Sunday, December 18, 2022

My Kind of Town—Chicago, Even in My Dreams

Chicago was always one of my favorite places to visit, a city I travelled to about half a dozen times a year when I covered retailing, the Windy City and its environs being home to some of our most notable merchants including Sears, Montgomery Ward, McDonalds, Crate & Barrel, Marshall Field, Carson Pirie Scott and Walgreens as well as several retail industry trade shows. 

I hadn’t been back since I retired more than 13 years ago. Until I went there in my dreams last night, or more precisely, early in the morning. 

I found myself attending a citizens meeting contesting a problem with city water. It was burning children’s eyes. Always a battle to get kids to wash their faces properly, parents were vocally letting city officials know they did not appreciate the added burden imposed on their efforts. 

They were less than enthusiastic about the solution offered—free bottles with clean water laced with and an anti-stinging solution. Sorta reminded me of the “Look Ma, no tears” ad campaign Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo ran on television when I was a kid back in the 1950s. 

Now, why this imagined civic dilemma invaded my slumber is beyond me. I could easily have reminisced about interviews with retail executives, or some of the great meals I enjoyed in what is considered to be one of America’s best restaurant towns. Or my trips to Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park to watch, respectively, the Cubs and White Sox play. Or maybe I might have meandered in my dream along Michigan Avenue’s Miracle Mile of world class retailing. After all, the Chain Store Age-Lebhar-Friedman office at 444 N. Michigan Avenue was at the southern tip of the retail mecca. 

I’ve always disliked water in my eyes. To this day I keep my eyelids tightly shut while shampooing my hair. In summer camp when learning to swim as a child I wore big, round, green rubber goggles that made me look like a frog. I never learned to swim, even after goggles became more sleek, trim and plastic. 

Every Friday at summer camp the camp “mother” would be a dreaded visitor to our bunk. We weren’t trusted to wash our own hair before shabbat began later that evening. She would squeeze and knead our locks between her strong fingers as we bent over a sink. It wasn’t until a few decades or so ago that I finally realized she was checking us out for head lice. Happily, she never found any among my bunkmates and me. 

Back to my dream. It finally ended in the back seat of a taxi cab. Chicago taxis never impressed me with their cleanliness or comfort. And the one in my dream was true to my experience. Black plastic interior with no padding. No shock absorbers to cushion the impact of the choppy roadway. 

As we chugged slowly along the Kennedy Expressway in bumper to bumper traffic on the way in to the city from O’Hare Airport, I was reminded of the description one cabbie told me about Chicago’s perennial road conditions. 

“Chicago has two seasons,” he said. “Winter and construction.”