By Mike Leifheit
I really like my block and my neighbors. This year’s Block 5 party goes without a hitch. Putting it together is a dream. Saturday morning, the whole block comes together to put up the fencing. Everyone arrives on time, and the whole thing goes so smoothly it is crazy. There is only one holdup, the electric. The pigtail for the electrical distribution board we collectively bought a number of years ago is missing. This could turn into a real problem, if not for North Park Rental, who is here setting up the stage. One of their guys gets on the phone, and sure enough, they have one.
Once I am back from the rental place, Dave, who works for Commonwealth Edison, hooks up the electrical power, and we are off and running. By 1 o’clock, I am ready for a beer, and I have one at Cru, a really good dry import Damien picks out for me. Then, I walk over to Deli Italia for a hot dog. They have my favorite hot dog there: Red Hot Chicago, and they do it in the classic Chicago garden dog style. I walk around carrying my hot dog, and it stirs up a great deal of interest.
But I am the old guy of the block, and if I am going to hang out on the street tonight, I need to take a break. So, I go back to my apartment and take a nap and a shower, re-emerging about 3 o’clock. Damien gives me a hard time about all of this needing to take a break, but I have learned my own limits, and I would rather feel really good tonight.
About 6 o’clock, Katy and Damien cruise the street to sell wristbands, and then the people Kim Wheeler-Johnsen has provided from River District Association start charging admission at the two entrance points. Now, the Block 5 is officially back, back after a few years of absence. We all wait and wonder if there will be a strong response. There are a few folks in front of the businesses on the west end of the street, but not too many inside any of the businesses. I hold my breath; I want this to be successful.
Emily Hurd takes the stage, and her beautiful voice fills the street. I am walking around looking at everything going on when I have an epiphany. We should have served dinner in the street. It could be so cool on this beautiful summer night to sit outside and listen to Emily while having dinner. Service would be no problem, as we were able to persuade the city council to pass legislation allowing the transportation of alcoholic beverages into the festival area from each of the establishments. All we would have to do is put tables and chairs in the street.
I’m excited by my idea, and I walk down to share it with Frank Calvanese. He grasps it immediately, and says we shouldn’t use the sidewalks at all; we should put all the tables in the street, and that the way the sidewalks would be open for people to walk back and forth. I think this is a really exciting idea, and one you can look forward to for next year.
It gets dark out, and we suddenly realize we have a problem. The lights for the stage won’t come on. We look frantically for the input for the stage electric. Finally, we find a single-phase male plug on the opposite end from our electrical board on the outside of the stage, under the switches for the lights. We do not have the right female plug, and it would be too difficult to move everything at this point in the evening, but we learn for next year. Emily sings on stoically, while Dan Ford manages to shine a spot from the second story of The Office, and some nice young men bring some lights that successfully light up the area.
Then, I just kick back and watch everyone (everyone who is younger than I) do all the work, and I walk around and visit at each of the establishments (sitting in Red Lion, talking to LuAnn of Lula’s, who is bartending, I discover I am not going to be 63 on my next birthday, but 64; it isn’t the highlight of my evening) until it is 10 o’clock, and my old man timing device goes off. It is time for this old fart to go to bed. I want to feel good when it is time to clean up in the morning. I lay in my apartment, listening to the dysfunctional stereo of Radio Stars playing through my front window and some band Brio has on the beach blaring through my back door. At this point, the street is packed with people. It looks like we are a real success. Nothing affects me; I am soon asleep.
The following morning, when we are cleaning up (Damien is tearing down the fence and rolling it up; I am disassembling the electrical pigtail and putting it in my van for return), I mention my idea of dinner in the street. Damien likes the idea, but says it could be a separate event altogether. I like that idea, but think it would have to be for the Block 5 Festival because of the special law allowing us to carry out into the street (like On the Waterfront), but I don’t say anything more. Maybe next year we can do it, and maybe we can do two days? Whatever, this year has been awfully successful, and it can only get better from here.
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 Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue