Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Concert in The Park

Last night we kicked off our Concert in The Park Series. I've really come to love these Friday nights in Hodges Park. The sensational Park Ridge Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the awesome Barbara Shubert, puts on 7 or 8 of these things every summer, and they've been doing it for 51 years now. (not Barbara, she was probably a toddler like me when they first started back in 1960.)

It's no more than 200 yards from my front door (& windows.) The first year I moved in, which was 2006, I had no idea they put these concerts on. Moved in in April, and by chance I had my windows open one June evening and heard what sounded like a string section tuning up. Living alone, I imagine I looked pretty funny stopping dead in my tracks as I walked across the creaky old hardwood floor (which I love) and cocking my ear toward the front of the apartment. I was thinking ...what the fuck was that?...when I heard kettle drums suddenly begin rolling.

Threw on some clothes (to avoid arrest) and went downstairs. Out the front door and almost ran over an old couple walking by with their folding chairs and little Igloo cooler. They were everywhere, the old timers. Golf hat wearing old coots, happily walking along chatting with little old ladies dressed up for a picnic. They were all walking to the west, and so I followed the parade.

And the music got louder.

Crossing the Metra tracks to the south, we made our may to Hodges Park which sits in the central section of Park Ridge.

By the way, Park Ridge is an old railroad town if you hadn't guessed or didn't already know that. The original heart of town, the shops, the cops, the fire dept.,the Union Pacific/Northwestern- Metra Station, City Hall,'s all right out my front door. I live on the 2nd floor of a building whose 1st floor is retail space.

It's an old building, built in 1908, and can be seen with the twin white posts sticking up from the facade in the background of this picture someone took of the Park Ridge train station. Fuckin' train freaks. Gotta love 'em. I lived on Burlington Ave in Brookfield from 1996-2005 with the Burlington Northern/ Santa Fe tracks out my front door, and now here. 15 years of living on the tracks has taught me there are lots of railroad aficionados out there. They loves them some railroads. My grandfather Walter Kenney spent 50 years working for the Illinois Central, but I'm sure that has nothing to do with my coincidental choices of residencse. I'm not a train freak dammit, all of those people are!

Now there's some sprawl and a second shopping district to the north which is more heavily trafficked than the old section. They're working to change that, and to re-vitalize the old downtown area. Trader Joe's is a block west in a new "Uptown" development that has brought some shoppers back.

But, back in 2006 I had no real knowledge of the history of my adopted home town despite 30 years of working on the homes here. What can I say, spend your days working in a place and you don't necessarily learn much about the history of it. As I followed these old fogies into Hodges Park I realized the park was half-filled with people. It's a pretty big park, with these enormous old catalpa trees lining the perimeter. I'd guess there were 500-750 people or so.

Beyond them, on the steps of City Hall, I could make out people moving about. They were carrying large objects, like cellos and harps and tubas.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I stopped dead in my tracks a second time. My jaw dropped.

We're having a concert!! I fucking love concerts!

I stopped one of these cheerful senior citizens and asked what's going on.

"What's the deal here? A concert?"

"Oh yes. You haven't been to one here before?"

"No ma'am. Do they do this often?"

"Every Friday." she said smiling at my delight.

"They do? I just moved in over there! This is fantastic. They do this every Friday?"

"Until mid-August. 8 or 9 concerts."

"You are kidding me. Oh, this is wonderful."

"Well, they move the concert to the high school for the 4th of July so they can accompany the fireworks."

"They're outside on the steps of City Hall. What if it rains?"

"They stop playing of course. Some of those instruments are quite old and valuable."

I'm standing there watching this string section taking their seats, chatting with this wonderful woman and thinking ...Oh I'm all over this. This is part of my new Park Ridge routine. I'm going to like this place.

The park was filling quickly with Park ridge residents of all shapes, sizes and ages.

Couples with strollers, toddlers weaving around in the grass being chased by parents doubled over like Groucho, skateboard punks, and the aforementioned veterans. Some of them had already set out the blankets with chairs on the hem, lanterns, candles, bottles of wine...

Bottles of wine?

Ran back across the tracks to my apartment, grabbed my Coleman folding camp chair with cup-holder/armrests, and a bottle of chianti.

That was 5 years ago now.

Oh, and the delightful woman I first spoke with is Marilyn. She's 71 now, and a widow. I occasionally find her under my, sorry, her catalpa tree by the WWI Monument. She doesn't show up every week like she did before Lou died. Doesn't care for the Big Band stuff or the Broadway Showtunes Night. Lou loved that shit so she tagged along. She's terrific, and ...she's been coming to these concerts since that first year, which would have made her 20 at the time. (I don't actually ask her, I'm guessing that part.)

I've come to love these concerts, and I really hate when it rains on Friday night.


Anonymous said...

Long time, Schmutz and as usual you're spilling words from me...

I've been near (at least to be able to hear, and feel) RR traffic all my life. South side of Chicago from Archer Avenue. When North (in Chicago), lived right between the CNW and Milwaukee Road lines and on clear nights, not only heard them but also the El from Jeff Park and the hum of the Edens and the Kennedy. (Windows open on still summer nights - I loved picking out the different train lines, Freeways and Els). Moved to SF. BART was my neighbor and made me feel at home. Incredibly redolent on clear, fog free, hot (few) nights in Glen Park, SF. For the last 25 years in Vallejo, Ca, on the straits - - the train rumbles across the water (the Zephyr to Chicago goes by - no less)as if 30 yards away. No apoologies for rhapsodise(tion) but the sound of the train has been a still life companion of mine. you hit a chord here, bro. And on the rebound I have been to the PR concerts and ( due to annual familial visits) will hopefully be again, schedule allowing. And, Oh yeah bud we'll have ourselves some red wine, wagoned in with the crew. Happy summer time!

- - Roberto

Michael said...


When people ask me how I can stand living "on the tracks" the easy answer is that "after a while you barely even notice the sound of the trains." The truth is that I like the sound of the trains.

The Brookfield experience was different. Besides the Burlington commuters, there we so many freight trains. Sundays in Brookfield was freight train day. And nights too. People don't realize how much train traffic moves through town at night.

Took the Zephyr home from Colorado one year. Caught it in Glenwood Springs. Neat experience. I shuddered when I saw the pics from Nevada. Horrific.

Okay fine, I admit it, I like trains!!

Here's the season schedule for the concerts. Let me know if you'll be in town, and we'll certainly tip a glass of red my friend (or two.) Or next year, or the year after that. I ain't leaving.


Anonymous said...

In town 6/30 - 7/11. Grad parties both of those Fridays but the one on 7/1 is right in PR so maybe can catch you early. Will let you know. See where the steam is on its way right when we get in town. Wouldn't have it any other way. Have a great week, Schmutz!

- - Robert

Bite oftheweek said...

I love your passion for the great little things in life.

always delightful


Michael said...

Well thank you.

What a wonderful thing for someone to think of me.

You know and I know that it's the little things, added together, that make up the mosaic.

Anonymous said...

Back into the grind, Schmutz-

Sorry I didn't catch up with you, but we'll do it one of these years. Great fun going on vacation to your hometown, you know. Did a Sox game, Arlington for the ponies, 2 rounds of golf, 3 days in Whitewater, a day at Forest Glen with my old crew, a night at Irish Fest, Gary Clark Jr. right down the street from you at the EPI, Taste of Park Ridge - not exactly Taste of Chicago, but fun nonetheless, a day at the beach with a Chicago River boat cruise, 2 graduation parties - one in PR and one in Homewood - Flossmoor, a couple of nice dinners out (enjoyed Alfresco's on NW Hwy) and a couple of Chi town fixes: Beefs, Lou's and dogs. Even got the T -storm I was looking for yesterday morning before we left. Who says you can't go home?

- - Robert

Michael said...

Someone asked me if I was looking forward to Taste of Park Ridge. Yes, I'm looking forward to it leaving. You had good weather, which is nice. Chicago River boat cruise...nice. A very unique way to see the city. People who live here should do it. They'd be surprised.

We'll see you next time thru town Robert.


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