“The Windy City” comes by its name honestly. By the time Max and I left Chicago on Sunday afternoon, the temperature was about three degrees, but the wind chill was well below that. Fortunately, I had taken my big coat to keep me warm, and Max had taken his stocking cap; his head was more at risk than mine because he had to walk about a block to get the car in that frigid temperature. We had parked at that garage because the charge was $30 per day while our hotel’s parking cost was $67 per day. Regardless of the outrageous parking, that hotel, the Blackstone, was a lovely piece of Chicago history, including a hidey-hole for Al Capone’s Prohibition liquor!
Max and I had gone to Chicago with six of my William Jewell friends to see Terry Teachout’s play, Satchmo at the Waldorf. Max and I had seen the play in Beverly Hills last summer, but Terry was going to be in Chicago for opening night, and we decided that it would be worth the trip to get to talk to him.
I got the tickets for the group, and then another friend told us that she knows the concierge at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue. We got in touch with her, and she arranged for us to all stay on the 19th floor, overlooking, depending on which side of the hotel the room was on, either the City, or Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Max and I drove, but the rest of the group, one from Springfield, two from Austin, Texas, and three from Kansas City, flew in. The earliest arrivals scored a tour from Shannon, the concierge, who shared the hotel’s story with them.
Twelve presidents have stayed at that hotel, including John F. Kennedy, who didn’t stay very long; while he was there, he found out about the Cuban missile crisis. A barber shop on the lowest level has a secret hatch leading to a hidey-hole for Al Capone’s Templeton Rye during Prohibition – and a hidey-hole for Al Capone himself when Chicago’s finest were out looking for him. Movie stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Lena Horne stayed at the hotel, which opened in 1910; Enrico Caruso was honored at the hotel’s opening gala. And speaking of movies, several have been filmed at the Blackstone: The Untouchables, The Color of Money, Only the Lonely, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. I would have liked to have been around for The Color of Money because Paul Newman was there. I would have liked to have been anywhere Paul Newman was.
After we all arrived on Friday, we ate dinner at Seven Lions, which is about five blocks from the hotel. It was fun to sit around and reminisce about the old days – which are, by now, about 40 years old. How is it possible that we graduated so long ago!? The food was good, but Max and I had brought munchies and wine, so we all had enjoyed a little cocktail party in our room before our 8:15 dinner reservation, so we were pretty full – of food. There’s always room for more wine!
We did get to meet up with Terry on Saturday over lunch. It was so good to see him and to hear how the play came about. He had first written the book Pops, and someone he didn’t know sent him an e-mail saying that the book was good and that a play dwelled somewhere in the pages. After a little research, Terry found out that the unknown encourager was a theater producer. Terry figured that guy knew what he was talking about, and so over a period of four days, the first draft of Satchmo came into being. From there, things fell into place quite nicely.
It was, while not like old times, lots of fun to eat barbecue (The Pork Chop) and drink Bloody Marys and talk about what’s been happening since 1976.
Then we saw the final Chiefs game of the season at Jimmy Green’s, a sports bar around the corner from the hotel, and finally, the pièce de résistance, Satchmo at the Waldorf. It was kind of cool to walk in and know the playwright! And then, after the play, we met the star of the show, Barry Shebaka Henley; that was pretty cool, as well. He was sort of nonplussed that we had come to see Terry first and him second.
All in all, our trip to Chicago was a nice little break in the day-to-day living of life. The next time we take that trip north, however, I hope the temperature is more than three degrees.