Parting Glances: Not a full deck

by Charles Alexander

I've been going to Chicago regularly since 1960. It's my Second City, with lots of wonderful memories. Museums. Restaurants. Friends. Lovers. Gay bars. The Lawson Y. (Youth gone for good with the Lakeshore wind.)

During disco years I went by Amtrak every other weekend. The pre-AIDS years of so-called Sexual Liberation were kinetic. Kicky. Somewhat kinky. How times have changed. (Or, have they?)

On a recent Chicago outing I experience a carefree relief as our train leaves Niles, last Michigan stop. My mood is so tangible I want to bottle it for future use should ever I meet up with The Gin Rummy Four again.

They boarded in Dearborn, and by the time we reach Ann Arbor's Gandy Dancer hold club car squatter's rights. I know we are in for trouble when Mr. Deuce of Diamonds boom-boxes loudly, "If they don't want us in the living room, we'll take our card party to the kitchen."

(The "living room" is the coach they've just been booted out of by a posse of civic-minded Amtrak passengers demanding peace and quiet.)

As I've zero tolerance for card sharks on or off track, I retreat to my business coach seat. I put headphones on, up my CD player to max volume, try to ignore Rednecks as Folk. ("The Siege of Amtrak"; Sequence #550).

Underneath my cushion of samba sound, their voices barge in and out of my CD go-around of newly-announced-as-gay Ricky Martin livin' la vida loca, and I'm getting a little livid loca myself.

It's my Anglo-Saxon temperament - inherited from English grandparents on me mum's side - but I expect a modicum of decorum and quietude when traveling in the company of strangers, particularly if they are boring, unattractive and straight.

Hours later at Niles, curiosity kicks in. I cautiously enter the club car and walk in on a moment of unexpected high drama. "I'm not getting off this G-D train for nobody. We paid our fare," snipes Miss Queen of Clubs to Samson Shuffle-Mydeck. "I ain't budging!"

No sooner has she set her beer down then in pops Captain Grandslam. He flashes a badge, barks, "If you say one more word, lady, I'll arrest you on the spot. This is a federal matter. You four, get off the train." I want to applaud, but not wishing to spoil the stunned, exquisite silence, I beam inwardly and cork my imaginary bottle.

From the Amtrak window I watch a scout car zip up, the conductor point an emphatic finger, four card sharks tumble in. As our train leaves I wave. (Decorously, of course.) I learn that Miss O'Hearts had made an off-color, sexual remark to a 12-year-old boy. His mother (presumably also English) was not amused.

I'd forgotten about the Gin Rummy Four as I sit on a bench in Water Tower Park on Chicago's Magnificient Mile. I'm enjoying a performance by a human automaton. His face, body and double breasted suit are painted silver. His staccato movements are accompanied by a recorded, pleasing whirring sound. Click. Shift. Click.

He has two stars on each shoulder (representing the Chicago flag). Each spins rapidly when coins are dropped in his cup. Children get pictures taken with him, and with mechanical hand he lightly pats each head, registering a quick, creaky, metallic smile.

From the crowd of onlookers a woman darts up, puts her arm around the mechanical mime's waist and giggles. A nondescript, but vaguely familiar male somebody snaps a digital-camera moment.

As they hurry to board a Navy Pier sightseeing bus, she turns and waves. Good grief! It's Miss Queen O'Hearts. Sober. Seemingly none the worse for wear. Off for another 52 pickup. (Sequence 551.) Facebook, too

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