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I don't remember where I picked him up but he was going to the Westin off Michigan Avenue. He talked about living here years ago in that nostalgic way that hints at wild times and freedom long since traded for comfort. As we waited for the green at Ohio and LaSalle, he looked out the window at the northwest corner and said, "My uncle used to own that place in the 70s before selling it to the archdiocese of Chicago." He was pointing at the triple stack of diamonds comprising the sign of the Ohio House Motel.
"That coffee shop's one of those greasy spoons that you leave actually covered in grease," he crowed.
I dropped him off but his story stayed. Who knew whether it was truth or tall tale? A 60s-era motor lodge overshadowed by the supersized McDonald's to the east and other chain eateries assaulting the eyes in every direction, the Ohio House would be a better fit on some secondary roadway far outside of town. Yet there it is on the Ohio feeder, waiting for vehicles slowing to surface-street speed. To the tourists huddled in the bottleneck that gathers out front when the traffic lights change, it whispers of seedy doings decades in the rearview, its perpetually half-filled parking lot suggesting that business is somewhat less than booming.
Before the old owner's nephew, the last to remark on the place had been four frat boys gloating about the stripper they'd stashed in a room there as part of a bachelor party weekend. The ritual transgressions of this last hurrah seemed third or fourth-rate, much older than the landmark.
Those flattened diamond shapes, echoed multiple times along the roof and elsewhere in the design, burn onto the retina and repeat, fading into the back of the brain without ever truly disappearing.