Sinatra’s kind of town actually.
Where cops clip electrodes
to strangers in the night, and
let ’em sing in the summer wind…
but I digress
It all started when I rode
the rails outta town…
Along its eastward journey to Minnesota,
Amtrak’s Empire Builder cuts through
the rugged Northern Rockies,
glacial lakes and Dakota prairies.
Luckily, the train
rumbles into St. Paul’s station
at a civilized hour.
Bound for Chicago,
I was looking forward
to vegging out on the train.
It’s the one place you’re forced to relax…
and where staring at passing Americana
is not only encouraged,
but becomes a meditation.
Between Minnesota and Wisconsin,
the train skirts the southern route
of the mighty Mississippi.
When walking on the train,
it’s best not to linger between train cars,
lest the lurching catapults you off your feet.
Walking between the connecting cars
is a hilariously jarring experience.
The sliders jolt and throw you up like a pancake.
* * *
Over the loudspeaker
the conductor announced:
“Children should be supervised.
There is no running, screaming
or wreaking havoc on this train.”
To this buzz kill, she added a cryptic challenge,
“And there is no smoking anything on this train.”
Like rough rubies, weathered barns stud the plains
“Children of the Corn”
that’s what we are.
And Soylent Green,
is that what we’re becoming?
What’s with all the Soy anyway?
Why do farmers get so fixated on one crop
to the mutual exclusion of all others
and eschew the ecologically-sound
policies of crop rotation?
And why must this innocent (soy)bean
carry with it so much disconcerting
and often unwelcome stimulation of
naturally produced hormones?
And why do I always dwell on or judge stuff
I either don’t fully understand
or can’t control anyway.
I did switch to almond and occasionally hemp milk.
Both of which are delicious and so far
have not produced excess chest hair or ‘roid rage.
In Chicago’s bustling Union Station,
a veritable stampede as city folk headed for home.
I was due to hook up with H,
whose secret on-site job-training classes
had finally concluded.
The plan was to crash for the
weekend with bon vivant Kathy.
She who is single-handedly
renovating her home, and
painstakingly lathing her own walls
with the care of an urban Michelangelo.
And, we would soon discover,
without regard for any
rest, play or recuperation.
Kathy’s beautiful smile
and welcoming eyes turned out
to hold a warning or two…
Specifically a warning about her
ferocious French bulldogs.
But before our encounter with the raging bulls…
And while Kathy finished her late shift,
H and I bussed it to Steppenwolf Theatre,
to catch “The March.”
General William Tecumseh Sherman
“Uncle Billy” to his men,
figured prominently in the play.
With a new kind of slash and burn
he was committed to quickly ending
the bloodiest American wa-ah to date.
It was little publicized that
Sherman extended a communal cracker.
“But, my dear sirs, when peace does come,
you may call on me for any thing.
Then will I share with you the last cracker,
and watch with you to shield your homes
and families against danger from every quarter.
Now you must go…..until the mad passions of men
cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more
to settle over your old homes in Atlanta. Yours in haste,”
– W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding
The play had an over-the-top,
Gone-With-The-Wind sensibility about it.
Back at the station, Kathy was all,
“Where the heck have you guys been?”
While H’s response was all,
“Didn’t think we could squeeze a play in there, didja?”
After her late night at the station,
(it was fun watching Station Manager Kathy in action)
she loaded us into her convertible
and whisked us to her brownstone castle.
Where feisty Frannie
with her agate-lined nose…
…and fiery Frankie with her
Darth Vader breathing,
lay in wait…
* * *
Before we arrived,
Kathy had instructed us,
“Don’t look at ’em,
don’t pay any attention to them.
They go absolutely insane,
but she’ll be in a cage.”
“I just want you to know,” she added,
waiving any potential future litigation,
“they will bite you.”
The holy terrors in question.
When we entered the dwelling,
rabid, mad barking ensued
but the expected assault didn’t.
Unless you count their feverish vying for attention…
Or were the two diabolical fiends just biding their time?
* * *
No murderous events took place that night
cause H and I awoke with limbs intact.
Of course, the pups had been
barricaded in K’s bedroom all night…
Exhibit 1: Note the maniacal peepers,
Chesire-cat grin, yet unexpected heart-shaped tongue,
a subtle clue as to this pooch’s inner psyche.
* * *
The next day Kathy drove us
to her “country home” in rural Indiana.
Along the route, we sailed past a
big farm with little Christmas trees.
K’s country home in Winimac
is caretaken by some rural loving peeps.
Sidestepping random nature.
K clued us in on bloodsucking ticks
who like to lurk under leaf bottoms
and hitch a ride on your person.
Rough-living Goldie greeted us.
She’s a squatter in the area,
sporting multiple burrs
and a feral friendliness.
Kathy was torn about leaving
the little burr-patch behind.
Wish I could take her, she pined.
Frankie and Frannie need a playmate!
Okay, she didn’t mention that last part.
But she did lead us to the field
where her horses used to graze.
“Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara,
that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing
in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for,
because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
One morning, we indulged in a big breakfast
at the Golden Nugget Pancake House.
Kathy’s devil-may-care eating habits
include assuaging a ravenous sweet tooth.
She seriously loves her some sugar….
That morning, she ordered a hot chocolate
which came with a side of chocolate chip cookie…
That was just for starters.
* * *
That weekend we visited
Division Street’s Art Fair…
with its scents and sights
and clashes of pattern
* * *
Next up, the East Side Millennium Art Fest,
where K took on daunting downtown traffic.
“Ze rain in Spain falls mainly on ze plain.”
Pop Art Pointillism
Street chess looked fun
Lichtenstein was at the Art Museum
I get to be carried.
This painting represents the dark side of rabbits,
like those who’ve annexed our backyard,
bitten off the heads of flowers,
ravaged all produce in our sad little garden,
and just generally pissed us off.
“What?” I frowned. “‘Vop chee chee’??”
At first, I missed the Che icon’s role
in pronouncing this zesty sandwich.
Proving I’m either a kinesthetic learner
or just a poor observer.
Either way, the Hunt for Festival Fare was on.
Silence of the kebabs
The lure of the sea glass
The mysterious Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
Caught spying on sweets
Before seeing the play,
“My Kind of Town”
we stopped for sushi.
After viewing the controversial play
about the Chicago Police torture scandal,
we were verklempt over all of its remarkable features.
Frank would’ve loved it.
“‘My Kind of Town,” … with the titular nod to Frank Sinatra,
was an electric visceral chop to the senses…
This true tale is excellently acted, chilling in execution.
The story descends into the basement
of Area 2 police headquarters, where confessions are extracted
with the help of an electronic device manufactured right in
Chicago, …one that could be attached to the genitals
of suspects, all the better to make them sing like Sinatra
about what they may or may not have done.
What a suspenseful, moving production.
Kudos to cast and crew and set peoples.
* * *
Speaking of suspense…
Taking the Frenchies out for a walk…
Double rays of sunshine
Occasional circus tumblers
Sporadic Cirque de Soleil’ers
Often deceptively charming on a walk,
Frankie’s sudden rage at any pooch
that crosses her path can be traced to
a near-deadly attack from her past.
“You’re not posting this pic on yer blog, are ya?”
Having survived a near mauling,
Frankie behaves with a defensive instinct
that thankfully doesn’t affect her day-to-day interactions
with family and close friends (much).
Although she looks formidable here,
Frankie’s actually trying to prop up her sleepy head.
While H boned up on Soldier Dogs,
Frankie was guarding the perimeter.
Thanks to H and Frankie’s remarkable
symbiotic orchestral snores,
I was able to successfully record
their exciting and spontaneous duets
on my trusty cell phone.
Thank God for technology!
(Call me for a video preview)
* * *
H and K pose with Terry,
K’s enigmatic roommate.
* * *
Departing on the train was bittersweet.
We didn’t want to leave Kathy,
our hostess with the mostest,
or her charming French au pairs.
Au pair of terrors.
But it had to be done.
Bills had to be paid.
Work places expected attendance.
Funny that way.
* * *
On the return trip…
H was recklessly touting up the train’s dinner menu.
All who enter here abandon hope
Complimentary Brut was distributed
to the sleeper car peeps.
That was nice, but as for dinner on the train,
Even Paul couldn’t zazz up that salad.
H opted for the Maryland crab special.
“Not bad,” she whispered,
in deference to the strangers
sitting across from us.
Having chosen the “Healthy menu item,”
I looked at my boiled tilapia with lentils
and neutered baby carrots.
“Prison-inspired,” I whispered back.
* * *
Amtrak has a kinda funny, kinda risky
policy of planting strangers together
in their rollicking dining cars.
It’s part of the thrill of eating on the train.
On the other hand, sometimes
you just don’t feel like engaging with a stranger.
Puppy in the sky with diamonds
Sunset on the Mississippi
* * *
for the funnest time,
your Indy-driving skills,
your charismatic canines,
and sharing your busy self.