Fading Ad: J.S. Patterson Body Shop


J.S. Patterson Body Shop, formerly located at 3611 S. Archer Avenue in Chicago. The building is still car-related, but now houses Monte-Jalisco Auto Repair, which gives an indication of McKinley Park’s changing demographics. The age of the ad is suggested by the phone number lacking an area code - until 1989, the entire Chicago area had the area code 312, so the area code was rarely referenced. 

January 13, 2019 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Archer Avenue Tour

Last week I had a bachelor weekend (Julie and Maddie were away, at our city place), and my big thing to do for fun was to...drive the entire length of Archer Avenue, from Lockport to Chicago. (Yes, I’m quite the wild one.) My daily train runs generally parallel to Archer, so I've seen bits and pieces of the street here and there, but never the entire distance. So I hopped in the car on Saturday afternoon, with a bottle of water, an Epic bar and a couple of old CDs (Chris Mars, Treat Her Right) and set out.

Archer is one of the major southwestern arteries of the Chicago area, which starts just north of downtown Lockport, winds through the towns of Lockport, Lemont, Willow Springs, Justice and Summit (just edging Bedford Park) and the Southwest Side of Chicago, where it ends at 19th and State, in the South Loop. Archer follows the path of an ancient Native American trail (which paralleled the Chicago and Des Plaines Rivers), and was originally built as a supply road for the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was headquartered in Lockport.

Naturally, I stopped and took photos along the way.



St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Church, in Lemont. St. James was built in 1833 to serve Irish diggers of the canal, many of whom are buried in the quaint churchyard. The church stands on a bluff above the canal and the Des Plaines River, on a highland that in prehistoric times was an island - in fact, the area is formally called Mount Forest Island. Driving up the short road between Archer and the church feels like stepping back in time.



Pleasanty creepy, Addams-esque (or Munster-esque, if you prefer) Victorian house in Willow Springs. I've seen online mentions of this house being haunted. Ghosts might be the only thing living there - it looks abandoned. The house isn't actually on Archer, but is visible from the street, on the bluff just a block up Charleton Street.



The main gate of Resurrection Cemetery, in Justice. Resurrection is one of the largest cemeteries in North America, with 540 acres and over 152,000 graves. The cemetery is infamous for being the purported resting place of Resurrection Mary, whose ghost supposedly haunts Archer Avenue.



Administration building of the former Argo corn starch factory, in Summit. These relief sculptures depict the history of corn, from its first planting and harvesting by Native Americans to the laboratory explorations of scientists. The factory is one of the largest corn processing plants in the world, and is so prominent that the town is often known as Summit-Argo in its honor. This building is now occupied by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. 



36th and Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. This house, the setting of my story "Valentino’s Return" in Where the Marshland Came to Flower, is incongruously wedged between an auto repair shop and a CTA bus lot, on a very commercial stretch of Archer. I see the house from my daily train to the city, and am always struck by how out of place it looks. Thinking of the sort of people who would live in a house like this eventually lead me to my story.



Huck Finn Donuts, 3414 S. Archer, McKinley Park, Chicago. I've always been curious about the name - I don't remember any specific references to doughnuts in Huckleberry Finn, or from Mark Twain in general. Yes, I stopped for a doughnut, to fortify myself for the long drive home - tasty, good but not spectacular.



R.V. Kunka Pharmacy, 2899 S. Archer, Bridgeport, Chicago. Sadly, it's no longer in business - I would have loved to stop in for a chocolate malt. I hope that wonderful storefront is retained by the next owner.



Hilliard Towers Apartments (formerly Raymond Hilliard Homes), seen from Cullerton Street near Archer. Designed by the incomparable Bertrand Goldberg (best known for Marina City) and built in 1966 as a CHA public housing project, the complex was redeveloped in the early 2000s as a mixed-income development - middle-class, low-income and seniors. Hilliard is bounded by Cermak Road, Clark Street, Archer, Cullerton and State Street, and even though it is only briefly bordered by Archer, it bears a commanding presence over the street. Archer ends just two blocks east, at State, where I turned around and headed for home.

January 13, 2019 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


“Sightings of butt-naked emperors are now no longer newsworthy.” - Gary Younge

January 11, 2019 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

“Northwood was to London as London was to Europe."

Julian Barnes writes of his childhood, and how the old Blackfriars train station taught him that London wasn't the center of the world, but merely a departure point.

January 9, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Books given, books received

If my family ever decides (or finally tells me what they’ve felt all along) that they don’t like books, everyone will get cash for Christmas. But, for now...

Books Given

For my Vonnegut-loving wife, who already owns all of his prose: Kurt Vonnegut, Drawings

For my religious, bibliophile mom: Scott Esplin: Return to the City of Joseph; Shaun Bythell: The Diary of a Bookseller

For my hipster-ish, Midwest-proud niece: Paul Dickson, Contraband Cocktails; Edward McClelland, Folktales and Legends of the Middle West

For my hipster-ish, eloquent niece-in-law: Mark Meyer and Meredith Meyer Grelli, The Whiskey Rebellion; Rosemarie Ostler, Splendiferous Speech

For my offbeat, outdoorsy nephew: Ryan Schnurr, In the Watershed; Christopher Boucher, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror

For my island-loving, outdoorsy niece-in-law: Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (#2 on my year-end list); Helene Glidden, The Light on the Island; Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (#1 on my year-end list)

For my music-major sister: Andrew Talle, Beyond Bach

For my engineer brother-in-law: Dan Egan, Life and Death of the Great Lakes

For my feminist niece: Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (#6 on my year-end list)

For my mom’s gentleman friend: Steve Lehto, Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow

For my sports-addicted sister: David Rapp, Tinker to Evers to Chance

Books Received

Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Simon van Booy, The Illusion of Separateness
Benjamin Franklin, Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School

January 7, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


“What have I in common with the Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself.” - Franz Kafka

January 6, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Good Reading 2018

Another interesting year of reading. Here's my list - as always, it's books that I read this year, not books that were published this year.

1. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
2. Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (Review)
3. Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl (Review)
4. Pearl Swiggum, Stump Ridge Farm/Barn Came First (Review)
5. Eudora Welty, The Golden Apples (Review)
6. Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (Review)
7. Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Review)
8. Eudora Welty, A Curtain of Green and Other Stories
9. Katherine A. Solomonson, The Chicago Tribune Tower Competition (Review)
10. Megan Stielstra, Once I Was Cool (Review)

Honorable Mentions: Val Mulkerns, Very Like A Whale; Edna O'Brien, The Little Red Chairs; Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness; Ursula Le Guin, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters; Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead; Maeve Brennan, The Springs of Affection; Kate Chopin, At Fault

Rereadings: Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking

+ This year was devoted to reading nothing but female writers. (With a caveat: I didn't think of the concept until mid-January, after I had read two books, one written by a male, and another edited by a male. Though the latter, an essay collection, did include numerous female writers.) Which opened my eyes to a broader range of perspectives than I would otherwise experience.
+ The other big theme was my Summer of Welty - nothing but Eudora Welty short stories - that was greatly rewarding. In fact, this entire year could have been called The Year of Welty; besides the two books listed here, I also read the story collections The Bride of the Innisfallen and Thirteen Stories, the memoir One Writer's Beginnings, and the novella Delta Wedding.
+ Rebecca was one of the creepiest books I've read in a long time, which is all the more remarkable given that it wasn't really written as horror.
+ The Country of the Pointed Firs was an unexpected delight (thank you, Paul Lamble), sort of cross between Winesburg, Ohio and J.M. Synge's The Aran Islands, but set in coastal Maine. Also delightful were the Pearl Swiggum books (they're effectively one book, but in two slim volumes); Pearl was a small-town Wisconsin newspaper columnist who wrote plainspoken, touching and funny accounts of dairy farming, marriage and everyday life. I wish I had known her.
+ The Diary of a Young Girl was heartbreaking, even though I knew Anne's fate long before reading the book.
+ I read a lot of nonfiction this year, making a conscious effort to divide my reading between fiction (daytime) and nonfiction (right before bed). Swiggum, Solnit, Didion, Stielstra, Atwood and Le Guin were all winners.
+ Only one re-reading this year: Pippi Longstocking, which I borrowed from Maddie. I probably hadn't read the book since the third grade. I went on to read the other two Pippi books, which I might have also read back then, though I don't recall for sure.
+ Goodreads Reading Challenge: goal, 36 books; result, 33 books. I thought three books per month was achievable, but no.

2017 List
2016 List
2015 List
2014 List
2013 List
2012 List
2011 List
2010 List
2009 List
2008 List
2007 List
2006 List
2005 List
2004 List
2003 List

December 29, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)


“It is the foremost American city – vital, wonderful, and always on the move. Chicago is a huge ant hill. Push it a little with your foot, and you stir up a million little creatures, each carrying a grain of sand and scurrying around.  But that’s the point: they’re moving.” - Nathaniel Owings

December 28, 2018 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." - Rumi

Oh, and not governing via Twitter is a good idea, too.

December 26, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Father Tolkien

This sounds delightful: Tolkien’s tales of Father Christmas, which he wrote as letters to his children.

“The number of children who keep up for me seems to be getting smaller. I expect it is because of this horrible war…” He concluded, “I shall have to say ‘goodbye,’ more or less…” but expresses a hope of returning when old friends have “grown up and have houses of their own and children.”

I’m very surprised I hadn’t heard of this until now. I might have to add this to my annual holiday reading list. 

December 24, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)