Saturday, January 18, 2014

No. 138 – Summer Song

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: The Extremist
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: Time Machine, 1993.

Death comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s not a person that affects you; it can be the death of a place. The transition to 2014 has been brutal in that regard. At the start of the year, I lost two places of significance.

The first one was The Lincoln, known among Laurie’s posse as The Scary President Lincoln Head because of the massive Lincoln portrait on the sign out front. It closed Dec. 31 after God only knows how many years. It was a classic diner that hadn’t changed in God only knows how many years.

Laurie and I went at least once every two months—it was in our regular rotation of breakfast joints. I always got the Spanish wrap (chorizo, jalapenos, scrambled eggs, cheese in a spinach tortilla), and I always noted how it was listed as “new”—as it had been since the first time I went.

I turned Scott on to it years ago, and it became a required stop whenever he was in town. It was where Laurie and I took Leah and John when we took care of them for a day a few years ago. Most significantly, it was where I met most of Laurie’s friends for the first time New Year’s weekend back in 2005. (I got the waffle instead of the “new” Spanish wrap.)

The second one was Penny’s Noodles. I’ve written about Penny’s in this here blog. Jin introduced me to it more than two decades ago, and it became a required stop for me every time I was in Chicago for the next decade. It was one of the first places Laurie and I went together when I came to visit for the first time. In fact, it was one of the things we talked about at Paul and Jin’s reception (story to come).

True, Penny’s survives in other locations, but the one that closed—also on Dec. 31—was the original location. It was the pie piece under the L tracks near Wrigleyville. It was where back in the day Jin and I would wait for an hour for a table, where I’d hike down the street to the little grocery to buy a couple of beers. We took Dave there I think when we visited for the National in 1993. It’s where Jin and I went after Scott and I finished our epic Seattle trip.


Another place that hasn’t closed but changed perhaps irreparably not long before all this was me and Laurie’s favorite bar—The Ten Cat. The Ten Cat has been my favorite bar since I moved to Chicago, and it was where I met the rest of Laurie’s friends—her closest ones—back at the end of 2004.

A few weeks ago, Laurie reported that she stopped in for a post-party chillout only to find that the owners got rid of the pinball machines and blues-heavy jukebox that had been a staple of the place, she said, for as long as she had been in Chicago, which was nearly 22 years. What? Why?

Well, I knew why: The owner of the machines wasn’t making enough money. I guess Laurie and I were the only ones who played, but we played all the time. It was the thing we’d do whenever we couldn’t decide where we wanted to go—Let’s go to The Ten Cat and play pinball while listening to old blues and the clatter of pool balls in the background. Sounds good to me.

When I moved to Chicago, our game was World Cup Soccer, which was fun. Then it became Rollercoaster Tycoon, which was even better. Finally, a few years ago, they put in—I kid you not—Big Hurt. Yes, it’s a Frank Thomas endorsed baseball-theme pinball game. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—I covet one. Before long, instead of asking whether we wanted to go to The Ten Cat, we’d just say, “let’s go see Frank.” Now, that’s all gone.

One place that isn’t gone—for now—is the Timberlanes. That’s where this song comes into play. (You probably were wondering where the hex I was going with this.) The Timberlanes is an old-and-divey bowling alley not far from home. Laurie and I go there when we want to get our roll on (and play some pinball, too). It’s notable for its black light bowling, which is exactly what it sounds like: bowling with garish balls under a black light that makes everything look like an acid trip-horror movie mashup.

One night, this song came on, and not just any version but the Time Machine version. I couldn’t believe it. Who besides me would play this song on a bowling alley juke? I was rawking out HARD at the bar while we awaited drinks, and the bartender called me out. He played this song and thought I was making fun of it. No way, dude. You can’t fake that level of headbanging, flashing the secret devil sign and air guitar, can you? That’s as sincere as it gets.

Well, Laurie and I haven’t been back in a while. The past few times we’ve gone, the place was rented out for private parties. For all I know, it’s turned into a hipster haven like another venerable dive bowling alley that we lost in 2013—the Lincoln Lanes. Perhaps even Summer Song no longer is on the juke.

Perish the thought. But that’s how it goes if you live long enough.

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