Thanksgiving is over and I am thinking about the places and people I have been fortunate to know. I can't possibly list them all, but I am especially blessed to have known certain places and people because they are gone now. Here are four that make me feel grateful.
Bill's Blues Bar: It was open from August 2003 through November 2009 - a decent run for a juke joint off the beaten track in a college town. The location was not ideal, the room was undersized and the ambitions were huge relative to the economic opportunity. Evanston loved the place but didn't always support it. I had many interesting evenings there, both on-stage and in the crowd. James Cotton, Son Seals, Eddy Clearwater, Big Time Sarah and dozens of other stellar performers played this joint. I had a friend that liked to say "They can take away all your money and all your stuff, but no one can take away the good times you have had." Bill's Blues gave me lots of good times, and I am grateful.
The UBAA Tap: This was the bar closest to my first home in Evanston. When I arrived, there were very few places in town that would serve adult beverages, and none whatsoever near the Northwestern football stadium where I had a room as a grad student. The UBAA was a good hangout, with a U-shaped bar and a long history of serving thirsty Evanstonians (it was just over the border in Skokie). The cheeseburgers were tasty and the bartenders were friendly. Every now and then, a fight would break out in the parking lot. The place closed, the building was sold and I drove by the location yesterday - the UBAA has been torn down, and the vacant lot will soon be filled by a Walgreens or some other abomination. I am grateful for all the beers and burgers I consumed at the UBAA.
George Kubin: George was my third boss at Bank of America's Chicago office. I was a 26-year old punk with more ambition than sense. He was a former teen-aged freedom fighter that sabotaged Nazi military bases in Czechoslovakia during WWII. George made it to the U.S., became a citizen, got through college and created a career as an international banker. He retained his Eastern European accent and Continental flair, and his heart was enormous. George died in 2003, I think. He was world's kindest banker, and I am grateful that I was under his wing for a little while.
Frank Pulaski: I met Frank in the trombone section at John Muir Junior High School. We were high school buddies. Frank was quiet, but a bit devilish. He is the one that procured whiskey and dirty movies for his friends. Frank was also an accomplished guitarist, and we put together a duo for a while - Frank on his 12-string acoustic and me on harmonica and vocals. I am sure we stunk, but it was a lot of fun. He was a real friend, a stand-up guy with a big smile and calm approach to life. Frank died of cancer a few years back; I am grateful that he was part of my teenage years.
These two places and two people were not world-famous, but they were still huge. Thanks to all of them for making me a slightly better person.