As Nick Gravenites wrote, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band sang, I was “Born in Chicago” . . . but a good deal after “nineteen and forty-one.”
It surprises people when I reveal my birthplace, until I explain that my father, born and raised on Maui, was attending the University of Illinois at Chicago then. Upon his graduation two years later, he and Mom (also Maui-born-and-raised) brought me home.
So, yes, I’m technically a kotonk. But I identify as a Maui girl. I have no memory of my early years in Chicago, only a scrapbook full of black-and-white snapshots and clever captions handwritten by my mother. Throughout my early childhood, Mom would indulge me with stories about the snowsuited toddler in those photographs. I never tired of hearing about our tiny apartment above the corner store that got held up at gunpoint on a regular basis, and how Daddy finally chained shut the hood on our ancient Chevy after the third time thieves took the battery, only to come downstairs one winter morning to find the back seat stolen.
Whenever Mom talked about those days, she always wore a wistful smile, and she’d say, “Someday we’ll go back and visit.” I could tell that Chicago held a special place in her heart, and I developed a similar attachment to that toddlin’ town.
My affection for Chicago is partially sentimental, partially instinctive. Just being born in a certain location doesn’t give you a sense of that place . . . or does it?
It’s silly, I know, but the Bears have always been my favorite pro football team, only because we share our city of birth. As a kid, I loved catching Sunday NFL TV with my dad, but even he wasn’t as avid a Bears fan as I was. Nowadays I rarely watch football, but I always check The Maui News sports page for my team’s stats.
On the other hand, Chicago-style food like deep dish pizza and hot dogs with the works (but no ketchup!) appealed to me long before I knew their origin. I guess I was born with blue-collar, industrial-strength taste buds.
And then there’s the music. Like Jake and Elwood, when I hear Chicago blues, I just gotta boogie.
So I jumped at the chance to MC the most recent installment of The Buzz 107.5 FM Local Artist Showcase at the Maui Coffee Attic, featuring Fast Freddie and the Blue Lava Blues Band. Freddie’s special guest was his old pal, guitarist Steve Freund, who’s played with Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins and many more blues legends. With Freund, the band struck a chord deep within my heart and resonated down to my dancing feet.
Better yet, before and after the show, Freund regaled me with stories of his 18 years on Chicago’s South Side, a lanky young white kid venturing into dive bars and blues clubs under the wing of the great Hubert Sumlin. I told him how I dream of spending a week in the Windy City, exploring the music venues and museums. He urged me to plan for next June and the annual Chicago Blues Festival.
I’m seriously considering that; the one drawback is that I wouldn’t be able to see the Bears play at Soldier Field. Which brings me to another recent MC gig that came with great perks.
Hosting the inaugural event for Albatross Golf Adventures, a cool combo of high-end golf tours, Hawaiian cultural education and sports celebrities, I got to meet Jim McMahon.
That’s right, the punky QB who, along with Sweetness, the Fridge, Samurai Mike, and da Ditka, Super Bowl Shuffled all over the Patriots on Jan. 26, 1986. Posing for a photo with him, I was a giggly, goofy kid again, just like when my dad was teaching me how to put the spin in my pass. To my relief, McMahon was gracious and warm, and even told me how much he enjoyed my Tita pidgin lesson at the start of the evening.
Now, more than ever, Chicago is tugging my sleeve. Pardon my paraphrasing and musical mash-up; Baby, I just gotta go, back to that same old place, Sweet Home Chicago!
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.