sam and the goat

When I commuted by bicycle in #Chicago, my favorite part of my commute was wheeling into the loading dock area that sits directly behind one of Chicago’s most famous taverns–The Billy Goat. (I call it The Goat.) The Billy Goat of Cheezborger, Cheezborger fame.

The Goat was founded in 1934 by William Sianis, a Greek immigrant. This guy was a true publicity hound. In 1944, the Republican Convention came to Chicago so he posted a sign saying “No Republicans allowed.” The place was packed with Republicans, of course. What a crafty marketer.

The current owner is William’s nephew–Sam Sianis. I call him Sam. I would see him every Tuesday morning when I trekked in and out of the Goat to go to a yoga studio on Hubbard. Sam would see me and give me a wink. I would nod in return.

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One time he was in the back parking deck where I was locking up my bike. In a very thick accent, he asked me, “What are you DOING?” I couldn’t help but laugh. I explained that I was locking up my bike and scooted on my way to work.

pilsen: a prelude

My last seven years as a Chicagoan were spent in the Near West and #Pilsen neighborhoods–at roughly 15th and Blue Island and 16th and Halsted. I loved living there so much. Prior to moving to Pilsen, a neighborhood called Logan Square was home for nine years, and it was quickly gentrifying to the point where I didn’t recognize Logan for Logan. I knew I had to leave. When I was looking for a place to buy in 2009, I remembered going to an arts district event at 18th and Halsted and really liking my experience. I didn’t know anyone who lived in Pilsen and all of my friends were North Siders, but I thought, Why not move to Pilsen. It was something new. And in the process I fell in love with Chicago again, which kind of shocked me. I had been out of love with Chicago for quite awhile.

La vida Pilsen was great. It had its fair share of challenges (crime, some neglected buildings, and so on). But the benefits far outweighed the challenges. There were restaurants and coffee shops (really miss the family-run coffee shop, Kristoffer’s on Halsted, sniff). There was the Mexican Museum of Art. There were the sweet abuelas, tias, and tios who swept the sidewalks outside their homes.

There was the annual Slow & Low Lowrider Festival (I absolutely loved this):

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And then there were murals, created by artists from all over the world:

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I guess Pilsen was a prelude to moving to Jackson, Mississippi. I like living in places that are kind of foreign to me because it forces me to learn and adapt. Here’s to preludes and living in places unfamiliar.

the kentucky shelter dog that hit the jackpot: this guy (not guy the beagle)

Guy the now royal-by-way-of-Kentucky beagle. What a hardluck-hit-the-jackpot story. I have a rescue dog of my own (Nickel Short), but this story isn’t about Nickel. It’s about this beautiful Kentucky hound called Zeus.

It was August 2013, I think. My friend Nobu Hata had posted a photo of a terrified dog in a Kentucky shelter that was days away from being euthanized. He needed a foster and then a loving home. I was in the midst of getting my condo ready for sale but thought I might be able to help. Foster a dog? Never done it before but submitted my application. Done.

If you’ve never fostered a pet before and can, you should. It’s quite an experience. The Naperville rescue group (I forget the name) partners with KRRA–Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter in Hazard, Kentucky. Naperville volunteers drive down to Hazard and then haul rescued/abandoned dogs in massive vans back to Greater Chicago. It was a hot morning and I arrived at a church to pick up Zeus. This boy was exhausted and looked like broken goods. I couldn’t help but cry.

Two volunteers helped me put Zeus on a cart and a used crate and then I folded him and the crate into my little car.

I honestly don’t remember how I got Zeus into my 4th floor condo. He was difficult to move. I got him into my condo, and my Cavalier spaniel was not amused. Whatever. I got Zeus into the bathtub and gave him a warm bath. Actually four baths since his coat was crusty with all sorts of stuff. Pretty gross.

I took him for a walk in my neighborhood (#Pilsen) and passed two abuelas who gasped upon seeing Zeus. He looked rough, I won’t lie. I greeted the abuelas, and Zeus and I kept walking. Over the following days, Zeus blossomed. What a dog. I adored him but knew I needed to find a home for him because otherwise I would adopt him. And I knew I couldn’t afford another dog.

Zeus after 2

(I particularly love this photo of Zeus and Penny. Look at Penny. What a drama queen.)

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A few weekends later I headed to a backyard BBQ/get together on the North Side. I remember thinking, Bring Zeus. Maybe I’ll meet someone who wants to adopt him. And that, dear readers, is exactly what happened. I couldn’t believe my dumb luck. Or Zeus’s for that matter. Zeus sniffed and greeted a few of the party goers. Two of them, a married couple, mentioned that they were looking to adopt a dog. I extolled Zeus’s benefits, which were many (fully housebroken, great on a leash, doesn’t bark). I connected them with the Naperville rescue group, and they submitted their application. Their application was approved, and the day of the hand-off arrived. I drove Zeus to his new North Side home. Zeus’s new humans and I took him for a walk. At a moment that seemed good to me and when Zeus wasn’t looking, I slipped away and drove home. Again crying, but the good kind of tears.

You’ll be glad to know that Zeus’s new humans gave him a better life than I ever could have in Chicago. They have a beautiful home with a backyard where, I understand, he likes to run around and also lounge. In the winters, he likes to wear snuggly sweaters. His humans are devoted to him, and he to them. Heart, heart, heart them all, all darn day long.

south side interloper

Have you ever visited Chicago’s South Side? It’s a vast swath of city starting, in my opinion, at Archer (Avenue), which, depending on which block you’re on, starts at about 2600 South. And then the South Side stretches down to at least 130th. Think Pullman, Beverly, Morgan Park. The South Side is a massive place. And I hesitate to call it a place, per se, because it’s really a densely constructed quilt of different neighborhoods.

Nine years ago, I became a homeowner in East Pilsen at 16th and Halsted, which is technically not south enough to be considered South Side. So I was a South Side interloper. I loved bicycling in parts of the South Side. There is a pristine paved trail that hugs Lake Michigan. My favorite spot was this–at roughly 47th. I miss it so freaking much.

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I also liked bicycling through specific neighborhoods. When it occurred to me to take photos, I did. Like this one in #Bridgeport.

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Or this one in #Kenwood, I believe.

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Sniff. Miss you much, Chicago.

a violin named ruby

Tucked away on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts Building, located on the 400 block of S. Michigan in Chicago, is a magical place. Bein & Fushi. If you’re like me, you’d never know that sales of the world’s finest stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos) happen here. Don’t believe me? Have you heard of Stradivarius violins? They are some of the most-sought after on the planet and, yeah, Bein & Fushi has brokered the sale of many.

Are you ready to fall in love? This is Ruby. She was constructed in 1708 in Cremona, Italy.

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Source: Bein & Fushi, Inc. Selected Notable Sales: Ruby.

I happen to have a friend whose brother is on staff at Bein & Fushi, and I had the occasion for an impromptu tour and leaped at the opportunity. You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate how special this shop is. It really is.

There have been endless studies on what makes these violins so special. Steven Sirr, a Minnesota radiologist ran Betts, a 1704 Stradivarius violin, through a number of CT scans. Sirr wrote:

I assumed the instrument was merely a wooden shell surrounding air. I was totally wrong. There was a lot of anatomy inside the violin. Just like human beings, there is a wide range of normal variation among violins. When you are looking at an instrument that is hundreds of years old, you will see worm holes and cracks that have been repaired, as well as damage from being exposed to all kinds of conditions, from floods to wars.

Turns out there’s a lot of science to instruments like Betts and Ruby. To learn about the prevailing theories of what makes their sound so unique, head on over here with a proper shout out to the writers at Scientific American.

a requiem for bobby cann

In #Chicago I commuted by bicycle for 3 1/2 years before relocating to Jackson, Mississippi. I loved pedaling my way to and from work, which was located on the 400 block of N. Michigan, if you’re familiar with Chicago. It was always an interesting challenge to navigate my way through the neighborhoods of Pilsen, Greektown, West Loop, South Loop, and River North. I took different routes, depending on my mood and timing. I gulped fresh air like it was water. Bicycling was both exposure and freedom. Exposure to the threat of distracted drivers. Freedom from the dank and dirty CTA buses and their erratic time schedules.

Then May 29, 2013 happened. I saw news on Twitter that a drunk driver hit and killed a bicycle commuter on N. Clybourn. The drunk driver, Ryne San Hamel. The dead cyclist, Bobby Cann.

Source: Chicago Reader,Death of a Cyclist,” October 30, 2013.

As details of the crash emerged, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. San Hamel, a young man from Park Ridge and co-owner of AllYouCanDrink.com, got drunk at a Cubs game and then drove himself, his brother, and two friends downtown. San Hamel barreled southbound on Clybourn, speeding at 50 MPH. San Hamel’s vehicle smashed into Cann on his bicycle at about 6:30 p.m. Game over for Cann, in the most literal meaning. He died at Northwestern Memorial some 30 minutes later.

I read somewhere that San Hamel was previously arrested twice for drunk driving, and again, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance was searching for court advocates for Cann’s family, who is from New Hampshire. No brainer, at least for me. I volunteered and attended training at the River North Police District.

The day that San Hamel was arraigned at 26th and California I will never forget. Cann’s family and loved ones congregated. There were so many supporters for Cann that most of us stood in the hallway during the proceeding. Cann’s mother emerged from the courtroom flanked by family members and wept loudly. To see the anguished face of a parent who lost a son, it’s just the most humbling thing. Awful.

I was living in #Jackson by the time San Hamel was sentenced in February 2017. A friend reached out and asked me if I had heard about the sentence. I hadn’t so researched it online. For the third time, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. San Hamel was sentenced to 10 days’ jail time for killing Cann. Ten.

Chicago Reader published an article called “Death of a Cyclist” in October 2013. You can read it here.

evocative

For better or worse, there are sounds and experiences in Mississippi that evoke home (#Chicago) to me. The sound of police sirens at odd hours. The early morning but distant rumble of trains.

And then…

Wait for it…

Shopping at the Walmart located on Grandview Boulevard in Madison, Mississippi.

Not the Target located off I-55 in Jackson. Not the Kroger on Lakeland in Flowood. The Walmart 2720 Supercenter in Madison. This one.

This shouldn’t make sense, really. I think Madison is considered the tonier of Jackson suburbs. For example, the city of Madison has demanding architectural design requirements. (Read about them here.) Most of the retail structures have a greigy Corinthian feel. Uniformity is the rule.

But walk yourself into 2720 and it’s kind of like Chicago. A varied stew pot of people. The shoppers there are a diverse bunch. There are different races represented and, as far as I can tell, different income groups. Some days you’ll hear Spanish, which I love b/c it reminds me of #Pilsen. (Miss you much, 16th and Halsted.) People scurry around, sometimes mindlessly bumping into one another. And occasionally (but not often) there’s litter. Home.