Dancing Under Expressway
The apostles came up and said to Master,” Give us more faith” But Master said “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘More” or “less” in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, “Go jump in lake” and it would do it. From Luke 17. “The Message” translation.
Not far from where Chicago’s Kennedy Expressway paved over apartment at 1523 West Wabansia Avenue where Nelson Algren and Simone deBeauvoir would wander home late at night from neighborhood tap; an mage of Virgin Mary appeared on concrete wall beneath where Kennedy crosses Fullerton Parkway
Obdulia Delgado was on her way home from work at hospital. And as she drove down Fullerton Parkway beneath Kennedy, traffic thundering above on concrete artery connecting O’Hare Airport with towers of downtown Chicago; she looked at wall and immediately pulled on over. If you put image, drawn in salt stained runoff from highway above, if you put it next to an image of Virgin of Guadalupe you’d have a pretty close match.
Viewed through lens of a camera image becomes even sharper, lines distinct and close to clear. Obdulia Delgado fell to her knees and began to pray.
And then---because this is Chicago, forever and always a cross roads; while Obdulia knelt and prayed and traffic zoomed by and roared overhead--- at a train station just a little bit south near loop, a tall, serene and radiant black man carrying a battered saxophone case stepped down off train and through railroad steps of smoke and time. Finally having found that one perfect sound he had sought during all his time on earth; John Coltrane found his way to that underpass, knelt down next to Obdulia to lift his gleaming golden horn from its case, stood up tall, closed his eyes and began with two perfect bell shaped notes of a piece he called: Dear Lord.
John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord” echoed out from that underpass, along with news of what Obdulia found on wall, that perfect sound heading off towards Division Street. Algren hears and he wanders up to Fullerton to have himself a look.
A slight bespectacled man, a counterpoint to massive presence of Coltrane, Algren stands off to side to watch fun begin. Knowing now that when he shows up: others will follow. Algren listens and he watches and remembers a letter he tossed off once to a man, a Korean War vet who wrote to ask about what it was like to write “Man with a Golden Arm.” Algren replied to man:
“But there were never days when I felt I wouldn't complete it. I knew that, unless army got me again or a Buick bumped me, I'd get a story put together, because I had parts to put together. My self-doubts weren't concerned with whether it would be completed, but only whether it would say anything, and say it well, as nobody else could ever have said it, when it was done. All those things came true, to a limited degree, so I feel it was a lucky book, and a lucky time now past, and I was lucky to write it.”
Algren laughs to himself, standing underneath that bridge---knowing now that it was not about luck. And when Algren chuckles, Coltrane stops for just an instant and joins in laugh---seeing Coltrane smile, much less laugh—like some sort of miracle or something!
In that instant of pause and chuckle: two new Chicago wanderers: this time from South side join in underneath that bridge. Appearing first with a scowl, till somebody from crowd that is beginning to build around that image of Virgin shouts out, “Yo Studs Lonnigan, you kissin old dump goodbye?”
And when he hears those words, James T. Farrell breaks out in a crooked Irish grin, and as soon as Farrell smiles a new piece of music, dredged up as if land itself, dirt and sweat and layers of time could come bursting through cement in a four bar blues, massive guitar and voice of all earth---McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters says,
“C’mon baby don’t you want to go? C’mon baby don’t you want to go? Back to that same old place. Sweet home Chicago
As Muddy waters just roars, crowd grows even bigger.
A weary wandering con men, over there in corner by himself, 57 year old Harry stumbles in from deserted bleachers of a cold September Cubs game, his last name L-U-M tattooed in purple on back of his hand. Stepping out of Millers Pub underneath El Tracks on Wabash, belly full of beer and more gut level smarts about what mattered to people than next six generations of baseball executives would have, Bill Veeck hobbled over to join in crowd.