It was Karen’s first vacation in six years and we decided to have lunch one day. She picked the Goose Island Brewery, just off Clybourn Avenue and not quite on Goose Island. It was a sunny Tuesday and traffic was light as we cruised down Clybourn past the Webster Place theaters and the Treasure Island and the Thunderbird Bar & Grill.
There was a minor traffic jam as we approached Sheffield. Cars were going around a double-parked truck and then swerving back to the right to avoid some obstacle in the middle of the road. I followed them past the truck and there was this old black guy lying in the middle of the street. He didn’t look like a drunk; he was a little too clean and well dressed. He was on his back on the center line, his arms stretched out into both lanes. Nobody stopped. I followed traffic past him, then turned my flashers on and pulled to the side.
“Do you think he’s all right?” I asked.
Karen gave me this incredulous look. “Sure, Jack, he’s all right. He just decided that the middle of Clybourn Avenue was the perfect place for his afternoon nap.”
“Maybe he got hit by a car,” I decided. This sounded somewhat more logical.
I got out of the car. There was a row of houses across the street, most of them marked with For Sale signs. A black woman was standing on one of the porches. “What happened?” I called.
She shrugged. She didn’t know.
“Did you call an ambulance?”
There was a small grill south of the houses and, miracle of miracles, it had a pay phone. I punched 911 and the police answered and said they would send someone out.
Back on the street, a northbound car had stopped and traffic had backed up behind it. Two young guys got out and leaned over the older man. One picked him up by his arms, the other by his legs.
“Maybe they’re taking him to the hospital,” I said to Karen.
But the trip was much shorter. They carried him between two parked cars and up to the sidewalk, where they set him down and left him. They got back in their car and drove away.
A taxicab had stopped several car lengths behind me. The driver crossed the street and helped the man to his feet and then started walking him down the sidewalk. From the way the man staggered it appeared he was drunk.
I got back into my car and drove into the parking lot for Goose Island Brewery. The lot is large and parking is free.
As we entered the building we could hear a siren approaching.
A long hallway leads into the Goose Island Brewery’s large barroom, and windows off the hallway look down into the brewery. The bar is four-sided, all wood and brass. There were baskets of thick potato chips laid out and we decided to stop there first. Karen ordered a Bloody Mary and was pleased with its quality and quantity and also its price. Karen is a bartender by trade, so this is not light praise.
The brewery offers several varieties of its own draft beer and I ordered one of them. It was good.
We ordered a couple more.
“I hate when stuff like that happens,” Karen said of the incident outside. “It just reminds me how ill prepared I am to deal with an emergency.”
“Join the club,” I said.
“At least you did something.”
“I made a phone call. I probably wouldn’t have stopped if you weren’t along.”
“It was more than anyone else did,” Karen said.
“Those two guys,” I suggested.
“Yeah,” Karen laughed. “They deposited him in the gutter.”
“The cabdriver,” I tried again.
“Yeah, he did pretty good,” Karen had to agree.
After a while we were led to a booth in the back corner of a dining room. The booth was roomy for two but it would probably be tight for four.
Karen ordered a glass of cabernet. When it came she declared it was “a nice wine but overpriced.”
I stuck with beer.
We ordered the calamari appetizer. Neither of us was very impressed. It was rubbery and the breading was thick and, worst of all, they had cut off all the gross parts. I don’t know about you, but I like to play with my food.
We both liked our salads but thought they were too small.
Karen ordered chicken Marsala, which she described as “OK.” Asked to elaborate, she said she thought the sauce was too thick, more like a brown gravy than a sauce. She couldn’t really taste the Marsala, which, she informed me, is a wine. She thought the chicken itself was good.
I ordered pork chops. They were fine, with good texture and a nice white coloring. My applesauce never did arrive.
Between us we decided that the food was forgettable. But we thought the bar was a nice place to sit and drink and eat free chips. We didn’t try any of the sandwiches but thought they would probably be good.
On the way out we ran into some people we knew hanging around the bar. It was a comfortable place to meet friends.
Back on Clybourn Avenue, there was no sign of the black man. We headed south toward North Avenue. There were some black kids playing basketball in a city play lot and, farther along, some black people sitting on a porch.
“The last black summer,” I said. I thought that sounded like a nice title for something.
“Tell me about it,” Karen agreed.
The signs were everywhere. Half the lots were vacant and most of the buildings were either for sale or being renovated. It won’t be long before the only blacks in the play lot will be older women with white babies.
Down toward North Avenue there is an old ramshackle house sitting in a yard below the sidewalk. Years ago somebody decided it was not worth the time or the money to raise the house to the new street level. Now a sign out front reads: Managed by World Real Estate.
Traffic hurries by. People heading for the Treasure Island or Goose Island or maybe a movie. Soon they’ll be stopping along here too. Chances are there will be plenty of free parking and new and exciting places.
We turned east on North Avenue to a bar where writers sometimes hang out. There weren’t any writers around, just the bartender, whom Karen thought she had seen in a TV commercial.
From there we went north to another bar, and from that bar to another. This was a bartender’s holiday, after all.
In every bar we told the story of the black man lying in the middle of the street. Karen always got a laugh when she said, “And then Jack says, ‘Do you think he’s all right?'”
The more we told the story the funnier it seemed.