By John Rice
Every 99 years or so, I get a really great newspaper assignment. On Monday, my job was to cover an eclipse party on the roof of Urban Pioneer Group, 7503 Madison. I was already looking forward to the beer, BBQ and the moon blocking out the sun. But the UPG party exceeded my fevered imagination.
For those unfamiliar with UPG, it offers a wide range of activities, including woodworking, sausage-making and other Old World skills. Proprietor Tom Kunkel says it's a place for "people who share a passion for capturing culture." It was his idea to host a party on a Monday afternoon and see who showed up.
He was not alone in this enterprise. Exit Strategy provided a keg of Dougan's Brown and Scratch served a specialty drink dubbed the Eclipse. Their mad scientist/mixologist Becci Visconti came up with the concoction. She froze Welch's grape juice in water balloons to create perfect half-moons. Guests simply added their favorite booze. As the juice melted, their drinks got darker.
Party-goers, though, can't live on alcohol alone. Tom Guidice, founder of Grateful BBQ, grilled 50 pounds of homemade sausage, including chicken, hot Italian and pork brisket. He also smoked 12 slabs of mouth-watering ribs, slathered with his homemade sauce. One admirer, Cristina Claudio, said Tom changes his sauce every time and that his Eclipse sauce was the best of all time.
Meanwhile, Timothy Curran entertained the 40-plus guests with apropos tunes on the keyboard. These included "Moondance," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," and "Bad Moon on the Rise." The bad moon was definitely doing its thing, as guests gazed skyward through their protective glasses.
Even cameras required protection, which is why Werner Meier had a protective cover over his lens, as he photographed the phenomenon. Werner is friends with Kunkel's family and "likes to do silly things like this." The silliness also appealed to Scratch owner, Patrick O'Brien and Wire's Chris Neville. Chris had his wife and twin daughters there, with Guinevere cartwheeling across the roof.
It was a party for all ages and every walk of life. Jane Maxfield was starting first grade in two days, while two nurses from Loyola got in on the fun. Stephanie Spangler's boyfriend knows UPG through its woodworking program, and Laura Lopez tagged along. These were people who "appreciate all the world has to offer," including otherworldly events like the solar eclipse.
Guests gazed up as the moon inched its way across the sun. Cloud cover obscured it and it didn't get pitch dark, but this didn't dampen anyone's spirits. Mary Hart praised Kunkel as a visionary who knows how to have fun and make unique things. "He finds ways to partner, to help the community."
We were all creating community on the rooftop. It's ironic that blotting out the life-giving sun caused so many Earthlings to celebrate. John Guidice was especially happy, waxing eloquent about his son's BBQ business. Tom's always been a foodie, landing a restaurant job on his 15th birthday. He has spent years and thousands of dollars on equipment to perfect his recipes. Grateful BBQ had a stand at Music Fest, which is how he met Kunkel.
After the eclipse was over, the temperature rose on the roof and guests started to depart. Brendan Lynch, of Burke Beverage, stopped by to see if the beer he supplied was holding up. Tim played "Here Comes the Sun" and guests exclaimed about a new health food Guidice had created called "bacon jam."
This was a fun collection of folks who appreciated good food, music and drinks. They also knew better than to stare directly at the sun. Just think, the next total eclipse party is only 2,422 days away!
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.