newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog

newyorksubalien has evolved. New city, new life, new blog.

Yes, I’m still socially-insecure and still deemed too primitive a life form for a bank account. I still can’t say ‘water’ correctly and voice-recognition software still doesn’t understand my number 8.

Meanwhile Superalien is still as super (at least in my eyes), Male Mini-Me is taller than all of us and Mini-Mum has returned to the home of the Mini, only popping back from London to sleep, be fed and help balance out testosterone levels.

But in my new home of Chicago, I can at least lay claim to my own subgroup. I’m now Chi-rish as in Chicago Irish. Apparently the hyphen is important so as not to be confused with Chinese Irish or the town in Armenia. But I’m trusting my readers not to be churlish and to forgive these, my (hyphen-less) Chirish chatters…..

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gum, Goofy and the Golden Arches – the Chicago connection

Wrigley’s chewing gum, Walt Disney and McDonald's – three things I’ve always regarded as all-American. What I’ve never realized until recently is they are also all-Chicagoan.

The gum I hit upon soon after our arrival, a big clue being the fact the name Wrigley kept cropping up around our new hometown. As in Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and the Wrigley Mansion, home to well, I’m not sure whom but a very nice one at any rate, on Lincoln Park.

What I soon after discovered is that Mr Wrigley was not originally Mr Gum. His first loves were scouring soap and baking powder. But obviously there was much competition amongst purveyors of baking powder back in the 1890s so Wrigley started giving away sticks of the sticky stuff as an added stick. And it stuck.

Not only did Wrigley introduce us to Doublemint, but also to the idea of a double day of rest at the end of the week. For he was one of the first employers to give his factory workers both Saturday and Sunday off. Wrigley, the company, is still looking out for us even today. A visit to saw me clicking in the intriguing “Benefits of Chewing” link. There I discovered how chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after food and drinks has been proven to help protect your teeth.

Better still, chew instead of chow. And then you save the calories but, thanks to Wrigley, you can still savour the flavor. Especially if you choose any of the Extra Dessert Delights options such as Key Lime Pie, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and Strawberry Shortcake.

I’m waiting to see if they take it a step further and develop a hamburger variety. But that might be encroaching on the territory of a certain Chicagoan corporate neighbour that also boasts a downtown landmark building. Except that instead of the Wrigley Building’s ornate, soaring clock tower, this one has 60-ft golden arches. And seating for 300. And a two-lane drive–through.

I only discovered recently that McDonald’s has its corporate headquarters in the Chicagoan suburb of Oak Brook. But I should have been tipped off by the city's Thanksgiving Parade. Until now this American tradition has been indelibly linked in my mind with the word “Macy’s”. But whereas in the Big Apple, the parade was thanks to the owners of the big shop, in the Big Onion, it’s all down to the makers of the Big Mac.

McDonald's Corp's Chicago base is because the company's founder, Ray Kroc, was born in Oak Brook. Again news to me but apparently the man who had the vision to plant those Golden Arches across America and beyond did not own the chain’s first burger bar in California (that was in fact owned by the McDonald brothers). Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman, visited the restaurant, saw the patty potential and entered into business with the McDonald brothers, eventually buying out the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name. I suppose even he didn’t think McKroc’s sounded the same.

Reading about Kroc led me to discover my third, somewhat surprising, Chicago connection. When he was 15, Kroc lied about his age and joined the Red Cross during the First World War. At a training camp in Connecticut, he came across another Chicagoan who had done the same. In his autobiography, Kroc noted this young chap never came out on the town with the rest of the volunteers when they had time off. Instead he would stay in the camp drawing. His name? Walt Disney.

Disney’s Chicagoan heritage may not be known to many but the city is taking steps to correct this. Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared December 5 – Disney’s birth date in 1901 – to be Walt Disney Day. The same day, the new owners of the Disney family home where Walt was born announced their plans to restore the house to its original state and eventually open a small private museum. 

The house was built by Walt's carpenter father Elias in 1893 while he was working on the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Many believe that Elias’ stories about the World Fair (which saw the creation of the Ferris wheel) helped inspire Walt Disney's own Magic Kingdom in later life.

Come to think of it, modern day Chicago still has much that resembles Disneyland. A Main Street, a big lake, castles and towers like the Wrigley Building, rides like the Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier - and, of course, McDonald's!