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Feb. 26, 2006

Breaking in my new remote.

Photo taken: Feb. 25, 2006


Feb. 20, 2006

Union Station.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 15, 2006

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 -- read as, more than five weeks ago -- so I have no way to reach her.

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."

Mournful pause.

"There will be no loud talking or radio playing on this bus."

Mournful pause.

"You'll see that I'm standing on a yellow line."

Mournful pause.

"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 -- one broken, one whole -- and moan, "Can we go already?"

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.

Photo taken: Feb. 11, 2006


Feb. 13, 2006

Photo taken: Feb. 12, 2006


Feb. 9, 2006

Two recent moments:



At any given time there are as many as five pairs of shoes under my desk, various permutations and multiples of cycling shoes, running shoes, dress shoes, casual shoes. I'm running out of floor space. But just as I complain about having too many shoes, I think of the people who have too many feet.



The best part about eating a slinger at Diner Grill comes years later when you tell people about the ordeal. Their eyes get big right about when you get to the fried eggs, the eggs that are stacked on top of the slices of cheese on top of the hamburger patties on top of grilled onions on top of the hash browns. You haven't even gotten to the chili, shredded cheese or side of toast.


Feb. 4, 2006

I fell for the shell game once in college. My grandfather had died that week and I was feeling cavalier and careless. Someone else in my frame of mind might have loaded a backpack with textbooks and walked into Lake Michigan, but I took to the Red Line and put $20 on the middle bottlecap. A 1-in-3 shot seemed like a risk worth taking. I hadn't noticed that the pitchman was slipping the ball into his sleightful hand, nor had it occurred to me that 1-in-3 is actually a terrible way to go about doubling your money.

I've never regretted it, however. Instead I've considered it a lifetime subscription to one of the best shows in Chicago. The shell game hustlers are con artists, sure, but artists nonetheless: magicians, actors and emcees. Thus it delights me to see action one or two Saturdays a year.

The con is a link to old Chicago. I'd even suggest that the game is an honest living. The players are not picking pockets, they are not panhandling. They are merely separating fools from their money. Such a transaction, writ large and writ billions of times a day, defines the capitalism that has made this country prosper. Where would we be without fraud and duplicity? We'd be in Canada. At peace, insured and modest. God bless America, and God bless its hustlers.

Either I am developing better street sense or the practitioners are losing their touch. Each time I see the game the confederates -- the pitchman's alllies who "win" in order to show that the game is on the level -- are getting easier to spot. Today's troupe had three: a surly, skinny guy, a jolly fat man, and a toothless woman who boarded the car after the others and put $40 on a cap without even hearing the pitchman run through the rules. She won, naturally, but appeared neither surprised nor thrilled. The pitchman, on the other hand, was in great form, full of wit and rhyme, although not enough wit or rhyme for me to remember any of his patter.

One can interact with the game without playing. Take a picture and hear the pitchman say, "What are you, the papparatchi?" Make the passengers laugh by saying, "Yeah, man, I'm Pavarotti." Or ask one of the confederates, "So how often does someone fall for this?" and hear him say, "Kiss my ass, little man."

And I am genuinely curious in how often the game works. I've seen these same people for years, so obviously it works often enough to make it worth their time and the risk of arrest.

When the game moved to the other end of my car I saw a suburbanite's eyes get big and it looked like they'd reeled one in. After the pitchman and his crew left the train I went down to inquire. No, not even close. The suburbanite and his friends were having a good laugh. "Duh," one wag said. "You'd think that someone with $40 to spend on the shell game would get her teeth fixed first. Ha!"

I got off at the next stop. Walking down the platform I saw that the game hadn't in fact left the train: It had just moved to the next car. I made eye contact with the jolly fat man and laughed. He smiled and waved discreetly through the window, like a child in the school play waving to his parents.

Photo taken: Feb. 4, 2006