Sunday to Sunday (Semi-Independence)

This past Sunday I was going to write a post about how, technically, as of that morning it had been an official week of semi-independence, and a not terrible one at that. But the whirlwind of life and trying to scrape money from out of nowhere consumed most of my time. And, also, dealing with the aftereffects of being magnificently pickpocketed this week. (More on that later)

I can’t remember what happened which days. I’m referring to texts and emails – of which there are dozens – to try to piece together some kind of timeline.  But here are the notable happenings of my first week sans my parents.


On the goodbye Sunday, after parting from my family at Panera Bread, I was collected by the roomie and her family, and dragged along on hours – hours – of shopping for her belongings. It’s always interesting to see how other families operate, and, no matter how nice the other people might be - it pretty much never fails to make me grateful for my family.
After much shopping, we went to Roomie’s parents’ airbnb and I applied for jobs on their wifi before becoming entirely distracted by the Olympics. I don’t understand how I – the least sporty person on earth – turn out to be the one who is most invested in the Olympics in every group I’m part of. I want to hear every word the commentators say. I want to see every competitor, even the ones that have no hope of winning. Next time around, I swear I will have good, consistent Olympics access.

On Monday, I gave the roomie’s family a proper introduction to IKEA. I feel like I was born going to IKEA, so taking first timers was a decidedly bizarre experience. The roomie and her mom had actually visited the store once before – but not properly. They’d tried to run in and out for one thing, not knowing that that’s just not how you do IKEA. When they saw a bed they liked in the showroom, Roomie’s dad asked, tiredly, “Do we need to find someone to come help us take this out of here?” Not knowing that the nice flat-packed version was helpfully downstairs. On the drive home, when the various articles we’d purchased were being listed, he kept saying, “Wait. We got a bed AND a couch AND a bookcase back there?”
We ate lunch at Souplantation (which isn’t called that anymore, but I don’t remember what it is called) and I was sort of delighted to find that their menu hasn’t changed since I was six years old. The same corn bread and soft serve ice cream in those swirly bowls! In a world of change it is nice to have a constant.
In the afternoon I visited an adorable vegan-friendly café/coffee shop called Atomix. The kindly barista was the sort of guy who always looks happy but slightly startled, and stares right into your eyes for a second before responding. I kept wondering if I was saying or doing something abnormal, and it was surprising him – but I think that’s just how that guy was.
I applied for a job at a vegan restaurant and immediately got a call about it, which reeked of desperation, but was extremely exciting.

Tuesday was applying for a million more jobs, and downloading an NBC app so I could watch 30 minutes of free gymnastics at a coffee shop.  Simone Biles, guys.

Wednesday was a day of drudgery.  I sat with the roomie at an uber hipster tea and Indian food place in Wicker Park, applying for jobs. I left to get the electricity turned on, rode a bus for 40 minutes to the wrong place, got hot and hungry and decided to have consolation Chipotle. I printed resumes at FedEx. It was all pretty boring.

On Thursday, during a visit to the West Loop area, I noticed that a positive thing about my neighborhood is that it doesn’t smell like pee. Because, nice as it is, some of West Loop smells like pee. I did more boring grown-up stuff before heading off to a very nerve-wracking interview for a job as a chocolate tour guide. (More on this later.)

Friday I got very, very rained on. Wet socks, wet shoes, wet pants. After going home and getting less wet, I had another nerve-wracking interview at the vegan restaurant. (Again, more on this later.) On my bus ride home, the manager called and offered me the job.  With great joy, I emailed an artisanal cheese peddler from Craigslist that wanted me to interview with him (work would have started at 3-4 am on Saturday mornings) and told him that I was previously engaged. I took my first proper bath in an exhaustively scrubbed tub.

On Saturday we used the oven for the first time.

Sunday was the day of the “See Train” debacle, so I got dumped off in the West Loop, missed my church service, and consoled myself by buying a breakfast of Spicy Buffalo Tofu Strips at Whole Foods (on the way in to whole foods I walked past the most gorgeous black man I’ve ever laid eyes on, by the way - he was wearing SUSPENDERS and still looked good) and eating/tearing them in a way that must have been very unattractive, if not frightening. (But the gorgeous black man was not there to see me, so I didn’t care.) 


Mysteries of Public Transport

So, let me just say this first: overall, taking public transportation is wonderful. People are polite,  drivers are lovely - each bus seems like a portable monument to community cooperation. I've been very successful in figuring out routes and have yet to get lost. The transit tracker app is delightful. And I've learned a lot about how to be a successful transit rider. (See ETIQUETTE AND COOLNESS TIPS to learn more).

However, I still have questions - some relating to points of etiquette, some about the basic workings of the various systems - that have yet to be answered. Actually, these are questions I wrote down in a note on my phone.


What does "See Train" actually mean? 
So, this past Sunday, I tried to take the green line to Lincoln Park. When I got onto the platform – trying to get to church on time and trying even harder to get the song “Get Me to the Church on Time” out of my head – the big screen that shows when the next train is coming, instead of saying the usual “toward 67th/Cottage Grove” said “See Train.” I stared at it. “Does it mean actually see the actual train?” I thought. “Will there be some observable difference? What kind of difference are we talking about? And why would something observable about the train – unless it’s obviously on fire or obviously broken – affect my commute?” 

Then I wondered if it was some kind of code or slang or technical term. I googled about eight different variations of, “CTA green line what does see train mean?” Nothing.

But when I was irrevocably on the train, the conductor (driver? What are they called actually?) said it was not going the whole way down the line because of maintenance. Like, how was I supposed to know this? No one else seemed flummoxed. What does everyone else know that I don’t? Where is everyone else getting their information from?

So, I missed that church service and went to another one. But I still don't really get what "See Train" means. And I would like to know. 

Do I need a Pace Pass?
I think I've answered this one. If I understand it all correctly, PACE buses serve the suburbs. But when you ask Google whether you need one or not - even when you add words like "tourist" or "new resident" or even "help" to your search - there's no definitive answer. I bought a CTA/PACE pass the first week and didn't seem to use any PACE buses, so I haven't bought it again and have had no problems. So. I consider this one answered. 

When is it cool to pull the "stop requested" chain in buses? 
I've been trying to watch other passengers really carefully, to see when really Chicagoans pull the chain so I can mimic them, but I haven't really come up with any clear winners. Like, is it uncool to pull it the moment the sign at the front shows your stop is next? Right now I typically do a kind of nonchalant pull soon but not right after the stop is announced. Like I'm aware, but not super concerned about it. 

I also want to know what's best for the driver, you know? Do they prefer you to pull it as soon as possible so they're warned? Or do they prefer you to wait until the voice reads your stop out and then pull it? I just don't know. 


Basic: when you're awaiting a bus, let people get off before you get on. I've only seen people break this rule a few times - generally the public is very aware and courteous and everyone tries to follow the unspoken rules so things move along smoothly - but the few times it has happened it's been pandemonium. (Well, not pandemonium. People just have to squeeze by each other. But it's clearly uncomfortable and inefficient.)

DO NOT EAT ON THE BUS. It's just gross. I watched this woman eat some chicken on the bus the other day - she would put pieces in her mouth and then yank the bare bones out - and it was the most nauseating thing I've seen possibly ever. And the smell! In an enclosed space even something that you would normally find delicious-smelling becomes a vile odor when it is imposed upon you. Also, as this woman licked her sill obviously greasy fingers, I though of all the handrails and poles and doors that you have to touch while using public transport, and wanted to wash my skin in acid. (Never mind the thought that maybe I forgot and touched my face or something after getting off a bus...)

On the train, people who are standing who really know what's going on stand with their backs agains walls, feet about shoulder width apart. They don't have to touch any handrails or poles, their backpacks - if they are wearing one - are safely smashed against a wall and therefore inaccessible to light-fingered crooks. Their hands are free for texting or music. And because they're braced against a wall, they are far more stable than anyone holding a pole. Next time I ride the train, I'm going to be a wall leaner. Those people know what's up. 


the problem with hipsters

So, remember the bike hustle I mentioned? The one where I text people who are selling bikes on Craigslist and ask if I can trade them design work for the bike instead of cold hard cash? Trying to hearken back to a simpler, friendlier time of sharing and barter between neighbors? The other day I said, "No luck so far – but in a city of 3 million people, I figure it will eventually work on someone." 

I was wrong. 

Because here's the problem: hipsters ride bikes. Most of the bikes in this God-forsaken city, it seems, are owned by hipsters. And what are hipsters? ANSWER: all members of the tiny cross section of society that doesn't need design work because they ARE designers or are in bands with designers or date designers. 

(Bike pictured above? Ukrainian Village with a squished Dark Matter Coffee cup and empty pack of American Spirits in the basket. I mean, REALLY. AMERICAN SPIRITS.)

And it gets even better! If it's a road bike that says "vintage" in the description I can guarantee that the seller is a designer. If the bike comes from Wicker Park, Humboldt Park or Ukranian Village, the seller is a designer. If it says "fixie" in the description, the seller is a designer.  Without fail. 

I'm going to have to specialize my search. Like, try to target med students and sorority girls in Lincoln Park or something.

I'll keep you posted. 


Week 1

IKEA with the family.

This maze in the Garfield Park Conservatory is supposed to align your chakras. We told mom, "race!" and she raced (with an Olympic-level power walk) and said, "I WIN!" 

I went to Dark Matter/Star Lounge Coffee in Ukrainian Village the other day. I'd looked it up beforehand and told the barista (who was accurately described on yelp as a "super friendly hipster"), "I've never been here! Would you recommend this?" and he said yes and then gave it to me for FREE, which made me feel like the City was telling me it was all meant to be. 

One of the dozens and dozens of to-do lists. 

Exercise: Tiny Apartment Edition

I came back to Dark Matter for another Mayan Mocha. They made me feel so happy the first time I came, that I owed 'em.

The world's COOLEST girl biker gang spied while at Dark Matter. There were 5 total, and I just stared. The girl on the white bike had a giant braid kind of mohawk thing. #goals forever. 

CTA scenes

(A hot, muggy day in a semi-industrial/office-y part of town. The sun is bright. Everyone walking around has sweat dotting their shirts between their shoulder blades. KELSEY wears a backpack and is walking, and has been doing so for almost a half-mile, to an office to pay the electric bill.)

KELSEY: I just feel *huff* like there must have been *huff* a bus I could take for this walk.

(At that exact moment, a bus drives by.)

KELSEY: Like that bus.



(The Green Line Train, full of commuters. KELSEY enters with a full shopping bag. She looks for a seat.)

KELSEY VOICE OVER: 2 free seats. One next to a courteous looking black guy. One next to a white guy in a gray pinstripe suit - people who wear pinstripe suits look like villains - who is manspreading and looks grumpy.

(With an "I'll teach you" gleam in her eye, KELSEY sits next to the man in the pinstripe suit. He doesn't move an inch. KELSEY seems to deflate in defeat. A beat. PINSTRIPE SUIT MAN coughs and covers his mouth, but in doing so deflects the cough air on to KELSEY.)


(PINSTRIPE SUIT MAN coughs again.)


(PINSTRIPE SUIT MAN exits the train at the Ashland stop. A beat. KELSEY clears her throat.)

KELSEY VOICE OVER: My throat feels funny.



(A lightly drizzly morning in East Garfield Park. KELSEY and ROOMATE have just stepped out their front door.)

KELSEY: We're going to take the 52 bus. It's a few blocks away.

(KELSEY surveys the sky while contemplating whether or not it's worth getting an umbrella out.)

KELSEY: Well, it's just a light drizzle.

(Lightning cracks above. The rain immediately becomes much, much harder.)




In Google Docs I have a page called EVERY DAY I’M HUSTLIN’. And I use it to keep track, obviously, of all the hustles I’m trying to run right now. Potential jobs to apply for, moneymaking schemes – it’s all in there.  

So, here are the jobs I’ve applied for:

Box office worker
Tour guide
Specialty foods expert (in chocolate, of course)
Food prep worker
Retail “associate”
Café food person
Freelance designer for an “opportunity” for an “entertainment company” (which looks way shady when you put it in quotes.)
Book designer
Social justice designer
Designer for an unknown company making heaven knows what
Theatre marketing materials designer
Entry-level cook
Climbing gym clean-up janitor/phone answerer
Salesperson for a company that imports European active wear and climbing shoes
And, last but not least, a seller of artisanal cheese at farmers markets.

I’ve been here almost exactly 1 week as of right now, so I can’t help feeling that this is a very respectable list. I mean, I had to write cover letters for Pete’s sake.

I’ve also tried to convince two people on Craigslist to barter and give me their cheap bikes in exchange for design work or records. No luck so far – but in a city of 3 million people, I figure it will eventually work on someone.

I saw a guy downtown playing his guitar with a sign that said “fall tuition” propped up inside his open, supplicant guitar case – and my brain surged with visions of me doing the same thing with my ukulele and a sign that says "trying to pay for improv class." I’m sure that would thrill my parents.

I had an interview today, go to one tomorrow, and am arranging one for early next week. Only one job has told me a definitive no so far, so I feel it’s totally fair of me to sleepily envision myself being offered all the other jobs – like Marilyn Monroe being plied with diamond jewelry - and getting to pick between them. It’s not a realistic dream, but it sure is nice to fall asleep to.
And now, it really is time to sleep. I am almost nodding off now. (But I’m going to call 4 more potential job places, write a cover letter and drop off another application tomorrow.)



first week blur

It's been 6 days (5 technically) since I moved 665 miles from my parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas to my first apartment in East Garfield Park, Chicago. And, up to this point, it's kind of been one big blur. I keep forgetting what day of the week it is. I'm exhausted. But, before they are forgotten, here are notable happenings from the first almost-week.

We pulled in to my new neighborhood at about midnight on the 4th. While our block is nice, East Garfield Park is, generally, not super hot. And let's just say that the vibe East Garfield Park gives off at midnight is not one that your already anxious parents will love, and leave it at that.

The next day (maybe? I don't remember) the Lord sent an angel in the form of friendly neighbors who told my parents that everyone on the block is related to each other and that there would be a block party the next day, to celebrate the start of school.

The block party consisted of cars blocking the ends of the streets and two - count 'em, two! - bounce houses and two sets of speakers blasting pop at different ends of the block. Kids were a-bouncin', parents were milling about and I could feel my parents thawing. After my mom met the delightful, grandmotherly next door neighbor, Judy, and got Judy to promise to feed me if she saw me starving, Mom seemed as content as she was ever going to be to leave me here.

Some guy did a rap about gun violence at the speakers at the other end of the street (which made me dart anxious glances at the parents, wondering if they would infer that this means there's tons of gun violence on my street), but they didn't seem to care, and he was wearing a shirt and tie, so. While it was cool that the guy did this big long rap, the whole thing was kind of a downer and no one seemed to like it much. At least, no one really gave it up when the MC told them to.

Mom and Dad, true to gregarious form, milled about in the block party long after my sister and I were socially exhausted, and ended up letting at least 10 complete strangers - three older siblings and countless tweens - in to see the apartment because their grandparents used to live there. While the two lovely sisters told my us about the apartment - who had which rooms, that the lovely, huge tree outside the front gate was planted by their grandmother, having to get switches for spankings off said tree -  the brother (across the crowd on the other side of the room) kept sadly, drunkenly apologizing to my mom, but I couldn't hear what he was apologizing for.
Around 10, a preacher who lives next door apparently came thundering out and ordered the music to be turned off and the trash picked up, and the neighborhood demurely obeyed.

Every night that my parents were here, I prayed anxious little prayers that the neighborhood would be quiet, and peaceful, and genteel-looking, and that they would see no homeless people shooting up or anything even remotely disquieting as we drove around town. And, by and large, it seems that my prayers were answered.

Every day old folks from the retirement home down the road come outside and sit in folding lawn chairs and feed birds.

We noticed, while driving around, that in primarily black neighborhoods the signs have as much information on them as can possibly fit, while in hipster neighborhoods the signs have one word and you can't figure out what the place is supposed to be.

I'm sort of fanatical about watching the olympics, and my family kindly took me to an uber hipster pizza bar in Wicker Park to watch the opening ceremonies. It was the kind of place where your menu is clipped to a board, and there's prosciutto in at least 3 things. The opening ceremonies were, as all opening ceremonies are, wacko but fun. We started to feel bad for depriving our waitress of tips and left during the G's in the parade of nations, which was kind of a bummer, but the clothes this year were disappointingly classy. From what we saw only Germany had something weird going on - but it was a German kind of weird so it wasn't really all that surprising.

We shopped at Target in some suburb, and the crazy-eyed lady who checked us out, when told of my new residence in the city, sternly commanded me to waste no time in acquiring a job. "Well, welcome. Don't waste any time!"
When I lay my weary head on the pillow at night, I see her crazy, sunken eyes boring into me. (Don't haunt me, Target Lady! I have wasted no time! I've applied for 14 jobs!)

The parents left me on Sunday morning at a Panera bread. Mom cried, of course, but I didn't and she didn't as much as I thought she would. When they were driving away I did this big walking dance to show them how delighted and not afraid I was to be getting left in Chicago, but they didn't see. People at Panera bread did, but - and I've thought this several times now - I pretty much never need to be embarrassed in front of strangers because - in a town with 3 million people - I'm pretty much certain to never see them again.

I met the landlady. She's adorable and has frizzy gray hair and a big Chicago accent and had just come from yoga class. She talked at great length about getting special permission to do laps in the little lake in Humboldt Park and all the drama that has ensued this year because the new manager doesn't know her and understand that she's had special permission for, like, 15 years. She's lived in this neighborhood for literally decades, and when plied with the proper questions is a font of useful information, but with charming metropolitan gaps. The purpose of the meeting was to acquire the mail key, and when I asked if you can put outgoing mail in the box, she actually stopped short. "Oh." she furrowed her brows and jerked her head around confusedly. "Huh. You would think... well, how would they know it was new... Huh. I... I don't know!" She's one of those people who tells you long, involved directions for finding great places to park and then goes, "oh, but I guess you don't have a car. Well, If you get one..."

My poor roommate has only lived in two nice houses in the nice suburbs, probably in upstairs bedrooms, and she keeps asking questions like, "So... when people walk around and do things upstairs you can pretty much always hear it?"
"Yep!" Is my ever-cheerful reply.

I got my first blister today.

When two - count 'em, two - people at Chipotle collided embarrassingly with me today - like full-body, total tangles - I walked away unashamed, muttering, "Never going to see them again!"
I find I like living in a big city.