by Steve Joos
A story of love, separation--and pictures of historical sites and antiques,
|Taking some vacation pictures
Richard Davidson packed up his car and had his picture taken riding two of his sister’s children on his shoulders before leaving on the second leg of his vacation that summer’s day in suburban Chicago.
The itinerary included a busy slate of historical sites and museums, but the journeys to Union and Galena dropped off a bit after the previous day’s trip to Chicago and his chance meeting with Melanie
Before that, he’d been babysitting his sister’s kids and snapping off photos of old cars and museum pieces as a record of a confirmed bachelor’s visits to that past.
That was now about to continue, but with a more melancholy tone, after yesterday.
“Are you sure you’re not going to be back tonight?” Leslie asked with a slight giggle as Richard prepared to leave.
“Nah, Katie needs to have her bedroom back,” Richard said with a shrug.
Leslie looked at Richard as he twirled Melanie’s business card in his hand, and then watched him drive away.
Soon, he was at a county historical museum, where he blew out the roll of film in his camera before noticing that pictures weren’t allowed in the museum (hey, it was only his second time there).
The old tourist cabin was just too much for him to resist, as were the vintage ads.
But he saw Melanie in the movie magazines which were included in tourist cabin exhibit.
She peered back at him from an old passenger car at the railway museum in Union, dressed as a 1940s passenger on the Rock Island Rocket, or at least that’s how it seemed.
As he took pictures of a vintage trolley car ride, Richard thought that the roaring 20s housewife making Heinz Soup looked familiar, and then there was the short dark-haired circa 1960s babe flirting with him on behalf of Friendly Bob Adams at General Finance.
That was Mrs. Claus, wasn’t it?
Or was it?
After that, it was on to the other side of the northern Illinois, with a quickie stop for film and a Diet Coke here, a pit stop there and an historical marker pulling him off to the side all over.
Little did he know about the light blue imported car making the same trip.
Richard went off the state highway for one such landmark, driving into the country to click a shot of a monument in a tiny unincorporated area in the middle of the country. After some confusion, he finally made it back to the state road, not noticing that a blue Honda Civic had just gone through the intersection while he was about a quarter of a mile from it.
The driver of the little blue car was leaving a restaurant when noticed Richard sitting sadly as the two paths crossed at dinner that night, although not in time to make contact with him.
Neither traveler spoke to or even acknowledged each other, except when Melanie noticed him and ran back to ask his server a question.
“Is everything all right?” the server asked Richard as she made her rounds.
“Well, she didn’t show up, but otherwise everything’s fine,” he replied.
“Were you expecting some company?”
“Not really,” Richard sighed. “There’s just someone I think about at times, and this is one of those times. If I’m eating out and I think about her, I sometimes feel as if, well, I was hoping she would show up.”
“I’m sorry about that,” the server chuckled. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Yeah, about five-seven, short dark hair, pretty eyes, not sure about the legs. And another cup of coffee.”
“I think she was just here, and she might have left you something.”
The server brought a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream to Richard’s table.
“Complements of your secret admirer.” Here, here.
Here? Richard thought to himself, here? He had just arrived in Galena and didn’t know anyone here. After eating, Richard stopped at an observation deck just outside the town he dined in and tried to photograph the sunset.
Then he took a room for the night, not noticing the blue foreign hatchback parked in another motel’s lot.
Would he walk in any time?
Would he walk in and wander around the darkened, throbbing club and suddenly out of nowhere, run into her? How romantic that would be.
Melanie caught herself just then, and tried to hide her own loneliness and frustration.
She bolted off the 6:02 METRA from the Loop, rushed home to pack and drove almost three hours for this?
She watched as other couples connected around her and wondered what that would be like, but each time she kept going back to the awkward man she’d bumped into the previous day. Even the baseball game silently progressing on the lounge television set reminded her of Richard and how different she felt around him.
Where was he? Was that really him sitting alone at the restaurant in Stockton? Or was he just some poor fool who had to explain how that bowl of Neapolitan ice cream wound up on the table to his wife?
Men. Mapes was right about them, Melanie thought.
Sadly, she finished her drink and returned to her motel room. Get up tomorrow, do some sightseeing, do some shopping and drive home Sunday morning.
Melanie remembered that someone on the job had talked about a winery in Galena, and she thought that she might try visiting it while in town.
Why not? Even if three hours is a long way to drive just to drown one’s sorrows.
Richard had to backtrack a bit when he started touring Galena the next day, since he passed some of the bigger attractions coming into town, but he didn’t seem to mind. The mist was just starting to lift as he entered the business district of the historic old town and soon he was giving his pocket-sized Kodak a workout, snapping shots of a visiting classic car club’s parked vehicles.
Everybody is going to think I spent the weekend in the world’s largest used classic car lot.
Volo, Mendota and now Galena, both on the streets and in a museum. Richard thought to himself, hearing what his dad might say when the pictures came back. Where’d you see the new models?
A blue Imperial convertible (another reason not to envy the rich; Chrysler quit making them), Rocky’s 1937 Studebaker from the movie he made in Dubuque, an old toy gas station, a rack of old license plates like one of his uncles had.
Richard snapped away, but something was missing. He whispered observations under his breath, comments on the cars and other items which may have been interesting, but with no one to listen, didn’t seem like much.
Richard had expected that he was going to make those observations, but with no family or travelling companions to listen, they would simply be notes for class lectures that he would never give.
That was always going to be part of the equation, Richard thought to himself, but then came that meeting on State Street a few days earlier.
An old hotel whose balcony Lincoln once spoke from, the Old Market House, Grant’s tannery shop and the old mansions. Richard’s shutter captured them all as he roamed the village that morning.
At one point, Richard stopped and pondered the everyday activity which seemed to go on around him. Here in this little town, with all sorts of tourists filling the streets, some of the locals sat on their porches watching the world pass by. Others went to work and like in most little towns, chewed the fat about their lives and those of their neighbors.
Living, playing, dying.
Richard sadly looked for a place to get a coke before continuing with his visit.
Yet one thing haunted him.
Where was she? And why didn’t he what, stay around Chicago?
She was a lot closer than Richard thought, but Melanie was just as lost, at least in her mind. Wearily, she also wandered down Main Street and back, looking through the throng of people for some of glimpse of a certain face she had just met (at least that’s what she thought) a few days earlier.
As a costumed tour guide led them into the family dining room and explained the story of General Grant’s days in Galena to her group, Melanie tried to listen while watching the crowd in hopes that Richard would be there, perhaps with camera in hand. That seemed to be the first place to look since Richard had talked so much about being interested in history, but not this time.
Melanie sat dejectedly on a nearby park bench after the tour. She recognized two young women coming up to the house from the club the previous evening, got up and walked toward a riverfront park.
A few tourists later, Richard came up the stairs.
After soaking in Grant’s Home and some more antique cars, he stopped by the Spanish cannons in one park to snap a picture of the skyline.
That’s when he noticed a woman with short dark hair wearing sunglasses, a white sleeveless blouse and black shorts looking out from a distance at the village. Suddenly, she started walking in his direction.
She kept coming closer and Richard kept snapping her picture. Closer and closer, until she got right next to him. Then Melanie pulled up her sunglasses and smiled.
“Hi, hi,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“I had other plans, but they didn’t work out, so I thought I’d drive over here,” Melanie said.
“Was that you who bought me dessert last night?”
“When we went for ice cream Thursday and you ordered Neapolitan,” she said. “Something about that. I don’t know what, it just hit me.”
Richard began to nervously review his itinerary for the weekend, a collection of museums and home visits in the quaint little village, followed by an excursion to a farm in Iowa which had been the set for a movie about baseball.
“Wh-what were you going to do?” he nervously asked the beaming woman looking at him.
“I might want to stop at the Winery, if we could. I didn’t plan this very well myself, so I’m glad you did. Maybe tomorrow we can work something else out.”
Richard broke into a broad grin. Maybe this will be a good vacation after all.
Awkwardly, Richard placed his arm around Melanie and began to walk towards the parking lot. While trying to figure out what cars they were going to drive, he thought of the pictures he’d taken. That last set of five shots after he got the skyline.
For some reason, he really hoped they’d turn out better than the rest. In fact, he might even want to frame them.