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Wednesday
Oct112017

Flying with Faber: Chicago: Cherished Memories & New Adventures 

By Stuart J. Faber

It was called the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad. The short name was the North Shore Line. Every few hours, a train departed from Milwaukee to Chicago. It clickity-clacked south from Milwaukee toward Racine and Kenosha, then through Zion Illinois, Waukegan Great Lakes Naval Station, Highland Park, Evanston, Lake Bluff, North Chicago and into the city. On arrival, the train twisted its way through the Loop (Chicago’s downtown), along the elevated tracks (called The L). There were other stops, the names of which I can’t recall. But I can still hear the conductor announcing each stop with a raucous, song like cry, such as, “WAAL-KEY-GUN, SKOOO-KEY, KEE-NOSH-A, RAAAAY-CINE!

A North Shore Railroad Car. This inter-urban line hummed along from 1916 until the early 1960s when oil executives decided that the U.S. rail system was cannibalizing the gasoline industry. However, the Chicago L continues to operate over 100 miles of tracks from the Loop to points north and south.

From the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, our family took countless trips from Racine, Wisconsin to Chicago. The train was not our only means of transportation. We used airplanes, automobiles, and one time, friends and I skippered a sailboat along Lake Michigan’s waterfront.

Before the advent of the Interstate system, the driving routes were 2-lane highways dotted with numerous villages. We would depart Racine along Highway 32, head south past Kenosha after which we would cross the state line where roadstands popped up selling margarine-a product embargoed in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland.

After about an hour along Sheridan Road, the highway widened, the traffic increased and the buildings grew taller. Sheridan Road merged into Lake Shore Drive-an expansive boulevard with Lake Michigan to the east and majestic, mid-century buildings to the west. Within moments, a huge, bright red neon sign appeared: DRAKE HOTEL.

The Electroliner, a later version.To this day, that iconic sign is the town crier to travelers: “You are approaching the Magnificent Mile!” The “Mag” Mile is a strip of Michigan Avenue that originates near the Drake Hotel and runs south to the Chicago River. Along its route are the Wrigley Building, The Water Tower, Tribune Tower, the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons and the 100-story John Hancock Center.

Throughout the day and night, the neighborhood bustles with locals and tourists.

To me, The Drake was, and still is, the gateway to the Magnificent Mile. This street, about one mile long, holds bundles of memories for our family. Before WWII, as little kids, my sister and I would accompany our parents on sojourns to Chicago. Often we would stay at the Drake, dine at the Cape Cod Room (it’s still there), or thePump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel.

These places were too fancy for me. I always begged to go to the Ontra Cafeteria, a 1200-seat restaurant built in 1919. Right after the war, as a teenager, my buddies and I would gather the 60-cent fare and mount the North Shore Line for a day in Chicago.

An aerial view of the Magnificent Mile. (Courtesy City of Chicago)During the 1980s, my wife, Cheryl and I took our parents back to Chicago. Her father and my mother were born there. My dad attended medical school at Rush Medical College. We would visit the old haunts, often stay at the Drake or stop in at the Cape Cod or the Pump Room. One cold Christmas Eve, The Drake chefs assembled a buffet of turkey, ham, roast beef and all the trimmings. These offerings seemed to flow from one end of the huge ballroom to the other-a memorable feast.

I recall joining my daughter, Dorothy, her hubby, Walter, and their two kids, David and Kimberly in Chicago. Kimber, raised in Wichita, always fancied herself as a big-city girl. As we crossed the Michigan Avenue Bridge and strolled along the Magnificent Mile, she blurted out at the top of her teenage voice, “This Is Me! This Is Me!” She proclaimed herself as a big city girl. Now, flourishing in Dallas as a hotshot marketing and PR entrepreneur, she has lived up to her proclamation.

As a new pilot in the 1950s, the legendary Meigs Field in downtown Chicago was my dream destination. Since I learned to fly off a tower-less grass strip in rural Wisconsin, I was uneasy about flying into the big city. My radio skills and experience landing on hard surface runways at busy airports were limited.

One day, shortly after obtaining my private license, I hopped into a Chicago Skyline (Courtesy City of Chicago)Cessna 150 and took off from Horlick field in Racine and turned south. The distance between Racine and Miegs was only about 40 NM, so on this super-clear day, the field came into view sooner than I had anticipated.

Within minutes, I was approaching what then was then the TRSA; today, Class B Airspace. I called Chicago Approach and announced my VFR intentions. Controllers vectored me to a straight in to Meigs – a path parallel to the shoreline perhaps one-half mile east of where the Hancock Tower now stands. My hand shook as I clutched the wheel. My legs were trembling so much that I could barely operate the rudders. Handed off to the tower, I heard, “Cleared to land.” As the tires emitted that reassuring squeak on the concrete, an aviation dream became a reality.

While attending University of Wisconsin in Madison, friends and I occasionally piled into a Piper Tri-pacer, flew to Meigs, grabbed a taxi to Governor’s, an historic steak house in the meat packing district, gobbled down huge slabs of beef and returned back to the books.

Late one Sunday night, March 30, 2003, Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered crews to bulldoze the runway and close the field. Many aircraft were stranded. The general aviation community and I-never forgave him. During my recent visit, I took a boat ride and glanced at the fallow vestiges of the field – an extremely sad moment.

Back to Racine

Pecan Kringle (O&H Bakery)My son, Brad, who also lives in California, is no stranger to Kewpee’s and Danish kringle. As a kid, he often accompanied me on trips to Wisconsin. So when he heard that I was headed to Chicago with a side trip to Racine, he eagerly came aboard. We arrived in Chicago and headed to the car rental agency. Our mission was to drive north along the old Sheridan Road route to Racine, gobble down a few Kewpee burgers, pick up several kringles, visit some of my childhood haunts and return to the big city by sunset.

What is a kringle? Flat, around 12-inches in diameter, with a huge hole in the middle, it’s a light, flakey, melt-in-your-mouth Danish pastry. I’ve tried kringle in Solvang, California and Copenhagen, Denmark. Just as no pizza equals one from a Naples, Italy pizzeria, a Racine kringle has no equal.

Kewpee’s Hamburgers, Racine. (Brad Faber)We could have hopped on the I-94 and whizzed to Racine in about an hour. We chose the spectacular scenic lakefront route – three hours of giddiness, reminiscences and just pure joy. Some of the landmarks we passed along Sheridan Road were the historic Edgewater Beach Hotel site, (replaced by condos), Loyola University, Northwestern University, Ft. Sheridan and Great Lakes Naval Station. We weaved through North Chicago, Highland Park, Evanston, Glencoe, Skokie, Waukegan, Kenosha and Racine. We drove by gorgeous lakefront homes, charming villages and dense forests. As we passed through towns which once were stops for the North Shore RR, I would mimic the old conductor as I cried out: “HYY-LAND PARK, EVVV-ON-STEN, SKOO-KIE, WAAL-

KEY-GUN, KEE-NOSHA-A, RAAAY-CINE!”

After a memorable ride, we arrived in Racine and headed directly to Kewpee’s. The restaurant has hardly changed since I hosted my 6th birthday party there in 1939. My all-time-favorite burgers taste the same – even better. The 10-cent burgers are now about $1.50. Brad and I each consumed three cheeseburgers, an order of fries and a few homemade root beers. The check for this repast came to about $12.

In search of Racine’s best kringle, we selected three bakeries. To make a long story short, O&H Bakery makes the best by far.  By the way, kringle can be ordered on line-but never as good as when they come right out of the oven.

GODFREY HOTEL, 127 W. Huron St., Chicago, Il. , 312/649-2000, www.godfreyhotelchicago.com

The Godfrey (Courtesy Godfrey Hotel)I love to keep one foot in history and the other in the contemporary world. Folks tell me that I’m in denial about growing old. Darn right. I agree with them. My denial has served me well. After eight decades, I’m still flying airplanes,  fighting battles in court and hanging out in exciting, contemporary places. I’m not denying who or what I am. I just refuse to condemn progress, retreat from modern technology or  yell at frolicking kids to get off my lawn.

I revere the Drake. But now, the Godfrey Hotel is one of my new Chicago headquarters.  I love the streamlined splendor of the place. I enjoy mingling with, and watching folks from all ages,  ethnicities and with varied political persuasions. So long as the discourse is peaceful and intelligent, I welcome a debate with any person whose views differ from mine.

The Godfrey and the surrounding neighborhood are a microcosm of the new Chicago.  We hiked around for hours. I struck up dialogues with kids I never met before. Each of us walked away from the conversations,  enriched and enlightened.

Rooftop Excitement (Kailey Lindman)Many years ago, urban hotels were local and tourists hangouts-not just places to sleep.   For decades, the hangout craze was in hibernation. Now, it has returned. I|O Godfrey, located on the fourth floor of The Godfrey Hotel Chicago, presents the largest indoor-outdoor purlieus  in Chicago. I|O Godfrey’s retractable roof, opens to year-round, dramatic south-facing, unobstructed skyline views. The dining and lounge space seats 750 guests in total – 500 indoor and 250 outdoor. The venue transitions from a premier destination for corporate daytime meetings and after-work happy hours to late-night lounging with a menu of refreshingly simple Midwest favorites, a selection of hand-crafted sushi, and chef-inspired drinks.

Stodgy hotel cuisine is nowhere to be found at this rooftop. The lamb lolli-chops, crusted with bourbon-smoked paprika and orange are juicy and succulent. The burger is topped with burnt-onion marmalade, cheddar and garlic aioli with greens on a sesame bun-plus a bucket of fries.  Hundreds of specially created cocktails are served,  from a chef’s moijito, a rainbow sangria to a chef’s margarita.

The frenetic Godfrey rocks until the wee hours of the morning.  Afterwards, I suggest the 24-hour fitness center or the Spa Boutique.

Streamlined Bedroom (The Godfrey Hotel)You won’t spot any traditional orange, gold and blue carpets at this hotel. Everything is ultra-modern, but without sacrificing comfort.  The 221  luxurious accommodations include 182 spacious guestrooms and 27 one-bedroom suites—all with a stylized design incorporating built-in furnishings with subtle tones of white and mauve, blended with clever touches of fuchsia and dark purples. Additional room amenities include 46-inch HD LED televisions, complimentary Wi-Fi, plush bathrobes, L’OCCITANE bath products large work station, wet bar, refrigerator, iHome docking station, and more.

     You can plan a pilot get-together, a wedding or just about any kind of an intimate pow-wow at the Godfrey. The two  meeting rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, high-tech sound systems and LED HD displays for video presentations and great catering.

Dolce Italian, an extraordinary, Fellini-styled  eatery that happens to be housed in a hotel, is not your typical hotel restaurant.  The freshest local ingredients are fashioned into handcrafted pastas, superb seafood risotto, meatballs over creamy polenta and  authentic Neapolitan pizzas.

The Spa Boutique, on the 5th floor has private treatment rooms with massage and facial treatments for singles and couples.

The Spiffy Lobby (Kailey Lindman)The sleek, white marble lobby exudes both warmth and energy.  The striking exterior adds a new dimension to the Chicago skyline. The designers created a Cubist form that zig-zags inward and outward to reveal the building’s expressive structural frame.

       During our last night, we touched history. We took in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s, “Ah Wilderness” at the 1922-built Goodman Theater. We topped off the evening with dinner at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center. From the huge windows, (about the same level as the bygone Meigs final approach), I took one last glimpse of the moribund Meigs Field.

   As we roamed the boulevards, some of the great parks and  beaches,  I gazed at the young crowd. I’m sure they gazed back and wondered,  “Who is that old guy staring at us?”  That old guy is a pilot who loves to fly jets, but who would walk a mile for a ride in a J-3 Cub.

               

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