Route 66 activities:  Winter bird watching on and off the route in Will County

Hello again, fellow roadies!  Are you enjoying your winter so far?  We know that most people simply assume there aren’t any activities worth noting along Route 66 this far north between November and May, but you’d be wrong.  Just as there are interesting winter festivals and things off the route, so there are fun winter activities on the route – even in the greater Chicago area.

My co-author and fellow blogger Joe Kubal is an avid birdwatcher.  Those of you who are into birding and/or nature walks know that many birdwatchers go out regardless of the season and, sometimes, regardless of the weather.  There’s much to see in Chicagoland where bird watching is concerned: try Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago; paths along the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek in suburban Lyons and Riverside; the forest preserves near the Chicago Portage National Historic Site in Forest View; or the trails in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve surrounding Argonne National Laboratory near Darien.  Beyond the Chicago parks and the forest preserves of Cook and DuPage counties, however, there are many opportunities for birding in Will County, too.  I’ll let Joe tell you about his most recent trip.  And before I forget, special thanks to Joe’s birding colleague Sid Padgaonkar for most of the photos here; unless otherwise noted, they’re Sid’s copyright 2015 (all rights reserved).  Take it away, Joe!

Hi there, readers!  When I’m not working with my co-authors on our upcoming Route 66 book, I participate in a lot of clubs and organizations – the Illinois Geographical Society (IGS), the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI), the Knights of Columbus, and the Route 66 Association of Illinois (of course), just to name a few.  Occasionally, the interests of one group overlap with that of another. In this case, my love of birding coincides with my love of all things Route 66.

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Route 66 events (brrrr!):  Warm thoughts of the 2014 Berwyn Route 66 Car Show

Hi there, fellow roadies!  How ya doin’ with that polar vortex??  Have you been buried under layers of silk, wool and down this month?  Wearing two pairs of gloves and three pairs of socks, indoors?  Drinking hot cocoa and trying to think warmer thoughts??  Well, we can’t warm you up as fast as an XXX-rated movie might, but we can certainly turn your attention away from the freezer outside to things that should bring a smile.  With the annual Chicago Auto Show ongoing at McCormick Place through Feb. 22, it’s an opportune time to look back at last autumn’s annual Berwyn (IL) Route 66 Car Show … and dream.

Suddenly those cars with the flame-throwing exhaust systems actually look appealing, eh?  Yeah, we thought they might.  But hang on to your mittens anyway (they actually work better for keeping your hands warm).

2014 Berwyn Car Show 3 - nitro fuel demo - blog (MRTraska) Continue reading

Route 66 weekend wrap-up: Chicago Auto Show coming soon & more

Greetings, fellow roadies!  Have you got Seasonal Affective Disorder or cabin fever yet?  Mother Nature has been jerking us around this winter, at least in Chicagoland – teasing us with unseasonal above-freezing days that melt what little snow we’ve had so far (not enough long-lasting snow cover:  very bad for farmers and for your precious perennials), then slapping us upside our parkas with single-digit temps and subzero wind chills and giving us an intermittent reality check (yeah, the super-cold is the way real winter used to be up here; y’all are spoiled these days).  Makes you want distraction, preferably with something warm … or at least something that reminds you of warmth.  Well, thank heavens Mardi Gras season officially began back on January 7 and Chinese New Year is just around the corner; I don’t know about you, but thinking about great food always makes me feel warmer.

Oh, but there’s an excellent distraction coming up soon, especially for those of you who are automotively minded:  the annual Chicago Auto Show is coming back to McCormick Place!  And it’s warm and sexy inside!!  Now some of you may be asking yourselves:  Hey, wait – what does McCormick Place have to do with Route 66?  Fret not, there is a legitimate connection:  the massive convention center is located at the eastern end of Cermak Road/22nd Street, right where Lake Shore Drive meets the start of Interstate 55.  The final alignment of U.S. Route 66 in Illinois during the early 1970s had the eastern terminus set back to Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive, then the route went south to I-55 where the interstate and Route 66 mostly ran together on the same superhighway between Chicago and Joliet for a few years, before Route 66 was finally decommissioned in Illinois during the 1970s.  This last iteration of the route took it right past McCormick Place.

So: do we really need more reason than that to come stare at muscle cars, sports cars and high-tech prototypes?  Naaaah – like you should even ask.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Rosemary Clooney

Greetings, fellow roadies and road music lovers!  It’s time for that Route 66 Song Of The Week, one of the multitudes of versions of our favorite travel anthem.  We really meant to put this one up last year around the time that George Clooney got married (hoping that he and his new bride would take the hint from George’s Aunt Rosie), but for some reason we never did, silly us.

Rosemary Clooney was the prototypical ‘girl singer’ of the World War II and postwar era.  There was always at least one attached to most big swing bands.  In the case of Benny Goodman, it was Peggy Lee.  Duke Ellington had Joya Sherrill and a few others.  Count Basie stuck with the guys most of the time – Jimmy Rushing and, later, Joe Williams – but Basie was atypical.  Rosie began her recording career in 1946 singing with Tony Pastor’s big band for Columbia Records.

Rosemary Clooney, head and shoulders, 1954

Rosemary Clooney in a 1952 publicity glamour photo.

Before that Rosie Clooney and her sister Betty, who grew up with their brother, newsman and broadcaster Nick Clooney (George’s dad) in Maysville, KY, about 60 miles southeast of greater Cincinnati, started singing locally on Cincinnati’s radio station WLW in 1945.  By 1951, she had a hit single on the pop music charts, “Come On-a My House,” which turned out to be the first of many hit recordings during the 1950s and 1960s.  She’s perhaps best known for having co-starred with Bing Crosby, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye in the musical film White Christmas, which featured the song of the same name, and for her many TV appearances during the 1950s and 1960s.  However, her career began to wane during the 1960s in part because of her bipolar disorder and drug addiction.  She also had a nervous breakdown in 1968 following her second divorce from actor José Ferrer (in 1967; she had divorced him the first time in 1961 and had remarried him in 1964), from which it took her some years to recover.

Her singing career got a reboot in 1976 when she signed with United Artists Records for two albums, then got a further boost in 1977 when Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him at a show marking his 50th anniversary in show business.  Starting that same year, she recorded an album a year for Concord Records, a jazz label.  She continued rrecording until her death in 2002.  What most of the younger (Gen X?) generation might remember, however, is her guest appearance with nephew George on the popular TV series ER in 1995 (in which George was one of the stars), for which she received an Emmy nomination the following year.

A lolngtime smoker, Clooney died from lung cancer.  This recording is from one of her later albums.  We hope you enjoy it.  It includes actress Dorothy Malone and Bobby Troup himself, author of our favorite Route 66 song.  Cheers!

Until next time,
your own DJ SweetMarie


Route 66 history:  Lawndale’s Dr. M. L. King Legacy Apartments

Today is the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If you haven’t already done or participated in something to celebrate, there’s a memorial concert tonight in downtown Chicago (see the end of this article) … or, if you’re not up for going out, you can read this blog post about an interesting side trip off of Route 66 that honors Dr. King.

The apartment building at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. that Dr. and Mrs. King moved into in Chicago's Lawndale area in January 1966.

The apartment building at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. that Dr. and Mrs. King moved into in Chicago’s Lawndale area  (photo circa January 1966).

Once upon a time back during the winter of 1966, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to raise awareness of the appalling, restrictive housing situation of Chicago’s black residents.  To do that, he moved that January into an apartment in North Lawndale on Chicago’s impoverished West Side.  The apartment building he chose was located at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave., about four blocks north of U.S. Route 66.

Dr. and Mrs. King didn’t stay there long that cold January – only about eight months, staying there a few nights a week from winter through late summer – and all the furniture they used while they resided there was obtained from a Salvation Army second-hand store.  The Kings’ rent on Hamlin Avenue was $90 a month – which was $10 more per month than what white residents paid for a comparable apartment in other areas of the city, yet the apartment and the building it was in were in much worse condition.  In the end, Dr. King’s historic stay in Lawndale may have raised the profile of the housing problem and the nation’s consciousness, but it didn’t make any difference insofar as getting more affordable housing built in Chicago.  That came much, much later.

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Route 66 road food:  where did all those Chicago foods for your playoff party come from?

Last time:  part 1 – What to put on a Chicago-style payoff party menu

Warm greetings on this cold, cold day, fellow roadies!  So:  did any of those brands on our Route 66 Chicago-style party menu surprise you as being from Chicago?  They shouldn’t, if you’re from hereabouts.  And yet, only one of them is made anywhere near Route 66 these days; a pity.  We thought about including Route 66 Soda (honest, we really, really did; but the company is based in Lebanon, MO and was never a Chicago brand – sorry, guys).  Route 66 Beer, on the other hand, was a no-brainer:  it’s made a few states west of here, so it’s out of the question.  Only one beer brand is actually brewed near Route 66 in Chicago – Lagunitas! – but even though its CEO was born and grew up here, the company is a very recent arrival … and Chicago makes too many good craft brews these days in addition to selling Berghoff’s beer, anyway, so we didn’t want to choose one.  You do that.  (We also didn’t want to have to choose between Eli’s and Sara Lee cheesecake, so we stuck with other desserts.)


A classic Chicago-style accompaniment to Italian Beef sandwiches:  giardiniera mix.

We wrote about Vienna Beef franks and the Chicago-style hot dog recently, so that shouldn’t be a surprise.  If you don’t know about Chicago’s Italian beef, though, then Scala’s, Al’s No. 1, and Mr. Beef would all be news to you.  Most people order it with fries and Italian lemonade, preferably from Mario’s on Taylor Street.  Italian beef originated in Chicago, though nobody remembers quite how.  The beef is first oven roasted to rare inside and cooled; then it’s sliced and simmered in a savory beef-broth ‘gravy’ that has oregano and sweet green peppers in it for that characteristic flavor.  The gravy’s so good that many folks like their Italian beef ‘wet’ – with the cut-open side of the bread briefly dipped in the gravy before the beef is piled on.  You can take your peppers sweet or hot, on the beef or on the side, with or without the hot pickled Italian vegetable mix called giardiniera, which is added for extra oomph.  But the bread must be sturdy as well as tasty to stand up to all that, which is why you must use Gonnella bread for Italian beef. Continue reading

Route 66 road food:  What’s on a Chicago-style sports playoff party menu?

Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s January, and we’re moving into playoffs season.  The hockey players and basketball guys are just hitting their stride, whereas the football players are tiring (oh, the Bears; don’t get me started).  The next several weekends will be full of playoff games.  Before you know it, the Super Bowl will be here … which means there are playoff parties in the offing.  And once you’re past football, can NCAA’s March Madness, the NBA finals, and the hockey playoffs be far behind?  This prompts us to ask, Route 66 fans:  what will people be eating at your playoff party or parties??  Not that we want to second-guess or jinx anyone on the home team, mind you; but those of you who are sports fans know very well you’ll be watching the playoffs no matter who’s in the lineup.  The inclusion of a home team simply makes you cheer louder and mouth off at the coach more belligerently.  Well and good.  Be that as it may …

Last time, we told you the history of the Chicago-style hot dog.  That’s a must if you begin your road trip here.  When people think of road food on Route 66 in the Chicago area, the Chicago-style hot dog is a big item.  However, a few other things naturally come to mind as well:  breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, brunch/lunch at Henry’s Drive-In (that’s if you’ve been making all the stops that we recommend upon leaving the Loop, since we know there’s lots to see before you get to Joliet and pass I-80), fried chicken for dinner at either Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket or White Fence Farm, and maybe some of those heavenly angel-creme donuts and great coffee for the road at Home Cut Donuts in Joliet, for those of you who are either overnighting in Joliet or intend to drive through the night (but why would you?).  Or, if you’re coming from the West Coast to the Third Coast, traveling eastbound, you might consider Berghoff’s for dinner, over on the Adams Street alignment in downtown Chicago, before you find a bunk for the night.

None of that works for a playoff party, however (unless you’re eating at The Berghoff or Dell Rhea’s, which do have TVs in their bars, instead of watching at home).  Rather, we must look to the cuisine of cities along Route 66 that might actually have a contending team in the playoffs.  At the Illinois end of the route, that means either Chicago or St. Louis (unless you’re a transplant from somewhere else).  And since St. Louis is Missouri’s property, that leaves only Chicago.  So what would a Route 66 roadie in Chicago serve?  Why, some Chicago favorites and local brands, of course (more about those below, after we suggest a menu). Continue reading