JetBlue reminds me of that one ignorant family member everyone has: you know he messes things up, and royally, but he will redeem himself if you give him a chance. Last Wednesday, they kept us waiting at JFK for five ass-numbing hours in the wake of some really rough weather in the morning. Another flight to Chicago at 3pm got the axe, but we finally got moving at 6pm or so. Once on board, the smiling flight crew handed us each headphones, and we were off to the magical land of onboard Direct TV. But of course, New York, being our other dysfunctional relative, decided that an ancient steam pipe would blow shit to smithereens next to Grand Central Station, so we got to spend our first hour in the air contemplating the possibility of terrorism. A lovely start.
Upon landing, it is instantly clear that we will not make it to Palabra Pura. By the time we're on a Blue Line train to our hotel downtown, it is 8pm, and the sky is pouring water out like a sieve. We are tired, a little hungry, and slightly lost, but we right ourselves quickly and make it to the hotel, where we order our first piece of Chicago cuisine: a stuffed Chicago-style pizza with spinach and fresh basil.
Now it must be said here that I am not one of these New Yorkers that ignorantly believes that everything New York has to offer is instantly wonderfully "the shit." I don't rest my head in the City, and I also manage to make it out of Manhattan once in a while. But when it comes to pizza, I'm a firm New York guy. I like my pizza flat, tasty, cheesy, with a SLIGHT crunch to my crust. I must say though, this particular Chicago-style thing had my questioning my faith a bit. It was a little bit of cheesy sex on a plate. Still, as I sit here typing this, I'm tempted to flee next door to Sorrento's in Pearl River for some of that Only-in-New-York flavor.
We spend the next couple of days wandering blissfully in Chicago, darting into Ditka's for salmon and the best hamburger I've had in ages; into Earwax in Wicker Park for the requisite healthiness; into a diner on the Northside for conversation with two old friends of the Betts. And no, it wasn't all food...at Reckless Records, I found Willie Colon's "The Hustler" on vinyl, featuring a 20-year-old Hector Lavoe on lead vocals. You will not borrow it, ever.
After Earwax on Saturday, we take an hour's ride south to Kankakee, Illinois, for Betts' mom's wedding and about a pound and a half of sweetcorn apiece daily. (We stayed at her cousin's farm.) The town is very interesting, in that one can sense a palpable separation in the air between white and black people, a profoundly disturbing separation that manifested itself on a couple of occasions. I think it's far too easy to forget this kind of overt racism, especially when one is caught up in the cosmopolitan niceties of urban race relations here in New York. Of course, one need only venture to a borough OTHER than Manhattan to see that overt racism is still pretty alive and well, but that's another conversation.
Our two readings went fairly well. I got a chance to break bread with Paul Martinez Pompa, an astute young poet whose work has bite and humor...and of course, so does he. He'll be featuring at Acentos in the next couple of weeks. The reading at Trace in Wrigleyville was well-attended, albeit late. And well, that was it. Not an earth-shattering trip, nor a particularly eventful one, but it was full and tiring, and my senses got a much-needed fresh set of stimulation. And I have to admit, I really enjoyed Chicago, I felt at home there, comfortable. I'll be back soon, I'm sure.