In the last two years, I’ve done so much research on Chicago I feel like I know the city inside and out. But what I know is a black-and-white 1940s version: photographs and movies, maps and books. Which made leaping into the present-day Windy City, in all its glorious color, such an exciting prospect.
I put together a multimedia presentation, A Hepkitten’s Guide to the War: Taxi Dancing, Chicago, and World War II, based on Ten Cents a Dance. (Do I know how to do a multimedia presentation? Ha! I do now. Let’s just say there was a whole lotta learning curve going on. Thank you Jerrod Allen, computer wizard extraordinaire and tutor magnifique.) I went on the hunt and found the most darling raspberry wool `40s jacket and vintage black hepkitten-ish skirt. My fab publicist, Kelly Powers of ObieJoe Media, worked like crazy coordinating events…and on February 23rd, this show hit the road.
Eighteen degrees in Chicago when I landed. Thank heavens my mother, who grew up in New York, insisted years and years ago that I get a heavy wool topcoat. Nobody wears such a thing here; on the West Coast, we’re all about GoreTex and goosedown. But the streets of Chicago were teeming with wool, and snug in my own (thanks, Mom!) I have a deep new appreciation for sheep. Those suckers are warm.
First event: Norwood Park Historical Society. Their headquarters is the oldest house in Chicago, harking back to 1833 (in comparison, our 1906 Portland home seem positively teenagerish). Giving the Hepkitten presentation in its gorgeous rooms was a treat. Even better was discovering that a few of the attendees had danced to the same hot swing as Ruby, back in the day!
Next, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. The Back of the Yards is the neighborhood where Ruby grows up, and I practically had my nose pressed to the car window, drinking in all the streets I’d only seen before on a map: Damen, 47th, Ashland. That’s where the People’s Theater used to be! That’s where Ruby and Angie would have gotten on the streetcar! In Ruby’s day, the Back of the Yards was home to many ethnicities; today, it’s still one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. The BYNC is an amazingly energetic, vibrant organization buzzing with activities: children, teens, adults, seniors. They welcomed me with open arms, and a I had fabulous time talking Back of the Yards history with the wonderful group of kids who came to see Hepkitten.
What with preparing for events (victory rolls still take me forever to do), getting to events (and I thought L.A. traffic was bad), and doing events, I didn’t have a lot of time to go sightseeing. But I walked the Magnificent Mile, and one bright, bone-chilling-cold afternoon, took the world's fastest elevator up 94 stories to the John Hancock Observatory. Isn’t Chicago gorgeous?
And OK, I can’t resist—I have to show you the kitchenette in my hotel room. It was the tiniest thing, but just adorable. I swear I cooed when I saw it. Bliss to come back from an event, brush out the victory rolls, and heat water in the kettle for a mug of peppermint tea.
More to come about Chicago—including a pic of me in my `40s getup—and my further adventures in Cincinnati. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of the video clips I use in my Hepkitten presentation. This is from Ten Cents a Dance—the 1931 movie. (That's Barbara Stanwyck, playing the world-weary taxi dancer!)