Archive for August, 2012

Time Travel by Train

I  love taking trains when traveling but am not a regular on Chicago Transit mostly because I have a bike and a car. I only use it when going to neighborhoods that even a Parking Goddess is powerless. Usually the bike is the best solution but the past two days,  I had to carry things that would not fit in my bike bag and would wrench my shoulders in a backpack. The first day, I left late for an appointment and was anxious and impatient on the journey. The train was moving very sloooooowwwwww. I kept thinking how much faster I could have traveled by bike.  There were only a few others sitting in my train car and one of them was a girl with the most annoyingly loud voice, with piercing nasal pitch.  After 5 minutes of that I moved to the opposite end of the car and broke out the iPod which soothed my mood a bit. Eventually I got to my destination, took care of business and returned home without experiencing anything memorable except irritation.  It was one of those days where a bump in the road turned into hamster wheel hell. I was unconsciously working against myself, my mind grinding it’s gears relentlessly. I was a rusting tin woman without an oil can.

But then, day two was a completely different story.  The journey started with a CTA employee that recognized me and said hello with the biggest most sincere and charming smile. He was nice to me the day before but I was too crabby to appreciate it. I like to think he was one of those angels in disguise. A fairy god father who conked me over the head with his invisible wand. I ran up the stairs just as the train arrived and boarded without missing a beat.

I’ve always thought the tourist who only rides the train is missing out on all that is beautiful and interesting about Chicago. I saw it as a back alley view, dirty, dingy and boring. This day I perceived it with different eyes. As the train snaked it’s way south, I noticed details both small and large. Faded vintage advertisements painted on sides of brick buildings. Fabulous terra cotta adornments.  A glimpse of the decomposing Uptown theater waiting for it’s $70,000,000 rescue. The Aragon Brawlroom, still going with it’s painted starry night sky and  the worst acoustics in town. The back porches of apartments, making the best of their rumbling locale with beautiful cascades of flowering plants. Graceland cemetery, a grand lush and historical place that makes death look almost inviting. Next stop, Wrigley field, home of the Cubs and their many drunk and disorderly fans. Lots of childhood memories of going to games with my dad swirl around the train car. There’s the Belmont stop with it’s ghosts of dance clubs past and present: The Quiet Knight, Tuts, Avalon, Berlin, the Vic.  Plenty more to see before the train makes it’s descent to the underworld.

So there I was, heart bursting with pride, affection and wonder. This is my town. I could feel the vibrations of the past and all those who rode this train before me. The good, the bad and the sad. Tourists from all over the world. Homeless folks looking for a place to sleep. Working class stiffs making their way to the factory. Musicians carrying violins and cellos going to Symphony Hall. Sexual deviants exposing themselves to young girls. My mother riding to her secretary office job in the 1940’s. A young me, going to school at the Art Institute. People in love, mourning, troubled and care free.  From ghetto blasters and walkmans to iPods and and finally the legion of people sucked into the world inside their phones. Yes. This was quite the atmospheric and spiritual commute!

How can the same journey be so different from one day to the next?  I say it’s all about living awake and in the moment. There’s a line from the movie Joe Verses The Volcano. “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake, and they live in a state of constant, total amazement.” This may be exaggeration but I do think about this notion when I manage to break out of my own zombie trance. Traveling is never a problem but it’s the day to day grind that get’s me. The goal should be to make each day a journey to discovery whether it be in Paris, Peoria or on a slow train in Chicago.

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Thinking like a super hero!

I’ve been thinking that some of my posts betray the original concept of this blog and may instead be promoting mistrust and that’s been troubling. I am one, that can’t help but tell the truth. I wear my emotions and can only achieve a convincing poker face with supreme concentration. It would be unfair and unrealistic to sugar coat the path to trust. The way I see it, these challenges thrown my way are a kind of bootcamp for refining my intuitive skills. It could also be the bi-product of fear.  Although I may appear to be fearless,  close encounters with the beast scare me and infect my spirit.

And really, this blog is not here to encourage anyone to advertise anything on Craigslist or to rent your spare bedroom on Airbnb. I do this only to support my creative lifestyle and so I might travel and write more uplifting stories! Also, keep in mind that meeting the Unmet Friend through postcrossing.com and Couchsurfing.org has been the real fun-filled deal because nobody is selling anything.

Finally, the fact remains that through these trials  I have ultimately prevailed! I think the trick going forward is to think like a super hero without leaping from tall building in a single bound!  You know…good old fashioned confidence seasoned with a good dose of belief.  Examples, not in order of importance:

1. I believe I will aways find a good parking space no matter how challenging the neighborhood and therefore I am the Parking Goddess.

2. I believe that there’s plenty of good people out there who will want to rent my room.

3. I believe there is a gang of invisible good guys hovering above , always protecting but also stepping aside for lessons that need  be learned.

4. I believe it’s all going to be okay.

So for all you adventurers in training, please learn from my mistakes and keep the faith!

Divine intervention?

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In my ongoing quest to rent out a bedroom, I decided to give Airbnb a shot. An alternative to staying in a hotel,  it’s a sort of distant cousin to couchsurfing but for pay instead of free. One can rent their entire apartment,  a room or a couch and it also works with a review system.

I spent a long time thoughtfully writing my profile and describing my apartment and neighborhood. I posted my own pictures temporarily but also made an appointment for the free professional photo shoot the site offers. Then last night I received a request from a guy named Jeff for 13 nights which added up to be a good chunk of change. His request was polite but brief. His profile was literally one sentence with one photograph. He had been a member of the site since 2009 but he only had one review,  positive, but so brief it was also suspect. I sent him a message trying to squeeze some more details out of him but he kept trying to refer me to the profile on his business website which really wasn’t telling me anything personal about him. Finally I said in so many words : Dude! Talk to me. I don’t know who you are and if you want to stay at my place you need to tell me something otherwise it does not feel safe. He replied that he understood, through me a scrap about how he was staying with a friend and now he’s in a hotel and he needs a place to stay until securing an apartment of his own. He said he wanted to come see the place (which isn’t really the way this site works) and would be happy to meet me somewhere outside the apartment if that would make me more comfortable. I said okay because in this case, I wanted to see him before I committed to such a long stay.  We planned to meet at the corner coffee-house at 5:30.

I got there 3 minutes late, scanning the room for the guy, I could tell he was not there so I sat strategically center stage for an easy find. I’m pretty sure he walked in the door at 5:40 PM. He was wearing a purple tee-shirt, jeans and sandals and actually looked a lot better than his picture. We shook hands and my snap judgement was “This guy is okay”. He asked me about my work and I briefly outlined my creative ventures. We talked for about 5 minutes and since neither of us wanted to order coffee I figured we should just head to my apartment less than a block away. As we approached the front steps, we heard a voice from behind beckoning us to stop and there sat a car that sprung  two undercover cops who were very interested in Jeff. They said someone had made an anonymous call about a man who matched Jeff’s description on my street. They wanted to know if he lived on the block, and what he was doing in the neighborhood. I offered the reason that he was here was to meet and see my apartment as a potential renter. They replied that since I didn’t know him would I mind if they talked to him in private so I stepped away with mind racing “OMG, OMG, WTF, WTF”…..and one more “WTF?”  For those of you who are abbreviationally challenged that’s: “WHAT THE FUCK?”  Three times. I just needed to say it, okay?

The police asked for his driver’s license and inquired about his car and where he was parked. Meanwhile two other police SUV’s converged on the scene forming a blockade as in ” We’ve got you surrounded. Throw down your weapons and hit the dirt!” I approached them again and said “Let me get this straight? Are you saying you got an anonymous call about a guy dressed in a purple tee-shirt and jeans?”  They said “Exactly” . Uh oh. And guess what? He exposed himself to Ms. Anonymous.  Well, the cops couldn’t find any priors on the Jeff so they took off.

I tried to play it cool inward and outwardly. I thought it was down right comical that something like this would happen when I’m deliberately trying to screen him by meeting first. I told him that I found it hard to believe that he would have taken the time to stop and expose himself, on my block, in a bright purple tee-shirt on the way to our meeting. He joked that at least I know he doesn’t have a criminal record. He also said (and I’m not sure if he was joking) that maybe the coffee-house girl called because she was mad that we didn’t order anything. He didn’t sound like he was joking!

So, we went upstairs. That’s right. I figured he probably wouldn’t cut me up into little pieces or show me his privates after the police had just seen him walking in my apartment building. He loved the place and we spent the whole time talking about the apartment and nothing personal. Meanwhile, my mind was doing a continuous dismissal and denial loop of what had just happened. He seems okay and there’s no way he’s a flasher. He said he wanted to rent the room and I said okay. He asked how we should proceed and I said he should request the dates starting Friday night and I would then accept his reservation and he could pay through Airbnb. He asked if we had to do it through the site since we have already met and could bypass the fees. NOT. I told him I wanted to do it legit, start getting reviews and building a good reputation. He said okay, we shook hands and he left.

As soon as I closed the door reality started creeping back into my brain. Doubt. Fear. Hmmm, when I joined Airbnb,  I was going for a different kind of exposure! I don’t have a lock on my bedroom door. I won’t be able to sleep for almost two weeks. Crap. Why did I say yes? But still, I was stuck on my logic which said that behavior made no sense. My current roommate Tori, is a 21-year-old college student about to move back to Ohio for her senior year. She came home and I told her the whole story. After her immediate WTF response, Tori offered her advice,  straight out of what she learned in school:  Judging this situation based  on what I think is clear logic may be incorrect,  for an exhibitionist has a different logic. It’s a compulsion so he could, very well have exposed himself on my street, on the way to our meeting. If I was a cartoon character a light bulb would have shown above my head.

Okay, everyone who thinks God sent the SWAT team to my house please raise their hands? Angels, The Universe, Spirit guides, call it what you like but the timing of that intervention was unbelievable. Possibly, my mother is even up there pulling some strings for me? When I got the final request from Jeff, I declined, only saying it was too long a stay and I changed my mind. Done deal. Lately all roads leading to the unmet friend are littered with lessons. So I’ve learned something. I walk away from this experience not with fear of Airbnb but more savvy of how to go forward and choose the right guests, based on profiles filled with glowing reviews!

Passing up a Prince

 

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On todays short bike ride to the post office I passed a man who threw up his arms declaring “There she is! Where have you been all my life?” I looked at him as I whizzed by and thought about it. Well, I’ve been to 26 countries, married, divorced, back stage at Bowie concert, hit by a car, jumped from planes, on bicycles, on the back of a Harley, horse and camel, in Mini Cooper, on sail boats, trains, ferries, tents and clock towers. Drove a truck, drank beer with coal miners, whiskey with a hill tribe, wine while doing push ups with Frenchmen, danced wildly at punk bars,  picked olives, picked pears, delivered helium balloons while singing songs,  …well truthfully I’ve been a helluva lot of places doing a variety of things.

The man did not look like this:

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He didn’t have any flowers and he was dressed. He also didn’t look like this:

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Nor this:

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He did, however, look like the type of guy who would be seen snuggling up to a:

…..at 10:00A.M.  Wow. Lucky me. Nice to know I’m still turning some heads. Imagine my life if I had been there for all of his?