:: Ray's Periodic Rantings ::

Political blurtings, personal notes, musings and more from a Chicago area Mac guy, neon artist, Burner, remarried widower, and now father.
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:: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 ::

Wet time in the old town tomorrow

You may be aware that I live in Des Plaines, IL, just a few blocks from the Des Plaines River, which is expected to crest at 6" above flood stage tomorrow. Fortunately, I live on the high bank, and I am reasonably confident that there is no significant risk of a devastating flood on my street. At least nobody is out there sandbagging yet. Still, I plan to pick up belongings off my basement floor and be ready to rig my old sump pump as a temporary second pump -- just in case. And I have flashlights and bottled water left over from Burning Man, though if I really needed light, I could always use the Dr Kilovolt suit...

Hey, I can only take this so seriously.
:: Ray 12:12 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, May 24, 2004 ::
I'm sorry, that's just wrong

I've just seen the promo for the first time -- TBS will be airing Sex in the City starting in June. Here are three words that make this wrong: family audience, commercials. Think about it. No nudity, naughty words bleeped or edited out, and commercial interruptions. All I can say is ack.
:: Ray 11:10 PM [+] ::
Marketing blitz

Ted, the discount subsidiary of United Airlines is marketing heavily in downtown Chicago today. They have folks on the streets in orange t-shirts (their colors are orange with blue lettering) giving out oranges, with fliers billing a free Poi Dog Pondering concert to take place at lunchtime in the plaza in front of 401 N Michigan, where I work. In fact, the concert is starting right now. The setup is impressive, with a full blown stage, a pretty darned big inflatable airliner, and even free refreshments. The Ted billboard barge is still out on the river, and there are two airplanes towing Ted banners overhead. Sadly, the plaza is not very full for the concert. This is Poi Dog Pondering, who has packed Grant Park, but in a marketing blitz gone awry, nobody knew about this concert until this morning, and it's still too early for the lunch crowd.

So I definitely know about Ted now, but will I use them? It happens that they fly to Orlando, where I visit Jackie, my biological mother, once in a while. But I checked fares this morning. Comparable flight times priced out at $145 on United and $175 on Ted, though the Ted flight was direct both ways, while United returned though Philly. So why should I fly Ted? Do I get United miles? And they expect to compete with Southwest and their ilk?

I think United might be a bit to ossified for their own good. Airline success is about price, planes that leave when they are supposed to, and decent service, not expensive free concerts that nobody knows about. I hope Ted doesn't turn out to be a dot com equivalent with a marketing budget too big for its own good.

Update from later in the afternoon...it turns out that Ted flights do earn United miles.
:: Ray 11:33 AM [+] ::
:: Sunday, May 23, 2004 ::
Now it can be told, part II

There was a bit more to the surprise wedding and my weekends since then than I have let on. For five weeks as of tonight, there has been a new woman in my life. I didn't start writing this blog to kiss and tell, but in that five weeks this situation has become stable enough that I think she will be around for a long, long time. Interestingly, her name is Mary (which was also my wife's name, for new readers), and she is just about everything I could ask for in a woman. She was there with me at the wedding, and at the women's rights march (it was our fourth date!). We just spent the weekend together, doing yard work, going to a burlesque show, cleaning my car, and meeting some of my friends. She's pretty darned cool!

I still have no intention to kiss and tell, but when she factors into events that I write about, I will be mentioning her in the future. And one of these days, you may even see a picture.
:: Ray 9:46 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, May 21, 2004 ::
Friday Miscellany

In the yard, the tulips are done, as is the first spring wave of dandelions. In front, the hydrangeas are getting bushy, and in back the pianies are opening, and purple phlox and lavender chives are in full blossom. The strawberries have flowered, too, and it looks like they will do well this year, but so far the rasberries look anemic. And the goosberries are already pea sized and larger, though I usually don't pick them until late June. I've been fighting off a garlic-mustard invasion, and the mint is growing like a weed, but at least it has some use: I made a romaine lettuce and pea soup with mint this week, and it turned out pretty good.

In local politics, Mayor Daley is pushing for casino gambling in the City of Chicago again, which I think is a horrible idea. I held my nose when I voted for Rod Blagojevich, our Democratic governor, and he has been pretty lame in that office so far, but he is opposing Daley on this issue, and I have to give him some credit for that. And it was reported today that Democratic senate candidate Barack Obama has been followed around by a persistent cameraman employed by the campaign of Obama's opponent, Jack Ryan, who videotapes every second of Obama's public appearances. Ryan's the guy that won the Republican primary with about 1/7th of the votes that Obama got in the Democratic one. Am I the only one that smells desperation in the air? Regardless, I didn't like him before, and I like him even less now.

I finally have that damned song that I used for the Kilovolt routine out of my head, after having had it stuck in there for days. Well, it's almost gone, anyway.

I just poured another $700 into the Golf for new front bearings and a constant velocity joint. I hurt a bit to do it, but in exchange I got back a fun, reliable car again, which is a good thing, considering that I plan to drive it until it completely wears out.

Ted, the new low-cost United subsidiary, has employed a tugboat and barge to travel back and forth on the Chicago River today, with a billboard for the airline mounted on the barge. I had read that they were going to try some unusual marketing techniques...I guess this qualifies, as I have never heard of anyone else doing it, at least not here in Chicago.

I have had a good feeling about this Spring and Summer for a while, and it looks like I was right. More about this soon.

:: Ray 1:23 PM [+] ::
:: Monday, May 17, 2004 ::
Kilovolt Shocks Them Again!

This past Saturday night, Dr Kilovolt made his encore appearance at the Gong Show Final. The Doctor (he doesn't really have a PhD) didn't win, but he electified the audience with his showmanship. Later that evening, he performed again for Synchroni-city folks at the Gallery Cabaret in Bucktown. They awarded him first prize for their "show and tell" evening: a stuffed alien in a cage! Thanks to Fuzzy Gerdes for this excellent still, and thanks to James for shooting video with my crappy tripod.

Watch Dr Kilovolt in action! (13MB quicktime/mpeg movie)
:: Ray 10:03 PM [+] ::
:: Saturday, May 15, 2004 ::
Burlesque Update

FemmeTV may have closed on April 25, but there is no shortage of burlesque action going on in Chicago! I have added information on several new troupes to the Guide (thanks to Leah, Dante, and Courtney for writing), and there is a gaggle of shows to see over the next couple of weeks. I'll review as much as I can, but as always I encourage you to get out and see some burlesque!
:: Ray 1:02 PM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, May 11, 2004 ::
Now it can be told

Saturday night I attended a surprise wedding. Yeah, you read that right. My friend, John Crager, who "can't do anything normal," has been with Diana for years. They make a great couple, and she has been waiting for him to come around for some time now. So he devised an impressive plan which, even though he had let me in on the secret, was still pretty amazing to watch unfold.

John and Di received an invitation in the mail to a black tie event. Friends of theirs were supposed to renew their wedding vows after 25 years. It happened to be Di's birthday, but that wasn't discussed.

Meanwhile, John got ahold of Di's Palm, and invited 200 friends and family from all over the country to a surprise black tie birthday party for her. Many had their suspicions that he would ask her to marry him at the event, but he was tight lipped about it. Known to only a few, however, he had made all the wedding arrangements as well, and even had her measured for a gown through a ruse involving a lingerie store where they shop.

The evening played out like this: guests arrived at 6:30pm and were instructed to mingle as though we were at a party. We were not to shout, "surprise!" until we were cued to do so by the DJ. The lights were somewhat dimmed, but not completely, so that after they entered the room she was in the middle before she realized that anything was other than what she expected.

The first round of surprises would have been a pretty good coup by itself. There were people there that she hadn't seen for years, and level of joy in the room was amazing. Everyone gathered into a big circle around them, and she spent several minutes just looking around and recognizing people, very excited. As she began to calm down, John began leading into asking her, when her brother (previously unseen) stepped forward to "object" on the grounds that John needed to ask her parents first. Diana thought that they were on vacation, and John knowingly made a comment that this was going to be an awfully expensive birthday party, as the crowd parted and there were a lot of audible gasps as they stepped in. After a show of contemplating the idea, they said yes, and John proposed. Di said yes, and most people thought the show was over.

But it wasn't. Some gifts were handed to Diana, which seemed puzzling, but turned out to be something borrowed, something blue, and something old, at which point, John asked her if the stars were aligned and everything was in place...like if there was an officiant... He asked if a judge or priest or a ship captain was in the room, and a judge stepped forward. So if everything was in place...and the gown was brought in (something new)...would she marry him that night?

Everyone in the room was pretty much stunned. It was almost as fun to watch everyone else's reactions as it was to watch hers.

She said yes, and was whisked away to room upstairs to get ready, while a cake was wheeled in and a platform was set up and covered with rose petals, and a runner was rolled down the aisle to the door. A while later her parents escorted her up the aisle, and after a short but poignant ceremony (during which everyone, including the judge, broke out laughing frequently), they were married. Well, technically the arrangment called for them to go to the judge's office and sign the license today. Still, it was one of the shortest engagements I've ever heard of.
:: Ray 12:02 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 ::
Snow in May

On my way to work this morning I saw something that made me dig in my bag for my camera. Regretably I had left it at home. A movie is being filmed in the city. It's a winter movie -- there was snow on the sidewalk and street, arranged as though it had been shoveled and plowed. But the shot I didn't get was a concrete planter half-covered with a blanket of windblown snow (or so it appeared). On the other side of the planter, just out of camera range, the tulips are two feet high and bursting with color. It was a funny contrast. Sorry I don't have a shot for you.
:: Ray 10:17 AM [+] ::

This past weekend I flew to Kansas City to visit my sister, Leslie, her husband, Scot, and my neice and nephew, Carlie Rae and Jace. The weather there wasn't quite as crappy as I understand it was here, but we spent most of the time chilling in the house anyway. Both of them seemed fascinated by me. Jace enjoyed the shoulder rides, and after she got over a little bit of her shyness, Carlie liked sitting on my knee and being held upside down where the dog could lick her face. That got big giggles. When my sister first had Jace, I was excited at the idea of being the cool uncle. It's kind of fun to be making that a reality.

As it turned out, the weekend was also about food, which is a way that my sister and I have never really bonded before. Saturday afternoon, friends of theirs joined us for dinner. Scot fired up the smoker and did some amazing chicken (they call it "up the butt", but in Chicago it's called "beer can chicken"). As an experiment he also tried smoking some ribs, but that recipe turned out not to be a keeper. It happens. Leslie had made a batch of our mom's potato salad, too. Sunday night, I cooked for them, making a couple of recipes that I have been itching to try for a some time. The steamed mussels were shockingly easy and turned out just like they had been served in a restaurant. I look forward to surprising dinner guests with them. The basil marinara was OK...nothing special.

Sometimes there is a reason to shop at a store that is more expensive. The place we had been counting on finding fresh mussels was Whole Foods. The guy at the seafood counter there was really apologetic when we found they were out. He said there had been a run on them, and he suspected that a show on FoodTV might have featured them recently. Then he looked at our recipe and suggested they had some frozen mussels that might work. And he gave us a package. For free. As it turned out, they were pretty darned good, and worked in the recipe just fine. Next time I steam mussels, Whole Foods will be my first stop. If I had a local friendly fishmonger to support, I would, but I don't. Oh well.
:: Ray 10:14 AM [+] ::
:: Monday, May 03, 2004 ::
You can't go back.

Today I learned that Leo's Lunchroom will be changing ownership, and I am bummed. Leo's is an ancient lunch counter that was taken over by Sheila McCoy, something of a boheme at the time, 14 years ago. She kept the lunch counter atmosphere, but started serving wonderful home cooking with a cuisine-y twist. The result became my favorite restaurant in the city, hands down. Hearty lunch specials, sophistocated dinners, and the best biscuits and gravy I have ever eaten in a restaurant kept me coming back for ten years, as did friendly chats with folks at the counter such as Terry, Rick and Nicole, and Phyllis, the cook.

It has been my home away from home...the closest thing to a corner bar in my life. I have eaten countless meals there alone, completely unself-consciously reading a book or newspaper, or just peoplewatching and enjoying the food. I have taken friends and dates to eat there. I have taken visitors from out of town, to show them what a small, independently run urban restaurant in a cool, edgy is like. I even asked my wife to marry me there. And when she was gone, it was still there, a place where I was grateful to feel I belonged. The first time I came in after she died, Rick, who along with all of them had been so happy for me, wouldn't take my money for lunch. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot.

I'll try the new Leo's but it won't be the same. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that things change and you can't go back. Places and traditions come to an end, and you can only go forward with fond memories, and find new places and traditions to replace them. I'll look, of course, but I don't know if I will ever find another Leo's. In the meantime, I will mourn the passing of the old one.
:: Ray 6:09 PM [+] ::

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