Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Westward, Ho! (part the second)

Fun as it was to party at the Pranitis' homestead, the Halls knew it was time to get a move on.  Delivering a final birthday hug to Mr. Pranitis, Mrs. P. loaded all their paraphernalia into her little roundabout and headed for the Arlington Park station.  "Call when you get in safely!" she waved, but knowing how Mrs. Hall felt about being in the city, she knew that wouldn't be for quite a while.
 Arlington Heights has much to be proud of for a community as a whole, and not the least of which should be that when they admonish the local inhabitants of the illegality of alcohol on their trains, they immediately assume that the beverage of choice would be a martini.  "Now, that is a progressive neighborhood," remarked Mr. Hall.  They settled in for the trip and caught up with the latest news headlines in the paper.
 The towns flew by in a blur and before they knew it, they were in the lower Loop.  A very happy Mrs. Hall had noted that the Amtrak they had selected to convey them home was not scheduled to depart until much later that evening.  "Let's check our bags at the Metropolitan lounge and hit the streets!"
  They managed to get about a half a mile down Canal Street before Mrs. Hall softly asked if Mr. Hall was hungry too. He looked at her incredulously; they had spent the better part of the last two days doing nothing but eating. But just to the right of them, impossible to miss, was the neon glow of Boston Blackie's, buzzing with activity and beckoning to Mrs. Hall's digestive juices.  "Oh, all right." he said, " But only if we can sit at the bar so I can follow ESPN! "  They turned in, and although the hostess offered to seat them in 30 minutes or so, a spot miraculously opened at the bar and they slid in.  A couple of reubens later, Mrs. Hall was chomping at the bit to go. "But there's only four minutes of the game to go and W. Virginia's ahead of the Hoyas!"  "Well, then we don't have to watch.  Com'n, we're burning daylight!" The weather was unseasonably pleasant, so they toddled east to Michigan Ave. and decided to work their way north from there. The weekend had flown by and it was Wednesday already, but that did not stop the God of Hilarity from striking; the one place Mrs. Hall had hoped to visit was the Museum of Broadcast Communications, and they were completely devastated to find out it was only open Thursdays through Saturdays.  The Chicago Cultural Center had a marvelous collection called "Morbid Curiosity", but Mr. Hall shuddered and remarked the last thing he wanted to think about was work.  Over the river, they noticed the new addition to Pioneer Plaza.  Mrs. Hall giggled and waved Mr. Hall on; it was unlikely she could have quelled his interest anyway.  No matter how maligned the Marilyn statue may be in the city, it must certainly be one of the most photographed. Scores of onlookers ( or is it underlookers?) gathered at its base.  And indeed, so would have Mr. Hall, if he hadn't caught sight of the television screen in the Tribune Tower window.
"Georgetown won?  In overtime?  And you made me leave the bar??" Mrs. Hall discreetly moved on along the magnificent mile.
 The shopping was delightful and Mrs. Hall nearly forgot the time entirely until Mr. H. inquired how much further north was the Hancock. A slow smile crossed Mrs. Hall's face, and she quickened her pace.  They reached the lounge on the 96th floor just in time for happy hour.  "Here's to the best view in the city!" he said, and though she assumed he was referring to the lovely waterfront, Mr. Hall seemed to only have eyes for her.

 The picker upper was much appreciated; a little giddy effervescence is the best way to take on the high end boutiques of North Michigan. Mrs. Hall stood poised to purchase several items, (and would have readily put the pinch to her wallet,) but for the quick thinking by Mr. Hall, reminding her she really wouldn't want to be weighted down dragging them around town. They slipped onto the subway and made quick break back to the lower loop.  At the corner of State and Adams, stood the dark empty shadow where the Court coffee shop used to stand.  Mr. Hall could see Mrs. H. on the verge of falling prey to a nostalgic funk.  He whispered to her, "You know, we still have time to make a short stop at the venerable old Berghoff's," and she brightened immediately.  "Too many favorite places, too little time." Mrs. Hall managed to muffle out, through the kraut on her mini thuringer sandwich.
The wind was picking up and with the construction over the canal, many of the  detours took them through some rather fierce wind tunnels along the way.  But the views could not have been more beautiful, and when they finally settled back into their bunks, they could barely lift their heads to watch the train pull out of the station.  "Wake me when we roll back into Syracuse," mumbled Mrs. Hall, but Mr. Hall was already asleep.

Westward Ho!

Mr. Hall shivered.  The Lakeshore Limited was running late that night- the first class passengers with rooms had to wait for the front half of the train to load and then move forward because there were so many cars the station platform couldn't accommodate them all at once.  When they finally settled in, Mr. Hall heaved a deep sigh of relief.  "I'm going offline for a little while," he said peacefully. "Make me a martini."  Mrs. Hall happily obeyed, and just to be hospitable, made one for herself as well.

 The next morning, bright sunshine poured into the roomette. "I slept like an angel" cooed Mr. Hall.  He finished his ablutions.  "Must be your clean conscience," muttered Mrs. H. through the lifting haze.  Mrs. Hall was generally not conversational until she had tossed back a cup or four of the black stuff.  "I'll meet you in the dining car."  The train zipped along at a fairly brisk pace as the Halls enjoyed their morning repast, and it was no time at all before they were gathering their bags and heading down the platform into Union Station.   The air was warm and bright, with a southwest wind blowing at what appeared to Mr. Hall to be about forty knots.  It blew the happy travelers into Ogilvie Station and onto the northwest commuter.

Their hostess for the weekend, Mrs. Pranitis, met them at the track.  "Welcome, welcome, welcome!" she said as they piled into the family runabout.  The old homestead never looked so good.  The occasion of their visit was to celebrate with Mr. Leo Pranitis, raconteur and host extraordinaire, his natal anniversary; and having determined he first graced this terrestrial plane Anno Domini MCMXXVIII, it was decided this was No Small  Event.

While Mr. Pranitis attended to his daily routine, Mrs. P. and the Halls hit the local shopping center, Woodfield Mall.  "I have no idea what to get for him, and you've given me no help at all!" cried Mrs. Hall. "I'm really at my wit's end."  ("A short run to be sure," whispered Mr. H.) As is usually the case when this happens, they ended up looking at all sorts of things that would be simply wonderful for the Hall, and entirely inappropriate for the occasion at hand.  "How about a little heavy reading?" said Mrs. P. as she hoisted a ceramic book.  They toddled on home empty-handed.
 Right on schedule later that day, Mrs. Hall's brother Rick and his charming wife Gail Perry, showed up.  Chock full of good cheer and a huge basket of individually wrapped delights (much to Mrs. Hall's very obvious chagrin!) they descended on the little troupe and the birthday really started to liven up in earnest.

  As the evening wore on, Mrs. Hall asked if Mr. Pranitis would like to try one of their signature martinis.  In a jiffy the travel bar was produced, strips of lemon peel appeared and in a moment, the glistening pale golden beverage was before him. He sipped, a look of contentment washed over the pater's visage, and he dissolved happily into the fabric of his recliner.  Mrs. Hall swung around to Mr. Hall and whispered, "Lightbulb!"

The next morning was the Big Day.  Mrs. Hall grabbed Gail's arm (and her attendant vehicle) and excusing themselves on a pretense, flew out the door to the nearest liquor emporium.  Rows of bottles usually overwhelm Mrs. H.- not a few times she had to be drawn back away from the flashy labels and exotic distillates, to the task at hand.  But with luck and a little bit of cunning, they were able to secretly squirrel away the bootle in the bar, just ahead of the dinner gong.

Seafood had been the request of the evening, with the only indecision facing them being whether to get one dozen oysters or two to begin.

(While photographic evidence could not reveal how sweet the oysters actually were, it did manage to capture the neighboring diner's opinion of patrons slurping bivalues by the cartload.)   An hour later, all that remained were empty carcasses and full tummies.

 Wiping the lemony residue off their faces and hands, the merry band broke out into "Happy Birthday" and a good measure of the restaurant and staff chimed in.

 Their chariots deposited them back and it was time for Rick and Gail to hit the road home.  Hugs went all around, and as soon as everyone got out the door, Mrs. Hall piped up now would be a good time for a soothing cup of tea.  Mr. Pranitis rose to get some, then thinking better of it, decided instead to go to the bar.  There followed a brief happy exhortation from that direction of the house, and the Halls, in the other room, chuckled and patted themselves on the back.

Next episode: revisiting old places and new faces.  Stay tuned!

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