Living In (Surviving) Interesting Times

Living (Surviving) in Interesting Times

 Happy Anniversary to Me

When I wrote my first blog for Chicago Now in 2010, I had no idea how interesting the times we lived in would become. I really didn’t focus anything beyond my little corner of the world. I called the blog “My Kind of Old Town," and my concentration on Old Town was no accident. At the time, my good friend Candace Jordan was Old Town’s star and its chief booster. She was bothered that many people were writing about Old Town who really knew nothing about the neighborhood other than what they had read in old newspapers. She thought if you were going to write about Old Town, you should live in Old Town—better yet, you should be Old Town. She contacted the Tribune’s “Chicago Now” department and arranged for a meeting between then-administrator Tracy Samantha Schmidt and me. We met at Nookies, an Old Town landmark if there ever was one, and agreed that I should initiate a blog called “My Kind of Old Town,” drawing on my experiences as an Old Town resident and historian. That was the beginning.

Crilly Court row houses

Crilly Court row houses

This was no chore, it was a labor of love about the area and the people I knew. I wrote about the denizens of Old Town, past and present: Richard Latham (the world’s foremost industrial designer), Haddon Sunbloom (artist and creator of the image of Santa Claus as we know it), Henry Betts (founder of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago), Walter Netsch (one of the foremost architects in the world), Kitty Weese (artist and pioneer of Chicago’s first design store), Francis Chapin (world famous water colorist), Herman Kogan (legendary Chicago journalist and newspaper editor), Rick Kogan (Herman's son and Old Town boulevardier), Henry Rago (internationally renowned poet), Paul Angle (Lincoln scholar and head of the Chicago Historical Society)…the list goes on.

Old Town Homeboy: Rick Kogan

Old Town Homeboy: Rick Kogan

I also wrote about Old Town’s history: the reign of the colorful alderman Paddy Bauler, the brothels of Crilly Court, the ghosts who hovered over our houses and business establishments, the rise of the civil rights movement in my own dwelling on Crilly Court, the only house in the neighborhood to survive the Great Chicago Fire, the history of St. Michael’s Church (arguably the most recognizable building in Old Town), the story of how Lincoln Park came to be, the life and times of Wells Street, the short life of folk singer and number one Chicago Cubs Steve Goodman (I would go into the Earl of Old Town on any given Saturday night to listen to him and ply him with blackberry brandy), the renowned Old Town Art Fair—and much, much more.

Steve at the Earl, ever ready to play and sing your requests

Steve at the Earl, ever ready to play and sing your requests

When I had run out of Old Town stories, I moved out into the world beyond and tackled the interesting times in which we lived. My subjects were as varied as the times. I showed what voting was like in George Washington’s time. I shared the origins of Mothers Day. I took you to the Kentucky Derby, and we sat down to a sumptuous Derby breakfast. I explored the lives of some iconic women of our times. I introduced you to two Chicago restaurant legends—those fabulous Boka boys Rob Katz and Kevin Boehme. I sat next to you at a few games of my favorite sports team, the Chicago Bulls. Lots of places, lots of people, lots of events from 2010 until now. And I’m not done yet.

Rob Katz and Kevin Boehme: the fabulous Boka boys

Rob Katz and Kevin Boehme: the fabulous Boka boys

So much can happen in a year: good, bad, even catastrophic. Here are just a few things that marked my sixth year as a Chicago Now blogger:

  • Some of our cultural and political icons took a last bow and departed the stage: British actor Alan Rickman, music icon David Bowie, “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, the musician Prince, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, American hero John Glenn, our beloved Princess Leia Carrie Fisher, and her mother Debbie Reynolds.
  • The World Health Organization announced the spread of the Zika virus.
  • North Korea launched a long-range rocket with a satellite into space.
  • President Barack Obama and his family made the first presidential visit to Cuba in 88 years.
  • Terrorists killed 35 people in coordinated attacks in Brussels.
  • A breach in the ceasefire between Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries killed more than 190 people.
  • A terrorist drove a truck through a crowded sidewalk in Nice killing 87 people.
  • EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed on a trip from Paris to Cairo killing 66 people on board. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.
  • NASA’s Juno spacecraft began orbiting Jupiter and sent back the first close-up images of the planet.
  • The first solar-powered plane completed a trip around the world.
  • Democrat Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated by a major political party to be President. Sadly, (in my opinion) she lost
  • The summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • The United States and China ratified the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • NASA launched its first asteroid mission to collect rock samples in space.
  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
  • FBI Director James Comey notified Congress that new emails had surfaced related to Hillary Clinton causing a significant drop in her poll numbers. It turned out to be a red herring.
  • The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
  • Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

NASA's Juno spacecraft orbits Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft orbits Jupiter

As I said, a lot can happen in a year. Who knows what 2017 will hold? Already the president (I know I should capitalize it, but I won’t) has issued travel bans to prevent Muslims and other immigrants from entering the country. The Affordable Care Act is being dismantled. The sitting president has accused the former President (capital intended) of wiretapping his phones in Trump Tower during a “sacred” election. The issue of Russia tampering with the election is smoldering and faces a Congressional hearing. Mary Tyler Moore, Gene Cernan, Miguel Ferrer, Al Jarreau, Bill Paxton, and Joseph (Judge) Wapner—among others—have left us. The weather has gone crazy nationwide: torrential rains in areas that typically face drought conditions and no snow in areas usually buried in it. Mind you, this in a time when deniers still insist climate change is a hoax. Illinois goes into its second year without a budget, and deep cuts are impacting educational institutions and social services. When will it end? Whatever happens, it’s obvious 2017 will not be dull; and I will be here writing about our interesting times. I hope you will join me on the journey through them.

 

This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

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