Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: The Rebel Transportation Commissioner

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Lit No Comments »

Gabe Klein (left) toasts the new riverwalk with Active Transportation Alliance cofounder Randy Neufeld/Photo: Steven Vance

Ex-Chicago Department of Transportation chief Gabe Klein says that when he returned to Chicago earlier this month for his first real visit since he resigned almost two years ago, it was a highly emotional experience. He was finally able to see the Bloomingdale Trail and the Chicago Riverwalk extension, projects that he spearheaded as commissioner, filled with people enjoying themselves. “It reinforced to me that there’s such a huge demand, particularly in urban spaces, just for great places to hang out.”

Klein was in town for a conference on “shared mobility” tools like bike-sharing and car-sharing. He was partly there to talk up his new book “Start-Up City: Inspiring Private & Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, & Having Fun” (Island Press), a primer on how to quickly make improvements to cities in the face of grinding bureaucracy. Disclosure: I contributed a photo for the pint-sized paperback, of the commissioner striding diagonally across Jackson and State during the ribbon cutting for the city’s first “pedestrian scramble” intersection.

Klein came to CDOT in May of 2011 as part of the Rahm Emanuel administration, following a stint as director of the Washington, D.C. transportation department. During his two-and-a-half years in Chicago he also launched the (highly controversial) speed camera program, built dozens of miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, created the Divvy bike-share system, and planned the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor. He says he quit the job to move back to D.C. for the birth of his daughter Simone, whose name was partly inspired by noted Chicagophile Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of this entry »

The Life of the (Caffeinated) Mind: How to Spend All Your Spare Cash on Nothing But Books and Coffee in a Single Afternoon

Hyde Park, Lit No Comments »
Seminary Coop/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Seminary Coop/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Baldino

1. Start at the Sip & Savor on the corner of 53rd and South Hyde Park. Order the Signature Caramel Royale, and then be amazed that they managed to fit some coffee in with all that caramel.

2. Take a leisurely stroll down to 55th Street, admiring the architecture as the caffeine slowly comes into effect, boosting the metabolic rate and increasing the levels of your neurotransmitters.

3. As the colors come to life in your eyes and the breeze comes in off the lake, reflect on that lovely line from Rimbaud “the winds have ruffled my assassin hair.”

4. Decide to cut your afternoon constitutional short and really get some things done in your life. Read the rest of this entry »

The Air Down Here: Finding Myself in Hyde Park Without Even Attending the University

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »

photoBy John Wilmes

At first, I felt like an outcast. I lived against my will in quaint, pastoral places, and screamed about things which no one near me understood. I saw the city as my escape. At first, I merely wanted to belong to Chicago, to belong to it at all.

But once I did, once I’d been paying too much rent and squeezing through the Blue Line for some months, jittery with my sense of inclusion, I grew to want something more. I wanted for my leanings—my preferences for the written, for the expressed, for the over-thought and the intellectually overwrought—to flow freely. For my bibliophilia and existential self-pummeling to be worth something; for them to find a home. I’d long assumed the city was pure fertilizer for the madness I’d always felt, that it was a place for my socio-political yowling to take root, to bloom. This, I thought, was where the alienation I felt through all my suburban life, through all my years in the Big Ten, would be assuaged.

But it wasn’t. I was too surrounded by those merely feigning to feel what I felt. They’d only scheme tragic visions with me until they found a beer, a joint, the correctly musty bar, or the sound of a song that was properly sold to them—at which point they were as opiated as anyone, and closed themselves to the continued crocheting of our dystopian, perversely celestial quilt of the world. I would have to stay up sculpting it myself in Microsoft Word, through any number of failed novels. I would have to fall asleep with my shoes and sweatshirt on, with all of the lights on, with my fingers on the keyboard. Read the rest of this entry »

Scrabbling for Literacy: Raising awareness through triple-triples

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scrabbleScrabble has been broadening players’ lexicons for decades. This day, November 14, the game proves to take that dynamic a step further at the annual Scrabble for Literacy Challenge, held in the Grossinger City Autoplex. All proceeds go towards adult and family literacy programs, in addition to the Jump Start program, which helps incarcerated youth.

“It’s kind of amazing,” says Dorothy Miaso, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. “People are often surprised at what our literacy rate is in the United States. Generally we are thought to be one of the most powerful countries in the world, but national studies indicate that almost twenty-five-percent of the adult population have literacy problems.”

Player Steve Hartsman goes by the anagram “Trashman.” He’s not having the best of days. “I started off three-and-oh, had a great morning, and have lost all three this afternoon,” he laments. “So I went from being one of the contenders to one of the pretenders, and lost all three in heartbreaking fashions.” Earlier in the day Hartsman made some impressive plays: “Well I had a triple-triple—140 points—‘parities.’ That’s by far my highest scoring play, but I also had a non-bingo for 99 points. I played ‘quezal’ (a Latin American bird). The ‘z’ was on a double letter and it was a triple word, so that was the highlight of my day.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yeah Brother! Being at Borders with The Hulkster

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hulk-hogan-ripping-shirtWhen Hulk Hogan is slated to appear at the Michigan Avenue Borders to sign his new hardcover, “My Life Outside The Ring,” fans line up outside as early as 6:30am to catch a glimpse of their god. Chris, the first in line, has not only already purchased fifteen copies of the memoir, but flew all the way down from Edmonton to stand in The Hulkster’s presence. “He’s The Hulk and nothing is going to break him,” he says of the wrestler’s recent reality-show-beamed travails. Will, a fan since 1983, is wearing a sleeveless shirt, displaying his Hulk tattoo surrounded by inked signatures of all his wrestling idols.

By Hulk’s side stands the Don King of wrestling, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, clad in a sport coat, Chuck Taylors and dark shades to complement his jet-black mullet. When The Real American walks out, the only sound in the room is the thunderous chant of “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk,” with fists in the air as the wrestling rock star enters. A fan near the front of the line who comes dressed as his hero, calls at him to tear off his shirt in the fashion that made him famous. The Hulk can’t resist the photo op as his huge sun-drenched hands rip the cotton material from the fan’s chest. Yeah brother! (Jonathan Kaplan)

Fall Forward 2009

Events, Food & Drink, Lit, Museums, News etc., Politics, Running No Comments »

Newcitycover1We like the way culture upends the universe’s metaphors. Mother Nature might be in the autumn of her year, but the arts are alive with the spirit of new birth.

Labor Day ushers out what meteorologists like to call meteorological summer, making schoolkids go back to school, closing beaches far too soon, and forcing outdoor festivals to sound their last notes, but it gushes in a deluge of culture too magnificent for even the most ardent of arts lovers to fully appreciate. The full richness of our city comes alive in the fall, even when the Bears don’t have a messiah behind center. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Milk It

Lit, News etc., Politics No Comments »

harveymilkTwo letters hand-written by Harvey Milk will be sold July 28 in Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ Fine Books and Manuscripts auction. The letters, written in the 1950s, highlight issues still key today-gay marriage and military service. Milk wrote the letters to Patrick Mormon, with whom he became friends while in the Navy. He was quiet about his homosexuality and political involvement at the time, but wrote honestly and frankly to Mormon. “These are the earliest [letters] I could find, and they are incredibly revealing,” says Mary Williams of the Books and Manuscripts Department at Hindman. “They aren’t in any collection anywhere.” The first regards Milk’s discharge from the Navy after serving during the Korean War. Rumors later circulated that he was dishonorably discharged due to reports of homosexuality. “Don’t say or do anything. I’ve been turned in,” Milk wrote. In the second letter, he discusses hopes to marry an unnamed man (possibly Joe Campbell) while on leave. “If things work out as I want I may be a happily married man by the end of this year. ‘Gay marriage,’ that is,” he said. The letters were bequeathed by Patrick Mormon to the current owner, who requested anonymity, Williams says. The estimated price is $1,000 to $2,000 but they are expected to sell for much more at the auction. The auction will also be online, and the letters will be on display July 26 and 27 at the Hindman facility, 1338 West Lake.

Lit 50: Who really books in Chicago

Lit No Comments »

dsc_2595bThe 2009 list is out, and we’re using the occasion to launch our new web site devoted to all things literary, Newcity Lit. Check it out at

Reading Preview: Greg Kot/57th Street Books

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Honestly, do you really need to hear once more that the music industry is, uh, changing? That much you already know. What you might not know is exactly how artists developed new ways to funnel their music to the public, how fans themselves became mouth-to-mouth (or file to file) distributors and live music has become even more essential in the marketplace. In essence, how boomboxes and CD players gave way to laptops and the Internet. Chicago Tribune music critic and co-host of “Sound Opinions” Greg Kot chronicles this progression in his new book, “Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music,” which hits shelves this week. To achieve a greater understanding of where exactly the music business is at the present-plus, with all probability, where it’s headed-Kot’s analysis can work as a textbook. Now if I could just figure out how to open this .rar file…(Tom Lynch)

Greg Kot discusses “Ripped” May 27 at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th, (773)684-1300, at 6pm. Free.

Reading Preview: Aleksandar Hemon

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We knew he was good, but did we know he was this good? The Bosnian-born, Chicago-based author of “The Question of Bruno,” “Nowhere Man” and last year’s National Book Award-finalist “The Lazarus Project”—a staggering work, indeed—returns, rather quickly, with “Love and Obstacles,” a book of short stories that sees its release this week. A collection of eight tales with a linking narrator-yes, a man who immigrated from Yugoslavia to the United States-the book moves chronologically as Hemon’s unique use of prose paints a picture of man who’s path to adulthood cuts through stirring and unsettling world politics. Some of these stories have already appeared in The New Yorker; some see publication for the first time in this assembly. The speedy arrival of “Love and Obstacles” after the praise heaped upon “Lazarus” indicates Hemon’s willingness to become the face of the current Chicago literary scene, and right now, I don’t think we could ask for a better representative. (Tom Lynch)

Aleksandar Hemon discusses “Love and Obstacles” May 17 at Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln, (773)293-2665, at 3pm. Free.