Friday, March 23, 2018

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to John Elton, a partner at Greycroft in New York.

I wonder if his parents ever even heard of Elton John? And while I'm on the subject, when the singer was a young boy did his teachers ever think his name was Elton, John?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Whenever I walked past this sculpture...

...on the wall of an engineering building at the University of Illinois at Chicago all I could ever think was, I wonder if the artist ever thought this piece would become a home to so many birds.

But in January one of my favorite shows, Chicago Tonight, ran a segment on the Italian-born local artist, Virginio Ferrari, who completed "Super Strength" (above) in 1996. When we hiked miles 17-20 of the Chicago Marathon course last night I was able to capture it in the golden hour just before sunset.

Before we got there we ate dinner at Carm's on Polk Street just a few blocks from 1212 W. Flournoy. After dining on hot dogs, cheeseburgers and Italian beef the nine of us set out on the eighth leg of our journey. (If we complete the last six miles in the next two weeks that will make ten legs, not nine as I had originally planned. Where did that extra leg come from?)

When you get to the East Campus of UIC at the end of Polk Street you come upon another sculpture known as "Slabs of the Sunburnt West" (1975) by another local artist, Richard Hunt. Inspired by a 1922 Carl Sandburg poem of the same name, it's made of welded bronze and measures 30 feet by 30 feet.  

Mile 17 of the Marathon course is on Halsted, right in front of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. (That's actually the Student Center right next to it.) The building, which was originally a three-story Italianate mansion built by real estate tycoon Charles Hull, is the only remaining structure of what was once a 13-building complex.

We had left off there last week and resumed our trek south on Halsted to Taylor. After turning right (west) on Taylor we encountered "Super Strength" before entering the Little Italy neighborhood which begins at about Morgan. On this stretch of Taylor Street can be found Tuscany, Mario's Italian Lemonade, Al's Italian Beef, RoSal's, a podiatrist named Frank Zappa (I kid you not), Scafuri Bakery, Gallucci Realty, Davanti Enoteca, Francesca's, Chiarugi Hardware, Bacci Pizzeria, the National Italian American Sports Hall Of Fame (which, contrary to what some local non-Italian said, is not in fact a small building), the Piazza DiMaggio (complete with a sculpture of the Yankee Clipper himself), Conte Di Savoia Italian grocery store, Rosebud (where you can often see goodfellas and wiseguys at the next table), and finally Pompei, just before Ashland. They don't call the neighborhood Little Italy for nothing!

We turned left (south) on Ashland and walked a pretty nondescript mile or so to 18th Street in Pilsen. The Illinois Medical District was to our right (west), Adams/Medill Park was to our left (east), and the twin towers of St. Adalbert's Catholic Church was off in the distance to the southwest. When we turned left (east) on 18th we entered the Pilsen equivalent of Taylor Street. I told the guys that the neighborhood was originally Bohemian (hence the name Pilsen), then became largely Mexican, but is now turning bohemian again, only this time with a lower case "B." (What were once called "beatniks" in the 1950s and "hippies" in the 1960s are now known as "hipsters." But they are all "bohemians.") Rather than list all the Mexican establishments along 18th Street, allow me to recommend Taqueria Los Comales, Coyotes, the Frida Room, Cafe Jumping Bean, Azul 18 and, farther down the street, Dia De Los Tamales.

When we came to the corner of 18th and Allport one of the guys put me on the spot and asked me how I would describe the architecture in the neighborhood. On our right was Thalia Hall and to the left was St. Procopius Catholic Church. I noted the rounded arches of each which would be characteristic of Romanesque, although the spire of St. Procopius reminded me of the later Gothic style. The heavy stones that make up Thalia Hall are also typical of Romanesque so I took a chance and suggested the architect may have been Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed a number of works in Chicago. Alas, Mr. Richardson died in 1886, six years before Thalia Hall was completed.

Turns out that Thalia Hall, which houses Dusek's Board & Beer (arguably the nicest restaurant in Pilsen) was built in 1892 by the architects Faber & Pagel, who modeled it after the Prague opera house, which has been described as neo-Renaissance.

St. Procopius, on the north side of the street, was built in 1883 by a Mr. P. Huber in the -- yes! -- Romanesque style. (I actually took that picture of the church last week when the sun was still up.)

At the corner of 18th and Racine is Honky Tonk BBQ, which I understand is quite good, and a few steps down is La Vaca Margarita Bar, which may have the best tacos I have ever eaten. A little farther, just before Carpenter, is HaiSous (is that a play on "Jesus"?) Vietnamese Kitchen which has an interesting Vietnamese coffee house connected to it. With the La Catrina Cafe, just after Miller Street, and Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery on Halsted, one notices the lack of a Starbucks in the neighborhood. Although I suspect Pilsen will eventually go the way of, say, Wicker Park, in the not too distant future, right now it is definitely pre-gentrified.

Before leaving 18th Street I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Pilsen Community Books (a very cool used bookstore), Simone's, on the corner of 18th and Morgan, where my wife and I can often be found enjoying a cheeseburger and a beer on a late Friday afternoon, and the barber shop (somewhere) where I got my hair cut once for only five dollars!

After Simone's there's a ton of empty land between Morgan and Halsted. People in the suburbs always look surprised when I tell them how much empty land there is in the city, but it's true. And if they ever build "up" Chicago will be able to accommodate many more people than the approximately 2.7 million inhabitants right now. Mark my words: the city is only going to get nicer and nicer.

At Halsted Street we reached Mile 20 of the Marathon course and caught the Number 8 bus for home. After hiking through two of the city's most ethnically identified neighborhoods -- Italian and Mexican -- next week we'll be passing through another, Chinatown. That should take us to State and 33rd, within spitting distance of "Sox Park" and the final leg back to Grant Park.

Monday, March 12, 2018

There was an interesting piece... the Times yesterday about a guy in Ohio who has observed a personal news blackout since Trump was elected in 2016.

From "The Man Who Knew Too Little" (my emphasis):

At first, the experiment didn’t have a name.

Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he’d take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics.

Donald Trump’s victory shook him. Badly. And so Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan.

He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.

“It was draconian and complete,” he said. “It’s not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation. It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust.”

It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.

James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. “Alternative facts.” Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore.

He knows none of it. To Mr. Hagerman, life is a spoiler.

“I just look at the weather,” said Mr. Hagerman, 53, who lives alone on a pig farm in southeastern Ohio. “But it’s only so diverting.”

He says he has gotten used to a feeling that he hasn’t experienced in a long time. “I am bored,” he said. “But it’s not bugging me.”

It takes meticulous planning to find boredom. Mr. Hagerman commits as hard as a method actor, and his self-imposed regimen — white-noise tapes at the coffee shop, awkward scolding of friends, a ban on social media — has reshaped much of his life.

Extreme as it is, it’s a path that likely holds some appeal for liberals these days — a D.I.Y. version of moving to Canada.

And I've found myself, if not by design, doing something similar lately. Oh, I still read the paper and my usual websites (although less) and watch some CNN and MSNBC, but, as I've been telling people lately, I just can't follow the news like I used to because it's so depressing. (And that includes easing up a little on Twitter.) Trump and the Republicans just do something outrageous practically every day without consequences. It's very discouraging.

So, as a result I've been looking elsewhere, such as learning more about state and local politics, which I have practically ignored since I moved to Chicago 37 years ago. (Why have I never been interested in local politics? Good question; maybe because they're so dirty. But ever since moving back to the city almost four years ago I've gotten interested in city and state issues. Go figure.)

I've also been reading more books, and ones not having anything to do with politics. Lately I've reread The Magnificent Ambersons; read Trumpocracy, by David Frum (okay, that one's about politics); and am currently in the middle of A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (whom I've never been able to read before) and The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond by Michio Kaku, a scientist whom I'd seen on Chicago Tonight. (Excellent show, by the way.) This last one is especially important for me as I have never read a book about science before (I don't think) so it's really expanding my horizons. (If you've never read a book like this I urge you to give it a try; it's incredibly readable and the author is fascinating.)

And when I'm not reading I'm binge-watching all the TV shows I've missed in the last few years. I'm now caught up on Transparent and The Americans and am currently watching Downton Abbey and Divorce (in real time). Twin Peaks could be next.

So maybe Donald Trump is accidentally doing me a favor. Maybe I'm finally getting out of the weeds of national politics and stretching a little. I'm not completely ignorant like the guy in that Times article, but it feels good to be a little less frustrated at every outrage coming out of Washington these days.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Last night, when we embarked...

...on the seventh leg of the Marathon course a thought entered my head that often does at the beginning of each weekly Hike: there won't be much of interest to see tonight. And, as always, I was wrong.

We began the evening where we left off last week, at the corner of Adams and Racine, just after Mile 13. (I didn't realize Adams is a part of "Historic Route 66.") We walked west and immediately passed that gorgeous mural on the side of Skinner West Elementary School. (Apparently, there's a Skinner North; I didn't know that.) Now I could start a real battle royale here by asking whether Skinner or Ogden on the Gold Coast is the better (best?) public elementary school in the city, but there's not enough popcorn for that show. Suffice it to say that Skinner has a very good reputation. Full stop.

(I remember back in the '80s when Ogden was a little yellow-brick structure that served the families that served the wealthy on the Gold Coast who sent their kids to Latin and Parker. Now, it's been replaced by a red-brick Latin School-lookalike that serves the nouveau riche (pardon my French!) on the Near North Side -- if they can get their precious offspring accepted. How times have changed.)

Walking farther west, we passed Skinner Park to the north and Whitney Young High School to the south. (Again, I could start a pretty good fight by talking about Young's reputation in the city. I won't.)

Whitney Young, the alma mater not only of Michelle Obama but also our very own Zechary Stigger, opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. I noticed on a sign that it's the "Home of the Dolphins," which I remarked was an unusual nickname for a school at least a thousand miles away from any dolphins. "I guess by 1975 all the good nicknames were taken," I opined aloud. Zechary corrected me, however, and said that it was no mistake that a magnet school would identify with one of the animal kingdom's most intelligent creatures. Well, as comedian Steve Martin used to say back in 1975, "Excuse me!"

After Whitney Young we cheated for the first and only time (I promise!) and turned off Adams onto Laflin and up to the Billy Goat Tavern on Madison for dinner. (A guy's gotta eat, doesn't he?) While this location at the corner of Ogden Avenue is relatively new, it's actually closer to the original Billy Goat at 1855 W. Madison Street, where the United Center now stands. (Did you think the one on lower Michigan Avenue was the first? Au contraire; the original, which opened its doors in 1934, moved there in 1964.)

We were in luck; even though there was a Bulls game last night we got there early enough to beat the rush. After dining on double cheezborgers and fries, the ten of us ventured back into the chilly Chicago evening. It was time to get back on track so we walked down Ogden and rejoined Adams and the Marathon course. It made me wonder, though: why doesn't the city take the runners down Madison, which I think is a more vibrant street, and then turn around the United Center and back on Adams or Jackson? Oh, well, no one asked me.

From Adams you could see the UC, better than I expected, and we turned left (south) on Damen and then left (east) on Van Buren to return back toward the Lake. We passed the rebuilt Malcolm X. College and the Blackhawks' new practice facility (which I hadn't seen and isn't even on my Googlemaps). To the right (south) you could see both the old Cook County Hospital and Rush Medical Center across the Eisenhower Expressway, and, straight ahead, downtown. (If you'll recall, the TV show ER was supposedly set at "County," and I used to get a kick out of watching the doctors step outside for a cigarette break -- on Wacker Drive!)

We turned off Van Buren quickly, onto Ogden again briefly, before turning right (east) onto Jackson and into the Jackson Boulevard Historic District. It's only about two square blocks but the homes, dating back to the late nineteenth century, give you some idea of what the entire area must have originally looked like. Such a shame to lose so much beautiful architecture!

Walking past Whitney Young again, we came to Racine where most of the group peeled off for home. The remainder of us ("And then there were three," remarked my son, John) continued on through the West Loop to Halsted, where we turned right (south) into Greektown. (I couldn't resist taking that shot of the Sears Tower, above. What a sight for the marathoners.)

Crossing over the Eisenhower, we entered the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, which opened in 1965 as the University of Illinois at Congress Circle, or simply, "Circle." (I'm glad they renamed it; I'd hate to have to tell someone I went to a school named after a shape.) We walked past University Hall, above, a Brutalist structure which is actually the tallest building on the West Side. After waving at Tufano's Vernon Park Tap we split up at Racine. We had now completed 17 miles of the Marathon course and will resume our Hike next week to about Mile 20, where runners usually "hit a wall." There will be no wall for us, though, as we are determined to make it all the way to Grant Park in the next few weeks. After that, who knows?

Nature vs. Nurture, Part Infinity.

The Times has a (very) belated obituary of Sylvia Plath this morning, the poet and author of The Bell Jar, who committed suicide at age 30.

What caught my eye in particular was this sentence:

Biographers have linked Plath’s bouts of depression to the childhood trauma of losing her father, as well as to her own perfectionism and her mother’s smothering nature.

Really? Maybe she was just plain born with depression. (Aren't biographers presumptuous? I mean, really, how the hell do they know why Plath suffered from depression?)

In the previous paragraph it says:

Worse was when Plath’s son, Nicholas, a fisheries biologist in Alaska, hanged himself in 2009, at 47.

Hmm. What was the cause of his depression? Could it be . . . hereditary?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Name of the Day...

...belongs to Jenny Craig, a middle school special education teacher in Triadelphia, West Virginia. (Were you thinking of a different Jenny Craig?)

Monday, March 5, 2018

David Ogden Stiers, who...

...appeared in four (or is it five?) Woody Allen films in addition to his most famous role in M*A*S*Hdied at age 75.

In the movie Another Woman Stiers plays the heroine's father in a flashback to her childhood. The film is one of my all-time favorites and I never miss an opportunity to plug it. (Stiers is mentioned in the above clip at about 2:25.)