Throwback Thursday

Here’s a 2013 piece from Janet Rudolph’s “Mystery Readers Journal”

Sweet Home, Chicago

I got up early for a run along the lake, but the alewives had washed up along the shore and the air smelled like dead fish, so I headed home. It didn’t matter; we were going to the Art Institute to load up on culture and I hadn’t shaved or showered. By the time I got back Ellen had coffee made—the thick black stuff that’s her specialty. I tossed it down while I got dressed.

Parking in the Loop costs about as much as a kidney transplant these days so we parked near Wrigley Field and took the EL downtown. Michigan Avenue was bustling. It was the start of tourist season and a few panhandlers were working the crowd. I recognized one of the guys selling papers near a group of bucket drummers and slipped him a deuce before we hurried past the stone lions and up the museum steps. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world’s best art museums. No matter how many times I visit, I’m always blown away by the beauty and variety of the collection. We haunted the impressionist galleries for a bit, wandered through the modern wing, then headed out walking past Daley Plaza which, in the famous words of Blues Brother Jake is “where they got that Picasso.”

The EL clickety-clacked us back, past Lincoln Park, to our car. I must have missed the street cleaning sign when I parked because the wind-shield was wallpapered with tickets. I crammed them into the glove compartment and drove us up to Devon Avenue for some aloo gobi and spicy fish curry. That’s the thing about Chicago; with all the ethnic neighborhoods you can get any kind of food you want. The popular meme is that hot dogs and deep-dish pizza are our signature foods. Bull. Chicago has everything from fancy French to tasty tapas to south side soul food. It’s a city rich in diversity of people and culture.

I suppose we should have gone home after our feast, but we were in the mood for some electric blues, so we headed south to Svengoolie’s adopted hometown, Berwyn. There’s a little blockhouse tavern on Harlem Avenue that serves up cheap beer and smokin’ hot blues bands. We pushed our way past the regulars and grabbed the last two seats at the bar. The guy on the stool next to mine kept falling asleep on my shoulder, and someone behind me kept bumping my elbow but I didn’t care. There was a woman on stage who was making her guitar wail like she had made a pact with the devil. No human should be able to play that fast and clean.

After the second set we figured it was time to pack it in; we both had to work in the morning. Ellen would be clocking in at the crime lab to analyze gunshot residue kits from the weekends gang shootings. I’d be facing a room full of tired city college students; each one hoping to land a career that pays better than the crappy fast food joints and retail shops they currently work in.

Ellen likes to call Chicago the Paris of the Midwest. The native Algonquian speakers called it the place of the wild onions. The white-picket-fence crowd out in the suburbs think of it as a crime ridden cesspool to be braved once a year when the shop windows are decked out for Christmas, but Chicago is my Calliope. She was an inspiration for my first novel, and is as important to the story as any of the human characters. Sure, she’s got plenty of problems—violent crime, poverty, and a long history of corrupt politicians, but hey, what better muse for a mystery writer?