Archive for May, 2016

A Train Story From China


Sixteen days ago, I sent a postcard to China from an address I received through Postcrossing.  She was a college student looking to add some color to the boredom of her studies. Among her list of favorites were train postcards. In my file box I have a whole category for transportation: planes, trains and automobiles. Since a lot of members request trains, I was down to my last card, the one featured above. She received the card and this morning I woke up to her message:

“Thank you for your train postcard, especially in shadow. I am touched by this scene. Two years ago, I took the train to our capital Beijing, to attend university. That day the train is almost full of people but when it’s ready to leave, the entrance of train is empty. I stand there like one on the postcard, say Goodbye to my parents then, cried secretly. That is the reason why I pay attention to train everywhere.  And Five Hundred Miles always appears in my mind. Overall, thank you for your postcard. It reminds me of that unforgettable experience.”

Usually when a member registers a card I’ve sent, I get a message like “Thank you for the lovely postcard” Rarely do I get a whole story but this example is at the heart of why I love writing postcards to strangers. The image of her from her story was so beautiful and I’m glad in her imagination she see’s this guy on the card as a compatriot instead of just another dude sending a text message! Sure this is an interesting photograph, even though that shadow seems impossible and is certainly photoshopped. Either way, he is not tearfully watching the doors close on loved ones, thinking of the 500 miles that will separate them. At best, he commiserates with a friend, mournfully, over the Blackhawks elimination from the Stanley cup finals. His eyes may have gone watery but no drips.

I picture this innocent girl standing there waving goodbye to her parents like a scene from a movie. It is not a movie in which I would be the star. In my movie, my parents drop me at the train. My mom’s crying and I’m also crying but they are tears of joy. I jump in the air and land with a clenched fist “yes!” as the train pulls away.  I have just hit that jackpot called freedom and all I can see is adventure as my parents shrink into the distance.


Postcard Brother From Another Mother


Making friends and the way we find each other has always amazed me. As I’ve walked through my life in Chicago, there are others I did not know, that walked a parallel path. We danced next to each other at Exit or Neo. We sat at the same bar on the same night. We were at the same Nina Simone concert at the Chicago theater. Or maybe standing next to each other in line for Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Biograph. We were always destined to meet and it was just a matter of time until we finally did. It’s like a grand puppet show, and the puppeteer is improvising with an all knowing wisdom and a bit of ironic humor. “Should I let them meet now…..nah, she’s dancing in a CAGE and entirely too drunk. Let them meet in 20 years at at the Green Mill.”  So be it!

However, that is not the way I met Matt.  He didn’t grow up in Chicago plus he’s living on the pretty far south side from my equally far north side. It’s possible we were at the same flea market shopping for postcards but who knows? Instead it was all about the six degrees of separation within the community.  I had to travel to Spain, to meet another  Unmet Friend, before it could happen!

In 2012 on the way to France, I took a short detour to Valencia. I was exchanging postcards  with Pedro, a member who loved to send and receive comparative views of places from past and present. Originally from Venezuela, he moved to Spain with his family and opened a candy store in the historic center of Valencia. I came to the store, met his wife and little boy and then we went for coffee.  He told me his knowledge of the English language was entirely gathered from watching American film! Suddenly the nature of all his short postal messages made sense! Then he happened to mention his other pen pal in Chicago and his name was Matt.

I already knew of Matt because at the time, he and I were tied for most postcards sent from Chicago in rankings. I know, it’s so geeky but I was going through a competitive stage…one day I’d be ahead and the next day he’d pass me up. He was like a postcard writing machine. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get far enough ahead of him! When Pedro told me they were friends, I decided to stop the secret postal stalking and instead say hello. I sent him a message explaining that I just met Pedro and he replied super friendly and open to a meet up.

Matt is crazy for classical music, so much that he has season tickets to the symphony in multiple cities.  So lucky me, our first meeting was for a performance at Orchestra Hall: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Charles Dutoit conducting, Jean-Yves Thibaudet on piano. The Liszt 2nd Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony.  You all must be really impressed that I remember all that 4 years later. Well don’t be. I had to ask Matt because truthfully, I don’t know shit about classical music!

First we met for coffee to introduce ourselves before heading off to the show. The seats were amazing as we were sitting above and behind the stage. It was a totally unique view and so interesting to see the musicians from such an up close and personal perspective. Kind of like looking at a music box mechanism.  It felt like we were spying on them.  I loved it so much!

Our next meet up was a bike ride and picnic at Graceland cemetery. It may have been my idea to go to the cemetery but it was his to have a picnic. This plan, more typical of vacation in Paris,  was good creative thinking for lunch in Chicago! Cemeteries in Paris are not as uptight about people enjoying themselves among the departed. In Chicago there are signs posted at the entrance to all cemeteries prohibiting bicycles and dogs.  I can understand why they might ban dogs because of the poop factor, but bikes? Cars are okay but bikes might suggest recreation and fun. Would the dead be offended? I don’t think so, but the graveyard police disagree. They busted we renegade bikers and told us to leave, but not until we finished our picnic so it all worked out!

A lifetime Chicago resident and yet I had never been to the historic neighborhood of Pullman, until I met Matt. 25 miles at the opposite end of the city, it was a foreign land to me like most of the south side. This neighborhood has it’s own unique personality. The style of the buildings and the atmosphere, are nothing like any other place I’ve seen. Super charming,  like a village or a town, rather than a hood. Matt invited me to their annual neighborhood house tour:  It was fun and fascinating to get a glimpse inside these fantastic homes but also, admittedly, satisfied the nosey Alice Cravitz within!

Our strongest common bond, for sure, was the postcard obsession but Matt definitely wins the trophy for his collection of cards. His basement was a postcard wonderland! It was like a postcard writing workshop space. More cards than I have ever seen outside a store and truly even more than some stores. Not like a crazy postcard hoarder but an organized professional collector. It was supremely impressive.

It is hard to paint a true portrait of Matt with words. Just like Pullman, I’ve never met anyone  like him. He is beautifully eccentric. What he does for work seems to be the opposite of who he is in real life. No he’s not an assassin. He’s a financial consultant/investment banker.  And yet, he doesn’t have a cell phone, is more comfortable on a bicycle than in a car, and knows more about art then most people I’ve met.  He won’t let me include our funny observation about someone in the symphony because he doesn’t want to be mean and disrespectful. Finally, can anybody out there picture their financial consultant posing like Rodin’s Thinker, in a toilet graveyard?

Matt is presently ranking #35 on most postcards sent from the U.S. through Postcrossing. It seems he’s been slacking because I think he was #23 last I looked. This might be my chance to blow by him, so if you don’t see another blog post for awhile, picture me holed up in my apartment surrounded by my postcards and a fortune in stamps, with fatigued posture and a cramped right hand, writing and scanning, writing and scanning, writing and throwing my new shitty scanner out the window, still writing, etc. That’s right Matt, one day I shall wear the crown!!!







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