Union Station, where I catch the Van Galder bus whenever I visit family in Madison.
Did I ever tell you about the time I got kicked off a Greyhound bus?
This was in 2002. I was headed to Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. The plan was to take a bus early Saturday morning to Milwaukee, where a cousin would pick me up and drive me to the party.
I've always taken pride in my patience and even keel, but there were a few extenuating details to irritate my temperament on this morning. I'd worked the late shift the night before, so it was on 4 hours sleep that I left my apartment around 6:30 a.m. to go downtown. A few weeks earlier I had broken my wrist and was still in a cast, making it difficult to get around with my bags. And the Greyhound bus terminal? A Zen garden it's not, what with all the winos and the children and the screaming and the Funyuns wrappers, and neither is it a pleasant place to sit waiting to board a bus that is 45 minutes late.
When we finally board I'm worried about my cousin Peggy and whether she'll still be waiting for me in Milwaukee. This is the era before cell phones
The bus is packed. It's another 10 minutes before the bus driver boards. Instead of apologizing for the delay and getting on his way, he stands at the front of the aisle and in a mournful dirge reads the rules.
"There will be no eating on this bus."
"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."
"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."
"There will be no crossing of the yellow line."
He's like "Cool Hand Luke"'s Carr on valium, detailing the infractions that will result in a night in the box, and just like Cool Hand Luke, I'm exasperated. I throw up my arms
The driver pauses again. Mournfully. He stares me down. In the tone of a junior high disciplinarean he asks a question that, as the clown in many a junior high class, I knew well growing up: "Is there something you'd like to share with the rest of us?"
I immediately realize I'm in trouble and that any further dissent is just going to delay us more. "No, no. I'm sorry, sir. Please go on."
And that's when I got kicked off the Greyhound bus. I was in disbelief and continued to apologize, hoping to suck up enough to change his mind. When he motioned for the three Somali security guards it became clear he wasn't bluffing. Together the guards were as intimidating as a coat rack, but I left peacefully, making a big show of struggling with my cast so that the driver could feel guilty about doing this to a cripple.
I'd just started dating a gal and thought about calling to borrow her car, but I didn't want her to think I was the kind of maniac who gets kicked off public buses, so I rented one instead. I got to the party in time and told Grandma and cousin Peggy that I'd overslept.
I've never taken Greyhound since, and the worst to happen on a Van Galder bus has been a corny joke from the folksy, sing-song driver.
(Ald. Ted Matlak [32nd]) said he had supported the tear-down because the development project proposed for the site would add parking, reduce density and eliminate space for a corner tavern.
Jan. 5, 2006, Chicago Journal story on the planned demolition of the 1899 Artful Dodger building
Things I would do if I were an alderman and wanted to make my neighborhood suck, and the order in which I would do them:
Illinois state cyclocross championships, Montrose Harbor.
Washing the fourth of the 45 floors of the Kluczynski Federal Building.
On upper Illinois near Michigan.
He was tethered high above the construction pit for the Trump Tower. It was one of those rare instances where a person could be at ground level and still fall to his death.
The building behind the Intercontinental has been demolished. For a week a dozen unskilled laborers have been sorting through the rubble and picking out intact bricks to be bundled and sold as antique building materials.
Where are all the faces?
Chicago is a city of 3 million people, but you'd never know it from its photoblogs and Flickr entries.
With rare exception -- Derek Powazek comes to mind -- we're a timid lot, we photobloggers. We're fearful. We're wary of offending strangers, sensing their nervous looks and desires for privacy. We fail to convey that our cameras are signs of affection.
So instead of taking pictures of people and bringing life to the Web we shoot buildings, quirky signage or, in our most daring moments, the backs of people's heads on the train.
Reluctance to offend or discomfort is a revolutionary concept these days, but it's driving me crazy. The facelessness that results approaches misanthropy, and it gives the false impression that Chicago is a cold, vacant and inanimate place.
I'm as guilty as anyone, but here's my summer goal: More faces and less fear. More smiles, more crying. Fewer parking lots, fewer industrial sites, fewer empty seats.
People are beautiful, and Chicago people are the most beautiful of all. We should show them off.
Last summer I overheard some kids talking about Peter Berry, d/b/a King Kiser. He was a graffiti artist who'd fallen onto the tracks in Rogers Park and was killed by a train. A few days later a local newspaper ran both an obituary and a front-page profile. From all accounts he was a decent kid and was well-liked, and since his death "RIP Kiser" tags have been common sights, especially along the Red Line.
But it's one thing to tag alleys and billboards and it's another to mark up beloved community fixtures. It's a shame, then, that Peter Berry's legacy will be the Andersonville water tower and every time someone looks up and says, "What a fucking asshole."
Coincidentally, my building also got tagged this week. It's the first time this has happened since I moved in, which is surprising given our proximity to two public schools. Mostly I was upset that they hadn't taken the time to make it look good. The script was rushed and sloppy, like that of someone whose medium was yellow snow, and I couldn't make out a single word. (Then again, I don't pretend I was supposed to.)
I also grimaced thinking about the money it will cost our tapped condo association to clean it up, but a neighbor tells me that the city has a graffiti clean-up program that has already been notified. Any day now Mayor Daley himself will show up with brushes and industrial-strength solvents.
From BP Bridge.
Sears Tower lets off steam at dusk.
Three recent moments:
I'm in a coffeeshop. Tables in the center of the room are reserved for a speed-dating event. Around 6 p.m. women start to gather. They chat nervously about the process, just as the Christians of Rome might chat nervously about why they've been herded into the Coliseum and whether that was a lion they just heard roar.
As if dating isn't humiliating enough. As if speed-dating doesn't multiply the humilation enough, compressing a year's worth of rejection and disappointment into a single hour. This coffeeshop has broken new ground in the field of humiliation: speed-dating with spectators.
I watch and listen, pretending to read just like all the other non-participants along the room's perimeter. I know the decent thing to do would be to leave but I can't. It's like gaping at the proverbial car wreck, except it's a dozen car wrecks. It's a demolition derby of human relations.
It's a strange thing to watch relationships be born and die in just five minutes with all the boring parts edited out. It's reality TV reality.
I'm using a trial membership at a neighborhood gym. It's located in a historic hotel, a relic from the days when Edgewater was a resort community for Chicago's wealthy, before the El was extended north and brought in all the riff-raff. The weight machines and treadmills are in an elegant ballroom, complete with chandeliers, high ceilings and marble floors. It feels like "The Shining." I expect blood to start dripping from the walls, or maybe tropical-flavored Gatorade.
I'm riding down Lawrence on my way to poker. It's night, so I'm wearing my reflective vest and balaclava and have turned on the blinky atop my helmet. A guy sitting in a parked car across the street thinks it looks pretty silly and yells, "Where ya goin' there, spaceman?"
I don't mind being regarded as looking silly, but I take exception to being heckled for it, so I do something the guy isn't expecting at all: I do a quick U-turn, roll up to his open window and threaten to break his fucking nose.
No, of course I don't. I may be capable of willing a broken nose, but as you might guess I am not capable of threatening one, let alone do the actual breaking. I wouldn't even know how to. Ask him to wait while I unlock my U-lock and then club him with it?
But I do make the U-turn, roll up to his open window and with a well-practiced glare ask, "What's that, friend?"
I'm pretty sure he was slack-jawed to begin with, but now he is slack-jawed and mousy. "Nothing," he says. "Sorry."
And that's the great trade-off of the balaclava. Although it makes it harder to hawk loogies on Hummers (but not impossible), it lets me adopt a personality contrary to the nice, timid guy that I am. It keeps my head warm but turns my heart cold and vengeful.
This is one of my favorite murals in the city, on the back of the Hotel Intercontinental, of all places. The adjacent building is being demolished, and I presume the condos that will rise will obscure the whales.
The mural was one of my first impressions of downtown Chicago. This was spring of 1998. Some friends and I were going to a taping of "The Jerry Springer Show." Ivan was an intern there and had gotten us tickets. We parked near NBC Tower, and I remember looking up to see this. "What a great city," I thought. "Whales! Up a building!"
There were many reasons why California disagreed with me. One was the absence of fire escapes. And by "fire escapes" I mean to say "fire-escape parties."
Once a Chicago party has crested, people invariably head to the fire escape for some quiet time and some air. This is my favorite part of a Chicago party. It's a self-selecting group, but usually it's the people I came to spend time with in the first place.
Some will smoke. Some will lean on the railing and peel at their beer labels. And a pretty girl will sit on the step below you, point to her shoulders and use her eyebrows to say, "Rub, mister?"
It's a moment impossible in a flat land without fire escapes.
The Optimus water tower, at Grand and St. Clair. I'm not aware of any other rooftop towers left in River North, and there are few left anywhere downtown.
Outside the Esquire.
One of downtown's last great dumpy hot dog stands, near State and Chicago.
And that's pretty much what I told the proprietor, a beefy man of indistinct ethnic origin whom I hadn't seen smoking outside, when he came over and asked why the hell I was taking a picture of his dumpy hot dog stand.
Light was bouncing off a skyscraper and casting an interesting pattern on Bloomingdale's.