Bugging out of Surreality: Now you're messing with a sumbich...
We took the train down, got off at ol Union Station, and discovered that at least we'll save the $6 in bus fare, since Chicago knows how to treat tourists and provides a trolley shuttle that will take us around all the museums and sights in the downtown area. Perfect. We rode the trolley, paid our admission, and I'm here to tell you that it was worth it. Much more intense than I remember the Shedd from when I was a kid. Not only are the displays just beautiful outright, but they've put up enough tidbits of information that all ages find understandable and interesting, as well as lots of interactive computer-driven displays. Plus, the dolphins and Beluga whales are amazing to watch. And there's a whole permanent reef exhibit that has inspired me to say, "OK, that does it. I'm taking scuba lessons, I'm getting certified, and I'm booking a flight to Cozumel." Stella is now considering a career as a marine biologist, which I'm sure is one of the goals of the people who run the place.
So we hop on the L (the brown line -- didn't that used to be called the Ravenswood?) and I'm explaining to the kids, "Now, Chicago does a lot of things well. They're good at museums, they're good at tourist things in general, they know how to beautify a lakefront, but they are NOT the 'City of Festivals' so don't get your hopes up." I had no clue just how necessary this speech was. We got off the L at Armitage, and waited forEVER for a bus to come, and I finally cried uncle and hailed a cab. We must have reeked "tourists" because the cabbie struck up the conversatin with "So where are you from?" and we told him, and explained that we were here to see the ol DH play in his band at a street festival. We arrive at the address and the cabbie is as bewildered as we are. There's nothing there. He pulls up and we finally see it. There's a half block closed off. The band isn't even on a flatbed truck. There's about a dozen people sitting on folding chairs in the shade. This was supposed to be at a American Legion Post, and when I think American Legion, I usually picture the kind of place you can normally put a good polish wedding in. No way. This AmLeg post isn't even as big as The Uptowner. "Mommy, can we check out the rest of the festival?" Stella asks. "Uh, honey, this is it." I wish I had my camera handy to catch the look on her face.
We'd waited so long for the bus we misssed about 65% of Dr Chow's set. We're there in time to hear "Nina Hartley" and I decide to get the kids sodas. I go to what looks to be a two-car garage and ask what kind of soda they have, and, remembering I'm in Chicago when I see the quizzical look on the guy's face, turn the Wayback Machine on, correct myself and ask, "I mean, what kind of pop do you have." OK, I'm now a full-fledged Milwaukeean, when I'm not calling it "pop" these days. Anyway, he's got three Diet Cokes left, and I ask "what do I owe ya" and he motions that i have to get tickets. Oh, come on. This isn't Bastille Days. There's only a dozen people here for chrissakes, do you really need to do this tickets thing? So I buy the tickets across the garage, and hand it to them, and finally crack the tickets.
Of course the kids have to take a whiz, so I escort them inside. It is at this point when I realize I have once again stumbled into The Surreality Zone. Remember my winter Weekend of Surrealism, where I thought I'd stumbled into a David Lynch film?" Well, this was too small for a whole film, but it was definitely "Twin Peaks - The Lost Episodes." There's two older ladies playing a game of cards here at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt post. I can just about turn around in the bathroom, ("... first door on your right...") much less assist Sammy. We go downstairs to check out the basement, and it's there that we realize this place has obviously not only grandfathered but great-grandfathered every element of the Chicago Building Code there ever was. Just in case, though, there's jackets you can change into should you need one for the next Legion meeting.
Chow's putting on a fine show, nevertheless, and the dozen or so people there are enjoying it. But you just couldn't beat the interior for surreality. Legionairre Edwin Bielski is confirming that every ball is there for the Bingo tournament they'll play later tonight. I've called enough Bingo for nonprofits to know that if there's one ball missing, those bingo ladies, vicious battleaxes that they are, will get uglier than the callouses on their bunions if they find out. So Bielski's not taking any chances. That's 84-year old Edwin Bielski, and honestly, he looks great. "It's because I don't smoke. That stuff ages you." I still don't believe he's 84 unti he points out his picture on the Wall of Chancellors. Yup, that's definitely him in 1956. He's been counting Bingo balls every week at the FDR AmLeg post since 1956. Stella asked him, "How come you're the only one over here whose picture doesn't have a gold star on it," she asked, with all the tact you expect from an 8 year old. "Because," he sighed, "I'm the only one still alive."
Brian reported to me later that it was equally something else earlier in the day, when nobody seemd to be around except old Legion guys telling their war stories, especially the legend of the neighborhood Ma Barker, close friend of Al Capone, who ruled the neighborhood with an iron fist. But still, I'm stuck with the kids in that episode of Twin Peaks, and there's no commercial break in sight. So I drag them outside to watch the band perform in the heat, noting to myself that the "stage" ends precisely where the shade begins.
Chow ends their set, breaks down and chills out to the next band, the one that invited them (oh, this should be interesting when they return the traded gig favor....) Cooler By the Lake. This is an interesting band. You couldn't tell by looking at them what they were going to sound like. Keyboardist dressed in a lovely sparkly dress with army boots, so she was being kind of ironic. Sax/flute player ready to jam out. Normal looking guitarist and bassist, and drummer with this on his drumhead. Finally, there's the lead singer, who is one of those people that (and I can say this, because I have a gap tooth, too) maybe decided to get braces a little too late. He sounded and had the stage presence of the vocalist Ronnie James Dio. They're a combination of blue, heavy metal, prog, with a touch of punk attitude. But any minute Kyle MacLaughlin is going to ask me where he can find a slice of pie. The kids are tired and strung out, and we say our tearful goodbyes and leave.
We get home to Milwaukee after a thankfully uneventful car trip, and I check my answering machine for messages. I talk quickly to Darrell "The Brains" Martin, who attended Rockerbox and he reports on the wonderful Dollyrots: "They captivated and held the audience's attention. They kicked ass. I would have stayed longer, but I saw Sarah Kozar and Tess and come out of the Stonefly, and I wanted to catch their set." Oh well. Darrell didn't know that the Dollyrots are national, so its not like he can see them again next month. Lesson learned, Brains!
I've been supermom these past three weeks, so Brian agreed to watch the kids why I went out myself to decompress and perhaps shake off this Lynchian Chicago experience. First stop: a small party at a friend's house, populated by, among others, half of the Mighty Lumberhorn, whom I ask: "So how'd that Bluegrass Festival go last weekend?" Wrong question to ask the Wrong People if I truly wanted to shake off the surreality. Long story, but basically the Lumberhorn went and played this bluegrass festival up nordt in Medford there aina hey, and well, I've invited them to guest blog with a report on the experience. Because absent of having Mojo Nixon (or Boy Howdy's nominaton, the band Deadbolt) tell the story, suffice to say it was a case of "misunderstood" contracts: the ol' "Well if you hadn't been so cocky as to actually tell us how much you expected to be paid you would have gotten it. " (oh yeah, right, like you really intended to pay them properly, beyotch.) The promoter had stronger words but I'll let BJ McCrow file the report uncensored, and we all know it had rained a good portion of the time. Characters in the tale also included some extras from the set of "Deliverance." I'm looking forward -- and you should be too -- to reading about this, frosted with their down home, but rapier wit.
Here's the thing: when I saw the Bugs back in February, I thought that was it: just a guitar and drums thing, and I was happy to hear the power that came from that. Actually, the deal was that the rest of the band just couldn't be there that night, and head Bug Lane Klozier (who, I now have learned was one of a long list of my successors in the PsychoBunnies!) just axed them. And that was probably the best thing that ever happened to this band, because now he's got Johnny Washday on bass, the perfect bassman for this schtick. The schtick, if you'll remember, is that these guys play Beatles songs, general BritInvastion sound, pop classics, like the tattooed mowhawked, please-let-me-make-you-skinny-boys-a-pan-of-lasagne punks they are. Fast, tough, but wonderful. This is why Washday is such a perfect addition: he's got both the punk cred (via the Crusties) and the pure love of pop cred (via his Johnny on Washday busker act) that was built for this project. The other new guy is called Dan Tana, (yes, named for the protaganist of the short-lived ABC series Vega$), and he is perfect for this band because, like the rest of the band, he begins the set wearing a beatlesque white shirt and black tie. But you know what he looks like (and musically brings to mind) while he's making his guitar face? Jimmy Page, right after he quit the Yardbirds but before he started buying embroidered tight-fitting pants, which puts him musically where the Buggs need him.
Lucki Mustafa, and I'm not taking any chances. Some sumbitch put a parking ticket on my car since I was parked in that stupid private lot that looked like a public lot, and yup. I'm back to my Milwaukee Reality, and with a speedpunk version of "Eleanor Rigby" going through my head healing the sting from the parking ticket, I fly over the Hoan and sleep the best I've slept all week.