To celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the film classic Casablanca, we take you live to Rick’s Café Americain on Circle Avenue. Richard Blaine is wearing a white tuxedo and brooding over a glass of cognac. Captain Renault approaches him, “Rick, you used to brood much better when you were chain-smoking Camels.” 

“You’re right, Louis, but when they banned indoor smoking, I took up knitting to have something to do with my hands.”

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Forest Park?”

“My health, I came to Forest Park for the waters.”

“Health? All we have is the Des Plaines River.”

“I was misinformed,” Rick growls, as Ugarte bursts into the bar. “Reek, I have something even you have never seen. It’s a vaccination card signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker himself. It cannot be rescinded. It’s my letter of transit to every bar and restaurant in Cook County.”

“You’re right, Ugarte, I am a little more impressed with you.”

“Reek, I need you to hide my card. My wife and kids are all anti-vaxxers and they’ll disown me.” 

“I stick my neck out for no one. Plus, I don’t have a piano to hide it in.”

“Sam can keep it behind the bar.” Ugarte pleaded. 

“No, I better put it in my safe,” Rick said, sliding the card into his jacket pocket and walking toward his office.

Ilsa Lund enters the bar and approaches. “Sam, it’s so good to see you again. I know you can stream any song I request. Play it, Sam. Play “Muskrat Love.” The familiar sounds of the Captain & Tennille fill the bar. “Muskrat, muskrat, candlelight, doin’ the town and doin’ it right.”

Rick marches up to the bar, furious, “Sam, I thought I told you to never play that song.”

Rick then sees Ilsa and lapses into a flashback. It’s years earlier and he’s at the Houby Day Parade in Berwyn. The crowd is celebrating their Czech/Slovak heritage by honoring the mushroom. Ilsa is the Houby Queen waving to the crowd. She spots Rick because he’s the only one wearing a white tuxedo. There follows a montage of Rick and Ilsa dining at the Czech Plaza Restaurant, shopping at Harlem Cermak Plaza and bowling at Striker Lanes. Rick toasts Ilsa with his pet phrase, “Here’s lookin’ at shrooms, kid.” 

Ilsa agrees to meet Rick at the Forest Park Blue Line Station and take the el to the County Building to be married. Rick is wearing his finest trench coat for the occasion. It’s soaking wet from the driving rain. Suddenly, he gets a text from Ms. Ilsa Laszlo, “Rick, I can never see you again.” Rick snaps out of the flashback and snarls, “Of all the gin joints on Circle Avenue, including the Beacon Tap, Goldyburgers and the Circle Inn, she walks into mine.” 

Rick greets Laszlo, a hero of the pandemic resistance from the Czech Republic.

“Your video of getting vaccinated went viral,” Rick observed, “And that photo of you wearing a mask while driving alone impressed half the world.”

Ilsa interjects, “Rick, I was married to Victor when I met you. But he was stuck in the Czech Republic and my emails kept bouncing back.”

“I understand, Ilsa, you were Muskrat Suzie and I was Muskrat Sam for a few weeks. We’ll always have Berwyn. Here’s looking at shrooms, kid.”

Captain Renault walks up, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that video gaming is going on here.” 

“Your winnings, sir,” a server says, handing him cash. 

Rick looks at the money, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.