West Side Al

Writings, etc.

The Road to Wrigley

Wrigley without lights
Wrigley without lights - c.1985 Photo by Al Bergstein
The Road to Wrigley is a whimsical, fictional tour of my original city, Chicago, as if I never left driving a cab back in 1977. During the Cubs run to the World Series, a friend asked me if I would ever give a tour of Chicago to him, and this was my response. It was only a draft, and never fully polished. But enjoy anyway.

Monday 1PM - O'Hare Airport

Hey! Welcome to Chicago! Glad you decided to take me up on my offer of an AirBnB and personal Uber driver. I'm sure that this week will go great. We're going to head to my place first, I'll give you the tour of the apartment, then we can head out for the night. Relax! Enjoy the ride!

I can't believe you popped for tickets to the game! I heard they are going for upwards of $2800 just for standing room only! Well,you deserve it. You've waited long enough. Me, I got a front row seat on the big screen at Mo's! He's a buddy with a screen so large, you see every zit on the faces of the Cubbies.

Just to put you at ease, I've driven a cab since college. I know traffic is crazy, but when you take your cab driver test, which I did a long time ago, you have to only know a few places. One is 
1060 W. Addison (really the corner of Addison and Clark for me), just beyond the El as you go west on Addison. This is the road to Wrigley. You also learn that if you are going to have an accident, you need to always have someone hit you behind the front doors, or it's your fault and you are fired. And you better learn quickly how to get a cab out of a parking garage that is chockablock filled with other cabs in no particular order of logic, without a dent.

You'll be staying at my place,  
2272 N. Geneva Terrace. Take a moment to look at the Google Street view, turn around and enjoy the tree lined street. In the winter I've seen it dump so much snow that the cars are buried to their roofs, and they tow them to Lincoln Park to stack them like cordwood.

We're just across the street from the old church where we ran the first art film house in Chicago and showed the first revival of the original King Kong, among other great shows. The hard seats and theater are gone now, the church turned into condos. You can see it by turning around in Google Street view.

Ninety year old Mrs. Novotny, the downstairs owner, greets us at the stoop with a smile. She emigrated from Poland and talks with a strong accent, all these decades later. She still talks to all her friends in Polish. No need for much English in her world.

Drop off your suitcases while I show you around my apartment. The darkroom is to the right, in a converted closet. I still do some black and white printing. But there are two nice bedrooms, high ceilings, a beautiful kitchen that opens to a balcony overlooking the alley. In the morning, just warning you, you might be woke up by a ringing of soft bells. That's the guy who sharpens knives pushing his cart in the back alley. Everyone who is a good cook gives him a few bucks, a bit of talk and you get a razor sharp edge in return. The kitchen has a nice southern exposure in the morning, by the way.

You can head off to wander around the neighborhood and come back in an hour or so. I've directing you east to Lincoln Park and you should see the
Lincoln Park Conservatory. It's a wonderful relaxing place.

After you get back you call. I stop by and you ask me to take you to "anywhere as long it's "Chicago"". We jump in the cab and head downtown. Just this side of the river,a few blocks west of the Tribune and old Sun Times building, in a small two story building, at
 29 E. Ohio  is Uno's, the best deep dish pizza in the city. (Why? Cause I say so, is why). I drop you off and you get in the line for 30 minutes or so... 

You txt me after you are done, and I pick you up. You're tired, flying is tough, but before I take you home we drive up past Wrigley Field (you just get a quick peak as we speed by, on purpose), to 
4545 Lincoln to see Don Stiernberg the master of jazz mandolin at the Old Town School of Folk Music.   It's a bit out of the way, but what the hell. You won't get a chance to see Don if you don't do it now, he's going to be camped at Wrigley for the duration. 

After that, it's time for bed, so I take you back home to get some rest. Tomorrow is another day. Lots more to see and do before game time. 

Txt me when you get up and we'll head out for more of my town.

12:00 AM

Dear West Side Al,

I've texted you twice now, but no response. I tried to sleep, gave up and got up, and now would like to go bar-hopping in Chitown. It should be good for that, right? If you're down for the day and out of ideers, one place I'd like to go for sure is Buddy Guy's Blues Night Club. You know that place? Sounds like it would be way cool. As for the rest of this week--or, leading up to Friday, when the friggin' World Series comes to Wrigley (about fuggin' time)--I know I want to visit the Chicago Art Institute and take one of those boat tours on the Chicago River and--oh yeah--have a cocktail on the 105th floor of that one high rise, is it the Columbia Tower or what? I'm from Podunk, Iowa, by way of the village of West-of-Here in Washington State, and way up for seeing all the Chitown sights. Is there another way to reach rather that texting...?

12:30 AM Tuesday

So I drove over at midnight (I'm staying with a friend, since I don't like to force myself on my AirBnB guests) and picked up Crankcase Clem at his insistence.  He couldn't sleep apparently. Indigestion from the Uno's pizza and wine. Handed him some of my GasX. That settled him down fast. 

We headed west over to Halsted to the
Chicago B.L.U.E.S club, which is nearby, but it's closed until Wednesday. We'll come back then. Almost next door is Kingston Mines, which has been around about as long as I have. I used to go there in the late 60s, or was it the early 70s. No matter. My mind mixes up all the good times. 

When I was young and driving, I learned a great trick. I'd find out where the blues guys were playing, and drive my cab up to the club during the last set. I'd try and time it just so the band was starting, and I'd pull into the usual cab stand in front of the club, and lock my door. I'd go up to the bouncer, explain that I was going to wait for a fare and slip him a $10. After the show, I'd be sitting pretty and get a fare right away. That way I saw
Willie Dixon, Albert King, and many others. Dixon was one "big" man, and Albert was as good a showman as ever existed. Our blues jam bands would try to imitate King's "Crosscut Saw", one of my favorite blues of all. Saw Luther Allison and Jimmy "Fast Fingers" Dawkins. Dawkins was called that because he played tricks with his pick, would make it disappear and reappear again. Also got to see  Mr. Pinetop Perkins  one of the greatest piano players of all in his prime. I personally love  Otis Spann who was with Muddy through most of his greatest recordings. My favorite of Spann's was The Great Northern Stomp  

Back in 1968 when I was 15, we heard that Muddy Water's famous harmonica player, Little Walter had been killed. Word had it that there was going to be 'wake' for him on the north side. My friend Brad and I didn't have the money, but we immediately set out and hitchhiked 16 miles through the crazy west side of Chicago. When we were picked up by folks and they heard we were heading to his wake, they took us as far as they could. We arrived and managed to get in. Big Mama Thornton and  Koko Taylor  there, as was everyone who was anyone in the Chicago Blues scene. Want to know why? Have a taste of
Liltte Walter, the greatest harmonica player of all time. 

We're not going to hit Buddy Guy's Legends tonight because it's downtown on the south side of the Loop, and we have a lot of variety right close to the apartment. We're just west about a dozen blocks and I have to be careful that the "Lincoln Park Pirates" don't get me. They are legendary for towing cars away, and they cruise the streets looking for unsuspecting fools from the burbs.  Lincoln towing was immortalized by Steve Goodman's song, "The Lincoln Park Pirates" Wikipedia summed it up pretty well, "In 1992, the firm, then headed by Steve Mash, was charged with possession of stolen vehicles after detectives witnessed the company's employees tow a car and the next day witnessed employees strip the car and transfer the materials to a scrap metal recycling company. The company and Mash were acquitted of the charges." You can read the whole sordid tale while I drive, just point your phone at 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Towing_Service. Or listen to Goodman's immortal classic.

Once we are done at either BLUES or the Mines, we'll swing down to
Blue Chicago. Some other night we might try out the California Clipper a little to the west of us. House of Blues, also a little ways off, isn't open late on Mondays. 

We managed to see some great blues tonight, and Clem told me to add a few folks from back home to the sordid tales of Chicago. 

And of course, where would be without Muddy Waters. Met him once. Saw him a bunch. I'll punch in his recording on the 8track, sit back and chill, Clem. It's way past midnight, and we're just cruisin' the near north side. 

See ya in the hay hem. Be sure to check out the links. Lots of good music in them. 

West Side Al 

8AM Wednesday

So we are up early after such a late night. Or at least I am. I’ve got my morning joe, which I cook over the gas stove in my Bialetti espresso maker. A splash of milk and I feel like I’m back in Milan.  I brought it back from Italy when my first wife, Chris and I came back from seeing her relatives in Northern Italy on our honeymoon. That was in 74. Chris was great. Her grandmother was from the old country, couldn’t speak a dime of English other than “hello!” which she used on me every time I came in the door. She had a big family, and I fit right in with the loud yelling table of aunts, uncles and kids. Her dad nearly decked me when we walked in and told him we were getting married. But the Italians are like Jews, we are all mouth and not much muscle. Pretty soon he brought out the gallon jug of Mondavi and we were laughing and telling stories. But he was right, I was no good. 

While Crankcase Clem from Davenport is washing up, I scan the Trib for the days action. It looks like Kyle Schwarber is going to be back in the Cubs’ roster. Can ya beat that? The kid tore his ACL and LCL  in April, has been sidelined ever since because of the surgery and is going to come back into the Series! He’s there because he, like Babe Ruth, can hit homers. Last year, after coming out of Indiana U and being a first round draft pick for the Cubs, (who are paying him a cool 550k a year!) he had 273 plate appearances. He had 16 homers and 43 Ribbies. His on base percentage was an impressive .842. But the Cubs got to the Series without him. They are going to have to take someone from a spectacular team off the roster to add him. Who would it be? And if he re-injures the knee he could be finished forever. It’s high drama of the baseball variety. 

Clem is ready for eats, and we head to the only place that makes sense,
Toast. It’s just a few blocks west of here. It’s an easy walk. We go down to the corner, where we cross Lincoln and head west on Webster. Oz park is to our south, where I broke my finger playing softball. Chicago is famous for a special type of softball, the 16”. No mitt is needed, which is how you can break your finger if you aren’t careful. It’s only played in a few places, and Chicago is the center of the world for it. You can get a view of how it’s played on this video.

Toast is famous for their pancake and waffle “orgies". It’s a pile of pancakes with granola, yogurt and fresh fruit piled high. You can get the usual scrambles too if ya want. And a gallon of coffee. 

Once we are through with Toast, it’s off to the races. There’s only one way to see Chicago right, and that’s a tour on the El. We walk a half block to Halsted, turn north to the six way intersection of Lincoln, Halsted and Fullerton, and left on Fullerton over to the El. We climb the stairs and jump on the Southbound train to the Loop. As we circle the Loop we cross the Chicago River, which flows backwards because the city founders needed to get the sewage out of town and not into their drinking water of Lake Michigan. So they engineered a reversal of the river and now it flows to the Mississippi River. After making the Loop we transfer to the Green line heading South. Some of the El lines run on the Freeway, but this one runs South along the Lake. There are paid tours you can take using the El, some on Chicago architecture, which is great. 

We get off at 59th st at the stop for the University of Chicago, the elite school of economics and other high brow stuff. But we are here just to see the city and turn around. We jump on the North bound train and get off a few stops up at the 11th st. stop, 
for the Field Museum  It’s 9 and it’s just opened, so we take a speed tour of this amazing place with the dinosaur skeletons.

After we get done, we’ll skip the Planetarium and the Aquarium, which are both great in their own rights. But we jump back on the El and go back to the Loop, getting off at Adams/Wabash and walking 
east to the Art Institute.  It is the Louvre of Chicago 
We are super lucky to be able to see the current exhibit of "Humanism + Dynamite = 
The Soviet Photomontages of Aleksandr Zhitomirsky” His incredible Soviet propaganda is a joy to see as the Soviet point of view of our culture in the 50s and 60s. In addition to this exhibit, we take a look at Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Georgia O’Keefe’s incredible Black Cross New Mexico and her massive wall art, Sky Above Clouds IV,  along with Thomas Hart Benton’s Cotton Pickers. Another great exhibit here today is the first retrospective in the US in 50 years of the cross discipline artist Moholy-Nagy, "A Glimpse of "Moholy-Nagy: Future Present”. Take a look at this 3 minute video on the exhibit and him and you’ll see why I’ve loved his work since art school. 

By the time we’ve got through the Art Institute, it’s time for lunch. There is only one place in the Loop that really is “old Chicago” and that’s th
e basement cafe of Bergoffs. It’s cafeteria style but man the food! There’s an express lunch sandwich stand and pick up a corned beef sandwich with chips and pickle. And they brew their own beer! The best! Take a 360 look at the inside of this Chicago landmark 

Well. We’re beat from walking and full from beer and beef. A good way to get some relaxation is to see the city by boat. We jump on the Chicago Line Cruises to see an architectural tour of the city. By the end of that we head back to the apartment to relax. I need to pick up my Uber, too.

Tuesday PM

We went out to watch the game and have dinner. I decided to take us to a typical Chicago sports bar, next to Wrigley Field.
Sports Corner Bar & Grill is just off the El stop and across the street from Wrigley. We had an Italian Beef (a Chicago favorite) and watched the game, but needed better beer and left to find it during the 3rd inning.

We wandered around the corner onto N. Clark and went into
Merkle's . They have a huge beer selection, both on tap and in bottles. We had one beer each, then started a pub crawl, hitting The Deuces and Diamonds, The Bar Celona, The Roadhouse Gas and Grill, and the Country Club. Needless to say, by the 9th inning, we were both ready to go. A sad crowd. But Hey! The Cubs are a streaky team, some days not hitting, some days breaking out. Today will be important to win. Did you miss the game? Here's a recap. Or if you like to read, the New Yorker had a good overview with history of the teams by Ian Crouch.

we jumped the Addison El and went back to my place to pickup the Uber. Clem was still talking about Buddy Guy so we headed downtown to hear some music. I dropped Clem off at the Buddy Guy's Blues Night Club, in the south Loop, as he wanted. He got to see Nigel Mack, Want a taste? Here you go. Video of Nigel from Buddy's stage.

Clem txted me at 1 and I swung by and picked him up, but he was definitely ready for bed, after having drunk more beers than he should have. I paced myself, since I had to do a few drives while he was at the club.

Ah well, dropped him off, and headed over to Megan's for a nightcap. Not a bar, a place. And you're not invited. Night All!

Wednesday AM

Breakfast today up Lincoln at
Batter and Berries. It's the best pancake house you've ever eaten at. If you are so inclined you can get a Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potato Waffle. No kidding!

We walk and talk. "Why are the Cubs in the World Series now?" Clem wants to know. It's easy. One word. Epstein.

This story in EPSN last summer says all you need to know about the genius who put together the team in Boston that led to the world series, and left that role to take on the Cubs challenge. A brilliant, driven forty something, that has assembled the brains to help the braun of the players get there. He has been building the team since 2012. Hey! You don't need me to tell you all this. Take few minutes over coffee and read it yourself!
Just click here!

Wednesday Afternoon/Evening

Well what do you know? The Cubs bats come alive in game two. We knew they would at some point. And now we get the Road to Wrigley for the Indians. It's not as easy as some might have thought last night.

After breakfast this morning, I took Clem down to his last unfulfilled wish,
to the Skydeck on the old Sears (now Willis) tower. The see through floors are enough to turn your stomach. It took us until about noon before we were through, so we headed over to Manny's for a real Jewish deli lunch. There are only a few places in America to get this kind of authentic Jewish Deli food and this is one of them. The Corned Beef or Pastrami is to die for. Here's a photo of the corned beef and pastrami sandwich with a side of potato pancakes.

We needed to digest all this food so went back to the apartment, and walked ourselves through Lincoln Park for an hour, over to the lake. With that out of the way, we headed north to see a few of the neighborhoods that make this place great.

We went north on Lincoln, to the Roscoe Village area where we stopped at the
Chicago Music Exchange. Largest collection of musical instruments in the city. Not only do they have electric, but a complete set of acoustic too. I picked up some strings.

Thinking that I'm maybe having Clem miss some great out of the way spots, we swing south to Belmont, then west to Damien. We cross the river, duck under the freeway into Bucktown and then into Wicker Park. It's really for my sake, as my first wife and I had an opportunity to buy a brownstone here in 75. The place looked like a bombed out vision of hell from WWII. But here's the secret that Wicker Park held: It was where all the middle class and upper middle class workers of Oscar Meyer meats lived in the early 1900s. The interior of these buildings were finished by the finest German craftsmen, and if you found a building that wasn't remodeled in the 40s by some idiot, you were likely to find a gem of American architecture. We could have really fixed it up nice, but it was just too dangerous for my wife to want to come home in the dark then. It soon got gentrified and
now take a look at some of the great buildings in this great neighborhood! We wander into the remodeled gem of Walgreen's flagship store, a remodeled old bank. Amazing.

Monday October 31st.

I'm sitting here just amazed to think that I'm sitting here. The Cubs won when they had to, last night. But then again, why should that surprise us? We were crushed Saturday, to have fallen behind Cleveland. Last night was win or go home. And they won. It was a spectacular pitchers dual, with not many hits, some bad errors, but hey, let me give you a pro's point of view.

Someone told me I had to read Roger Angell's column in the online version of the New Yorker. Now, I'm not usually one to read a magazine about a town I have no interest in going to, I hate the Yankees! But I grabbed my old 1998 Dell laptop, the one I plug into my cigarette lighter, and fire up Windows 98.

I've read all of Angell's books. "The Summer Game" ,"Five Seasons," "A Pitcher's Story", "Once More Around the Park" "Late Innings" "Game Time". "A Baseball Century". So I find a slot for the Uber in a park, waiting for a ping, and start reading.

"Yes. The Cubs won, 3–2, avoiding extinction, and there will be more baseball. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for letting it happen, all you Cubs down there—Kris Bryant, David Ross, Jon Lester, Aroldis Chapman, etc. And back there—Ernie Banks, Hank Sauer, Charlie Grimm. And thanks to all you Indians present and past—Rajai Davis, Andrew Miller, CoCo Crisp, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Earl Averill, Nap Lajoie. The Cubs, trailing three games to one in this Series, were facing winter, but now will have a day off and a sixth game, and maybe even a glorious seventh. Baseball does this for us again and again, extending its pleasures fractionally before it glimmers and goes, but, let’s face it, this time a happy prolonging has less to do with baseball than ever before. This particular October handful has served to take our minds off a squalid and nearly endless and embarrassing election—three hours of floodlit opium or fentanyl that can almost erase all thoughts of Donald Trump’s angry slurs or Hillary Clinton’s long travails. If I could do it, I would make this World Series a best eight out of fifteen."

Read the rest at the New Yorker web site.

Last night, the whole town was on fire. Alive. Happy. Tonight it's anticipation of the next binge. Everyone was everyone's friend in this city of big shoulders. Someone bought everyone a round in
the Field House where Clem and I watched the game. Then someone else did the same.

Tomorrow, the town will stop when the Cubs come to bat in Cleveland. While they won't be back for another game this year, we all were singing, "
Go Cubs Go" along with the TV last night. It was a grand finale for the year. We hope they win, but they have already given us the best year of baseball in 100.

You say you never heard Steve Goodman's song, "Go Cubs Go?" It was written for WGN in 1984. Goodman was the singer songwriter who wrote, "The City of New Orleans" folk song. He was a city treasure and died of leukemia in September 1984. Go Cubs Go was his eternal gift to the Cubs, and the North Side of Chicago.

Go, Cubs, Go by Steve Goodman
Baseball season’s underway
Well you better get ready for a brand new day.
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.
They’re singing:
Go, Cubs, go Go, Cubs, go
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.

They got the power, they got the speed
To be the best in the National League Well this is the year and Cubs are real So come on down to Wrigley Field
We’re singing now:
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go Hey, Chicago, what do you say The Cubs are gonna win today.
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go Hey, Chicago, what do you say The Cubs are gonna win today.

Baseball time is here again
You can catch it all on WGN So stamp you feet and clap your hands Chicago Cubs got the greatest fans.
You’re singing now:
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go Hey, Chicago, what do you say The Cubs are gonna win today.
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go Hey, Chicago, what do you say The Cubs are gonna win today.

Tuesday Night 11/1
Wow! What an amazing game! Back to the friendly confines of the Field House for us to watch on TV. The Cubs dominated from the first inning, and took advantage of fielding miscues by the Indians. Then went on to slam the door with a grand salami.We live to play again tomorrow. In what should be a most thrilling last game of the season. We want em to win, but either way, they've given us a great season not be forgotten. On to one last win in Cleveland!

Wednesday Night 11/2
I don't even know where to begin. Let's start from the top down. One of the greatest baseball playoffs of all time. Period. Why? Because of the how long both teams have waited, and how evenly matched they were going in. And you saw it. The ending was as thrilling as it gets. A lead taken early. A lead blown late. Rain delay! Tied score means extra innings! Not since 1979 has a team come from three games down to win the World Series, we are reminded by the stats obsessed Fox announcers. So what? This is now. That was then. Great pitchers like Chapman struggling with his control. The trade of the mid-season for Montgomery from the Ms coming in to close it out, as an ex-Mariner pitcher, Chris Bosio, looks on in the dugout. You can't script this kind of thing. By the end, we are hoarse, spent and drunk. Jumping up and down in the streets of Chicago. If you didn't get a chance to watch it,
here's the inning by inning about on the New York Times. And even they said it.

On Wednesday night the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in a Game 7 for the ages. With that victory — yes, the following words are really true — the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.