I enjoyed my visits to Chicago’s Loop as a kid. I was constantly awed by the big buildings and especially Lake Michigan. It provided a colorful blue background behind the concrete, steel, and glass spires that reached up to the blue sky like irregular teeth on an upturned comb. To a young fella being raised in a sprawling urban neighborhood, the downtown area was surely a contrast; totally another world. Driving down Lake Shore Drive was… well, like the the group, Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah‘s song says…
Well there ain’t no road just like it, anywhere I’ve found,
Runnin’ south on Lake Shore Drive, headin’ into town.
Just slippin’ on by on L.S.D.,
Friday night trouble bound.
(Ya gotta ignore the double-entendre drug reference though, but you get the idea)
On one trip when I was about 13 years old I rode along with my mother and her BFF high school buddy.. my Aunt Pearl… down to visit my Uncle Fred (yep, of B-17 WW2 fame in a previous post) who was working as a private pilot-for-hire out of Meigs Field. Now, for those of you not familiar with Chicago, Meigs Field was located in a rather nifty spot… on landfill (the Northerly Island created for the 1933 Century Of Progress Exposition) smack on the lake front, on an outcropping of landfill adjacent to the Adler Planetarium and across from Soldier Field (notice.. not “Soldier’s”). It was a very small “private” airport, operational in 1948… more a landing field with a small control tower and a relatively small terminal building built in 1961. Planes landing there were of the private type… small Cessnas, Pipers, Beechcrafts, etc. Presidents visiting the Loop would arrive on Air Force One at the much larger O’Hare Airport and rather than drive the expressways he would be helicopter’d by Marine One to Meigs. It was the airport’s close proximity to the Loop (less than a mile) that made it a favorite with traveling executives, downstate politicians, and potentates.
My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Starmite. I got it as a gift from my folks in the early 60’s, when I was about 11 years old. It used those cute “modern” AG-1B plug in flash bulbs (pre-cursor to the “flash cube“) and the popular (then) 127 roll film; twelve black & white pics to a roll. Immediately I put it to good use photographing nearly everything I saw, much to the financial chargrin of my folks having to pay the developing costs (a burden I was to assume when I became an self-income producing source… as the numerous rolls of used undeveloped film in my junk drawer would attest to).
Anyway, I loved airplanes.. and airports… as a kid. I had plastic models galore, and yeah, a few hung from the ceiling (and just as many crashed to the floor as the tape holding the string to the ceiling would age). So it was natural that I loved to take pictures of airplanes as well. I readily jumped at the chance to accompany my mom and aunt to Meigs that Saturday. The weather was great.. the skies were blue… and it was the early 1960’s… likely about 1963… (before JFK’s demise) which meant all was still right with the world (more or less).
So we met Uncle Fred at the terminal and they let me go outside to the aircraft parking area and take pics galore and check out the planes up close and personal. I had a great time. After taking the last shot of the last roll of film I went back into the terminal and met up with my entourage. As I was standing there leaning against a counter and gazing about while the adults did their adult chatting, my aunt turned to me and said while pointing toward the bank of pay phones against the wall, “Hey, Doug.. look at who’s there.”
I turned to see, standing next to one of the pay phones, apparently groping for change in his pocket, was Bob Hope. Yep.. THE Bob Hope of famous… fame. I looked around expecting to see other admirers, maybe a bevy of press rushing from doorways, with snapping cameras; I even half expected a contingent escort of U.S. Marines (somehow figuring all his military shows granted him some special status). But no one was around. I mean.. no one. The terminal was completely empty.
“Go over and say hi to him.”, my aunt suggested. I thought.. well.. okay, I will. So I walked across the aisleway and approached him slowly… taking in and verifying all his features (to make sure, you know). He looked up from his pocket search and saw me approaching… “Hi, there, young fella.”
Wow.. he spoke to ME. “Can I shake your hand, Mr. Hope?”, I managed to spew out. He replied with a vigorous handshake. “How’s it goin’?”, he said. Then he turned to make his call… smiling at me. Even at that age I took my queue that he was busy at the moment… so I turned and briskly walked back to my previous counter leaning position. “You outta take a picture of him.”, my aunt said. “Great Idea! Wow. I forgot I had my camera.”
Grabbing the camera I started to walk back to the phone bank along the wall… then I stopped short, pausing at the sudden surge of terror overpowering me. “Um… I’m out of film.”, I uttered to myself. I turned toward the three adults I loved… and confessed loudly… “I’m out of film!!”. My aunt and mother cried out unanimously.. “Oh, nooo!”, and simply chuckled. Mom called to me… “Do they sell any film here in the terminal?” Great idea… people are always saying long goodbyes at air terminals.. and likely taking tearful bye-bye pictures!
I looked frantically around for a gift shop. Nothing. No shop at all, in fact. My mind started racing. I looked back over my shoulder to see if Bob (I could call him that now because we had shaken hands) was still there. Phew! He was. Hoping that would be his longest phone call in his life I tried to think where I could get a roll of film. “Think. Think”, I told myself. Wait! I’m smack in the middle, geographically speaking, of three popular Chicago attractions… the Adler Planetarium off to my right, the Museum of Natural History to my left, and the Shedd Aquarium center on! “Let’s see… who would be the best shot at having film in their gift shop…”, I thought. Planetarium.. no.. (who takes pictures of a black sky?). The museum? Yes. The aquariium.. yeah, likely.
“Hey, mom.. I’m running over to the musuem and the aquarium.” I was old enough to be on my own in public, so to speak. Mom wanted me to be independent like that.. get to know the neighborhood, kinda thing (Predator pedophiles apparently weren’t out and about in those days). “Better hurry up!”.. she said, pointing toward Bob. Good. He’s still on the phone.
The Aquarium was a couple hundred yards away so I went there first (I was young and could run in those days). I burst through the doors and asked a guard where the gift shop was. He pointed. I ran over there… looked around. “We don’t sell film here, honey.”, the lady clerk replied. Huh?? Don’t people want to take pictures of fish?? Ok, ok… let’s try the museum.
That was a hundred yards away, maybe. Off I dashed.. across the Outer Drive (the LSD), up the entry stairs, pushed open the doors, ran over to the gift shop (I had been there more than once over the years on school trips). “Sorry, we don’t carry film.”, the clerk said. HUH?? The museum doesn’t carry camera film??!! Pausing grudgingly at the top of the museum entrance stairs, glancing at my watch and trying to imagine where old Bob might be at that moment, I looked across and saw the Planetarium in the distance.. about a quarter mile away. Yeah, if these two places didn’t have film what’s my chances of THAT place having any. Oh, well… off I sprinted to the Planetarium.
More stairs… more dashing… more disappointment. As I suspected.. no film at the star place. I trudged back to the Meigs terminal… walking through the doors, sweaty, exhausted… having fought the good fight. Bob wasn’t around anymore. Mom said he left down some hallway.. never to be seen again by me that day.
It was at that moment that I declared to all in witness that day, that from this day henceforth I will always retain at least one last picture in my camera for “Bob Hope”… which became my personal metaphor for being prepared for any celebrity I might run across in my life travels. Needless to say, as the years went on I ended up accumulating lots of pictures of the places that developed my film as I would snap off the last picture at the last minute before emptying the camera.
To this day I still keep that thought about having enough camera memory and battery left.. just in case. It’s not likely I’ll ever run into Bob again given his departure from this world… but I’ll still be ready for “him” if I do.
As a postscript… Meigs Field ended up being razed and torn up by Mayor Ritchie Daley in a political struggle with the State of Illinois and the Federal government back in ’02. In classic Chicago politics style, defying the state and the government, Daley had his Streets & Sanitation crews rip huge X’s in the concrete runway at both ends, rendering the airport useless and trapping a number of privately owned planes at the terminal parking area. Gotta love the Windy City.
In the name of future money, Soldier Field was majorly renovated and now looks like the mother ship from the movie, Independence Day.
The area around the three attractions I visited in my quest for film has since been turned into a giant extended museum campus, following the city re-routing that section of Lake Shore Drive. It’s a nice park setting with meandering walkways to all the locations.
Somewhere I still have those pictures of what it was like there at Meigs that day… less an important one.