Sunday rolling in Oak Park
Rain is good. Rain is sweet.
Except when it gets in the way of getting on a bicycle. So Saturday morning’s downpour put the kibosh on two-wheeling. But isn’t it better occasionally to stay inside and listen to the rain pelt the roof?
Anyway, on Sunday around noon, some cyclist friends and I met outside the old Coloma Community Center on T Street. We looked up, fretted and wondered if we were in for more drenching. Nah, the sky looks all right, I said. It will not rain. Bike around town enough and one gets a good sense of the weather.
And it was all right. I crossed Stockton Boulevard at Eighth Avenue. A few blocks later, four people on the corner at 43rd Street across from Jay & Gee Market walked en masse. “I tole you you betta stop shootin’ that dope!” a tall man shouted. The woman he addressed had scrunched up her face in pain, opening her mouth with a wordless cry. The group continued walking. I rode on.
Westbound Eighth Avenue dead-ends into Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and if you keep going you’ll run into one of my favorite signs in town: a painting of a dapper man wearing a player’s hat and nice shades on the facade of a tan stucco building, the large initials “O.G.” book-ending the man. To its left an advertisement reads, “Lil Dis-N-Lil Dat, Fashion Trendsetta’s,” and on its right Baytown Bail Bonds and Notary.
Around the corner on Seventh Avenue, there’s a well-kept house with an early ’50s Chevy coupe behind a waist-high cyclone fence. A block in, turn right on 37th, and at the crest of a small hill there’s a gray house where people never fail to wave or call out “hello.”
Left on Fifth, right on 36th at the Thompson Funeral Home and up to Broadway, which cuts at an angle through this stretch of Oak Park. The nearby Bicycle Kitchen and BrickHouse Gallery were closed, and across the street on the pie-shaped corner is a building that, according to BrickHouse proprietor Dave Dave, will someday house a breakfast joint called Orphan, in the front part of the space where Naked Lounge and Tupelo Coffeehouse roasts. A glance through the windows didn’t give much evidence of anything happening soon.
Just up the street is a dry cleaner with a new facade (Dry Clean Today), but an ancient blue-and-white sign for Stinson Bros. hangs over the sidewalk, broken neon tubes tracing the letters. Too bad modern graphics have replaced these old neon signs, because they’re much superior.
Rolling up to 35th Street, the entire tableau in the wide-open expanse turned into a Dutch Masters rendering of a Robert Crumb cityscape, the sky a gently shifting palette of robin’s egg blue mixed with cottony white, with soft beams of light from a distant sun eliciting other grays and golds. On the trees the leaves broadcasted colors, varying from green and olive through gold and yellow to orange and vermilion, framed by lawns and other flora drunk from rainstorms and radiating deep-green happiness. And the sidewalks and pavement still glistened with wetness and fallen leaves.
I wheeled across Broadway, reveling in the palm-lined center divider, and past the back of the now-shuttered Primo’s Swiss Club. Up to 33rd and right, I followed what sounded like Levi Stubbs testifying, and found a storefront church called the Apostolic Lighthouse, door open, with a small crowd rocking to a preacher in full-tilt James Brown-at-the-Apollo mode.
Some days, though, you just don’t need saving, because everything is already too all right.