“The most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” Oliver Sacks. “To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart,” Henri Cartier-Bresson
With the restrictions of Covid, I have dredged my memory banks to find some interesting doors. These pictures I took almost ten years ago in the Windy City. For all the fans of the television show “ER”. When I was teaching medical students, I would ask them to watch the show for the medical content and I would use it as a teaching aid.
More doors all of which seem to be leaning to the right:
Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a house for Frederick C Robie on a plot of land close to the University of Chicago in 1908. Robie was keen to have an innovative architect to design a modern-style house for a family home. The resulting house sticks out like a sore thumb in Hyde Park – Prairie-style amidst the early Collegiate Gothic buildings of the university.
This model of the house can be seen in FLW’s Oak Park office.
FLW had some bizarre ideas about the placement of a house’s front door. It is not visible in this photograph – but it is beneath the chimney pots on the far side of the property. There is a long path from the street on the left of the shot. The doors on the right side of the building are for a triple garage (now this is the ticket office and shop). There is a back door and tradesman’s entrance just to the left of the garages.
The upper floor has a wall of glass doors, on the right of the photograph. Despite the open fireplace (it looked as though it would fill the house with smoke!), the Robie family needed to wear extra clothing indoors in winter.
FLW closed his Oak Park office in 1909 to go travelling in Europe, so he did not oversee the building of the Robie House. Unfortunately, the Robie family only lived there for 14 months (financial difficulties following the death of his father and marital discord). After two other owners, the house was bought by the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1926 and used as a dormitory. Mies van der Rohe rescued the house from demolition just before World War Two. It was bought by the University of Chicago and in 2002, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust started work on restoring the house and contents. The work was completed in 2019 and it is wonderful. I urge you all to go and see it if you are interested in architecture and FLW in particular.
FLW is one of my favourite architects. He was a real maverick, not just in his innovative designs but also in his private life. At the end of the 19th century, he worked from his office in Oak Park in the western suburbs of Chicago. Sadly, FLW wasn’t a big door man; he often placed the main entrance in unobtrusive places, often on the side of the house, not the front.
Tourists enter the office via the portico shown in the centre of the photograph below.
FLW lived next door to the office. These interior shots are rather dull, but give an impression of the place.
You can do a walking tour around a dozen of the houses he designed in the “prairie style”. One house was modified by FLW after it had burned down, so it kept the church style windows (333).
Other houses in the area have incorporated elements of FLW design.
Old Town is one of the oldest (surprise, surprise) neighbourhoods in Chicago. It used to be known as the “Cabbage Patch” as German immigrants in the mid 19th Century were fond of growing vegetables in the marshy ground. There isn’t a well defined area designated as Old Town, but it refers to the streets around St Michael’s. This was one of the few churches which were not consumed by the great fire of 1870.
The police cruiser was nestled in foliage on the central reservation at the north end of Lake Shore Drive. It was 9am on Saturday morning and we had just driven through the slalom at the junction of Sheridan and Hollywood. All four of the south bound lanes were bathed in sunshine and almost devoid of traffic. The speed limit was 40 mph, but everyone seemed to be driving at 60 mph. “The cops only get excited when you exceed 60,” said J, the driver. I looked behind us and sure enough, the cruiser remained stationary. “Perhaps he’s eating breakfast,” I said.
We were headed for Costco, a subscription-only discount warehouse.
“It gets crowded on weekends, so we want to be there for opening at 9.30,
” said my card-carrying chauffeur. We turned west to pick up Ashland
“I need some coffee,” said J. He pulled over to
the right-side lane and cut into a vast supermarket car park. “Jewel Osco
has a Starbucks.” We stopped by the entrance and J entered Jewel. He came
out a minute later without a coffee. “The Starbucks concession is a block
away from the entrance, and there’s already eight people waiting in line.
Ten minutes later and lacking in caffeine, we parked in Costco’s massive lot. There was already a mob of people milling around outside the main door. We collected a huge supermarket trolley and lined up. Some customers had chosen a larger, flat-bed trolley for bulk purchases. For some reason, an elderly man in front of us had a carton of panty liners. With wings. J and I speculated on the circumstances of his purchase, which he was presumably returning for a refund.
A Vietnamese couple collected a loose unclaimed trolley, but
no sneaking into the queue was allowed. A man behind us growled, “Get in
line!” and they complied.
The entrance to Costco was a giant roller door, already half
open. At 9.29am the crowd was getting restive, people not in line were
jockeying for position. It reminded me of the start to a Formula One race.
The door rattled up and we were in. Ten metres from the
entrance there was a display of huge televisions, known as
“megatellys” by my children. I was distracted and stopped for a split
second to marvel at the crisp colours on a 75 inch screen. There was a howl of
disapproval from behind me. It was as though I had stopped a car in the middle
lane of the freeway. Shoppers flowed either side of me until I moved off.
The store was vast. It reminded me of the ground floor of an IKEA, with rows of tall shelving around the periphery. As I was a Costco virgin, I gawped at the array of products – food, clothing, electronics, Apple computers, pet food, sweets, toilet paper and fancy dress outfits.
We had a shopping list for a family barbecue, Ricky’s
Ribfest. First on the list was alcohol. Prominently displayed at the end of one
row there was a red wine on sale, “Portuguese blended red”. J said
that one of his family had recommended this and loaded three bottles into our
cart. A shopper behind us seemed impressed, too, adding a couple of the same
vintage to his cart.
Next stop was the food preparation area for turkey wraps.
Sadly, these were so popular that they had to be ordered 24 hours in advance. I
suggested a rotisserie chicken instead, but all twenty on the rack had been
purchased. It was just 9.35am but behind the counter I could see two ovens
packed with rotating chickens which looked perfectly roasted. Within five
minutes, they had been stacked on the rack and claimed by shoppers. But I
grabbed a beauty for $5.99.
The next item on the shopping list was cat litter. J asked a
shop assistant who pointed to shelving on the back wall of the warehouse. We
couldn’t find it. “He said it was over here,” I said to J. “No,
they wouldn’t put cat litter next to food items.” “Why not? The cat
hasn’t pooped in it yet.”
We bought a block of 500ml San Pellegrino carbonated water,
which was J’s guilty pleasure. I am not sure I could tell the difference in a
Potato chips – crisps, in English parlance – had a whole
aisle to themselves. There were no 25g packets, just large sacks. We grabbed
three different varieties. “What about other snack foods?” asked J.
The next aisle had pretzels covered with chocolate, filled with peanut butter,
sprinkled with rock salt – wrong on so many levels. No wonder there is a
serious obesity problem in the USA.
Having said this, dried mangoes dipped in chocolate were
delicious. I was sorely tempted. A 62 ounce pack of M&Ms caught my eye, but
it wouldn’t fit into my carry-on luggage to take back to the UK.
I steered the cart to the check out. J wasn’t familiar with self scanning machines, but the line here was shortest. After scanning each item, the machine told you what you had scanned and the price. When it came to wine, we needed assistance. I took off the wine and scanned our precious rotisserie chicken. A red light came on, but there were no spotlights or sirens. The shop assistant was puzzled. “Yes, J really does look under 25, doesn’t he?” I joked. She glanced at me and proceeded to override the computer system. She had to key in the date of birth of the purchaser, but gave up and keyed in her own date of birth. She got it wrong the first time, but eventually the wine went through. But there was still a problem – my scanning the rotisserie chicken. “My fault,” I said. She looked at me without understanding. After a week in the USA, I am learning a new language. “My bad,” I said in a thick midwest accent. I pointed out the chicken, but she still had to check through the entire list of shopping.
J started to move products prematurely from the weighing scale to our shopping trolley. This caused the computer more consternation, but we finally made it and paid.
“Wanna hot dog?” asked J. “The Vienna Sausage
factory is right next door so they just ship them over. They are famous. And
good.” Of course I said yes. The Costco hotdog is a loss-leader. The price
has not changed since 1985.
The spartan dining area after the checkouts had a limited
menu, limited to fast food. Beside the price of each item there was an estimate
of its calories. The quarter pounder hot dog sausage with bun and relish was
$1.50 and 552 calories with 46g of carbohydrate, 11g of sugar and 32g of fat.
If you added a free 20 fluid ounces of soda (Pepsi, Morning Dew, etc) this
would bump up the calories to 990. Costco displayed the recommended daily
calorie intake at 2,000 calories. So much for breakfast.
The hotdog came in a foil packet to keep it warm. The sausage poked out an inch either end of the bun. To add onion I had to turn a handle on a tin hopper to shred it over the bun. There was deli relish, two kinds of mustard (President Obama likes Dijon mustard on his) and ketchup.
It was absolutely delicious. While we ate the hotdog, we watched the
customers wheeling their purchases towards the exit. One man had a flat bed
trolley filled with small bottles of water (perhaps he was going to sell them
to tourists downtown for a dollar a bottle), another had a mountain of adult
nappies and toilet paper (best not to speculate).
We wiped our sticky fingers and pushed the trolley to the
exit. Barbara, the shop security officer, was checking all the till receipts. I
smiled at her and wished her good morning. “Never be nice to a checker,
because she will take it as a sign you are trying to steal something,”
said J. Barbara didn’t even blink. She poked through our plastic bags and
looked at the list of purchases, then waved us through. “Have a good day,
We loaded the car and drove north on Ashland Avenue, with Radio Rock FM playing blasts from the past. J guessed 1972, but he was a year out. 1973 classics don’t lose their appeal. A Bob Dylan number came on the radio and J cranked the volume to 11. What was the song? “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” of course, the inspiration for this post.
Five years ago, I visited Chicago and enjoyed wandering around Rosehill Cemetery where the city’s great and good were interred. Here are some of the doors to the afterlife. I didn’t see any three-headed dogs guarding the entrances.