#904: Kaage’s Early Edition

March 21st, 2018

Picture two man-sized boxes on a darkened corner.

One box is almost a shed, light-toned and covered in siding, like a home in one of the suburbs just a few blocks to the north. There’s a plaque on one side honoring a familial doyenne and a banner on the streetside paying tribute to a long-gone anniversary.

The other box was propped half open, like a grade-school diorama. A chest-high stack of newspapers on a stool fronts a spread of magazines ranging from local dining to muscle car to naked lady.

Approaching the second box brought a visitor from the first. A man sauntered out of the shed with an old Chicago Tribune newsboy apron cinched around his waist.

“This the place that’s been here like a hundred years?” I asked.

“Yep, 75 years. I’m third-generation,” the man said, looking at me expectantly.

It took a beat too long to realize my wonder and amazement was a trifle rude.

“Tribune, please,” I replied, letting the man get back to his daily duties.

Over the newsboy apron hung a belt-mounted coin dispenser, one of those nickel-plated money changers Metra conductors use to shunk out the proper pennies, nickels and dimes at a moment’s notice. The stars and stripes brim of a patriotic baseball cap peeked out from under a hoodie.

The man was skinny with some gray stubble on his face and eyes that, for lack of a better word, twinkled in the streetlamp light. It was because of his smile. Not a smile that reached his lips but an eye-smile, like the dad in “Danny the Champion of the World.”

He had been there since four in the morning and he was eye-smiling. He goes there seven a week, 365 a year in wind, rain or bone-snap cold and he was still smiling with his eyes.

Mike Kaage has worked at his family newsstand “since I was a kid. All through grade school, high school, then I became a partner,” he told me as he grabbed a paper off the stack and a local dining magazine I added to the order at the last minute. His grandfather bought the newsstand in 1943 for $100, according to a Chicago Tribune article from 2009.

The family gets written about a lot. The newsstand is an oddity and a near-lone survivor, a love letter to the printed word and the heyday of newspaper journalism. Reporters love that sort of thing.

Mike Kaage loves it too.

“Yeah, I got 25 years to go,” he says of the stand’s future. “I’ll be 86 then and that’s when my dad got out of this.”

“Is he still…” I said, letting context find the next word.

“He’s still kicking,” Kaage said, understanding. His eye-smile flicked to a mouth one as he joked, “Not too high though.”

A black pick-up truck idled to the curb. Kaage wordlessly grabbed the proper paper and extended it to the darkness of the cab, plucking a bill from the hand that extended out.

“Mornin’, Ray,” Kaage said.

I didn’t hear if the pick-up’s invisible driver said anything back.

Even in the dark, the far-far-far North Side neighborhood of Edison Park is lovely. Toss a pebble to the suburbs, drop a dime at the local bars, restaurants and comfortable-feeling diners. The locals know the newsstand, even named the corner of Northwest Highway and Oliphant in its honor. The shed and news-soaked diorama are legend, mainstay and sidestep en route to the Metra.

Newsstands across the city vanished and the papers that filled them keep threatening to, but these man-sized boxes on a pre-dawn corner linger.

Paper and a local dining magazine now in my clutch, Mike and I smiled eye smiles, traded names and shook hands.

“You new to the ‘hood?” he asked, his tone betraying two assumptions that won’t come across in words. I’ll translate.

He assumed I was from the community because the stand’s only purpose was feeding its people information. And he thought I must be a recent transplant. Because how could anyone live here and not be a familiar smile at the Kaage Newsstand?

Newsboys meet pressmen

Pressmen meet shooters

Shooters meet ed boards

TRONC!

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You are currently reading #904: Kaage’s Early Edition by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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