I do a lot of international travel in my day job. There are two words that are more valuable to me than almost any other heard in transit -- "lounge access."
The airline lounges are like an oasis of calm, hidden away in the chaos of commercial airline travel. Upon reflection, I think I got hooked on this idea of hidden respite way back at Highland Park High School (HPHS). During my time at HPHS, I was a member of the Amateur Radio Club. Yes, you can put the big dork sign on my head now, but one of the unwritten perks of being in this particular club was round-the-clock access to the club office. I was never subjected to study halls or crowded cafeterias because I could always get away behind the scenes.
Ever since, I've had a fascination with things hiding in plain sight. Here in Highland Park, we have many hidden places and gems. Today, I'd like to share a few with you.
- Woodridge Park: Most Park District of Highland Park facilities are on through streets, major roadways or adjacent to schools. This particular park sits at the south end of Barberry Road, invisible from any other thoroughfare. You'd never find it if you didn't already know it was there. The 12-acre park features recently-updated equipment on both a tot lot and the big kid playground. It has tennis and basketball courts, along with a baseball field. Woodridge Park is also the home of the Moraine Township "Pantry Plants Garden Project", a community garden which supplies the township-operated food pantry. All of this is a stone's throw from the busy Lake-Cook Road, but hidden on a dead-end street.
- Robert McClorry bike trail can be found adjacent to Highland Park High School. This bike path, dedicated in the late 1990s, traverses most of Lake County north to south. In Highland Park, though, it has to detour through town a few times. One small section passes from the south side of Vine Avenue to Bloom Street, on the east side of the commuter rail tracks. Because it is so hidden, there's never anyone on this path. There are a few small garden plots, a view of the High School tennis courts and an art installation at the north end. The art is a gateway and, intriguingly, a bike rack, to which are attached a few brightly-painted pseudo-bicycles. I suspect that the Highland Park police have fielded more than one phone call from a well-meaning passerby who thinks that there are abandoned cycles here.
- Central Avenue Synagogue Mikvah. This is a hidden feature of Highland Park I've never seen personally. The Central Avenue Synagogue is the most religious temple in Highland Park, and features a Mivkah -- ritual bath -- as one of its services. Ritual immersion in a mikvah is undertaken by Jewish women at certain milestones, as well as by others such as those converting to Judaism. I found the words of the synagogue's website comforting, as they invite anyone in the area Jewish community to use the facility in a strong spirit of openness. Perhaps this isn't quite so hidden as I originally thought.
- Metra Car 553. Passing through Highland Park twice a day, once into the city and once back out, is an odd-looking rail car connected to Metra's gleaming modern bi-level stock. Hidden inside are members of a private club on wheels, commuting to and from Chicago. Car 553 is a privately-owned commuter club, operated under contract with Metra that dates back more than 50 years. I've always imagined it as something of a throwback, with men in suits and hats, drinking martinis as the tony suburbs roll by on their way home. The truth doesn't quite live up to the fiction, but it's fun to imagine.
- Yerkes Fountain. At the corner of Sheridan Road and Forest Avenue, a stone fixture sits along the roadside, adorned with plants and flowers. This is one of the few visible pieces of Highland Park history, hidden in plain sight. Yerkes Fountain, which dates back to the 19th century, was originally a water fountain for horses traveling along Sheridan Road. Today, it sits in silent memory to a simpler era (though it is also hides a few geocaches).
In a town that is 140 years old with 30,000 people, surely there must be more hidden gems to share. Who is ready to share their secrets?