Night In St. Charles

This vacation was going to be short, but it was going to be sweet. I had focused on it, prepared for it, and now it was here, just as I had imagined. However, I didn’t imagine every single detail…

After the debacle in January, and the ensuing disaster that was just as much of a fail, what I really wanted was now unfolding. Chicago Marathon number three, with a skydive in my hometown the next day, was on tap, but it would all be preceded by Jackie Evancho in concert in St. Charles, Illinois. Normally I would have left on Friday and run the Marathon Sunday, but Jackie was playing Thursday night so I just moved my vacation back a day. St. Charles was about an hour from my hometown, so my sister would pick me up the next morning. Thursday night was just me. I brought my girl with me the year before, but for reasons that won’t be discussed, she was staying home this year. It would have been nice to experience what was coming with my girl, my partner, but it wasn’t happening, and I wasn’t going to let it ruin what was sure to be a good time.

Other than the girl next to me on the plane with the sinus condition and eating a pizza (use your imagination what that sounded like) and the screaming kid a few rows back, the flight was uneventful and we made it to a cloudy Chicago a little early. I was the only one going to St. Charles at that time so the shuttle ride ended up being a defacto limo ride. So far, so good. I got to the hotel with several hours to spare before the concert. I say hotel, but it looked more like a converted motor lodge. The room was fine, and the hotel wasn’t the reason I was in St. Charles anyway. As long as it was clean, it was fine. There was a restaurant next door, and I had a late lunch before relaxing for a while. I would have to press my clothes before the show though. Luckily, the sport coat I brought survived the flight and somehow wasn’t wrinkled at all. It was the same jacket I wore the last time I saw Jackie. Would she remember? After all, she looked right at me at the last show. Of course she wouldn’t.

The time finally came to head out for the show. The only reason I was in St. Charles. I went down to the “lobby,” and inquired as to how far the theater was where Jackie was playing. The said it was about a mile, in the heart of downtown St. Charles. Since there were thunderstorms forecast in the area that day, I considered calling a cab, but then, it was only a mile. I was in Illinois for a marathon. If I couldn’t walk a mile in good time then I had no business there. I headed out towards the downtown area. The street was very busy, the main drag in town that looked like the only way to get from one side to another. The sky was relatively clear where I was, but up ahead were menacing black clouds with flashes of lightning every few seconds. This wasn’t normal weather at home, and it had been years since I had experienced this kind of lightning. It was unnerving, not knowing where I was, on a very busy street, and walking straight into an electrical storm. Great. That’s all I needed, for it to start pouring rain, not to mention the risk of being struck by lightning. The flashes were quite large and becoming more frequent. As I passed a car dealership I considered going inside, not only to escape the storm, but to see if they had a number for a cab. I was looking for a door where I could enter-suddenly I was rolling on the ground, dodging the wheels of the SUV that just hit me. He had been in the driveway of the dealership, waiting for the traffic to clear. The fact that traffic was heavy probably saved me from being run over. He immediately jumped out of his truck in an obvious panic.
“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry, are you alright?” He seemed terrified that he had potentially injured me. Fortunately, I caught sight of the truck at the very last second which allowed me to put my arm out and avoid being hit in the legs. The force still knocked me down, and although I was unhurt, It must have looked bad.
“Is there anyone I can call, anything I can do,” he said, still not convinced that I was unhurt. He seemed more shaken than I was. Meanwhile, the lightning was still flashing, and the show was not going to wait for me.
“Well, can you give me a ride downtown?” I asked. It was the least he could do, and he was happy to do it. He turned out to be a nice guy. It was a case of neither of us looking out. He took me down to the theater, and I bid him farewell. No point in getting nasty about the whole thing. It was clearly an accident, and he was clearly sorry. Besides, I wasn’t hurt and got a ride to the show. In a twisted way it all worked out. Yes, that would fit the definition of twisted.

Seeing Jackie’s name up on the marquee immediately made me feel better. Lightning flashing and Jackie in the house. Awesome. The Arcada Theater, built in the 1920’s and restored in all its glory. The folks of St. Charles are quite proud of their downtown theater, at least according to the MC at the show. I wanted to take in some outside ambience before I went in. The lightning seemed much less menacing now that I was where I was supposed to be. Of course, that wasn’t the case at all, but I felt safer. The theater was on the corner, but side street didn’t look all that inviting. It looked like there was some kind of bar a little way down the street, and some guys were hanging outside smoking. They didn’t appear to be customers of any place that I’ve ever frequented. I would stick to profiling that night and get around to political correctness later. Well, the party was inside anyway, so I headed in.

The place was a theater. It was the size of a typical movie theater, but it was set up for concerts. In fact, it reminded me of the theater that Jackie played in Santa Barbara back in December. It was cozy, and my seat was pretty good. I say pretty good because anything that wasn’t the front row was just okay. My seat was between an elderly woman on one side and apparently a much younger grandma on the other side, who brought her granddaughter to the show. The little girl looked like another Jackie in the making. But can she sing? I engaged in some light banter with her, leaving out the car incident until the little girl diverted her attention elsewhere.

An MC came out to warm up the crowd. After some information about the theater (Did I mention they were proud?) It was time for Jackie. As she walked out, all of the events of the day faded out. For me, this was the only thing in town. Little did I know how right I was about that. She was wearing a tan and black dress, with the tan looking like there was too much skin exposed. There was not; it was all material. She mixed it up well with old and new material, including a few songs from her yet to released new album. The transition to a more pop sound was on track. One particular song really caught my attention, and it would stay with me the rest of the trip. It would serve as a backdrop in my mind and become the theme song of the trip. Of course, hearing it for the first time, all I could remember were fleeing bits, but those bits grabbed me and held on. She’s great. She’s always great. Certainly an inquisitive little kid on the other side. And why not? Grandma was there to answer all her questions. It all added to the ambience of the show.

As usual, there was a mid show intermission, where Jackie could take a little break and change into her second half dress. It was a sparkling silver mini dress, a significant departure from the formal gowns that she wore in years past. Looked good though. However, towards the end of the show she was lamenting that the shoes she was wearing were hurting her feet and maybe she should finish the show barefoot. That was okay with the audience, and for the encore that’s exactly what she did. She also brought her dog to the show and introduced her to the audience. Just Jackie hanging out with several hundred of her friends. The show was nice, the audience was nice, the venue was nice-it was all good. But eventually the show had to end, and off she went, sans the high heels she had worn most of the show. I’ve never been disappointed with any of Jackie’s shows, and this one was no exception.

Now, it was time to eat. It always seemed that whenever I have attended any of Jackie’s shows, it was always difficult to find something decent to eat nearby. I had Googled restaurants in the area before arriving there, and had one picked out. It was supposed to be a popular downtown bar that served dinner as well. Supposedly, it was right next to the theater, but I was having a hard time locating it. Don’t tell me it’s that place around the corner! I spotted a pizza place/bar across the street. Well, maybe they had some pasta there. I still had a few days to carb up before the marathon. It turned out that the kitchen was closed and just the bar was open. No drinking for me. I kind of sauntered around the area looking for the place I had Googled and finally found it. I was expecting a big sign with lots of people there, but it turned out to be a hardly noticeable doorway to a bar. I went inside and found not a hopping, hip place with beer and food flowing, but a semi dark bar, with just a few patrons inside. The bartender was ignoring me. The patrons weren’t though. Did you ever walk into a place and get a bad vibe? The vibe was bad. Yes, I am from out of town. I looked around and slowly made my way back to the door. The bartender never even looked in my direction. It was an uncomfortable place, and I would just find something on the way back to the hotel.

The weather had cleared by this time, so there was no danger of being struck my lightning. There were few cars on the street, so the chances of being struck by any of them was diminished as well. As it turned out, it was about a mile from the hotel, but not knowing what kind of neighborhood I was in, the walk back was a little eery. Although there were streetlights, some areas were still dark. The sidestreets I walked past were very dark and uninviting. As I walked, I saw the police had a car pulled over across the street. Well, at least the boys in blue were around if this actually was a seedy area. Suddenly, two more patrol SUV’s pulled up behind the car. Great. What did this guy do that required three units? I just kept walking, eventually approaching the spot where I had been hit. The place was closed now, and there was no danger of a wayward car pulling out. Just beyond that was a non-descript building that was also closed. It had a lawn in front that started at the sidewalk and sloped down to the building. The lights were out. Suddenly, I was something white moving quickly up the hill. As it got closer I saw that it was a very large skunk. It reached the sidewalk, turned and ran my way. I was incredulous. I’m being assaulted by a skunk? Fortunately, the traffic was light and I was able to run across the street to escape. And run I did. That thing was not afraid of me at all. At that size, it probably wasn’t afraid of much. Now I was on the other side of the street and it was a good thing. There was a car in the middle of the street with its flashers on and a couple was arguing in Spanish. The guy seemed particularly upset, and his female companion just sounded like she was trying to calm him down. Didn’t really want to walk by that. I thought about the cops up the street. They ignored me though, and I continued on my way. Finally I spotted something familiar. An Arby’s restaurant. Not the kind of dinner I had planned on, but it seemed like the town shut down at ten o’clock. I walked up to the restaurant and had a sinking feeling. The lights were out in the dining room. Of course it was closed. Of course. By the time I made it back to the hotel, my stomach was grumbling and my mood matched my stomach. I went to the front desk.
“Excuse me, is there any restaurant open within a three mile radius of this building?” I asked. The clerk was very matter-of-fact.
“There’s an Arby’s on the corner,” she said. Great. I sarcastically thanked her and headed up the street. I wasn’t going to go much further, but I needed some food. It started looking more industrial up the street, including a closed Coca-Cola bottling plant. As I walked by, another guy was coming down the street. He was wearing pajama bottoms and had earbuds in, totally ignoring me. He had a bag of something though, and that told me there was something up ahead. At the next intersection there was an open gas station and a 7-Eleven. Guess what I was having for dinner? The owner of the 7-Eleven was chastising the lone clerk for-apparently not being able to do anything right, but as long as he could ring up a soggy sandwich and some chips I didn’t care. He was able to do that. Now all I had to do is make it back to the hotel room, eat my crappy dinner and get some sleep. My sister would be there in the morning and I would be out of St. Charles. But there was on last experience before I got back to the hotel. As I went by the Coca-Cola plant, a mouse cut me off and ran in front of me for a while before veering off into a crack between the sidewalk and the grass in front of the building. I thought of the soda I had just purchased. Not sure why I was laughing, but I was. Finally, I got back to my room, and there were no more incidents that night. I had been in town for seven hours or so, and had been caught in an electrical storm, hit by a car, been enthralled at a Jackie concert, been attacked by a skunk-and a mouse for that matter, and saw more police activity than I wanted to. Day one of my vacation.

My sister arrived the next morning, bringing her Corvette for my pleasure. I loaded my luggage inside and said Let’s get out of here. I went to St. Charles to see Jackie and that’s it. Everything else was just a bonus. Now it was time to prepare for the Chicago Marathon.

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