Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Happy Ending, 2009

Last night after work, I headed out into the snow toward the Art Institute. I was only headed to the gift shop to check out their post-Christmas deals (their ornaments and calendars are half off!), but the journey was more exciting than the destination. It was a nice scene as the street lights on Michigan Ave. set the swirling snowflakes aglow around the pedestrians. I didn’t even mind the tourists blocking the sidewalks, because they all seemed to be enjoying themselves so much. And I love to see everyone bundled up in their own personal concoction of winter gear, faces ruddy with the Chicago wind, laughing, teasing, staring at maps… Cozy in my winter boots and wool coat, I moseyed around the Loop for another half an hour or so after dropping into the museum, drinking in Chicago, at night, with glistening snowflakes. And all I could think was that there’s no place else on Earth where I’d rather ring in the New Year.

In the spirit of the season, many thanks to those of you who faithfully continue to read my blog, even when I get too sappy, or fail in an attempt to be funny, or simply don’t have time to post often enough. I hope each of you has had a wonderful 2009 and that 2010 brings you joy and peace.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Snow and all, it felt so nice to return to Chicago today. The holiday with the family at home in Ohio was a much-needed and appreciated break from the daily grind, filled with family parties and good cheer. Even though I felt sad leaving town today, when I closed in on my street in Chicago, I felt the same familiar rush that I get every time I return. There’s no denying it—this city has a profound effect on me.

The rooftops look gorgeous from my window, slanting slopes of white dotted by brick red chimneys. It feels almost Dickensian. If I could ignore the skyscrapers sandwiching the shorter buildings like overbearing older siblings, I might be able to forget time and space, and believe I were living in another century—just for a second. There’s even a church spire visible from my window, which adds just the right touch to the wintry scene. Plus, I can see my patch of lake, to the east, although, in the dusk, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish the water from the sky.

It’s a good thing I’m still in my “return-to-Chicago euphoria,” though, because my visit to the grocery store was almost enough to knock me from my Dickensian dream right back down to reality’s cold pavement. If there’s any one thing I dislike about the city (aside from parking, which we all know is the bane of my existence), it’s grocery shopping. When I lived in Knoxville, going to the grocery store was my favorite errand. I’d go on Sunday mornings, when traffic was light and everyone was in Church, and I’d have the spacious Kroger aisles practically to myself. I could mosey through at a slow pace, grabbing what I needed and anything else that caught my eye. Prices were cheap, the selection was great, and I rarely walked out P.O.ed. I can’t say the same for my weekly (okay, almost daily) trips to Jewel.

For those unfamiliar with shopping at the local Jewel, I will attempt to paint the picture. First, the store itself is small and compact. Like many places in Chicago, it’s about space effectiveness, and fitting as much into a small area as possible, without feeling utterly crowded. But, unlike the city itself, there is nothing that could be done about the local grocery store to detract from the fact that it is utterly crowded. Every hour of every day, in fact, though it’s admittedly worse at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday. The grocery store feeds my entire neighborhood. We’re talking hundreds upon hundreds of people. It’s conveniently located (I presume this is why they can jack the prices up exorbitantly). Therefore—and here’s the kicker—no one drives to the grocery store. What does this mean? It means that people, like myself, are in and out of there multiple times per week, rather than just once, because we can only carry home so many groceries at a time (unless we buy one of those little carts from Walgreens, but I’m not eighty, yet, so I refuse to).

In Chicago, we do not go to the grocery store for a leisurely stroll up and down the aisles. We go with a list of exactly what we want, and know exactly where to find it, and we rush in and rush out as quickly as possible, dodging the hundred or so other shoppers in the store to wait in a long line for self check out, where we roll our eyes if someone stops up the line because they don’t know how to type in their produce code. Yes, I’m guilty of this same impatience. But, I confess that I still don’t know exactly where to find everything that I need, because I sometimes get so frustrated trying to find it amid all the people that I give up and grab a few things and rush out of there as quickly as possible. And let me assure you: Midwesterners are generally nice, but they are not nice in the grocery store. It’s every man for himself in that place. If you don’t watch out, you will get run down by someone’s cart (although, when this happens, there are usually profuse Midwestern apologies, because something like that is enough to penetrate our grocery store funk).

And people do not pay attention (I was not exaggerating about the collisions). Never before have I seen a place filled with so many people with tunnel vision (okay, actually Walmart is a thousand times worse, and I have to admit that between the two I'd rather be at my local Jewel). Sometimes you have to wait in line just to pick up some chicken breasts because the person in front of you is checking the price on every single package before they decide which one they want. Once in awhile I am that person, and sometimes—gasp—I do it on purpose. Sometimes I get so tired of being rushed and pushed around at the grocery store, that I will stand there for three whole minutes selecting the brand of goat cheese I want and I just don’t give a damn whether or not someone’s waiting for me to finish. Now, I admit, this is extremely rare behavior for me, and only happens if I’m having an incredibly bad day. But, honestly, the local grocery store brings out the worst in me, too.

Anyway, today as I was hauling my eight bags of groceries back to my apartment in the snow without gloves because I forgot to put them on before grabbing my bags, I thought to myself sarcastically, “This is what you’re so excited to come back to the city for?” But as I inched away from the Jewel, that grocery store funk started to peel away and I patted myself on the back for being self-sufficient. Then I got home, put my groceries away, plopped down on my bed with my laptop and a yogurt in tow, and decided that the view outside my window is almost Dickensian.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clef Notes Winter Issue

I'm pretty happy to see one of my articles for Clef Notes in their online preview. Still anxious for the Othello review and my dance picks to appear, but you can read about this year's Chicago Humanities Festival for now. I'm not sure how long these samples will remain posted on the site, as they've changed them a few times already, but you can currently view "Stirring Up Laughter" here.

Please check out the other articles, as well, and don't forget that these kinds of performances and events are happening in Chicago all the time. Get out there and investigate Chicago's arts scene!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Brimming Stage

Tonight I reviewed the Joffrey’s Nutcracker, and it was fantastic. That’s about all I will say about it. If you want to know more from my perspective, you’ll have to find some way to get your hands on Clef Notes Concert Journal for the Arts spring issue (yes, that’s correct, the spring issue). I’d like to get my hands on the winter issue, so if you have a copy (or know someone who does) and wouldn’t mind parting with it, I’d love to have a print copy of my articles.

Anyway, I just enjoyed myself immensely at the ballet tonight, and I’m pretty sure Kat enjoyed herself, too (I love that they give me an extra press pass). The seats were amazing, about five rows back from the orchestra pit, and the stage was so huge. For a ballet like the Nutcracker there’s so much activity going on across every inch of it that you can’t possibly capture everything that’s going on at once! Adding to the excitement was the fact that I’m starting to know the company dancers immediately when they enter the stage. I have my favorites (don’t we all?) and not so favorites, and it’s almost to the point where all I need to see is their dancing (not even their faces) to know who they are. I enjoy finding new favorites, and picking out the ones I love from the corps pieces (not that they’re often in the corps). It adds that much more entertainment to my evening.

Anyway, I really just want to plug the Chicago arts scene. I feel like the city is so often tied to its mediocre sports teams, that sometimes people overlook its wealth of actually stellar cultural offerings. We may not be as expansive as New York City, but we’ve got a heavy concentration of artistic venues. I mean, there are so many jazz, blues, orchestra, etc. options, not to mention the local band scene, if you’re into that. The Joffrey’s offerings are self-explanatory, and there are other dance companies worth seeing, too, although their names are not as widely-known. I can't even begin to count the number of local theatre and improv troupes. Plus, we've got a range of film festivals, and the museums include your favorite staples (like the impressionist gallery at the Art Institute) as well as enticing exhibits rolling in and out of the countless city museums. There’s always something new to capture, or something old, as the case may be. Which reminds me that, beyond the world of the Joffrey Ballet, I need to get back into those scenes, myself. I know that if I let the cold temperatures become an excuse, I could lose three months of culture, which sounds much riskier than a little teeth-chattering.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

El Racing

It’s rather infrequently that I travel up to north Chicago these days. So, today, as the Red and Brown lines rushed me northward toward Ravenswood to meet Liz for coffee, and I watched the John Hancock grow increasingly diminutive, it actually felt like an extremely long journey. The path I had traced every day coming to and from work when I lived in Uptown is actually becoming unfamiliar to me now, since my life is pretty concentrated in downtown Chicago.

On my way home after coffee, after I had made my transfer from the Brown to Red line at Belmont, I was reminded of how much fun that El ride can be (forgive me for being so easily amused). Because today we got to race. At Fullerton, both the southbound Brown line and Red line trains took off at once. The Brown line was off to an early start, and for a second I thought we would lose. But it wasn’t long before the Red line smoked ‘em, as it zipped past the Brown line train, which was forced to make a stop. I love when the trains are timed just right like that, because it reminds me of riding on the Gemini roller coaster at Cedar Point, where the red and blue cars would take off together, and you’d race each other until the end of the ride (blue almost always won).

My favorite part of the simultaneous takeoff from Belmont, though, is that split-second of adrenaline when it seems as though the trains might crash into each other as they converge to run side-by-side. It always makes my breath catch in my throat for the briefest moment but then I relax when, surely enough, the trains start riding safely on their parallel courses. It’s not quite as exciting as riding a roller coaster, but it amuses me. Plus, you get to peer into the train next to you as you ride alongside each other. It would be more fun if you could taunt one another like everyone does on the Gemini, but, well, there’s urban transportation and then there’s Cedar Point.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


We had flurries today! It’s so much easier to be excited about snow when it stalls until December to get here. At work, my desk doesn’t face the window, but one of my supervisor’s does, and I could hardly concentrate while she prepped me for our conference call, because I was so distracted by the snowflakes drifting about just beyond her desk. Granted, they were sparse, yet, I couldn’t help but stare out the window at each tiny little spec of white as it drifted down from the clouds not too far above us.

By the time I went outside, sadly, the flakes were gone. Sigh. I can’t wait for those wintry nights, when you’re walking home after a long day at work, and the snow just wafts down around you, landing in soft piles of white. If you read my posts from last winter, you know how snow inspires me. Yes, I absolutely despise digging my car out of the snow, and I am no fan of driving in it (especially in Kentucky—woooaaa, scary--thank goodness I'm not doing that one again anytime soon!). But, God, it’s beautiful. I’ve always been of the mind that if it’s going to be cold, it had better be snowing.

Part of me is also hoping for some sub-zero Thursdays, too. (You just read that and cursed me, I know.) But only so that I can trek over to the Art Institute on their free night and have the place practically all to myself again, like I did last winter. It was unforgettable to walk into a gallery and find the room filled with nothing but me and fifty masterpieces. Seriously.

There’s just no denying it—there’s something magical about winter. Well, there’s magic when you’re looking at it from December’s eyes, anyway. Oh, Chicago Winters. I’ve only seen one of you and we had a very heated (er, frigid) love-hate relationship. Let’s see if I can sustain my adoration for you beyond December, before the appeal of Spring sweeps me off my feet.