Southern Boy in ChiTown

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dessert Awesomeness

I haven't been a big dessert eater the past few years as I've tried to lose weight and then keep it off. But when we ate dinner at City Beverage with G and D last Friday, the temptation was too great. They went for the chocolate creme brulee which, given the sighs coming from their end of the table, was apparently really, really good. I, however, after being exiled to the land of Dunkin' Donuts these last few weeks, went for the Krispy Kreme bread pudding. Yes you read that right and it was just as decadently wondrous as you might expect. Oh, and a scoop of mocha ice cream on the side.

My, my.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend

While a long weekend of nothing other than sitting staring at the TV and not moving would have been welcome after the last few weeks, I won't complain about the great weekend we had with friends and family. Flew back Thursday night to beat the Friday night pre-holiday airport nightmare and made it back only an hour or so later than scheduled. Worked from home Friday except for a trip into Research Triangle Park that I'll tell you about later (maybe) then met G and D for dinner at City Beverage in Durham. This was their first time there and we're always a little nervous about recommending places to our friends but they seemed to really love it (we certainly do!).

Saturday we got up and drove up to Yancey County to see my family - Dad's birthday was last week so we had a cookout at his place. My sister's family was there and we had a chance to see my nephew (who I have now nicknamed "Sailor Moon"). He doesn't leave for Great Lakes as soon as I thought, not until July, so we'll miss each other. Probably not a problem since as I understand it he'll get no leave during the 8 weeks of basic there. Then it's off to Pensacola for 14 weeks of real training. He seems pretty realistically psyched about the whole thing, so I'm sure he'll do fine.

Sunday we drove over to Mom's for brunch and to visit a bit, then headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway on a gorgeous spring day to Blowing Rock before heading on home. Today was the low-key day - spent most of it wading through a washtub full of Coronas on the back porch and visiting with J's mom and her boyfriend (her Mom's, not J's). Popped a couple of ears of corn and some veggie bratwursts on the grill and basically didn't move much. I did unfortunately keep thinking about all the work that I had intended to try to do this weekend, but after about the fifth Corona those thoughts receded.

Now I just keep thinking that I'm really not ready to fly back to Chicago tomorrow evening.

Top photo: Happy Birthday, Dad!
Bottom photo: Sailor Boy

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Early Parole

Got official word yesterday that I'll be able to cut my stay in Chicago short by a month, so I'm planning to ditch the apartment July 1 instead of being here until the end of the month. My initial reaction was basically "woo-hoo!!" but that was oddly followed quickly by some regret. Even though Lady J was planning to be absent from Chicago after June 9 in order to do a second-session grad school course, I have to say that I was kind of looking forward to being here in July when presumably the warmer weather that I've been promised might actually materialize.

I'll still be coming up every 3 weeks or so, but of course I'll be in hotels instead of this apartment. And I won't be here on the weekends unless J comes up with me and we decide to add a day or two. There's a lot that we've planned to do here that we haven't gotten around to and now probably won't. But when I step back, I realize how much I really miss working from home and how much more productive I can be.

There's a lot that we want to take away from this experience (I shouldn't make it sound like it's over 'cause there's still a month to go). We've talked a lot about things that we've found, done, discovered, etc. while we've been here that we'd like to incorporate into our lives back home. Like walking to get places (tough in the 'burbs, but we can be creative), ridding myself of some bad work habits I realized I picked up over the last couple of years, reducing the amount of junk in my office (I'll be filling a number of large brown trash bags throughout July and August) and more. There's no question that this has been a really good experience for me (and I think for J as well).

I'm not sure when we went out to Jake Melnick's for dinner last night and then wandered up to Rush and Division to have a couple more drinks at McFadden's if we were celebrating or trying to soak up as much of the neighborhood as possible. Probably both.

Monty Python and the Holy Musical

After missing out on tickets for Wicked, I was determined to get tickets to Spamalot and I did manage to score a couple of Thursday, June 1 (the 4th is the last day of the run). These are, uh, GREAT tickets. Ok, they're GOOD tickets. All right, they're inside the theater, okay? They're actually in the next-to-last row of the balcony, but hey - they're not the last row!

Hell, who cares - I saw Holy Grail in the theater as a midnight movie about 40 times, both in Charlotte while in high school and then at the Carolina Blue and White in Chapel Hill. We were even such fans that we went to see Jabberwocky - twice! So just being in the same city where Spamalot is playing is a cool thing - being way, way, way back in the theater is just bonus!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More Photos from the Weekend

Top: the last of the tulips. The only place I've seen more and prettier tulips is Ottawa. Of course they've got an even shorter growing season than Chicago, which is already pretty miniscule.

Middle: fire escape. I love the nests built on each of the platforms.

Bottom: detail of the Wrigley Building on a Saturday night.

Repeat Repeat

Something happened a couple of weeks ago that I've been fearing but hoped I could avoid. I went down to the lower level of the Aon Center to grab some lunch and headed back up to 7 to get back to work. I actually had the elevator to myself for once and hit 7 for the short ride up. After a minute the doors opened and I started to step out while a women darted in before she noticed that someone was trying to exit. I badged myself in to the break room and walked through to my cube, to be brought up short by the fact that my laptop was gone, as was my briefcase. It took me fully 30 seconds to realize that I'd gotten off on 5 instead of 7 and I was looking at the mirror of my space two floors up. Creepy.

Really, really creepy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Art Institute

We finally made it to the Chicago Art Institute (together - J has been a couple of times) on Saturday. We didn't have a lot of time but we got to see some really amazing stuff. It didn't bother me too much that American Gothic was on loan - it's never been one of my favorites. What I really enjoyed was actually seeing Nighthawks in person finally - it's a wonderfully intimate size and it bugs me that intimate is not a word used often about the painting. Most of what I've read about it talks about alienation and loneliness - I guess it says something about Lady J and I that we think of it as being warm and inviting.

There were some gorgeous O'Keefes that I liked much better than some of her huge canvases, including one that J pointed out that looked very much like a Steiglitz photograph of sun reflected on the New York hotel she was living in. Actually my favorite item that I saw in the museum was a photo that Steiglitz took of O'Keefe when he was first pursuing her - it's one of the most remarkable portraits I've ever seen and one of the first of the hundreds he was to do of her over the years. The Eames chair at the top was another favorite - and pretty damned inviting after a day of walking. We left the apartment at around noon-thirty and the photo of Lady J is taken in front of the Wrigley Building as we were walking towards home around 8:30 (before stopping off at Virgin to pick up the Arctic Monkeys CD that my friend Dave told me I had to buy) - we'd been on our feet most of the day and were pretty beat by the time we got home.

Trump Tower

Here ya go, Brad...

The top photo is what it looks like today as it really starts to look like something. Chicago is the true land of the skyscraper and people here care deeply about their tall buildings and their old buildings, but no one seems to lament the passing of the old Sun-Times horror that was torn down for the Trump. The bottom is an artist's rendering of the view down Wabash - I don't have a problem with the building itself (it looks sorta like a rounded off Sears Tower) but the siting really changes the viewscape from Near North in a way I have real problems with, primarily in that it blocks the view of 35 Wacker Drive from the north (the only clear vantage) and I think that's a real shame.

Spruyt Sighting

New Peter Spruyt sighting - Comcast's new Culture Fool ad campaign with Mr. T includes a commercial with our boy Peter in the shower singing "Born to be Wild" loudly, out of key and with all the wrong words before Mr. T bursts through the wall berating him for him lack of cultural awareness and pointing him to the Karaoke service on Comcast digital. It's pretty funny. And they're playing it in the Chicago market constantly. I'm guessing I'll be really, really tired of it by next week.

Creature Feature

My love of bad sci-fi movies came primarily from two sources - "The Big Show" afternoon movie on the Nashville CBS affiliate (complete with Dialing for Dollars) and WSM's Creature Feature on Saturday nights, hosted by Sir Cecil Creape. The Big Show was good for the old early Cold War stuff like "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" while Sir Cecil introduced me to "Godzilla" and the rest of the Toho monster crowd. Sir Cecil was my hero - the first year I was too old to trick-or-treat I did a great Sir Cecil costume and scared away most of the kids that showed up for candy (more for me!).

Later of course there was Elvira and DC's Count Gore de Vol (J was a fan of the Count's) but I haven't had regular access to a fright-night host until now, since we discovered Chicago's Svengoolie a couple of weeks ago. He's not Sir Cecil Creape good, but he ain't bad. But he's going to have to find better material than Killjoy - it was too bad to even be funny. On the other hand, we caught Pinata: Paradise Island on Friday and it was actually just the right amount of badness to be a hoot (and it had Nicholas "Xander" Brendan and Jaime Pressley to boot!).

While we've been discussing this tonight, J discovered a website devoted to horror hosts - just what we need, another time suck. As if picking up Mystery Science Theater 3000's Volume 9 wasn't bad enough...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

In the Navy

Dad freaked me out yesterday with an email letting me know that my 18-year-old nephew is going to be living about 15 miles away from me for a few months. Here, in fact.

Lady J and I are both having a little trouble coming to grips with my very smart but very slack video-gaming nephew joining the armed forces. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it was a possible solution for him and maybe it'll be good for him but pardon me if I have my doubts that the kid that fears pain more than any other human I've ever known is going to get through this.

My family does not have a military history at all. Neither of my grandfathers served, nor did my father or his brother. One of my uncles (Mom's youngest sister's husband) got drafted and served during Vietnam, my other uncle was in NROTC at Vandy but washed out due to health problems after a couple of years. That's it - that's the extent of it. I don't think my brother-in-law's family is any more militarily-inclined. So this is going to take some getting used to.

I'm not anti-military per se, although I have serious issues with the techniques that the military (all militaries) have used to indoctrinate its recruits. I've known very few people that have come out the same - some may have come out better but many come out demonstrably worse (read the frequent newspaper reports back home of domestic violence around Fort Bragg). Most of the people that seem to have come through their experience okay have been folks I knew in college that were a little more mature by the time they joined up. But the kid's been raised by good parents and good grandparents so I think he'll be fine.

And maybe I'll get to show him Chicago...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What's the Difference?

I'm enjoying being home for the first time in three weeks - it's been too long. Having been in Chicago now for most of the last 2 months, there are some interesting differences between there and home that are less obvious that the things like prices, population and weather.

Birds: It's rare that I see anything other than seagulls or pigeons in Chicago. I know there are other birds there - they just get overwhelmed visually by the predominance of the gulls and winged rats. On the other hand, when my birdwatching folks come to visit at home, they often never come in off the back porch, preferring to sit outside and watch all of our avian neighbors.

Piercings: I live in a college town, so multiple piercings of the odd body part is pretty normal. But here typically people either have some fairly standard ear piercings OR they go for the eyebrow, lip, tongue and/or cheek piercings. What I've noticed in Chicago is the number of otherwise unremarkably pierced girls with nose piercings. And I'm not just talking about South Asians. Pretty cute, actually. It may be a reaction to the longer cold weather season, which renders navel piercing unnoticable for much of the year.

Toes: I've gotten used to the fact that girls everywhere between the ages of 14 and 28 ONLY seem to own flip-flops of some sort and no other footwear. But for a city with really crappy weather and lots of walking, it amazes me how many women of all ages wear flip-flops or sandals or open-toed heels constantly. Lady J has an aversion to having her toes run over and she's had a hard time finding shoes that offer any protection at all. This has also apparently led to an inordinate number of women with what appear to be very expensive pedicures.

Homeless: Contrary to what you might expect, I saw more homeless people asking for change while walking down Franklin Street Satureday that I typically do walking twice as far down Michigan Ave. I don't know all of the factors that might explain that (a downtown shelter in CH being one certanily), but it's noticeable. In Chicago, it's clear they've each staked out their territory - you always see the same people at the same spots on the same blocks, where in Chapel Hill the ones downtown tend to roam around. Whether in Chicago or in Chapel Hill, it makes me realize that I'm no more than three bad things away from being out there myself. I tend to save my giving up for the IFC Food Kitchen in Chapel Hill as I feel pretty certain they'll use it better on behalf of these folks that the guys themselves, but it's hard to walk by and not do something. (Unlike some of my neighbors in both places, that doesn't mean I want to just get them out of sight...)

It would be interesting to get out to other parts of the city to see how things change - I recognize that I'm in a very weird neighborhood split between tourists, Loyola and Northwestern students and wealthy Gold Coasters. I have no doubt Glenview and Oak Park and other suburbs would strike me much differently. But frankly I'd not be having nearly as much fun if I'd ended up working up here out in the 'burbs.

False Advertising

After my run one night last week, I used the Axe body wash sample that had gotten thrown into my bag at the Virgin Megastore a few nights before and then got dressed and walked down to the grocery store a few blocks away. Not once in that time did a single nubile young hottie launch herself at me or try to tear my clothes off.

Advertisers suck.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

RS 1000

Like pretty much every college-educated male of the last 35 years, I went through a period where I replaced my Mad Magazine obsession with Rolling Stone. For me it was in the days when 9 outta 12 covers were Annie Liebowitz photos and they wrote about music that mattered to me. That period didn't last long - three or four years I guess - until RS was replaced by New Music Express, then CMJ and eventually various publications like Paste and Harp. Even when I was reading it, I thought Jann Wenner was a useless blowhard, but writers like Greil Marcus and Timothy White made it worth reading.

In the years since then, the magazine was clearly moving further and further away from music that I like, until it seemed that the only people still writing for them only like the music that was covered in the first 10 issues.

So imagine my surprise when I was in the newstand at Midway a few weeks ago while flying home and picked up issue number 999. It was actually pretty good - bashing Bush (yeah, I know they're a little late to that game but better late than never), other good articles, reviews of people that I'm actually interested in - very unexpected. So J pointed out number 1000 this week as we were heading back to Chapel Hill and while it's as self-aggrandizing as one would expect for a self-tribute, it still has some pretty good stuff in it. Two good issues in a row doesn't necessarily reverse the trend of wretchedness from the late 90s, but it's a start.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Conan-ator

I noticed by last Thursday that there were a large number of A/V trailers and portable power trucks gathering along the sidewalk on Lake downtown as I walked past from the Red Line to the Aon Center. My initial thought was that they were assembling for some TV filming over the weekend. There were more of them Friday and I kept expecting to turn the corner and find my way blocked by a commercial shoot or something.

It wasn't until Monday that I realized that this was all there for the taping this week of the Conan O'Brien Show at the Chicago Theater. That was an awful lot of cables running across the sidewalk for a TV show taping, but I assume that's what it takes. The Conan thing seems to be a really big deal this week for some reason - he's been on the covers of all of the local papers and magazines and there's something in the local news almost every night. I frankly have never been able to watch one of his shows - actually I've never made it farther into one than about 5 minutes, so while I hope folks enjoy themselves, I don't anticipate being there.

Home Sweet Home

Council backs impeachment of Bush

...the council voted 8-0 in favor of a call for impeaching President Bush, reacting to a petition from the Elders for Peace group from the Carol Woods retirement community in Chapel Hill.

Regardless of how high the real estate prices get, I can happily say that Chapel Hill still manages to remain left of center. I'm just not sure why they didn't do this in 2002 instead of waiting.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Out with the Gang

One of the hardest things to get used to with the "new" job (it's been 2 months now, so I don't think I can continue to call it new) is the after-work socializing. In my previous job, I lived in Chapel Hill while most of my coworkers lived in Raleigh or Cary, so after-work socializing was pretty minimal. We had a group that would do the blockbuster sci-fi and comic book movies with dinner but that was about it. Working from home made it even less likely that I'd meet folks for drinks after work. With so many people traveling to work up here (true both for my company and for my customer) there's a lot of after-work going out for drinks happening - I got pulled into that a couple of times last week with going-away parties for a couple of guys. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy it (for the most part), but with J in town and with me having way more work than I can get done during the day, it creates a strain. And of course it's always during the week, never the weekend, when I'm more likely to be interested in doing something if J isn't in town.

The going out with the guys from work is a good thing - the going out with my customer is more of a strain. Less of the latter please...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Latest on the "Patterfamilias"

Talked to Daddio Friday night - after a few weeks in the hospital and two weeks at a rehab place, he was finally home Wednesday evening. He's still got home health care coming in and a physical therapist coming in but he's home and that's what's important (and of course Sumo the Cat is ecstatic!). He's still got a lot of work to do but he's making progress. Sounds like the biggest challenge was trying to download a zillion emails via dial-up (his service seems to download them all in a bunch, so every time it fails it starts the whole thing over).

"Doing" Chicago

Despite continuing to work ridiculous hours, we actually managed to get out and enjoy the city a little bit. Lady J came down and met me at the Aon Center for lunch Friday and spent the afternoon shopping at the old Marshall Field and Carson Pirie Scott in the Loop. I met her after I got off work and we grabbed an early dinner at Water Street Kitchen (attached to the Hotel Monaco on Wabash). Stopped off at the Virgin Megastore and picked up a few new things (all horribly predictable - the new Flaming Lips and the new Pearl Jam and finally picked up Danger Doom).

Saturday was beautiful if pretty damn cool for May. I knew I was going to be working Sunday so we made sure to get out Saturday fairly early and I took the film camera out for the first time. Went to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Warhol show (I haven't spent much time up close to early Warhol - it was interesting although I remain not a huge fan) before heading over to the lakefront. Had lunch at Water Tower Place before taking a walk along the lake down to Navy Pier, just for the hell of it. That led to a walk along the river before heading up Michigan for home - we were pooped!!

Since I had to work this evening we got out again to do a little walking around and exploring. Headed up Dearborn to Oak Street (heavy window-shopping) and then walked around some gorgeous neighborhoods off of Michigan up towards Division. We stopped off at Formetto Mei at Whitehall Hotel for brunch before heading home to get to work.

All of this sounds pretty mundane but after the first few weeks up here it was a real treat. One of the best parts of it is that the whole thing was done on foot - to do something similar at home, the weekend would have to be done by car to get between everyone one of the things we'd want to do. I have no intention of moving to Chicago, believe me - but I am trying to learn from the experience here and I'm finding that I really do like being able to walk to do things.