Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day

Leap Day! I haven't fulfilled my goal to post much more here this here (but I'm back to every day on Flickr), but can't not use a chance to post on a February 29 (the third one since this blog has been around, wow).

I don't seem to have anyone I know with a Feb. 29 birthday, but it's my half-birthday. Yes I know no one who's an adult notices half-birthdays and I wouldn't if it wasn't Leap Day. This year I notice because it's six months until a BIG birthday. It's also basically three years since I moved to my great apartment and neighborhood I love (Feb. 28, but I was still clearing a few things from the old place in March).

I didn't have any grand adventure today but did run around photographing a couple things closing today after decades. Then I went out in late evening to two of my favorite neighborhood bars, the first one on my own where I wrote up a list of [x] things I want to do before I turn [x] (I also need a list of [x] books, albums, films I need to finally read/listen to/see before [x]), the second one to meet up with a friend. An okay night out for a winter Monday where the weather got drastically worse since this afternoon, if not the party I wish I could have.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Kedzie and Elston

A photo from two years ago still at the beginning of a camera card I haven't totally cleared off (it has 2014, 2015, 2016 photos on it now). The building on the right is completely gone and the one on the left drastically changed into a mattress store, but these vacant buildings were a sight I enjoyed passing.

This is Addison (E-W street) / Kedzie (N-S) / Elston (diagonal), the border of Avondale and Irving Park neighborhoods/community areas. Within a block or so of this corner: a 24-hour Jewel supermarket (a great thing to have in walking distance, I like Tony's better and it's closer to me but not open very late), a fancy coffee place/bakery (Sugar Hills, other locations are in suburbs), a burrito place and a Chinese buffet I've still never been to, a White Castle that was my first White Castle I ever went in before I moved to the neighborhood, then didn't get back to until it'd been completely torn down and rebuilt (and is quite nice and still 24 hours), a Chipotle, a diner that's pretty cheap and good and I'd visit more if it didn't close at 2 pm (and is completely closed Tuesday, which often seems to be the day I get the urge to go) (I didn't make it in in 2015 at all), a 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts that's my favorite of the 3 closest to me (not just because it's open late)...and this is four blocks south of another corner of 24-hour businesses (Walgreens, another cheap diner). And two blocks north of Revolution Brewing's excellent brewery and tap room.

Anyway. I like having a walkable neighborhood (aside from a few horrifying intersections) and walking or biking a lot is how I happened to get this photo. Not a spectacular sight but something you may miss a little when it's gone.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Happy New Year

From a Walmart in Ames, Iowa (the bigger Walmart on Duff Avenue, Ames has two) the day after Christmas. I liked the Christmas bear all tired out on the display of trinkets for the next holiday. I'm a little late with this (and my 2015-in-review posts) but I'm far ahead of blogging last year, since I only managed a sad post on 12/31 (it should have ended on a hopeful note, I forgot that!)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

on loss and writing

(I figured out how to sign back into this blog to post at least ONCE in 2015, sorry for the absence. I'm afraid many of the post ideas I have in my head are even bleaker than this one, but I'll try to balance it out with upbeat posts about what I did in 2015. Also I'm ready to finally update the blogroll soon for the first time in years. The following post was posted elsewhere online and got some "likes" though no comments from the people involved, so I'm a bit nervous.)

A BELATED POST ON LOSS AND WRITING. This is a selfish post. Maybe I'll write a less selfish one later, but here's where I am at now. Two weeks ago the week started with the one-year anniversary of the death of a writer friend, Lee Sandlin. I never wrote here about his passing--which I learned while checking my phone at a hockey game with a friend; I said nothing there--because I was so emotional at the time. I was sad for those close to him, sad I hadn't gotten to know him better, sad we wouldn't get more writing from him, but the fiercest hurt was that...he was there as the person I wanted to FIRST read the personal writing I was working on. Even though I only did this at one lunch with him, he was who I thought of when the many pieces I imagined the past few years (on visiting bars, on a bartender friend, on the horrible events of 2013 [which I have not discussed here] and how I've handled things since, on exploring abandoned buildings, etc.) swirled in my head. Losing Lee was a loss of hope about writing, but I couldn't express it at the memorial events for him because it seemed like a strange, selfish response.

That week two weeks ago ended with learning of the hiatus/closure of the hugely influential, indispensable Chicago website Gapers Block (explained in this much-shared link by editor Andrew Huff,, a website that's in one way or another responsible for how I know so many people and places in the city, a part of my life for over half my years here. They'd used many of my Flickr photos for "Rearview" (photo of the day) and it was thrilling, even if that very day I was cranky none of my photos had been picked in months. (And I don't think any were in 2015, while seemingly every Flickr dude I know had 5 or 10 photos used in that time. I know I'm terrible for pointing this out, but GB was what's kept me posting to Flickr occasionally while I have an almost unusable computer.)

Even more than that, they were a place where I potentially could have my writing published. I'd talked about so many ideas with Andrew over the years and had trouble getting them executed, but GB was always there as a hope. A place I could potentially get my start like so many other Chicago writers (I mean my start to a wider world beyond this infrequent blog). I visited a different bar every day in January 2013 as a project and on the final day, at a Gapers Block bar meetup, they said I should write it up as a story. I still haven't. I visited 100+ other bars that year, many more since, and because bars became such a huge part of my life in terrible ways and wonderful ways, I've been overwhelmed with how to wrestle that into a coherent story. But it was there as a place I could publish. Though I saw how much of the work was carried out by Andrew and how so many other worthy Chicago media outlets disappeared and thought "well, just so I write the piece while GB is still around." Then...the news that Friday afternoon, and again I was stunned, and again I felt hopeless. I definitely wasn't upset at him for the decision, but I was extremely hard on myself for my failure to finish anything. I ended up with one of my drinking-and-posting-too-much-embarrassing-stuff-on-social-media nights.

As with Lee's passing, I took the Gapers Block news personally in a way that felt like a loss of hope about my writing, and in both cases I felt guilty that that was my response, like what's WRONG with me that I make it about ME and my feelings about writing?! There's a downward spiral here tied in with a difficult year and a number of other losses (that week I was also freaking out that my bartender friend who'd helped me so much after a trauma had disappeared, and that I failed to submit to an essay anthology I've desperately wanted to), because in most cases I haven't had replacements for the people and things I've lost. (Photographer friends, road trip friends, friends to talk to late at night, favorite bar, favorite sports team...) I'm embarrassed that this all prevented me from effectively saying the public things I needed to about these writers. The thank yous, the best wishes, the we've been lucky to have you for however long.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A hello, halfway through the year

Hi to old and new readers. Of course I didn't mean to make it halfway (plus more than a week) into 2014 without posting, but it's been an unusual year. I feel I can still blame a lot on months of terrible winter, right? I didn't travel, I barely made it outside my closest neighborhoods, I even had six weeks during the worst of winter with no working phone, and until this week, rode all year on a bicycle without working brakes. But I'm back and here's what's up, briefly:

Big events of emotional significance:
June 21 I had a high school reunion in Ames, Iowa. It went well (except for one of the most horrific Megabus stories ever, resulting in my missing the more casual Friday night event).
It was also the first time I'd been to Ames since Thanksgiving 2013. I'd meant to come back for Christmas...or possibly New Year...or any of my family members' birthdays...or Mother's or Father's Day. For weather and other reasons, that didn't happen. (My mom kept my Christmas stocking hanging up a long time, though.)
Then June 30 was my final session with a great therapist I've been seeing since spring 2011.
Then July 4 marked one year since a very...interesting friend, a local bartender, came into my life, and has been a huge support during a lot of terrible things that happened since. My time at this bar has been a great source of photographic and writing material, if not in this space...yet.

Recent great news:
After months on the aforementioned terrifying bike, a friend spent weeks fixing up a vintage Hercules (British brand, no longer around) bike for me and gave it to me this week. Enjoying it so far!

After nineteen years in Chicago, I've sort of made it: I am included, extensively (words if not photos, ah well) in a COVER STORY in the Chicago Reader, "The ugly beauty of urban exploration", by a friend and excellent local journalist, Ted McClelland. It may have gotten you to this blog, since I'm linked. (Sorry I haven't posted urban exploring stories here in ages but there's a few good ones in the archives. It got me named an editor's choice best local blog in the Reader! 2008.)

And...there are rumors of my return, after four years, to the live lit scene, which wasn't even popularly called the "live lit" scene here when I last read, I don't think. First up will be a story about the bartender I mentioned.

Two current projects:
I don't do New Year's resolutions, but I started something I called "Things I've Been Meaning to Do." Every day in 2014, I either visit a place I've meant to try or long meant to return to, or start or finish a task at home (organizing, signing up on a website, a food I haven't cooked before), or anything else that fits the description. On my worst days it may just be opening something dubiously old in the pantry; on the best, long bike rides where I try several restaurants/bars for the first time.

And 2014 is my fifth year of "New Place a Day" (and third posting it on Twitter as #newplaceaday), where every day of calendar summer I visit a new-to-me place or have a new-to-me experience in Chicago, or wherever I am at the time. Obviously this overlaps with TIBMTD, and for reasons of time, energy, money, most of the latter project counts as the former project. (But I'm doing a few things besides.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

last day of 2013

I did it again, vanished from this blog for months, over six months this time, looks like. Life changed in some big ways just days after that (wonderful), in another big way a couple months later (terrible), and the end of 2013 has been...well...I just can't do a recap of 2013 yet. As always I'll set the goal to do more blogging in 2014, but I won't make promises. Anyone still reading this before I do a relaunch or whatever--thank you!

In between my "adventures" today--yet another New Year's Eve day I've gotten a $7 Metra pass and enjoyed the chance to take Metra lines I can't take with a regular weekend pass--and going out in the neighborhood for New Year's Eve, here's my last time doing some of my banal neighborhood activities in 2013. Am I making fun of my blogging with this post? I don't even know anymore!

Walking home from Metra! Not the Irving Park Metra stop nearest me, but the Grayland stop further away on a different line. I was tempted to stop in the neighborhood bar next to it, Kennedy's, but didn't have enough cash on me. Also didn't feel like walking blocks in the snow after a cold drink (even though I may very well be doing that later on NYE).

Last coffeeshop visit of the year! At my closest Starbucks, Irving Park & Kostner, beautifully remodeled this year. I go here because as of the end of 2013 my neighborhood (all the way from California Ave. on the east to the railroad east of Cicero on the west) doesn't have an independent coffeeshop. I got a mocha (not a holiday one) and sat and read a couple chapters in a new book on writing I'd checked out from the Des Plaines library. My favorite suburban library is now much more accessible because of the Irving Park Metra stop.

Then I got my bicycle from where it was parked between the Irving Park Metra and Irving Park Blue Line, walked it to Walgreens at Pulaski, locked it though I really wanted to see if leaving a beat-up bike unlocked in snowy weather would be okay, and made a few small, semi-necessary purchases to get cash back to go out tonight. This was all too boring to photograph (although sometimes I take photos in Walgreens).

Now to enjoy my last couple hours of 2013 and first New Year's in the "new" neighborhood.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer is here!

After moving to a new neighborhood for the first time in over a decade--a complicated process I, of course, still haven't posted about here (or anywhere, at least not with photos) I'm trying to observe when I first see common occurrences of my old neighborhood (Humboldt Park, on the northwest side bordering Logan Square) in my newer one (Independence Park, in the Irving Park community area, so I usually just say Irving Park).

I'd gone weeks and weeks and hadn't had the daily Humboldt Park occurrences of hearing sirens or seeing wrong-way bicyclists even once. Then I was literally about to write another tweet about that and heard my first siren in the middle of a weekday right then. Many since, but not too bad (except when my parents made their first visit and stay to this neighborhood last week, and I heard as many sirens in two days as in all the preceding weeks, of course). I still haven't observed a wrong-way cyclist for more than a block or two (making it hard to tell if they just were in a hurry and stuck on the wrong side--it happens to me--versus making the conscious choice to bike against traffic as about half the people in my old 'hood seemed to). My first time seeing it at all was two young people on May 13...going the wrong way in the Elston bike lane.

And the photo above? The exceedingly cold and dreary spring and lack of warmth made me nearly forget there's such a thing as opening hydrants in hot weather and I genuinely hadn't thought about seeing it in my neighborhood, but there it was on Central Park Ave. It's less fun on a residential street where the flooding looked like a problem than when I've seen it near the Bloomingdale Trail underpasses in Logan/Humboldt. Or perhaps it just seemed strange because only a few people looked to be playing in it. If you're going to do something illegal like that, get all the neighborhood kids to join in!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Just wanted to confirm I'm still here, although life changes that I thought would give me time and motivation to post regularly haven't done that yet. I moved for the first time in over a decade to a new place and new neighborhood (Independence Park/Irving Park), and I'm still settling in. Even after two months living there. Here's a photo that seems to work for now, taken in the new neighborhood (and this would be a good choice even if it hadn't been the Gapers Block photo of the day. See you here soon!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Candy hearts and plush hearts

This is late for a Valentine's Day post (and I'm only doing one because I wanted a post of actual photos in between posts about what publicity I've been getting for my photos recently), but I didn't get the photos until a nice long photowalk on Sunday from downtown Des Plaines to Allstate Arena in Rosemont.

I'll definitely photograph a Valentine's-themed display if it includes a takeoff on conversation hearts. This was a church on Lee. Another view:

At the end of the walk, longer than I remembered it to be (so I missed warmups before a San Antonio Rampage-Chicago Wolves hockey game), I stopped in Target by the arena and caught the clearance display, with hints of an upcoming holiday in the background:

All right, this is mostly an excuse to post the 2013 update of one of my most popular Flickr images ever, 2008's "What nerds do for Valentine's Day", in which I sorted and cataloged a whole bag of Necco Sweethearts. 2008 I did an 18 ounce bag and alphabetized the hearts and put them on my scanner instead of taking a photo. 2013 I found a 7 ounce bag at the Family Dollar across the street from the apartment I'm moving out of the night before V-Day and put them on an old cookie sheet, arranged by themes and words, not alphabetized. (The two rows of messages escalating from "TWEET ME" to "MARRY ME" is my favorite part.)

Flickr version with notes and comments here. The update was nowhere nearly as successful as I'd hoped, but it was the kind of obsessive thing I had to do. (I may have a lot of 5-year updates of projects I did the year I really took off on Flickr and the blog. Also, in part, because I've never fully finished posting some of the original projects.) Oh, and I got followed by the authentic Necco account on Twitter before I even posted this, oddly. (I'd tweeted my dismay that the store I was trying to buy candy hearts at only had Brach's.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hello 2013, and good news

Just stopping in while in the midst of a complicated move to a new apartment (my first since 2001!) to share three things:

My main Flickr account hit 2 million all-time views. These things are always fun to watch for, but I missed seeing an exact 2,000, fact I missed noticing at all for a while. Presumably happened last Saturday night/Sunday when I was moving stuff. Thanks to anyone who's been a part of this.

I made it to 2 million views (and five years on Flickr, and some other stats too arcane to tell you about) without reaching a number of milestones for my photography I won't get into now. But then suddenly I hit one--the first actual feature of my work anywhere!

My friend Jason--who's largely responsible for getting me on Flickr in the first place, as I joined the day after my birthday (when I'd talked about it with him at dinner)--put together this attractive piece on my work the past couple years photographing shopping malls. I'm the second in a new weekly feature on photographers. I answered a few questions, talking about some of the things I've observed, but didn't try to make a big statement about the decline of malls or anything.

You can go directly to the feature here or via this post at the CCLaP site, read a little more and choose a PDF version if you'd prefer. Also, KoHoSo on Tumblr put up this nice piece about it and my work.

The CCLaP piece includes dead malls in the Chicago area, Gary, Indianapolis, Madison, Omaha (and a few shots not technically from deadmalls but I guess they fit well). Also, this prompted me to do a lot of work organizing my Flickr photos, sets, and collections, and there's now a retail collection for stores and shopping malls, a set for all my shopping mall photos, and many individual sets for malls, most recently, the very dead Euclid Square Mall in Euclid, Ohio, and Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, IL.

And since I missed coming by to promote this, I also made it into the Chicago Reader's annual Photo Issue (along with some fine people I know from Flickr/elsewhere). I have two photos in the online version and the houses/mattresses one made it into the print version.

Back soon when things are less hectic. Thank you again to anyone who's supported my work, and big things are on the way...I hope.