Studs

November 8, 2012

Rick Kogan

It is 2002. Studs Terkel's hearing is shot. I am sitting with him in Stefani's 437, a restaurant at Hubbard and Rush streets, a place more familiar to Studs as Riccardo's; and for the last four hours we have been talking at such increasingly loud volume that a departing diner feels compelled to say, as he passes our booth, "What are you guys, deaf?" to which Studs replies, "What did that guy say? . . .Well, anyway, right after the war, World War II, Ric Riccardo opened this place for three straight days, noon to midnight. Everything was free--chicken, steak, booze--and everybody was here. I sat over there, where the booths used to be, near the window. . . . What a wonderful time that was. And then your dad, your dad and I were here one night and we were sitting with. . . " 

"Now, your dad was . . . He's in the book, the book The Good War, and he's got one of the best lines. Now this building was owned by Wrigley and I'll . . . I'll tell you about that later. Ric Riccardo, a very romantic figure. He could be the guy in South Pacific who Mary Martin falls for."

Then Studs stops talking for a few seconds to take a bite of his chicken Caesar salad—and a man listening says, "Who the hell is that guy?"

"That's Mr. Terkel," says the maitre d'. 

To most of Chicago, and much of the nation, he was just Studs: actor, writer, activist, radio host, symbol of Chicago. 

Studs was famous around here for so long that people took him for granted, like he was some sort of landmark.

That long ago night, Studs takes the bus home (he doesn’t drive, never has) and I walk, thinking about my father. He was dead but had he lived, he would have been about as old as Studs was, then 90.

Later that night I find in some old papers a review my father wrote of Studs' Talking to Myself. it appeared in the April 9-10, 1977, issue of the panorama section of the bygone Daily News. He calls the book "extraordinary" and "remarkable." 
But I am looking for something more personal, observations that echo through all the years. I find them in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. 

My dad wrote: "Here, sure enough, is the real Studs, the genuine article, as vibrant in print as he is in life: exhilarating, amazingly observant, inquisitive, deflater of the pompous and the powerful and uplifter of the gifted and the oppressed, at times disputatious and at times shying away from confrontations, superbly talented as performer and narrator and interviewer, asking questions of everyone—and of himself--and evoking revealing answers, rarely lingering over woes that may have befallen him but ardent in his ire about injustices heaped on others, spirited, buoyant and acutely aware of comic and ridiculous aspects of our existence, and incessantly bursting with excitement and exuberance." 

That may not be the definitive word, but it'll do.