You can tell spring is really here in Chicago: the lilacs are blooming, the days are warmer, overnight temps no longer approach freezing, and Route 66 got some attention on local television this weekend. Oh, and the local landscapers are now waking people up at the crack of dawn with their edge trimmers, lawn mowers and leaf blowers, earning a colorful cussing from many a sleeper … but I digress.
Drive time has arrived!
The Associated Press led off the weekend early Friday morning with a news item from Santa Fe, NM: law officers across all eight states of the Mother Road participated in a 24-hour-long campaign to get drivers on the historic road to buckle up. Local press covered it, too, mostly by citing AP. Given that seat belts and child restraints save about 13,000 lives yearly and you’re 75 percent less likely to die in a rollover crash if you’re wearing a seat belt, according to federal statistics,* it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. But it did mean a crackdown all the way up and down the route this weekend.
* National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s figures
In case you’ve forgotten, never knew and/or never heard Bobby Troup’s song in entirety, Route 66 begins in Chicago, its eastern terminus, at Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue and stretches through Illinois, Missouri, a teensy corner of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and far southern California, ending in Santa Monica just a block or two shy of the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway (West Coasters obviously do the trip in reverse). Two-thousand-plus miles of buff Bills in Ray Bans and sharply creased uniforms, just waiting to help you out with buckling your belt? And some of them are on motorcycles?? Ogling alley! Need I say more, ladies? [Wink!]
The “Get Your ‘Clicks’ on Route 66” mobilization (geez, haven’t we beaten Troup’s famous line to death by now with all the too-cutesy variations on a theme??) began in 2010 in Oklahoma with a handful of officers and now includes state troopers, state highway patrol officers, local police and other agencies. That’s a lot of smokies, cops and troopers to cover that roughly 2,440 miles. The event also takes place four times a year now, roughly quarterly, in case the message didn’t sink in the first time. Remaining dates this year: August 2 and November 1. Of course, there’s a national safety belt campaign every Memorial Day weekend, too, but that’s unrelated to our favorite historic highway.
[No doubt someone out there is moaning about seat belts being an ‘infringement of freedom’ antithetical to the freedom of the road, yada, yada. To which I can only respond: yeah, yeah, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt; you can only think that if you haven’t visited accident victims at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and seen what crashes minus seat belts or motorcycle helmets produce for those who actually survive – or had to pay their medical bills. Bottom line: I’ve never found that using a seat belt has hampered my enjoyment of cruising down the road one bit. In fact, the lack of a snazzy convertible has hampered it a lot more, but that’s a whole other conversation … ]
The next sign of revived Route 66 interest surfaced later on Friday evening in WLS-TV’s Suburban Spotlight on Joliet, IL. The channel’s website write-up on the segment was the work of reporter Phil Schwartz. The report covered the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center, the Rialto Square Theatre, and the two auto racetracks – Chicagoland Speedway (a NASCAR track) and Route 66 Raceway (the local official drag strip) – both of which are owned by the same company, International Speedway Corporation, whose partners in the Motorsports Alliance own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the Indy 500 is run later this month.
Also mentioned was the upcoming 4th annual Star Wars Day on June 1st at the museum and the Joliet Public Library. The entire segment was bit derivative and skimpy on the info, if you ask us, but that’s TV for you – and we applaud Phil and crew for thinking of underappreciated Joliet. Hurrah!
The Route 66 springmania wound up on Sunday night as WGN-TV’s Chicago’s Best show at 10 p.m. ran a round-up of best eats on Ogden Avenue – which, of course, is one of the main streets of historic Route 66 from Chicago through suburban Berwyn, at which point it slides over to Joliet Road. Chicago’s Best is all about good eats in metro Chicago, so you know we tune in regularly (it also runs on the local CLTV cable channel, likewise owned by the Tribune Co.).
Fittingly, the show’s first segment was on Berwyn’s Cigars and Stripes BBQ Lounge at 6715 W. Ogden Ave., a strangely named combo smoke shop, neighborhood cigar bar and eatery, reputedly home to some of the best smoked hot wings in the metro area. They also serve smoked pulled pork, rib tips and other good stuff. You may encounter bikers there or a punky electric polka band, but you’ll most certainly encounter craft beer and food. We’ve not been there yet, as the eatery has only been there about a decade and so isn’t part of Route 66 history, but if we needed an excuse, barbecue would be IT. They even have a special triple-strength Route 666 hot sauce plus three other house sauces. Owner Ronnie Lottz does his barbecue in a big smoker out back in the garage and encourages his customers to drink responsibly and eat recklessly. Our sentiments exactly!!
Further up Ogden in Lawndale, the show’s fourth stop was at Mariscos El Camaron Pelao, a Mexican-Caribbean eatery at 3522 W. Ogden Ave., about a block east of Central Park Avenue and the L stop. This is one of the very few Mexican enterprises in what is technically still North Lawndale (virtually all black) as opposed to South Lawndale, aka Little Village (Mexican). Moreover, it’s in what is admittedly a crummy stretch of Ogden in one of the poorest and not exactly safest areas of town, especially after dark. The restaurant features a magnificent-looking seafood dish made with fresh pineapple and served in a scooped-out pineapple half (I was drooling just watching the segment). The place also gets decent reviews on Yelp Chicago. That said, it doesn’t take credit cards, there isn’t an ATM inside (you have to walk around the corner to get cash, which could be challenging in that area), and the place has no décor or atmosphere; but then again, it’s in Lawndale – you wouldn’t expect white tablecloths there. Lunch time dining is probably okay, though; just don’t drive up in a Mercedes or a Beemer. Considering how hard Lawndale can be on up-and-coming businesses given the high degree of poverty and unemployment in the neighborhood, we wish the owners luck, just as we hope that historic Lawndale recovers from economic blight someday soon.
The purported last segment was even further up the road at one of our Tri-Taylor area favorites, Ferrara Original Bakery, and their wonderful cannoli. I should say that it was supposed to have been about Ferrara, but there was some confusion about that (they mentioned the segment as appearing previously, same as all the others, then didn’t make it clear that they weren’t going to show it last night). Bait and switch; what a tease! However, the Ferrara segment – complete with views of their famous cannoli cake – originally aired a year ago in May 2012, and you can find it on YouTube here.
One thing they don’t mention: my favorite pastries, the sfogliatelle (sfo-lee-ah-TELL-eh). Those are little shell-shaped, many-layered pastries of tender-crunchy puff pastry filled with citron-flavored ricotta filling. Absolutely excellent with a nice cappuccino! Ditto the cream horns, cream puffs, éclairs and Italian specialties. You must try their café menu, too. Can’t go wrong in there. Ferrara is at 2210 W. Taylor St. in Tri-Taylor, part of the Illinois Medical District and the western end of the Little Italy neighborhood on Taylor – just a short walk southwest from the VA hospital, the new Cook County hospital and the university medical centers.
And that’s it for the weekend update. Don’t forget to give your touring vehicle a nice spring cleaning this week!
Until next time,
your fellow roadie, Marie