: My DNA is very heartland America: all ‘burbs and ‘burgers.

Today I trolled through a bunch of Chicago suburbs to get ready for the start of the Northwestern hyperlocal project tomorrow… and also to wander around my roots.

Cue Streisand’s Memories.

Feel free to get off the bus now and skip the tour.

I hadn’t been to my childhood home in, oh, 30 or 40 years. That’s it above: a much-smaller-than-I-could-remember bungalow in Elmhurst, IL: very Wonder Years in its prime; very Jerry Springer now.

We moved there when I was 1 and moved away in 1960, but I can still remember the inside.

I wandered up and down the street taking a few pictures. As I walked back past the Jarvis joint, wondering where the plaque should go, a guy opened the front door wearing PJs that don’t cover his hairy belly (it was 3 in the afternoon). I spooked him. He spooked me. I explained that we built this house in… I gulp… 1955. Damn. The house, once so new, is almost 50 years old. But then, of course, so am I.

Do I look this bad?


And there’s the place where I ruined my diet and heart for life. Actually, there was a better burger place across the street but was torn down decades ago. This joint predated McDonald’s but it’s where I came to love burgers and fries and fizzy drinks.

As I said, I’m all-American.

We moved away to Iowa when I was in the first grade and, neurotic little bastard that I was, I got an ulcer. Kids didn’t do therapy back then.

Then we moved to South Jersey, then New York, then back to Illinois (I went through four elementary schools in three states and four high schools in three states, which, together with the ulcer, explains a lot about my psychoses, eh?). We moved two towns away from Elmhurst, to Lombard, a town known for lilacs and for breeding the Unabomber.

I drove by my highschool, below, which looks like a pharmaceutical factory. Heck, it probably is.

I drove by the Pizza Hut where I took my first love, Markie Kimble, on dates. Now you know why it didn’t last. (If you’re expecting a where-is-she-now update, I’ll fail you; she doesn’t appear to be Googleable.)

Over there was the Jack in the Box where she worked (it’s now a boarded-up fish franchise) and down there was where I worked as kitchen manager — in charge of busboys and spudboys — at the Ponderosa Steak House (now torn down).

Franchises didn’t just feed us. They were the of our day.


I went to Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall, which would have made Lileks jealous in its day. For all the time I spent in it, it’s strange: Not a single memory of the place.

Malls cauterize memory.

And finally, I made it to Evanston and Northwestern, having dinner in the post-modern food franchise, Wolfgang Puck’s place, and — while I’m on this theme of food, romance, and memories — I wandered by the haunts where I hung out with my college girlfriend, who is quite Googleable, and who is now known as a leading “postmodern lesbian philosopher.”

Ain’t symmetry grand?