The Speed of Purpose | train tales

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It was the fastest he moved all week. The train had already begun its forward momentum as he darted down the grooved, rubber-lined aisle toward the doors. He used to run hurdles in high school, but that was 20 years ago. Laptop bags and purses replaced the 42-inch high plastic bars he used to fly over.

“Please wait!” he squeezed out. But it was too late.

Trains don’t accept excuses.

Trains don’t wait.

His great misfortune, other than being six seconds too slow, was missing his stop on an express train. The train continued to sway and glide down the rails, passing stop after stop. Rush hour traffic crawled on the adjacent expressway as the train surged farther and farther from his stop and his waiting wife.

He stared out the window at each passing town. He began dwelling on the little moments that he could have changed that would have given him those extra six seconds.

If that conferrence call didn’t drag on…

If the elevator had come a little earlier…

If he was half a step faster to catch the WALK sign…

If he listened to the onboard announcement alerting the train’s impending stop at Clybourn…

Rough Life | Train Tales

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Goo-ing and gah-ing, the couple made noises reserved for newborns as they waited on the slush-covered platform for the 8:01AM train.

Snow started falling as if a theater assistant was high above on the catwalk and sprinkling the perfect amount of snow to set the winter scene.

“I’ll call you as soon as I get there,” she promised.

“Have a good day, honey,” he replied.

The down vest-wearing golden retriever said nothing as the commuter capsule pulled away from the station with the woman who thought she was his mother.

A Year of Adventures and Doing Stuff

Rodin on traveling abroad.

December 31, and the week leading up to it, has always been of interest to me. The culmination of a calendar year causes me, and seemingly every other blogger, to reflect on the past year’s events, what happened, what didn’t, where’d they go, what did they cook/eat, who did they date. The arbitrary nature of time demarcators has led me to question the significance of today versus yesterday or any other day. As a society (and world) we mark today as the end of the year and tomorrow the day to join a gym, just as soon as the room stops spinning and we find our pants.

In stark opposition to the mindfulness movement, I have largely been focused on the parts bookending “now.” Where am I today versus a year ago? Where will I be a year from now? In my 29 years I can safely assert that I am not clairvoyant, nor a historian. I often struggle with remembering where I parked my car or what I just ate. I have a vague notion of where I will be tomorrow and maybe a week from now, but beyond that…

The basis for mindfulness is that you can’t change the past, nor predict the future, so why worry about either? If you have any friends who post those inspirational quotes or read any profiles on a dating site this year, I’m sure you’ve read some variation on that axiom, likely attributed to Buddha.

While I try to become more “now,” I did want to enumerate what happened in 2014, mostly so I have some reference point when I fry my brain from rapidly vacillating between gadgets and apps.

Travel

Oh, the places you’ll go…

Where didn’t I go this year? I have dreamed about going to Europe for many a New Year’s reflection day. This year finally was the year. After dating Leann for about two months, I shared that I wanted to spend my birthday somewhere other than Chicago. She asked where and I said Italy and Paris. She followed up with inquiring if I was going solo or with friends. Leann shared that if no one else would go, she would be interested.

“How committed are you? If you had to give a percentage…”

“75-80,” Leann answered.

A few weeks later I asked “Are you sure?” no less than five times. And after that our first trip was booked. My quest for a passport stamp would be realized. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve looked at those stamps since the adventure. Even more peculiar was that someone was willing to go overseas with me for a prolonged period of time.

Stops along the way: Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Fajardo, Old San Juan.

Each inspiring and beautiful in their own way. Florence was one of the most breathtaking places I have been, possibly due to the steeply sloped hills. Traveling was one of the main themes for my writing this year. While it certainly can be expensive, seeing other cities and cultures opens the mind. Plus, I don’t think many people want to read about my daily commute. Traveling is my escape to newness. Experiencing a city for the first time is magical. There is no feeling like my first time in Paris. Walking around Paris that premiere nuit. Wandering in the damp and chilly early evening. Emerging from the Metro and seeing I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid. Turning to Leann with mouth agape. Then walking some more. Wandering. Then, our feet hit the damp pavement a little faster. There it was. Illuminated in all its glory.

Le Tour Eiffel.

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I have never experienced anything like that day. That’s the magic of travel.

I hope to return to some of these places in the future, but I’m not focusing on the future. MINDFULNESS!

Dating

More than traveling this year, there was a larger theme. Adventures with Leann. By some luck I happened to find someone who is eager to try new things, a patient listener (we all know my stories are seldom succinct) and someone who says yes. She gives unconditionally. She has unknowingly reminded me of the innocence of young love. Those times before becoming jaded or disenchanted with the dating “process.” There is little doubt that I am crazy. Somehow that doesn’t bother her. What started as a conversation about ice cream while sipping margaritas has developed into a year full of happy times getting to know her, her family and her friends. What adventures will we get into in 2015? Follow #lookatusdoingstuff to find out.

Foodstuffs

This was the year I became a professional chef. Thanks to Chicago Food Bloggers and Mealsharing.com, I hosted my first dinner party at a swanky rooftop in Chicago’s South Loop. This was also the year of bacon. Leann and I entered a cooking competition through The Takedowns. To supply us for the showdown, they gave us with bacon. Lots of it. Enough to clog all your arteries. And those of your friends.

Also thanks to Yelp and Chicago Food Bloggers, I got to eat some delectable dishes that inspired my cooking. I had the chance to meet restaurant owners and some other bloggers in the process.

Dancing

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2014 was also the year I became a professional dancer. No, not that kind. Thanks to Nicolle Wood, I got a bit closer to learning that devil dance known as balboa. The first few weeks were rough because I had basic knowledge of the basic step. Through her patience and generosity with her time, I was able to learn hangman, crabs, scoots and the routine in time for our performance outside Harold Washington Library. Hoping to take on lindyhop in 2015.

Working

Another year at the same place, but there were lots of shuffles. The company was acquired by another company and the office moved from the ‘burbs to downtown. That has necessitated several shifts in commuting and lifestyle. The company continues to grow and my team is growing exponentially. I have had the opportunity to recruit and hire some very talented people.

So now, it’s off to another party. Some close friends are gathering for homemade pizza and reflecting on the year that has been full of -ING verbs. Thanks for following this year and I hope to share more great adventures from around the world in 2015!

The Art of the Cocktail with Greg Seider

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There are some men who can call others “cats” and it’s cool. Greg Seider is one of those men.

Seider took a sip of his negroni, pursed his lips and gave a nod of satisfaction. He passed around the tumbler–like a priest giving out sacramental wine–filled with the amber concoction, orange peel and large, square ice cubes to the eight attendees as a reference drink. That makes Seider Jesus and us his boozy disciples.

He started the evening chatting with us about chugging wine coolers, the first drink he ever made, the death of clubs in New York in the late ’90s and his disdain for bottle service. “Who the fuck is paying $600 for Grey Goose? Definitely people I don’t want to drink with.” Preach on my cocktail prophet. Whenever someone mentions Grey Goose I always associate a date from years ago. I suggested a date pay for a third game of bowling after I paid for the previous two. She ceased talking. Unlaced her rented fungus holders, then silently walked to my car. In one of the many regrets in my dating adventures, I asked her if she wanted to get a drink. We went to a beer-focused bar and she ordered a $15 Grey Goose and soda, There was no third game and I opted not to see her again. Continue reading The Art of the Cocktail with Greg Seider

Quest for Chicago’s Best Burrito | La Cocina

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It pains me to give a low rating to a taqueria. Even at its worst, Mexican food is always a good decision. With my office’s move to the city, I have to find a new burrito spot. Sadly, La Cocina isn’t it.

Upsides: Their staff was friendly and the service was fast.

The burrito, however, wasn’t that good. Al pastor is my life blood. Their tortillas were about medium size, not the jumbos other taquerias normally use. This would be fine if it were amply full. Mine was light on all ingredients. I went with 8 coworkers and the verdict was the same for all the burrito eaters. Those who got taco salads were satisfied with the meat portions.

Additionally, we had 3 baskets of chips for the table. We asked for another basket toward the end of our lunch and were told it would be $2. That’s like an Italian restaurant charging for more bread. Chips are insanely inexpensive to make.

Coming in just under $9 for just the burrito, without rice or beans, La Cucina will not be my cucina.

Shake Shack Arrives in Chicago | An Apology to Arteries

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“It’s been like this every day since we opened a week ago. 11AM to 11PM.”

That’s what the menu hander outer woman said to the woman behind me in line.

Going with coworkers for lunch I was the lucky one, a rare occurrence. I had previously experienced the shake shack in NYC. I waited there and I waited in Chicago. Even comparison. It was a cold December day in NYC when I first experienced the rapture in my mouth.

There aren’t many things I’m willing to wait for. Shake Shack is worth the wait, if for no other reason than your appetite will be at its all-time zenith as you smell the sizzling meat and your gastric juices start eating away at dignity. I would not go every day or on a regular occurrence. The novelty and anticipation are the main draws. It has been nearly three years since I first stepped foot in the burger joint.

By the time you get to the counter, which is running full steam with four cashiers to take your burger bucks, you are famished and likely will order more than a human should consume in one sitting. Double cheeseburger? Sure. Add bacon? Who needs clear arteries?

Everyone I’ve surveyed admitted to skipping dinner after a shake shack lunch. It is everything a burger should be: tender, warm bun, crispy, salty meat, gooey cheese and crisp lettuce. My only regret was eating my shake stack too quickly and knowing it’ll be an hour from getting in line to inhaling another delectable burger.

 

Change in My Pocket

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I was pulled over a few weeks ago for allegedly not observing a traffic signal. I received a ticket in exchange for my driver’s license. I earned a second ticket because my insurance card had expired the previous day and I wasn’t able to recall my password for my auto insurance website.

For the past two weeks, I have actively tried to dodge being carded. So far, I have had to show my yellow slip of shame at the bakery to buy donuts. Today I was asked for ID at Portillo’s because I haven’t signed the back of my credit card. I pulled out the traffic ticket and the cashier lowered his mouth to the microphone, “MANAGER,” he boomed.

I told him I had cash as the manager came to the register.

Handing over a crisp ten dollar bill, the machine spat out change for my dipped Italian beef and the cashier gave me three singles.

I deposited the change in my pocket and added the singles to my wallet. I rarely have cash on me, let alone change.
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As I walked around the office this afternoon, I heard the change jingling in my pockets. It’s a distinct sound, one that reminded me of my grandpa. He always had change in his pocket and you would hear the rhythm of the change as he walked or got up from a chair.

So, were it not for the alleged incident, I wouldn’t have lost my license and I wouldn’t have had that memory of my grandpa today.