Oasis in dp

I-90 runs through Illinois and just off the Mt. Prospect road exit was a place that meant something to a lot of us that grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. It wasn’t a beautiful place, just a typical 1950’s utilitarian brick and glass, I-could-easily- be-transformed-into-a-minimum-security-prison…or-a-school, design. It was the Des Plaines Oasis, a road side rest stop/restaurant/and well known gathering place for local teens in the wee hours of the night.

Even though you may have never driven I-90 through Des Plaines, you’ve probably seen it. It was the building lit by fire from the flame thrower Carrie Fisher used to torch the Blues Brothers while they made a call in a phone booth. By the time this film was made in the 1970’s, the restaurant had already changed hands from the old Fred Harvey franchise.
Here’s the scene.

They tore it down this past weekend to make way for road widening. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it got me wondering where teens will go now at 3 in the morning to eat waffles and drink gallons of coffee after sneaking out of the house.

Back then, it was the only thing around for anyone under 21 when your munchies sent you into the night in search of a plate of fries and a hot fudge sundae. Everyone I knew wandered through that place at some point on a weekend. Looking at the door in the photo, got me thinking of all the people’s hands that touched that door handle over the past 50 plus years. Friends, lovers, classmates, neighbors and uncountable others; the famous and the civilian suburbanites; they all grabbed that handle and made their way to a leatherette booth where a plastic coated menu awaited their hungry eyes. So many of them are now gone from this world, mixed with the dust of the demolition.

In some less patchouli smelling, eight track dimension of my memory, the words that Izak Dineson wrote in her book (later a movie), Out of Africa rose up again…

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me…?”

All things must pass. Thank you and goodbye, Des Plaines Oasis. You were the scene of many hilarious conversations with friends dear to my heart. And thanks Fred Harvey Restaurant (way back when) for your pencil-stuck-in-their-hairdo servers that let us just hang out when the rest of the world was closed for the night.

Somewhere in the air over where you once stood, there is a shadow of me with waffle syrup stuck on it somewhere. It’s quivering with laughter and humming a song from Tumbleweed Connection.

All things must pass. Gone but not forgotten.

2 thoughts on “Oasis

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  1. Ah yes, the old “Harvey House” restaurants, with Harvey Girl waitresses – the first “restaurant chain” in the US.

    I can understand your nostalgia, Mimi… but apparently this specific incident was even more important for one man – Kevin Walters a 21-year-old from Crystal Lake, Illinois.

    See the March 14 article from the New York Daily New titled:

    “Illinois man chains himself to Tollway Oasis where he was conceived to protest demolition”

    Kevin Walters, 21, chained himself to the doors of the Des Plaines Oasis, where his parents say he was conceived after a Phil Collins concert.

    “It is a weird story, I must admit. About 21 years ago, my parents were at a Phil Collins concert here in Chicago, and one thing led to another. They ended up at the oasis … and I was conceived there,” Kevin Walters told Chicago station WBBM.


    I’ll bet you never thought there was a Phil Collins connection. (And, of course, Judy Garland who starred in the 1946 MGM musical film based on the 1942 novel of the same name: “The Harvey Girls”.)

    Just think of all the stories we will never know.

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