The Facets Of Tinley Park

Tinley Park is a suburb located south-west of Chicago. I am not sure that I have ever been there despite living in the greater Chicagoland area all of my life.

Recently Tinley Park has been in the news. Good news and bad news. Even towns have facets.

First the good news. Tinley Park  received kudos in the November 17 issue Business Week as “America’s Best Place to Raise Your Kids” .  Not one of the top places but THE top place. Pretty special.

Then in the November 19 edition of the Chicago Tribune this headline appears.

Tinley Park Woman Charged with Hate Crime for Tugging on Woman’s Head Scarf.

Best place to raise kids and an atmosphere of intolerance that leads to hate crimes. Sounds a little schizophrenic to me.

Chicago At Its Best

Despite the long, cold winter and the short rainy spring Chicago can be a phenomenal place to be be. Yesterday was just such a time.

It had been raining for sooo many days that I had just ordered my do-it-yourself arc building kit. (You never can be too careful.) But Saturday the sun was shining and it was warmer than expected. I awoke, stood outside for a moment and knew that I needed to be on my bike. I rode a muscle straining 30 miles and while the air was cool the warm of the sun made for a lovely ride. (Yes I used the word lovely. I may be a guy but I know lovely when I see it and am not afraid to say so.)

A short nap while waiting for my wife to come home brought me back to life and we headed into the City. It was the opening of the new wing of the Art Institute. But in Chicago, such an event is not some stuffy museum opening for the well to do, art snob crowd but an opportunity for all the City’s people to party.

It helps to know the geography of the area in order to grasp how expansive this moment was. From a north-south perspective the Art Institute is smack dab in the middle of the city. It is, however on the far east side of downtown specifically on the east side of Michigan avenue. On the west side of the street there are office buildings and retail establishments but on the east side is pure entertainment.

Immediately east of the museum is Grant Park and to the east of Grant Park is The Lake. This section of Grant Park houses a band shell that until recently was the centerpiece for all major festivals, several concerts and The Taste Of Chicago. It is the home of Buckingham Fountain and a beautiful rose garden.

But because that was not enough free and special space for the City of Chicago, another park was built immediately north of the Art Institute. This is Millennium Park. Whether or not it is financially worth the hundreds of millions put into it, aesthetically it is worth every cent. It is a place for people of every race, religion, social and economic status as well as every tonsorial and clothing affinity. More on Millennium Park in another post.

While normally The Art Institute and the two great parks on its borders are separated by streets, on this day the street were closed to traffic so it became one big stage for a Chicago day. We met my wife’s former college roommate, my friend, and regular Art Institute goer in Millennium Park. She had been there for the formal opening at 10 am and had just been enjoying the day. 

Admission was free today and the retail giant Target was hosting the opening. Outside the entrance they sponsered a stage that featured dance and music during the day. Target was providing snacks and bottled water. We started by touring part of the new wing. The stage had Jewish Klezmer music when we entered the museum and gospel music as we came out.

The new wing is great space to enjoy art. Now I am not knowledgeable about art or its history but I can appreciate it. This was open space where you could get very close to the paintings and sculptures. The sections meandered from once to the other. There are manny great works by many great artists. And yet as wonderful as the art was, the sunshine called us outside. In this new wing there was a rooftop area to eat, to sit, to be.

From there we went back out to the stage and caught the last part of the gospel choir. As we absorbed the high energy and spirituality of the music, a typical Chicago festival moment spontaneously combusted. Several rows back from the stage an African American couple were dancing some lively, intricate steps. Just as they stopped a middle aged, overweight white guy asked them to teach him the step. They did. An young, Asian guy jumped into the line on the other side of the couple and before you know it two more people joined in and the line danced until the music stopped. Hugs and handshakes all around.

The color and sex of the participants was irrelevant at that moment in time. I only mention them because you need to know in order to understand how much that race and sex did not matter. These were just people in the same place at the same time having a whole lot of fun.

We spent the next hour or so in Millennium Park enjoying ice cream and people watching. I love people watching. The older man in the kilt and the ugly sweater talking to anyone and everyone. Couple of all ages strolling through the park. Many stopping to enjoy the tulips. Taking pictures. The man trying to get his infant to walk to her mom, holding at first just her hands and then giving up, going with the flow and carrying the girl to where her mom was waiting to scoop her up in her arms. The woman with the tiara surrounded by friends (birthday, engagement or oddly likes to wear tiaras in public–your guess.)

I reget not having a camera. The sights and sounds were too numerous to write down. I have shared but a small sample.

Snow, what snow. We have short memories once the sun comes out to play.

This is why we live in Chicago.

Snakes On the Plains

emrattlesnakeThere are many great reasons to live in Chicago–the past 12 months weather not being one of them. Yes we suffer from many of the urban, man-made disasters such as crime, homelessness, and not enough green space.  But natural disasters are rare.

No floods, hurricanes, drought, locust, etc. Even the occasional tornado in the vicinity stays in the towns far west and south of the city itself. As far as animals go we generally have nothing more than pests. Aggressive squirrels, raccoons, possums and the occasional skunk. We did have a coyote wander the city limits but that is a once in a lifetime even.  So imagine my shock and amazement when I read about the rattlesnake roundup. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake, as it turns out, is native to the area.

Now I have had the “pleasure” of being up close and personal with a rattlesnake. I do not mean in a zoo or from a safe distance. I was in Tuscon for business and there was a hiking trail up a small hill immediately nest to my hotel. I took off at dusk to get a little exercise in before dinner. on the way down, I heard it. Yes, it really is a rattle. I turned toward the sound and caught a glimpse of a green and black snake in some bushes about shoulder high. I leaped forward and did not stop running until I was in my room with the door locked.

Well, the ones in Chicago are apparently shy as rattlers go. There native habitats are decreasing and so many save the snake groups are rounding them up in order to breed them in a safer environment until their numbers are sufficient to return them to the wild that is Chicago.

To be honest I do not even want the shy rattlesnakes here. Unless of course they will eat a raccoon or possum or six. Then they can stay in my backyard.

Like The Good Old Days Just Different

For almost 8 years I drove one mile to the train station, took the commuter train to downtown Chicago, got off the train and walked the 1.5 blocks to my office. For over 3 years now instead of the train I drive 21 miles to one of the most sterile suburbs in the area. I rarely go downtown and the few times I do typically I drive. Yesterday was a reenactment of the old days. Sort of.

Got to the train station. Early. In the old days I knew just when to leave so that the train was pulling in moments after I arrived at the platform but yesterday I was conservative, leaving the house with plenty of room for error. The train schedule rarely changes but now the 7:21 had become the 7:17. I hang out on the platform. I can see the train in the distance. Wait, it is not slowing down. It breezes by without stopping. Ah, now I remember. The Breeze. Named for the wind that blows as it whips by our small station. Not the 7:17. I had forgotten.

As my train pulls in I realize that I am in no man’s land, the space between the doors of back to back cars. In my days as a regular I had known exactly where to stand.  I watched for the people who would have been like me if I had not switched employers. Only two people were even vaguely recognizable. Strange since most people take the same train every morning.

It is a short 22 minute ride to downtown. I found myself in a seat toward the back of the car. In the old days I would have been near the front. Quicker getting off that way. My 10 ride ticket that I have had since before I changed jobs slides under the metal clasp where tickets go so you won’t have to move or look up at the conductor when he comes by to collect them. My ticket is old and looks older. The conductor eyes it suspiciously. He squints. Finally he caves and pulls out his reading glasses. He squints again as he looks at the back of the ticket. “You bought this ticket in 2004. They expire after a year.”  I shrug. I knew i had been on borrowed time.  Seven times I had ridden the train long after the expiration date. Finally they caught me. He ripped up the ticket and I handed him $3.05.

As the train pulled into the station a man was leaving with his young daughter. She had bumped into something and had began to cry not quietly. He spoke to her softly, quietly. His voice was comforting, never waiving from that nurturing, caring tone. Not acting embarrased in front of strangers as some adults do when their child cries. I wondered at what age I stopped talking to my son in that calming, supportive way.

Riding the train beats driving hands down. Less stress. You can meet people and talk or ignore the world and doze. The only thing I hate is the feeling of being cattle as you get off the train with dozens of others, merge with even more people coming off other trains and walk through the station as one of the herd. For some reason every day that made me feel less like an individual. I do not like being one of a faceless crowd. I had forgotten that feeling. 

Once out of the crowd I enjoy walking around downtown. There is an energy, a life force in Chicago. I had several meetings and walked many blocks that day. Its funny. Chicago is so different than being in NYC. The story that says it all began as it started to rain after lunch. I decided to walk instead of hailing a cab. At one point I was holding an umbrella which started to turn inside out in the wind, I was talking on my cell–no bluetooth thing in my ear, I hate those which is another story–and I drop my leather folder. Its not going anywhere and I do not want to interrupt my call or put down the umbrella in order to pick it up. So I stand there with the folder at my feet. A young woman passing by stops, picks it up, hands it to me and smiles. I thank her and she continues on her way. That is Chicago.

The day ended with the trains being indefinitely delayed due to signal problems on the tracks. I stayed for twenty minutes before walking over to the L, the elevated trains that are part of the public transportation system. It took an extra hour to get home but surprisingly I was not steamed. Look, I had spent a day in downtown Chicago. All-in-all it had been a good day.

 No surprise this song was in my head much of the day.


The sequence of temperature readings as I drove to work this morning.

Bill Wirtz: Chicago has Lost a Titan

wirtz1.jpgIn many ways Bill Wirtz was a big man. Physically he was tall, thick, and muscular. Even his ear lobes were thick– I don’t know why but that is something I always noticed.

However, Bill filled a room with his stature and force of personality more than his physical presence. Like many titans of industry he got his start in family businesses but Bill was no rich kid slacker. He grew the businesses he took over. He was a traditional business man from an age that barely exists anymore. He was honorable, commanding and strong willed. He knew what he wanted and would push his point but he would listen if you made sense and had the fortitude to push back.

Once you had his trust he was extremely loyal but could be unforgiving to those without integrity. He could get angry but more often he was generous. I have witnessed him share his disappointment with the performance of an executive working in one of his businesses and then turn around and give that person another chance–and a raise.

Bill told great stories. Due in large part to his interesting life and experiences. The Wirtz’s were into many businesses including sports, (best known for owning the Blackhawks and the old Chicago Stadium and part ownership of the United Center), liquor distribution, banking, real estate, insurance and more. These enterprises brought him in contact with well known people in entertainment, sports, business, law and government. Bill had a fantastic memory and an entertaining style of story telling.  

Though he knew many famous and important people he also seemed to know most all of his employees at every level. He was proud of the people who started at an entry level job in one of his businesses, often with no college degree who through hard work, brains and savvy would rise to middle or even senior management levels. These people he had great respect for. The Wirtz businesses provided opportunities to people you cannot find in big impersonal corporations. It was all personal to Bill.

I had the honor of working with Bill as a relatively young professional consulting to a public company’s board committee of which he was chair. At first I was in awe of this man so well known in Chicago but Bill quickly put me at ease and treated me with respect. Not all people with his credentials, and many with less, will not treat you with respect. Bill did. He later used me to advise him on some of his businesses. Through these activities I met his sons Peter and Rocky.

Chicagoans that did not know him often complained about how he ran the Blackhawks, the most public of his ventures. He was mistakenly called cheap and was blamed for several stars leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere. If you had the chance to talk with Bill you would know two things about his Hawks. First, he loved the team and wanted a successful franchise more than any fan on the street. Second,  Bill was a business man first and a sports fan second. He understood that money had to be made in order for the team and the sport to endure. Bill did a lot for professional hockey. This Chicago Tribune article describes this aspect of Bill better than I can.

I will miss working lunches in the Sonia Henning room of the United Center and listening to Bill tell stories.  I will miss Bill Wirtz.

4500 Hazel Street

A week ago my wife and I left the Cubs game and decided to walk for awhile before getting on public transportation to go back home.  My wife wanted to walk home. I estimated we were 7 or more miles from home but that is the kind of thing she likes to do on a whim.

The neighborhood surrounding Wrigley field is reasonably upscale. As you walk north you can go a couple of miles and the area continues to scream yuppyville. But not so slowly after a certain point it changes. The buildings transform from stylish brick to nondescript concrete. The cute little shops and restaurants have disappeared.

At some point I mentioned that we were coming upon areas that I was not sure were safe. Not being certain where the line was, we continued. We went a bit too far. Nothing happened and no one hassled us but we were clearly in a run down part of town. As we headed for the “L” we were feeling uncomfortable. There were groups of teens just hanging out. There was the crazy person walking up and down the sidewalk talking to himself in an agitated tone. Nothing dramatic, we just weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Today I was reading the local paper and had reason to think about our little stroll. Yesterday at 4500 Hazel Street the third shooting death in a week occurred. We were within one block of that spot. Days before the first murder.

After we had safely navigated the area I remember thinking that for the most part we saw normal people in that neighborhood. Families hanging out in the park, couples and parents with kids. (And one crazy guy.) They were just not as economically well off as we are. Now I know they are more disadvantaged than I had realized. They live in an area where they might get killed for no good reason.

Knowing in the back of your mind that these places exist is one thing. Reading about murders in a place we just were makes me realize how close to home this is. Not knowing what to do to change things makes me sad… and a little crazy.

Miles To Go

With less than two months and about 8 training days to go before my second attempt to complete my first century ride I am hopeful but not overconfident. I have been riding 50+ miles for each of the past 4 weekends.

These last two were beyond perfection for biking. Temps in the upper seventies with sunshine and a mild wind. I have ridden 62 and 56 miles respectively over these last 2 weekends.

This past Sunday in need of something to refresh my riding spirit I took the southern route for the first time this season. This takes me along the lake through Lincoln Park, past Oak Street Beach and the museum campus to the south side of Chicago. This is a gorgeous ride through park and lakefront. The only downside is that the stretch through Lincoln Park and Oak Street Beach is the heart of yuppieville. Having once been one, it is not yuppiedom itself I have distain for but for the total self absorption of the people running, roller blading, walking and walking dogs–typically without a leash. This stretch of park has both a 2 lane bike path and a running path and yet people need to run/walk side-by-side or suddenly change direction without looking to see who may be about to run them over. It can be nerve racking which takes away from the zen of riding in such attractive scenery. However, Sunday was my lucky day. The people traffic was light and I sailed through to my favorite riding spot in Chicago.

The ride from just south of the museums to 70th street is paved path with a tenth of the people inhabiting the north side. You view the bright blue water of the lake punctuated occasionally by beachfront or stylish old buildings. Round trip is 16 miles of biking bliss. At the south end is the South Shore Country club. I do not know a good golf course when I see one but I do know that just past the entrance is a beautiful flower garden. A great place for a short rest and rehydration.

Days like this make the days filled with work and airports worthwhile.

That’s Entertainment! Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater


By entertainment, I am definitely not referring to the near awful new Fantastic Four movie. Great visuals but dialogue written by an illiterate 4th grader.

The Black Ensemble Theater was founded thirty years ago by a visionary named Jackie Taylor. It was discovered by our family more than 10 years ago. We have been to at least a half dozen productions, all highly entertaining. However last Saturday was the first time in a few years.

The theater is in a neighborhood that was once run down but is definitely up and coming. It is relatively small with 6 rows along 3 sides of a rectangle with the stage in front. The band sits behind or sometimes above the stage. If you are in the first row there is a reasonable chance that you will be interacting with one or more performers. Typically each production has a theme and tells a story connecting a string of songs and dancing. We have seen productions about Jackie Wilson, gospel great Mahalia Jackson, Do Wop and Chicago Golden Soul. Needless to say the themes are about African American musical artists. Needless to say there is a bevy of fine, and I do mean fine, music to explore.

The Stax record label based in Memphis was the focus of this production. I pay little attention to what label music comes from so I found it interesting to hear the story of one that produced some great artists. From 1960-1975 Stax was the alternative to and antithesis to Motown. The music was often more raw, heavy on the horns. The more famous artists to make records at Stax included the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Booker T and The MGs. Rufus Thomas was a name I had not heard. His songs were often about new dances including the Funky Chicken.

My absolute favorite Stax artists were Sam and Dave. Sam and Dave. Those of you who know Soul Man only because it was covered by the Blues Brothers are missing a life enhancing experience. Sam Moore and Dave Prater are considered by most to be the greatest of all soul duos.  This wasn’t even their best song. You MUST listen to Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “You Got Me Hummin’,” “Soothe Me” and “I Thank You.” Then and only then experience “When Something is Wrong with My Baby”. You will never be the same. According to the show, this duo was as acrimonious off stage as they were dynamic on stage. Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter wrote most of their Stax hits. Sadly for us, they had little success at other labels.

The audiences at the BES have been part of the treat.  A mix of African American and us white folk. With the encouragement of the performers the audience reacts with clapping, as well as hoots and hollerin’.  At least a part does. I will let you guess which part.

The quality of the singing and characterizations were high. The dancing is energetic. It was hard not to have a very good time.

If you are ever coming to Chicago you must check out this gem of Chicago Theater. Let me know when you are going. I will tag along.

Springtime in Chicago


I was going to say something last week when it was in the mid 20s. But no, I thought everyone will be writing about how cold it is. I was sure that by the next week it would be normal spring weather again, I would be biking and this will all be forgotten.

WRONG. April Fools has become a month long celebration. Cold temps and blowing snow on April 11. Could be worse. I just spent 2 days with 40 work colleagues that had to attempt to fly home tonight. I just had to scrape 50 pounds of wet snow off my car. Glass definitely half full today.