Skip to content

Month: October 2021

Is gaming finally coming to Chicago

Chicago may be one step closer to getting a casino. The city received proposals for a casino from the following entities: 

  • Bally’s Corporation submitted proposals for two sites and would self-manage the facility, according to the city.
  • HR Chicago submitted a proposal for a single site that would be managed by Hard Rock International, according to the city.
  • Rivers Chicago at McCormick submitted a proposal for a single site that would be managed by Rush Street Gaming,
  • Rivers 78 Gaming submitted a proposal for a single site that would also be managed by Rush Street Gaming. (Chicago Tribune)

There was talk of putting one or more casinos in the city for over three decades, yet none came to fruition. There is no reason why Chicago does not have a casino. Years ago, this could have been accomplished, as some major hotel chains operated casinos in other cities and were already vetted by other states. There were supposed fears of organized crime involvement and demanding state requirements to open and operate a gaming operation.

The process is still arduous, yet major gaming companies placed bids. They see a future for gaming in the city. There are questions. Who will own the enterprise, the bidders, the city, or a city/owner partnership? How will the casino be audited to ensure the city and state get their share of the revenue? Since this is Illinois and Chicago, how much of a “political scandal” will this create?

 Chicago is a major tourist and convention city, so bringing in city and state revenue from gaming makes sense. If done right, Chicago could see major entertainers coming through to perform in a casino(s).

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the travel and convention sectors. A casino, if approved soon, could help reverse the city’s fortunes. The problem is where to put it. Location is everything. A casino should be placed in an area easily accessible to downtown, where most of the hotels are.

It is hoped the state and city can work together to make a casino happen. People gamble. It is a fact of life. The puritanic attitude towards gambling is loosening. Gaming will make Chicago a bigger magnet for travelers and suburbanites.

The gaming industry lost the tawdry reputation it once had. It is more respectable than in past years. The industry is corporate and operates in a business-like manner. There are few known scandals in the gaming industry. 

I am not a gambler. I visited a casino once to see what all the buzz was about. It held no appeal for me. I am also not a puritan. I know people want to gamble, and they will. They gamble in the suburban and Indiana casinos. The city should take advantage of the gaming revenue stream. 

Gaming is more mainstream and has been for several years. Poker tournaments are televised and created minor celebrities. It is hoped the city can work with the gaming industry to strike a deal and finally have one or more casinos in Chicago.

Where was gun safety on the set of “Rust”

Is it loaded or unloaded?/Image: PV Bella

One cannot help to be fascinated by the incident on the set of “Rust.” The movie is being co-produced by Alec Baldwin. Every day since the tragic killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of director Joel Souza, stories keep coming out about safety issues on the set. The stories have the tone of tabloid journalism, even with the so-called legacy news entities.

To summarize, actor Alec Baldwin was handed a prop gun to film a scene. Depending on what source you believe, he fired the gun toward the camera for the scene, or the gun “accidentally” discharged. The assistant director told Baldwin the gun was cold, meaning it was loaded with blanks, not live ammunition.

Someone did not check the gun before they handed it to Baldwin. Baldwin did not inspect the firearm or was not shown the gun was “cold.” That violates one of the basic tenets of gun safety. If someone tells you a gun is safe, you still check it yourself. Even actors should learn about gun safety and firearms if they are going to handle them. When it comes to gun safety, no one should be trusted.

Stories are coming out about the lack of safety precautions on the set. One long-time prop master turned down working on the production over safety concerns. Many union set workers walked off the production over concerns of contract violations and safety issues. They were replaced by locals, according to various early stories.

“Rust” was considered a low-budget film costing 7 million dollars. Low-budget films are penny pinchers, and costs are cut to keep within the budget. That can lead to safety issues, especially on a troubled set. Films can cost over $1000.00 per minute to shoot.

Last week, I wrote about two documentaries dealing with movie-making. One of them, “Who Needs Sleep,” dealt with the push for a 12-hour day for film crews and other safety issues on sets. Crews were working 14–19-hour days at the time of the documentary. It appears the chickens came home to roost on the set of “Rust.” If reports are accurate, the “Rust” crew was working 14 plus hour days.

Chicago is a movie city. Many movies and television shows film here. Sets are on the streets or in local film studios and sound stages. There are special effects, including chase scenes, crashes, explosions, and other neat stuff. I watched some of these being filmed, including an episode of Chicago PD filmed in front of my home.

Film sets, whether for movies or television, are intricate. More time is spent on the setup and rehearsal than on shooting. It is a delicate dance, and there can be hazards. I saw all the safety protocols the industry practices followed while filming in this city. Watching movies or TV shows being filmed can be tedious. Most of it is hurry up and wait. Then, the scene is shot, sometimes over and over again.

New Mexico law enforcement and safety authorities are investigating the incident. They will probably issue a damning report. The question is, will the film industry listen? The industry is a business, and there is a delicate balance between costs and return on investment. Short cuts become the norm on some sets to save money or when revisions are necessary. Time is money, and money is time.

Alec Baldwin is being trashed by some more because of his political views and past conduct. There are too many who will turn a tragedy into social media memes to be popular. As one of the producers of “Rust,” he will bear some responsibility for what happened.

Let’s wait until the investigations reveal what happened and what or who caused the tragedy. From all appearances, everyone involved is cooperating with authorities, including Baldwin. There may or may not be criminal charges, depending on New Mexico laws. There will be lawsuits. All will come out eventually.

The Chicago Bears Day of the Dead

Image: PV Bella

“We are the Bears’ stumbling’ crew

Stumbling on down, doin’ it for brew

We’re so bad, we know we’ll lose

Blowin’ our games cause we wanna choose

You know we’re just stumbling for fun

Stumbling our stuff for everyone

We’re not here to start no tumble

We’re just here to do the Chicago Bears Stumble”

Sunday was the Chicago Bears Day of the Dead.

The sportswriters will dissect the game after the McCaskey Bear’s 38-3 fiasco against the Buccaneers. Granted, the Bear’s offense and defense suck. But that is the fault of management. They hire, field the players, and call the plays. The coaching staff is supposed to, well, coach. It looks like management and coaching are miserably failing.

Bears management threw quarterback Justin Field to the wolves. Tampa ate him up and kept asking for more, then, licked the plate clean. A rookie quarterback cannot develop into a good or great one if there is no good offense. The defense faired no better.

Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy created the Disaster Bears. They should have been fired after last season. The Bears upper management and owners are as cheap as George Halas, as it would take a great deal of money to bring a winning coach and general manager to Chicago.

At least the Cubs are Loveable Losers. There is no love lost for the Bad News Bears. On all counts, the Bears management failed the team and, worse, the fans. Hell, from all appearances, some of our local high school teams can beat the Bears, as they have better coaching staff. 

Nagy is the worst Bears coach since Abe Gibron (1972-1974). Those of us old enough to remember are seeing a repeat of those torturous years. While Gibron was a losing coach, he was a beloved personality in Chicago. Nagy is despised. 

Leading up to Sunday’s game, all the sports talk was about Tom Brady and his offensive team. They highlighted the pitfalls the Bears would face. I heard little about Justin Fields, other than the Bears preparing him for Tampa’s blitz. The team and management failed.

The game was lost in the first quarter, with the Bucs up 21-0. By halftime, Team Brady was up 35-3. It was an embarrassment. The Buccaneers. came on the field to win. Did the stumbling Bears know why they were even there? 

It is hard to tell who is more incompetent in the Bear’s organization, the ownership, management, players, or a combination of all three. Something must be done to turn this ship of fools around. 

I foresee fans showing up wearing paper bags over their heads, like New Orleans Saints fans used to do some years back when they were so horrible. The cameras loved it, especially if the fans wrote messages on the bags.

From social media posts, Bear’s fans are royally pissed off. It is enough to turn the hardest hard-core Bears fans into Packers fans. 

Bottom line, the McCaskey’s and Ted Phillips must make some hard decisions now before the Bears replace the Detroit Lions in last place. 

“Just do it”

Image: PV Bella

I talk to a lot of people in my neighborhood, including businesspeople. They all complain about the same things. Sometimes, they complain to or about the alderman. For whatever reason, some of their complaints fall on deaf ears, or they get the usual response, “We’re working on it.” The issues or problems persist. 

I find this phenomenon all over the city. People seem to think they are helpless when issues persist. People should not think. They should act. They should organize their neighbors, create a plan to solve or mitigate the problem. It is called community organizing. Elected officials do not like community organizers. It makes them look like what they are, useless.

Community organizing is merely people deciding, as a group, to solve a common problem(s) in their community. It is not some political- lefty or righty- concept. It is merely people getting together to resolve issues. Many times, their solutions are more effective than those offered up by elected officials.

Some examples of community organizing are school parent groups, area business associations, block clubs, or neighborhood groups for or against specific issues such as housing, traffic concerns, quality of life, etc.

Occasionally community groups work with their elected officials, sometimes against, and many times despite them. People see an issue or problem and decide to resolve it when politicians take too long or do nothing. 

Our city works when ordinary, well-meaning people try to make their communities better every day.  We need to become more aware of issues in our neighborhoods. What is the problem? How many people does it affect? How do we fix it? Find out what works—identifying and attacking issues is not enough. Whatever action is taken must be results-oriented.

I know one thing. If we, as a community, see a problem, we can solve it together. All the political rhetoric aside, we citizens can do it. That is what Chicago is all about. Citizens have been solving problems, big and small since this burg was a swampy trading post.

Most of us want to see some common sense, honesty, and integrity from our elected officials. We get none of that. All we get are excuses and failed policies repeatedly. If Chicago is the city that works, people need to work to help solve our neighborhood problems.

We are the problem solvers. Citizens cannot just argue, complain to each other or the alderman when neighborhood problems persist. We live there. We can find solutions. We can do things. We should do something. It is people helping people.

Activism is not a political ideology- right or left-wing. It is not merely protesting or putting cutesy signs on lawns or in windows to feel good about ourselves. It is taking group action to solve a problem or issue. It is up to us if the politicians or bureaucrats will not do it or take too long.

There are many people in this city doing good work on a small scale. Whether it is dealing with homelessness, lack of food resources, poverty, violence, abuse, beautification projects, or any other myriad issues in our neighborhoods. There are opportunities in every community to volunteer. If you have different talents, you could put them to use, writing or graphic arts, for example.

People can demand better from their alderman by banding together and flooding their office with calls or emails over an issue. Use petitions to get attention. You can organize your neighbors to do things. There are neighborhood organizations you can join.

There are 2.7 million people in Chicago. We have the numbers. There are things, big and small, people can do in their communities.

If nothing else, we can hold the politicians’ feet to the fire by organizing, emailing them, going to their offices, attending community meetings, anything to make our voices heard. If they get defensive or angry, as some ruder ones do, remind them who they work for. Then, organize to get rid of them and elect someone else.

Like the Nike slogan, “Just do it.”

The picture says it all

Image: PV Bella

The adage is a picture is worth a thousand words. The photo above is representative of Chicago politicians and the Chicago news media.

While violent crime is out of control in Chicago, most alderpeople are silent. If asked about violent crime in their wards, they give milquetoast answers, mumbling about working with the police in their areas, blah, blah, blah. Some, if challenged, angrily shout at and shut down their questioners.

Members of the Chicago City Council, like Mayor Lori Lightfoot, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and Machine Boss Toni Preckwinkle, do not care about the rampant crime in all the neighborhoods. They have no pity, mercy, sympathy, or empathy. Hell, they are not even human as they display no humanity.

There is one thing they all are, depicted in the photo above—my apology to horses. If there are no consequences for criminality, criminals will continue their bloody rampages in neighborhoods. Innocent people, including children, will die. Survivors and families will be traumatized, some for life.

The police cannot do this alone. They need partners. They have no partner in the State’s Attorney’s office or the courts. The police cannot arrest us out of this crime pandemic if prosecutors and the courts refuse to do their jobs. Refusing to charge people with felonies, plea bargaining felonies down to misdemeanors, low or no bail, and the failing electronic monitoring system all contribute to the situation.

Boss Preckwinkle brags about the low jail population in her recently released campaign ad. Preckwinkle and Foxx are also represented in the above photo. Once again, my apologies to those noble animals.

Oh, look, those cops refused to get vaccinated or report their vaccine status—what a nice distraction. Columnists and editorial boards are outraged over the police for their resistance, yet not one word of outrage against the trio responsible for public safety, the Mayor, State’s Attorney, and Machine Boss. You better believe if one of their reporters, columnists, or high-paid news presenters were the victim of violent crime, there would be howls of outrage. If there were no prosecution or the criminal let out due to low or no bail, their hair would be on fire. Everyday people, meh.

The citizens should be outraged. They should not be questioning alderpeople. They should be demanding they do something, like hold the trio of horses’ a**es accountable. The citizens should hold their feet to the proverbial fire. Many alderpeople will be running for reelection to their six-figure part-time positions. If citizens do not get some results, they should elect someone else.

The same holds for the Lightfoot, Foxx, and Boss Preckwinkle. If they cannot curb the mayhem and keep us safe, they do not deserve another term in office. They should be tossed to the curb and swept away.

Public safety is the chief responsibility of elected officials. Our elected officials failed us on an epic scale. Any one of us could be an innocent victim of a violent crime. The politicians and news media keep touting police reform. What we need is political reform. Chicago needs people in office who care about public safety. People who have empathy for victims instead of sympathy for criminals. People who will act instead of tossing out cheap words or meaningless publicity stunt distractions.

We do not need horses a**es holding public office dishing out horse manure. We need people who care about public safety and have empathy for the victims of violent crime. We also need to hold the news media in this city accountable. They should be leading the charge instead of being partners in crime with the politicians. They, too, are horses’ a**es, dishing out horse manure daily.

What does it take to get angry and rise up against these total failures? How many more people, especially children must die? Are we that callous? Or, are we so dumb, that we do not hold the elected horses’ a**es accountable?

Documentaries on how movies are made

Over the past week, I watched a documentary, Who Needs Sleep, and a docuseries, The Movies that made us. They give an inside look into the movie business. Who Needs Sleep was produced by award winning cinematographer, Haskell Wexler. Wexler was born and got his start in film in Chicago.

Who Needs Sleep, released in 2006, delves into the decade long fight for production crews to get a twelve-hour day. Up to that time, production crews, including writers, cinematographers, make-up artists, trades people, and anyone who was not an actor/actress, worked 14–19-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. Depending on the location, they may have to drive hours to get home, rest, and go back the next day.

There are interviews with crew members on the hardships on their families and lives working such long hours. There are dangers too. The issue at the time was budgets. Most movies had to be filmed over a set number of days. This was set by the studios.

Wexler documents the resistance of the studios, unions, and professional associations to get involved. He interviews the various stakeholders, including actors/actresses, directors, producers, union and association officials. It is an inside baseball look at how movies were produced on a strict timeline without regard for workers.

The Movies That Made us is a three-season docuseries about making several popular movies and how they made directs, producers, screenplay writers famous. Movies included, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pretty Woman, Coming to America, Forrest Gump, and several more.

The docuseries shows how movies that may never see the light of day were made into blockbusters. It is a very detailed series, right down to the small intricacies, like finding specific fabrics for costumes, makeup casting, and lighting, script reading and rewriting, It delves into the fight to get screenplays on the big screen.

Stars, directors, producers, writers, special effects artists, executives, brokers, and a host of other people in the movie business. Some scenes are like watching the proverbial sausage being made. You find out things you may not even wanted to know but are interesting. For example, for one horror movie, they reveal the ingredients used to make realistic looking blood or how they made various slashings and stabbings look so, well, horrible.

Some stories relate the background of the various people involved and how they started working in the film business. The series also tells how some, including directors, producers, and actors/actresses shot to stardom after making some of these films.

You also learn about the movie business and some of its cutthroat actions, especially when it comes to financing and budgets. There were fights to get financing, disputes over budgets and cost overruns, and distribution.

“Who Needs Sleep is free on Vimeo. “The Movies That Made Us is on Netflix, so you need a subscription.

If you are interested in how movies re made, including the sausage making, both documentaries are well worth your time.

Congrats to the Chicago Sky

Image: PV Bella

On Sunday, the Chicago Sky brought Chicago a world championship title in their hometown, the first in their franchise history. The reaction in this city, meh.

There was more disappointment when the Sox were eliminated in the post-season than celebrating the Sky’s win. On Monday, all we heard were more excuses from the loser Bears.

There was no emptying of bars on the streets in Wrigleyville or the Near North Side Sunday night. There were no masses of police officers to keep the crowds in order. Hell, there was a major shortage of championship merchandise. When other professional sports teams win championships, the merchandise is readily available. It is made ahead of time.

Unlike the Bulls, Hawks, Cubs, White Sox, and Bears, the Sky is a women’s basketball team. Except for golf, women’s professional sports are not considered top tier. They do not get the publicity or fan love that other professional sports get.

Mayor Lightfoot quickly planned and executed a parade and celebration for the team. She is a fan and was at the game. Thousands showed up to cheer the team. The governor and other dignitaries gave speeches. With all the bad news in this city, we needed this championship.

The Chicago Sky is the hottest team in sports in this town of struggling losers. They did not only bring a world champion title this year. It is the first professional world title for Chicago in a long time. Yet, they received second-rate treatment by the sports media and citizens the night they won and the day after.

I started watching women’s basketball some years back during the Final Four. UConn won that year. They played harder than any men’s team I ever watched. When the US Women’s soccer team played their championship game, they played harder than the men. It piqued my interest in soccer.

It is past time we pay more attention to women’s professional sports. It is time they get paid the same as their male counterparts, along with the hefty endorsement deals. They are not treated as superstars like players on even some of the worst men’s teams.

Hopefully, that will change soon. The women play hard. They play to win. They are as tough and resilient as the men and can even trash talk with the best. It is high time we treat them with the same respect and hero worship.

The Sky bringing home the world title to and in Chicago is a big bleeping deal. We finally have a championship team after a long drought. They should be celebrated as the champions they are.

Chicago is a city of scoundrels

Image: PV Bella

“When will there be justice in Athens? There will be justice in Athens when those who are not injured are as outraged as those who are.” (Thucydides)

When will there be justice in Chicago? When will there be anger over the daily carnage on our streets? Every day the death toll mounts. Every day people are wounded. Where is the outrage that leads to justice?

The criminal justice system in Chicago is dysfunctional. The warfare between the police, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and the courts is a disgrace.

The politics in this city is the root cause of violent crime. Criminals know there will be few, if any consequences, for their actions. Justice is a revolving door. It is worse now than when corruption and bribery ruled over the system.

Cui bono? Who benefits? Who profits? The answer is the politicians. They get to keep their jobs because the voters in this city refuse to hold their feet to the fire over their epic failure to protect the public. In effect, voters voted against their self-interest, public safety.

They reelected Machine Boss Toni Preckwinkle and her minion, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. They will probably reelect them. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is twisting in the wind, which is where Preckwinkle wants her. It is a good bet Preckwinkle already picked Lightfoot’s replacement. Lightfoot will not win 49 wards next time. She burned too many bridges.

We are witnessing machine politics at its worst. People are dying, including children, and the three frenemies pretend to make nice. This is not and never was about progressive ideas, social justice, or correcting wrongs. This is pure machine politics. And you, the voters, believe the lies. So does the aiding and abetting news media in this city of scoundrels.

So-called reform politicians love the words accountability and transparency. They toss them around like kids pitching pennies. Yet, there is no accountability or transparency. It does not exist. The proof is the dead and wounded. Over 3700 people have been shot in Chicago so far this year, 641 fatally. Those figures do not include people shot on the expressways*.

The State’s Attorney’s office refuses to approve felony charges in many cases, blaming the police for shoddy investigations. Worse, they plea bargain too many felonies down to misdemeanors. Toni Preckwinkle’s lenient bail bond initiative allows criminals to return to the streets. The electronic monitoring system is a joke.

Violent crime in Chicago reached pandemic levels over the summer. It is precisely what Preckwinkle and Foxx want. Lightfoot cannot fight back. She always caves into the devilish duo. Lightfoot makes nice while they plot her demise. She, too, bears the blame. She hired an incompetent Superintendent of Police.

If Chicago had a real news media, as we did in the past, Preckwinkle and Foxx would never get reelected. David Brown would be back in Texas. The editorial boards are either cowardly, gullible or willfully blind to the deception.

No one is standing up for the victims. No one is speaking for the dead. No one is speaking for the families in their grief and mourning.

It is not only the injured or their families who must speak out. The vast majority in this city is up to those who are not suffering to express our outrage. We deserve better than this political Ponzi scheme perpetrated on us.

People, you are not helpless. You have voices. Let them be heard.

By the way, where is Superintendent of Police, David “Tex” Brown? Is he on vacation, missing, AWOL? Should we put his picture on milk cartons?

*The Illinois State Police have jurisdiction over the expressways. Their figures are not included in the City of Chicago reporting.

A legend in his own mind

CDC artist depiction of COVID-19

I was a Chicago Police Officer for almost thirty years. The Chicago Police Department signed its first union contract in the early 1980s. I knew nearly every Fraternal Order of Police President, from John Dineen to Dean Angelo Sr. Each was a well-spoken polished gentleman.

The immediate past union president was a well-spoken bully in a cheap suit. The current president, John Catanzara, is an ignorant guttural base snipe. Both despise Mayor Lori Lightfoot and let it be known publicly every chance they could.

I do not understand Catanzara’s anti-vaccine stance. He is directing Chicago Police officers not to report their vaccine status to the city today, Today is the deadline for the city’s mandate that all employees be vaccinated and prove it. He is going to war over a public health crisis. Catanzara is not only misleading the members of his union, he is lying to them.

The courts have upheld vaccine mandates for over a century. There is no HIPPA violation in the city mandating officers prove their vaccination status in order to work. Governments on all levels have a great deal of latitude to impose mandates during public crises, including public health crises. COVID-19 is still considered a public health crisis. The city has a responsibility to keep its employees and the citizens safe. So do the unions.

Over 500 police officers nationwide died of COVID-19. Chicago Police officers died of the disease. Dean Angelo Sr. recently died of the disease. Flu season started and COVID-19 cases could start rising dramatically again.

During a public health crisis, mandates are not bargainable working conditions. Instead of making the health and welfare of his members his highest priority, Catanzara would instead pick another fight with Mayor Lightfoot, putting his members in jeopardy.

Catanzara’s only priority is to battle Lightfoot tooth and nail over inconsequential issues like his immediate predecessor. His distaste for the mayor is palpable. His no holds barred style is embarrassing. He is more of a street thug than a polished leader. He is now going to waste the union’s money in a legal fight he may welll lose.

For over a century, courts, including the SCOTUS, upheld vaccination mandates. There is no law against people providing proof of vaccination. It does not violate HIPPA. The city is not violating rights or limiting freedoms. 

The city has the ultimate responsibility to ensure public health. It has a responsibility to protect employees and the citizens. Police officers have a responsibility to protect each other and the citizens, not to infect them.

How can citizens trust the police to protect them if they will not protect themselves or the public from a disease that killed so many and left others catastrophically damaged? If citizens cannot trust the police on a simple thing like this, how can they trust them at all?

What do we have to do? Call 911, and demand they only send officers who will provide proof of vaccination? This is what it may come to. The citizens of this city should be outraged at Catanzara. But there is no outrage in Chicago. Look at the citizens meekly tolerating the daily murder and mayhem on our streets.

John Catanzara does not care about the health and welfare of his members. He does not care about their rights, freedoms, or lack thereof. Catanzara does not care about the union contract. 

John Catanzara only cares about one thing, and one thing only, battling Mayor Lightfoot while pretending to be a tough guy. That is what cowardly bullies do.

John Catanzara is a legend in his own mind.

Grouse hunting

Audubon/Brooklyn Museum

This is the time of year I daydream about the northern woods of Minnesota and Ruffed Grouse.  Bonasa umbellus, Ruffed Grouse, is native to many northern woodlands. They spend most of their time foraging on the ground for food. Legally, you must shoot grouse on the wing, that is they must flush, and you try to shoot them in the air. They are a challenge. You hear them flush before you see them. They flush fast and veer right or left. Most of the time, you are sky blasting or shooting tree branches. Shooting at them is like shooting trap or skeet with brains.

The second week of October was a two-week excursion to hunt the elusive ruffed grouse for about four years. I would drive to Minneapolis to meet my late friend John, and we would go further north to Moose Lake Lodge, 14 miles from Black Duck, a small town.

We had to bring our provisions, food, beer, booze, book bags, and cigars. John brought the dogs, Springer Spaniels. We rented a bungalow, one of four on the shore of Moose Lake. National forests surround the area.

The usual routine was getting up before dawn, checking the weather, and going for a long walk in the woods, together or alone with one or both dogs. Return to the cabin around noon, eat lunch, maybe nap, or read, then go back out until the sun starts to set. You did not want to be in the woods after dark. Up there, dark is darker than dark. Getting disoriented is easy, and the chances of hitting a deer on those unlit roads can be a danger..

Many years we were skunked, two weeks and few or no grouse. Feet hunt grouse. You must walk, sometimes miles, to even see or flush one. They are cagey and skittish. Many times, you hear them flush before you see them.

Sometimes, we would hunt the areas around the cabin. Others, we drove miles to different parts of the forests in search of those birds. Shooting grouse is an achievement. You are grateful. They are beautiful birds and taste good. 

The walks in the woods were therapeutic. There is no hustle or bustle of city life: no traffic noise or other urban sounds. The sounds were only the wind in the trees, leaves rustling, and the sounds animals make going through the woods. The woods were pines, birch, maple trees, and aspen groves. Most of the grouse habitat is in the aspen groves, as they eat the buds. 

Geese and ducks were plentiful, though we never hunted them. It was too easy. Grouse are a challenge.

John was scientific about the hunt. He would check the weather and barometric pressure. Grouse are affected by both. On the off days or when there was a possibility of rain, I would take road trips to nearby towns. I would visit the local merchants or eat lunch at the one restaurant in the town, usually what we call a diner.

The local people were welcoming and willing to talk to a visitor. Their concerns are foreign to urban dwellers. They do not talk about crime, noise, pollution, race, or any of the myriad things we are absorbed in. They ask but drift off to discuss the weather, crop and livestock prices, hunting, fishing, logging, and doses of gossip. 

The politics are odd. Their ideologies are a mix of conservative, liberal, socialist, with doses of left or right extremism. Their politics are based on what directly affects their lives, strictly local or regional.

Once or twice during our stay, we would drive forty miles to Bemidji or Walker to restock our groceries, liquor, or other items we could not get in Black Duck. Sometimes, we would eat an early dinner. I would drive alone occasionally, park, and walk through the towns. I would imagine living there.

Eventually, after four years, life interfered, as it has a nasty habit of doing. I could no longer make the trek north and stay for two weeks. I used to say maybe next year, but next year came and went every time.

I miss those days. When I crossed the border into the Chicago area, I became frustrated. Living in an urban area, compared to the Northwoods, is night and day. I could never live up there permanently. Everything is too far away. You need good coping skills. I do miss those trips. The stress of urban living disappeared. There was beauty in the natural world. The people practiced what they call Minnesota Nice.

One fall season, before I turn into worm food, I will return. Not to hunt but to roam the woods, smell the pines, see the various woodland creatures, and witness the wonders of nature. At night, I would gaze at the stars and galaxies you never see in the city. I would lift a glass to my friend and the past memories.