Archive for July, 2012

Land of Opportunity

A quintet of Dayton’s policy makers convened in chambers on the morning of October 5, 2011, politely chitchatting as each approached his or her bench. It was an unblemished morning, indeed, as forecast by Erica Collura, WHIO’s meteorologist: the sky was piercingly blue, with mare’s tails so delicate they seemed to have been flittingly applied by a paintbrush. Pulling their chairs as polite conversation dwindled and focus fell to the day’s undertaking, each espied a packet of legislation lying before them on their desks that read “Welcome Dayton”. This was the city’s open embrace to its immigrant population, its hope to create an international marketplace by implementing the ideas of this industrious people, in addition to endowing them with other prospects. As the small Midwestern city council members pulled at the sachets’ adhesive tabs to review the slightly controversial contents within, they endeavored to announce support for an idea whose time had come.

The United States of America is a nation borne by immigrants. Our aspiring forefathers voyaged over rough seas envisioning ways to renew their lives in this land of opportunity. Upon settling, they were motivated to actualize these ideas in due time, tending the fertile land as they grew families. While their farms flourished, construction began on prairie storefronts, where surplus products could be vended for profit. In turn, this eventually led to the creation of international trade routes, calling for mass ship production. Meanwhile, as our country matured, these former immigrants continued our development by nailing rails into the earth for the sake of train travel. They erected larger municipalities, and persistently, doggedly re-invented America. In short, a valuable caveat: we are, because they were.

“When I was young, I had a dream,” confided Victor Recchia, who currently handles the reins at 49-year Calo Ristorante, found in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. “I would sit in my class in high school and think about how good my dad’s life was. He was an immigrant who came to this country at the age of 15 without speaking any English, hoping to seek a better life. To see what he and his five brothers have done! Every single one of them has done very well for himself. I was proud of [my dad].”

Victor’s father began humbly as a carryout and delivery operator, his diminutive menu focused on simple items, such as pizzas and pastas. Depending on family loyalty to promote business, he requested that his family pitch in to cultivate industry while he stirred spaghetti noodles, sautéed garlic bulbs, and tossed floury pizza dough in the kitchen of a Harlem Avenue storefront.

“My brother and I were involved from Day One. We would get picked up from pre-school and go door-to-door passing out flyers from 12:00 until 3:00.”

In the end, the family’s devoted exertions succeeded. The transporting of items from the elder Recchia’s menu proved so lucrative in his own neighborhood that he began to dream anew. Upon finding a new location aside Clark Street’s Calo Theater in 1962, he shut his first restaurant’s oven door for a final time, to realize a vision that blessedly exists still.

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Jukebox Money

Table 241 is arguably the best tabella della sala da pranzo in my workplace. Resting a half-foot from the door sash separating Indoors from Outdoors, it is elementally kissed, while simultaneously remaining shaded beneath the pizzeria eaves.  Its air-conditioned indoor environs spare starved diners from this season’s unusually inexhaustible heat, too, since the hot air blowing from the direction of City Hall and the Business Loop has time to cool while passing over the Chicago River Channel. Finally, as an added bonus, the lucky soul in Position One at Table 241 has the unconscious advantage of sitting in a spot once occupied by a man who not only beckoned the world to Bring [their] Jukebox Money to the Love Shack, but who went with friends to the beach Armed with Matching Towels, only to find a Rock Lobster under the dock.

One impeccable May afternoon, in the waning hours of my Lunch Shift, a single, slight, spectacled man in a cotton button-down shirt was led to Table 241. Around him, empty seats breathed sighs of relief, resting after a bustling lunch service.  I looked up from whatever my current occupation was that day,  regarded my new guest while he assembled shopping bags on a nearby seat, then, taking note of his seat choice, marked his table number and position on a blank slip of paper.

Our hostess approached momentarily with her own slip of paper.

“He’s a friend of Paul’s,” she smiled, extending the memo to me.

Paul, another server, is among the many who welcomed me to my new job from the beginning. His sharp wit, ability to relate, and talent for storytelling were impressive from Day One; in fact, a story about meeting this particular friend to thrift shop in Wicker Park seemed an incredibly hip activity, considering the guest and my co-worker. I approached the table, remembering it.

Paul’s friend, Fred Schneider of the 35-year old punk/pop band the B-52’s, inquired as to whether Paul were available, following our initial Hellos. Although my negative answer seemed to disappoint him, it allowed us to focus on the lunch menu, a selection of hand-rolled pizzas, small plates, pasta, sandwiches on locally-made ciabatta, and antipasti. In the end, he went with myriad selections of small plates that were vegetal in character. He kindly requested a glass of sauvignon blanc to cool him as he waited for the plates’ arrival.

Which they did. One. By. One. Soon, the table was cloaked with his selections.

After waiting the obligatory two minutes to see if there was any other item I could bring to the table, I approached and inquired. Placing his right hand on a wafer-thin crostini that had been dragged through white bean spread, he leaned back and smiled, surprised by the question.

“Not unless you have another stomach somewhere in the back,” he commented, laughing.