Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. He has contributed pieces to Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Playboy magazine. He has written books about the Farm Aid movement, travel and kick ass country music. His latest book is about minor league baseball in the Midwest.
He likes sunsets over cool waters.
August 3, 2013—-
FORT WAYNE, IND.—-The highway flutters and spins out of downtown Chicago to rural central Indiana. You are looking for something, somewhere that tethers you to younger days. All the motels along Route 30 are sold out until you get to Warsaw, about 35 miles west of Fort Wayne. A ramshackle Super 8 has become an independent operation.
The night clerk is a heavy set woman sprawled out on a saggy sofa. She is watching a flickering television screen. With one hand she is playing a game on her laptop computer. It is her good hand. With the other hand she is swatting at flies with a green fly swatter. “You’re lucky,” she says. “Tomorrow we’ll be filled with migrant workers.”
You check in.
You are in the area to check out Burt Carlton Hooton.
Hooton, 63, is in his first year as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
You feel special ties to Hooton.
You were 16 years old sitting in the Wrigley Field left field bleachers on April 16, 1972 when Hooton no-hit the Philadelphia Philllies with his “knuckle curve” in his first start of season. You kept score despite the cold and light drizzle. Cigars cost anywhere between 15 cents and 30 cents and you know this because you saved the scorecard. It is a memory. It was a dark afternoon that drew only 9,000 fans, but there seemed to be clear sailing ahead.
June 26. 2013
33 things for Bill Linden to do on Route 66
(For his 66th birthday journey with Mrs. Bill from Chicago to Albuquerque, N.M. For more on the Mother Road visit the home page of this blog.)
1. Breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, open since 1923 in downtown Chicago.
2. Golden brown chicken to go at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, 645 Joliet Rd. in Willowbrook (adjacent to I-55) —first excellent neon sign photo op. This iconic restaurant has been in the same spot since 1963. The late Dell Rhea was an executive director of the Chicago Convention Bureau and was instrumental in bringing the 1933 World’s Exposition to Chicago.
3. Twin Spin in Pontiac, Ill.—-Pontiac car museum (I still drive a Pontiac) and the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum, 110 Howard St. downtown Pontiac. Check out my old friend Bob Waldmire’s 1966 Chevy bus-house. You would have liked this R. Crumb inspired artist. I visited Bob in this bus as he lay dying from colon cancer in November, 2009. One of the last things he asked me to do before I left was to feed his birds.
Route 66 is for free spirits.
4. Funk’s Grove, get some pure “maple siriup” in this wooded grove southwest of Bloomington.
5. Remodeled Dixie Truck Stop, McLean, Ill. Say hello to the MegaBus passengers on their pit stop.
But don’t pick any up.
6. Have a homemade apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, rhubarb, boysenberry or sour cream pie at the Palms (opened 1934) in uptown Atlanta, Ill. (pop. 1,649, just five minutes from the Dixie). Heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer—father of Jethro from “The Beverly Hilllbillies” is the biggest named celebrity to dine at the Palms—to date. Bill Thomas brought the Palms back to life and is one of the great ambassadors on the Mother Road.
7. Photo op with the Bunyon Giant, across the street from the Palms. In 2004 Thomas spearheaded a drive to relocate the 19-foot tall Paul Bunyon fiberglass statue from a Cicero hot dog stand on ‘66 to Atlanta.
8. Cozy Dog Drive In, 2935 6th St. in Springfield, the launching pad for Bob Waldmire and his family. They’ve been serving battered deep-fried hot dogs on a stick since 1950. The logo of weenies in love is irresistible—tee shirt time!
9. Say a prayer at Our Lady of the Highway, Raymond, Ill. (it can be seen between exits 72 and 63 on the west end of I-55 heading south). The shrine is a life-size marble figurine imported from Carrara, Italy. Late farmer Frances Marten installed this shrine in 1959. When I-55 was built in 1970 the state tried to remove the shrine. They failed.
10. Slow down and put your arm around your significant other.
11. Ariston Cafe, opened 1924 on old Route 66 in Litchfield. Don’t miss the prime rib of beef served on a hoagie with au jus. Good beer selection, too. Litchfield is a gem of a Route 66 town about an hour north of St. Louis.
12. Euclid Records, 19 N. Gore Ave. in the Webster Groves neighborhood just west of downtown St. Louis. Awesome collection of vinyl—you might find some Bobby Troup music here. I’m adding their phone number for my own future reference: 314-961-8978.
13. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, 6726 Chippewa St. (old ‘66) in St. Louis. Have a concrete with tart cherries and hot fudge. A concrete is basically a shake so thick that it can be turned upside down without falling out of the cup. I know our friend and fellow gypsy Al Solomon loves this place.
14. Take time to remember Route 66 is not about an agenda. Let the moments come to you.
15. If you are tired, rest a spell at the newly restored Wagon Wheel Motel., 901 E. Washington St. (Old 66), in Cuba, Mo., about 85 miles west of St. Louis. (Exit 208 on I-44). The Wagon Wheel is the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66.
The Wheel opened in 1935. The Chicago Daily Illustrated Times, the predecessor to our Sun-Times was six years old. The Wagon Wheel was one of my final road columns before the Sun-Times pantsed its travel section earlier this year.
16. Awesome photo op at the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Cuba, down the road from the Wagon Wheel. And how big is it? It is 42-feet-1-inch tall, 20 feet-3 inches wide and weighs 27,000 pounds. Free. Very cool grocery store and shooting range right next door.
17. Stop or sleep at the Best Western Rail Haven, 203 S. Glenstone (old ‘66) in Springfield, Mo. By now it is an eight-hour non stop drive from Chicago.
Elvis Presley stayed in room 409 at the Rail Haven. The Rail Haven got its name because of the quaint split rail fence that surrounds the property. There’s a nice outdoor pool for those hot summer days in the heart of the Ozarks. And don’t you go wandering off to Branson, down the road.
18. Amaze your friends with the fact that Springfield is the “Cashew Chicken Capital of America.”
There are more than 100 restaurants that serve cashew chicken in Springfield. I never get tired of sharing this story as told to me by the wonderful Lou Whitney, bassist-vocalist for the Skeletons, a popular pop-soul band based in Springfield. Whitney moved to Springfield in 1970.
Pensacola, Fla. chef David Leong migrated to “The Queen City of the Ozarks” after World War II.
In the late 1960s a semi-truck plowed off of Route 66 into the kitchen of the now-defunct Grove Supper Club where Leong was working. Whitney told me this story in the summer of 2001. To demonstrate what happened, the 6’4” raconteur stood up from behind a desk in his downtown Springfield recording studio and threw himself against a wall.
Like Dick Butkus hard.
Still standing Whitney said, “David was pinned against the wall and suffered minor injuries. He ultimately got a settlement.” Leong opened his own restaurant with the settlement and became the Ray Kroc of Cashew Chicken. His unique “Springfield” style consisted of Chinese oyster sauce, chives and/or chopped scallions.
19. Central Square in Springfield is where Wild Bill Hickok killed Dave Tutt in a shoot out after Hickok lost a poker game to Tutt.
20. Never bypass the 12 miles of Kansas on Route 66. (From Joplin, Mo. to Vinita, Okla.) I was once on a tour bus with Asleep at the Wheel on a Route 66 caravan and they did this. The residents of the few small towns along the way were pissed and vowed to never buy an Asleep at the Wheel record again.
21. Baxter Springs, Kansas has a sign advertising itself as “The first Cowtown in Kansas.” Don’t miss the rainbow bridges, too.
22. The Will Rogers Memorial is in Claremore, Okla.
23. Play Bob Dylan on the car radio. Lately I’ve been listening to a “Shelter From the Storm” demo where Zimmy made every word count:
“I was in another lifetime one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form....
But the spirit of the Mother Road restores your sense of totality. You understand your place in this traveling carnival of barkers, clowns and lion tamers we call America.
Here is Dylan’s alternate version:
24. Check out Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St., just off of ‘66 in Tulsa, Okla. even if you just walk by the place. Built from natural limestone, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys broadcast live from the ballroom from 1934 to the early 1960s. The Sex Pistols played here in 1978 and Hank Williams once passed out on a red vinyl couch in the office. I drove here once just to see Merle Haggard. Allow time in Tulsa. It is an underrated ‘66 town full of great architecture, shopping and diners.
25. The National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Okla. (just west of I-35.)
26. When the stars come out, pull over in a field outside of town. Get out of the car. Lay down on the hood of your car and look up to the sky. Make sure a hush falls across the plains. Make a wish.
It will come true.
27. U Drop Inn, 101 E. 12th St. (old 66) in Shamrock, Texas, newly restored example of some of the best Art Deco on Route 66. The U Drop Inn opened in 1936 and was refitted to be featured in the town of “Radiator Springs” in the 2006 Disney animated film “Cars.” The U Drop Inn was on its last legs when I did the entire Mother Road in 1991. I believe today it is a visitor center and museum.
28. Amarilllo, Texas. I remember this for great thrift store shopping. Like we need more “stuff.”
29. The Big Texan Steak Ranch, opened in 1960 at what is now 7701 E. I-40 in Amarillo. Eat a 72-ounce steak in an hour and it is free. Ironically, the steak ranch is just east of Memorial Park Cemetery. These guys should hook up with the big rocking chair back in Cuba.
30. Tucamcari, New Mexico—lots of motels and neon photo ops. Bonus points for being worked into the Lowell George road song “Willin’.”
31. Cuvero, New Mexico.
In 1991 I bought a turquoise ring at a Native American shop in this “ghost town.” I still wear it today to remind me of the circle of life (and to always check the air in your tires on a long road trip!). There is a quote in my new collection of oral histories “The Supper Club Book (A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition)” —-available at The Supper Club Book.com!!!t -which t is applicable to this ghost moment in Cuvero:
“No place is a place until things are remembered.”
32. Albuquerque—You have arrived. Remember to tell your passenger(s) that Jim Morrison of the Doors lived in Albuquerque. As a four-year old in 1947 he witnessed a car accident in the New Mexico desert that seriously injured a family of Native Americans. The imagery of “Crying Indians” haunted him the rest of his short life.
33. Don’t miss the beautiful restoration of the “Pubelo Deco” KiMo Theater, 423 Central Ave, N.W, for your trip will be something they make movies about. Stories with great songs, beautiful birds and happy endings.
May 20, 2013-
I grew up watching baseball relief pitchers of the 1960s like Don Mossi and Hoyt Wilhelm.
These guys looked so old I figured that was why the bullpen cart was invented.
Even should-be Hall of Famer Lee Smith trudged in the mound for the 1984 Cubs like he was heading for a tax audit. The Bullpen Cart— or Car —has its roots in Chicago.
The cart debuted in 1951 at Comiskey Park when White Sox relief pitcher Marv Rotblatt was chauffeured to the mound. The cart was only used for White Sox pitchers.
After consulting with White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce, White Sox team historian Jeff Szynal said that Yankees manager Casey Stengel soon commissioned a sharp black Cadillac from a South Side funeral home for his pitchers. He did not want to be shown up by the White Sox. Szynal said White Sox GM “Frantic” Frank Lane came up with the bullpen cart idea.
Baseball needs more of this today.
The White Sox pulled the plug on bullpen transportation in 1981 when the team used a Chrysler LeBaron as the cart. The players didn’t like the LeBaron and neither did the fueled up Sox fans.
The LeBaron was pelted with full cups of beer as it tooled around the field, mostly without a pitcher as a passenger. The Bullpen Cart rode off into the sunset around 1986. After the New York Mets clinched the 1986 division title, fans streamed on the Shea Stadium field while a vendor bogarted the Mets’ bullpen cart for a joy ride around the outfield.
From the author’s ugly card archives
Now, Rob Zerjav, President-GM of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers has made an important save.
He brought back the Bullpen Cart.
I actually drove to Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis. to see the cart in action.
The cart was made by Colorado-based CaddyWorks. It is an EZ-Go Golf Cart retrofitted with a sphere baseball fiberglass body. The cart is about six feet tall and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds.
Tim Hall is owner/investor of CaddyWorks. He designed and built the electric cart.
“The source for my design does stem from the ‘70s bull pen car but was arrived at through a chain of steps and tries,” Hall wrote in an e-Mail. “These are hand built to order and we want it this way to keep with the tradition of work ethic and good foundation. I have wanted to build a modern version of the ‘70s design and while there is interest , I think most teams don’t want the expense. But I will replicate it in time if only a monument to it’s uniqueness.”
Mets cart out of gas, circa 1970s
Trouble is that only one player has been interested in riding in the Wisconsin bullpen cart.
That is Timber Rattlers relief pitcher Taylor Magnum.
“It was fun and I enjoyed it,” Magnum said in a phone interview. “I knew a long time ago in the ‘50s and ‘60s they used that to bring in pitchers. Nobody else had done it yet so I decided to be first.”
The cart without a pitcher still circles the warning track every time a relief pitcher from either team is announced at Fox Cities Stadium. When a player does use the cart they are dropped off by a dugout. The cart is sponsored by Breakthrough Fuel in Appleton.
“Once we started this, we’ve had a lot of interest,” Zerjav said before the Timber Rattlers (Brewers) beat Burlington (Los Angeles Angels) 4-2. I got a call from the Washington Nationals asking where we got our cart.”
Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleballer
Magnum, 24, doesn’t think the cart does much to save his legs. “It’s only 75 yards from the bullpen to the mound so I don’t think it saves anything,” he said. “It’s just something more for the fans. Actually one of our other pitchers rode in it yesterday so I’m not the only guy anymore. I don’t know why more guys don’t ride it. I’ve asked them. They want to run in like they always have. Maybe it’s a mental thing.
“I’ll ride in it again, for sure. Where the bars are usually in front of a golf cart, they put bats there. It’s awesome.”
Magnum has a moving pedigree.
He is the third oldest player on the Timber Rattlers. After his freshman year at the College of Southern Idaho, he took off August, 2008-August, 2010 to serve on a The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission near Lubbock, Tx. “It was a thing I wanted to do most of my life,” he explained. “I learned a lot about the people in Texas, other religions and my own faith. You have to devote a lot of your time and energy. You don’t see your family.
A couple years ago Zerjav read an ESPN magazine article about the demise of the bullpen cart, although the publication called it a “car.” But most of the carts used golf carts as a template.
“That was intriguing to us,” he said. “We had relocated our bullpen to the outfield. We thought it was a good sponsorship opportunity and fun for the fans.”
Zerjav, 38, grew up in Green Bay and remembered the Harley-Davidson motorcycles with the sidecar the Brewers used in the mid-1990s at County Stadium.
“The Brewers still have a bullpen cart in storage,” Zerjav said. “Every time I go down there and go through their storage stuff, I go, ‘Hey, do you want to get rid of your bullpen cart?’ but they never want to part with it. So we saw there was this company that made them. It gives you that feel of ‘Major League’, the movie, when Tom Berenger takes the cart to go to Rene Russo’s house. That’s always been in my mind. We thought it would be neat to bring it back.”
The Timber Rattlers cart tops out around 18 mph.
It does not have a seat belt.
“It can go pretty fast,” Zerjav said with a smile. “The guys that drive it are on our parking crew. They park cars before the game and come in and do the bullpen cart. To me, they go a little too fast, we need to tell them to tone it down.
“We don’t keep the keys in it. I think they’d (pitchers) rather take it for a ride than ride in it. Once a pitcher comes in on it and has some success that’s going to become his ritual. We’ll do this again next year. Breakthrough Fuel signed a three-year partnership. It is here to stay.”
May 13, 2013—
The bamboo plant flourished in the dining room of her Rogers Park apartment.
When she moved away three years ago I inherited the plant. It brought us good fortune like bamboo often does. The plant illuminated the present and sometimes pointed towards the future.
I gave the bamboo plant to my mother.
At the time she was 88 years old.
I always kept an eye on the bamboo plant during my Sunday trips to see my parents. My Mom had placed the plant on a small table near a window in the northwest corner of her kitchen. As recent as two years ago my Mom would walk out onto the back porch adjacent to the kitchen and mind the bird bath she put up every spring.
The bamboo plant continued to grow. A lot. I almost wanted to take it back for my Tiki Bar. I had to fetch a bigger vase and more pebbles for the bottom of the vase. I believed it was bringing my parents the fortune all of us hope for. My Mom is now 91 and my Dad is 92. It is quite a story for another time.
My Mom hasn’t been doing well recently and I don’t have many people to share these words with.
The shadow of dementia is rapidly creeping in on her, although I can still stir her up now and then. On Mother’s Day I mentioned the New York Times article about how dog ownership can curb heart trouble.
"We are not getting a dog," she declared.
Every Sunday when I walk into the living room my mother is sitting in her favorite chair. The brown chair is adjacent to a hassock where she has placed a calendar filled with doctor’s appointments. She wears a gray sweater with deep warm pockets.
My father is always sitting next to her in his wheel chair. The room is quiet and it is old people hot. Sometimes they just look at each other for periods of time without saying anything. They are bookends of memories. The television set is not on and old songs no longer play over the radio. My brother soon will be fetching the piano. Things move away. Things are lost.
But Mom and Dad sit close together, best of friends, hunkering against the cruel winds of time.
One of the repercussions of dementia is how my Mom has neglected to take care of her house plants. She has loved plants her entire life. Now when I visit my parents I notice the plants are dead or dying. I wonder if it is too late to water them, but then I wonder why it snowed this weekend in Northern Michigan.
On Mother’s Day I removed the bamboo plant from the kitchen table.
Its green stems had turned brown. Tiny leaves drooped. It was time to go.
I replaced the bamboo with a bouquet of bright blue hydrangea. Mom liked that which I could see by the twinkle in her eyes. She did not comment about the missing bamboo.
Instead, she looked out the window and saw young birds fly away on Mother’s Day.