Chicago – The Sequel

My first time in Chicago was chronicled in a previous blog, Look Before You Leap. I’ve been to Chicago, and the metropolitan area several times since. And who hasn’t had a frustrating trip through O’Hare Airport at least once in their life. But airports are different matters.

My next visit to Chicago after my schooling fiasco was a business trip in the late 1980s. I was a union business agent and represented workers in a Wilson Foods plant in Clarinda. Pepperoni was made there. I went to see the union members there often, always bringing a large stick of pepperoni home with me.

I was sent to Chicago in late spring or early summer to help negotiate a chain contract. A chain contract is where all the various plants owned by one company negotiate one contract. Union representatives from Wilson Food plants in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and many other locations outside of the Midwest showed up in Chicago to negotiate. I was told to bring enough clothes and money for three or four days. After six days, I was out of clean clothes and money. This was before ATMs and not many people of average means carried credit cards (the hotel room at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart was not my responsibility). It took almost an hour at a bank across from the hotel to agree to allow me to write a check for cash. I needed some of the money for coins to wash clothing at a laundromat. The rest I needed for food.

Much of my Chicago memories include food. But not entirely. Walking down Michigan Avenue, a group of us union negotiators came upon striking workers at the Chicago Tribune. We spent time walking the strike line with them and talking with them. I don’t know if it’s true, but one striker told me that the Tribune owned the WGN television network. “What do you think WGN stands for?” He asked me. “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” That sidewalk was where I saw my first exhibition of a guy opening his coat with watches, necklaces, and just about anything else you could imagine. “Make an offer,” he said. I shook my head no. Remember; I was short on cash.

Another highlight was walking into the Billy Goat Tavern and having a cheeseburger. I was shown the bar stool that Mike Royko, one of my favorite columnists at the time, sat on every afternoon before they poured him into a taxi. I loved Slats Grobnik. They just don’t write like that anymore.

After two weeks, we were sent home. We didn’t obtain a contract at that time, but because we had so much idle time, several of us discovered some of the best places to eat in Chitown. I didn’t care for Gino’s; the pizza crust was too thick. Most good places seemed to be between Michigan Avenue and LaSalle. My favorite was a restaurant that is no longer there. The name of the small out-of-the-way place was something like Bertinelli’s (no, not Portilla & Bennilli’s). A small steak was a little over sixteen ounces – a pound. The atmosphere was thrilling. It was one of those places that had curtains over the booths. Outside, one evening, a private limo sat in a no parking slot, driver behind the wheel. It was still there when we left.

Another place I enjoyed and frequented more than once was Carson’s Ribs. When I was in Chicago again in the 2000s, again on business, I wanted to eat at Carson’s. Blindly, Stephanie followed me through the streets of Chicago as we walked right to it. No Google, no directions; just memory. I did have to ask for directions once and the guy said it’s right there. Had we turned our heads we would have seen it. In a MASH television show, Hawkeye Pierce mentioned his love of Adam’s Ribs in Chicago. I’ll bet it was a reference to Carson’s.

I’m not a Cubs fan, or a Bears fan, so I have little reason to travel to Chicago. But it’s still a great city. I lived thirty miles from New York City for four months in the early 1970s but have never been there. At the time, everyone told me that I should go into the city, but don’t go alone. When I asked if the person would go with me, the answer was always “no.”

Because I haven’t sat in an airplane since 1999, I doubt I’ll see many more cities in my lifetime. I can drive to a few, like the Twin Cities and Kansas City, which I like. However, my favorite times have been in New Orleans and San Francisco. Yes, food was a big part of those trips.

I love Chicago! But don’t take me there again.

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One Response to Chicago – The Sequel

  1. Rambo1 L L Vergith & Sons LLC says:

    ” Oh Marty, Marty, Marty,….if I only knew you had Union Neg. skills then I would of had you try and get us .50 an hour at Marvins ! “

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