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Riding The Dog, Part 3: Meet Me At The Esquire Lounge

Part 1: Midnight Bus To Markham.

Part 2: Celebrating Incessant Monotony Since 1961.

A half-block from the station, just before the corner of Chester and Walnut, I encounter The Esquire Lounge. The name conjures up images in my head of a dimly-lit establishment cruised by divorced, badly aging lounge-lizard men from the early 1970s - heavy on the wide lapels and Hai Karate - but a peek through the window reveals a diner/family restaurant kind of joint. And hot damn, one with bar service at the lunch counter - which stands to reason, because the word "Esquire" itself is pretty classy, and you practically expect a classy-sounding place to have booze. They even stock Drambuie. Now that's class, ladies and gentlemen.

It's 10:40 a.m., and I'm the only customer in the place. I'm informed it's indeed open for business, and why yes, I can stow my monstrosity of a bag beneath their front counter. I take a seat there and, not wanting to besmirch the classiness of the place's name by ordering something an unwashed foreigner straight out of steerage might, I go top(ish)-shelf with a Jack Daniel's and Coke instead of the cheap, low-class swill I'm accustomed to. Because if you have to spend two hours drinking Jack-and-Cokes and eating cheeseburgers until something interesting starts happening, then by golly, this seems like an ideal place to do it.

After ordering from the food menu, I notice The Esquire is a study in contrasts. There are pool tables in the adjoining room, but you don't feel like you need to worry about getting coldcocked by some rube or food-poisoned by a bad shrimp. It's a place where you have all the tools and fuels to get shitfaced for lunch, but the customers would have too many manners to get that out of hand, but if they did, the management would be decent enough to call a cab rather than just drag your sorry, dead-weight carcass out to the curb and leave you there. The joint is slightly pretentious enough to supply A-1 Steak Sauce at every station, but middle-class enough to make you trudge over to the condiments-and-toppings cart on the other side of the room to put your own damn stuff on your own damn food.

Just before noon, The Esquire Lounge begins to fill up. Around the U-shaped formica-topped counter are a few Alone-Men: those worn-looking, unshaven fellows who always sit by themselves and order soup or chili or sandwiches served in paper-lined plastic baskets, and have the color of men who either don't cook for themselves, are sick of cooking for themselves, or have given up on the prospect of ever finding a woman who'd cook for them.

The booths now contain families who - this being Christmas and the height of family-visitin' season - look exactly like you'd expect people to look when they've run out of places to take out-of-town company who've been in their house for four days already.

They look like they're sick and tired of pancakes, too, and seem to be eyeing up the bottles of booze with a peculiar sense of longing. It may have been desperation, but I couldn't tell for sure.

* * * * *

There's still almost an hour left on the clock, so I stop at Jon's Pipe Shop and Cigar Lounge a few doors away. This being the day after Christmas, I was thinking of gifting myself with a reasonably priced, proprietor's choice Dominican maduro because nobody knew I was making the trip, so any giftage destined for me was left parked under other peoples' yule trees. Which was okay, because what else did I expect?

The place is quite aromatic, with a few tables populated by guys old enough to be intimately familiar with the Vietnam War. They're cloaked in a hovering cloud of smoke, which, if you're going to say anything charitable about this brand of tobacco smoke, at least it's not coming from cigarettes. Some men spend their Saturday afternoons swilling beer to college basketball games; others spend theirs discussing important matters of the day while leisurely puffing away on a pipe or the delights of leaves not rolled on the buttery, pliable inner thighs of virgins in Cuba, but close enough.

Today's important matter involves paranoid American actor Randy Quaid and his apparently equally-paranoid wife. If pipes and cigars had never been invented, I think they'd probably still gather around those same tables playing canasta just for the simple sociability of it all.

The guy behind the counter chooses a nice-looking $8 or so Dunhill 1907 for me. He seems to more than halfway know what he's doing, so I trust that it turns out worth the eight bucks.

* * * * *

I've run out of constructive things to occupy my time, so I'm back at Illinois Terminal, where there's nothing left to do but mark time like someone in lockup waiting on bail money. Christmas music is playing over the building's speakers, and it feels not Christmas-y at all and past its sell-by date even though it's still technically Christmas. A questionable-looking guy is trying to sell a Chicago Bears sweatshirt and winter cap from a thin plastic shopping bag to anyone who will give him the time of day, and that alone strikes me as being more hopeless than dangerous. Directly behind me, a gaggle of urban youths are steeped in a discussion of important matters of the day involving the activities of the Vice Lords street gang in Chicago.

There I sit on the bench, thinking I'd much rather be sitting at a table at Jon's Pipe Shop and Cigar Lounge, enjoying a pleasant Dunhill among guys not vastly older than me talking about Randy Quaid.

Next: Meet me in St. Louis.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 9, 2016

MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - Climate Deniers' 4 Top Scare Tactics.
SPORTS - The McEnroes In Antarctica.

BOOKS - Foxconned.


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