Saturday, July 3, 2021

Chicago notes: Opening Up

The Lake Shore Dames
     After living in Northbrook for 20 years, the accusation of being "suburban" is woefully familiar. The thought I always have in reply is a less articulate version of, "If living in the city were the ennobling state you seem to believe it to be, then you wouldn't have to constantly pump yourself up by putting down those whose pillows are a few miles past some arbitrary border." But dissing the outlanders does seem some kind of inevitability. I noticed that our younger son tossed off a sneering "suburbanites!" at his parents exactly two days after he moved to the city. Anyway, for those who wondered whether former Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey would find the kind of unexpected Texan splendor here that she uncovered in the Lone Star State—the Lake Shore Dames! Who knew?—worry no more. Her Saturday report:

     The midnight blue Honda with darkly tinted windows came to a quick stop when it spotted a tiny parking space between two SUVs on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. It waited for impatient drivers to pass—none yielded— and when the coast was clear the little Civic angled sharply towards the curb. It backed into the small spot, then maneuvered back and forth a bit for the perfect fit. The driver got out, surveyed the situation only to realize they had achieved an epic parking fail, got back in and tried again. After two more tries the car finally rested comfortably, only a half a foot or so away from the curb. Not perfect but good enough.
     The driver was me. I used to boast, with confidence, that I could fit a Mac truck into a space the size of a motorcycle. That’s how amazing my parking skills were. Not anymore. I poked fun at Neil a bit in my post a couple weeks ago for his “suburban” parking skills, and I guess this is my just dessert. Seven years away from Chicago and looks like I am as rusty as the next guy.
     Will someone please explain to me why we have harrowingly narrow two-way streets all over this city? With parking allowed on both sides? Whose great idea was it that we have to squeeze a ton of metal mere inches away from other heavy metal boxes, trusting drivers of all sorts not to knock our sideview mirrors off? Driving in the city has been quite the adventure. 
     Despite the challenges of congested streets and a dearth of ample parking spots, I am taking pure delight in our fabulous city. I don’t feel great on the inside— it’s proving to be a challenging and rocky transition “home”— but the beauty and rich texture of Chicago almost fixes things. As I drove west on Wacker towards the Civic Opera House to pick up a friend the other night, I marveled at the burgeoning skyline along the river. Glistening mirrored high rises with curves that fit perfectly into the framework are our city’s mountain ranges.
     As I walk and drive around in a bit of daze as I try to find my feet again, the welcoming arms of Chicago summer embrace me. I caught a sunset that was too purple to be believed the other night. Lake Michigan, in its placid endless glory rivals an ocean view. Last weekend I reunited with extended family and we played Cards Against Humanity until way past our bedtimes. I value family time more than ever.
     A friend since third grade and I had a delicious meal at Taste of Havana ( to celebrate her birthday. I savored our time together, all too aware of the preciousness of life and my good fortune to have a golden friend like her to spend time with.
     Yesterday I finally got a ten mile walk in, broken toe and all. I just couldn’t help it. Prior to the big freeze in Austin this past February, walking long distances had become my saving grace. As the endorphins increased, my overactive mind quieted down. I am grateful that I had the motivation to get back to this mellowing practice.
     It’s also been a disquieting time. Since I checked in last we've had yet another tornado warning. This time I was at Fork on Lincoln for brunch (with their floor to ceiling windows wide open for circulation). All of a sudden phones all around us started belting out warning tones. A tornado might touch down in Ravenswood, the alerts said. When the tornado sirens came on I was the first person to leap up and let the manager know “basement. NOW.” No discussion. He shepherded us down to the wine cellar where we hung out until we were safe.   Well this is fun! The good ol’ Midwest where a tornado took out my elementary school field last year (, and this past tornado devastated a swath of homes in the Naperville area. If I thought I could bury my head and pretend global warming was not happening I’m quickly realizing that won’t be possible.
      One of my favorite comrades and I took an impromptu walk after dinner walk recently. We came across a group of women dancing with beach balls in the parking lot of Amundsen High School. It was a fun and campy choreographed routine, and we were hooked. When they took a break we chatted with Magda, a co-founder of their group. "If I had to boil down to one sentence what the Lake Shore Dames stand for; we are on the eternal quest to bridge the gap between everyday gals, the art of dance, and our local community. We were born from the need of embracing community by bringing people together, using dance and music as our currency. In respect to future plans, we are working on creating inclusive dancing opportunities for every-day gals. Still figuring out format, drop-in classes, performance focused gigs etc., so much to figure out. We call it a great problem to have.”
     I also found myself lost in Caldwell Woods one day this past week. If it weren’t for the omnipresent airplanes overhead and the swoosh of traffic rushing down Devon and Caldwell I could almost pretend I was back on an isolated Greenbelt in Austin.
     If you are out and about you will happen upon outdoor concerts at venues such as Comfort Station on Logan and an Irish Pub on Church in Evanston. You’ll also find tango dancing in a new square in downtown Evanston. Everywhere you turn there will be a chance to sway to the music. 
     Various neighborhoods will display fireworks for us to enjoy this evening ( The world is starting to open up again (though of course we still must be COVID-safe), and there’s nowhere better to be than Chicago right now. See you out there.


  1. It seems that it's a choice between "harrowingly narrow two-way streets ... With parking allowed on both sides" and one-way streets, which offer the frustration of often passing two going in the wrong direction before coming to the one going where you want to go. Of course, the other option is to take out the parking on one side of a two-way street. Ha! What do you think the "dearth of ample parking spots" would be like then? : )

  2. Well said Karen. Moved away 3 years ago and miss Chicago every day.


  3. Wow! I was totally unaware that Lincolnwood and Rogers Park had an EF-1 tornado last August. Pretty extensive damage to the tree canopy. Decades ago, my grandmother lived near Touhy and Sheridan. Ironically, the Rogers Park tornado occurred right at the time we were getting our latge maple trees trimmed.

    Cleveland is also celebrating the return of celebrations. It now looks as unusual to see people wearing masks as it did to see people without them just a couple of months ago. Everything is coming back. Classical music in old Polish churches, the Pride motorcade (in lieu of a parade), beach picnics, Juneteenth, the opening of a new pedestrian bridge to the lakefront, live outdoor music (salsa and doo-wop bands), and now fireworks displays. It's starting to feel like summer in the city again...and we still have nine more weeks of it left to enjoy. Huzzah!

    1. Good times. The music in the church sounds nice. This does too, but indoors so not for me just yet:

  4. The streets aren't too narrow, it's the cars that got wider. So the area of the street to drive on is now narrower.

    1. Cars were pretty wide in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. For a long time, especially before WWII, there were a lot fewer of them. Most city dwellers didn't own a car, back in the day.Especially during the Depression years. They took trains, Ls, buses, and streetcars. It was said that nobody lived more than half-a-mile from a streetcar line, except in the farthest corners of the city...mainly in the boonies...on the Far South Side and on the Southwest Side.

      After the war, all that changed. Times were better, there were more jobs, and all the returning vets wanted new cars. And young city-dwelling adults started learning how to drive them. My parents didn't own a car until they were almost thirty. I can still remember every inch of the way their '49 Plymouth looked, inside and out.

      Most apartment dwellers had nowhere to park their cars except on the streets. But if you look at pre-war images of those same streets, there are hardly any parked cars. Which is why the people who lived through the Depression, and the war years, always waxed nostalgic about playing baseball, and other games, on city streets.

    2. Ah, interesting. I looked it up and does seem cars have gotten wider. I did not have one for my last ten years in Chicago. I'd sell mine but she's all paid off and I think will come in handy for day trips and such.

  5. I grew up in Edgebrook a half block from Caldwell and the entrance to the picnic area. My friends and I hiked the woods all the time. I don’t remember having seen my old stomping grounds mentioned by a reporter before. Thanks for nudging a little nostalgia,


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