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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Thursday, March 23

Gapers Block

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How could I have known that revolving doors are a regional phenomenon? Or that I would actually miss their merry-go-round rides? Several years after moving to Southern California, where I've yet to encounter a door other than the open and close, yawn variety, I visited my beloved home town, Chicago. Suddenly I realized that along with authentic hot dogs, Italian beefs, Hong Su Shrimp and people sufficiently clothed, revolving doors were rare west of the Fourth Principal Meridian. Designed to keep out wind and weather, they would be both superfluous and quirky in Sunny San Diego, where we have neither.

A Google search of "revolving doors" disclosed a whopping 2,660,000 entries, conjuring up a variety of images.

Big city residents are familiar with a door set on a rotating shaft containing four clear glass panels, or "wings." A revolving door with bullet-proof glass is also available for high security purposes. On December 22, 1881, H. Bockhacker was granted the German patent for "Door without draft of air." The doors have been instrumental in draft avoidance ever since.

For athletic types, a trendy aerobics move brings you up and over a bench and back again in four small turns, completing a full circle. Metaphor buffs infer the movement of individuals from one position to another, such as from lobbying to government jobs and vice versa, with the resultant conflicts of interest. "Revolving door" also describes addicts strung out on the rehab yo-yo and criminals oscillating between the slammer and the street.

In right-hand drive countries, revolving doors revolve counterclockwise. In left-hand drive countries, the only sure thing is you can't be sure which way they revolve. When in doubt, keep your eyes on the riders ahead of you for queuing clues.

Revolving doors provide a plethora of benefits lacking in hinged doors. Retail stores and restaurants favor revolving doors, which allow floor space near the entrance to be better utilized. Efficiently remaining always open and yet always closed, no wind, rain, snow or sleet can tailgate a rider into the building.

Wind can neither blast them open, ripping them off their hinges, nor slam them shut on your backside. Virtually noiseless themselves, revolving doors prevent lobby commotion from distracting the throngs milling about outside a building — or vice-versa. Despite leaving and entering a building simultaneously, no collisions of entrants and extrants have been recorded.

revolving doors are typically constructed with speed governors to prevent warp-speed travel, although children may have cracked the code on this feature. Clear-glass panels allow one to view fellow riders without running the risk of hearing, smelling or colliding with them, which is a plus Downtown, where ranting, malodorous colliders have been known to circulate.

If this vignette has you wondering how you've managed to survive without installing an RD in your own home, take comfort. Manufacturers claim that revolving doors pay for themselves within a year. So, while you're enjoying your daily ticket to ride, by wisely deferring the bill for 12 months, you'll owe nada.

Up On The Stoop

Imagine, if you dare, a world without cell phones, instant messaging, more than one telephone per household or e-mail. How did people communicate in those prehistoric times?

News traveled with lightning speed through cacophonous conglomerations Up On The Stoop. Despite lacking the glamorous facades of their East Coast brownstone cousins, Little Italy's stoops emitted warmth, congeniality and, surprisingly, stony comfort.

To escape summer's oppressive, soggy-sponge heat, carefree childhood days were spent in icy cold, double-feature movie theaters or browsing, allowances clutched in clammy little hands, through five-and-dime stores. Carefree childhood nights were spent Up On The Stoop. Into the wee hours of the morning, while babushkaed mamas gabbled in a fusion of English and Italian, even tiny children were allowed to stay out Up On The Stoop. Larger than life or boring as bean broth, every tidbit of gossip was met with an awestruck "Madorn!" from madornale, or "gross" (kids today just think they invented the word). Those matrons gave journalists a run for their stories. Before the morning edition of the Chicago Sun-Times hit the stands, you heard it first Up On The Stoop.

Families who chose nocturnal sleeping over chatting took exception to the late night, stoop-gathered hordes. Window fans, earplugs, alcoholic beverage chug-a-lugging and prayer were mere stop-gap measures to drown out the incessant jabbering. Yet, one hesitated to alienate one's neighbors by shouting out the window, "Shut uppa you face!"

Certain physical attributes were essential for a stoop: cement with the right texture (smooth stone precluded elbow scrapes and clothing snags), height (to avoid vertebra damage), and depth (allowing the rump to settle comfortably, without overhang).

Stoops served as stages for posturing to impress passers-by. Even if a stoop lacked a red carpet, one could still strut one's stuff in true showgirl fashion by a grand sweep down the steps.

If a stoop's group lived elsewhere, a fine relationship with the owner or manager was essential to ward off a chase off. Especially if engaging in games on the stoop, one needed an ally in the building — and stoop life wasn't complete without games.

Stoop ball involved throwing a ball at the stoop and attempting to catch it. Ten points were earned for each ball caught on the fly. Catching a "pointer," a ball that smacked the edge of a step and line drove back at you, was worth 100 points. Sandy Koufax's Hall of Fame career began playing stoop ball.

Jumping off each step onto the sidewalk, beginning with the lowest and working up to the highest, was a game for the daring. Twisted ankles, skinned knees and cracked tailbones frequently ensued.

Attempts have been made to revive stoop culture. One such effort began as a New York design school class project. Feeling that stoops were being wasted as a valuable resource, three freshmen distributed bright green flyers entitled "Sit Here" around the city's stoops. Enterprising though this project may be, enticing people away from TV, the Internet, temperature control and solitude will not be easy. Drawing younger ones, who haven't experienced the stoop's glory days and who are unaccustomed to merely sitting and talking, may be a particularly daunting task. Whatever the future holds, no meeting hall, game room, or hangout could compete with the glorious times experienced Up On The Stoop.

"Hot dogs, hot dogs!"

The first spoken words of Mickey Mouse in The Karnival Kid in 1929 epitomize the childlike joy, undiminished by time or distance, aroused by these yummy little meals embedded in warm-bun cocoons.

Why is the ubiquitous hot dog included among regional rarities? Although hot dogs, like revolving doors and stoops, can certainly be encountered outside the Windy City, the authenticity of such poor relations is questionable.

Salty but woefully inadequate "Chicago Style" impostors just can't fill the bun. Their only resemblance to the quintessential Chicago hot dog is their color and the inclusion of a relatively tasteless bun. Beyond that, missing are the essential accouterments necessary to catapult them to Status: Hot.

Building the Dog from the Bun Up

Nix to trendy sourdough, whole wheat or multi-grain hot dog buns. The foundation of a genuine dog is a poppy seed bun. A word of caution: Forego scheduling pre-employment drug-screening tests for several days after indulgence.

The pièce de résistance, the hot dog itself, is added next. Traditionally all beef, the Chicago hot dog eschews chicken, turkey, pork and fillers. Fatless hot dog varieties find no nestling place in a Chicago hot dog bun. A natural casing gives the dog its firm texture and "snap" when bitten into.

Drizzle yellow mustard (never Dijon) from stem to stern, perhaps zigging and zagging for added aesthetic appeal. Spoon bright green sweet relish over the mustard. Next come finely chopped white onions. Slide two tomato wedges along one side of the dog; slip a crunchy pickle slice along the other side. Top off the entire structure with two sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Mangia!

No ketchup, chili, salsa, pastrami, bacon or other quirky toppings should compete with the flavor of a true Chicago hot dog.

Not to be overlooked is the inclusion of a complimentary bundle of heavy, "meaty," deep golden, fat-laden, flavorful fries. Voilà! A protein/carb/vegetable combo you can hold in one hand and experience in one eye-appealing, mouthwatering bite.

Even if ordered "on the side," the West Coast's attempt to morph fries into health food renders them disappointingly dry and shriveled, virtually fat- and flavor-free, much like an aging beach babe left out in the sun too long.

According to one source, Chicago is home to more hot dog establishments than Burger Kings, Wendy's and McDonald's combined. And that's saying a mouthful.

Thanks for joining me on this excursion through some of Chicago's cultural specialties. The next time you spin a revolving door, climb a barren stoop or queue up at a neighborhood hot dog stand, perhaps you'll view with newly discovered appreciation these familiar yet distinctive amenities.


About the Author(s)

Deborah J. Rebolloso is a student of The Long Ridge Writers Group whose writing focuses on humor and satire. This is her first, but certainly not her last, published piece.

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