A fixture on the scene.

World's Best.

“Now, what do I have to do to put you in this enormous Hobart mixing machine today?” The parlance of totally cheeze-house used car salesmen certainly isn’t shared by the nice folks at Olympic Store Fixtures, located on South Cicero in the shadow of Midway Airport. But to stroll into this tidy but bustling warehouse store, as I did last week to return some equipment we’d rented for our Lollapalooza setup, is to discover stacks of the things that normally populate the backdrops of our lives.

A neon sign hangs over the sales and service area in the center of the shop. “World’s best omelettes!” it proudly proclaims. And while its prefab existence puts into question the validity of its claim, I think we’re all aware that, nowadays, the “world’s best” tag is really just a suggestion of worth, a reassurance that your breakfast meal will live up to the diner status quo. In other words, the “world’s best” phrase is another part of life’s background, the same as so many of the items that fill the shelves at Olympic.

In the glare of the neon omelette sign sits a plastic drum, its lip overflowing with red and yellow plastic condiment dispensers. Bright and cheery in that postwar injection molded way, they clamor out of the bin like they can already smell the patty melts. Another row at Olympic is all clamshells, all the time. Pristine and white, they’re stacked like polystyrene Russian nesting dolls in more sizes than you can shake your leftover lo mein noodles at. Another corner is specialty coffee equimpment — machines, hoses, and hardware. In another, fleets of brown china coffee mugs, their iconic apple core shape seen in every diner from here to Tucumcari. Need forks? Here are 5,000.

How about a table-length dough roller? An oven the size of a Smart Car? Olympic has your back. And lined up in the storefront window, their bowls, mechanical mixing arms, and sturdy foundations jutting out proudly from beneath the “Buy Me!” price tags, are the mixers, the things that go WHIRR in the night so we can begin our mornings with fresh donuts, danishes and long johns.

I get a kick out of places like Olympic, and the opportunity to experience them that wheelmanning it up all over the city provides. I’ve found myself in elevators underneath the Loop, descending with a load of coffee into a subterranean warren of tunnels, the kind of things that flooded when the river got crazy. I’ve been in backrooms and ancient basements, and more kitchens than a freelance cook. But the cluttered miracle of stuff inside Olympic was certainly a highlight of last week’s adventures.

Here are a few shots from my travels around the city last week, South Side and otherwise.

Metropolis goes metal in the store window at Buzz Cafe, Oak Park.

The view of industry from I-55.
Church in the trees.

Girder bridge.
Caboose on the South Side.
Printer’s Row, looking very 19th Century.
The view of industry from I-55
Jailhouse rock.
Courthouse rock.

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