Tag: Chicago

A trip to Chicago

Last month we walked around Chicago.  It was cold and rainy, and the kids were full of ice cream.  Hoping to warm her body and soul Asia pushed for a tour of the art museum, especially when she heard her old friend Vince would be hanging around.

Later we found ourselves driving through Chicago’s West Side.  One day I will make it to Alabama Kitchen and Yo Mama’s for pizza, but not before I buy some dirt cheap life insurance.

All that driving made me hungry for Korean food.  While I consider myself to be a man of the world, I was not man enough to order the Yang Jok Tang.

On our way out of town we hit the “New” Maxwell Street Market and then went to the old neighborhood for some Mario’s.

There is nothing that cannot be had at the “New” Sunday Maxwell Street Market…miles of produce, tools of questionable origin, fab tacos, luchador masks, and every bootleg hat imaginable.  I’d say it even beats the Parisian markets.  Oh, and if your arms aren’t too tired from carrying home a load of crap, there are some sweet pimp suits for sale across the street on Roosevelt.  Gotta get me three of those next time I’m in town.

*Many thanks to my niece Henna and her awesome husband for hanging out with us all day in Chicago…and for snapping the meeting between Asia and Vince.

Adapting to a new evironment

When I first moved to downtownish Chicago, my life revolved around a sickfast sport car.  Both my car and I hated Chicago.  Potholes gnawed at its chassis.  Parallel parkers ravaged its fenders.  Cops fed it a steady diet of parking tickets.  After three years of Chicago misery, my car breathed its last.  While still in mourning, the following week I bought a bicycle.  Soon enough, my bike took me to faraway lands never before seen from the highway:  Mexico, Poland, Ukraine, Greece, Puerto Rico, and a third world African country.  Within a month I had fallen in love with the beauty of urban life, its vibrance and its decay.

Four years ago I moved to a small town just outside of Pittsburgh.  I have to drive (a minivan) everywhere.  While I slowly strangle nature, I’ve learned to soak up its beauty.  Every day I drive to Home Depot.  And this is what I see:

It’s nice.

Party like it’s 1999.

On December 31, 1999, with 30 minutes left in the millennium, I found myself frantically crazy-gluing my glasses.  They had broken moments earlier when I had been hit by a newspaper ball held together with masking tape.  My $700 Sarah Palin frameless/rimless glasses had been purchased a year earlier for $35 at a Taiwan night market.  The glue-job worked as advertised, and within minutes I rejoined the dodgeball game in my backyard/courtyard.  Down to their last player, my team had suffered badly in my absence.  My return, however, turned the raging tide.  With unstoppable force I triumphantly picked off six opposing players to win the game, ending perhaps the greatest night of my life.  Indeed I have lived a full life.

One year later, I stood by my window, surveying the historic battlefield.  I could not help but notice that there were two teenage girls in my backyard/courtyard smoking a fat J.  One of the two girls, Sarah, I recognized as a student in my Math class.  The next day in class, Sarah announced in a whisper, “Mr. Neill, I peeeeeeeed on your lawn”.  So there’s that.

Rotten meat, cigs, rolling paper, and money.

Loomis and Taylor street, Chicago

I was looking through old pictures and found this.  The corner store closed around the time I moved to Pittsburgh.  Once in a while I’d venture inside, braving the stench of pee and rotted meat.  Behind the meat counter stood an austere 50 year old black man whose half rimmed reading glasses balanced precariously on the tip of his nose.  I never saw him read anything.  Working the register were two not-quite-obese, but dangerously unhealthy Indian men.  One maintained a jolly grin.  The other was angry and frazzled.  Good cop, bad cop, I guess.  They jawed at the customers, lazily ringing-up a row of black customers waiting not-so-patiently in line.

I would stand in the back of the line, pretending like I totally belonged.  Without fail I’d be ordered to the front of the line.  If you know anything about white people, (I know A LOT about white people) you can imagine my horror.  If there’s one thing we whities hate, it’s the appearance of having been granted white-only privileges in a room-full.  Funny thing though; rather than glaring with stone cold hatred, my brothers and sisters would smile at me politely, insisting that I move to the front of the line.  I’d pay for my rotten vegetables and leave, unsure of what had just transpired.

One day I got the scoop.  For years the shop had been grossing a measly 300K/year until Jolly began accepting food stamps as payment for cigarettes and rolling papers.  Business boomed.  In time, Jolly and Frazzle began selling money.  For $100 in food stamps, J & F paid $80 cash.  Business peaked at 5M in annual sales before Jolly and Frazzle were sent to prison.

Ah the old neighborhood.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell that rotten meat and wiz.  I should probably call the cleaning lady.

Four and a half years later…

On a crisp June morning, Millennium Park buzzed with wide-eyed baseball clad Chicagoans exploring their city’s new crown jewel.  Later that afternoon the Cubs would host their cross-town rivals, the White Sox.  Amid the chaos, Mr. Uwe Ommer snapped a Neill family photo.

Four and a half years later, the Neills moved to Pittsburgh, lost interest in baseball, bought a dog, and went Goth.