Tag Archives: Chicago


English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...

Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Thanksgiving turkey is now mostly eaten–the remains becoming soup or turkey salad (with mayo), or sandwiches for the kids’ lunches.  (Some leftovers might even be put into the freezer for later…)  The festive food preparation, eating at the Turkey Day Table, the family conversations and discussions, football games and scores, and the trip home are fast becoming memories.  Another Thanksgiving….

My memories of Turkey Day Vacation of 1961 may be “outdone” by others’ recollections; but at age 20, I had a holiday vacation like no other since then.

College students home for holidays lose sleep, party hearty, visit relatives, stay out late, go places (like dances, movie theaters, or Black Friday shopping events with others in crowded places), and sometimes travel long distances to get to the traditional Turkey Day Feast (See Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 film written, produced, and directed by John Hughes).

An Illinois Central Railroad diesel locomotive...

An Illinois Central Railroad diesel locomotive on static display in Carbondale, Illinois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some, these activities weaken immune systems.

In 1961, to my Chicago home from school in Saint Louis: 300 miles.  Thanksgiving holiday: Wednesday to Sunday.  A round trip on the Illinois Central Railroad.

Now I cannot recall the specifics of my arrival home, the turkey dinner (November 23, 1961), the activities with friends and family–and how much sleep I did not get.  But pneumonia I did get somehow and somewhere.

 “Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs causing cough … and difficulty breathing.  A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.  Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life threatening … most serious for … people with underlying health problems or weakened immune systems.  Most people with pneumonia begin with cold and flu symptoms and then develop a high fever, chills, and cough…  Pneumonia usually starts … after having a cold or the flu.”

The Chicago weather that November ranged from a high of 55 to a cold 30 degrees.  Some nice days, some much colder.  Not much snow around, just crispy and cold at night.

My holiday ended Sunday night, the 26th, but not before I took out the dog.  I was in my shirtsleeves, I remember: no jacket, walking the dog in an open field, 39 degrees–colder in the wind near our place near O’Hare Field.  Walking into the warm house I got the chills.

“Off you go”–or something like that my dad said to me, as I boarded the Illinois Central late Sunday night.  (I took the Illinois Central, for its train routes allowed me to leave later from home and have more vacation time.)

I did not feel well; I had the chills.

The only seat I found was in a small compartment chair-like seat next to the door between train cars.

All night, as I tried to sleep, people would be opening and closing the door, letting in the cold air, letting the cold air blow on me.  No other place to move to.  I was getting cold and colder, despite being dressed in my heavy black wool overcoat.

At three o’clock on Monday morning, my friend met me at the train station.

Saint Louis RR Station

Not much sleep.  Didn’t want breakfast.  Into my dorm room bed I went.  No class attendance: I became feverish and delirious by suppertime.  By six, I was being driven to the hospital where I fainted in the X-ray room, as I remember.

xray-barnes-1951X-Ray Barnes Hospital 1951

(I have no remembrance of ever sitting in an ER.)

Admitted.  Put into bed.  A small bed–in the pediatric wing!  (The hospital census, I was later told, was high with few beds left.)

So my Thanksgiving vacation included a five-day stay in a hospital.  The latter required medications, rest, and more rest.  But did meet a young college student like me, also admitted to pediatrics.  Female.

When I returned to campus activities and classes, I found myself running on SLOW for a few months.  Yet, though I was later deemed “fully recovered” and released from a doctor’s care, my lungs were never “as good as new.”

That’s my storied Thanksgiving memory.  For now….

© James F. O’Neil  2013

By: James F. O’Neil

“Riding the Subway as Therapy”– Jared Keller (

On a recent trip to Minnesota, I rode the tram in the Minneapolis airport.  Carry-on bag with me, I stepped onto the tramcar, moved away from the doors which were about to close (as I was warned), and sat down to the right in a senior seat.  I had a perfect front view of the tracks, and a view of how I was going to travel to Concourse C.


In a moment-flash-to-the-past, a recurring moment, I was transported to Chicago, the Chicago L, the Englewood Line, then called The “A” Train.


(The CTA ‘L’ is sometimes written as “L” or “el,” short for “elevated.)  My little brother and I were travelers of the CTA rails.  My small companion, five years younger, and I went for L rides, for something to do.  What a cheap date!  When we rode the transit system, from bus to L, the fares were 12¢, and then rose to 20¢ in the late ‘50s.  (In 1957, the base fare was raised to 25¢.)

Our route was the walk from 67th and Marshfield, to the bus on Ashland, then north to 63rd, transfer to 63rd to Loomis, where the Englewood Line ended/began. 

 Tom and I--Forever Bound

63rd and Loomis

Through the station and up the stairs we went.  (See the 1995 romantic comedy film While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman for a view of fare-collecting and L train stations.)  Almost running to the front of the waiting “train,” the two of us pushed into the first car, sitting in the front across from the motorman.  We’d share turns on the single seat by the front window. 

As the train went underground, becoming the subway under the Chicago Loop and farther north, the journey under the city thrilled us both–and a greater thrill when the motorman opened his door, propping it open with a foot or leg, allowing us front-row seats to the controls of the machine.  We drove with him.  We were in command. 

Lights and rails and signals raced by; then we slowed for each underground platform stop.  As we came to daylight, we saw and felt the climb up the rails to over two stories above the city.  We were always able to look down at porches and cars and people, or look into third-story windows.

From 63rd and Loomis to the end of the line at Howard Street, we delighted.  Then everyone off, down the stairs to the exit to the street.  We would walk around, finding our favorite stop for a Coke, then looking in the showroom window of the Mercedes-Benz dealer on Howard and State Street.  In the showroom, we walked around, transfixed–really–looking at the new gull-wing Mercedes-Benz,


1955_Mercedes-Benz_300SL_Gullwing_Coupe_34Pic of that Mercedes in 1955

Then we’d make our way back home, looking forward to the ride, but somewhat let down, of course, for the trip was over.  But at the same time, what a trip, nearly from one of the city to the other.

As we grew older, the trips became less frequent.  Yet like Holden Caulfield protecting his sister Phoebe (in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye), I was my brother’s savior on one unforgettable L ride. 

We were traveling underground.  I was in the single seat (my turn…), facing the motorman compartment, but able to turn face-front.  My brother was in the first double seat, next to the window, looking forward and left.  Both of us thought nothing of the old man who came from a crowded platform and made his way to sit down with us in the empty place.  Next to my brother.  Small talk (as I look back), about our ride and us. 

From the corner of my eye, I saw the man move his hand slowly from on his left leg towards my brother’s little right leg covered by brown corduroys.  I mean, this guy was some kind of pervert and all…  Honest to God!  And I got excited and all.  And nervous.  I mean, what was I supposed to do?  I’m not kidding.  I kept worrying, in slow motion and all, about what the pervert was going to do–and all.

I looked him in the eye: “Don’t touch my brother or I’ll kill you, I swear to God I will!”  He stood up and moved.  There I was, sliding away from the window, sitting down next to the little guy.  There I was, the catcher in the rye and all.  I caught him before he was swept over the cliff.  I saved him and all.  I swore then and there that I would NEVER let harm come to him–and all.

 * * *

From Wikipedia: The Chicago rapid-transit system is officially nicknamed the ‘L’.  This name for the CTA rail system applies to the whole system: its elevated, subway, at-grade, and open-cut segments.  The use of the nickname dates from the earliest days of the elevated railroads.  Newspapers of the late 1880s referred to proposed elevated railroads in Chicago as ‘”L” roads.  The first route to be constructed, the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad gained the nickname “Alley Elevated,” or “Alley L” during its planning and construction, a term that was widely used by 1893, less than a year after the line opened.

In discussing various stylings of “Loop” and “L” in Destination Loop: The Story of Rapid Transit Railroading in and around Chicago (1982), author Brian J. Cudahy quotes a passage from The Neon Wilderness (1949) by Chicago author Nelson Algren: “beneath the curved steel of the El, beneath the endless ties.”  Cudahy then comments, “Note that in the quotation above … it says ‘El’ to mean ‘elevated rapid transit railroad.’  We trust that this usage can be ascribed to a publisher’s editor in New York or some other east coast city; in Chicago, the same expression is routinely rendered ‘L.'” The Chicago Tribune style guide also uses ‘L.’

As used by CTA, the name is rendered as the capital letter ‘L’, in quotation marks.  “L” (with double quotation marks) was often used by CTA predecessors such as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company; however, the CTA uses single quotation marks (‘) on some printed materials and signs rather than double.  In Chicago, the term subway is only applied to the sections of the ‘L’ network that are actually underground and is not applied to the entire system as a whole, as in New York City where both the elevated and underground portions are called the subway.


Note: The Website is found as Chicago “L”.org

© James F. O’Neil  2013

By:  James F. O’Neil

“Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.”  –Horace

October.  Summer is a memory.  Schools are back in session for a new year, a new term.  “What I Did Last Summer” is long finished.  But wait!

What did teachers do “all” summer?

In my entire college education, I had only one course in economics.  I did not understand much of it; the plain grey-covered textbook weighed at least 15 pounds.  My transcript shows that I received a C in Econ 152 Intro to Economics.

My work-life began with a Social Security card, and a job in the produce department of Wieboldt’s in Chicago, on 63rd Street and Green.

 Wieboldt's 63rd and Green


This job brought me my first real paycheck and my first taxed Social Security earnings ($21) in 1957.  At sixteen, I was on my way to retirement (and the not-yet-known-Medicare), but certainly did not know it nor understand what was ahead for me in the work force.

In 1957, I was a junior in high school.  I had no earnings to speak of until 1963, the year I began teaching, the year I was married.

The Intro to Economics course taught me nothing about budgets, doing income taxes, withholding, rent, income, health insurance.  The GNP and Adam Smith did not help me with my first checking account.  (We did money orders for the first two years together.)  

We newlyweds had rented a nice one-bedroom apartment, 2nd floor, in a three-story building with long balconies, and dumpsters in the parking lot in the rear.  Wonder bread was 25¢ a loaf.


PHOTO CREDIT: garry-gay

We could fill the tank of the ’62 Corvair for $3.00; and my Camel cigarettes were 25¢ a pack.

However, we soon realized near the end of the first year together that my teacher salary of $4300 a year was not going to be adequate for our lifestyles of fast cars and nightlife at the drive-in. 

During the summers after a school year, most young teachers, having reported final grades, and having cleaned their classroom and done other bureaucratic duties in order to receive the final paycheck, had to find work for the summer. 

In the summer of 1964, I unloaded boxcars for Jewel Tea Company. 

jewel tea box car

Photo of Model Boxcar:

Unloading boxcars was, without a doubt, the hardest work I have ever done in my life. 

I was a lean, mean machine who could unload fifty-pound packages of bags of sugar, emptying a “sugar car” in an hour.  Green beans and SPAM took longer.  Ketchup cars were often scenes of massacre as the cars were “humped,” sending cartons of ketchup smashing against walls and ceilings.  After the broken glass, crushed cartons, and sprayed blood-red ketchup were disposed of, the remnants were able to be stacked in proper form on the pallets, awaiting the two-pronged forks of the lifts.

Summer could not end soon enough, with sandwiches made with ground baloney and mixed relish for lunch.

After the next school year?  No more bloody boxcars. 

“Fuller Brush!  Good afternoon!  I have a few specials to show you today.”

fuller brush man

Photo: Fuller Brush Man

The work was fun and the products were good (like the DCW–Dust, Clean, Wax–cleaner).  And the brooms never wore out.  My territory was mostly in the Palatine area near Chicago.  Selling, carrying that Fuller Brush case, then sorting orders and packaging and then making deliveries, was the routine.  The best part?  Meeting people–and no baloney sandwiches.

My territory got too big; my manager wanted me to do more.  I quit. 

After the snows melted and the spring rains came, I knew summer would come after another school year finished.

I drove a dump truck.

dump-truckDump Truck

I worked for a landscaper.  I was a real “sod-buster,” taking the truck to the sod farm, getting sod or loads of dirt, and delivering–safely, through the streets and on the roads of northwest Cook County–to the job sites. 

My sod-busting and sod-laying and plant-planting work brought me home every night looking like a Welshman from the mines. 

At the end of the summer of 1966, that chapter of my life, which really began long before at Wieboldt’s, concluded.  We left Chicago and headed up to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  It was to be our first big Adventure in Moving.  But more summers would lie ahead.

I was only 25….



© James F. O’Neil  2013


By: James F. O’Neil

“Home is where one starts from.”  –T. S. Eliot

I used to fly in my dreams.  Drs. Freud and Jung were not worried that I crashed, got up, ran up four flights of stairs, and flew again.  My favorite crash-site was the dirt and dirty non-grassy courtyard behind the Byrne’s Building.  This magnificent brownstone of four floors and some seventy-five apartments faced the beautiful grass-center of a divided Garfield Boulevard on the South Side of Chicago. 

garfield blvd & halsted garfield blvd 50 chucksViews of Garfield and Halsted 

The apartment had its beauty and elegant layout, well planned by architects to house the growing middle-class of Germans and Irish whose ancestors slaved in The Back of the Yards (the stockyards), but who could not yet afford their own houses.

This structure was part of the South Side I knew best, bordered by Garfield-55th, Halsted, and Green streets. 

The building has disappeared from Google maps, having been demolished some time in the late 1970s.  Yet it remains an important place where my memories reside and continue to live–and a place to which I return often.

We moved from South Marshfield to Green Street.  Our new home in the Byrne’s Building gave us…four flights of stairs, little privacy (with its eight apartments to an entrance), noisy back porches seen by all other back porches, and less room. 

And the Byrne’s Building had bed bugs.  Soon after we moved in, I can remember my dad with his bar of soap, trying to catch the buggers, in the front bedroom off the living room, which my baby brother shared with my parents.  Whomp!  Whomp!  Whomp!  went the bar of soap against the mattress–and the tearing sound as my mom pulled down the wallpaper.   

The Wonder Years for me began there, the early adolescent years, the new high school years, my growing years–years that provided me with countless memories.  The wonders that were part of my life there included illnesses and happinesses, graduations and birthdays, family celebrations and holidays, freezing Chicago winters and street-softening summers.  And a place where dreaming, I fell to the ground, or flew to the dirt center, crash-landed–then being resurrected, then awakened.

I was comfortable, I recall, in the larger bedroom with one brother and the bunk beds.  Its window opened into the void between the walls of the building, that emptiness adjacent to eight sets of bathroom windows, the stale air–and sky–and the laughter and crying and more.  Closed, the window provided some relief from neighbors in summer. 

My desk for high school subjects faced the window my mom tried to decorate.  The beds for us were next to the wall and the ornate sliding door, once dividing the living room (the parlor) from the sitting room in the brownstone elegance of a time gone past.  Now the door was squeezed open for air–and for eavesdropping.

And then another summer on the fourth floor, staring down into our back yard: at clothes lines on pulleys, like a maze of crossed telephone wires, attached to the Power House; at children playing marbles in the dirt, or pushing baby buggies through the moonscape called a playground, without any grass, and maybe some few weeds; at the dirt devils, twisting their way around and through neatly-hung clothes, and clothes lines, those clouds of dust from Windy Nowhere; at the center of the yard, my crash site of dreams, with no fear of flying….

clotheslines  css.cul.columbia.educatalogrbml_css_0224

Laundry and Clothes Lines Pic: Columbia U.

 © James F. O’Neil   2013

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