Chicago Navy Pier

Navy Pier in Chicago, 2012

In memory of Louis ‘Pops’ Hoffman, a kind old man.

In kindness many good things are found. Admiral Nano


Admiral Nano and Moses ‘Pops’ Thornton had gone downtown Chicago to Navy Pier. They were standing in line to get on the ferris wheel. Pop was trying to eat a hot dog and hold a coke at the same time while Nano was downing a burger and some lemonade. The line was slow and the sun hot. They’d have been sweating except today there was a cool breeze down at the lake and enough distraction to keep them looking around. Slowly they worked their way toward the front of the line.

“Pops”, said Nano. “Have you ever been here before?”

“Yep” Pops replied. “I was here way back in 1946 when I was just six. I don’t remember it that much then, but it’s changed a lot since then. After that I returned often. Back when I was a bit older, it was mostly just a place you came to see big boats or get on one to go somewhere, like over to New York. If you wanted to get to New York cheap and you had no car, you could get on a boat third class. No one really flew planes back then and many didn’t have cars, so boat was easy. Just get on here at Navy Pier, go over the lakes, up the Erie Canal and get off in New York. Well, not New York City exactly, but close.”

“Interesting” Nano said. “Did you ever make that trip yourself?”

“No, I never did it” he said as the line moved forward to load more people on the ferris wheel towering over them and Navy Pier. Only a hundred more people ahead of them in line, then they’d be soaring in a little metal chair hundreds of feet up in the air. Nano was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea.

“So Pops” Nano quizzed, “You grew up in Chicago. Why you always stayed here? Never seen other places much?”

“Well, I been around, but I just stayed here. Chicago is home, family is here, lots to do. Why move?”

“When you was young Pops, what did you want to be?”

“I wanted to be a nurse. I went to nursing school.”

Nano frowned, “You didn’t become a nurse did you?”

Pop smiled, “No, but I did learn to take care of folks. I got work taking care of people, that’s kinda like nursing you know.”

They finished eating in line just before climbing into a ferris wheel seat two could ride. Nano found it exciting, then disconcerting when it jerked to a stop after a quarter turn up to load more people aboard below them. Then they were rotated slowly a couple times before they were stopped at the very top of the wheel. It was a very good view from the top of the waterfront area along Lake Michigan. The wind was stronger up since it was not blocked by buildings. Birds flew below them and boats left wakes on the water as they sailed or motored around the piers or along the shore of Chicago. The sudden jerk of restarting made Nano frown, but Pop was all smiles all the time. He seemed to be both looking around and at everything, but at some moments looking toward the horizon and nothing in particular, perhaps thinking of some past memory of being here. Another turn or two and they were let out at bottom to be replaced by others clambering for their seats.

Over the next hours Pops and Nano visited all the sights on Navy Pier. They played games, saw booths, ate various things until their stomachs started to complain about it. They considered a souvenir but decided not to. Money was hard to come by being homeless and unemployed. There was no room in their small, students’ locker for anything but essentials and few of those. It had been all they could do just to get to downtown Chicago on a train and have money left to get back and food. Admiral Nano and Pops entered a large building of glass with soaring beams and lots of people and activity. A street musician was playing a harmonica and singing some blues. They stopped to listen and gave up a slim dime to his collection hat, despite being broke themselves.

At one place as they stood in line for some ribs, a lady in front of them dropped a earring. The black lady looked around for it, but Pops spotted it first and picked it up. While the lady and two of her friends looked at Pop, he returned the ear jewelry.

“Nice” he said, extending it over to her.

“Thanks” said the large black lady, smiling at Pops. Nano behind Pops grinned. He’d seen her sneak a peek at Pops and in his opinion, she fumbled the dangle purposely.

“Well, thank you very much sir” she said. She put out her large hand to Pop introducing herself, “My name is Stella Beambroad. My friends call me ‘Stellar’.” She smile large as she could at Pops, only sparing Nano a brief polite glance.

“Moses Thornton” said Pops, his gray beard waggling a bit as he also put on his reading glasses to stare at her in focus. “They call me Pops.”

“Oh my, I like that name. Shows wisdom. Such a good looking man too. I bet you know a lot of things don’t you?”

Pop cast a quick glance at Nano, ascertaining he wasn’t feeling put out or left out, but actually interested in this development. Turning back to the woman, Pops politely laughed and responded, “Oh no, I’m just an old man enjoying life. Ain’t nothing worth nothing if it makes you unhappy.”

“See there, you are wise Pops. I like you” said the well dressed lady, her shiny purse with golden chains glinting in the light inside the large building where they stood still in line. There was a lot of standing in lines at Navy Pier Nano had learned. “I bet you drive all the ladies crazy with that cute smile of yours. You remind me of Morgan Freeman. He tall and good looking too.”

Pops snickered a bit. He was not particularly tall, but he’d accept good looking. Why not? He smiled up at the lady, briefly watching her hat’s feather flop around in the artificial breeze the air conditioning was providing inside the glass building. She was dressed as if she’d just left a downtown Chicago church. Sunday morning brought lots of people over to Navy Pier on sunny days to enjoy as family and friends. Pops and Nano had to scrounge for a couple weeks to pull this off from the far suburbs of Chicago, but that just made it all the better reward to be here.

“Thank you very much” said Pops stroking his beard thoughtfully like a gentleman and smiling pleasantly at the lady. “I like the way you are dressed too. How was church service today?” he inquired.

Stellar smiled largely, pleased to have gotten the compliment and having been guessed a regular attending, properly respectful church lady. “Pops, we had us just the best service in a long time. We had a visiting preacher name of Reverend Justin Gliber, nice young black man. Knew all about the bible and just got out of seminary school. Doing a bit of preaching for practice along the lines of some history he had been studying. He told us about how Jesus lived in those days, what it must have been like, how the Romans treated the Jews and all. It was very interesting. Lots of things I didn’t know. I can’t remember most of them now though, but it all was good to know.”

Nano looked at his shoes and smiled.

“Sounds like it was a good day for you then” said Pops. “You staying for the fireworks?”

“No, I can’t stay”. She looked at him sadly. “I have to get back and get supper ready for the grandkids. They coming over later and we going to have us a big meal. Fried chicken, tater salad, greens, watermelon, all under the trees out back. I got to go cook it all up soon.”

“Well, I’ll bet you put on a great meal Stella My mother always told me how to spot a lady who could cook and I think you can cook.”

She turned curious, “How do you spot ’em Pops?” the lady said, plucking at her pearl necklace, which drew Pops gaze to a bit of cleavage, which caused her to smile in a ‘Mission Successful’ smile. Like the previous war though, this one was just starting.

“Well, I can’t tell you here, but maybe if we was to know each other better, I might one day.”

The smile on her face said it all. She broke out a pen and a little notebook and wrote down her number. She handed it over to Pops saying, “Okay Pops, there is my number. Now you won’t embarrass me by not calling will you?”

“Oh never” smiled Pops. “I want some of that fried chicken. Just enjoy your family and I’ll give you a call tomorrow when your not so busy.” He folded the paper up and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

At that point they were all at the front of this line again and she ordered her meal. A minute later, hands full of plate with food, she turned to Pops as he and Nano moved up, “Now please call Pops. We got lots to talk about.”

“I shall do that” said Pops and gave her a polite nod as she hustled off with her two friends who’d never said a word, but had listened plenty. The trio of well dressed ladies moved away with a few glimpses back at Pop as they spoke quickly and quietly.

As Pops stepped up to order he glanced at Nano with a large smile and laughed. Life is what you make of it said the smile. Their orders collected, they went to nearby tables inside the building and sat to eat under a towering plastic tree which gave off electric light shadows. Not Mother Nature stuff, but still symbolic of life. Nano looked over at Pops.

“Pops, are you really going to call that lady tomorrow?”

“Yep. I sure am.”

“Why?” ask Nano.

“Why not?” ask Pops.

“Well, you don’t really know her” said Nano. “But then again, you have to met her to learn more.”

“Oh, I know her. I mean, I knows her type. Been around them all my life. She could be a lot of things, even much trouble. Probably though she’s lonely, lost her man somehow. Now she goes to church and wonders as she gets old if another man will ever share her life. She’s got her friends, but it ain’t the same as having a man open doors for you, take notice, say nice things. She’s most likely always gone to church, a baptist church downtown. She’s probably a very nice lady. I could spend some time with her. Be better than the emergency shelter I’m at.”

“What will she do if she learns you’re living at the Aurora homeless shelter?” ask Nano.

“Depends. She might be polite but stop being interested. Same as anyone might be. But I think she likes me and she’d understand. Black people have a lot of suffering they share in common with each other. We tend to be more forgiving about our brothers and sisters who have less than others. White people are tough on each other. Black people can’t be so much that way, cause many of us have been poor or homeless or broke.”

Nano nodded. Soon their meal eating was done and they made their way toward the end of the dock. The night was approaching and lots of people would be around for the fireworks. Those there first got the best seats or places to stand. Nano had some other things to talk to Pops about. Pops wasn’t very old, but at his age, he’d lived most of his years and seen and experienced much. Nano liked Pops and how he treated others. Pops had problems, but for however they kept him down or hurt them, he was kind and smiled at others. Nano wanted to listen and learn from Pops.



About Admiral Nano

A man exploring homelessness in Aurora.
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