That Toddlin Town
"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America". -Sarah Bernhardt
Chicago. The Windy City. Chi Town. Hog Butcher to the World. The most corrupt city in America. The Second City. The City of the Big Shoulders.
So many words written about this great midwestern city. Truthfully, before this trip, I think I'd missed something that I found this time around. I had been to Chicago, for work crap, 3 times before this trip and liked, but didn't love, Chicago. The weather was always terrible. It was 8F on one trip and a muggy 99F on another. I mean, c'mon, I'm a southern California guy! I'm also a Blues man and so I truly wanted to like Chicago. Yet, I didn't think, in this lifetime, that I'd probably get back there. I have European and South American cities to explore. I'm in a constant state of missing NYC, Santa Fe and New Orleans.
But, hey, I'm married. While I gallivant around the Southwest all year my wife is still working. She's a school administrator (what kind of fool would do that job?). She gets only a few weeks to vacation each year and, so, it was her choice. I voted for Mexico City but it was vetoed in favor of a spring trip to Chicago.
I'll admit I wasn't too stoked...until I went online and saw the Cubs were in town...until I got tickets for a Cubs vs. Dodgers game at Wrigley Field. That did it. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve. Wrigley Field is a baseball mecca. I'd wanted to go my whole life. So, nice choice Lupe!
In preparation we set various activities, to wit: House of Blues Gospel Brunch, The Second City, The Chicago Art Institute, the Field Museum, and architectural tours - one walking and one on the Chicago River. What we didn't and couldn't plan for was the graciousness and hospitality of the Chicago citizens. In my lifetime, I cannot remember a visit anywhere where the people were lovelier. Helpful, sincere, thoughtful and polite - I was amazed by the kindness of the people we met on this trip.
Of course, we ate deep dish pizza. Nothing like it anywhere else. We had hot dogs at Portillo's. We had one of the finest dinners, of our lives, at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab on Grand Avenue. The weather was in the 70's when we arrived! Of course it cooled off considerably, thundered and rained on our river tour and was chilly at Wrigley but it was tolerable and it turned out to be a wonderful trip.
This trip was NOT about taking photos but, you know me, I did take a few.
The architecture in Chicago is compelling for many reasons. One can see classical, art deco, modern and postmodern designs. Our trip started with the House of Blues and then a walking tour. In Chicago you spend a lot of time just looking up...
Of course, Lupe wanted to visit Marshall Fields (it was bought by Macy's several years back but no one calls it Macy's). The following are two pictures of the bedazzled ceiling and another Chicago landmark - "The Picasso" which is a source of both pride and derision in the city.
The next day we spent a few hours on a double decker bus tooling around and checking out the city.
That afternoon the rain came lashing down. The wind howled and the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Oh Chicago.
The next few days were spent at various Chicago institutions, Grant and Millennium Parks, the Art Institute and the Field Museum.
Several years ago, my long deceased friend Richard Gillen (of Chicago no less), had given me a fascinating book to read about maneless man eating lions in Kenya that I still think about from time to time. While meandering around the Field Museum I saw a sign that said, "Man-Eaters of Tsavo". Intrigued, I walked to the exhibit which had the actual lions from the story. I was blown away - it was too cool. Don't know the story? Check it out here.
The week flew by. I was worried that the Thursday afternoon Cubs vs. Dodgers game would be rained out as the forecast predicted rain in the morning. It did rain and it was cold but, well, this is Chicago. We took the subway to Wrigley Field and I was there.
I'm a lifelong baseball fan and, of all parks, Wrigley has been my dream destination. Yes, my northeast friends, I know Fenway is cool too, However, I grew up a National League fan and listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett vividly describe Wrigley as a child, seeing it's on TV for many years, listening to Ernie Banks call it the "friendly confines", created a deep desire for me to "someday" go. Oh, how it matched all expectations. Built in 1914, known for some of the most dedicated fans in the country, sitting, like old parks, in a neighborhood, it was baseball sublimity. The fans were marvelous and welcoming. Listening to their comments about the game it was obvious they follow the game closely and were deeply knowledgeable. They only spoke positively about their team, none of the "Beat LA", or "Dodgers Suck" crap. It was how we want to teach our children...root for your team, be humble, and don't disparage your opponent. All class. Man, was I impressed.
It was very cold when we got there. Cubs manager, Joe Maddon sported his trademark wool knit cap and the Cubs played like they knew how to handle the weather. The Dodgers played like they just wanted to go home to warm Southern California. Still, while the game wasn't close, it was a lifetime thrill to be at Wrigley. And to see my Dodgers? Even better. It was a banner experience in my life.
Chicago. The people are the best, the city is a musical powerhouse, the vibe is great, the weather sucks. We had a marvelous time. Thanks for coming along.
My Lifelong Love of the UFW
It's time to DO something, don't you think? Now, that I'm retired I am going to do some things that appeal to my convictions and my passions.
Since I was a young man, the farm workers of California have had a special place in my heart. I don't understand how anyone can drive by the fields and farms in California and not feel great compassion and empathy for those hard working people who feed us. It's back breaking work. Often bent over, in the hot sun or the drenching rain, these folks keep working for infinitesimal wages. Many are forced to live a migrant lifestyle moving from farm to farm and city to city to "follow the crop". Their bodies take a beating, often they get only short breaks, and must inhale pesticides and other toxins. Many, who come here simply seeking a better life, face possible deportation. It is a grueling life. I can't describe the respect I have for these men and women.
Last night I received the word that my education mentor and role-model, Mr. Bill Dickson, had passed away. He was my high school drama director and he cast me as George in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". To motivate me to understand my character he said, "Jeff, he's a lot like you. If he were alive today he'd be working on behalf of the farmworkers". Good old Mr. D., he went right to my heart.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the United Farm Workers march in Madera, California. It was my first time photographing a march and I learned a lot about how to approach this next time. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy looking through some of the photos and see the passion and determination of these marvelous and indefatigable people who feed us.
I need to express my gratitude to Teresa Romero, Jocelyn Sherman, Jamie Padilla and Oscar Mejia of the UFW for allowing me the opportunity to help the UFW in this small way.
At the end of the march there were speeches, and dancing, and music, and food. It was a celebration of brotherhood and a common cause. Bless them for their kindness and hospitality.
You might know that Cesar Chavez was one of my childhood heroes along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cesar's emphasis on non-violence resonates deeply in me still. How lucky I was to be in the presence of his spirit and among people, who despite hardships and unfairness and injustice, find meaning and passion and hope in their lives. They are the best among us. I hope, someday, to get another opportunity to be at marches and help document their indomitable and "Si! Se Puede!" spirit.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.