Hanging Out in Rockford: Old times, new times—part two

After the dinner at Linos, after we sit and look at old year books, after I finally recognize some of my old classmates from their pictures in the yearbook, I ask Barb if she would like to see the Irish Rose. When we get to the door it is raining heavily. I run to my van and drive it to the door. Then I transport her to her car and she follows me back downtown.

We sit and have a nice chat about old times. I didn’t realize that she had dated Bill Shipee for a number of years. I always remember her as Boots Gillam’s girlfriend. My new chef, Troy, makes her some gnochi with porcinis and grills her a scallop. We exchange Internet adresses and promise to keep in touch. She later writes me to say it was some of the best food she had had since staying at a fine hotel on vacation.

But my week is heating up. I have to go to Budapest to see my son. The whole week is about preparation. I manage to squeeze in some time with Elisha on the weekend stripping kitchen cabinets and taking her grandmother, Ruth, to the Great Wall, but every moment is precious, and I always feel rushed. This is the last relaxing day I will have before the trip.

Tuesday night, Elisha says she is coming out, and I cannot refuse. I drink too much and regret it the next day when I have too many errands to accomplish and I am trying to do everything with a hangover. I stop at Gerlinde’s Water Street Café to complain, but she has no pity for me. Then, before it seems possible, it is Wednesday night. Ryan and Sarah come down to the Rose with Elisha. They want to have a good-bye drink with me before I go. About 10 o’clock, I show some wisdom and say good night. We all exchange hugs, and I go upstairs. After about an hour of preparation, I finally get some sleep.

The next morning, Troy is there right on time. We head for Chicago. He drops me off at O’Hare on his way to the market. I get through the check-in procedure at O’Hare in about 20 minutes, start to finish. (Not at all like they are portraying it in the media.) Then I have about five hours to kill while I wait for my flight to Frankfurt. I have a few $7 gin and tonics in the airport bar, and eat steak and eggs. Then I use my carry-on bag for a pillow and curl up to sleep until my flight.

When I arrive in Frankfurt, the place is deserted. It must be the early morning hour. Europeans have a better idea about work than we do. I wander about and finally find somone who directs me to my departure gate. They are not all whacked out about security like we are state side. The whole thing seems almost casual. It’s just another example of the press blowing everything out of proportion.

When I get to Budapest, the immigration officer barely glances at my passport and then that’s it, I am in Budapest. My son is here to pick me up. We take a bus to the city, and I have my first introduction to Eastern European driving. It’s pretty scary. The surrounding countryside and buildings remind me of the outskirts of almost any major city in Mexico, in fact I am constantly struck by the similarity of this country to Mexico in many other respects.

At Drew’s two-room flat apartment, I meet Dori, his soon to be wife. She departs to stay with friends for the evening and I lie down to sleep. Start to finish, my trip has consumed twenty four hours. It is 5:30 in the morning Rockford time.

In the evening, we meet two of Drew’s friends, Miklos and Andros, at a café for drinks before the concert. We are seeing Bob Dylan at the new sports arena. I tell them about the first time I heard Bob Dylan in North dormitory at Beloit College. The music was coming out of Courtney Spencer’s room. I said, “Who is that hillbilly?” All of the kids from the East coast thought I was really stupid.

From the café, we take the underground to the sports arena. I want to call Elisha to tell her that we are walking into the concert, but Drew says he doesn’t have any international minutes left on his cell phone. And then we are in the concert listening to Dylan sing “Baby Blue.” Our floor seats (standing) put us only feet from the legend. His concert is fantastic; the entire crowd is moving in time to the music. I am in total bliss. This is more than I ever expected. The crowd calls the band back again. The second song of their encore is a new version of “Like A Rolling Stone” and the crowd goes completely up for grabs. Turning 58 isnt so bad, after all.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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