Street Smart Chicago

Difference and Indifference: A Moscow subway rider goes to L

City Life, Transit No Comments »

Elena Rodina

By Elena Rodina

“You don’t know how lonely it gets, waitin’ for El cars…”
Nelson Algren, “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

A woman sitting next to me is painting her nails bright red, spreading a strong smell of nail polish. A girl in a pink sports suit a couple of seats away is listening to rap music, energetically shaking her head and occasionally yelling some words from a song out loud. People read books and newspapers, talk on the phone, knit, pray, ask for money, drink, eat, chatter in English, Spanish, Russian, French, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, German, Polish. Every morning I take an elevated train, Purple Line Express, from Evanston to downtown, every evening I return home on Purple or Red. Read the rest of this entry »

The Windy Midrealm: The Society for Creative Anachronism Keeps Medieval Times Alive

City Life, Events No Comments »

The Pennsic festival/Photo: Ron Lutz

By Caylie Sadin

“I’m just checking Twitter for updates on the tournament,” a Medieval maiden says. This maiden is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a group dedicated to researching and recreating the arts, skills and traditions of pre-seventeenth-century Europe “as it ought to have been.” In other words, they enjoy the luxuries of indoor plumbing and easy access to the Internet through smart phones hidden in corsets.

At their Twelfth Night event at the Irish American Heritage Center, Katherine von Scholsserwald (Kathryn Westburg in real life) has a whole peasant’s house laid out in one of the rooms. She uses planks to delineate the animals’ sleeping area, the cooking fire, the eating area and the bed. She has bowls made of horn and wood, spoons made of ivory and the few metal belongings a peasant would have had—metal was very expensive. She has drawings of what those houses would look like in Yorkshire circa 1200. She even has leeches, which she is going to show to attendees later in the day at her medieval medicine talk. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Cycle: How did Chicago’s progressive new transportation czar Gabe Klein get that way?

Bicycling, City Life, Transit 5 Comments »

Photo: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

“Gabe Klein has always viewed his work as a canvas to create a contribution, and is inspired by ventures that give something back to the community, versus strictly producing profit. This is why he only works on projects that invoke his passion.” —From “Gabe Klein’s TreE-House,”

“True love knows no bargains. It is one-way traffic: giving, giving, giving.” —Swami Satchidananda, Klein’s childhood guru

When forward-thinking Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein reported for work on May 16 as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new administration, it marked a sea change in the city’s priorities. After spending most of the twentieth century trying to make it easier to drive, City Hall was switching its focus to promoting healthier modes: walking, biking and transit. Read the rest of this entry »

13 Ways of Looking at Occupy Chicago: The Aesthetics of the Movement

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Loop, Media, Politics 3 Comments »

Photo: Erica Weitzel

By Monica Westin

1. “Grant Park: three years later” was the initial vision for this article—a snapshot of the stark difference in Chicago’s political and emotional temperature between the downtown celebration of Barack Obama’s election night in 2008 and the Grant Park arrests in mid-October of this year. But this comparison doesn’t begin to get at what’s interesting about Occupy. Because of what I will call its “aesthetics” as well as its size (at last count, more than seventy American cities have an Occupy protest, not counting the strength and scope of related protests abroad), the protest, or movement, depending on how you look at it, is very much that—an amorphous, sprawling political form that looks different from every angle and every subject position, like Wallace Stevens’ blackbird. That American mainstream media is unable to cover Occupy in any kind of coherent, proficient way is well-documented, but even as a single observer it was nearly impossible for me to take any kind of clearly articulated position about Occupy Chicago without immediately realizing I could make a strong case for an opposite view of the phenomenon (and usually I had heard someone do so in an interview). Read the rest of this entry »

Government 2.0: How Mayor Emanuel is Using Social Media to Engage Chicagoans

City Life, Media, Politics, Technology No Comments »

Kevin Hauswirth/Photo: Brooke Collins

By Ella Christoph

Even before he took office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew he wanted a social media director—a position Richard M. Daley did not have. Appointed on Emanuel’s inaugural day, Kevin Hauswirth was not hired to earn votes for Emanuel during the election. Hauswirth, formerly an instructor of communications and advertising director for Roosevelt University, was tasked with the job of supplying Emanuel with a constant digital pulse—a live feed, so to speak—on the city. Rather than just tweet updates and YouTube press conferences, Emanuel wanted to hear what voters had to say over the Internet as well.  Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Gain: Six Ideas Chicago Should Steal from Other Cities

Architecture, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Loop, Pilsen, Transit, West Loop, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »

Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation

By Sam Feldman

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)

But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »

Requiem for My Barber: Who comes between a man and his vanity

City Life, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

By Patrick Roberts

My North Side barber died a few weeks ago, and while I did not know him outside the small orbit of his barbershop, I am moved to write about his passing. Over the course of fifteen years I spent little more than a dozen hours with him. I know nothing of his personal life except that he loved dogs and baseball. Nonetheless, I feel disoriented by the disruption of one of my life’s reassuring routines. I’m approaching forty, and haircuts are increasingly becoming exercises in resource management. With his passing, I am forced to find another barber I can trust to carry me through the thinning, middle years of my vanity.

On television and in the movies, a barbershop is usually depicted as a lively place full of bright, chatty barbers and loitering men who talk about sports, politics, women. My barber was always alone in a shop empty of customers. He was profoundly laconic and as emotionally distant from his client as a man clipping hedges. Yet, his melancholy demeanor appealed to me and provoked existential musings. Why was he so sad? Did he regret devoting his life to the barber’s trade? Was he lonely? Or was he simply thinking about baseball?

He also chain-smoked while cutting my hair. Without ever asking permission (it was his barbershop, after all), he would light a cigarette, place it in a nearby ashtray, and pause for a drag now and then as he clipped. My freshly cut hair always smelled of sour smoke, but I didn’t mind. I admired his old-school disregard for my own comfort. I confess that I once asked him to give me a haircut like Brad Pitt’s. He didn’t, perhaps because he felt he could not pull it off, but more likely because he felt I could not pull it off. This is how it should be with your barber; you trust him not to make you look like a fool even when you demand to look like one. Which is not to say he gave a great haircut. More often than not he made me look like a 12-year-old banker. It didn’t matter. I went to him for pathos, not for style. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Free Choice at the Bathroom Door

City Life, News etc., Pride No Comments »

When confronted with a stick figure wearing trousers next to one adorned with a triangular dress on the journey to a public restroom, most Chicagoans can confidently choose. Transgenders, however, are oftentimes afflicted with this decision. The distress does not stem from a gender identity crisis for the apprehensive bathroom user; it is trepidation of hostile intolerance. “Gender-nonconforming people are harassed in public bathrooms every day,” explains Malic White, project organizer of the T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative. White has created a plan of action for the project pioneered by Kathryn Sosin, co-founder of Genderqueer Chicago. “Nearly every gender-variant friend I have has faced this issue, no matter which bathroom they use,” explains Sosin. “I started to think about how absurd it was that we were preventing people from using bathrooms just because of their perceived gender, and I wanted to create something very simple to educate our businesses and community members.” The T-Friendly Bathroom Initiative asks more than 500 Chicago establishments to sign a pledge. In doing so, the businesses and organizations declare that individuals may use the gender-specific bathroom based on their own gender-identity. Furthermore, the establishment agrees to educate their staff on gender-variant sensitivity and interrupt any witnessed intolerance concerning the matter. Those who sign the pledge will receive a “T-Friendly” decal assuring the community their premises are a safe and welcoming environment for Chicago transgenders. (Tiana Olewnick)

Over the Rainbow: Taking a “dream fantasy vacation” at the Pink Palace Whirlpool Suites

City Life, Garfield Ridge, Love & Sex No Comments »

Seeking respite from winter’s deep freeze, you’ve journeyed on the Red and Orange Lines and the #62 bus to the Garfield Ridge neighborhood west of Midway Airport. At 7050 West Archer, it looms like a beacon in the night: the fifty-foot-high neon sign for the Rainbow Motel/Pink Palace (773-229-0707,

With its whimsically-themed Jacuzzi rooms, this seventies-era honeymoon hideaway is Chicago’s answer to Japan’s quirky love hotels, a fanciful venue for liaisons licit or otherwise. Or, as the Rainbow’s brochure says, “It’s a year-round paradise and a dream fantasy vacation. A couple’s place to get re-acquainted with the one you love, celebrate life with the one you married or begin a new, exciting relationship.”

The eleven fantasy suites are available for four- and six-hour visits as well as overnight stays. The “Hawaiian Waters” room includes an octagonal waterbed and tiki décor; “Space Walk” has a bed shaped like a lunar lander, surrounded by stars, planets and “friendly spaceships”; “Out to Lunch” features a bed shaped like a giant BLT.

The Rainbow doesn’t take reservations over the phone and when you arrive most of the wackier suites are booked, so you opt for the relatively traditional “Valentine” room. The stoic female receptionist, a recent transplant from Lithuania, hands you a complimentary bottle of cheap spumante wine and shows you to your comfy, if slightly dingy, accommodations. Read the rest of this entry »

Ski for Yourself: Whipping winter on its own terms

City Life, Green, Sports No Comments »

Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.

Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing el platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.

Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls. Read the rest of this entry »