Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Twelve)

I had decided some time before that I’d go back to Chicago: I knew it far better than any other place and I also wanted see my relatives and a few friends who had been considerably older than myself. And now, more than ever, I needed to enjoy myself on this mission, not just to work.

Monday afternoon I made a deal with the hotel to keep my car in their private lot for up to one year, paying them a hundred dollars for the privilege. I also checked out in advance.

An so, in the early morning of Tuesday, July 15th, I took a taxi to 20th Century Photo, hopped into my truck, and started making my way across the desert. I had my film and money divided between the back of the truck and a small suitcase in the front with me. I also had a pistol, again just in case. (There was nothing scandalous about that in 1947.)

I made it half-way to Salt Lake City by mid-morning, as the heat was rising. I was outfitted with plenty of water and food, in case I needed to park my truck through the heat of the day, but I learned that there was a decent truck stop an hour or two ahead, and I made it there before the day was terribly hot. I had breakfast and was able to take a three-hour nap in a sort of truckers’ barracks. I got back on the road as the heat was melting away.

The three-hour nap and the odd surroundings (I drove with m window open, which kept me in touch with them) were enough to keep me alert. I was driving into Salt Lake City as the sun rose. For the era, I had made great time.

I found the grand Hotel Utah quickly enough, and although I wasn’t sure they’d want to deal with my truck, I found them accommodating and pleasant. They parked my truck in a secure space and got a room ready for me in a hurry. I offered to pay extra for taking the room so early in the day, but they declined.

I slept several hours, then walked around Salt Lake City and enjoyed the place. If nothing else, it was very clean and proper, which makes for easy and reliable living. In fact, I appreciated it quite a bit more than I thought I would; it renewed my conviction that religious neighbors have been deeply unappreciated throughout our era.

Still, I checked out Tuesday morning early and got back on the road. And as I drove, I began considering what I’d do once I got back to Chicago. I’d need some kind of garage or workshop to store the probe and develop my photos. I’d also need a convenient place to live.

* * * * *

My route from Utah to Chicago was the old Lincoln Highway, which followed, almost precisely, the same route that I knew as Interstate 80. Getting from Salt Lake to Chicago took me four more days. I could have made it a bit faster, but going through an endless string of small towns takes time. Plus, I found those little towns compelling.

I had missed most of the classic middle-America during my lifetime, staying almost entirely in Chicago well into the 1970s. Now I was examining the post-WWII America countryside directly. In the small diners where I stopped frequently, I finally enjoyed reading newspapers, because they were all local. More than that, they varied tremendously, which was invigorating. The homogenized news I was exposed to between 1970 and 2015 was desperately boring in comparison. (I don’t consider media after 2015 to be “news.”)

I finally made it into Chicago on a Sunday, the 20th. I didn’t trust the downtown parking lots, and so I stayed at the brand new Howard Johnson’s hotel in Skokie. I parked the truck in a well lit part of the lot and got a room overlooking it. As in Salt Lake, I told the check-in people that I had some models for printing equipment… that they’d be almost worthless to anyone else, but embodied six months of my work.

Monday morning I was up early, ate breakfast (where I got my hands on a Sunday paper, with its massive classifieds section) and went back to my room to make a few phone calls. I set up a couple of furnished apartments to look at, and two garages I might be able to rent. I walked the mile and a half to the Skokie Swift train (then called the Niles Center Branch) with ten thousand dollars in my pocket.

The train ride to the Loop was mostly the same as in my youth, just a bit slower. I looked at two high end apartments north of the Loop and rented one of them (on Delaware) for a year. It had been empty, and so they were pleased to have a renter with a cash deposit. I had the keys in my hand by one o’clock.

The garage took longer, but mostly because I had to take taxis to and from my inspections. But I found an empty garage and an eager landlord on South Sangamon St. (just west of the Loop). The space had been used for war supplies and was now sitting vacant.

The next day I moved into my two new places. By the end of the day my truck was safely stored and I was sleeping in a very nice apartment. I began to relax into 1947.

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Paul Rosenberg