For most dealers, myself included, the show starts Thursday afternoon with load in and set up. This show has always been the worst show for load in and load out, this time was especially bad as the Sports Spectacular blocked off the majority of the load in area. Where you could once fit 50 or so cars for load in was reduced to 20. They also placed booths in the way, so pushing your cart filled with display cases through a maze of cars, booths and people was a harrowing experience.
I really like the folks that operate this show and I hate to diss them but this load in and load out situation is sheer stupidity. There has to be a clear path for dealers to load in and load out. At least at the beginning of the show load in is staggered but at the end you have 330 vendors trying to load out of a tiny space all at once where you can only fit 20 vendor vehicles at a time. Not only was this a cluster$#&@, but a dangerous situation. Someone is going to get hurt.
Now for the actual set up… Unlike the smaller one-day shows, these mega-multi-day shows provide each dealer with a booth, as opposed to a table. The booth offers quite a bit of space. The lovely Miss Shannon, who is in charge of the dealers, placed me in a booth across from the concession stand—which is full circle for me. The first time I set up at this show in the late 1990’s, I was placed at this exact same location by original promoter George Johnson, who still sets up at the show. Since then, I’ve been placed all over the room. I think I like this spot best and hope to keep it for future shows.
So dealers have the option to set up Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. I learned over the years that I must set up Thursday afternoon because neighboring dealers will pinch your space if you don’t get there and mark out your territory.
PJ had the booth next to me and arrived before I did. He pushed all the booths down so he could have extra space. We usually can go 10 to 15 feet deep into the booth before conflicting with the dealers set up behind us. We had a good 10 feet. Then we had a ton of space in front so we had another 8 feet or so in front. Tons ‘O space, it was awesome. I brought six of my own tables and was able to get them all out. On top of the tables, I placed 15 display cases, up from the 11 I had back in March. So I was able to put out a ton of stuff!
I had been prepping for the show over the past several months, so I had piles off new stuff in my display cases. Back in the day, Thursday was great for dealer to dealer sales. Not so much these days, though, the guys next to me from a card shop in Schaumburg seemed to be doing brisk business on Thursday. When I scanned the room, I did observe pockets of activity but not so much. None of the vintage dealers had much going on at their tables. I don’t even put my cards out anymore on Thursdays. I just set up the tables and display cases.
I arrived for set up Thursday around 3 p.m. and finished around 5:30 p.m., after scrubbing down the glass on all the display cases. Near the end of set up, my stomach started to growl. I have been craving Russell’s Barbecue located in nearby Elmwood Park and decided to pick up some BBQ beef sandwiches and bring them home.
I started driving to Russell’s around 5:45 p.m. Traffic was jammed up. I used to live nearby just over the Chicago border and forgot about the local traffic. It took me seemingly forever to get to my old neighborhood. I hadn’t been there in a while. I was flooded with memories and got a little teary-eyed when I remembered bringing my newborns home from the hospital for the first time.
There is so much stupid propaganda about Chicago in the media. The truth is that it is an amazing city with some problems — more amazing than problematic. My neighbors in Chicago were much friendlier than my current neighbors in the suburbs. When my kids were born it seemed like the whole block brought over gifts, whether I knew them or not. People were so kind to us. Some of the older folks in the neighborhood brought gifts for the kids every Christmas.
It was so hard to move. One neighbor cried when we informed them of our impending move to the suburbs. We thought we were doing better for our kids by moving to the suburbs to a bigger house with a huge yard and fancy public schools. However, in hindsight, we should have stayed in the city where property taxes were low, city services were so much better than the suburbs, and the people were so much kinder.
While lost in thought, I eventually arrived at Russell’s. I was amazed to see that they added a drive-thru. There was no way I was doing drive-thru. My family has been coming to Russell’s since it opened in the 1920’s. Tradition calls for waiting in line inside to place your order then wait with the hoards to receive your food.
No line to order any more. I walked right up to the pretty young lady working the cash register and gave my usual order of a beef sandwich meal with a side of corn on the cob, the same thing I have been ordering here since I was a toddler in the 1960’s.
There is also no more hoards of people waiting for their meals by the front counter. Russell’s now has staff delivering meals to the tables of those dining in. I was the only one in there with a to-go order.
On the way home, I drove through the town of River Grove and noticed that the old florist shop, where I regularly bought flowers for my lovely bride, had been demolished. In its place are five or six, seven-story condo buildings. They looked so wrong. Also, located nearby when I lived around here was Nitti Travel, a small travel agency operated by the descendants of gangster Al Capone’s right-hand man Frank Nitti. Like the florist shop, Nitti Travel is no more and one of the condo buildings sits on its former location.
Nitti took over for Capone once the feds imprisoned big Al in Alcatraz. There is a weird story about Nitti’s death. I don’t know how much truth there is to it but as the story goes Nitti eventually ran afoul of the Chicago mob and a hit was issued. Instead of allowing mob gunmen to shoot him down, Nitti jumped in front of a fast moving train and took his own life.
There is a lot of mob-related stuff in this part of town. The first Italians to emigrate to Chicago in the 1800’s, settled just west of Downtown, then eventually moved out this way. Back then, this suburban area where I roamed after setting up for the show, was all farmland, except for a few towns like Oak Park and Forest Park.
Many of the farms were turned into cemeteries where city dwellers were buried. Many mobsters are buried in the cemeteries in these parts. Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, after JFK’s assassination, is buried in a cemetery just down the road from my old house.
Folks from the old West-Side Italian neighborhoods started to move this way in the early 1900’s. My old neighborhood was a horse farm prior to World War II, and housing for returning vets was constructed there after the war. The area was still heavily Italian when Lisa and I moved there in 1999. We bought our house from a man who had emigrated from Italy and had a heavy Italian accent. Once moved in, we met a wonderful old couple across the street that emigrated from Italy.
Oh the food they cooked up for neighborhood block parties was amazing. They also recreated a little piece of Italy in their tiny back yard. They placed rows of string from their house to the garage located in the alley. Then draped over the rows of string were beautiful grape vines. They also placed white Christmas lights along the string. I felt like I was in Tuscany sitting back there summer nights drinking Italian wine with Pavarotti on the stereo and the scent of homemade lasagna wafting through, all the while our hosts speaking in both English and Italian.
It was a wonderful place to live and I sure miss it! As they say, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Anyway, I think I got lost in my memories and rambled on a bit. More about the Sports Spectacular, coming soon!