Randolph Street: Three Scapes

October 20th, 2017

1IMG_0503Winter Twilight–Lincoln Park


2DSCF1739CTABelmont Platform


3_MG_4802Prairie City–Northerly Island


All photos © Jon Randolph


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Benny Jay: We Miss You

October 19th, 2017

This bit’s from the October 18th show. If you want to hear it,   click here


So the other day I head into the studio bubble to start another great show, when I notice there are no headphones. At which point I bellow…

Damien as me: Hey, Yoda!

Dennis: Yoda, Yoda.

Yoda being our station manager, who makes the trains run on time. So to speak. Into the bubble, he runs.

Matt as Yoda: I was watching Cubs highlights, what do you want?

Damien as me in panic: Man, I need Headphones.

Might as well mention–we’re about two minutes to air time.

Matt as Yoda: Oh, the weekend crew must have put them somewhere.

Now it’s less than two minutes to air. Yoda runs out. Then back—headphones in hand. I ask…

Damien as me: Hey man, who’s the new, news guy?

At the end of each opening segment I kick it back to the newsroom as in…

Damien as me: But first the Chicago News with Laura Vaughn.


Bet ya’ Thom Hartmann doesn’t worry about this stuff…


Only Laura’s been on vacation. So that’s why I need to know who I’m kicking it back to for the news. Get it? Only Yoda says…

Matt as Yoda: I don’t know.

Damien as me: Oh, man–what do you mean you don’t know?

Matt as Yoda: I mean, you’ve asked for a body of information of which I have no knowledge.

A minute to air time…

Damien: No, I don’t mean what does I don’t know mean. I mean, who the hell should I say is doing the Chicago News, man?

This is not as easy as it looks, folks. There’s lots of different people who’ve done the news. Such as…

Laura: Hi, I’m Ryan Gatenbee.


Laura: Hi, I’m Jim Ryan.

You know, to confuse the old guy with two Ryans. And…

Laura: Hi, I’m Mark Vasco.


Laura: Hi, I’m Walter Cronkite.

Okay, not him. Still, I live in constant fear of getting it wrong as in…

Damien as me: But first Chicago News with Mark Vasco.

Laura: Ugh, Ben—it’s actually Jim Ryan.

Damien: Aw, man. Not again.

Anyway, Yoda says…

Matt: Let me check.

Out of the bubble he runs, leaving me to wonder: Do other radio hosts have this problem? Like Thom Hartmann?

Dennis as Hartmann: Thom Hartmann here—do you like beets? Do ya? How `bout gold?

Or Norman Goldman…

Dennis as Norman: We’ll be right back where justice is served on the Norman Goldman show–why.

Or my, main man, Rickey Hendon…

Dennis as Rickey: Rickey Hendon–this talk show’s got rhythm, baby.

Just then Yoda returns with the best news of all.

Yoda: It’s Laura.

Damien: As in Laura Vaughn?

Yoda: Yes, she’s back from vacation.

Prompting everyone to go…

Dennis/Damien/Matt: Yay!!!!

Dennis: Get the bong out.

Welcome back, Laura—we really missed you.


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Randolph Street: Easy Street

October 18th, 2017

1DSCF1526Brown Line One–Chicago


2DSCF1523Brown Line Two


3DSCF1522Brown Line Three


4DSCF1530Brown Line Four


All photos © Jon Randolph 2017


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Letter From Milo: The Point

October 16th, 2017

The Crown Point Detention Home, in Northwest Indiana, was the first stop on the road to reform school for teenaged Hoosier miscreants.

Every Friday afternoon, buses and vans, hauling young criminals from Lake County jails, would deliver their cargo of underage car thieves, burglars, shoplifters, druggies, armed robbers, rapists and the murderously inclined to “The Point,” which was what the Detention Home was generally called.

There were 50 to 60 kids at a time in residence at The Point. Sometimes there would be a preponderance of black guys from the mean streets of Gary. Other times Latinos from Hammond and East Chicago would be in the majority. And there were times when the inmate population would consist mainly of tough white boys from the factory towns and outlying semi-rural communities like Lowell, Black Oak and Hebron.

The average stay at The Point was 10 days to three weeks. During that time the teenaged inmates would be evaluated by the Detention Home’s staff in a number of areas, including intelligence, socialization, reactions to stress, aggression levels and violent tendencies. The staff’s evaluations would determine which type of reform school and what level of security would be most appropriate for the juvenile offender.

Sometimes, though, for reasons unknown, the staff would recommend that a young man be given another chance and the lucky kid would be unconditionally released or set free on terms of probation.

A high school friend, who I’ll call Nicky, had the misfortune of spending 18 days in the Crown Point Detention Home. Nicky was an odd but somewhat interesting guy, a bad boy, roguish yet likable. He was a tough kid, who grew up in difficult circumstances and hung out with a bad crowd. But he was also bright and had a good sense of humor. He liked to read, too. He always had a paperback book sticking out of his back pocket.

Nicky was sent to The Point because he got caught riding shotgun in a stolen car, which he did not know was stolen. He was 15 years old when he was sent to The Point.

When Nicky arrived at The Point, the majority of inmates were black. Nicky was a tough kid but even he would admit that the sight of all those rugged looking black guys, many of them two or three years older than he was, scared him. Things got worse when Nicky saw a guy he recognized, a wiry Puerto Rican kid named Rico, who was a member of a Gary street gang called “The Mystics.” The Mystics and Nicky’s friends didn’t get along.

Nicky and Rico stared for a while, giving each other cold looks. Had they met on the street there probably would have been trouble. Then, for no apparent reason, a barrier seemed to fall and the mood changed. They nodded at each other in recognition and broke into sheepish grins. When Rico approached, Nicky noticed that his face was bruised, scratched and swollen.

“What happened, man? You look like you’ve been in a fight.”

“The black dudes have been fucking with me. I’ve got nobody to back me up.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Three days.”

“How often have you had to fight?”

“Three days.”

Nicky and Rico spent most of the day together, talking about things they had done and friends and enemies they had in common. They sat together at lunch and dinner. They played checkers in the dayroom. Although nothing had been said and no deals made, they had come to an understanding.

That night, when three black guys approached Rico, who was the only Latino in the dormitory, and the fight started, Nicky dove in, punching the guy that sucker-punched Rico. More black guys joined in, the odds were ridiculous, but the important thing was that Nicky and Rico fought back. Not fighting, being passive or showing fear, might attract even more unwelcome forms of attention.

Fortunately, the fights never lasted more than a minute. The racket always drew the attention of the counselors, which is what the guards were called, and they broke up the battles pretty quickly. Still, Nicky and Rico took a pretty good beating, but they also inflicted some pain. When the counselors rushed into the dormitory to break up this particular fight, it seemed that none of the combatants were sorry to see the melee end.

During the day, the inmates were left to their own devices. They could play handball, watch TV, play cards or board games, or do nothing at all. Rico liked to watch TV. Nicky liked to read. Some old lady had donated her library to The Point, so there was a pretty good selection of reading material.

Nicky was dreading the coming night. He didn’t want to take another beating, but there was no no way to avoid it, no place to hide. He took comfort in the fact that he wasn’t alone. Nicky found a quiet corner and was reading a book, when one of the counselors, a guy called Mr. Toby, who was a grad student at St. Joseph’s College, approached him.

“What are you reading?”

“Lust for Life, by Irving Stone.”

“What’s it about?”

“A couple of painters from France.”

“Did you get to the part where the guy cuts his own ear off?”

“Yeah, that was a couple of chapters ago.”

That night, a couple of black guys approached Nicky. Harsh words were exchanged, threats were made and the fight was on. Nicky was quickly overwhelmed, but Rico jumped in and took some of the pressure off Nicky. They were taking a beating, but were still on their feet and fighting when someone yelled that the counselors were coming and the brawl broke up.

The next day Nicky was in his corner, reading a Jack London novel, when Mr. Toby walked up to him.

“Looks like you’ve been in a fight.”

“I didn’t have much choice.”

Mr. Toby nodded in understanding. “What are you reading?”

“The Sea Wolf.”

“That’s a pretty good book. I read it a couple of years ago. Did you already finish that book about Van Gogh?”

“Yeah, I read pretty fast.”

“That’s a good skill to have.”

That night and the night after, the black guys left Nicky and Rico alone. The day after that, most of the blacks were shipped off to Indiana’s downstate reformatories. They were replaced by equal numbers of Latinos and whites. The new arrivals battled for dominance as ferociously as the blacks had done, but the Latinos never troubled Nicky. Rico was covering his back.

A couple of weeks later, Nicky was summoned to the Superintendent’s office, where he was released to the custody of a probation officer. As he was walking to the probation officer’s car, Nicky saw Rico watching him from the other side of a razor-wired fence. Nicky started walking toward Rico, but the probation officer stopped him

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I want to say goodbye to my friend.”

“You’re officially on probation now. You’re not allowed to associate with criminals. Get in the car.”

For a brief moment Nicky thought about disobeying the probation officer, but realized that nothing good would come of it. The only thing he could do was wave goodbye to his friend. Rico seemed to understand Nicky’s situation. He waved goodbye also, then made a fist, thumped his chest twice and pointed his finger at Nicky.

On the ride back to Gary, the probation officer said, “You’re a lucky kid.”

“Why’s that?”

“One of the counselors took a liking to you. Said you were a smart kid, liked to read books. Never caused any problems. He said you deserved another chance. If it wasn’t for him you’d be working for the government right now, learning the fine arts of manufacturing license plates and sewing canvas bags.”

“That was nice of him.”

“Personally, I don’t give a shit about books. The only thing I care about is that you show up at my office in the courthouse building every Saturday at 10 in the morning, for the next six months. You got that?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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Benny Jay: In Polish

October 15th, 2017

A days ago, I’m hanging at the Hideout bar, when my old pal, Dan Pogorzelski, comes up and says…

“I want to introduce you to my friend.”

With that I meet Malgorzata “Margaret” Ptaszynska, who hosts a talk show on Poliskie Radio, which, as the name suggests, is a Polish-language radio station.

“I want you to be a guest on my show,” she says.

Sounds good, except–I don’t speak Polish.

No problem, she says. Dan will translate.

“Dan speaks Polish?” I ask.

“You’re surprised?” asks Dan.

To prove it, he says something in Polish. Though, for all I know, it could be Greek. I’m so bad in languages, I once mistook Japanese for Spanish. A long story, I’d rather not share at the moment.

Well, one thing leads to another and here I am in the lobby of Poliskie Radio, waiting for the show to begin.

On the wall, are photos of famous Poles who’ve been guests on the station, while passing through Chicago.

This includes the pop singer, Doda–who’s like the Madonna of Poland.

Doda once got in trouble with Polish authorities for saying she believed more in dinosaurs than the Bible because “it is hard to believe in something written by people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

I don’t know about that. I have some of sharpest insights after a glass or two of wine.

Doda’s never been afraid to speak her mind…


Eventually, Margaret ushers me into the studio and explains the ground rules.

She’ll ask questions in English. I’ll answer in English. And then Dan will translate.

And so off we go…

After awhile I feel the rhythm. I learn to limit my comments to two or three sentences. So I don’t overwhelm Dan, who has to remember what I say in order to translate it.

We’re talking about this and that and Margaret asks whether there’s any hope to transform our dimwitted and corrupt political system. And I go off on this thing–as I often do–about Chicagoans being pathetic little scaredy cats who are afraid the city will jump into the lake, if they elect anyone other than the incumbent mayor.

As I watch Dan do the translation, it dawns on me: I don’t know what the hell he’s saying. For all I know, it could be: “My name is Benny Jay and I love Mayor Rahm!”

Now I know how Bill Murray felt in Lost in Translation


That’s Margaret on the left and Dan on the right…


All of a sudden I hear Dan say “California.”

And I’m thinking–California? I never said California!

WTF–has Dan lost his mind?

After the show, Dan explains that he’d said “California falls into the sea. Cause you said Chicago falls into the lake.”

“Oh,” I say. “Like in the Steely Dan song.”


Forget it. That’s called lost in a generational translation.

Anyway, thank you Margaret & Dan for being so patient.

I hope I passed the audition and that someday my picture will go on the Wall of Fame–right next to Doda’s.

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Rolando: The Copenhagen Scarf

October 14th, 2017

–What’s that? What’s that guy doing over there with that thing around his neck?

–What’d you mean? He’s wearing a scarf.

–I know he’s wearing a scarf. It’s 60 degrees out today. Why’s he wearing a scarf?

–Maybe he’s cold.

–He’s a Dane, it’s early October. And it’s warm. How cold can his neck be?

–Not that cold. I’m sure it’s a style thing.

–He’s wearing a dress suit, just a suit, no jacket. That’s stylish, but the scarf?

–Alright, so the guy is wearing a scarf, and it’s 60 degrees out. Who cares?

–I don’t. My neck is free and cool and enjoying life.

–Yeah, so forget about the guy.

–Forgotten…. Copenhagen is beautiful this time of year.

–As opposed to the other times of year we’ve never visited?

–I thought it would be colder.

–It’s nice out.

–This is nice. Want to stop for a coffee?



–Ok. I’ll run to the bathroom.

–I’ll grab the drinks, and i’ll wait for you outside on the patio.


–You find the bathroom ok?

–Yeah, it was just down stairs.

–Ok, well, just in the few minutes since I’ve sat outside waiting for you, four dudes, not wearing jackets, all wearing scarfs.

–Jesus, the scarf thing again?

–Is it a thing up here?

–Yes, apparently it is!

–Well, why don’t I have a scarf?

–You want a scarf?

–Not really. I’m not particularly cold.

–So why do you give a shit about Danish dudes wearing scarfs?

–I don’t.

–Clearly you do.

–Maybe I do.

–Well next chance we get, we’re getting you one.

–I just don’t understand .

–You don’t have to. You’ll have your scarf, and you’ll blend in.


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