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,...it'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.