Posts Tagged With: Chicago

“It’s an undergrad dorm, what do you expect?”

(WARNING: People with Arachnophobia, this post contains material about spiders.)

“We would like to apologize for the temperature in the building: it has been unseasonably warm recently. According to a Chicago City Ordinance 13-196-410 Residential buildings: “Every family unit or rooming unit to which heat is furnished from a heating plant used in common for the purpose of heating the various rooms of the dwelling shall be supplied with heat from September 15th of each year to June 1st of the succeeding year…” Thus, we are not able to turn our HVAC system over from heat to air yet, but please feel free to call the City of Chicago to address this issue. And again, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. ” – Facebook post from management

Soon after reading the Facebook post from management, I read a comment by another tenant:

“The small opening of our window (which has been broken all year by the way) is not enough to cool down the apartment. Bugs and spiders also come in. May 31st cannot come soon enough.”

We had cracked our windows open too. My eyes slowly moved to my ceiling and lo and behold, two inch-long spiders had already finished intricate webs above my desk. Another had made a web across our window, and yet another was watching over Renee’s laundry basket.

"I'ma shoot a parachute out mah butt and peace out, yo!!"

Spiders apparently engage in something called ballooning where they shoot little web-parachutes out of their hineys and get dragged around. For them, it’s an alternative to climbing things like, say, our apartment building. The Chicago Sun Times cheerily reports that this “Spiderfest” is a common occurrence in the Loop. Skyscrapers help create strong drafts that take ballooning spiders and whisk them up to the windows of classy lofts, and of course, our student housing. I find this fascinating and I have a profound respect for spiders and what they do (eat bugs I hate). But in my 5’0″ glory, gathering every spider into a little glass jar and setting them free outside was going to be a potentially risky task. So I whispered apologies as I picked up my shoe.

It’s an undergrad dorm, what do you expect?

Well, certainly not what happened that night. I was sitting in a chair and drawing when Renee’s timid little voice called out: “Ummm..!” She was standing in front of our room the carpet sopping wet beneath her. Indeed, when I stepped on the carpet myself, water spouted up like that scene from that Disney movie Dinosaur (2000) when Aladar found water by stomping down on seemingly dry ground. Apparently, people three floors up had left their sink running, draining water down into the apartments below.

I was at practicum when Renee called me, letting me know that our carpet was being torn up and they were putting de-humidifiers and fans in the room. She told me to come back to the apartment later to see if we wanted to temporarily re-locate to another unit for a few nights until the carpet was dry.

I came back to find this, and the answer was immediate. We packed up a few necessities and moved down a few floors, and will be spending the weekend in an otherwise unoccupied unit until the building has fixed our room. Admittedly, it’s nice and quiet down here and if anything, Renee and I have been enjoying the little change of pace.

Hmmm…

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St. Patrick’s Day 2012

I get stupid-happy about St. Patrick’s Day. To me, it’s a day to dress up,  remember my upbringing in an Irish-Catholic school, and now it’s become a day to pine for my hometown again. Nevertheless, I ran my reluctant roommate and boyfriend straight into the crowd with me. Homesickness was not going to best me on this fantastic feast day.

According to the Huffington Post, the St. Patrick’s Day parade dates back five decades and has grown to not only feature traditional bagpipes, marching bands, and floats, but politicians as well. At one point, I was handed a sticker saying that I supported “Thompson”. Who the heck is Thompson, I wondered, staring at the little sticker (that I was secretly glad was free because I love free things), I can’t wear this cool sticker unless I find out who he is. Turned out that the great and powerful “Thompson” is somehow in connected with the Chicago water supply. Sure I’ll support you, Thompson. *stick*

I don't quite agree with your definition of clever, sir, but I will give you props for gluing things to your head and being okay with it.

So there were several interesting costumes and dress-up ideas that fascinated me. One was a gentleman who had glued bottles to his bald head, which still puzzles me. Here are some other interesting pics:

                                          

The parade was what I expected from a typical St. Patty’s parade. Lots of floats, people waving and screaming “HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!”, and the occasional band (I’ve always had a soft spot of bagpipes and would be thrilled to learn how to play them). When the politicians started rolling in, however, I decided that it was time to head towards the river to see how green it really was.

I’ll admit that I thought the pictures of past river-dyeings were somehow doctored. That was just way too green. Radioactive, almost (which would be appropriate, considering what’s in it). And yet, we got there and I was stunned to see that the pictures were VERY true to the color! The dye is apparently environmentally friendly, created to trace pollution in water supplies. It was pretty neat to see, even if we kinda hurried past it in search for reprieve from the sweltering heat.

Was it the throngs of people that made it so uncomfortably hot? The fact that I hadn’t hydrated after the pre-gaming I’d done the previous night (Fact: 13 million pints of Guinness beer are consumed on St. Patrick’s Day)? Or was it just the fact that it was unseasonably warm? I don’t know, but I felt myself going a little faint and craving something iced from Caribou Coffee.

AND WE FOUGHT TO GET TO IT.

The streets, the buses, and the subway were all jam-packed with people. We pushed, shuffled, squeezed, tripped, inched, and slithered our ways to the Red Line where some guy with a green buzzcut nearly fell on top of and squished Renee. Down in the depths of the Lake station, people cheered when the trains of packed cars pulled up.

By the time we got to Caribou, I was fighting off sleepiness, so I chugged a medium-sized iced coffee…

…and fell asleep as soon as I got back to my room.

Overall, the parade was alright. I’ll have to say that the size of the crowd was almost overwhelming and I hated not being able to walk to places very easily what with all the people. But I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: Chicago knows  how to celebrate. The smiles on people’s faces, the diversity of people sporting green, and the fun-filled atmosphere make the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago worth experiencing.

[The night ended on a nice note, with a fun get-together in our apartment watching Robin Williams, having a few drinks, and me getting to practice my tribal-tattooing skills (Mama, I promise it’s only Sharpie marker.)]

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Free Things to do in Chicago this March.

Trader Joe's, what is this nonsense?

Even the wretched 80’s techno songs upstairs can’t dampen my mood today. The sun has been shining down on the city, and despite the icy air, I enjoyed the walk to school. The sun played a horrible joke on me last week, where it shined all through my class time so I could see it (just outside the effing window), and the moment I stepped outside, the sky became overcast, wind started blowing, and the icy rain joined in the melee. Well played, Chicago winter, well played. But no, that didn’t happen today. Today, the sun is shining, and I feel a little more encouraged to go exploring again soon. And thank goodness too, I was beginning to feel like a mopey bum.

So let’s see museums are free to visit this March (according to Free Things to Do in Chicago):

The Adler Planetarium: – March 6-7

The Art Institute of Chicago – March 7, 14

Charnley-Persky House Museum – FREE guided tours are offered every Wednesday at 12 Noon. Tours are limited to 15 guests, first-come, first-served.

Chicago Children’s Museum – FREE for all visitors every Thursday, 5-8 pm. FREE on the first Sunday of each month for children 15 and under.

Chicago History Museum – None this month

Clarke House Museum – CHICAGO’S OLDEST HOUSE – March 7, 14, 21 & 28

DuSable Museum of African American Art – March 4, 11, 18, 25

Field Museum – March 1, 6

Glessner House Museum: – March 7, 14, 21 & 28

Jane Addams Hull House Museum – Free every day

Loyola University Museum of Art – March 6, 13, 20 & 27

Museum of Contemporary Art – March 6, 13, 20 & 27

Museum of Science and Industry – March 5

Museum of Surgical Science – Tuesdays

The National Museum of Mexican Art – Free Tuesdays to Sundays

Notebaert Nature Museum March 1, 8, 15, 22 & 29

Shedd Aquarium – None this month

Smart Museum of Art at University of Chicago – Free every day

Swedish American Museum – March 13

I’m particularly psyched about the Museum of Surgical Science. I grew up with a Doctor Daddy and a Nurse Mommy, and have always been interested in their fields. My college biology grade doesn’t quite reflect that (eh, it was a B. Good enough, I say.) I also want to see the Adler Planetarium, as it’s a pretty building and I’ve always been curious about it.

I hope you guys take advantage of a few of these if you’re in Chicago. Grab a few friends and jump out there!

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“Police Activity” on the Red Line + The Irish Oak

Last night, we bypassed the Grand stop on the Red Line due to “police activity”. I used my limited powers of tweet to ask what was going on. @CTAtweet sent me a link to the news story. It turns out someone was actually hit by the Red Line. They had to pull the victim out from under the train. *shivers and crosses herself* See, that’s why I’m afraid to be anywhere near those rumble-strips (the ones they put for passengers so that they don’t step unknowingly off the tracks). Within a week, I’ve heard about a woman getting raped on the Red Line (near my stop), and now someone’s gotten hit. I love me some public transit, but even I’ll have to admit that this stuff is pretty dark.

The blue paint here has raised dots that you would feel under your feet. Hopefully that brings you to attention when your spaced out and wandering about the platform. This just happens to be a picture from a story about a rooster who was stuck on the Blue Line tracks.

Unaware of the incident till much later, I went with a few good people to the Irish Oak. A quaint little Irish bar down on Clark Street, I was really impressed by the atmosphere of the Irish Oak. It’s cozy, lined with empty and signed Jameson whiskey bottles, and the staff is phenomenal. We sat down to the dulcet sounds of Switchfoot, and gave our orders to a busy but cordial waitress.

Now I am not a big fan of drinking in bars for several reasons:

  • I’m stingy.
  • I don’t like how I act when I’m tipsy or drunk. I form don’t words right.
  • I’m a lightweight. So if I order a drink, chances are I’m going to be acting funny halfway through.
  • I want to be keenly aware of my surroundings when I’m navigating the streets on the way back home. I am typically grasping my pepperspray in my pocket, so I don’t want to peg innocent people because I couldn’t aim right. If you’re gonna mess with me, I want to spray you.

She makes pepperspray look fun. Just look at that confident smile!

So while I can’t testify to how well the tenders mix their drinks, I can tell you how great the food was. A regular patron of the bar who was with us that night recommended the “Irish Oak Burger”. Guys, there was so much meat in that burger. The cheese melted over it just right, and the burger buns they use are somewhat sweet and just a little greasy (oh, my stomach just grumbled at the memory of it!) I was craving this reward for the horrible week (which involved a Thursday driven by a 5-Hour Energy shot, coffee, and tea). The fish and chips are also reportedly very good too 🙂

The flash of my phone camera makes the food look radioactive. But do you see that mound of tater-tots? Best tater-tots I've ever eaten. Time to move up a size in blue jeans.

Something else that impressed me about the place was that they had a drink size called “Fishbowls”. For those of you who don’t know what a fishbowl is, it’s typically a really, really large serving of a drink. The ones I’ve seen are usually put in a comically large snifter. This was the first time that I actually saw the drink put into a real fishbowl.

Well-sized, $20 fishbowls for those of you who can actually HOLD your liquor. (I'd probably fall over a quarter of the way through).

If you’re looking for a place to go for St. Patrick’s Day, you may want to look into this place (if there’s room, of course). Check out the food and drink menus to see if prices and drinks appeal to you. As for me, I plan to be at the parade downtown. I’m really excited to see how Chicago’s celebrations compare to Savannah’s! Does anyone have any specific St. Patrick’s Day plans?

The Irish Oak
3511 North Clark Street  

Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 935-6669

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Get up, get up, get going! – The CTA and why I love to use it.

“It’ll be worth it one day” has been my mantra over the past few weeks. I’ve been dragging myself out of bed, through the streets, into school, and into bed, hoping that I can just sleep the weekend away to make up for the sleepless school week. Many of us lead lives like this, in which we’re exhausted and overwhelmed. The freaky, sunless weather doesn’t help either. When life has begun to rake me across coals, sometimes it helps to stop and enjoy the small things in my life.

And dear friends, that brings me to the topic of my blog today: The Chicago Transit Authority, (CTA). 

When I first came to Chicago, I was psyched that public transportation was a big thing. Back at home, we have the sketchy Chatham Area Transit (CAT) buses, but because Savannah is such a spaced-out city, it was best to just have a car if possible.  This should be really neat, I thought to myself. I’ve only used subways when I visited New York or DC. What an adventure this will–

“You b****!”

On my second week in Chicago, I spun around when I heard a sickening thud on the CTA Red Line. A small woman was jumping up and down, crouched, on one of the seats. Another woman was sprawled across another set of seats, holding her cheek with a look of shock and fear on her face. People shifted uncomfortably around them as the small, jumping woman began berating the other woman for touching her. “Don’t you dare touch me!” she shrieked. “Don’t you dare f***ing touch me!” A tall black man stepped between them. “Look, you both need to calm the f*** down,” he said in a soothing voice. He turned to the woman who had been punched. “You need to calm the f*** down.” He turned to the agitated woman: “And you need to calm the f*** down. Okay?” -Red Line

I figured I would just be enjoying the convenience. I didn’t realize what sorts of things I would see. But when I did realize, I began to like the CTA even more. For even though I may be running late (hoping that the bus would just mow pedestrians down *just this once* so I wouldn’t miss my lecture), the buses and trains are wonderful sites for people-watching. Within the swelling, impatient masses of people crowding on and off the transits, there are individual stories unfolding.

Orange Line– Two college-age boys jumped on the Orange Line and announced that they were part of a singing trying to get off the ground. “And we just want you guys to know, we are not bangers!” they said in perfect unison. They performed a great duet, one of them hitting a falsetto so high that made me jerk in alarm. They finished their song as the train approached my stop, but as I exited the train, I heard a woman introducing herself to the boys, saying that she was a talent agent and was interested in representing them.

Orange Line– A young woman and a small toddler sat on the Orange Line, side by side. The toddler was bundled up in a poofy, pink jacket, barely able to move her arms. She begins to fuss, moaning quietly. The young woman beside her snapped “Shut up! I told you to shut up!” The toddler went quiet, then began to fuss again. “I can’t wait to get off this damn train,” the young woman growled, looking at the toddler. At the next stop, a man who had been sitting a few chairs down from me got up, poked the little girl’s shoe, and said “I love your shoe! Have a nice day, okay?” When the young woman and the toddler got off at the next stop, even my boyfriend (who insists children “traps”) gave the little girl a wave (sorry baby, I needed to share that cute moment.)

Bus– I stood at a the bus stop next to a rather large woman who was complaining to a stranger about how people with wheelchairs shouldn’t be using the buses. “Then we have to clear out 4 seats worth of space so they can get on,” the woman squawked, “See, they shouldn’t be using the buses. They have options. They can just– you know,  call some service to come and pick them up instead of holding the rest of us up. They really should make rules about it.” The bus finally pulled up, and when I followed her into the bus, I saw she took up three seats.

Bus— (This is my favorite story) A car driver suddenly cut my bus off at an intersection. The bus driver slammed on the breaks. I grabbed a nearby pole and stifled a scream. Half the people in the bus, however, began to rattle off a long string of loud curses. The most prominent of them all was a little old lady, hair in a bun and tucked under a sweet little hat: “”F*** that f***ing mother****er! He ****ing cut the f***ing bus off! F***er doesn’t know how to f***ing drive!! F***!!”

Blue Line– (this just happened to me tonight) A man with a cane approached me, and asked me if I knew what a violence statistic was. I asked him what it was, and he began to mumble, pulling out three $20 bills. “…but at least I got my health.” I heard him finish. “Well that’s good then.” He eyed me, then said “What are you, FBI?” “I don’t think so.” “Damn FBI. You probably are one. You’re an FBI agent!” He began to mumble again, and then proceeded to accuse me of trying to get legal status in the United States. Thankfully, around this part, we came to my stop and I exited the train.

Those are just a few of the memorable stories I have from the CTA, and people I know have even better ones. It is for witnessing interesting moments such as these that I like riding the trains and buses. I also love it when I get on a crowded bus and have to stand up front. In front of those big big windshields, and what with the crazy maneuvers the bus drivers use to get through heavy traffic, it feels like a theme park ride.
I will probably grow tired of the CTA, and all the germy, greasy, crowdedness that natives here seem to hate with a vengeance. But 6 months into my residency in Chicago, I’m still kinda digging it.
 —
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My Loopy Lullaby: Noises that make me consider moving.

As a resident and student of downtown Chicago, I almost never leave the Loop. I see it during the day when it is full of life, shopping bags, that occasional odd person, and of course, those art students with their fancy glasses and skateboards. I rarely plug into my iPod anymore when I’m walking to school because I love to take in the sound of a busy city morning.

For the night, however, is another matter entirely. A constant popuri of strange, there is always one moment in the night when my roommate and I both look up at each other, one of us inevitably asking: “What was that?” So in no particular order, here are my “favorite” night noises that I hear from my apartment at night:

#1) The L

When my parents first helped me move into my apartment, they marveled at the view I had from my window, then were instantly blown back by the loud, abrasive racket of the CTA trains passing. “How are you going to sleep at night?” they asked, genuinely concerned. “Eh, I’ll probably get used to it,” I said, “Seriously, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

#2) Screaming– They come in all different durations and pitches, male voices and female voices. This isn’t just occasionally– we hear at least one every night. I’m not talking the “ooh, having fun with the gals” sort of screaming. It’s the type I don’t know how to make sense of. I told one of my security guard friends at school about this, and she said: “You need to call in and report the weird noises you’re hearing”. I told her that if I did that, I’d be calling them every five minutes. *sigh* Undergrads…

#3) Parking Garage Alarms- I don’t know who designed it, but there’s a particular one that woke both my roommate and I up on our first nights here, saying: “Are you kidding me?”. It changes sound every three or four seconds, going from a looooong moan, to the sound of a self-destructing space ship, to the wail of a police siren, to a high pitched whooping noise. There has to be at least ten different alarms in this parking garage’s arsenal. An example of when diversity is not okay.

#4) HONK HONK– SMASH-  I feel horrible, but when I heard it, I chuckled. Then hoped they were okay.

#5) Cool People with Cool Speakers- Until recently, my roommate and I got to hear and feel the bass speakers of other students permeating through the walls. I love me some Pitbull (Dale!) but really? Your cool is just too awesome for me.

 

#6) Animal Noises- I’m not talking the kind that’s usually paired with your neighbor’s mattress springs. I mean there are people who go out into the hallway and make convincing and loud animal noises. At first, it used to cheese me off. Then I started to laugh as I realized it was their way of asking to be let into someone’s room. Now I just laugh.

#7) “We’re watching My Little Pony, M************!”- ………………..I…can’t actually explain why the menacing, deep-voiced male of college age woke me up at 2 AM with this public service announcement from the hallway. I can honestly say I wish I had found out.

#8) Whatever they’re doing upstairs. It sounds like this.

While I’m thankful for such a conveniently-located, well priced living space, I’ll probably be keeping my eyes out for other options. In the meantime, I’ll be laughing at the drastic change from crickets and wild birds to the dulcet sounds of questionable activity outside the window.

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Helping the Homeless: Small Things Matter

His name: Revolution MacInnes. 

Hearing Rev’s story was inspiring. He used to be homeless, but found out how to get his needs met by using social media. He is no longer homeless, and has started an organization called “Small Things Matter”, in which he wants to use this same method to help others who are still homeless. In particular, he wants to accomplish this by identifying and helping those people whose situations would be improved if they had a small need met, hence the name of the organization.  Eventually, he wants to add questions to the homeless shelter intake forms to identify these small, important needs as quickly as possible.

So what do we mean by a small need? Well, here’s an example. A man named Steve lost his glasses. His inability to see well lost him his job at a car washing business. In losing the job, Steve lost the ability to pay for housing, and ended up homeless. Rev helped him find the resources to get at a new pair of glasses, and Steve was able to both get his old job back and even get a second job working with animals. Those glasses, a relatively small need, made a big difference. And it’s those needs that Small Things Matter hopes to help with.

We’re using social media to increase awareness and find support (which means I actually had to bite the bullet and learn Twitter). But through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and WordPress, the organization has been growing like crazy.

And watching that process has been such an experience.

Rev, Bri (the other intern), and I bring our laptops to a local Starbucks and do our internet-based work together. Now Rev, being a very sociable guy, is not afraid to talk to people sitting around us. Through simply talking to people, he’s found contacts. He’s found other people who are trying to start their own organizations, he’s found computer programmers, and life coaches. In addition, Small Things Matter has connections to cosmetologists, professors, and psychologists. And then there’s the two therapists in training (Bri and me).

So we’ve got this hodgepodge of people with seemingly non-related professions. What good is this? You’ll be amazed. Working with Small Things Matter has taught me an inspiring lesson: anyone can make a difference. Even I, an awkward psychology student with no clinical experience, can do something to help by offering my modest research skills. We’ve been receiving help with our website, support/advice for our research, ideas for fundraisers, and the list keeps growing. People willing to help the homeless in their own way are lending their talents, gifts, and abilities to aid in the cause. It’s this teamwork that is helping this non-profit organization gain more momentum.

So hopefully this has grabbed your attention. Wanna donate your time and talents to helping the homeless? Got ideas or insight? Maybe you’ve got a few bucks you want to give? Heck, perhaps you’re just curious. For more information about Small Things Matter, go to: http://smallthingsmatter.org/

Thank you for reading! God bless!

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Let’s Talk Weather.

The Windy City is full of things I can praise it for, but the weather isn’t one of them.

Chicago's "Snowpocalypse". The people of Georgia would have died in this. Better yet, we probably would have seen the snow coming on Weather Channel and avoided any vehicular activity for the next week.

Chicagoans seem to have an interesting fascination with their weather. If they’re not telling you how cold it is outside, they’re prepping for it during the summer months. Luckily, I’ve heard enough about last year’s “Snowpocalypse” and enough winter-dress advice to stock my wardrobe with a long down-coat, snow boots, thermals, and an armada of scarves.

Something I didn’t realize when moving to Chicago was how seldom the sun comes out during the winter. Had I known this, I would have put a little more thought into coming up here, or at least preparing for it. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, I practically photosynthesize my happiness. Daniel (my boyfriend) maintains that my mood depends strongly on the weather, and has threatened/offered to buy me a light box to shine in my face until I get happy again. I’m starting to think it’s a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong: the weather is tolerable. I throw on my coat, my boots, a scarf, and I skidaddle. The weather itself doesn’t ruin my day. I still love being out when the snow is falling, and I still love playing in powdery seas of white. But I miss the big bright sun! How I took it for granted during my warm Savannah winters!!

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“Oh. God. No.” – Finding Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

  

Sevilla, Spain

Two summers ago, I studied abroad in Sevilla (Seville in English), a city in Spain’s autonomous state of Andalucia. A beautiful little city, Sevilla was full of culture and most importantly, great food. My favorite dish there wasn’t the famous rice dish, Paella, like I thought it would be. No, it was the delicious and deep-fried ham and cheese croquettas (think mozzarella sticks, but better). Since I left Spain, I’ve dreamed about croquettas. I’ve looked them up on the internet and been afraid to make them (they involve deep frying and I always end up burning myself over and over with hot oil).

Well, it’s a good thing I pay very close attention to the ads on the CTA trains. I saw a sign advertising “Cafe Ba Ba Reeba” a restaurant touting a classy atmosphere and authentic Spanish cuisine. My dopey-hopeful self scrambled through the internet to find a menu. Did they– did they– did they…

YESSSSSSSSSS. Croquetta time. God bless Chicago.

By this time, it was about 11:30 AM, and my roommate had just emerged from the bedroom. Bleary-eyed and still in a nightgown, I asked her if she wanted to come (“Renee. I found a Spanish restaurant and I’ve decided you’re coming with me.”) Between my disregard for others and my tendency to fall asleep when I’m angry, I’ve determined I must actually be a toddler.

One exciting Brown Line ride later, we found ourselves in Lincoln Park. One of 77 communities in Chicago, Lincoln Park used to be the site of Indian settlements. Of course, settlers came in and took over. But in 1889, it became part of the greater Chicago area.

The area is gorgeous, for the most part. Speckled with little boutiques and darling architectural masterpieces, I was really excited to be wandering the streets just off the Armitage stop.

Too bad I lack the ability to follow Mapquest.

I led us in the complete opposite direction of where we should have been walking. As we watched commercial spaces slowly turn into residential neighborhoods, Renee began questioning my logic. Typically, I scold her when she questions the world and more specifically, me,  but when I saw these directional signs, I too began to question.

Even further down that same alley...

Well, after asking a mailman and wandering around for an additional several minutes, we finally began approaching 2024 N. Halstead, and as I stared ahead at where mapquest had led us I kept thinking to myself: “Oh. God. No.”

It looked trashy from the outside. And as we came closer, we saw that it was in fact the Cafe Ba Ba Reeba we were looking for. But once we stepped inside, the atmosphere changed. The inside was beautiful, well-decorated, dimly lit, and cozy. Candles glowed on each table. A display of dangling pig legs, Sangria, and little tapas were reassuring. They hung pig legs in Spain too.

The dangling things are salted pig legs. Don't cringe, the Spaniards know how to work the ham.

We sat down to a very well-set table, and snacked on the bread they brought. If I may make a recommendation when going to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, use their olive oil as a dipping sauce, with a dash of pepper. It is incredibly tasty when you dip your bread in it. Makes sense– the Spaniards take pride in their olive oil!

Not ten minutes after we had placed our orders, our tapas came out.

  

The picture on the left is of the chicken and ham croquettas, and the one on the right was of the sausage-fried paella (note: these pictures were taken halfway through the meal, so that gives you an idea of portion size). Full of hope, I bit into the croquettas, and nearly died from happiness. They were exactly like the ones my host mother had served us in Spain. I don’t think I’ve ever savored food that much before. The paella came with a hardboiled egg on top, which you are supposed to mash and spread around in the rice. Unfortunately, the paella did not live up to my expectations, but it was still quite good.

For those of you with a taste for spicy food, try ordering the spicy potatoes. Soft and savory, they seemed just the right amount of spicy. Renee enjoyed them a lot.

I plan to come back to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. Despite an average of $6 per tapa, two to three tapas should satisfy you. So while it’s not the cheapest place to eat, you will find good Spanish food, a great atmosphere, and if you go at lunch time, fast service. The atmosphere also makes it a great place to bring your sweetheart (Oooh, that’s an idea for Valentine’s Day)!

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba
2024 N. Halstead
Chicago, IL
(773) 935-5000 

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Why Lettuce Hangs from the Ceiling, and Why I’ll be returning to Chinatown next Lunar New Year

Today we went to Chinatown for the Lunar New Year celebration. Apparently, this marks the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s Chinatown. After the transcontinental railroads were completed, many of the Chinese who had immigrated to the US ventured out from the West coast and came to places like Chicago and New York, thus leading to a concentration of Chinese in the city.

All history aside, I’ve avoided Chinatown like the plague, if not for the dubious conditions of the streets, then the scarcity of people I’ve seen as I pass on the train. However, because I’ve been hearing about this parade for a while, I was willing to give it a shot.

Where's Waldo?

It turns out that Chicago adores the celebration of the Lunar New Year! There were so many people that it was hard to find a spot to watch from. The parade began with a slow trickle of old men in military garb, a disarmingly long dry spell, and suddenly, the party was on.

As expected, there were a lot of parade dragons bobbing up and down the street!

What I loved best about the parade was not the taste of Chinese culture, but the school bands! Never before have I been to a parade where the school bands played so well, with such attitude and enthusiasm, blaring out a really neat version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”.  Now, some of the floats were…

Haaaaaaaaaa... nice try.

…subpar.

But overall, the enthusiasm from the people in the parade energized the crowds and made the parade worth seeing.

BEHOLD THESE FRAMED GLOSSY PRINTS!

Well, Renee was starting to get hungry, so we fought through the crowds, which were tight and frustrating. Sometimes we would stand still for several minutes before the lines moved again. People from many walks of life, many ethnic backgrounds, and many stories squished us against walls and nearly ran us over as we scrambled to find a restaurant that wasn’t teeming with people. SUDDENLY–

Random woman in the crowd: "WHAT THE HELL?!"

Yeah, that nearly ran us over too. Well, most of the restaurants were packed, but when I saw one that looked relatively empty, I all but shoved my poor roommate in there.

The waitress came up to us and stammered in broken English that she had no English menus to give us. I asked her if she would give us recommendations. “I can try,” she said warily. We sat down, and when Renee asked what there was to order, the lady gave her two choices: beef or fish.

“Er…beef?”

“Spicy. Hot. That okay?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Renee chirped back.

“And come with vegetable. That okay?”

“Yeah!”

So we sat and sat and sat. Then I looked up and saw something odd and green.

It was a head of lettuce hanging from the ceiling. I stared at it, making sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was. Then Renee and I were both staring at it. When our waitress came and delivered some delicious dumplings to our table, I asked her: “Why is there a head of lettuce hanging from the ceiling?”

“Lettuce,” the woman said gruffly, looking at us like we were idiots.

“Yes,” I replied, “But why is it hanging there?”

“Dunno,” she said curtly, turning on her heel and walking off to the kitchens. So I tried asking a second waitress, who offered a good explanation: in one of the Chinese languages, “lettuce” and “get a lot of money” sound the same. Thus, this head of lettuce was a wish for wealth.

We STILL don't know what's in it.

So “beef” came. It was for the most part delicious. The beef was cooked with incredible skill, unafraid to be a little greasy and deliciously seasoned. The dish, as the waitress promised, was spicy and littered with red pepper flakes. We really enjoyed the meat, especially mixed with the well-cooked rice. There was, however, one vegetable that numbed the insides of our mouths.

“Renee, the inside of my mouth is numb. Not from spiciness. Just…numb.”

“Oh thank goodness. I wasn’t gonna say anything.”

“Yours too?”

“Yeah.”

Despite the numbness in our mouths, the food was of very good quality and very different from the takeout that we were used to at home. It was not slathered in sweet or spicy sauce, but relied on a spicy soup to keep the food moist. While I wouldn’t recommend this for people on strict diets (some items were shamelessly greasy), I recommend it for people who want to find that “hole in the wall” restaurant that stays open because of the quality of its entrees.

Unfortunately, I forgot to get the name of this restaurant, but if you get off the Red Line at Cermak-Chinatown, pass under the red Chinatown gate, and look for a small restaurant with bakery items in the front and seating in the back, you’ve found it.

Enjoying some yummy...whatever it actually was.

After a series of awkward pointings from the credit card to the cash register, we finally paid the bill and left.

We did some shopping in the deliciously low-priced shops, we came home in a hurry because unlike real adults, I don’t use restroom facilities before going out on an adventure. But once we got home, I got to add to my Asian decor with a wall scroll (with a picture of a dragon and tiger snarling at each other) and some awesome lantern lights. Eee, so pretty!! ❤

I've always wanted strings of lantern lights!!

I’m really glad I went to Chinatown. I got to watch a great parade, hear great music, eat some amazing food, and have some hilarious experiences.

Happy Lunar New Year,
and Happy Year of the Dragon!

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