My daring expedition to 'The Island'

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Here's a column from 2007, slightly reworked:

My expedition to Forest Park Heights was part geographic, part anthropologic. My goals were to find a quicker route to this remote territory and to learn more about native customs. One of the natives arranged the journey by inviting me to a block party on the 1500 block of Marengo.

I discovered a quicker route to the territory, by taking Desplaines south to that road that cuts through the cemetery. As I drove south, I felt a slight increase in temperature and remembered this region was known for its moderate climate. The cemetery road connected to 16th Street. I had shaved 20 minutes off the normal travel time, considering the red light at Circle and Roosevelt lasts 15 minutes.

I had come bearing gifts, hoping hot wings were part of the native diet. Despite the southern dialect found in these parts, I was able to communicate with the natives. I was surprised the natives did not call their land Forest Park Heights. They named it The Island because it's surrounded on two sides by busy streets, with a cemetery and industrial park further isolating it from civilization.

The dwellings the natives inhabited impressed me. Every house on the block was built with brick. In fact, their civilization seemed more advanced than that of the frame-dwellers north of Roosevelt.

They were way more advanced when it came to traffic safety. Unlike busy Beloit, Marengo is a quiet one-way north and cannot serve as a shortcut to Berwyn, North Riverside, or anywhere else.

For such a cultured civilization, though, I found the native rituals of the Islanders to be quite primitive. I observed them tossing raw eggs back and forth, followed by a purification ceremony involving water balloons. Even the youngest natives descended to this barbaric level, bashing a piñata until its insides came out.

I was introduced to a chief of sorts, who wore a flowing bathrobe over his T-shirt and shorts. His name was Pete and he had emigrated from another island nation called New Zealand. Pete was as friendly as the rest of the natives, who graciously shared their beer and barbecue with me. 

I met the "Originals," natives who had lived there a half-century or more. Mrs. Lambke had lived in the same house for 61 years. Only a few more payments and it will all be hers. I met Bob the retired lawyer. Carmen introduced me to her son Brian, who is a top student at PMSA. There was Michelle and, well, I'm not good with names but I met a lot of great people.

Now that I've opened a new trade route to The Island, I urge other Forest Parkers to visit this remote but enchanting place. 

Don't forget to bring hot wings.

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.

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