Chicago/Hillside 2006 trip, part 2: Chicago
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Friday

I missed the first heat wave fortunately but it was still 90 degrees in the daytime (29c) and 80 at night (24c). Plus the humidity is higher back east so I was sweating in my hostel bed. I stayed at the Arlington House hostel near Fullerton & Clark like I have every time I've visited Chicago. It's convenient to the North Side where pretty much everybody I know lives. (The neighborhood is Wrightwood/Lakeview/Wrigleyville; I can't tell where one ends and the next begins so I just call them by their el stations. This area is "Fullerton" as far as I'm concerned.) This year the mattresses were pretty bad; the quality had gone downhill. There was one free computer in the lobby for Internet access, but you had to share it with fifty other people so it was only free at like four in the morning. (I always tell people to call me when I'm travelling because I have a phone but not Internet access. You think I'm going to spend $3/hour at a cybercafe three times a day to see if you've emailed me yet? It's amazing how many people don't get it and still send me messages.)

I was in Chicago for five days, because I enjoy the city and wanted to see more of it. It's one place I might move to if I move someday. So I wanted to build contacts there, and also see some of the wrestlers and skinheads I knew from national meets or online. Plus I wanted to see Cathy, the woman who runs the Doc Marten shop. She's very cool and always tells me where any oi gigs or pub nights are happening in town.

At lunch I met my wrestling bud Mark downtown and he showed me Millenium Park downtown and the Bean. The Bean is a huge mirrored sculpture shaped like a... bean. [Pics coming.] Chicago has park after park after park along Lake Michigan. Afterward I walked from downtown to Fullerton via Michigan Street, the Magnificant Mile, to Chicago Avenue. That took two hours so I took the el from there. Michigan Street is the upscale shopping district; Chicago Avenue is also a shopping area. Not that I wanted what was in the shops, but I'd been to Chicago a few times and never seen it so I figured it was high time. There was one thing I didn't understand: an underground street below Michigan Street, with intersections and traffic lights and crosswalks and everything. There was no sunlight, and no businesses either. Yet there were cares. Perhaps it's a bypass? Or was it the original Michigan Street and a new one was built on top of it. It reminded me of the underground city in Seattle, except that's an 1800s museum now.

Back at the hostel, I explored nearby Clark Street for dinner/breakfast options. There was quite a choice. I found the best meal at Clark & Armitage, a place selling gyros and chicken kebabs. Don't try the little triangular ice cream shop down the street, it's a total ripoff. Nearby was a Tower Records selling UFC fight DVDs and magazines and backyard brawl videos, and some were on sale so I picked them.

Saturday -- Doc store

I found the Doc Marten shop just as Cathy was opening it. "I haven't seen you for a long time," she said. I was just glad the store was still there because she was talking about closing it. Bryce (a greaser) and Mike (a cocky guy) were working there; Bryce remembered me. The shop is at 3240 Clark Street, a block north of Belmont. It's officially called Bouncin' Soles. Smashtreads.com is their online store, selling "patches from Anarchy to Vespa", along with the usual boots, fred perrys, and braces. And if you need a novelty T-shirt: "9 out of 10 voices in my head say pull the trigger", "Plays well with self", "Drugs & alcohol saved my life". Her mother visits the shop sometimes. I asked, "And what does she think about the T-shirts?" "She thinks they're great." There was also a shirt for Rotten Fruits, my friend Mark's punk band.

The clientele is heavily on the teen and early 20s side, so not quite representative of the skin/punk scene as a whole. Still, everybody knows the place and goes there at least occasionally. She acts as a kind of big sister, listening nonjudgementally as the kids talk about the latest gang news (Chicago has too many gangs): "So-n-so's gonna kick so-n-so's ass!" Sometimes I wonder how she can avoid laughing, or telling the kids "That's wrong". But she says, "They're all good kids, every one of them who comes into my store." She just waits until they outgrow their stupid shit. "You're a kid too," she adds, since she's like 55.

Today there was a skinhead from Minneapolis visiting, a skinny quiet dude, a bit of an outspoken homophobe. Funny those guys who look so scrawny they can't do squat, it makes you think, "And he's shaving his head and talking shit?" I left a while later so he could have a couple hours of "uncontaminated" heterosexual companionship in case that mattered; I didn't want to spoil his vacation completely. But right now Cathy had to show an apartment to some renters upstairs, so we had to watch her big dog. A labrador retriever if I remember right? The dog burst through the piece of sheetrock that was serving as a doggy fence, and I had to wrestle it down to keep it from running outside, while the other guy posted himself at the bottom of the stairs to block the exit. Funny how those wrestling skills come in useful at odd times. Basically you think of what you want it not to do, and how to block it from doing that. So I had one hand on its rump to block its back leg, and the other hand on the diagonally-opposite chest to block its front leg. The trouble was you had to hold the dog down the whole time. Rope would have been nice. The boom box was playing Abba. I told Cathy when she returned, "You know that oi or rockabilly are acceptable but Abba is not." She pointed to the CD spindle with fifty titles and said, "Pick one." I found a (believe it or not) Christian oi band.

I wasn't intending to buy boots but I eventually succumbed. I got a pair of 10i Grinders, steel toe, Burgundy rub-off (my favorite color). Burgundy rub-off is cherry red swirled with black dye. A guy at work (Doug) heard I got steel-toe DM-style boots and said, "Oh, ass-kicking boots." Hardee har-har. But steelies have another practical purpose too, as I discovered a few years ago when I dropped a refrigerator I was carrying. Fortunately the toecaps kept my toes from being squashed. Cathy said Grinders is the only brand she stocks now because the quality is better than DM/Geta-Grip/Gripfast, etc. "I had to return fifty pairs of Geta-Grips because they were splitting at the seams after a couple months."

Cathy said, "I had a vague feeling there was a Cubs game at Wrigley Field today, that's why I came early because it's a 1 1/2 hour commute when there's a game." I remembered it was actually the Gay Games closing ceremonies. (I hadn't gone to any of the Games events. I wanted to see the wrestling and powerlifting but they were four days before I arrived.) I had called up the wrestling organizer (Gene) earlier in the day and he said the ceremonies would end at 6pm. So I strolled up to Salt & Pepper diner for dinner. I'd been there a few times but not further, so I'd never realized Wrigley Field was just half a block north. At 5:30pm people started pouring out of the stadium. I went up to the corner to look for the wrestlers but it was hopeless; there were too many people. (By the way, Wrigley Field is named after the gum maker.)

Saturday -- Eagle

In the evening an acquaintance wanted to go to the Eagle, a leather bar. I'm not into leather but I went along. The bouncer wouldn't let me into the back room: "You must be wearing at least one piece of leather, rubber, or latex." I was wearing my skinhead gear -- boots, T-shirt, jeans -- which are normally accepted at leather bars but not this one. My attitude was, "Pfft, I don't want to go into your fucking back room anyway!" But my acquaintance lent me his leather vest and we got in, haha. I should have pointed out that my boots were leather. It was pretty dim and boring in there, and my acquaintance soon left to wander around.

I went out to the main room few minutes later, and right outside the entrance (because he was not wearing leather) was a tall shirtless military stud with dog tags who immediately caught my attention. I was intimidated but swallowed my fear and said hi. He gave a friendly hi back, and we got along quite well. His name was Larry and he'd played basketball in the Games, and he has a big aw-shucks country-boy smile. He was ex-navy. The dog tags turned out to be Gay Games tags but he said, "I've got real ones at home." Home was a small town in Pennsylvania in the Amish/Mennonite region, where he worked at a nuclear plant. Like Homer Simpson, haha. For all those who wondered when Mike would find a nice boy, here he is in a Chicago leather bar for chrissake. Who would've thunk? Later he told me he'd won the physique (=bodybuilding) contest in the last Games. It took a while for that to sink in. I'd snagged a bodybuilding champion without even realizing it?

Larry went off to another event he'd been waiting for, and I met a local Chicagoan, Stuart, a short buff guy with a southern drawl and a cocky attiude. Then Larry came back, saying he missed me. Fortunately he was happy to hang out with whoever I wanted to hang out with. Then a wrestler I knew appeared, someone who had visited Seattle and was now living in Chicago. So I found myself juggling three guys at once. This had never happened before so I wasn't sure what to do. I decided my priority was not leaving Larry no matter what, so everybody else would have to accept that. Eventually Larry, Stuart, and I went to Touché, another leather bar but without a silly dress code.

All these places are along Clark Street. I'm beginning to think everything I care about in Chicago is along Clark Street, like Higgins Street in Missoula. That's not farfetched considering Clark Street is twelve miles long. Fortunately it has a 24-hour bus, and the red line el train stays close to it most of the way.

Sunday

techno club, pizza place, hotel (this posh place)

Monday

Dan (Alaric)

Update 2007-Mar-16: Sorry, I never did finish this article. The following week was the Hillside wrestling retreat, then the bus ride home. I missed the first 100-degree heat wave but got caught in the second.


[drawing] [drawing]

Sluggo is Mike Orr, a helluva friendly guy in Seattle. Email me if you have feedback.