck or car for more than 3 minutes, you'll get slapped with a $250 fine.
And now, if you should wander within 50 feet of the entrance of an abortion mill and someone complains, you're out 500 bucks.

The city needs revenue, you see.

It isn't bad enough that the cost of parking on a city street now costs the equivalent of many monthly car payments. Daley needs cash and fast.

That's why the libraries are going to shorten their hours and why the parks now charge the equivalent of a 6 month health club membership fee for city kids to join their organized play activities.

So why then is the Mayor planting expensive, exotic tropical foliage on the public ways?

He actually had contractors plant palm trees right here in the Chicago arctic zone. Palm trees that are now, with the onset of winter, being ripped up and tossed away.
I am not making this up.

Palm trees!!!!
In Chicago parks!!!!

At the very corner of Lincoln Avenue and Peterson, at the entrance to Legion Park, with its grand gateway fountain, there is today a hugh gaping mound of dirt where yesterday stood a tropical palm tree and ancillary tropical foliage.
I met a nice old woman who was walking her somewhat overweight dachshund there and her cat (don't ask) and she reported to me that the crew that removed the tropical tree asked her if she wanted it for her home.
Since it stood at least 20 feet high and since she does not have a living room to rival Marie Antoinette's chambers at Versailles, she politely declined.
So it looks as if the disposable tropical foliage was just tossed into a wood chipper.
I asked my horticulturalist friend, Kathy, what a palm tree like that and the assorted other exotic foliage might cost, and she reckoned that it would be at least several thousand dollars wholesale. So with the city's purchasing acumen involved, you can bet that it was at least ten grand or more.
And just what are we doing planting equatorial foliage a full 42 degrees North of the equator?
Didn't anyone mention to the geniuses at the Chicago Park District that it has a wee tendency to get cold in Chicago?
And where else in Chicago did palm trees go up this summer?
I have seen them outside the concession stand at the Oak Street beach. Where else?

Maybe Daley & Co. got so carried away with Olympic fever that they thought they would rival Rio by planting Brazilian tropical plants.
At any rate, the city enforcement mavens and fine collectors had better get busy finding those noisy dogs and idling diesels so we can afford to make our parks look like Pago Pago and Tahiti again next year.

Or maybe like Rio.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mama Mia! ABBA and Donna Summer for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?

I seldom have expended many of my ever-declining number of brain cells pondering the machinations of the Rock ' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

I thought of it once back in '86 upon hearing reports that it was founded -- principally as an effort by the Cleveland city fathers to repair their fair city's image as "The mistake by the lake."

Cleveland was then largely known as the city whose waterways actually caught fire due to the massive quantities of flammable liquids that they had been dumping in them -- and as the city whose NFL football team snuck out in the middle of the night to move to greener pastures in greater metropolitan Baltimore.

I thought of it again around '93, when a 20-something, rock fan couple who were taking care of my dog told me that they were making a weekend pilgrimage there.

Since then the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame happily subsided to the margins of my consciousness.

That is until this week, when my spies reported to me that ABBA and Donna Summer were the favorites for induction to the hall for 2010.

ABBA were rockers!!??

Donna Summer, the disco queen, a rocker!!??

To put this in perspective, when I was an undergrad, ABBA began saturating the AM airwaves with their ear candy. As sophisticate collegiate rock connaisseurs we considered them laughably juvenile.

After all, this was a time when the Beatles were still churning out formidable solo albums. Mick Jagger was just beginning to really hit his groove. Dylan was still seriously composing. The Moody Blues were in search of the lost chord. And for the kinkier types on campus, Lou Reed was taking a walk on the wild side.

Into this rich, genuinely rock ' roll context strolled 2 very hot Swedish babes and their 2 geeky-looking male consorts, with "Honey, Honey." That single was very big among the pre-pubescent crowd. They liked it because its bubblegum quality seriously rivalled that of Boyce and Hart and the 1910 Fruitgum Company and perhaps the early Monkees.

But no serious (and admittedly pretentious) college rock fan took ABBA even vaguely seriously.

Then, throughout our undergrad years, ABBA was everywhere --- on the AM radio in the car, on the AM radio station that was piped in the the cafeteria, in elevators, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

"Waterloo", "SOS", "Mamma Mia", "Fernando."

And then when they abandoned ear candy pop for disco, they became very big in the gay community. With efforts like "Dancing Queen" and "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme a Man After Midnight", it isn't hard to imagine why.

Their music had a certain pleasant, predictable, non-threatening quality.

But I would paraphrase the French military observer to the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade, who commented: "C'est magnifique! Mais c'est ne pas le guerre." (It's magnificent! But it's not warfare.)

I would say of ABBA's vast discography, "It's very nice. But it's not rock 'n roll."

In fairness, I should add that a perusal of ABBA's YouTube videos does show that Agnetha Faltskog, in her prime, was truly one of the hottest babes ever to grace a stage in that era-- an amazing combination of cover-girl looks and Penthouse animal magnetism.

And I wouldn't have kicked her German-Swedish cohort Anna Frid Lyngstad out of bed for eating crackers.

But does that a Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famer make?

And don't even get me started on the 2010 nomination of disco queen Donna Summer.

She may have worked hard for the money, but disco was the very antithesis of rock.

To admit Donna Summer to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, would be rather like Pope Benedict ordering a special new stain glass window in the Sistine Chapel for Martin Luther.

So I will not be spending my hard-earned cash to make a pilgrimage to the Cleveland rock shrine.

But should they ever get serious and induct Jan & Dean, The Moody Blues and Lou Christie, I could well reconsider.

And to Anna Frid, if you're out there reading this -- I'm still eminently available.