Thursday, March 27, 2008

A festive, booze-soaked ordeal

I hope you don't expect this blog to conform to notions of "timeliness," after all, I still haven't posted my Christmas-trip-to-Iowa and exploring-adventures-around-New-Year's stories yet (and now those photos are stuck somewhere on my computer, not in my active photo library). Why look here, it's my St. Patrick's Day post, after Easter (it WAS an early Easter), so far after Easter that I bought a small boxful of various chocolate eggs tonight at Walgreens for 75% off, and I'm enjoying some dark chocolate peanut M&Ms (the existence of dark chocolate M&Ms was utterly hidden from me until I saw that bag 50% off this week). And last night I finally opened the bottle of glogg I bought in Andersonville in December...

Anyway, I've ignored most St. Pat's festivities in Chicago all these years--never been to the downtown parade, never seen the river dyed (they say it's environmentally safe) green. Nor had I ever seen the South Side Irish Parade, held earlier than downtown's. This year, March 9, so it wouldn't be on Palm Sunday (the 16th). It was an exciting Metra pass weekend for me. That Saturday I took my first Metra trip to the North Shore (its own story, uh, soon!), and I knew the best way to get to Beverly would be taking the Metra from downtown Sun. morning.

As soon as I got to Van Buren Station, I was worried. The masses were there, in ridiculous festive outfits, already drinking (I saw a beer can on the ground) and goofing around. It looked like every white college student in the 6-county area was heading to this thing. It couldn't have seemed more pathetic to be riding the Metra and going to a parade on my own, but that's what I did, scoring a nice upper deck seat to myself on a less crowded train, reading the new issue of Bitch magazine, observing some great future exploration/photo opportunities out the window. As if you weren't getting enough green in this post, here's a shot of the abandoned Kennedy-King college campus (the new one replaced what used to be Chicago's third-biggest shopping district, the 63rd & Halsted part of Englewood) with that lovely Metra window tint.

Though the parade started at 103rd, I got out at 95th. East of Damen, so I had nearly a mile to walk to the parade's start. I'd meant to eat at Top Notch Beefburgers, but they turned out to be closed on Sunday, and I wasn't sure if a shake for breakfast would have been a good idea anyway. I bought a book at Borders (for a book club the next night I missed anyway) and ate at Theodore's, on 95th west of Western. It's a bustling (well, both times I've gone on a Sun. morning) family restaurant place with a huge menu, and cocktails, and since my previous visit, is the only place like this I know of with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Good knowledge for the future, but I stuck with a traditional hearty breakfast. I walked down Western getting a few photos of the signs--The Plaza, various neon delights--but those didn't turn out.

I think my favorite part of a parade is catching moments of setup and rehearsal and then the aftermath, so that's most of the photos here; shots of floats and bands blocked by crowds don't tend to turn out as well. So, there's the pink city truck (above) and shamrock-hoisting and whatnot. And the special Daley family trolley--I never actually saw the mayor, though.

This stretch of Western has a couple pancake houses I've never visited; here's the Original P.H. I don't have much to say about the parade itself. It was fine. Music, dancing, community groups, unions, politicians, TV stations, etc. But now...I've got to start ranting about the crowd. OH MY GOD THE HORROR, THE HORROR OF THIS. I won't say anything so brash as "I'll never complain about drunken Cubs fans again," but henceforth any complaining about them will be tempered with "Hey, at least they're not as bad as the South Side Irish Parade spectators."

I expected drinking, despite all the reports that the police would have zero tolerance for drinking outside (zero meaning 99.5%, apparently). I expected young, boisterous people, though I admit I had a terribly quaint idea of the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood as all tight-knit and family-oriented and ethnic and whatnot. ("Tight-knit" and "ethnic" has some historical implications, certainly in Chicago, of a rock-throwing and firebombing against "outsiders" variety, but I won't get into that now.) And maybe it is--note the "Hughes Clan" in the photo, they look like actual residents--but this parade is basically an excuse for North Side/suburban yahoos to clog up the streets with obnoxous drunkenness.

And public drunkenness is much worse when you've had nothing to drink yourself. All the young people with their silly green accessories, and how interminably long it was taking to walk down the street, and the beer and cans and bottles on the ground, and cigar smoke everywhere (is that a big Irish thing?) were wearing me out. It was like being at Spring Break, except in the middle of the Midwest on a cloudy cold day so you weren't even seeing any skin (excepting the few idiots wearing shorts or flip-flops). After a few minutes, I'd had enough, but since I was on the wrong side of the parade route, I couldn't get over to the Metra or buses. I just kept walking.

I walked from 95th to the start at 103rd past the worst clog of people at 111th to the end at 115th. It was a relief to get out of there. I wasn't sure what extra trains Metra was running, and I knew there was more than an hour till the train I knew of, so I puzzled over whether the 111th, 115th, or 119th buses to the 95th Red Line were my best bet. I walked to 119th. The final shot's a glimpse out the bus window at an Irish immigrants' group float heading to wherever floats go after parades. On the bus ride I spotted a "new" exploration site that I got to the day before Easter (an old one to many explorers I know, as it turned out). The sun finally came out and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting CTA shots and visiting the school getting demolished. I've still got nothing against the parade itself, or the neighborhood, but though I'd missed this my previous 12 years in Chicago, this visit was enough to satisfy my curiousity about how Chicago celebrates St. Patrick's Day for a long, long time.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

From the ruined candy factory

Happy Easter and/or happy spring!
Originally uploaded by katherine of chicago

Happy Easter, if you celebrate it. If not, happy beginning of spring (such as it is). I wanted something a bit cheery here, and it just so happens that on my trip to the Brach's factory yesterday, to commemorate the six months I've been doing the so-called-urban-exploration, I noticed one room had lots of rolls of posters or banners. And this happened to be the one I unfurled. That looks like a knife or something at the bottom, but I didn't bring it.

Yes, it's only been six months at this thrilling but often heartbreaking pursuit that's changed my life in many ways. I first went to Brach's on 9/22/07 with a group of new and seasoned explorers from Flickr, and yesterday was, I think, my sixth trip. Alone, but I kept seeing one or two or three young people running around, and at 5:00, just as I was on my way out, about a dozen of them gathered on top of a tower. Weird. They saw me, but I didn't go over, because I wasn't sure how to ask a big group, "What are you doing here?" But I think they were taggers, not explorers.

I spent the early afternoon at a "new" place I noticed a couple weeks ago--but when I got close I saw the name and realized I'd been told about it before. It's a wonderfully ruined factory, and the sun and the snow covering everything made it even better. I spent mid-afternoon at Brach's, and then went to my ridiculous obsession, Westinghouse, where I ran into some other explorers again, finally. I'm off for a Easter morning visit there now. If you haven't seen my Brach's photos the set is here. A candy factory for Easter, seems somewhat appropriate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A round-up of recent publicity

People going home from work
Originally uploaded by katherine of

I can almost feel myself getting back into the blog thing (which includes reading/commenting on everyone else's--I haven't signed into Blogger in well over a week at this point). Forgive me for not writing anything of consequence on the many important things going on in the world, and just putting up some links. The past few weeks--starting not too long after I fixed my photo sizes on Flickr (still just over halfway through replacing them in the photostream, though)--have been pretty cool photo-wise. The websites mentioned here don't always tell you when they're using your photos; sometimes you find out through the "Flickr Stats" function and sometimes people you know tell you. So, in chronological order:

A couple photos show up in this post on Chicagoist 2/26

The Time Out Chicago blog on 2/28 used my “Donut Doctor” photo, my first appearance there, as far as I know

Whet Moser's Chicago Reader blog used a favorite CTA shot of mine for
"You Shoot" on 3/5, and gave me some nice publicity for my other architecture/exploration photos. Also, City of Destiny and my explorer friend Noah's Dump Site are on his Chicago blogroll, among others I know.

Chicagoist on 3/13 used one of my photos large for the first time—the one on this post

The “Merge” section of Gapers Block on 3/18 mentioned Dump Site and some of my photos. Interesting stuff about the architectural salvage business…

And then, the same photo on this post was also used for Gapers Block “Rearview” 3/19. They were the ones bugging me the most about fixing my photo sizes, so I'm thrilled I did and finally made it onto the site. I'm currently working on an article/photo essay for them, more on that later...

Also, on 3/19 I hit 10,000 page views for my photostream on Flickr. It was stuck on 9999 for a while and I tried not to check it too obsessively. It's also been six months since I made my first friends on Flickr that became real-life friends. One first contacted me 9/18, which I much later learned was his birthday, so I joked that I should wish him a happy half-birthday 3/18, and I did. I also finally bought a Ladytron CD 3/18, after it's been the music of choice on so many drives with him to abandoned buildings and so forth. Getting into "UE" is another six-month quasi-anniversary coming up. Please excuse my obsessive streak of commemorating everything, okay?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Too busy, and too lazy

Sunset from the Westinghouse Career Academy roof
Originally uploaded by katherine of chicago

I wanted to avoid ever writing a "sorry for not blogging" post ever again, but here you go. Last week was depressing for various reasons; this week, not so bad. But I'm still running around wildly taking photos rather than dealing with "responsibilities," or keeping in touch with people, or reading YOUR blogs. I've got a few coherent story-and-photos posts to do from the past week (a survey of abandoned CTA stations, a trip to the North Shore, a visit to a parade)...and I want to write those here first so when I put up the photos on Flickr I can link to a blog entry. But I'm so backed up on Flickr--that's what happens when you take 100 or more photos a day. Anyway, here's one of those photos I really liked but no one else was too crazy about. The extra hour of daylight is a great help for exploring abandoned buildings...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dear WBEZ 91.5...

With all of Chicago Public Radio’s resources, talent, hard work, and “objectivity,” when will you realize—not all your listeners drive cars? Not every listener is stuck in the car when you’re doing your late-afternoon “All Things Considered” pledge drive shifts. Not every listener is debating whether to “pull over and call,” as you recommend. Not every listener could use a WBEZ license plate holder as a premium for pledging (a WBEZ bike gear bag, or CTA pass holder would be nice). Not every listener “maybe even has WBEZ preset on their car radio," because they don’t have a car, or maybe even a driver’s license.

I know you’re aware of the existence of bicycles and bicyclists, of the CTA, Pace, and Metra, because you do fine news coverage of them all the time—mass transit funding, safety issues, bike culture, etc. You even did a story where your reporters competed to see who could reach a certain spot first—the driver, the cyclist, or the L rider.

I don’t mind pledge drives that much—you do what you’ve gotta do, and it’s better than commercials, and some of your pledge banter can even be entertaining, and disrupting programs isn’t the end of the world when you can now listen to them all online anyway. But why are you so relentless in assuming your listeners are commuting by car? (There’s also the assumption that the listeners are working outside the home at a 9-5 job, but I’ll put that aside for now.)

Sure, NPR came up with that cute concept of the “driveway moment”—the story you just have to finish listening to in your car—and even packages CDs of “driveway moment” stories. But what about those of us who struggle to find a good way to listen to WBEZ while bicycling? Or listen to it nearly constantly on the CTA, having to avoid the subway parts of the L while our favorite shows are on, struggling through the interference-plagued reception downtown (and on Halsted around UIC—I don’t know why that’s a problem)? Maybe your market research indicates the majority of your listeners drive—but that’s no reason to always shut everyone else out.

Perhaps this sounds trivial, but I’m tired of being ignored, when I’ve been a fanatical WBEZ listener my whole time in Chicago (remember “Your Radio Playhouse?” remember Aaron Freeman talking all Saturday afternoon?). I don’t have “driveway moments,” except when visiting my parents. I have moments of standing in doorways listening until I have to take my earphones off and go to the show or talk or class or whatever. I’m not NOT pledging because of this—if I put off pledging, it’s because I’m lazy, or paralyzed with indecision—what’s the best time to call? When a WBEZ person who’s an acquaintance is doing the pledge drive, so they might recognize my name when they read pledges’ names on-air? While there’s someone offering to double all the pledges received? When you offer really great “premia” “today only?” I’ve got no excuse for not pledging. But your car-centrism has peeved me for a long, long time. I wonder if I should note every “you’re in your car,” “you’re stuck in traffic,” etc. comment made during pledge time, add up $5 for each example, and send my money to the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation instead?

I’d already written this rant in my head when the afternoon of March 5, I got a shock during an afternoon pledge pitch. While on the Kimball bus heading to Lawrence, I heard Chip Mitchell, your reporter for the Humboldt Park (my hood!) bureau, say “you’re in your car… or the bus or train” and I was in shock. Awesome! The one moment of inclusion in years and years of pledge listening. There’s hope for you yet.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chicago birthday part two

Right after I wrote the previous post I briefly visited the Chicago History Museum, a place I get to scandalously infrequently considering how interested I am in Chicago history, and how it's just a bus ride away, in an area I easily visit 5 times a week, maybe? They were having free admission from 11-1 for Chicago's birthday party. I missed whatever performances took place. The Chicago Public Library had a table set up with lots of free copies of the books they've used for their "One Book, One Chicago" program. Now, I'm the last person in the world who needs free books, especially since for weeks now I've been taking out free books from this place. But I love "retired" library books, so I got The Things They Carried and The Coast of Chicago. It was the last copy of the latter, and a man browsing the table expressed disappointment to the librarian...he'd wanted to get a book set in Chicago on Chicago's birthday (my thinking too). Luckily, I pointed out that A Raisin in the Sun is set in Chicago, so I hope that helped. People who share Chicago's birthday were given a certificate or something, but my friend who does was probably at work at the time and like most people couldn't visit a museum at noon on a Tuesday. Oh well.

There's a nice sign section in the lobby, shown above, and an original L car. I also took a quick look at the Sullivan section of the architecture exhibit and the section on Chicago businesses and inventions. Surprisingly, the Chicago Food display doesn't have any of the Chicago candy companies (but it does have Wrigley and Cracker Jack). I picked up a few brochures. I've never been on any of CHM's tours but I hope to check out one of their L tours--they offer the Brown, Blue, Green (West) and Green (South). Green (South) is next Sunday...I think it's possibly the most interesting, and I'm planning to go.

I got some hot chocolate (just okay) and a potato bagel with honey butter (longtime fave) from Einstein. When I boarded the #72 at Wells, the driver said she'd be gone for "3 minutes" and I used the time (it really was 3 minutes) to take photos--no other passengers, and I don't know if I've ever been completely alone on a bus before. Unfortunately, the photos were blurry. But here's the inside of a CTA bus, for any of you who've never seen one.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Happy birthday Chicago!

Originally uploaded by katherine of chicago

Today is Chicago's 171st "birthday" and I'm giving it the same thing I always do--the "gift" of documenting it obsessively. I'm pretty far along in one major project. And my newest idea is to walk the entire Pedway, which has always been a mystery to me.

Chicago's birthday is also the same as that of a friend who's worked for the city for 20 years, currently in the Department of Bicycles (okay, the bike department of the Chicago Department of Transportation). It's a day after my mom's birthday and the day before my friend Jason's birthday. I haven't called the friends yet, but I called my mom. The line was busy, but when I tried again I learned it wasn't the modem, it was another call, because my parents finally got DSL. I'd been telling them to for years, mostly because of my difficulties reaching them. And my last trip to visit them was my first after getting into Flickr and the rest, and it was excruciating. Considering my parents both have websites, do lots of online research, have friends around the world, and put up photo essays from their travels, I don't know why it took them so long.

Anyway, if you can, try something new in Chicago today. Rather than some flashy architecture photo, I've put up this cute scene from my neighborhood--I don't take nearly enough photos of Humboldt Park considering how long I've lived here. Re: the previous post--I didn't end up on "190 North." And every time I post something personal, I get afraid to check the blog for a while, afraid people will comment, more afraid they won't...