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.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The November blogging experiment

So here's what happened: I intended to do NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month this year. I did it "successfully" last year. Successful in that I managed to get a post up for every day of the month, but most were so quick and self-consciously talking about being for NaBloPoMo, especially the ones I did when visiting a friend out of state and using his computer. I was glad I did it to get a habit of blogging, but it became too much of a chore.

I signed up on BlogHer again this year for City of Destiny to be a NaBloPoMo participant, and decided to go the extra step of blogging every day on my nearly dormant sports blog, A Little Chippy, too. And I gave myself the additional challenge of making absolutely no NaBloPoMo references when posting here (I was more self-conscious with it on the other blog), just trying to look like I was back to blogging. Sort of. I mean, they still weren't lengthy story/photo-essay posts like the best ones I did around 2008.

I enjoyed doing it, even if I was a bit dishonestly catching up on several days' worth of posts at a time sometimes. I thought that was better than just quitting a few days in. And I got into a weird trap where I felt I couldn't link posts on social media if they were from a couple days ago and I didn't have new posts updated to the current day, if that makes any sense.

But then I had two out-of-state trips in one week, with less than a day in between. I could have blogged from my friend's computer (or even from my phone, though I've never tried) and I could have blogged from a computer at my parents', but I just didn't care to do that. I came back from the Thanksgiving week trips--and by the way, November is a terrible month for NaNoWriMo or NaBloPoMo, given that many people travel for the holiday (or host, and have a lot to do) and might be in the same dilemma as me, if they don't have a laptop--with many days to catch up on.

I felt overwhelmed with catching up on over a week of posts, and wondered what the point was. It's not a whiny "no one's reading my blog!" thing; it's that I didn't know anyone else doing NaBloPoMo to support me (and I didn't read any of the other participants except for clicking on a few things through Twitter) or anyone I knew clearly following my attempt and supporting me and nudging me to get more done. I struggled with the thought of catching up on all those short posts on both blogs the last couple days of November. I felt bad I failed at this. Then I realized I didn't complete NaBloPoMo here, but that I got halfway through the month on two blogs, which is the equivalent of a month, right? (Actually a total of 31 posts.) That's not awful.

Just to prove I did think about what to possibly post on these blogs, here's a rare and odd glimpse into the thought process, a list of what I did or saw in the second half of November. I had photos, links, and screenshots to go with some of the items. Some will end up in posts eventually!

Thank you to anyone who read anything I did in November!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Black Friday approaching

I wrote about it last week, but this...yeah. I just had to post.

And in other fun things on the internet other people found for me, this site is still up:

And pointed out to me on Twitter, after I'd commented on this week's syrup AND flour (separate incidents) highway spills in Chicagoland, saying there needs to be a website devoted just to these stories (a quick Googling didn't turn up much):

Truck Spills. Yeah! A very well-organized site. There are some here I don't particularly want to click on...Alas, the site hasn't been updated since 2010. Surely someone's doing this on Tumblr by now?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Soup and sidewalks

Exciting to get to go to a favorite local event, Soup & Bread, held at the Garfield Park Conservatory (its usual season at Hideout on Wednesday evenings isn't till January). For a $5 donation I got to carry around a glass jar and try out an array of homemade soups inspired by ingredients found in the conservatory. I hadn't been in the conservatory at night before. It was fun to experience, if awkward to walk around (holding the soup jars and spoons and a map), and not great for photos with my camera. This one sort of turned out.

One of many soups I tried--this was beet and other root vegetables.

I'd gotten there with a just-bought CTA 1-day pass, and it's hard to be at the GP Conservatory and not want to hop on the Green Line and go to Oak Park, so I did, for a visit to the Whole Foods and Panera in River Forest. Buses home instead of the Green Line. At North and Harlem, an intersection I've been to many dozens of times, I saw this as I walked past Sears and just caught the #72:

What?! Another old sign of retail I hadn't seen before...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Forgotten Woolworth

There's few things more exciting than stepping out on a beautiful morning and discovering something you never knew about a place you've lived near for over ten years! Hmm, I don't know that this exact experience had happened till I discovered my local Family Dollar in Humboldt Park used to be a Woolworth store:

And this is soon after I learned one of the other Family Dollar stores in Humboldt Park (Division & Washtenaw) used to be a Woolworth! Both long before my time in Chicago. The Woolworth chain closed not long after I moved here and I visited several of the still-existing stores besides the one I already frequented on State St. (Logan Square, Little Village, others?). Maybe at some point I'd heard this used to be one, but it was still a shock to see the labelscar on the store Sunday. (I took these photos later; the sun was too bright Sunday).

Admittedly this more clearly shows the labelscar of what it was after Woolworth, but the L is in there! I hope I get better photos before they cover this up somehow. It's been a Family Dollar for several years, after being a day labor agency for a while before that and vacant for some time in-between.