Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sick Day [SotCISoaJ]

I am sick.

I hate being sick. It feels like my body is rebelling against itself. I feel like I’m regressing to a younger age; back to a time when I was winy and helpless. I am usually very healthy. Not that I take good care of myself, but I very rarely get sick. So when it does happen, I’m reduced to a quivering mass of phlegm and other unmentionables.

The other night, I wavered between a death-like sleep and a fitful weakness brought on by fever. I swung back and forth between chilly and sweaty; conscious and unconscious; stiff and numb. The next morning, with most of the illness baked out of me, I regained some of my composure. But I still wasn’t well enough to make another trip to Chicago. I had an assignment up there. Well not really an assignment, but a possibility of one. If the photography gods were smiling on me, and the municipal workers were fast enough, I could take pictures of the holiday decorations. But instead I spent part of the weekend in a semi-coherent state.

Sure, I was disappointed, but I suppose I can take one weekend off from thinking about work. I wouldn’t do very well if I wasn’t healthy. And I need to take care of myself by sleeping and what-not. But I sure would have liked to see Chicago in the winter time again. The lights are beautiful against the gray sky and the snow. Although there’s probably no snow yet.

As of now, I am through the haze of fever. But my nose is still leaking and my head is still pounding and my cough is still rasping. Perhaps this just means I’ll be able to make the trip in a few weeks. Maybe by then my pictures will be full of lights glistening off of freshly fallen snow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Upturn [SotCISoaJ]

Working at the front lines of a cafe, you really get a good understanding of the financial times. I sling coffee, a luxury people think of as a necessity. And it's an expensive one at that. A $2 coffee every day before work can add up real quick.

From my vantage point behind the counter, I get to watch who's spending too much money and who has too much money to spend. The strugglers bring in their own cup or buy refill after refill to save. While the ones who can afford it, will buy the thousand calorie sugar bombs.

What I've been able to watch over the last few months is the slow growth of a struggling economy. When I started, the cafe had been quite slow. Morning was quite, lunchtime was empty, closing was deserted. The store was not struggling, but it wasn't doing as good as it should.

Then over the last few weeks, more people were coming in and ordering coffee. More coffee beans have been ordered and more pastures were made in order to fill the customers' needs.

Don't get me wrong; people are still suffering from job loss and poverty. This is just an anecdote for an area that is fairly separated from the problems of the rest of the world. And too often we forget the difference between an anecdote and the real world. But this shows me that something good is coming. Soon we all will be able to feel better and breathe a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Break (SotCISoaJ)

Looking for work is exhausting and the job, after you find it, is the same. One of the bits of brilliant sayings that runs through my family is that looking for a job is a full-time job. With all that work looking for work, you need a break to relax, calm down and think of something else.

For some reason relaxing for me usually involves food. At least that’s why I found myself walking into Urbana’s Courier Cafe for lunch. To me, a meal is not just what I’m eating. It’s the environment I find myself in, the person who cooked the food. It’s the whole experience of eating that I enjoy; the taste, the smell, the look.

This is what I was hoping I would enjoy when I walked into the restaurant and picked up the paper. I ordered a coffee and an chocolate egg cream. Luxury, to me, is having multiple drinks with my meal. I enjoyed reading through my paper and eating my burger.

Honestly, the burger was good, but not the greatest I’ve ever had and the egg cream embarrassed me with its extravagances, but break made me very happy. There is an old time feeling to the place that slows time. The wallpaper, the wooden tables, the menus, all feel like they exist outside of time.

After lunch, I sipped my coffee and finished reading an article about a candidate running for the Mayor of Chicago. I sat quietly enjoying being in the present for a moment. When I left, I would be back in the real world of worry, but for a moment I could be content with calm.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Drilling Threw (SotCISoaJ)

Perhaps I have lofty goals, I usually do. I am not content with being passable with any project I take up. Instead I need to be the best I can, in the best places. Sometimes this leads to lack of sleep, my eyes blurry and my head foggy with exhaustion. And sometimes it leads to a lost project or two. I figure if I don’t want to throw my whole self into a project, it might not be worth doing. This is how I see my job search. I have a goal in mind, a specific place to end up, but I have no plan on how to get there. I run head first into the world and whenever I hit something too hard, I rout around.

I feel like I’m drilling through the earth. Sometimes it’s easy going, I hit a pocket of sand or an aquifer. But sometimes it’s impossible, the rock is impassable, and I have to regroup and move around. It’s hard work, but I don’t know any other way to get through life.

That being said, this is my bullheaded way to live. Everyone is different and everyone works through things differently. Some need more planning, some need less. It is important to review yourself and learn how you work, especially when looking for a job.

My ultimate job goal is still not fully realized, but it is on a break. I ran into a wall of rock called having no money. To rout around, I picked up a job at a cafe. It gives me money and time to write other projects. I also enjoy the people I work with. But, it is at the same place I worked before I moved to Chicago for school. It feels a bit like I’m regressing back to my younger self. This is another rock to hard for my drill bit. When I get through it, I’ll let you know.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Faith (Sense of the City: In Search of a Job)

I'll admit it, my column has become a bit self-referential and depressing at times. I've been so wrapped up in my own troubles that I stopped observing the community around me. I started focusing on my own problems and eventually became blinded to anything else. It happens to everyone, the only cure--a little perspective.

My perspective came in the form of a long email a woman sent to me after a particularly selfish column. She asked me not to share her name because she is a privet person. So I will call her Elaine.

"It is Sunday morning and I just read your article and my heart goes out to you, for it is hard times for a lot of people," Elaine said in her email.

She went on to tell me to stay positive and that I will get through these difficulties in life. Her concern touched me, especially when I read on.

"I wish I could work. I am in a fight . . . I battle cancer," she said.

In early 2009 Elaine had knee surgery. Afterward she felt sick. Nothing came up on any tests, so doctors misdiagnosed her illness. It wasn't until November doctors found the Melanoma. She had part of her leg removed and is now fighting the after effects. Elaine is 45.

Her physical energy is low. Sometimes she can't even get out of her chair.

"My good days, I can get up for 15-20 mints and clean the house," Elaine said.

At the time of her knee surgery, Elaine worked as a administrative assistant with a nursing background. She loved her job and worked through the pain and the sickness.

"I went to work throwing up. If I threw up--I threw up," she said.

Eventually her job let her go. Elaine was out an income provided by her job. But most impertinently she was out of what she loved to do.

Before leaving, she set up programs to help her co-workers.

"When I left I was like: 'Man, I hope those programs still go through'," Elaine said.

Her lack on income is affecting her life as well. Elaine was on unemployment, but that has run out. She is now fighting through the paperwork for long-term disability to help pay for her mounting doctor bills.

The other day, I called Elaine to see how she was doing. She was laughing and up-beat. I asked her how she could stay so happy.

"Faith, that's the only thing that's pulling me through . . . with out it I'd have been dead already," she answered.

She went on to say: "My mom--she's my pillar of strength."

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Success Story (Sense of the City: In Search of a Job)

We, as people, tend to get stuck in our ways. We think of ideas and eventually start to believe that's all there is. At least this happens to me. Sometimes people find their way out of the tunnel and see the other avenues available.

After I posted my column online, which I do at, a friend posted her story, which I am ashamed to say I didn't know. She spent two years looking for a full time job.

"I thought that's what I was supposed to do in order to become an 'adult'," she wrote in her comment.

She realized she was starting to make money doing several different things she loves, including singing. And perhaps she didn't need a full-time job to support herself. She started looking for a part time job and found one amazingly quick.

"I've been here almost a month at a place that I love, that is exactly where I'm supposed to be . . . It's the most amazing experience I've ever had working," she said.

She took something that we all take for granted as wholly true and did the opposite and found something that worked. It's a scary thought, to go against the grain in such a way, but it worked for her.

My friend found her own path to support herself. Her way may not be able to work for everyone, and probably wont, but it worked for her. Perhaps we don't need to have the traditionally sought after jobs. Perhaps our jobs could be more like our clothes, tailored to our lives.

"Open your mind to other possibilities that might not have occurred to you," she said.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I need to make a little correction to my last column. I do have a job, it's just not really my dream job. (And that's not really even true because I technically have two jobs.) I start today at my old job in Urbana. Before I moved to Chicago the second time, I worked for about a year as a Barista at Strawberry Fields. It's were I learned how to love coffee and it's part of why I'm obsessed with food. Such interesting people shop their and the atmosphere is very relaxed. It will be nice to work there again, although it does feel like one giant step back. Like the last five years never happened.

But that's not what's important. My important job, the job that will keep me sort of sane for the next however long, is my stringer job. I'm writing for my home town newspaper, the Piatt County Journal-Republican. Don't try to find it online, because it's not there. I've been writing a column for them for the last year or more, but now I'm writing actual news stories. And it's wonderful.

At first I scoffed at the idea of writing for such a small paper so close to where I grew up. I came at it with a fairly arrogant and impertinent attitude about the whole thing. "Why should I bother with crop yield?"Aren't I better than this story?" [Actual story I just wrote: Piatt county corn and beans count.] But what I found their was amazing. Crop yield deeply and profoundly effects the whole town. Without a good corn crop the town economy would plummet and the world would starve. But not only that, these people are some of the nicest people I've ever met. They genuinely care about growing food and feeding the world. The meeting shifted toward the worlds natural disasters effecting crops, Russian drought, Pakistani flooding. An old man spoke up. "Who's going to feed those people?" It was a very touching question that woke me up out of my urban ego. This is why I'm doing this, to tell stories about people like this, sometimes it's important to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sense of the City: In Search of a Job

[I'm changing up my column a bit. No longer being in the city I can no longer write about city life. So I'll try to write about my job hunt, including tips from professionals who found their dream job and career counselors who help others find theirs.]

This oppressive heat is beating me down. It's getting to be that I can't leave the house. Even the cool respite brought on by the storm does nothing. But the heat is not the only thing that feels like it is breaking me. A job search is full of rejection and living at home can feel like failing.

I've been looking for a reporter position at a small town newspaper, anywhere in the world, for a few months now. Eventually I keep telling myself, I'll make my way back to the big city. But first I need to get to that starting position. One small paper in New York told me they received over 400 resumes.

Many people are going through this same problem in every job market. More people with better experience are fighting for fewer jobs. And the grind of sending resumes, fielding phone calls, going to interviews can be a bit much.

I was supposed to be the one who got the job quickly. I have the right work ethic and some skill in reporting. All my teachers told me I would go far, and I feel like I've failed them. But I guess everyone else is going through the same thing, I know at least 400 of them are.

I suppose this is not the right time to focus on negativity. Negativity breads more negativity, and soon you're swirling through a void of depression and self-doubt. Then, not only are you full of these bad feelings, but you're not getting any work done.

It's easy to fall prey to these feelings in this heat, sweat pours down your back and the sun bakes your brain inside your head. But we can't let it win. What's the point in sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. Instead we can strive for something better, whether in the community or in ourselves.

I know there are people reading this who are going through similar situations. I would like to hear from you. Tell me your story and your techniques, and maybe I can pass it along and help other people, too.

Dylan Heath grew up in White Heath. He just graduated and is searching for a job in Journalism. He can be reached at

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Travel Article

The News Gazette published my travel article about my sailing trip. It's not online at all, so I scanned it in.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A New Sense of Home (Sense of the City)

Perhaps the best part of taking a long trip is finally returning home. After seeing amazing sights, tasting amazing food, meeting amazing people; you start to see home with new eyes. Everything is as new and delightful as what you've seen on your journey, only colored with a sense of familiarity.

On the drive to Chicago, the skyline pops-up out of the tangle of on-ramps and freeways, and the first red line stop appears long before any well known landmark. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because I've already written about this scene in one of my first columns. Coming from the south is still one of my favorite ways to see the city skyline.

When I first wrote about it, it was filled from a sense of coming home. Now, I feel a bit of happiness from returning, but mostly I feel sad that I will soon have to leave my adopted city. When I pass the red line, I get goosebumps. When I see the skyline, I am flooded with happy memories. When I get on Lake Shore, I roll the window down and turn up the radio and smile at all the different faces that I see.

My sailing trip was meant as one last hurrah before I have to start my new life, whatever that will be. The only thing clear is that I can't afford to live in Chicago anymore. And besides, if I want to eventually live there and work as a reporter, I have to move away to work my way up through the ranks and back to the city. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

Though out this year and a half or so, I tried to bring a little bit of the greatness I see in Chicago to the area. I tried to show that there really isn't much different between the two places. I don't know if I succeeded. Perhaps with a little more time, I could have. But I can no longer write what I see or feel or smell or taste or hear in the city if I am no longer there. This is not my columns distraction, more of an evolution. I hope you will see my byline in this paper again.

My life is changing drastically, one way or another. My writing will have to change along with it. It might take me some time to find my footing, to get used to my new world. But I will, and I'll find my new voice along the way. After all life goes on. And I've got new eyes, and a new sense of home.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Across (Sence of the City)

My father told me on the phone before I left; "You're a different person when you're on the Atlantic on a boat." It's true, and I knew it would be. But I didn't know how true it really was until after we crossed.

My world broadened. My life strengthened. I have gone through something not many people do. I have learned more in the last month then I have in any class.

I made it across. The trip was an experience but the sailing was not so good. There was no wind and we motored through a lot of it. But the simple fact that I saw more of the world made it worthwhile. Spending all your time on land you start to think that's all there is. But the ocean is so much larger, and in it you become smaller. Out there, the closest land is five miles directly down. It's a humbling and frightening experience at first. After a while it become normal, but that idea always sits in the back of your mind.

My watch, from midnight to three, was lonely and dark. I stood solemnly and stoically waiting for something to come on the horizon. Every so often, a container ship would cross our bow. Their green or red running light shining like Christmas, told me which direction they were moving. It was my job to watch them, notice how fast and in what direction they were moving and to move out of any danger.

But now, that is done. We made it across and we met our family and the solitary lifestyle has been replaced with excitement. Out on the ocean, words are expensive and five or ten words are all that is necessary. After such a long it's always nice to have a change.

New Style

I changed the template. Enjoy it because I do quite a bit.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sailing #2 (Sense of the City)

As you are reading this I should still be at sea, however I am still writing from the past. Outside the window is cold and rainy and overcast. The weather is dreary and drab and damp. I don't sleep quite so well as I do when I'm visiting the farm. It's so quite and dark. I love living in Chicago. The hustle and bustle of the city leads to new experiences and an exciting life, but I can't relax like I can on the farm.

It's so important to have new experiences, to see what it's like in different lives. This is what I hope my trip will be all about. I hope to step outside my comfort zone, try new foods, meet new people. I've lived a relatively regulated lifestyle over the last few years: same school, same apartment, same food, same bars. Repeated over and over on different days at different times. It's fun, but perhaps I need something else.

A break from the monotony will help me transition from one point in life to another. It will create a boundary that says, "No more homework past this point." I get a break from everything I have done so much of lately.

I don't work well with change most of the time, but it is important to get out of my comfort level every now and then. I am excited. I'm happy to be able to do something new, even though I don't yet know what that will be.

The calm at the farm washes over me as I sit outside in the long grass as it sets to seed. The wet weather left in the night, now the sky is clear and the sun beats down. Other than the occasional bounding dog, the only movement is the slight wind working through the blades.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Horta of the Azorian Islands

I am blogging from a boat anchored on the edge of the marina in Horta, which is on an island in the Azores, about 500 miles away from and owned by Portugal. This town is lovely. If there was an English language newspaper, or if I spoke Portuguese, I would move here in a heartbeat. Considering neither of those things are bound to happen soon, I think I'm staying in Illinois.

There are real people here, with real lives, which doesn’t sound like much but considering some of the billionaire playground tropical islands out there, it's an anomaly. The buildings are beautiful, too. The sea salt in the air doesn't do good things to the mortar, but they turn these great colors with wonderful patterns. I've been going crazy taking pictures of doors. I like doors.

They have great wine and great cheese on these islands. Jump at the chance to try some Pico wine or Sao Jorge's cheese from the Azores.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sailing (Sence of the City)

I am not writing this on the boat. I am not turning with the wind and the waves of the sea. I am sitting at the farm with the ocean of green grass and songs of the birds. It's a farewell visit, before my long trip.

As you are reading this, I am fighting the big waves, or I'm tying up a loose sail, or I'm wrestling a big fish on board, or I'm not doing much of anything. I don't know what I'll be doing. This is all new to me. I don't know what to expect or what to prepare for. All I know for sure is that it will exceed my own thoughts.

I have been reluctant to talk about the trip. I've been worried about what people will say. There is a type of person who can sail, rich. And I'm not used to associating myself with the upper class. Rich people don't eat Ramen Noodles for dinner, but the poor rarely get to learn which is the port side.

I'm uncomfortable in this position. I stutter when people ask me what I'm doing for the summer. I look away, turn a bit red and smile; and then I say "Well . . . " After I tell them, they say, "That's amazing." But, in their head, I know they are saying, "Must be nice." Maybe not, maybe it's all in my own head. But I'll still think it and still get embarrassed.

I'm sure, once I get there--on the boat and out in the water--I'll forget all about my discomfort. I'll get engrossed in the weather--the sun or the wind or something. I don't know. Snow maybe?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cut Grass (Sense of the City)

The smell of cut grass hung in the air as I walked down the street the other day. That smell means summer to me. All through winter the grass lays dying in the snow only to sprout up in the spring. The snow melts and bright green sprouts poke out of the whiteness. Grass grows through the spring, but I still associate that fresh smell with summer, which is coming--quick.

Chicago lawns are a lot different from what I remember back home. The lawns surrounding the farm are vast fields of manicured grass, kept at such lengths by tractor-size lawnmowers. The size and quality of the lawns can only be rivaled by Wriggly Field. But in Chicago, we do not have such riches in space, but lawn owners still keep up the quality. Tiny two by ten foot squares in front of each house are decorated with flowers and statues. The grass is lovingly shaped with an exactness that can only be achieved with a level and scissors.

I guess summer can no longer mean a break for me. No longer will I have several months to rest from the riggers of class and papers. After this summer I will have to join the real world, but I have another summer to recklessly travel. Graduation is over. All my papers are turned in; all my classes are over. My school career ended with a fizzle, not a bang. Graduation was not the end; I still had a paper due. But all that is finished now. Now all I have to worry about it sailing across the ocean. I'll be first matting a boat to Spain for the next month or how ever long it takes.

As far as we have come technologically we still don't have Internet everywhere. My only connection to the outside world will be an expensive satellite phone that needs to be used sparingly. I guess no Facebook or Twitter for me.

I'm not used to this. Big trips are new to me. I feel like I'm betraying my class a bit. But the world is out there to be explored and new experiences wait. For now I'll have to enjoy the smell of cut grass, because I doubt I'll run into any out there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Graduation (Sense of the City)

The sun rises and spills through my window earlier than months before. The light wakes me up slowly in the morning and I watch it go down at night. The sky has been so blue lately. It's getting to the point where temperature in the 50's is considered too cold.

It's a beautiful day out today, but I'm stuck inside. I have to finish my final papers and projects before I'm completely done with school. I have only a week left. That's not much time, and I'm a little bit worried. Not so much about getting my homework done, because I usually can jam something out right before deadline.

I'm worried about what comes next. Graduation is closing in on me. It's the end of how my life was up until now and I don't know what will come next. I could tell you what I'll be doing this summer, but that's another column. It's my life after summer that I'm worried about. I've always been the type of person who needs to know what comes next.

I'm worried. I've been worried for a while, ever since I realized my life is about to change. But it's exciting. In a few months I could literally be anywhere I want to be.

As I write this, I look outside my window and gray clouds are rolling in and covering the bright, blue sky. The last few days have been a bit stormy. The other night I was woken up by the first lightning storm I heard in a long time. I kept the windows open and decided to fall asleep to the beautiful rain sound. It looks like today might be a similar type of weather, which would keep me inside. Perhaps I wont be too distracted to finish my homework. Perhaps I will be able to finish and move on from this part of my life to the next.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I graduated today. I walked down the theater aisle, up the stairs and across the stage. It took me six years to do this. Six years to get the gown and cap and tassel. Six long years.

Honestly, I walked to make my mom happy. She told me she spent enough of time and money to see me walk, and so I figured I owed her. My heart wasn't really in it at first, but sometime between the alphabetizing and the opening statements, I looked around the hallways and was hit by a flood of memories. I spent hundreds of hours speeding through those hallways in between classes, up to the library, out for a quick lunch. I never had enough time to look around and take everything in until I was stuck in line, steaming inside a black, rayon gown with a stupid hat on my head. I looked at my fellow students . . . excuse me . . . graduates and was flooded with hope for the future and nostalgia for the past. That's not me. I'm fairly grumpy and irritable. I am not nostalgic. But today I was. And it felt good--really good.

Chris Matthews was the commencement speaker. His words really helped--made me think about what I want to be. I'm not always an optimist, but now I think I am for this aspect of my life. He spoke truth. He told us the road to our future will be difficult. We will need to work hard to get to that next step. I think I am finally ready for the next step. This is not normal for me to say, but I think I've changed a little bit. I've gone through this amazingly difficult six years for the better. And I'm excited to see what's next.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The First Amendment Project DVD (Review)

I couldn't find a website devoted to the DVD so here is the Amazon page.

I watched this documentary last night. It's 3 twenty minute documentaries about different groups effecting the First Amendment, one of my favorite Amendments.

The idea and execution is great. I just have a problem with the fact that all 3 documentaries are pretty Leftest. Which is a weird thing for me to say, because I agree with most of what they are saying. But my point is that the First Amendment is for everyone, not just Left leaning ideas. The Right has their own First Amendment pet projects, why not have a documentary about that? Instead this documentary ignores any other aspect and threatens the legitimacy of the First Amendment.

I'm rambling. But the First Amendment is for all people. And if we divide it on issues like this we are going to loose it. And that would be a shame.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Fear (Sense of the City column)

I picked up my graduation cap and gown last week. I guess soon it will be official, that is if I can get through this last month. I have trouble finishing things up. Obviously, or it wouldn't have taken six years for me to finish college.

What is it about the end that's so worrisome? It's a deep and abiding fear, an uncontrollable nervousness. Am I afraid that I'm not good enough to finish or am I scared of what's next? Either way it's an irrational fear that I just need to get over.

I think most people suffer from the fear. It's what keeps us still in life. It makes our movements through the world a little more conservative and thought out. The fear can be a good thing. It keeps us from loosing everything in a doomed attempt to remake ourselves. But, like any fear, too much can become crippling. I've had that feeling too. It's a huge sensation of pressure on your chest and all you want to do is crawl inside yourself. It's a deep, dark pit that you can't crawl out of, but you do and you're better for it. And that's the difficulty, coming out the other side blinking in the bright sun.

Sometimes the fear is your friend, it can keep you from pushing beyond your means. But most of the time the fear keeps you from pushing yourself farther. That's when you need to ignore it. I need to gather the courage to beat back that pressure and push to the end of my last month in school and into my next stage of life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Safety in the City (Sense of the City column)

The snow melted overnight. One day the temperature was just above freezing, the next it was warm enough to not wear my coat anymore. The humidity hovers somewhere around 100%. The sky is hazy with a mixture of pollution and fog which switches to rain in a second. I have never been a fan of wetness, but it is nice to walk around in a comfortable temperature.

I should be writing this at home. I started my spring break last night and was on my way to White Heath. But through a series of unfortunate events I missed the bus. At the time I was angry, but thinking back on it the story is actually pretty good. (It involves late night road construction and a midnight run through Union Station where I lost my sandwich.) I probably would have written this column on it if a much more interesting story didn't happen to me on the way home.

Needles to say, I am not the only one out enjoying the warmer weather. Crime goes up in the spring and summer months. It's just a fact of life, more people means more potential to steal. And no one, not even criminals, wants to be out in sub-zero temperatures.

I got on the train to go home. I sat down next to a well dressed man. He wore a button down shirt and black leather shoes with gold buckles. I didn't notice at the time, but something was wrong. Some chemical in his brain was off, whether through drugs or insanity I'm not sure. But he ranted at the top of his lungs. His unidentifiable grumbling boomed through the train car. Every once in a while this primitive language was peppered with the most foul and X-rated bits of clarity. I was almost home so I tried to ignore it. I stared down at the floor.

This is where I wanted to leave this story, but some 20-something fohawk didn't. He tried to engage the man as some stupid joke, some story he could tell his buddies back at the bar. Soon the conversation devolved into threats on the young guy's life, but he didn't understand what was going on and still tried to push through.

Some how the ranting man thought the other guy said he was part of the Black P Stone gang, which is a smallish multiracial gang in Chicago. They actually control a pretty large chunk near my apartment. It took me a second to realize what the man was saying. But when I did, I turned to the younger guy and told him to shut up. "You don't know what you just did," I said.

Nothing happened, but I had never been so afraid in the city. Clearly the man was dangerous and on top of that he was not in his right mind. There is no way to know what he could have done. But luckily nothing happened. He left the train.

What this says about the safety of the city is interesting. I've been here almost four years. I've seen some crazy things on the train and on the street. I've had some crazy things happen to me. I could tell some stories. But this is the first time I've felt so uncomfortable. Most of the time, the city runs just fine. The population goes on with their day without thinking of safety. No one should take this story to mean that the city is so intensely dangerous that they don't visit. It is just a warning to watch out. Be careful of your surroundings. Basically . . . be safe.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Memory by Fire

The air is cold and filled with falling snow. The sidewalk is slippery with ice and trampled snow. It's still winter. We're running through the tail end of the season all across the country. The days are getting longer and the nights shorter. The snow is thawing and freezing, thawing and freezing, starting the death throes that will turn March into April and winter into spring.

Thoughts run through my mind as I walk home one night. My stare is low, towards the ice patch in front of me. My step is careful. I walk by an old church made of boulders big enough for a Trebuchet to siege a castle. I guess I only assume it's old, because of the building material. It doesn't much matter, I like walking by to look at the rocks.

I go by carefully when I smell a smell that takes me back. It wasn't a sudden memory, it snuck up on me gradually. Before I knew it I was transferred back to my childhood. My memory was deep and vivid. I was not thinking about my childhood, I was in my childhood. I was sitting next to the woodburning stove at the farm in the cold winters of the past. The air was freezing but the fire was too hot. I rotated to keep an even warmth, too long in one position and half my body would be burnt and the other half too cold. The sight and sound were strictly from when I was young, but the strongest sense for me was the smell. It was the smell that warped me back in time. It was the smell that bridged the gap between the present and past. It was the salty, smoky smell of a fire burning in the stone church.

I came back to the current and shuffled through the ice field safely. I continued on home a little brighter, a little happier, my smile a little larger. My trip reminded me of what was and what will be and what I have now.

Friday, February 05, 2010

My Unoriginal Title is "Epic Burger, not so Epic"

Cross one burger of Time Out Chicago's Chicago Magazine's(did I dream this wonderful list?) 100 best burgers. I treated myself to Epic Burger for lunch and did not find it worthy of top 100. Really it should only be on such a list because the writer could only find 90-some burgers in the city. Then it'd be fine with me to have some duplicities.

Epic Burger can't decided what it is, is it a nice burger place with chef's who take time to prepare the meat right, or is it a fast food joint with plastic chairs. It took me two seconds to order and 10 minutes to get. (Ten minutes might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but it was long enough for me to notice.)

They say their buns are baked daily. I do appreciate a burger place respecting the bun, but I don't think the bun's are well enough prepared. It was still a bit gluten-y and bland. It tasted like a normal grocery store bun with oats sprinkled on top. The meat was pretty tasty, but hard to find under the "special sauce," my guess is mayonnaise mixed with paprika for color. A good burger is flavored by it's own sauce, it should not be hidden.

Maybe I bought the wrong burger. Maybe I was led astray by all the options. It just wasn't that good. And if it was on this mysterious "list" it should be redacted. Is that too harsh?