Sunday, June 19, 2016


It dawned on me a few days ago that I hadn't written many blog posts about my years in Chicago. I moved there in the fall of 1973 to attend Northwestern, left for a year after graduation to return to Memphis, then came back to the city and lived there until 1982, when I was offered a corporate transfer to Atlanta. This is the first installment in a series about my time there.

There's this one thing you need to know about Chicago. No name can stand on its own without a corresponding, highly abbreviated nickname. Even people who go by the initials "J.R." will find themselves addressed in Chicago as simply "J." The paper is not called the Tribune but "The Trib." In this spirit, locals often refer to Chicago's major lakefront thoroughfare not as Lake Shore Drive, but rather "LSD." And this is where our story begins.

LSD with very light traffic
It's not every day that someone drives away from their wedding in a U-Haul truck, but such was the case for my wife Karen and me on that warm summer evening in August, 1978. We had a little one bedroom apartment in a high rise waiting for us in Chicago, and although I had moved my possessions there a couple of months earlier, we still had to transport Karen's things from her family home in suburban Boston -- hence, the U-Haul. I hadn't driven a stick shift much, but since the trip was mostly on the interstate, it wasn't too bad. We found some good radio stations and made a nice trip out of it. After driving for two days through New England, across Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, we finally found ourselves on the third day, breezing north on Lake Shore Drive, ready to settle into a new life.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and I was probably driving about 40 miles an hour, when suddenly, I saw the lights of a police cruiser in the driver side mirror. Thinking that the policeman must have been on someone else's tail, I continued to motor north, when out of the blue, he appeared immediately to my left and yelled into a megaphone, "Truck, pull over!" Without hesitation, I pulled onto the shoulder and sat there, wondering what in heavens name I had done.

The officer walked up to the window, and this was the exchange which followed:

Police Officer: Sir, you're driving a truck.

Richard Brooks: Yes, officer, I know.

PO: But this is Lake Shore Drive.

RB: Yes, I know.

PO: But Lake Shore Drive is a boulevard.

RB: Yes, and...?

PO: Commercial vehicles are not allowed on boulevards in Chicago.

RB: Is this a commercial vehicle?

PO: Yes, it is. May I see your license, please?

At this point, I realized that I was out of my element. I had driven so-called "boulevards" countless times, but as with many big cities, Chicago has its own rules, and I had apparently violated what the officer considered to be an obvious one. The problem was, I had a Tennessee driver's license (which at the time had no picture), Karen's was from Massachusetts, the truck had Arizona plates, and we were driving in Chicago. The officer obviously didn't like what he saw, and the dialog continued:

PO: Sir, may I have your bond card?

RB: What is that? I don't have one.

PO: OK, then...I need to have you follow me to the police station.

And off we went, following the cruiser to the 39th and Prairie police station on Chicago's South Side.

Let's just say that the police station was not in the best part of town, and as we walked in, we noticed that the walls were lined with posters of America's Most Wanted and Chicago's Most Wanted. In all seriousness, the Chicago group looked much more threatening. We walked up to a police desk like the ones you used to see on television, with tall lights topped by round globes on each side. A rather jovial policeman then explained to me that they would have to keep my license and that I would have to appear in traffic court in a couple of weeks. Also, he explained that a "bond card" was Chicago's term for a proof of insurance card. After all the business was done, the officers escorted us back out to the U-Haul, and since Karen had been a stick shift driver for some time, she took over the driving.

Since we couldn't take LSD, we had to meander through the streets of the Loop to get to our north side apartment, and Karen piloted the U-Haul like a champ, making our way under the rattling overhead CTA lines and tons of pedestrian traffic. She handled it as gracefully as could be expected, and when we finally got to the apartment, we wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest, but trucks don't unload themselves, and our apartment was eleven floors up. We made good use of the freight elevator that day.

And so began life in the city of Chicago. Four years in the rarefied air of Northwestern on the North Shore had not really prepared me for this, but somehow, we thrived in the city, and in the next few posts, I'll tell you how it all worked out and how by the end of my time there, I was shortening names with the best of them.