Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: A Walk on the Wild Side

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit 1 Comment »
Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay. Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay/Photo: Katharine Rovinsky

By John Greenfield

As someone who’s pedaled three sides of the Continental United States, I can tell you that traveling cross-country by human power is an amazing way to see this great land of ours. You experience the geography and the people in a totally different manner than you would rushing by at eighty miles per hour.

Two young Chicago urban planners will soon be traveling coast-to-coast in an even more intimate way than I did. This April, Rebecca Geissler and Tim Garibay, both twenty-seven, will embark on an epic walking trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coney Island. They expect that, hiking about thirty miles a day, they’ll complete the roughly 3,300-mile pilgrimage in four or five months.

“I’ve secretly always wanted to run away from home,” she explains. “Not in a negative sense, but I think it’s going to be very liberating to drop everything and go out and see what happens.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Her Bike Shop

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green 1 Comment »

Scout, Annie Byrne and Lauren Wiscomb at BFF Bikes. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Let’s Go Ride a Bike blogger Dottie Brackett once gave a presentation on women’s cycling where she recommended Dutch-style bikes with upright bars, fenders, chain guards and skirt guards as being practical for commuting in nice clothes—save for one clothing item. “I can wear any kind of skirt on this and be fine, except for a pencil skirt,” she said. “So I don’t wear pencil skirts.”

However, the Holy Grail of a bikeable pencil skirt is now available at BFF Bikes, Chicago’s first female-focused bicycle store, which opened on March 15 at 2113 West Armitage in Bucktown. Last week co-owner Annie Byrne showed me how the stylish black garment, made by Seattle-based Iva Jean, works. “When you open the zipper in the back, it converts from a pencil skirt to an A-line skirt so you can get full leg extension while pedaling without having to hitch it up,” she explains. Then she dumps a bottle of water over the high-tech fabric. “It rolls right off it like Teflon.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Open Streets, Closed Coffers

Bicycling, Bucktown, Checkerboard City, Green, Loop, Wicker Park No Comments »

Julia Kim at Open Streets on State Street/Photo courtesy of Active Trans

By John Greenfield

Last year I wrote a Newcity cover story with the subtitle, “Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?” For this year at least, the answer was no.

Since 2005, I’ve been chronicling the Active Transportation Alliance’s valiant efforts to stage ciclovías, Latin American-style events that shut down streets to car traffic, encouraging healthy recreation, community and commerce. It’s hard to believe I still have to report on the relative lack of support from the city, especially since Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) commissioner Gabe Klein have generally been terrific on sustainable transportation issues.

Don’t get me wrong. All the ciclovias Active Trans has organized so far have been fabulous, with thousands of Chicagoans of all stripes coming out to stroll, jog, pedal, play, dance and relax on car-free streets. And I’m certain that this year’s events—Open Streets in the Loop this Saturday and Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown on Sunday, September 16—will be the best ones yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Your Dreams: Texas Fred gives everyone their fifteen minutes

Bucktown, Events No Comments »

microphoneIn Bucktown on Sunday nights at a squat side-street building with loud antics and a giant graffitied mural along one side, everybody gets their fifteen minutes. Texas Fred hosts the open mic every week at Gallery Cabaret while portraits of Picasso, Joyce, Poe and Shaw look down upon those at the bar. With shoulder-length white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Texas Fred seems to have ignored every year since 1969. He announces each performer and delivers dusty anecdotes about hitchhiking with a voice rough from what could be the build-up of pot resin in his throat.

Fifteen minutes or three songs, whichever comes first. Pitcher after pitcher of Leinie’s, the Gallery’s special, is spent composing the perfect set list, while a middle-aged single mother is trying her hand at stand-up comedy and isn’t nearly as bad as the spoken-word poet that preceded her. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Button: Busy Beaver Button Co. gets busier

Bucktown, Events, Green, News etc. No Comments »
Photo: Ray Pride

Photo: Ray Pride

On an overcast, humid, Chicago late-summer Saturday afternoon along Armitage Avenue, it’s closing in on a hundred degrees. I arrive a few hours after the cupcakes and champagne and ribbon-cutting with 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon, but the door to the new storefront location of the Busy Beaver Button Co. is in motion. Pale middle-aged men in camo shorts wander the corner, shirtless and smoking. On the other side of the street, a shoe shop offers “Lady’s Shoes.” On the corner, half a sign on an empty storefront advertises a “queria.” The fresh wooden front of Busy Beaver isn’t treated or varnished yet, smelling nicely of lumberyard. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Preview: Joe Meno/Quimby’s

Bucktown, Events, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »


Fitting that the family Joe Meno’s new novel circles around dons the surname Casper, as all five of them move like phantoms in and out of each other’s existence, directly through one another, yet hardly touching at all. The grandfather, Henry, goes so far as to speak less and less as life continues on, in an effort to completely disappear. With “The Great Perhaps,” Meno deftly moves beyond the teenage angst and wrath he explored in his successful “Hairstyles of the Damned” and the experimental boy-wonder in “The Boy Detective Fails” and glides further into adult territory; the maturation in his writing is a welcomed change of pace, as big questions are asked and decidedly grown-up problems surface. Parental separation, mid-life professional frustration, kids searching for meaning here, there and everywhere—Meno gives ample attention to and offers insight from both parents, their two kids and the receding patriarch. In each of his novels, Meno has dealt with a very specific, very different sort of reality, whether it’s that of teenage punks on Chicago’s South Side, an adolescent crime-solver surrounded by buildings suddenly disappearing or, now, of a family in crisis, handicapped by cowardice and the world’s oppressive weight. And who can blame them? Life is scary. (Tom Lynch)

Joe Meno reads from “The Great Perhaps” May 7 at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

Tip of the Week: Jon Ginoli

Bucktown, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »


Jon Ginoli founded Pansy Division in early-nineties San Francisco out of frustration more than anything else, to confront typical gay stereotypes and show that there are no boundaries, no limitations, in music. The pop-punk band—which consisted of all openly gay members—released its first record in 1993 on Lookout!, and by 1994 had some mainstream success with second album “Deflowered.” (The group opened for Green Day on the “Dookie” tour.) Unknowingly, Pansy Division had helped spearhead the Queercore movement, with a little help from some good-spirited, filth-laced lyrics. Ginoli’s written a memoir chronicling his experiences in the band—a band that’s still making records—called “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division,” and as far as rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies go, it’s a terrifically fun read. You get your typical rock band stuff-the band fights, the label battles, the sex and dope-but with Ginoli’s bent, it seems to have, hmm, more purpose? (Tom Lynch)

Jon Ginoli reads from “Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division” April 8 at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North, (773)342-0910, at 7pm. Free.

411: eBay’s Say

Bucktown, Events, Lakeview No Comments »

In less than a decade eBay has become an authority on consumer trends, and Karen Bard, eBay “pop culture connoisseur,” will be in Chicago this weekend for the eBay Live! event at McCormick Place with a panel of eBay experts speaking to just this. Read the rest of this entry »

Bohemian Rhapsody: University of Chicago profs study the migration of hipsters and other urban phenomena

Andersonville, Bridgeport, Bucktown, City Life, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Kenwood, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Little Village, Logan Square, News etc., North Center, Pilsen, Roscoe Village, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Washington Park, Wicker Park, Wrigleyville No Comments »

By Sean Redmond

Entering Wicker Park by the Blue Line, you emerge into the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee to a long-familiar sight. There’s the Double Door across the street, Flash Taco and, until just recently, the façade of Filter, Wicker Park’s former hipster coffeehouse extraordinaire. These staples, like many along these primary roadways, fade into the background with repeated visits; yes, you know you can find Reckless Records and American Apparel and the venues and art galleries in the surrounding area, but getting where you want to go requires little thought once you’re situated enough to put your eyes to the sidewalk and your feet into autopilot. But then one day, you get off the train and, surprise, the boarded-up shell of Filter is replaced with an expansive Bank of America, and your mind jolts back into motion. Suddenly, a wave of thoughts bursts forth: “Man, there are a lot of banks in the area,”or “Wicker Park really is getting commercialized,” or  “Maybe I need to start spending more time in Logan Square.”
Read the rest of this entry »

411 Seven Days in Chicago: Shop Stop

Bucktown, Holidays, News etc. No Comments »

Potential customers strolling down Damen Avenue in Bucktown last Friday were greeted by more than the typical trendy boutique: construction workers began to set up their bulldozers and other heavy equipment for the next six weeks—the prime time for holiday shopping—to fix a faulty water line. Naturally, the local businesses let their grievances known: how in the world could the city start tearing up the street on the busiest shopping day of the year? It was an extremely tense situation,” says the cool-headed Steve Greenberg, co-owner of Red Dog House, who updated local entrepreneurs via email as talks went on with Tom LaPorte, assistant commissioner of the department of water. “We contacted everyone we could get our hands on.” LaPorte talked to the engineers working on the project, who determined the situation wasn’t an emergency, and the decision was made to delay construction until January, making business owners “thrilled.” Score one for democracy. Unless, of course, the water main breaks again (it has twice in recent months), which is the biggest fear of the local alderman, Scott Waguespack. “If the pipes break again, it costs the taxpayers,” Waguespack says. “But I guess that’s a chance we’ll have to take.”