When I first visited New York City as a teenager in the mid-1970s, one of the things that fascinated me was the street food. I think I had my first knish out of a street vendor's dubiously hygienic steam drawer. (And maybe my first Yoo-Hoo). Street food seemed at once sophisticated and practical to me--how romantic to grab a bite on the streets/heartbeat of NYC; how impossibly convenient to get lunch in under a minute.
Chicago is not a street food kind of town, in part due to city regulations, but more recently, food trucks have been allowed to operate and have been embraced pretty enthusiastically. As I was on the bus headed downtown a couple of weeks ago, I spied the signature silver bullet-like "Tamale Spaceship." Out of a barely adorned, utilitarian looking truck, they serve the kind of food that makes you walk that extra mile, so I jumped off the bus 2 stops early. My pick is typically the simple rajas con queso. The guys are tolerant of my pidgin Spanish; I remain their "amiga" regardless. I'm always conscious of having a great city moment when walking away from the Spaceship with a bag of hot tamals.
I left Chicago in snow for a week in Kansas, where my house, most of my stuff, and my husband are. Not exactly a bi-coastal life, but sometimes the displacement feels just as radical. My Chicago yard was piled with snow, in Kansas spring flowers in my new garden are already starting to bloom. Spring ever the most surprising, the most certain.
I tend to be skeptical of White Western folks who have Buddha statues in their homes. Always seems a bit showy to me; I find myself wondering if such displays actually represent a kind of fetishized notion of Asian (or rather old school "Oriental") calm, more than a belief in Buddhism. Buddhism isn't an easy fit in an American predominately Christian milieu--it's gone through a lot of Westernization to prompt previously Judeo-Christian Americans to set up their little Buddhas.
When I moved into my new apartment last summer, there was a Buddha statue under the tree in the little muddy yard out front. He's an aging moldy sort of fellow, and rather than feeling my typical skepticism when I saw him, I took him as a harbinger that my new apartment was going to work out just fine (giving into my own silly West-o-vision of Buddha as good luck charm). In fact, my new apartment has been something of a serial disaster: irrevocably dilapidated, dusty, and barely managed by an incompetent landlord. And so it is that everyday when I see the Buddha, I'm reminded of what is. My dog sometimes pees near him, still he sits. The workmen troop in and out for repairs, covering him with debris, still he sits. The misdirected drainpipes flood the yard, still he sits. And today it snowed.
Headed down to work in the Loop the other day, waiting to cross at a light on Dearborn Street, I looked North and for a moment felt like I was in an urban bike paradise like Copenhagen. While Chicago has a great lakeshore bike path, biking in the city itself can be pretty hairy. But da Mayor has been supporting a bike initiative to support bike commuters who work downtown. Accordingly, some of the nicest European-looking bike lanes in the city have sprung up on Dearborn.
I like the way this 2-way design allows some car parking (not previously acceptable on Dearborn) and uses the cars to protect bicyclists. There are also special lights for bicyclists. You can read more about the "cycle track" here. And check out this cool POV video of a ride on Dearborn's protected path. (Contrast the pro-bike tone of these Grid Chicago articles with the Tribune's predictable "city of big shoulders" negative coverage. Favorite man-on-the-street quote: "I wish I had time to pedal around, but I have kids at home to feed.")
I'm mostly a weekend, fair weather biker. I take public transportation to work. But I spent a couple of weeks in Stockholm years ago, with a bike as my main form of transportation. I biked all over that city (and mostly alone as the friend I was visiting was in medical school at the time). It took me awhile to get used to riding in a city that treats bicycles like a legitimate form of transportation. While waiting at a stoplight in a major hub of the city, Ostermalmtorg, I attempted to lead off early during a red light, to get the jump on the cars behind me. A pedestrian crossing the path nearby shook his fist at me, muttering a Swedish epithet. I was nowhere near the guy, but I instantly realized this was a place where bikes received the same respect (and thus disdain) as cars. Car is King in the U.S., and Chicago is a shockingly car-friendly city, parking-wise. It's great to see the city innovate like this, using good design.