Friday update: I’m still working on a few more photos to add to the entry… it’s incredibly long as-is, but consider that a blessing compared to my usual site neglect. New videos posted of concert; does MPEG4 work for you?
Window shopping is not encouraged at Schnuck’s. A man needs a good, solid bar of Ivory soap for any trip. He does not need to be confronted by store security after wandering aimlessly for 15 minutes looking for such an item. It’s next to the chips?
The train is late; never, ever count on it being on-time. I arrive in Chicago two hours late, running east across the Loop to catch the Red Line “L.” I make it to Holy Name Cathedral early, finding a nice empty pew in the back to set my bags on. I’m cold sweating, thanks to the run, and the church fills up late. Pretty girls are circling me from all sides… “Hello, I’m a boy that can’t afford you who lives in PEEEEoria.” It is nice stepping out of church and looking straight up the 100 stories of the John Hancock tower overhead. You can hear the subway rumbling every few minutes beneath you.
Katie and I went to see “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” You know, TMLMTBGB. The longest running play in Chicago, the show is heavy on audience participation. We rolled dice to find out ticket price; Katie rolled for $9, I for $10. The show was good, a mixture of hit-or-miss 2 minute skits yelled out by the audience from a list of 30. Dinner was had and sleep was fantastic.
Whenever away in a new city, there’s a need to experience the heart of it immediately. I spent the day gorging myself on skyscrapers, mass transit rides and Lake Michigan. Good pictures came slowly. You start shooting buildings, only showing how tall and how they clump together like trees. I’ve never been to Navy Pier before and I probably will never go back again. It was and still is the closest resemblance to an ocean that I’ve experienced. The rain and wind helped, I’m sure. The extraordinarily-boring pier was a ghost town, the giant Ferris wheel barely moving in the gray sky. I walked to the east end, turned around and came back. My feet hurt after that.
I tried shopping for clothes on Michigan Ave. I don’t have $700 for a jacket; nor am I a woman. Case-in-point: Macy’s has 7 floors devoted to the female gender, graciously giving the 8th floor to men. I spent money at H&M and my new jackets zip on the wrong side.
My first deep dish pizza! When in Chicago, do as the Chicagoans do. Katie, Brandon and I rendezvoused at a little pizza place that proudly proclaimed “Best Pizza” by the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Time Magazine. Unfortunately, deep dish takes about 45 minutes to cook. The Bears were playing in Arizona on the television and thanks to a rather lengthy train ride earlier, I needed to catch yet another train.
I had tickets to see Casey Dienel and Eef Barzelay at Schubas. This really was a consolation concert, because I really arranged this ENTIRE trip just to see Regina Spektor at Park West on Sunday. No luck! The show sold out the day after I had my work schedule approved. I spent too much time getting lost after leaving the train; everyone says “just remember where the lake is.” BEST IDEA! Remind me to remember where WEST is, too.
A petite and diminutive Casey Dienel took the stage about 10 minutes after my arrival. I befriended two kids from the area who were sitting in the front row. It’s a small venue, but really very nice: a perfect-sized stage, rows of folding chairs and fantastic sound. Really, I can’t begin to emphasize that enough; great sound. Casey’s an awkward girl, shy and self-conscious, with an imperfect live performance. It grated on me a bit, but I soon relaxed and enjoyed it. Her versions were loose, but there she was, right in front of me. “Everything” suddenly sprouts real meaning that way.
Casey Dienel – Everything
Video of “Embroidery” from show (11mb MPEG4)
Eef… Eef Barzelay was an unexpected surprise. I had briefly listened to a few of his songs on iTunes before the show, but definitely didn’t jump up and down with excitement. But once this handsome man stepped on stage, all bets were off. A commanding but sarcastic presence ebbed from him as he tore into his acoustic set. A toy, pink Barbie piano was occasionally stomped on, his eyes would roll about and he’d stumble around as if unable to do anything but PLAY. He might have been the best act I’ve seen in years and years: honest, dark and damn good.
Eef in concert (15mb MPEG4)
After the show, we talked: Casey and me.
Rather than revisit more of downtown, I stayed close to home: Lincoln Square. Pedestrian friendly and right off the Brown Line at Western, it’s an ideal place for people-watching. Elderly with horn-rimmed glasses regularly cross paths with hipster kids and their iPods. I stopped at the Book Cellar, a place that basically carries every book I could possibly be interested in. Little slips of paper hang underneath many books, carrying handwritten staff recommendations. They’re often frank: “My favorite book in this entire store. -Steve.” I bought that one.
There’s a small theater, maybe 4 screens, but the type that you envision every small town having. Coffee is never more than a block in any direction, and a beautiful square sits right beside row after row of houses, each almost touching the neighbor.
Katie got off work early that day, meeting me for a drink. Over crushed Jasmine tea leaves, we discussed now and the future. “I can see myself being happy doing something else in life,” I said. Make sure I remember that, okay?
And with that, it was time to say goodbye to Katie, Brandon and Gigi. I packed all of my belongings, shoved them into buses and trains, and eventually ended up at Susie and Jacklyn’s apartment. Chicago is a city in which the destitute live right next to the middle class; I was reminded of this as I got lost again.
We ate dinner at Sultan’s Market, a place where the menu was Greek to me and Near/Middle/Far Eastern food. I ordered a chicken shawarma and green tea; it would be my cheapest and best meal in Chicago.
It was the only day I made a to-do list. Mixing spiritual awakenings and breakfast, I headed to Victory’s Banner on Roscoe Street. It’s a small and bright cafe that serves award-winning French toast and other vegan items. Large portraits of Sri Chinmoy loom overhead, a bald yet smiling man in flowing red robes. It felt safe and innocent, yet creepy.
Roscoe Street was full of stroller-pushing early-30′s moms, peeking into shop windows and playing with their new babies. I had to leave, it was too much. “Goo goo gooo, sooooo cute!” I hopped the bus to the Blue Line and arrived in Logan Square. Even though it is still considered Chicago-proper, it felt like a completely new city.
My entire goal was to pick up some tickets to a Joanna Newsom show in early November. Logan Square Auditorium seemed “institutional,” empty and dusty with flickering lights and strange sounds. The bathroom proved equally terrifying, but I made use of it nonetheless.
No tickets to be found. I walked around the neighborhood a bit, proclaimed it the place I’d live if I were in Chicago, and left for the Loop.
I spent some time getting my Amtrak ticket exchanged at Union Station, then met up with Jerod at Columbia College. The rain started to pick up, but we wandered around until arriving at Clark’s to grab something to eat. This place is popular with locals, a reminder of classic diners but with a very prominent place in Chicago’s gay scene. We caught up over sweet potato fries and some average nachos; I wanted spinach dip, but I guess it’s still too soon for that (deadly spinach with e. coli, no spinach for YOU). It’s been a long time since we both worked at the movie theater together. Embarking on a film degree after most people are done with education, he’s proof that people really can reach for a dream.
And with that, it was time for another rush-hour battle. Unless you’ve experienced it yourself, the idea of someone’s privates grinding and transferring heat into your privates might seem grotesque. In these situations, the train doors struggle to close, with human sardines spilling out of their metal container on wheels. A token guy decides to try humor, but is quickly burned at the stake by the eyes of those around him. This scene is repeating every two minutes as another line of trains pulls into the station. A small sliver of me enjoyed it, a quick way to level all socioeconomic classes.
On my last evening in Chicago, Susie and I visited a sushi place. This isn’t remarkable in itself, but having a menu of 30 different rolls to choose from is. We both opted for the buffet, shoveling raw fish down our gullets and ending up one careful step away from full blown sickness when we left.
That, my friends, was Chicago. There are a lot of things missing from this account, but perhaps that’s intentional. Millions of things occur everyday and vanish as soon as you look or step away.