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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

From Behind Glass

On the way to work I ride in the second car of an eight-car train.  It is strategic.  Because when the train arrives at the station where I depart the stairs up to the street are at the far end of the platform.

The train is crowded when it reaches my stop and I must wriggle my way out.  Tucking, bending, and darting between others just to step across the threshold.  On the platform and as the doors close behind me I look into the car where I was seated to see the faces of those who were in there with me.

As the train pulls out of the station it moves past me as I walk in the opposite direction.  I look into the window of each car as the train accelerates forward.   The distance to the stairs means that every window of the train passes beside me.  I look to see if anyone is looking out at me.

Doing so gives me a rush of optimism.  Will I see a familiar face?  Will I catch someone’s eye?  Will someone see me?

I want them to see me.  I want them to wonder who I am.  And I know that they can only for a moment because they are moving away from me.  I want them to hope that they’ll see me tomorrow and the next day.  And the days after that.

When those that see me decide to want me even more, I want them to adjust their commute so that they’re with me in the same car.  So that I might have a chance to sit next to them.  So that I might have a chance to converse with them.  They need to be aware of me to make this work – so every day I follow this routine.

I bought an apartment in a high-rise that is across the street from two other residential buildings, – both are twice as tall as mine.  My exterior walls are windows and thus look out – and up, to 500 other apartments and they too have walls made of windows.

My window coverings are designed to keep the sunlight out.  But at night I open them fully.  I want those who might be looking to see me.  I want them to wonder about who I am and what I might be doing.  I want them to study my activities, though they are common.  Walking into the kitchen.  Answering the telephone.  Reading on the sofa.  Or talking with guests.

I prefer to sleep with the windows uncovered because when the sun rises it illuminates my bedroom fully.  I want those who may be watching me to see me asleep.  To see me roll over and face away from the incoming sunlight.

I want those who are watching to see me getting dressed.  They should see me when I arrive back at home each day.  They should think about me.  They should look for me – and then to want me more.

The fact that I am possibly being watched makes me feel alive.  Safe even, because I am anonymous behind a sea of glass.  I have always strived for this and now I have it.

Being an object of desire is something I’ve always wanted.  And now I construct it daily.

Once in New York I was an object of desire.

It was late July and I left my apartment for walk during the night.  And though the sun had long since set, the city was still searing.  Sweaty.  Dirty.  Dirty because I lived in Hell’s Kitchen adjacent to Times Square.

The sidewalk along Eighth Avenue emanated heat as the concrete released what it has stored all day and it penetrated the soles of my shoes.  Eighth Avenue emanated a lot back then.  Dingy theaters emanated the lust inside, attracted by the films noted on their marquees.  The flashing lights of strip joints and book stores pulsed like the blood in my veins.

Desire is inhaled and exhaled on nights like this in New York.   The walk didn’t calm me but rather created lasciviousness that percolated up inside of me.  With a few dollars in my pocket I entered a book store and fed them into a slot below the glass screen in an arcade at the back of the shop.  Pornography.  And the sounds emanating from the other booths.

Back on the street I paced for a few blocks in either direction.  Not necessarily looking for anything but rather looking and sensing everything.  My white t-shirt now soaked from the heat.  I rounded the corner on 42nd Street to head east, then decided against it almost immediately turning back towards Eighth Avenue.

A man walking towards me caught my eye.  Dark thick hair.  Handsome.  Swarthy.  In a manner that seethed of the environs.  As he passed I turned to look back at him – one last chance to inhale his presence.  We locked eyes as he looked back at me.  A nod with an upward movement of his chin and then we slowly stepped towards one another.  Carefully and metered.

It was a dance of infatuated zeal.  One I knew instinctively how to maneuver.  We uttered a sentence or two to one another.  Comments about the heat.  He took a step closer as though he were ready to whisper something to me.  Then he did.  “You want to…..?”

Yes, I wanted to.  Though I walked away.

I have friends who are photographers and cinematographers.  I ask them to shoot me.  To film me.  I follow their direction.  Doing so allows me not to have to think and to only stare into the lens.   My mind is cleansed.  So much so that I crave this.

From raw photos I am transformed into images they create.  I become what they see.  And then I am visible through glass again – on computer screens and mobile phones.  It offers the slightest bit of control – but only until I’m clicked.  Liked.  Reblogged.  Retweeted.  Now I’m traveling.  Faster than a train.  Faster than a plane.

The fact that I am being seen makes me feel alive.  I have the ability to construct this.  But I am living life from behind glass where there is no requirement to be heard.  No requirement to be touched.

When I stopped wearing glasses leaving the house felt strange.  And while I still wear lenses, the visible barrier is gone.  I feel exposed.  Vulnerable.  I begin to adjust to the new truth.  It is the first time in decades that I am – and that my soul is, visible out from behind glass.

As I begin to be heard and to be touched, I do so from behind glass.  You are reading this on glass.  It is the medium to which I am accustomed.

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photo by:  Studio Bema

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If it were not for the occasional grey at his temples he’d easily be mistaken for one of the Hardy Boys. His boyish face and boyish frame – remnants of an earlier age, are still present, such that I’m convinced that he has freckles despite the fact that he doesn’t.

The look on his face is difficult to read.  At times he appears timid. Or deep in thought.   Perhaps he’s confused.  He looks up at the train map every now and then and his forehead contracts deepening the creases that are already there.  He watches commuters board at each stop and when he does this he lowers his face but looks up with his eyes.  Now he appears as innocent as he was when his his mother caught him sneaking gum drops when he had been explicitly told to wait.

It could be that he is new to the city.  People that are new to the city have different mannerisms when they ride the trains than do people who have lived here awhile.   It’s the glancing up at the map, and the attention at the stops.   New people to the city watch others board the trains not because they think a friend might get on but because they’re studying how the crowd functions.  It’s a subtle difference.  As for the map – eventually they learn to feel their way along the Red Line based upon the sounds and the sway of the cars.

While his mannerisms appear to be that of someone new to the city, his style of dress does not.  His brown suede shoes have salt stains.  Nicely cut navy-blue cotton slacks fit him perfectly as does the black quilted winter jacket that is tapered near the waist.  The collar and placket of his wool sweater is visible because his jacket is half unzipped.   His charcoal hair has a slight sheen and is parted precisely on the left.  The cut is borderline hipster but is kept far above his eye brows.

He pulls a book from his brown canvas bag.  On it’s pages are charts and graphs. Statistics. The subject congruent with his appearance.  Mostly the book is a prop because he doesn’t spend time focusing on the pages.  When he thumbs through the pages I notice the ring he’s wearing.  It’s the same matt-finish tungsten ring that I’m wearing.  I think he’ll notice mine when it catches the light – that he’ll see that it’s the same as his and this will cause him to look up at my face but that doesn’t happen.

I loose track of his actions by the next stop not because he has left but because the train fills  and those that are standing block my view.  Maybe now, with no clear cut view of anything, he’ll begin studying  the pages of his book.

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I’m not sure where to begin. Or in this case to end. Though the fact of the matter is that this journey is only half over. In less than three days I board Amtak’s California Zephyr for the return trip to Chicago.

First and foremost I have to commend Amtrak employees. Despite everything these folks go through on a daily basis, from bumpy rides, to tight quarters, to chronic delays, to having to inspect the train’s undercarriage in complete darkness in a Utah canyon, they remained upbeat, positive and never once scowled at daily adversity. Hats off to all of them.

It wasn’t long after departing Denver that our ascent into the Rockies became the magnificent sight most everyone aboard paid to see. While there wasn’t much snow, the amazing vistas, the s-curved winding tracks and the rocky canyons brought clicking cameras in virtually every window. The observation car filled, as were the narrow aisles of the sleeping cars.

Having visited the site of the Golden Spike and having read about the great lengths it took to connect the nation by rail, one can’t fully appreciate the work it took to build this until actually riding the rails. In terrain that is utterly and amazingly beautiful but utterly and amazingly unfit for human labor, these tracks were laid with precision and determination. Sides of mountains were blasted, tunnels were carved, land was graded and most all of it by human hand. These tracks, this route must certainly be one of the great American achievements.

The train’s engineer came on the PA system to tell us that we’d soon be entering Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile long tunnel that would take us over, or in this case through, the Continental Divide. We were told to stay in our respective cars because the doors between cars would have to remain closed in order to prevent the intake of exhaust from the train’s engines. Elevation; 9,239 feet.

From this point on the train began its descent. For hours the train descended into evermore narrowing canyons until at one point, it seemed as if we were descending into the very center of the earth. Layers of geological time carved away for the narrow track, such that had the windows opened I could have leaned out and touched prehistoric time.

At one point the train slowed to a crawl. The engineer told us that track sensors indicated a potential rock slide ahead. This canyon is lined with an electronic fence of sorts that triggers a warning system when something, be it a rock, a branch or an animal comes into contact with it. His eyes would be the first witness to whatever may have tripped the warning signals on this single line of track.

We passed through without incident but had their been something on the track, rocks or otherwise, Amtrak’s personnel would have had to attempt to clear it. There was no other track and no other way for the arrival of assistance.

Night fell in western Colorado and while I had thought I had seen the darkest skies ever over Iowa, I soon discovered otherwise. I dozed off after dinner and awoke to a narrow view the stars above.

In a canyon between Helper and Spanish Fork, Utah, the train stopped suddenly such that boxes tumbled to the floor and the steel wheels sounded as if they were skidding against the rails beneath them. While I have no idea how jumping a track may sound or feel, this is what I thought it might be like. The train was still upright so we hadn’t derailed but we were stopped in complete and utter darkness. The train’s electricity went out and from my window I could see only the dim rays of flashlights moving under my car.

For a good thirty minutes I watched and listened, but couldn’t see or hear anything other than shadows being emitted from under my car. Because most people were sleeping, or had been prior to the sudden stop, no announcements were made as to what had happened. Amtrak’s staff was obviously under the train inspecting something.

Eventually we were back in motion and on the relatively flat surfaces of Utah County headed northbound through Provo and into Salt Lake City. At 3:00 am the train arrived at Salt Lake’s new intermodal station where light rail, commuter rail and Amtrak converge. On the opposite track, the eastbound California Zephyr prepared for departure.

Initially pissed off at being four hours late, I realized that on a journey this far, though so many adverse geographical conditions, four hours isn’t that bad. I wouldn’t want to have to depend on this schedule, but I imagined how little four hours must have been to the thousands of people who once traveled across a country on a journey that at one time could have only been accomplished on foot. The fact that a nation once made this a priority is truly remarkable.

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Because I’m being asked this quite often these days…. here’s why I chose Chicago.

I’ve had a love affair with Chicago since I was a kid and saw it from atop the then Sears Tower.

Architecture: When I was studying architecture (and don’t we all still do that simply by living here?) it wasn’t just the modern classics from Sullivan, Wright, Mies that captured my attention.  It was a continuos stream of architectural innovation.  To this day I have magazine clippings of GREAT residential architecture that fits on a twenty-five foot wide city lot.

Shopping: The best shopping in the mid-west is on North Michigan Avenue.  From traditional favorites to the boutiques from Italy and France.  The Magnificent Mile is lined with the best of the best from around the world.  I’m not a big fan of shopping, but if I want the most stylish, it’s found on the Mag Mile.  Or at the Brown Elephant thrift stores where the throw-aways from Gold Coast and Lakeview neighborhoods are found for pennies on the dollar.

Theater: Whether its a Broadway show, a store-front theater, a first-run movie, an independent film, The Gene Siskel Film Center, the ballet, the opera or any one of the numerous film festivals that take place here – there is always, and I do mean ALWAYS something of interest playing on a stage or screen in this city.  Even theaters that are in need of renovation are still bustling with patrons.  Spend a lot or a little – the choice is yours.

Museums: No lack of these either.  Natural History.  Shedd Aquarium.  Art Institute of Chicago. Museum of Contemporary Art – These are just the one’s downtown.  I don’t even know all of them.  But again, there’s bound to be something interesting in any one of them at any given time.

Politics: The best theater in town!  This town thrives on politics and it’s a good idea to know you’re Alderman.  Debates?  A block-long line awaited the last mayoral debate at a downtown theater prior to the election.  I got my ticket when I met a woman under the L tracks on Wabash – she was able to get me one when my Alderman couldn’t.  And what better city to end it all when you’re caught red-handed?  We’ve got plenty of railroad tracks and the Chicago River.

Transportation: Two airports.  Three airline hubs.  Amtrak.  Commuter rail.  The L and busses operated by the Chicago Transit Authority.  And my two feet.  No need for a car here which means I’ll save a ton of money over a lifetime. Both airports and Union Station are accessible by bus and/or train.

Walkability: Two grocery stores.  Two drug stores. The library.  The butcher.  Farmer’s markets (in the summer).  The liquor store.  The dry cleaner (which one? There’s one under every L stop).  My Alderman’s office.  Countless locally-owned bars and restaurants.  Dunkin Donuts!  All within a few blocks of home.

Lake Michigan: Boats, beaches, bikes and balconies line Lake Michigan with plenty of public space for everyone.  Granted, the beaches are packed throughout the summer – but there’s no better place to cool off than Lake Michigan.  I’m looking forward to getting my bike out for a nice ride down to Millennium Park.

Millennium Park: The new outdoor center of downtown Chicago.  Gardens, sculpture and architecture combined into a venue that hosts free concerts from symphonies to high-school dance troops.  Ice skating in the winter and a beautiful front lawn for the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute.

Citizenry: We’ve got our share of thugs and bad guys – but they love living here just as much as the rest of us.  It’s exhilarating to be surrounded by eight-million or so people that absolutely love this city.  Chicago is still attracting immigrants from around the world – and the streets are filled with sounds of various languages.  Do not debate pizza quality here.

Cost: I would have never imagined it possible to cut my living expenses in half by living in a first-tier city but it’s possible now.  In fact, it costs me less to live here now than it did to live in Salt Lake City in 1998.

Two things are happening to cause this phenomenon – old residents are dying leaving behind paid-for condos that have to be sold and, the real-estate boom caused over-building.  Houses with yards are still somewhat expensive, but high-rise living has never been this affordable.   The fact is, living in some of these lake-front high-rises can be cheaper than paying rent.

And on that note, you should consider buying a place in my building.  Haven’t you always wanted a place on a lake?

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We’ve read about your plans, your trips, your nights out, the books you’ve read and we’ve opened the links you’ve sent.  We’ve read the remarks you’ve made to others and  most likely, we even know where you live and what bus lines you ride.  But we’ve never met you.

That’s why we’re planning the Warm-up, Tweet-up this Saturday on Chicago’s north side.  Join us at the Wild Pug on Saturday January 9th at 6pm and finally meet the people with whom you share your daily tweets.  Seriously, we know you’ve been waiting for this.

Mix, mingle and meet face to face at the Wild Pug, 4810 North Broadway from 6p-9p on Saturday.  Name tags will be available for those who would like them, or just introduce yourself to the folks who already know you.

We’re using the ‘hash tag’ of #wutu so that we can follow the progress that evening via Twitter.  Use that hash tag in your tweets as you come, go and participate.   And, if you snap photos that night use the same hash-tag, upload them to Flickr and we’ll organize a post meet-up photo pool.

Accessible via the Red Line at Lawrence,  the 36 Broadway or 81 Lawrence – it doesn’t matter how you arrive, just so long as you arrive.

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It’s been six months since I’ve put my house on the market.  It still hasn’t sold, but that’s okay.  This time has given me the space to make sense of how it was that I found myself in Columbus and what I’ve gained while being here.

It has also helped me understand why it is that I find myself ready to leave.  This is part one of a two part podcast that explains exactly what happened.

Follow this link to Vocalo where you can listen to Part I.  The second part will be posted on Thursday, so stop back then.

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