06.01.2011

The Long Walk Home

In the dead of winter when I walk through city streets, I often forget that I do indeed love summer in Chicago. I’m in a hurry for it to get dark, to get home. But tonight, a wonderfully warm evening, my walk home from the El served as the reminder I had been waiting for.

My favorite time of day in the summer is the time between the afternoon and sunset. For a few years I have been convinced this is only a time I can enjoy on the beach in Michigan—the stillness, all the families gone up to dinner, crumbled sandcastles, the sun slipping slowly, the lake, likely still, unable to produce the slightest wave.

Immediately after I descended the El platform, I could smell a winters worth of piss baking on the concrete. I thought perhaps I should be lazy and take the bus the rest of the way home. But the muted activity around me relaxed me in a way that those moments on the beach do. Even the drug dealers that hang out beneath and near the station seemed renewed in a non-chemical way.

And so I walked. I passed two girls talking about boys (idiots, to be sure) in their class. I passed a group of boys at that stereotypical rowdy age when they love to be loud and noticed. But tonight, they were gingerly holding water balloons in their hands and tiptoeing across the street. I thought how nice it was to see a balloon fight, as opposed to the recent gun fights. I passed tree-lined streets, the greenery seeming to have burst into bloom overnight. I smiled at the struggling restaurants—their patios full with patrons.

I passed the tuxedo rental place I have always cringed at. But I didn’t notice the garish dresses in the window which I always assume are meant for events I’ve never attended, such as quinceañeras. Instead, I saw a group of boys no older than seventeen smiling as they picked out tuxedos. I imagined the delight on their date’s faces a few days from now on prom night.

And I thought how I’ve always loved this time of day in the city—didn’t I used to wait with my brother until our dad walked down our block, home from work? It was only then that we knew it was dinnertime and soon, we would have to eat and then beg our parents to go back out until we saw fireflies. Then we’d round up the cats from the yard, determined that they not have a later curfew than us, determined that though it was dark now, the next day was nearer.

I approached the final block of my journey and smelled something that I first thought was pot. But the sweetness overtook the muskiness and I thought I know this smell. I couldn’t place it. And then it smells like grandma’s kitchen. I don’t know what that means, I don’t know how to describe it, I have no idea what it could have been—I was just relieved to be able to place it. I hadn’t smelled that smell in fifteen years and I’m sure if I’d hurried down the block in my usual pace, I would have missed it. The beach in Michigan was far away and I couldn’t have been happier to be tucked into a city neighborhood.

Nearing the end of the block, I maintained eye contact for a moment too long with a man coming my way. His eyes couldn’t focus and although he was not near enough, I could smell a days worth of booze. As we passed each other, he said, in the surliest of ways that only these types of men can achieve: “hey big girl.” I turned onto my block, and just like that, I was home.

Things I Live For: Reunions

Quote of the Day: “Took all winter to get through the summer.” –Tom Petty

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(Several months ago I reflected on a Daley-less city…):

An Open Letter to Richie Daley:

As the tenure of the longest termed mayor of our fine city inches closer to the end, I am overwhelmed by the negative comments and articles about Daley’s legacy. The majority seems to be focusing on the negative: “he spent too much time, money, and effort on the Olympics;” “Hired trucks, ahhh! Parking meter lease, eeek!” Instead, I would like to focus on the positive because it seems the Richie Daley I will remember is a stranger to many Chicagoans.

For 22 of my twenty-odd years of existence, I have lived in a city run by Daley. For as long as my memory goes back, Richard M. Daley has been in charge of my city, has been the face of my city, the only name I have ever had to read on highway signs as I arrive back in Chicago. The thought of his retirement, of losing not only a part of my identity but that of an entire city, is not an issue I have taken lightly. Upon hearing the news in September I was in shock, but because I feel as if I have come to know Richie after all these years, it is not a decision I question. My Richard M. Daley makes decisions based on the interests of Chicago and Chicagoans and, as such, I know I must accept this. Admittedly though, it has not been easy.

Everyday I walk around the city I see Richie in the lush foliage that laughs at the concrete jungle cliché. A casual ride down Lake Shore Drive in the summer is as close as one can get to the best of both worlds: towering skyscrapers reflecting a sun that is simultaneously being soaked up by beach-goers and the greenery Daley demanded be plant.

Daley has made Chicago a destination city, a city that now competes with the (subpar) likes of New York and Los Angeles. He has been consistently vocal in supporting Chicago traditions, from chairs saving shoveled out parking spots to sticking by his beloved south side sports team. You’ll never see Richie Daley at Wrigley Field in an attempt to appease voters from all parts of the city, and as much as it pains me that we don’t root for the same team, I have nothing but respect for that choice. If you wish to have these intricacies, however minor, erased, perhaps a cookie-cutter suburb is best suited for you. For me? I’ll take the City of Chicago with all its unique headaches over Anywhere, USA any day.

A few months ago while out of the country and checking email, I opened a message from my brother updating me of the goings on city-side. Tucked between Bears updates and Cubs trade rumors I read “Richie decided he will run again.” My heart stopped. I had to get back to Chicago, to get on the next flight, to revel in this fantastic news with fellow Chicagoans, to toast his decision with those who were surely as excited as me, to find out the details for his choice—was Maggie doing better? Did he realize we couldn’t survive without him?

I read on. “Just joking.” My heart dropped as quickly as it had stopped just seconds earlier. And for the first time, since his announcement in September, I felt immense loss. 4000 miles away from Chicago I finally realized the impact of a Daley-less city. What was Chicago going to become? Would my coveted interests in tradition be upheld? Would my new leader care more about Chicago than approval ratings?

I flew back to Chicago several days later, realizing this was perhaps the last time I would be flying home.

So Richie, this is thank you and goodbye. You have given me a city to love and be proud of in both good times and bad. For at least one person, your positive impact on the city will not be clouded by the mistakes that any two-decade-plus-career could incur. My love to you and your family, and best wishes for the future.

Sincerely,

Someone who loves Chicago as much as you do

Things I Live For: See above

Quote of the Day: “I’ve given it my all. I’ve done my best. Now, I’m ready with my family to begin the next phase of our lives.” –Richard M. Daley

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05.03.2011

Chess

Well, like a bad husband, I missed my two year blog anniversary back in March. I guess that’s what happens when you neglect your blog. Oh well… onward!

I need a chessboard. And someone to play chess with. Preferably Bobby Fischer if I can find him.

When I was younger I used to play chess with my brother and our friends. How intellectual we were! Then I had a boyfriend who I played chess with all the time. But he’s long gone, like the chessboard he made me. Perhaps the worst thing I have ever done in my life is throw away that board. It’s been years since I’ve played and I’m itching to find a game. I’m sure there’s some underground chess circles in Chicago–what’s the password? I want in!

There are stands downtown where you can play chess with the random guy who runs the strip of boards (see pic). But talk about putting yourself out there; I’ve got to work up to getting beat by a homeless looking dude.

I know you can play online but that’s not how our forefathers played so that’s not for me. It’s like playing shuffleboard online. Or, it would be like if you tried to run a farm online. Insanity!

I’m not even sure I remember how to play. But I am sure about the moves allowed for a few of the pieces. I recall the rook being my favorite for the freedom he had. I respected that freedom. The King? Not so much. I would think a King would be allowed to do what he wants. But the feminist in me says big ups to the Queen cuz ole girl rocks that board like a hooker on North Avenue!

I don’t want to play chess so I can lord my intelligence over you (that’s what this blog is for . . . obviously). I just want to get back into the scene! To be able to say things like “fuck you for castling” and “checkmate, bitch.” Cuz that’s how I play chess. That’s how I roll.

Things I Live For: See above

Quote of the Day: “I prefer to have my cab drivers to be from one of the terrorist countries. Those guys don’t need sleep, they’re all hopped up on hate and poppyseeds.” –Daniel Tosh

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Learn how you can win the lottery and what you can do with the money in just ten easy steps!

1.) Move to some rural town no one has ever  heard of

2.) Get a job at a factory

3.) Make friends with 8 other factory workers and go in on buying a lottery ticket together

4.) Buy a pair of sunglasses left over from the ’80′s or ’90′s

5.) Look up what a lawyer is cuz you heard you may need one if you win

6.) Overeat. Constantly.

7.) Win the lottery

8.) Hire the lawyer you saw handing out flyers at Wal-Mart

9.) Accept all calls from your long lost family members

10.) Watch your life become worse than it was to begin with because you have no idea how to manage money whether it’s $50 or $5 million. Congrats!

Pet Peeve of the Day: People who want to win the lottery

Quote of the Day: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” –Thomas Jefferson

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It was a few weeks ago that I was leisurely paging through the latest edition of Rachael Ray Magazine looking for some new recipes. Tucked near the back of the magazine was an article on the best hot dog in America. The results were determined via a March Madness style bracket with restaurants from all over the country up for the running. A few were in Chicago. And, much to my surprise, when I turned the page, a Chicago restaurant won.

It was then that I realized I wasn’t a true Chicagoan, despite what I may present to others. I had never had a Chicago style hot dog. I knew nothing about the deliciousness of sport peppers, the necessity of celery salt, or the fresh puffiness of a poppy-seed bun. I was a sham. A disgrace to Chicago. And thus, I decided to embark on a journey to find my own best Chicago style dog.

The reasons I have never had a Chicago style dog are many. First, I did not start eating tomatoes until about a year ago. I was previously not a big fan, preferring gasp ketchup for any sort of tomato flavor. Second, what the fuck is relish and why is it so green? Third, and probably more importantly, I have had a severe aversion to hot dogs probably since I reached double digits in age. As a kid, I ate  my fair share of hot dogs doused in ketchup accompanied by cheese fries. But at a certain point, okay probably later than 10, I was disgusted by hot dogs. So I vowed never to eat them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not encased meats I’m against. As a good German gal, I eat beyond my fair share of bratwurst. But perhaps I became an encased meats elitist, deciding that hot dogs are a pedestrian excuse for handheld deliciousness.

The spot Rachael Ray deemed the best was Gene & Jude’s. Apparently they put fries on the dog. That didn’t seem very Chicago to me, nor very appetizing to me. The other Chicago spot that came near to victory was Superdawg. I immediately pictured this spot in my head, drawing back to childhood memories of seeing boy and girl dressed hotdogs atop a little drive-in joint. Boy and girl dressed hotdogs in love. With Valentine’s Day approaching, this seemed the perfect spot to go.

And as it turned out I was beyond lucky to have decided on this spot as it is still a working drive-in. Meaning, I could drive up, park, order through an antiquated machine and then a lady will come out with my order and place the tray on my window. Awesome, to say the least. All that was missing was a crew of bad boys with cigarettes rolled up the sleeve of their Hanes white tees. As a lover of antiques and the olden days, this was definitely the spot for me.

But enough about the setting, what about the dog? I ordered the Superdawg which is a classic Chicago style dog (all beef dog, yellow mustard, bright green relish, celery salt, onions, pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato wedge) tucked into a retro looking box with some of the most delicious crinkle cut fries I have ever eaten. The first bite? I was beyond nervous. What do hot dogs even taste like? Meat? Beef? Steak? I had no recollection but was pleasantly surprised when I tasted a bit of beef accented with peppery, mustardy undertones. And the bun! So fresh it could barely hold the dog and its dressings. The first bite quickly turned into the next couple until I, sadly, realized I was done. Ketchup who? Bratwurst what?

I wanted to push the button and order another. I wanted the waitress to skate out on her nonexistent skates and say “Congratulations!” or “You are soooooo Chicago!” Instead, I flipped the switch on the ordering machine for the waitress to retrieve my tray. As I watched her trudge through Chicago snow covered in a windbreaker and boots, (not a poodle skirt or neck scarf) I thought about baseball. I thought about warm summer days at Wrigley with my dad. I was no longer concerned with being a real Chicagoan.

The waitress, now at my window, asked me how everything was. A standard question. To which I replied, “everything is great.” A not so standard present tense reply. I rolled up my window and drove off into the evening, extremely satisfied with my first Chicago hot dog.  

Things I Live For: See above

Quote of the Day: “And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” –Mr. Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

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