Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31st

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It is 8 minutes before April 1st and I have been sober for 31 days. I am not an alcoholic, and I have had a sip of wine as a taste once or twice, but I have not had a drink in 31 days.

I try to quit drinking for a month once a year simply to "dry out" or for a change of pace. It usually happens after the holidays. This year, I quit drinking for the month of March for several reasons....

1. My job loss. I was laid off on October 1st and March marked five months of being unemployed. I have started my own marketing business (which has gotten off to a slow start) yet it is easy to find excuses to drink during the day. I meet clients, or potential clients, for lunch meetings or after work for a cocktail and have a glass of wine. There are days I work from a bar for a change of scenery and free wireless internet and have a beer or two. I spend most of my days writing or managing an online advertising campaign, therefore I can have a beer or two without disrupting my work. March marked the longest I have been unemployed since I was 16, with the exception of my freshman year of college, so perhaps I felt that it was a significant time to give it a rest.

2. Winter. We had a terribly long winter this year, the longest I can remember in years, or so it seems, this winter made it very easy for me to sit in my apartment night after night watching TV while enjoying a glass of wine....or two. I used winter as my excuse, my good excuse, to be lazy and catch a nice, warm buzz. Now that winter is over, and spring is here, it felt like a good time to wake up from my winter slumber by giving up on the sauce for a bit.

3. The Shamrock Shuffle. I was training for an 8K this month and not drinking helped me get my butt out of bed in the AM and run.

4. Weight loss and health reasons. My final reason for wanting to stop drinking for one month was to lose weight, get in better shape and feel better.

The results were high and low. At first, I was very irritated, angry and an insomniac - I couldn't sleep! I missed my wine in the evenings it was my crutch, my blanky, but after the first week, the feelings of loss went away and I was able to self sooth without the hooch.

What I was left with was: clear skin, less bags under my eyes, more clarity in my thinking, I worked out more (except for the week I got sick) and overall I felt better. I also had more energy, a lot more energy at first, and perhaps less mood swings (after week 2, the first week was filled with all sorts of mood swings).

It is now after midnight and that makes it April 1st. And I toast you with a delicious glass of red wine before bed. feels fantastic to drink again!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bert Sausages, Salami, Bacon

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Earlier today I went to visit a friend's office, a beautiful West Loop, two story, live/work space that was about 3500 square feet. On the top floor, there is a large deck facing east. I was standing inside looking out the large picture window at the Chicago Skyline. The Boeing building, offices, homes, etc. and that was when I saw the Bert Sausage sign.

We were in the Meat Packging district but for some reason, it didn't look like it should fit. It looks so out of place along the skyline.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Drive By Shooting

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Before reading this entry, you should scroll down and read "Prelude to a Drive By Shooting".

Years after I met Eileen, and learned of Drive-by shooting etiquette, I left my full time job in advertising to concentrate on my Masters degree. I was working part time as hostess in a West Loop restaurant as I finished my last semester of Grad School. On Saturday nights, I would get off work around 11 p.m. and head out to meet friends or the guy I was seeing at the time.

It was 1999, I was dating a guy that lived in Wicker Park so we would often hang out in his neighborhood. Like most Saturday nights, I got off work and jumped in a cab to meet Mr. Motorcycle Dude in Wicker Park.

Those of you who lived in Wicker Park in 1999, know that it had pretty much turned over by the late 90s, yet it was still spotty in certain areas. Those of you who are not from Chicago should know that Wicker Park is now a trendy, yuppie neighborhood with over 100 years of history. In the 1800s, Wicker Park had a vibrant community, it was home to many families that would become vital to Chicago’s growth and prosperity. The list of well known people from the WP area include: the Pritzkers, Uihleins, Crowns, Carl Laemmle (Universal Studios), and Nelson Algren.

Wicker Park changed over time, as families moved into the suburbs in the 50s, Wicker Park became a depressed neighborhood with relative gang activity. Artists started to move into the area in the late 70s & 80s. As the suburban sprawl kept moving people outward, the beautiful old homes from the 1800s that the previous wealthy families left behind, began to attract younger, professional couples; urban pioneers. The rent in Wicker Park was dirt cheap in the 80s until about 1994-5. Due to WP's proximity to the downtown area, yuppies followed the artists in the 90s. Today Wicker Park is loaded with upscale shopping, sports bars, $1 million+ homes, Range Rovers, $750 baby strollers of divorcees in waiting.

BACK TO 1999 and my Drive By Shooting story. So, I am in the cab, I'm on Augusta, just wes of the Kennedy, heading west to Damen. The car in front of us is a Toyota Corolla and in front of the Corolla is an older model, white van.

We are driving in the middle of the block and I realize there is a stall in traffic. I look up over the seat and out the front window to notice that there is no traffic in front of the van, the van is stalling the Corolla & my cab for no reason. There isn't a traffic light, no cars in front of the van yet he is rolling down the street nearly coming to a stop.

Next I notice a young man hop out the side door of the van. The young man is wearing a backwards, upside down visor and he is hunched over, creeping towards the house with something in his hand.

I IMMEDIATELY get down on the floor of the cab and start to scream "THROW IT IN REVERSE! THROW IT IN REVERSE!!!!" This is completely instinctual as I recall the story that Eileen told me years earlier. I am also very unsure of my reaction, am I over reacting? I could not be certain but in any case, I kept yelling. Suddenly, I hear CRACK, CRACK, CRACK, CRACK. Four dull cracks. I am still on the floor of the cab but I raise my head and look over the seat to see the young man with the visor heading back to the van. This puts me at ease that it was in fact a drive by shooting and I was not some paranoid, suburban girl on the floor of a cab screaming like an idiot for no reason.

The Corolla in front of us has its reverse lights on but cannot move due to my dense cab driver who is stopped in the street confused. He asks me in his heavy accent, "what is happening?" I start screaming "YOU IDIOT, THROW IT IN REVERSE! ITS IS A DRIVE BY SHOOTING" His reply, "Well, it is over now, we can go, we don't need to turn around." I explain to the cabbie that the house that was just shot up will potentially retaliate by coming out shooting at the van and that is probably best that he turn the fucking car around!

Needless to say, I lived. I headed to the bar on Damen and met my date & his friends and had a pretty fun story to tell. Finally one of them asks me, "did you call the police?" My answer, "my god, no. I forgot." All the excitement of the drive by shooting made me forget that perhaps someone died a few short minutes earlier.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the LOVE of Coffee

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I am obsessed with this....

Get the world's finest Italian espresso. Sign up for the illy espresso membership program and enjoy easy ordering and home delivery.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Prelude to a Drive-by Shooting

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In the mid 90s I witnessed a drive by shooting. Before I get into my Drive-by Shooting blog entry, I feel I need to add a prelude in order for you to gain an understanding of how I survived the near tragedy. I want to paint you a picture of how I developed my keen sense for danger on the mean streets of Chicago.

When I first graduated from college, I worked as an assistant for a man that owned several restaurants and nightclubs. There were about three or four girls that worked in the corporate office, each of us earning a nominal salary. I was lucky enough to live at home with my dad but the other girls lived in questionable neighborhoods or with numerous roommates. One of the girls, Eileen, lived in a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, mostly a Latino neighborhood riddled with gang activity. She was a short, unremarkable, Irish brunette who carried an extra 10 lbs and a mountain of problems. She grew up in one of those irresponsible, Irish families where children were a "gift from God," so they had as many kids as mom could squeeze out, leaving Eileen impoverished without much parental supervision or love. She moved to Chicago in hopes of a better life or at least escaping from her existing situation. Eileen was forced to rent a shit-hole apartment in a neighborhood that most people only live in because they were born there. Eileen did not have the luxury of parents to turn to for financial support, she was completely responsible for her own destiny and she was ill-equipped.

In Eileen's neighborhood, there was a certain pecking order and with that came a commodity that is valued in any Chicago neighborhood: street parking. In Chicago, street parking is an issue for those with cars who don't have garage parking. On snowy winter days, Chicago residents "save" their parking spaces with lawn chairs. In Eileen's neighborhood, this was not necessary because each space on the street was deeded by unwritten street laws. Everyone knew whose space was whose and if you parked in somebody else's space, it meant trouble.

Eileen came home late one night, or early one morning depending on how you look at it, around 4AM, and her parking space was taken by someone else. She drove around the block a few times and nothing was available except ONE space right outside her apartment. She knew the space belonged to a kid that lived on her street but it was 4AM and there was nowhere else to park. Eileen took the parking spot. Eileen went up to her tiny apartment and fell asleep only to be woken up less than hour later to the sounds of a LOUD fire engine. She jumped to her window, looked outside only to find that her car had been torched. Her car had been set on fire for taking someone else's parking space for one night.

Living in this neighborhood, Eileen also learned a lot about drive by shootings. She explained to me that if she was ever on the street and saw a van coming to a rolling stop without good reason, no stop sign or traffic light, she knew to start running for the door to get inside for cover. She said that neighbors were courteous to each other when it came to drive by shootings, most neighbors would welcome other non-targeted neighbors into their homes for shelter. Basically, if you saw a van coming to a rolling stop, you just start running towards a house and strangers would let you into their homes until the shooting stopped. Very "Boys In The 'Hood."


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random Things to Do When You’ve Been Laid Off

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  • Volunteer. This is probably the best way to get out of the house while doing something meaningful that you might not otherwise get to do. A personal favorite of mine is the Garfield Park Conservatory

  • Lean a new skill. We're in the computer age and there is no time like the present to ramp up your skill set. One good way to start is with Google, they have plenty of FREE online training. You can become Google Adwords Certified . Additionlly, there are other Google Seminars and training classes you can take.

  • Meet Ups, Tweet Ups & Professional Networking. Join as many professional communities as you can that make sense. Many of these events have free OR very inexpensive "networking" events where you can meet other like-minded (out of work) professionals. I also like to call these events – pick up joints for the sing & over 35 set.

  • Go back to school – while you're at it. Many people are realizing that there is no better time to take advantage of their free time. If you start your MBA this fall, before all the student loan money dries up, we may just be coming out of this "economic downturn" before you graduate!

  • Sell your stuff on Craigslist or eBay. Craigslist is certainly the cheaper route to take, the downside is you have to deal with phone calls and meeting people at a location to exchange money & the items. Many times, the "location" is your own apartment or house. eBay, on the other hand, does take some getting used to, there is a "community" that will scrutinize your credibility if you don't have enough "stars" and it costs money. eBay fees have risen significantly over the years.

  • Utilize Free Wi-Fi. You likely have millions of things on your plate that you never got around to while you were employed (that sci-fi novel you never finished, the website you were building in homage to your pet Iguana or that really tough, extra credit math problem you had in 8th grade that you always wanted to solve). You need a place to get these things done, right? Find a place with FREE Wi-Fi. Starbucks is a good start (and where you'll find me two days a week) but there are PLENTY of other places. The Map Room in Bucktown (Chicago) opens at 6:30 AM each morning, serves coffee, bagels & pastries along with delicious beer & huge helping of FREE Wi-Fi. Otherwise, take a look at this LIST for all your other free spots in Illinois.

  • Start a blog. I find it is a great way to pass the time, make new friends and even learn a new skill. I found Blogger to be the most idiot-proof (yes, I am putting myself in the idiot category). From there I would recommend Wordpress next (tons of free themes) and then Typepad.

  • Take lots of pictures. Websites like allow amateurs to upload their high quality photographs onto their site and if someone "buys" the usage of your original photo, you get paid! Let's face it, you don't have to be a professional to take lots of pictures and digital space costs nothing! So, if you have a decent camera and a memory card – what are you waiting for? Take your camera with you everywhere you go and snap those pics!

  • Use Twitter. I've been a tweeter myself for some time but only started using it more and more in the past few months. I found a WEALTH of information on Twitter simply by "following" the right people. I get boat loads of links to useful information on a minutely basis. (FOLLOW ME! Click on the bird)

  • Get free stuff. Have you ever heard of buzz marketing OR Word of Mouth Marketing? Well, companies like send free goods or coupons to individuals who are willing to try a product of their clients' in exchange for feedback and spreading the good word.

  • Shed those pounds. You can sign up for a fun-run and contribute to charity as well. Just about every major metropolitan area has a Mother's Day 5K that you can run or walk. You can train for the run with a friend, socialize and get in shape. Don't have any friends? No worries! Running stores like Fleet Feet or the Nike Store organize running groups 1-2 times a week. Also, organizations like CARA or The New York Road Runners Club have tons of events and fun runs in which you can take part.

  • Travel. Yes, I know, most of us don't have this kind of cash but for those who do – DO IT! If there was ever a time, this it it my friend! There are plenty of travel agents with great rates and tours. A good friend of mine took a year off from his "Wall Street" job to travel around the world, check out how he did it Songer Uncensored .

  • The Library. I know, you don't want to hear it but here it is. Your local public library can be an amazing resource for limitless opportunities.

  • Other random ideas. Cut coupons. Listen to podcasts. Get your finances (what's left of them) in order. Help your parents clean out their basements. Cut the clutter (see above, Craigslist, people will buy just about anything). Write your will. Start a scrapbook (I make collages, it seems less dorky). Organize a night out with friends in a local bar and get drink specials for the group. Cook. Play a sport. Scan old pictures. Read. Clean your bathroom (deep clean it). Meditate. See a matinee. Community classes at the local Park District. Start a new collection as a hobby (stamps, coins, post cards). Keep a moleskin notebook with you at all times and write things down as they occur to you AND THEN DO THEM.

    Hopefully, this list should be a good start to help you stay off 24 hours of television, Wii or and booze.


  • Wednesday, March 11, 2009


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    My dog is contending in the Bissel MVP Dog contest. Please vote for Friday!! All you need to do is click on the above button and it will direct you to the voting site. You can vote until MARCH 17TH.

    Here are some more awesome pics of this gorgeous dog.

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Sunday Sloth

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    Sunday Mess
    Originally uploaded by leyla.a
    It has rained for the past two days and today was a perfect day for rest and relaxation - watching nothing but movies and television. A great summation of the weekend is this photo.

    I made guacamole last night, you may notice the remnants of onion skin and avocado peel. You may also see the Tazo Calm tea, the food processor, rice crackers and the inedible wrapper of my eaten tamale.

    The good news is...tomorrow is Monday and that is when I will clean all this.

    Spring Ahead...Hate Yourself in the Morning

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    It is almost 4AM and I have no earthly idea why I am awake. I got up this morning at a reasonable hour to a phone call from a friend who is overseas. I had an active day filled with shopping and errand running. I came home, I cleaned my apartment, did 3 loads of laundry made some guacamole and then relaxed to a movie - Stoked: The Rise & Fall of Gator. Not exactly relaxing but interesting to say the least.

    All of this should be enough activity to put me to bed...but NO! I am not even remotely sleepy. I need to be up early tomorrow as I am having brunch with my family at 11:00a.m., I do not think it will be pretty. I trust I will hate myself in the morning, particularly due to the time change.

    I really need to dive into my clean, fresh sheets and try to get some shut-eye.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009

    My Day

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    State Street Bridge
    Originally uploaded by leyla.a
    I love that I wake up every morning and this is where I go. I may complain sometimes....but really....what am I complaining about? My whole commute takes between 10 minutes and 30 minutes and I usually WALK to where ever I am going.

    I am surrounded by beauty, who could ask for more?

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    The Spa at Caesar's Palace

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    The Spa at Caesar's Palace - my billion dollar experience. 

    I flew on Delta Airlines, first class, and arrived in Las Vegas at 1PM on Friday afternoon. Why do I mention that I flew first class, to draw a complete picture, partially to brag and partially to tell you that I had a great experience with Delta and highly recommend flying with Delta.

    I phoned my girlfriends upon arrival, they were already sipping champagne in the spa while getting their hair extensions weaved into their heads. I pulled up to the hotel and went directly to the spa where they held my bags as I was treated to a manicure, pedicure, spray tan and a make-up application. The spa is exactly what one might expect to find at Caesar’s Palace – clean, indulgent and the staff was more than accommodating.

    As soon as I entered the mani/pedi area, I was offered a mimosa or a glass of wine, I opted for the glass of wine. I then upgraded my mani/pedi for a paraffin treatment as my hands and feet were so DRY from this brutal, unending Chicago winter. The girls scrubbed my feet and polished my nails as we chatted about the usual Vegas topics: hookers, the economy, Jenna Jameson, falling housing prices, booze, nightclubs, their husbands, their ex-husbands, their baby-daddies, their boob jobs and their children.

    Once my fingers and my toes dried a little, I was escorted to the spray tan area. This was the real deal, where you stand naked with your arms and legs spread and a woman literally spray paints your body. I was nervous, I am not as svelte as I once was, but I figured in Vegas, the woman operating the spray tan device has likely seen it all. Once I was toned & contoured with the spray tan, I looked fantastic.

    All bronzed up and ready to go. 

    Next was my make up application. Dede was my make-up artist, I was told she was the best. I pleaded with her NOT to make me look like a tranny and she laughed. I knew the likelihood of Dede making me out to look like “Victor-Victoria” (a woman pretending to be a man, pretending to be a woman) was quite high in probability. Any time I get my make-up done professionally, I come out looking like a man dressed like a woman. Dede did the quintessential Las Vegas smokey-eye look that is popular with all the 20-something tramps that come through town. She also applied individual eye lashes – longer in the corners, I looked just like J. Lo’s female impersonator.

    Finally, we opted for the AIRBRUSH make-up application for a flawless look. What is this you ask? I had to ask as well. Basically, Dede loaded liquid foundation into an airbrush machine (just like the ones you see at the carnival) and then she stood about a foot away from my face and literally spray painted my face. All of my blemishes, freckles, imperfections were covered with a heavy coat of paint, I mean make-up. She then went over my face in certain areas with a different color to contour my face, a feeble attempt at making my face look slightly more natural using unnatural methods. When it was all said and done, I weighed an additional pound or two due to the loads of make-up.  

    At the end of the night, it took me more than 15 minutes to wash off my face. I nearly saved the wash cloth as a memento, as I had never before seen more brown and beige make-up on a white wash cloth.

    How did I look? Well, I received compliments, for what that’s worth, but what do you say to someone when you’re caught starring at them? You pay them a compliment. I did notice one thing when I was waiting in line at the nightclub. The girls waiting in line behind me, they were wearing my same face. Apparently, all the make-up artists in Vegas are good at making all the girls look exactly the same. When I commented, “Look, those girls have my same face on,” the girls in front of me laughed hysterically. This leads me to believe that they too had on my face one time or another while in Vegas.

    I looked like every other girl in da club. We all had the same painted  face.

    Sunday, March 1, 2009

    Caesar's Palace - Las Vegas 2009

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    Originally uploaded by leyla.a
    I try to make it to Las Vegas, city of sin, at least once a year. This year, I was fortunate enough to join some friends for a birthday celebration. We stayed at Caesar's Palace and I have a whole stream of photos to document the joyous occassion. I thought this pic would be a great way to start the fantastic trip.

    We arrived early on Friday and headed to the spa, from there we had dinner at Bradley Ogden. We played Craps and finally headed to Pure. Saturday we shopped a little, dinner in the room and then out to the Wynn for more gambling and finally XS.

    I have pics and stories to post....all to come!

    Chicago Snow

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    Chicago Snow
    Originally uploaded by leyla.a
    This is the view from my apartment this Sunday Morning. It is the first of March, I was up at 6:30a and it is snowing!