Hanging Out in Rockford: Summer into fall

Summer has passed so quickly, or is summer in Rockford just that short? Yesterday, the day and the night were the same length. The autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall: I bought a new motorcycle, but I haven’t used it much. Sunday morning, I am up really early, and finish the money and the payroll before 9:30. I wait impatiently for Ricky to arrive to do the cleaning. I want to get out of town.

Finally, Ricky is here. I drive down Kishwaukee to get something to eat, but then I change my mind. I will stop in Durand at the bar that used to be Bunger’s to have a grilled cheese sandwich. I will stop on my way to Baumgartner’s. I will take the old back-country roads the way Brad Paske taught me, when we used to go that way on our Honda 750s. The Honda 750s we bought in Prairie Du Chien, Wis., for $1,732, brand new.

I am still getting used to my new bike. It’s a Kawasaki Concours. It’s called a sports touring machine. Elisha asked me what that meant, and I told her it is for going to Baumgartner’s for a cheese sandwich, when you want to get there really fast. It’s a lot lighter than my last motorcycle, the one I sold to Ducati John. Almost 200 pounds lighter: John changed that, though; he cut off all the unnecessary stuff on my old bike. I saw him riding it, and it looks like some sort of European café racer on steroids. I told him when he gets it finished, he should send a picture to Yamaha.

But today, the weather is perfect, and today, the new bike is running oh, so perfectly. And today, I take a different way out of town, and I wind up driving up Hoffman Boulevard and cutting across on Halsted, and I am reminded of when we lived in this part of town, and I had a 450 Honda, the one I had before we bought the 750s. The road to Durand needs to be repaved, but the weather is beautiful. On the way out of town, I pass Curran’s Apple Orchard, where I stopped a week ago to talk to Pat. I am following a Harley, and the Harley turns into Curran’s.

The drive to Durand seems really quick. I walk into the bar that used to be Bunger’s (I can’t remember the new name). They aren’t open yet. I tell the bartender I will stop on the way back. I head out of town, and take the turn where there is a sign that says Monroe and Broadhead with an arrow, and I think about how Brad would have been in the lead, and I would have followed him around this turn. I follow the old roads to Highway 11 and turn toward Monroe. I really open up the new bike and finally find the sweet spot. Motorcycles have a speed where they are designed to run. This one is too fast for me, except on a freeway.

When I get to the cheese store, I order a Huber Bach, and I think about seeing Fred Huber in the international produce market. He was picking up produce for the new Sundown store on North Main Street in Rockford. I get a Limburger sandwich with onions, and I put the good mustard on it. It isn’t as strong as the Limburger my adopted father Bob used to eat, and I ask them how old it is. Six months—more like brie in my opinion. After the sandwich and the beer, I am full. Doesn’t take much to make me happy these days.

I head back out of town. I want to take the old road along the creek, the one that Brad taught me, but it is too long since I have gone that way, and I turn too early. I ride south on another perfectly good road until I run into Rock Grove Road, and I turn east. Then, south to the highway that runs between Rockton and Freeport, is it 75? Past Rock City (where the two beautiful waitresses who used to work for me lived, and I went to see them on the Fourth of July) and Davis—and back to Durand, where I have a beer, and all the people have been out together the night before, and they are all teasing each other.

Then, it is back on my bike and down 70 again to Rockford, where I stop at Swilligan’s to see Paula. Reggie is there, too. I have one Irish whiskey. Back at the Rose. I take a nap, and then go out to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken for the staff. I am so tired all I can do is eat my fried chicken and watch big TV. I fall asleep watching the big TV. About 9, I look downstairs as I close the hatch. Katy is sitting there, doing her money. We speak briefly. Then, I make my way to bed. A good day—Brad would have enjoyed it. I make a mental note to call his son, Danny, for a ride before the fall is over. We promised one another we would at Brad’s funeral.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the Sept. 26 – Oct. 2, 2007, issue

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