Saturday, May 7, 2022

Ghosts Appear and Fade Away

For years, I’ve been wanting to make my way back to Chicago for a visit, primarily to reunite with the Japanese Giants Guys — the right dishonorable Bill Gudmundson and Ed Godziszewski — both of whom were among my closest friends when I lived in the Windy City in the 1980s, as well as several other wonderful folks in the area. As far back as 2018, Ms. B. and I had tried to plan a trip northward, but finding the time off from work, particularly with other obligations we had, never allowed for it. Finally, in early 2020, we had things squared away and were all set to go in the spring. And then... WHAM! Here comes COVID-19. And in 2021, our long-planned trip to Europe took priority over everything else. Thus, we had to postpone Chicago yet again.

But now... at long last... we’re on our way. Chicago... by way of Nashville, TN.

Some months ago, Ms. B. discovered that Colin Hay, of Men at Work fame, was scheduled to play at City Winery in Nashville in early May, and since both our birthdays are in early May — and both of us love his music — taking in his show struck us both as a mighty fine mutual birthday experience. And thus did the plan come together.

Sunday, May 1, 2022 — GSO to CLT to BNA
Long before the ass-crack of dawn, we were up and at ’em for a 7:15 a.m. flight out of Greensboro. We connected in Charlotte after the briefest of layovers — one of those run-through-the-airport-at-top-speed-or-miss-your-fucking-flight kind of layovers. I feel almost bad for plowing into at least one person as we made haste from one end of the airport to the other; I might even feel some honest-to-goodness bad if the person in question hadn't been one of a row of slow-creeping numpties taking up the entire width of the corridor. We made it onto the aircraft with moments to spare — we were literally the last passengers to board the plane. We were worried our luggage wouldn’t make it on board, but once we arrived in Nashville... happily... our bags showed up on the baggage claim carousel. Literally, the last bags unloaded from the plane.

From BNA, we took a cab to the city center and checked our bags into a luggage drop, since we couldn’t check into our lodgings until 4:00 p.m. We'd had no food — or coffee! — on either of our flights, so we immediately sought breakfast, which we found at a lovely place called Frothy Monkey. Our vittles proved delicious: eggs over medium, taters, bacon, toast, a Bloody Mary, and most of a pot of delicious coffee (as black as midnight on a moonless night). Happily, in downtown Nashville, there are geocaches aplenty, and so, after breaking the fast, we wandered and geocached. As afternoon approached, we walked up to the big farmer’s market near the Capitol grounds, just north of city center, where some of us cached and some of us shopped. One guess as to who did what. 

At last, after a brief stop at the nearby Publix to snag a few staples, we wandered back into the city center, grabbed our bags, and checked into our AirBnB, an industrial-style, reasonably comfortable place called Sonder-Dovetail on Church Street. After freshening up and relaxing for a time, we decided to seek dinner, which we found at an establishment called Puckett’s. I killed some better-than-tolerable beef brisket and Ms. B. demolished a pulled pork sandwich. This might have been followed by bit more geocaching. According to our phones' health apps, we walked just over nine miles today.

I had come to Nashville a couple of times for World Horror Con — way back in 1991 and 1992, I believe — but my memories of the city are hazy, at best. It is safe to say the first day of this travel venture proved pleasant.
"It's wine... wrapped in plastic!"
Monday, May 2, 2022 — Who Can It Be Now?
Window washers viewed from our window.
Not a job for which I'd be well-suited

Whose birthday is it? Surely, not mine. But wait....

Ms. B. and I slept in for a bit this morning because we could. We had picked up some light breakfast fixins at Publix, so we braced ourselves on coffee and yogurt before hitting the streets (which, given our heavier-than-usual diets since leaving home, was just the ticket). More geocaches (yep!) and shopping (yep!) awaited us in the very touristy Broadway area, so we added some additional mileage to the soles of our feet (which eventually began to bother Ms. B., for she is old and frail). There's a big-ass place called Assembly Food Hall with tons of restaurants and bars, so we stopped a little spot called Smokin' Chikin for lunch. Relatively light fare (except for the french fries) and reasonably satisfying. Then... wine time! There's a large wine bar/restaurant on the upper floor of the Assembly building called Sixty Vines, and between Ms. B. and I, we checked out a good half dozen of said vines. Our sommelier was knowledgeable, attentive, and a great conversationalist, so we give Sixty Vines high marks.

We returned to Sonder-Dovetail for a while to mellow a bit before heading to City Winery, about a mile south, for dinner and the Colin Hay show. We hung out on their terrace for a while, where I tried a couple of Jalapeno margaritas, the peppers in which turned out to be hotter than your average jalapeno, so I was happy.

City Winery is a lovely venue, with dinner tables set up in a relatively small auditorium. Once inside, we ordered big honking burgers for dinner, and these were delicious. Again with the french fries! (I am now thoroughly potatoed out.) Our table was the closest possible to the stage, so our seats were fantastic. We got to watch Colin Hay go at it from a distance of fifteen feet, with lovely lighting and an excellent, very clear sound system. Hay is 68 years old and still in fuckin' top form — his vocals sounded better than ever, he told many engaging anecdotes, and he played a few Men at Work favorites as well as many newer compositions. The show went nearly a full two hours, and the experience was a joy. The crowd clearly loved every minute of it.

Adding an unexpected and very enjoyable twist to the experience was my running into a familiar face in the crowd — a fellow geocacher who goes by the moniker MonkeyBrad. Brad is a Facebook friend, and for quite some time, his mug was literally the face of His image was ubiquitous on the Geocaching site and in advertisements. Some time ago, he had purchased a copy of West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman — which I had autographed — for his son. I knew he lived in the Nashville area, but I had absolutely no expectation of running into him, especially at a non-geocaching-related event. We did get to have a couple of brief but pleasant conversations. So, Day Two in Nashville ended on an altogether satisfying note. Which, I suppose, is proper for a birthday I'm not really claiming.

By the time we hoofed it back to Sonder-Dovetail, we had put another seven-plus miles on our achy-breaky feetz.
View of downtown Nashville from pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River
Old dude and Ms. B. sampling the fare at Sixty Vines in Assembly Food Hall
A delicious if junior-size jalapeno martini at City Winery
Tuesday, May 3, 2022 — Hurry Up and Wait
Our flight to Chicago was scheduled to leave at 10:45 a.m., and since we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get to the airport (during the morning rush hour), Ms. B. and I rose with the dawn. We had scheduled an Uber ride for 7:45 a.m., and our driver arrived right on time. Morning traffic did slow the ride, but we made it to BNA without undue delay. Naturally, about the time we arrived, a text notified me that our flight was delayed by 45 minutes. Well, at least we'd have plenty of time to get through security, have a leisurely breakfast, go pee, and such. About midway through breakfast at some airport restaurant, I received a text that the flight was now moved up to 11:00 a.m. Still plenty of time, so we didn’t rush to the gate. Once we did wander over that way, we discovered the incoming flight hadn’t even arrived yet. It didn't pull into the gate until after our “updated” departure time. So, not only was the altered flight time wrong, take-off was well over an hour late.

From there, our flight took a little over an hour to reach ORD. Lots of turbulence, but that’s not at all unusual for Chicagoland. The worst of it was being forced to listen to a boisterous know-it-all run his useless mouth at top volume for the entire flight, never once pausing to take a breath. He, I suspect, might have been responsible for the turbulence. We had reserved a car, and getting to the rental area required a long walk and a train ride. And once we got there... lord a’mighty... the place was almost empty except for our check-in counter, where a passel of very angry-looking people were gathered. It took a while to get things squared away at the desk, and we were told it would be twenty minutes or so before a car was ready for us. One livid, elderly woman demanded to talk to a manager because she’d been told twenty minutes but had been waiting for over an hour. This did not bode well. However, sure enough, twenty minutes later, the nice folks at the desk called us over, and... what do you know... they had a car for us. Getting to it required another fairly hefty trek, but at least things went more smoothly for us than they clearly had for most of those other folks there (I suspect they had not reserved their cars in advance).

We headed out of O’Hare into the afternoon traffic jam on I-90... wow, just like old times! Half an hour later, we arrived at our AirBnB, about three miles from the airport. It was the upper floor of a typical Chicago bungalow, with two comfortable bedrooms, a bath, and small kitchen. The only thing missing was a living room or other common area, but for the price we paid, one could scarcely complain. Once settled in, Ms. B. and I headed over to friend Bill’s place, just over a mile away. What a joy to see him again — and old friend Bob Scism was also here! After hanging out for a bit, we set out for Morton Grove, a few miles up the road, to have dinner at Pequod’s Pizza, which had been one of our favorite pizza restaurants way back in the old days. Here, we met friends Ed; his wife, Mariko; and Mike Paul. Another joyful reunion! And the pizza at Pequod’s was still as delicious as ever — unique even for Chicago, and certainly beyond compare of anything we have back home.

And there was a geocache on premises. Hell, yeah! Fortunately, for me, I snagged it quickly while we were waiting on the pizza.

Mike presented me with a copy of an old drawing (on a restaurant placemat!) of King Ghidorah that Bill and I had collaborated on sometime back in the 1980s. He had kept it on hand for all these years, and seeing that again brought back a flood of great memories. All in all, we had a wonderful little reunion in one of our favorite places ever. There are still more gatherings yet to come this week.

After another brief hangout at Bill’s place, Ms. B. and I made a supply run at the nearest supermarket and returned to our place. It was a long... LONG day, much of it spent in transit (or waiting for transit), but what a payoff at the end. A long-awaited homecoming, such as it was.
Pequods — the best anywhere
King Ghidorah, drawn on a placemat at Nancy's Pizza, by Bill Gudmundson and me, circa 1984
A ravenous bunch: Ms B, old dude, Bob Scism, Mike Paul, Ed Godziszewski, Mariko Godziszewski
Wednesday, May 4, 2022 — Our Shadowed Past
Hiding in the corner at Café Touché...

Ms. B. and I had a fairly early lunch date, out in Elk Grove Village, with old friend Bob Issel and somewhat newer friend Jeff Kenny. Our Shadowed Past — a collection of Dark Shadows memories — was Bob’s original project, but he, Jeff, and I became the creative team that put it all together back in the fall of 2021. We met at Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ, enjoyed tasty lunches, and hung out yakking for a long while. Bob and I have a considerable shared history in our respective Dark Shadows–related creative journeys. As with all my Chicago friends, it’s been too long since our paths have crossed. Jeff brings in new talent and perspective to the table, so it was a treat to meet him for the first time.

After we parted ways, I headed after a few nearby geocaches. Then Ms. B. and I hit the road toward the city proper, figuring we could partake of a drink or two prior to heading back to our lodgings. We found a lovely little neighborhood bar called Café Touché, which fit the bill nicely. Wine for Ms. B., a gin martini for me. After that, we returned to our home away from home to refresh ourselves and make Ms. B. more presentable. Then it was back over to friend Bill’s abode, where we met his lovely and charming wife Gari for the first time. Bill hauled us to dinner at Kalbi Korean Restaurant, where we met old friend Alex Wald, another good friend I probably last saw before the turn of the century. Dinner was fantastic — our courses were brought to the table, where we roasted them over a flaming hot grill in the center of the table. I’ve had plenty of Korean food, but never in this presumably authentic fashion.
The creative team behind Our Shadowed Past: Old Dude, Bob Issel, Jeff Kenny
Dinner at Chicago Kalbi Korean Restaurant
Thursday, May 5, 2022 — Chicago de Mayo
In front of the apartment building where
Bill & I lived, many years ago

Ms. B. and I didn’t avail ourselves to any Mexican treats today, but treats aplenty we did find. This morning, we met Bill at his abode and then had a delicious brunch at his favorite coffee shop — Perkolator, on Irving Park. From there, Ms. B. and I drove down to Logan Square, where Bill and I lived back in the 1980s. There was a cache just down the street — or should have been — but after a thorough search, I am confident it’s missing. Sad!

After roaming Logan Square for a little while, we headed downtown, for what turned out to be a consistently drizzly day of walking around the northern end of the Loop. Ms. B. wanted to check out a paper store to pick up some of the papers she uses for her arts and crafts, so while she did that, I hunted a nearby cache — again, sadly, unsuccessfully. Apparently, many Chicagoland caches have gone missing and aren’t being maintained, which is pretty disappointing. But I did find a handful of particularly nice hides as well, so that made me smile real big.

Eventually, we wandered into Harry Caray’s Bar on Kinzie Street, which, in all the time I’ve spent in Chicago, I had never visited. A most pleasant experience indeed. Martinis for me, vino for the lady. I never realized the building was once owned by Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s number one man back in the bad old days. From the bar area, there’s a “secret” stairway down to his old vault room, which has been turned into a mini-museum. Kinda fun, I will say.

Again, out into the rain for a handful of caches, and another wine bar stop — a happy little place called Good Funk, but where we actually found some bad funk (wine, that is). Happily, our top-notch server gave us a couple of tastes for us to see what we liked because, in her words, “some of this stuff smells like it came from the barnyard.” No exaggeration. We did end up with some really good wine, though.

From Good Funk, a walk along the river to an establishment called The Smith, which we sort of randomly selected for dinner. Not even a little bit inexpensive, but the food was incredible. I had spicy roasted duck wings, and Ms. B. went with Spaghetti Bolognese, which was red-wine braised chicken ragu, parmesan, and basil. I sampled some of hers and was literally stunned by how delicious it was. I hate to say it, but it rivaled or surpassed most of the Bolognese that we had while in Italy. Yeah, it was that good.

By the time were were finished, it was getting late, so we made our way back to the car and headed to our home away from home. This little venture into the Loop was, to me, invigorating, certainly among of the most satisfying times we’ve had on this trip. The crowd downtown was actually the smallest I’ve probably ever encountered there. Traffic wasn’t bad, we had no delays getting in and out of any place we visited, and parking was quick, easy, and not all that expensive. Once back at our AirBnB, we decided to watch a movie, so we went with U.S. Marshalls, which neither Brugger nor I had seen for many a year. It was, as I recalled, quite entertaining.

And now... one more full day in Chicago before heading back home.
A mighty drizzly day in the city
At Harry Caray's Bar
Down by the lazy river
There was supposed to be a cache at the Homeless Jesus bench, but he wouldn't give it up.
Friday, May 6, 2022 — Sushi Station, Mitsuwa, and More
Old dude, Old Mr. Bill in The Library

I’m glad our day of hoofing it around the Loop was yesterday and not today because today it rained real water. Not that phony stuff that came down yesterday. Happily, for the most part today, we had roofs over our heads.

Once up and going, Ms. B. and I drove out for a couple of caches and then over to Bill’s place. We piled into Bill’s car, picked up Gari, and headed out to the suburbs, to Sushi Station, a lovely little Japanese restaurant in Arlington Heights. After a most enjoyable lunch, we trucked the short distance over to Mitsuwa, a large Asian market (back when I lived here, it was called Yaohan). Here, we browsed the bookstore and shopped for groceries — mostly for our evening dinner at Bill’s Kitchen. Once done, we hit the road for our return to Bill’s, only to be stopped by a parked train blocking the road. So... alternate route! Anyway, once back, we hung out, drank some wine, and made googly eyes at Bill’s impressive library. Sometime prior to dinner, longtime friends Jeff Osier and his wife, Cathy Van Patten, arrived, and — again — coming to Chicago brings us to yet another happy reunion.

Mr. Bill and Gari set up the fixings for okono miyaki, savory Japanese pancakes, which we prepared as we desired and grilled at the table. I haven't had okono miyaki since visiting Bill on some previous trip — probably in 2007, when I was here for a G-Fest (the last one I ever attended, I do believe).

Afterward, Ms. B. and I returned to our AirBnB and started getting things together for our departure on Saturday. This trip to Chicago meant a lot to me; it’s been in the works for many years now, and I hope there won’t be so many years before our next visit here. Truly, I still have more good friends here than anywhere else in the world, and even after such a long time, when we’re back together, all those years just kind of melt away.
Okono miyaki in the works
Bill and Gari preparing to attack


Bill Gudmundson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen Mark Rainey said...

Ha! We have the photographic evidence!