Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Blues is Alright

Chicago, Il. - It isn't until I see the room's framed art that I realize the Almalfi in The Amalfi Hotel refers to Italy's Amalfi Coast - or so I assume.

The hotel, a splurge - a lucky Orbitz choice - turns out to be like a W's milder cousin. Brighter, more earth-toned, perhaps more midwestern. It's lovely. And it has free wifi. The allure is so strong I'm freehanding this text for later transcription because I can't wait to start using the wi.

Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone . . . .

I'm scribbling at Blue Chicago - a smoke filled blues bar in downtown Chicago. "I'm going to Kansas City," sings Eddie Shaw of Eddie Saw and the Wolf Gang. In truth, I've just come from Kansas City. We had BBQ - from a restaurant in a gas station with one glass wall looking into the liquor store next door. In Kansas, beer has statutorily limited alcohol content: 2.3%. Down the street in Missouri, you can double your buzz with 5% beer - and liquor stores on the Mo side of the border paint "5%" on their windows and outline the figure in neon. I think fondly of Eldo's in the neighborhood back home with it's 6, 7, or even 8.9% beer.

Wednesday was a long day's drive from Independence through St. Louis and up to Chicago. St. Louis's Gateway Arch was awesome - in both the traditional and slang senses. It looked like something out of the movie "Contact" - the space aged swoop and impossibly high windows, little slits some 600+ feet off the ground. We contemplated a ride to the top, but as I began to wonder if I had a little fear of heights going on, we saw the trip took more than 60 minutes - too long for our scheduled day. I breathed a sigh of relief as we left. On the way in I was stopped and had my bag checked by a park ranger. This was before going through the standard metal detector and x-ray machine at the door. Guess I had that questionable look about me - taking too many photos. Multi-colored straw bag a sign of - uh - something. At lunch we ate toasted raviolis - only because they were a favorite of St. Louis native, and phoblog friend Hutch's - the absence thereof was something he lamented every time we went out to eat in college. It was the only "St. Louis food" I could think of. Tasty, if unremarkable.

Driving the 55 North through Illinois our trip took a turn for the worse as "ooh, barn" turned into "if I see another corn field . . . ." I was surprised that Illinois looked more farm-like than Kansas or Oklahoma had. Not that they weren't agrarian as well, but the barns of Illinois were each postcards of middle America - red and white, peeling paint and rusted silos, weather vanes and sunbleached porches.

If not for David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim we would have driven into a corn field long ago. The author read his work from the cd player and made us laugh more than we'd laughed in several hundred miles. It's a short story collection, creative, autobiographical - my favorite genre. At times, he seems self-indulgent: why is his somewhat goofy family really that worthy of 6.5 hours of writing? I suppose they wouldn't be, except he can describe them better than most of us. I wonder about how his siblings feel hearing his mocking - sometimes gentle, frequently ruthless. He even addresses the topic, but doesn't really apologize.

Don't start me to talkin'/I'll tell everything I know

I enjoy his voice and storytelling so much that I spend the rest of the day watching the world in his voice. It's similar to how I increasingly watch the news: in Jon Stewart's voice. Transcribing each incident and scene in my head, writing my own short stories based on a cab ride, on dinner, on a blues bar. My mental notes are every bit as brilliant and clever. Getting it on paper, of course, would be impossible - though I try, frantically writing with a BIC roundstick on a found pad of paper in a carcinogenic, Windy City bar. How can you not get lyrical, listening to the blues. How can you not want to write as the sax dances and the bass guitar sways in Shorty Gilbert's hands. In my head, I'm already a book on tape . . . .

As Eddie pulls out the harmonica and Willie Davis riffs on his guitar (the drummer, bored and sleepy-eyed, is never introduced), we decide to leave - since it can't get much better and we couldn't stand it ending on anything other than these perfect notes. Besides, the bandwidth is calling - free wifi, free wifi - like a siren. And there ain't no sunshine when she's gone. There's no blogging either.

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