Day 36: Chicago & Trip-Wrap-Up

My endless summer has finally come to an end.  Before we launch into the final batch of photos from this trip, let’s get the trip stats out of the way.

Days on the road: 37 (two days less than the spring trip)

16,397 miles — that’s what I put on Sparkle during this trip.  With the spring trip of 15,712 miles, that’s 32,109 miles this year.  Plus some little trips here and there.  She pretty much sits the rest of the year since I take the subway to work.  In fact, I only put less than 100 miles on her between the spring trip and this one.

Her odometer currently reads 335,007.   And I won’t hesitate to take her out for another marathon trip next spring.  She runs like she’s brand new.  I don’t know why Chevy stopped making these Astro Vans.  They are the VW Bugs of our generation — you can’t kill them.  I didn’t spend a dime on repairs on this trip (excluding oil changes).  There was that A/C breakdown early in the trip in Illinois.  But that doesn’t count since it was due to faulty repairs in the spring — so there as no charge.  In fact, after dealing with Firestone headquarters and the district manager back in Albuquerque, I managed to get a credit for half the original repair ($400 of the $800).  So that was nice — but nothing compensates for the two days of shooting that were lost.  However, I’m happy to report that my A/C is still working superbly.  And I absolutely needed it just about every day.

Total spent on gas:  $3,438.  That’s 21 cents per mile.  Sparkle never claimed to be energy efficient.  And there were a lot of mountains and city driving in there.

I noticed quite a discrepancy of gas prices on this trip.  In Wyoming and Colorado it was about $3.40 per gallon.  A little higher elsewhere, including Iowa even with the ethanol.  As soon as I got to northern Illinois — a huge jump to $4.10 or so.  Much cheaper on the OH and PA interstates coming home.

Speeding tickets:  One “warning” early in the trip for speed and not signaling — but otherwise no tickets!  A first — or so I thought.  Little did I know about the “surprise” waiting for me in my mailbox from Muscatine, IA.  A $100 ticket from a speed camera.  I have no recollection of seeing “speed camera” signs or a flash from the camera when it got me.  But there it is — a couple of photos of Sparkle merrily motoring along.  I woulda waved!  The ticket says I was doing 66 in a 45.  Luckily, not a “real” ticket since nothing goes on my driving record.  Supposedly.  They must make a killing with that camera.  I guess it’s the way of the future.  Soon, we won’t be able to speed anywhere and it’ll take twice as long to get anything done.  Roadtrip thrills will be fewer.  Bummer.

Number of photos taken:  5,416.  About 550 of them appeared at the blog; another 500 or so appeared at the agilitynut Flickr account.  Roughly about 5,000 photos will eventually get added to the website.  That’s after I get another 5,000 from the spring trip in place.  I’ll be lucky if I can get all the photos from these two trips up by next spring.  It’s one thing to just upload photos straight from the camera as many people do.  But I crop & tweak each photo.  And then there’s the research for each subject for the descriptions which takes up the most time.

“Value” of this trip:  Overall, I’d rate this trip as fantastic.   The weather was mostly great.  I really did a great job of preparing the lists and maps so that every day was chock full of organized stops.  It was also just about perfect in terms of what was accomplish-able.  There’s nothing sadder than coming home with pages and pages of stuff you couldn’t get to.

The dogs would also rate this trip as awesome.  Lots of swimming, motorcycles to bark at, prairie dogs to chase, different terrain to explore, and extra meals due to Grippie’s screwed up timeclock (blindness? dementia?).

What’s next:  I’m done with the big trips for this year.  I do the two biggies in spring & summer when the weather is best for shooting.  Then I bust my butt the rest of the year working & paying for the trips.   There will probably be some little three day trips in the fall.

Next year, if I can still get time off from work and I get the credit card balance whacked back, I’ll be doing a spring trip to Florida and a summer trip to California.  If you want a heads-up, I send a quick tweet when I head off on big trips.  You can become one of my Twitter followers here:

So, let’s move on to the photos from Saturday’s Chicago area whirlwind.  There are more vintage signs here than anywhere else in the country, hands down.

A “skeleton” sign burning brightly during the day in Mount Prospect:



A couple of photos from Mundelein.  Clearly an adapted Rexall sign:



A nifty mid-century building.  I love the tube entrance.  Houses the Advocate Medical Group.  It was surely built before CAT scans but I can’t help but think of that.



A restaurant in Highwood:



On to Chicago proper:



I stopped to shoot the Norwood Park Auto Sales sign — and then realized, hey, what’s that off to the right:


Yup, a big neon collection inside:

A couple close-ups:



More Chicago signs — this one still lit and bulbs flashing during the day:



Ruby Cleaners is still open but lost the neon at some point:



Rare gold porcelain enamel — and a quirky arrow.  The neon was lit here during the day:



A massive repurposed sign — note the mailboxes lower right for scale:



This one really intrigued me.  Who knows what it looked like originally.  But it looks like a lot of hands-on altering over the years.  Some of the holes obviously held bulbs.  But other holes make me think maybe there was some internal backlighting going on.  Maybe not.  The holes are so unevenly spaced — particular on the arrow that it looks like a real D-I-Y project.  I told the guy standing there who couldn’t understand why I was shooting it that it was a “truly fantastic piece of junk”.


I’ve shot this twice or thrice before but today the light was finally right.


Closed & for sale.  Shoot this one while you can.



Architectural Artifacts on Ravenswood has been selling some neon signs lately.  They don’t go after them — but when business owners can’t or don’t want to keep their signs, they sometimes end up here.  I don’t know if any money changes hands or they are just donations.  Here’s the two vintage neon signs that were there on Saturday.  Very sad.

Here’s a photo of this one that I took in 2006 when it was still up:


And this sign when it was still up:



Back out into the sun and hope and all the good stuff that we still have to admire.  How can simple plastic letters look this good?



Stunning vitrolite:

Marvelous.  These eagles continue all the way around the facade:



Apparently, a local chain — but this is the only location that I know of with a stunning neon sign like this:



Iggy’s is now Bonny’s — I don’t know what the name was originally:



And as the light was waning — the reality set in.  Must drive home.  Now.  Waaaah.  This one lit nice and early just to tempt me into staying.  But no.  Chasing bulbs working also:

I got through all but about 50 Chicago stops.  Which killed me.  But I cheered myself up with the promise made while driving home that I would start next summer’s trip with finishing up that list even if it’s way out of the way.


Thanks for all your comments, support, praise, and enthusiasm on this trip.  It’s a real energy booster while I’m slugging it out on the road.  If you want to make a donation towards my efforts, that’s always greatly appreciated.  There’s a “Feed Sparkle” button on the upper right of my webpages — which takes you here:

Or you can just go to PayPal and send whatever amount you want, big or small, to the account.  Or if you’re broke like me, positive feedback is always nice.  I have no idea how many people are out there following along.

Wishing you all sunny skies and trouble-free roadtrips of your own!

Debra Jane
Gripper, Fix, Sputnik & Gremlin

29 thoughts on “Day 36: Chicago & Trip-Wrap-Up

    • Thanks so much! You’ve been a great cheerleader / passenger on this trip. Yes, looking forward to more adventures — but it’s really good to settle down for awhile.

  1. Welcome home. Your trips are always so inspiring. I always feel like I try to pack in too much on my trips but I’m a slouch compared to you! Thanks for sharing.

    • Yeah, I say pack it in! Life is short and this stuff is disappearing. And when gas goes to $12 a gallon, that’ll really cut back on our ability to get out there.

  2. It is massively time consuming to groom photos for a Web site. I have a site ( for my road trips too and it is so much easier and faster (though still time consuming) to just upload to Flickr and WordPress. I wonder what it is about doing the “real” Web site that just takes so much longer?

    • For me, it’s the digging up info about the place or thing. Then, there’s splitting up pages when they get too long. And I also keep a list as I’m adding stuff (the “What’s New” page) which takes a lot of time.

      These days, most people just upload photos randomly as they take them to Flickr or a blog. Way quicker & easier. But there’s no organization to that. No context of comparing like things to each other — or putting all like things from the same cities together over time, etc.

      I’ve always tried to create something that *I* would like to see and have access to. So, I’ll keep doing it the hard way (the website) but also provide little quickie diversions (blog & Flickr) as well for folks that are less into these subjects than I am or just want a more personal experience than an encyclopedia of info.

      grouping things together by subject or theme.

  3. Great trip! But a little sad to see it end for now. I Google Earth’d the address for the Pappy’s liquor sign and it showed the building had been torn down so that’s probably why it was there.

    • Thanks for letting me know. Although there are hundreds of great signs in Chicago, each one is so unique and special. As far as I know, there’s no sign preservation group there — so who knows how many will be gone ten years from now.

  4. So happy to have ridden along with you again on this trip. I’ve no idea how long I’ve been following along, but a decent guess would be since ’09. Can’t wait for your southern California trip, my neck of the woods!

  5. In regards to the Bonny’s/Iggy’s sign: The bar didn’t change names. Rather, that sign was moved to Bonny’s after Iggy’s closed. If you look up the address for Bonny’s on Google Maps Street View, there’s no sign:

    However, this Yelp listing, for the closed Iggy’s location in Wicker Park, shows a couple pictures of the sign there.

    And this shot on Flickr shows a better view of the sign.


    Clearly, this wasn’t the sign’s original location, either. I wonder where it was before it was moved to Iggy’s.

      • Oh, definitely! I’m sure it was moved to Iggy’s from some other location. The neon spelling out “Iggy’s” in the shot on Flickr clearly isn’t what was originally on that sign. Would really love to know what the original neon looked like.

  6. 16K miles!! Wow. I bow to thee. My partner and I took a 5,000 mi. road trip last year from Houston to Portland. And I’m thinkin’, ‘how bad ass are we’? I guess not that bad ass. Kudos. You got lot’s of great pics.

    • Thanks! Thousands more photos to come from this trip for the website. These here are just a few photos from each day. Most of these at the blog are the “junk” that won’t rate inclusion at the website.

      And, yes, 13 hours a day for 5 weeks adds up — to big miles and big bucks!

  7. Thanks for bringing us along on your awesome roadtrip! Amazing stuff! I bet your dogs are happy to be home, my dog always is.

  8. Speed cameras cost but they don’t slow you down. I’m not saying whether that’s a good or a bad thing or if it might hint at their real purpose. It’s merely an observation.

    Glad you made it home safely and congrats on a most impressive trip. Your schedules always make me feel downright sane.

    • I’m not sure what a “speed camera” is — or if even mine is. The little that I know from playing around with mine is that it really helps for action and neon at night. Auto setting gives blur otherwise.

      My home schedule is not much better! You only live once! And since you never know how much time you’ve got on this planet, I always try to squeeze it all in.

      • I was thinking of the camera that recorded you speeding when I said that although I’m sure your camera has traveled faster — and farther — than most. And it’s certainly grabbed some “you can’t park there” shots very quickly;-)

  9. Glad you’re back safe! Really enjoyed “riding along”, though somewhat belatedly — a change in work schedule made things interesting for me this summer. I still have a few more comments to post, when time allows.

    FYI, speed cameras and red light cameras are illegal (!) in Wisconsin, so you won’t see any of those here! Plenty of Kwik Trips, though … 😀

    • Hmmm. I don’t recall ever getting a speeding ticket of any kind in Wisconsin. I think I’ve gotten a couple in Michigan. I covered Wisconsin pretty thoroughly last summer — so you might want to dig around for those blog posts. You can pick your way to those posts through the captions at my roadsidenut Flickr account — here’s the Wisconsin set:

      corn fields

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