A big nothing-burger…
One of the things you realize once you leave the land of your birth is how little attention the rest of the world pays to the national holidays that were such a big deal to you before you went away. Here in The Land, there is no nakba (catastrophe) for turkeys in the middle of November (although Black Friday – celebrated any day of the year – has caught on big time). July 4 is a big nothing-burger in this part of the world. Having made aliyah the end of July 2007, we had gone thirteen years without a proper fireworks display and the obligatory barbecue that most citizens of the U.S.A. are able to enjoy as the highlight of the summer season.
Here we were in the Windy City. We had just gone on the river cruise the day before on Sun. July 3. Now this would be a rare opportunity to celebrate once again a rootin’ tootin’ good old fashioned American Fourth of July. OK, Chicago, surprise me. What do you have to offer? Actually, not much. Our plans for the day were to join Tina and David at the roof-top pool of their apartment building to watch the boys enjoy ‘a day at the beach.’ I assumed we needed to be there early before it got too crowded, but, never fear, there was no one there except two ‘friends from the building’ and their son, who is a little younger than Damon and a little older than Milo.
If I have a choice between splashing in the water and pontificating, I’ll go with the latter any day, especially when I get a chance to expound on one of my favorite topics, coffee. David had gone downstairs to Philz, a neighborhood coffee joint, and returned with several cups of their brew. I took a few sips and, no, this would not do: under-extracted (in other words, weak) and otherwise unpleasant. I asked David to take a picture of the logo on the take-out cup so I could send it to my man at Power Coffeeworks. (No worries, Brandon; still no competition!) It was as if I had turned on the light for David; he realized the product he could make in his very own kitchen with their coffee machine and a bag of Zabar’s best was a lot better than what he had just bought. Working from home, he was used to going out for coffee simply as an excuse to get out of the house for a few minutes – and who can fault him for that? But to wind up at Sludge City? (Philz, as I have discovered, ‘is an American coffee company and coffeehouse chain based in San Francisco, California, and is considered a major player in third wave coffee.’ It would not be useful to judge the entire chain based upon one bad experience in one of their many stores. So, I won’t.)
That’s how we started the day, twenty stories high, without a cloud in the sky or a care in the world. We were back in the apartment, minding our own business, when we heard the news. You know what I mean: the shoot-out at Highland Park. The response from the careless and misinformed – especially in parts of the media – besides the standard expressions of sympathy for the victims, was, What do you expect; it’s Chicago. Except that Highland Park is NOT in Chicago. (As Woodmere in the Five Towns is NOT in Brooklyn, and Silver Spring, MD is NOT in Baltimore.) And anyway, at this moment in time, Chicago is only number 28 on the list of the sixty-five ‘deadliest U.S. cities.’ (This blew me away: NYC is NOT even on the list.)
It wasn’t just the media outlets. All manner of concerned friends, colleagues, and other interested parties all over the country were frantically messaging Tina: Are you alright? Yes we’re fine. Nobody was opening fire on our roof-top pool. But, if nothing else, my personal bubble had been burst. You may remember my reluctance to re-visit The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave because of the on-going culture wars taking place on its fruited plains. As long as the conflict remains confined to dueling window displays, we’re ‘good.’ Even when Barbara read me something the day before from one of her newsfeeds about a ten-year-old rape victim having difficulty getting an abortion, I assumed someone would figure out what to do, which is what happened – at least in this one situation. But another mass shooting. Guys, figure it out; don’t just stand there; do something. I was hoping for fireworks, but not this kind. If people can’t even celebrate the Fourth of July without their blood being spilled on the sidewalk, then what’s the point? Let me take care of business and get the hell out of there, back to Ma’ale Adumim where I’d be safe(???) and sound..
The search is on
There’s one bit of ‘business’ that most of us ex-pats take care of upon our periodic visits ‘back home,’ and that’s shopping. Even though the list is getting shorter every year, there still are things that one can get better, cheaper, (or at all, like Heinz baked beans, of all things) in The States. Watch Barbara making her way through the aisles of a CVS or Walgreens, and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. There were any number of items I would have liked to buy – like a pair of glasses and some clothing, for starters – had there been the time and the opportunity, but there wasn’t. The one thing I was fiercely determined to pick up (I’m not going back empty-handed!) was a few bottles of whiskey.
There’s plenty of good Scotch whisky available in our local spirits emporiums; I’d say, fifty or so single malts. But American whiskeys? Meh. I once asked a salesclerk at one of the stores I frequent why the disparity? Her three word response was, This is Israel. There is a learning curve, and the folks here in The Land are not always on the cutting edge (or am I mixing my metaphors, a serious offense in my book).
Having wasted some quality time on YouTube watching assorted experts drink their way through a sea of bourbons and rye whiskeys, I began to get an inkling of the vast array of spirits – quality stuff – that was out there in the Lower 48 and was not on the shelves in my neck of the woods.
It was Tuesday, the day after July 4th and the day before we were scheduled to leave Chicago, and Tina was headed, for reasons that escape me, to Lakeview (or Lake View; they haven’t decided which one it is) farther north in Chicago. We were parked on a street basically in front of Galleria Liqueurs. While the two ladies were heading to a shop across the street, why not go in there right now and get three bottles of something? (The plan was for me to stuff two in my luggage and Barbara to take the third.) That way, mission accomplished. I might have a similar opportunity in NYC, Bergen County, or the Berkshires, but, then again, maybe I wouldn’t. It’s not as if I were in control of my schedule. The longer I waited, the greater my stress level – and we don’t want that. (No, we don’t want that.)
I walked in, looked around, and found what I was looking for. Oh dear, that’s more in our host, Alex Lurye’s, price range. I started to walk out, when I heard a voice from behind the sales desk, Can I help you? Sometimes, I respond, That’s OK, and continue on my way. This time – to my credit – I turned around and walked back to the store person. I’m looking for something like Wild Turkey 101. That would tell the man that I wanted something of quality at a more affordable price point. Whereupon he gave me a lesson in economics.
In New York, he said (Why would he think I’m from New York? Do I sound like I’m from New York?) supermarkets are not allowed to sell wine or whiskey. But they can in Chicago. What happens is that the supermarket chains can get a better deal on lower price items. We don’t try to compete. We stick to more specialty items that the supermarkets don’t carry. You need to go two blocks that way (pointing in the direction) to Jewel-Osco. They will definitely have what you want. I had to ask him to repeat the name of the supermarket. Not being from around there, I had never heard of it. I started walking in the direction indicated, but….. Why don’t I wait for Tina and have her drive there. Two blocks might be two miles, for all I know.
It wasn’t two miles, but I didn’t mind going by car. Where’s your liquor section? The cashier pointed me to the rear of the store, to the stairs or elevator going up to a balcony, away from the prying eyes and fingers of those who are too young. Sure enough, beer, wine, and whiskey. The Galleria guy was right on target, a decent selection of spirits I could afford and would enjoy. I even had a few minutes to walk through the aisle, letting my own eyes focus on the task at hand (maybe this; how about that; definitely one of these; I can only take three…). As always, it’s good to have a choice, and it’s even better when, weeks later, you inspect what you bought, and you know you did yourself proud.
We wind up our stay in Chicago
The last major event on our Chicago schedule was a festive dinner celebrating our little-less-than-a-week in the Windy City, especially as it was during the time of year when it’s not that windy. And for that, the choice of venues was pre-determined. Not only had Bryna Lee set us up with friends for Shabbat back in their old home town, she and A.J. were emphatic that our trip to Chicago would not be complete without a stop at Milt’s BBQ, also in the Lakeview neighborhood. OK; let’s do it!
We traveled there as usual: Tina, Milo, Barbara and me in the car, David and Damon pedaling it to the restaurant. There’s a big sign outside announcing who they are, but the word ‘kosher’ is not on it. It doesn’t have to be. People who need to know, know. People of other persuasions who just want some yummy finger-lickin’ barbecue are more than welcome to show up, and they do. (The kosher certificate is displayed inside for anyone who needs to see it.) Very casual, with a large-screen TV showing highlights of the day’s baseball games, which is what any sports bar would be doing. Yes, the food was first-rate, and when you can please a non-meat eater like me and two kids, you’re doing something right. What a way to end our stay. Thanks to Bryna Lee and A.J. for the tip. It was only later that I found out the truth: Milt’s opened for business in 2013, long after our friends were safely in The Land. They have never been there! Their recommendation was based on their personal connection with the chef’s family and the rave revues of their friends still residing in the Exile.
And thanks to Alex and Anya for hosting us, even though we only got to see them from time to time. But we did get to see two of their kids, whom we hadn’t seen since their bar/bat mitzvah in Israel years ago. Sam is now in his mid-twenties, with his own start-up company with forty employees and some serious financial backing (something to do with using A.I. to eliminate bottlenecks in supply chains). Sara is on the fencing team at Duke U. The entire family was heading to Israel to watch her compete in the Maccabiah Games. (The competition got minimal coverage in our local media, so I have no idea how well she did.) We were able to visit Elena, Anya’s mom, in her apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. Quite a view.
Sherwin and Jan did drop by to collect the warming tray they had left us for Shabbat and whatever else they needed back. We got to spend a half an hour with them before Tina picked us up (this was Sunday morning). Such nice people! If we ever return to the Windy City, maybe we can get together. We would be flying back Wed. morning for the rest of our stay in The States. Will I be writing about that? Such a question.