Monday, February 1, 2010

The Magic Box

First impressions stay with you for a long time especially when you’re a little kid and your world consists of a 650 square foot garage flat apartment and fenced back yard of the landlord. Without question, experiences during the first 5 years of one’s life are limited. For me, aside from the weekly trek to church or neighborhood grocery stores with Mom, adventures were limited by imagination and mobility. Then, one day you find yourself on the bus to Chicago ’s Loop for bargains. Primarily, this trip would focus on shoes from Sears. Oxfords were the style of the day and the price advertised in newspaper ads was incentive enough for Mom to bundle me up for a ride northward on the Shoreline Bus.

Chicago’s Loop, in February of 1946, was loaded with “on-sale” goods. Store windows displayed a sundry of wares. We scurried along State Street and arrived at our destination among hundreds of shoppers. Mom pushed the revolving door entrance and we moved through the turnstile-like opening onto the main floor. Once inside, glass display cases, shelves of items, and a smorgasbord of merchandise filled my eyes. Mom was on a mission as she guided me along to a wall with moving panels. Other shoppers waited looking up above the door at a row of numbers—one of which would light up only momentarily. Every few seconds, a bell would sound followed by a lighted arrow—pointing either up or down. Immediately the sliding panels opened and people stepped out of a small room. One person dressed in a uniform stayed in the small room with the next group of people who had entered.

With the next bell and arrow, it was our turn. Mom ushered me just inside the sliding doors near the front. The uniformed lady waved a wand-like stick in front of the people, turned a handled wheel and immediately the panels came together and closed the little room. She moved a lever and I felt the room moving upward. My stomach was a little late following the rest of my body but it caught up before the room stopped at the illuminated number above the door.

With each stop, the sliding doors opened and a scene of displayed merchandise filled my field of vision: house wares, vacuums, drapes, clothes, appliances. Each time the doors closed, my stomach jumped as the little room moved upwards. About the fourth stop, the doors opened and I saw Toyland. For a few brief seconds, red wagons, ice skates, sleds, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, some type of bowling game, all kinds of tractors and trucks. This was the floor I wanted to be on! I thought: Let’s get off here! No such luck. One more floor and my senses were filled with the sight and smell of leather shoes, rubber boots, galoshes, and clothing. On carpeted floors we walked to the shoe department took a seat and waited for a salesman. While the shoe guy measured my foot and Mom talked about brown oxfords, my mind and imagination was one floor below, thinking about all the goodies I saw a few moments before. At that moment I didn’t care about shoes. All I wanted was to ride the magic box to Toy City and check out all the neat stuff! Instead, I received a pair of brown oxfords with an extra pair of shoelaces. Mom and I rode the magic box downward, but as luck would have it, no one wanted Toy Land so we rode straight to the lobby. By the time we got outside back on State Street it was snowing like crazy. We walked a good distance to where the bus stop was located and waited until the bus arrived. This particular bus had a single seat up front next to the driver. It was vacant and I asked Mom if I could ride in it. The bus driver smiled, Mom nodded, and I climbed into the seat. Holding my new shoes, watching the bus’ windshield wipers clean away snowflakes, I imagined myself back in the magic box each time opening the doors to a new adventure land... The ride back home was neat. Like a copilot, I kept an eye on the road, and occasionally glanced at the captain behind the wheel. I felt like a celebrity at the front of a parade!

The bus driver let us off on 119th Street and Lincoln Avenue . Our garage flat was located three houses from the corner—1924 -1/2, so the snowflakes only had a few minutes to locate our nose and eyelashes. Holding tightly the package from Sears Roebuck I navigated the snow-covered sidewalk without slipping once. Back home, warm and cared for, I looked out the window and watched it snow. Thinking about my new shoes, the ride home and most of all—the magic box.

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!