90 Miles Cuban Café
It’s a beautiful Saturday in September, and spouse and I are meeting our two older sons in Chicago to have dinner out together. Unexpectedly we are also to meet the “new girlfriend.”
The new girlfriend is a key part of the experience of having three grown sons. They have introduced us to a small succession of girlfriends over a period of time that now stretches to fifteen years. The first girlfriend (in high school) proved to be an asset due to the fact that she actually knew our oldest son’s athletic schedule and was willing to communicate it to his parents. She was a nice girl, enthusiastic and bright. And she was his age, a freshman. However by the spring of that year there was a new, new girlfriend, and she was a senior. She drove a convertible. I don’t recall ever meeting her, but I do remember seeing her car pull up in front of our house to let him out after a ride home.
We are encountering traffic on the expressway into the city, but eventually we see Buckingham Fountain. This signals a left-hand turn, followed by a right, followed by another left until we are on Lakeshore Drive, Rt. 41 heading north.
The seemingly-most-serious girlfriend experience began when our oldest was a senior, and she a junior. They were teammates on the school cross-country running team, a team that was successful enough to earn a berth in the state tournament that Fall. Soon after the season concluded they were an item, and their relationship blossomed, eventually lasting for more than three years as they went to separate universities together. She was a bright and pretty girl who nevertheless remained stoically incommunicative to his parents, even when on trips together. She came from the sort of family in which a boy from the wrong church, or no church, was never accorded the same status as a boy from the right church. His family was particularly suspect.
The traffic heading north is heavy, but the scenery spectacular. It’s early evening of a day on which the lake surface was roiled by deep green surf, strong enough to cancel out the weekend’s main beach event, Flugtag, the launching of inanimate objects out across the water of Lake Michigan from a 30-foot-high platform. The purpose of these launches was never made perfectly clear, but it had something to do with drinking. While driving, we had already contacted middle son twice in an effort to make a decision on what restaurant we would be heading toward, me being reluctant to drive all the way to the far north side only to meet and then turn around and drive to the far southside. With no restaurant destination we continue heading north to his apartment, just three blocks off Rt. 41 where it turns briefly west onto Foster Ave., well north of Wrigley Field.
We call again and make final plans for the actual rendezvous: pull up curbside and they will all meet us at the car, two sons and one girlfriend. We know little about her. She’s near his age, a teacher, has a dog recently adopted, was willing to go canoeing in the Boundary Waters for a week, and enjoyed it. The meeting of the new girlfriend is a thrilling and strange experience, especially for my wife who harbors a few opinions about the type of relationship that would be best for our sons. She is looking forward to grandchildren someday. We both know that random girlfriend meetings, though common and inconsequential in themselves, are bound to include, as a matter of biological near-necessity, at least once and perhaps several times, a first meeting with the eventual mother of your grandchild. During college years these prospects seem far-off and somewhat shadowy, but as their thirties loom into view distinctly more noteworthy. Perhaps.
Perhaps, because let’s face it, who knows? Who knows anything, about who is compatible with whom, and who is ready for a big step, and what are the chances, anyway?
She is walking along the sidewalk between our two sons, dressed in a skirt and loose top. She has blond hair, not long, parted somewhere near the middle, and wears glasses with fashionable black frames. She is not tall, but perhaps tallish, and our son is introducing us. I offer a handshake, my spouse a hug. Everyone smiles and chats all at once. The car is at the curb with hazard blinkers going, but there’s no real hurry. We will all be a little squished, and no one is in a big hurry to begin the squish any sooner than necessary.
We are in the car, middle son giving directions turn-by-turn without telling us where we are going to eat, but it takes only fifteen minutes, and we’re there. It is on Armitage in Logan Square neighborhood, called 90 Miles Cuban Café.
I am a fan of Cuban cafes.
Unexpectedly, the place turns out to be BYOB, so middle son and I walk two blocks to a Walgreen’s to buy beer and wine for our table, and on the way I hear his story of one of his latest city adventures, an ill-advised encounter trying to persuade a carful of girls to park just a little bit further ahead than they had in mind. This was a few nights ago, and I know from the tone of this story that everything turns out well enough in the end, but I also know from the blow-by-blow nature of the sequence of events that things weren’t necessarily going as planned. Yes, the police were called. He wasn’t worried, because unless someone is bleeding CPD are not apt to respond in an emergency-like fashion.
We are selecting a six-pack of Goose Island 312 and a bottle of six-dollar wine. The line is long at the single register. He decided it would be best to vacate the parking spot before the police eventually arrived, and then, and this was the point of the story, how strange and fortuitous it really is to live in the city and have adventures like this, then the girls from the parking incident, it turned out, showed up at the same concert event where he was meeting his friend. There they were, standing in line to get in. And there was their LandRover being valet-parked, because, they must have concluded it wouldn’t necessarily be smart to leave the vehicle parked where it could be keyed or vandalized by some type of crazed parking-nut in the city. All he’d wanted them to do was scoot the vehicle forward three more feet so he could park behind.
We return to the Cuban Café and make our way to the table. It is a table for four, and we are five, but it’s just fine, crowded and busy in just that “Hey-you’re-in-the-city” way, at a popular place that has outdoor tables on a beautiful, warm night when everyone who lives in Chicago is glad they made that decision. You’re at your table with your spouse, and two of your three sons, and this blond girl who you really just met. But who may be the mother of your grandchildren.
Because as conversation goes on, and appetizers are shared, and wine is opened, and beers are offered, it becomes more and more obvious that it is a very fine night in the city.