Chicago. That’s where this road begins, that’s where my story starts, Chicago, Illinois. The city dangles on the lower neck of the Great Lakes like a glorious shining jewel. Its magnificent mile of towering steel and glass, the mix of concrete, green space and the lakefront make Chicago a Mecca on the Midwestern plains. Rising from the cornfields to the west, rising from the ashes of the past, this 21st century city is constantly reinventing, rebuilding, redoing itself until, someday, it will finally be polished and no longer serve as America’s Second City but become the shimmering gem metropolis of the world. The Route 66 marker is located right at the southern tip of the downtown area along a beautiful stretch of road called Lake Shore Drive (LSD); a road that rides between the steel and glass shimmering megatropolis and the blue green endless horizon of Lake Michigan. It is a Kodak moment of a marker, a photo opportunity for those Intrepid Travelers making this trek; Route 66 starts on a beautiful note in Chicago.
Chicago. That’s where I was born in 1970; it’s where I’ve lived the whole of my life, Chicago, Illinois. I was born above a bar on the corner of Southport and School streets on the North side. My family lived there until my brother was born in 1964 and then we moved to the suburbs. The suburb we lived in was called Arlington Heights and from the roof of our house, you could still see the Sears Tower. During my college years at DePaul University, I lived in the Lincoln Park area. In ’84, when we married, my wife and I lived in Wicker Park for 9 years. We thought about kids and bought a house in p.Ville; but we never had kids and she got the house in the divorce. I bought a townhouse in ’96 and that’s where I still live today. I call my suburb p.Ville because it’s a small town that became a suburb, not a planned suburb so to speak; otherwise known as Palatine, Illinois, founded in 1856.
Chicago. That’s where I’m from and I like telling people so, when it comes up in conversations. People light up when I say I’m from the toddling town, the home of Al Capone and the land of deep dish pizza. If they’ve been to Chicago they’re always sure to tell me how beautiful it is, how much fun they had in Chicago or how nice the people were where they stayed. Sometimes, if they’ve never been to Chicago they get a wide eyed look and ask me questions as if Chicago were The Emerald City in Wizard of Oz! Often times somebody knows somebody from Chicago and ever since President Obama was elected, it has become more of a household city than ever before; everybody knows where it is and everybody knows around the world. So I like being from Chicago, but I don’t want to die there.
Chicago. For all the glitters and is magical about this gem that dangles around the neck of The Great Lakes, there is a less than spectacular side of the city. It’s easy to see it too when you’re driving down I-55, known in Chi-town as “The Stevenson Expressway”. The expressway rises from the sparkling downtown part of the city, up and past Chinatown and The Back of The Yards; where all the train rails come together and used to host the hog butchers of the world. The expressway (which was bumper to bumper when we were just on it), extends beyond the melting pot neighborhoods of Studs Turkle and Spike O’Dell and past the sanity, sanitary and ship canal, old Midway Airport and the industrial underbelly of the city that works. There is a smell to the air in this stretch of road that’s difficult to describe, but the ugly stench is the last thing you recall as you leave the city limits and start to venture past the Southwest Suburban metropolis.
Here the ghost of Route 66 is overshadowed by the mega-roadways of The Tri-State (I-294) and The Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355). The old route is lost between the open rolling fields of ticky-tacky like subdivisions and light industrial office complexes. The traffic moves along a little better, but before long, one finds themselves passing Joliet and the smelly, ugly oil refineries. Another stretch of stench to remind you that this is an urban complex, this is still part of the big city and it’s not until you get well into Grundy County do you get a sense of the country again. It’s not until you are south of Interstate 80, not until the landscape opens up to farmlands and wide, flat open Illinois roads that you again gain a sense of that old route, that Mother Road Main street of America again.
That was an excerpt from my novel “SCHLEP” which will be released in April 2010 by The Intrepid Editor Press. In this story, told largely in a journal format, our character, Izzy is driving along the remnants of old Route 66 from Chicago to Hollywood and this passage is from the beginning of the 2nd chapter “The Sojourn Begins…”; it’s been pruned from the original text and is considerably longer in the book. The story is what I consider a “multi dimension coming of age story for the middle age” and examines one man’s perception of himself as he transforms from a hopeless and lonely dreamer to a romantic and empowered artist. Along the way Izzy meets Josie, an 18 year old Zuni Princess who helps him realize his dreams and come to terms with his own self worth. The story, if it were movie might be Rated R for adult content and language, but it is at essence, a love story between an older man and younger woman. “SCHLEP”, although rooted in some of my own experiences, is a work of pure fiction that has little to do with me or my life now. Or does it?
I will post another excerpt or two sometime over the next week or so and hopefully you’ll like enough to order a copy of the book yourself! You can order the book through www.amazon.com
or my website, www.dphilipchalmers.net
for $14.99 on or about April 20th or so…I’m sure to let you know when exactly it’s available!