A kick ass American weekend

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The first time that I ever felt any national pride over a sporting event was the Miracle on Ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old, and giddy at the prospect of beating the big, bad Soviets at what appeared to be their own game.

Flash forward 35 years, to Sunday’s triumph of the U.S. National Women’s Team at the World Cup. Again, soccer doesn’t seem to really be America’s game, particularly since the rest of the world calls it “football” instead. But when America’s best matched up against the rest of the world, the Red, White, and Blue came out on top. A better way to cap off the 4th of July weekend cannot be imagined, at least in the sporting realm.

The proceedings in Soldier Field were also a pretty good capper, in the artistic realm. It was a great weekend for America, all the way around.

A day to honor Lincoln

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image150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in Chicago. For those who waited in long lines, there was a chance to move past the president’s body and make the tragedy seem real. I’m sure nobody who made this wait ever regretted doing it.

I hoped there would be some kind of acknowledgement of this fact today, but if there was, I completely missed it. Instead, everything was about the NFL draft, which brings tourism and attention to this city. I understand this, but feel as though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was missed. Lincoln deserved better than to be ignored.

I’ll write up everything I did someday, but for now here’s a sample image. I call it “two Lincolns” and there are others where this came from. I even cobbled together a few readings and posted it to my Facebook page. My Lincoln tribute was something I’ll always remember, in part because it came from my own actions. Since nobody seemed to be interested in commemorating Lincoln, I stepped up and did it myself. We cannot do enough to honor his memory.

My Grateful Beard has disappeared

I spent much of February 2015 growing a beard. It originally grew out of the hockey-related idea of a playoff beard.
If you keep a routine that does not allow for shaving to intrude, the thinking goes, it will somehow create a benefit for one’s team. Or at least it allows you to share the experience with others who do the same silly thing.

I called this phenomenon the Grateful Beard, since it grew out of a waiting to see if I was going to get tickets to one of the reunion/farewell shows the Grateful Dead is playing this summer in Chicago.

I’ve been to four Dead shows over the years, with the last one being almost 22 years ago now. Four shows isn’t much by some standards, but most people haven’t even been to one show, so I’m happy to be as experienced as I am. For a rock lifer like me, hearing Jerry and his band play live confers some degree of street cred that few other bands can match.

Jerry Garcia once said that the trick is not to do something better than everyone else does it, but to do something that no one else is doing. The band was singular in their time, and that shows in what will surely be a hyper-crazy demand to be a part of the three shows this summer. this is a one-time thing, and I want in.

But as I posted previously, the mail order didn’t work out, and my money order arrived in the mail a few days ago. I took one last picture of my Grateful Beard, complete with a legitimate touch of gray in it, and shaved it off yesterday morning.

Now that the Beard is no more, I understand that it–like the Dead shows this summer–was a unique and singular experience. Never again will my whiskers depend on the content of my mailbox. So even though my efforts did not lead to the miracles I had been seeking, I still had some way of marking the time along the way. It’s a small thing, but I am memorializing it here, all the same.

Here’s hoping that the telephone and Internet sale this morning leads to greater success than the mail order did. What I can say confidently is that no Beard will be grown during this process.

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Complicated and off-kilter

 

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I’m a big Abraham Lincoln fan, and I’ve written about statues of him, and busts, and artworks, and really anything else I could find. But Lincoln Avenue has somehow escaped my attention, until now.

Last night I found myself driving down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, and I realized a couple of things. There are two distinct parts to it, one that begins in a neighborhood appropriately called Lincoln Park, and another that begins in a different neighborhood called Lincoln Square. And in between, it disappears into Western Avenue for a few blocks. It’s not a street that you can stay on for as long as you want to. You need to know the way go if you want to stay on it. So it’s certainly a complicated road to follow.

But even more important is the direction that it takes. More than 90% of this city’s streets run north/south or east/west. In fact, the city’s grid system depends on streets like this. In the picture above, for example, Southport Avenue runs north and south. But Lincoln Avenue, like the man it is named for, doesn’t follow a tidy, straightforward path. It runs diagonally its entire length, turning many traditional intersections into six-way adventures. It’s as if the street takes on the character of the man who really has no parallel in the scope of American history.

I write about Lincoln statues and the like because they exist to commemorate the railsplitter who became president. But a road is a bit harder to conceptualize as a tribute. It serves a different purpose, that’s for sure. But thinking about this road, and how and where it cuts its route through the city I call home, I realize what a fitting tribute to him it really is.

Rock and roll band

 

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Last night, on a soggy beach in Chicago, I saw Boston play live for the first time in my life. I’ve written about Boston many times in this space, and hearing their music in the company of thousands more who also appreciate their unique sound meant a lot to me.

I was once a dissatisfied teenager living in Springfield, Illinois, and Boston’s music spoke to me. It offered visions of going someplace else, about–as they called it–chasing a dream. I wanted that so much when I was in high school, and now I’ve accomplished it. I don’t live there anymore, and I’m more than happy to visit it on occasion, but Chicago’s my home now.

I initially had some reservations about hearing the band play without Brad Delp, the singer on their studio albums. But last night I realized that the songs were written by Boston’s guitarist, Tom Scholtz, and music that can bring so much joy to people–myself included–deserves to be heard, by whoever wants to sing it. The crowd always sings along, anyway, so whoever is onstage with the microphone already has all the help they need. Last night I finally realized that, and it made a great night even better. Those changes can open your eyes.

Better than expected

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Sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. That’s what happened for a group of college alumni in Chicago in the year 1887. They had gathered at the Farragut boat club on Thanksgiving day, trying to find out the results of the annual football game between Harvard and Yale. I’m not sure how that worked in the days before electricity, but there had to be some method of learning the results.

After Yale was announced as the winner, a Yale alumnus threw a boxing glove in the direction of a Harvard alum, who swung at it with a broom. The assemblage then started to play an indoor version of baseball. Their legacy–the game we now know as softball–is proof that unexpected results can happen in everyday situations.

My daughter plays on a softball team, and earlier this week I took her to a practice in a Chicago park. She practiced her gymnastics moves and we played catch while waiting for the rest of her team to arrive.

After about 15 minutes, we began to wonder if anyone was coming. My daughter then began throwing softball pitches to me, which is something she had never done before. And as it turns out, she’s really good at it. We were both pleasantly surprised to learn this.

The team never showed up, and we were there on the wrong day, but it was the best non-practice we’ve ever had. And wherever those Yale and Harvard alums are now, I’m sure they were pleased with the outcome.

A regrettable clearance sale

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Losing a bookstore is an odd paradox. On the one hand, the prices are slashed so that the store’s inventory can be moved quickly. But on the other hand, the store goes away once the sale is over. And the world needs more bookstores, not less.

Such was my dilemma today when I visited Powell’s bookstore on Chicago’s North side. It’s closing in June, citing an economic climate that isn’t too kind to booksellers. I had been to Powell’s a few times through the years, and its size alone seemed to augur for a long-term presence on Lincoln Avenue. But in the end, that’s one of the factors that did them in.

I felt a sense of sadness as I wandered through the store this afternoon. I picked up four books for a total of $10, and the titles all look like they will be interesting (a Shakespeare biography, two books about Abraham Lincoln, and Jonathan Eig’s Get Capone, if anyone’s interested). I always appreciate cheap reads, and today’s visit did not disappoint. But it also came with a steep price.

Had I been more inclined to pay full price for these books a few months ago, I doubt that alone would have made a difference in the store’s fortunes. But if thousands of others had taken this same approach, then perhaps the store’s sales would have been robust enough to avoid closure. And it’s too late now, unfortunately.

Bookstores like Powell’s have been disappearing for some time now. I love bookstores and what they represent, but I fear their dwindling numbers also says something about our society. Paying full price is less desirable to readers than paying a reduced price, which in turn is less desirable than free. For booksellers and artists of every stripe, free and reduced prices are difficult business models to sustain.

I saw a sign on the wall of the store today that made me stop for a moment. It was a letter written by schoolchildren, and it included the line “Thank you for the books.” And I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Thank you for the books, Powell’s.

Nature’s beauty in the city

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I felt like I should have been in a zoo, as I watched three lovely, full grown swans grazing freely in a public park near the Chicago river.

As I got nearer to take their photograph, I expected them to fly away, as most birds would. But they remained calm, and began to chatter among themselves, probably about my intrusion into their feeding time.

Their pristine whiteness seemed almost impossible among the dirt and grime of the city. But there they were, unfazed by anything around them.

Earth Day was officially a couple of days ago, but this scene reminds me that we can dedicate ourselves to appreciating the life that’s all around us, every day of the year.