Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's coming and cannot be stopped

Yeah, yeah, the clusterfuck that is the NFL Draft is coming to my town next week, taking place at the Auditorium Theatre with a fan experience being created a few blocks away.  Called "Draft Town," it will feature Buckingham Fountain changing colors to that of whatever team just made a draft pick.  Traffic is being rerouted and temporary buildings are going up in the middle of Grant Park (and a few streets).  What a spectacle!  What sensational drama!  Who the hell is paying for this shit?

When this is all over, I don't want to hear how the NFL -- one of the most successful conglomerates in the world -- made Chicago pay for any of it, like when we found out just earlier in 2015 that Chicago itself paid out money for the Olympic bid when Mayor Daley swore it was being paid for with private contributions.  (Yes, he sucked so hard at the end of his many terms.)  If they're rerouting buses, if police have to work extra shifts, if Buckingham Fountain changes freaking colors, then the NFL should pay for it, and a little extra for the inconvenience, thanks.

I say this like a sourpuss who will be giving it a wide berth.  On the contrary, I am going first thing on Saturday morning.  I am going to capture the stuff and, as my sister said to me, I can take pictures of people taking pictures at Draft Town.  Team memorabilia on display; a large ass temporary building; football-fan tourists paying their respects at the Temporary Temple of the National Football League and doing what the NFL likes best which is spending money on any NFL related; Buckingham Fountain all colorful and cool (which I suppose is why the draft is mostly in the evening, so you can actually see the colors).  I am hoping there is free crap because I love free crap (stolen motto:  "If it's free, it's for me.").  Of course the taking pictures of people doing just that is my goal.  My fear:  A picture of me taking a picture of someone taking a picture turning up somewhere and just look ghastly wide from that angle.

Go Bears!

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Regular readers of this blog will remember that I love to take pictures of people taking pictures.  It fascinates me.  If I can get the photographer, what he's photographing, and the image on the screen of his camera, then it's heaven for me.  Even just the photographer raising his hands and aiming and me from behind and to the side so I can get him and maybe what he's trying to capture is also great.  It occurs to me that I might be out of control.

This week was a lovely week here with good weather and many sunny afternoons.  I went to Federal Plaza when I could -- there were demonstrations, one of which made the police cut off major sections of the Loop so they could control the crowd with out the impediment of cars -- and a couple of days there were people capturing each other by Flamingo, the huge outdoor sculpture by American sculptor Alexander Calder (I always thought he was Belgian so I am a big stupid and let's move on).  When the weather is mostly  good -- and it's Chicago, so let's agree it's lousy seven months out of the year -- I cut between the post office and Kluczynski Federal Building to get to the Blue Line entrance.  From this vantage point I can see people taking pictures.

But do I have my iPhone or iPod Touch out, ready to take pictures?  Hardly.  I am walking along thinking, "Buddy, at that angle, your wife's gonna be a little dot next to this giant sculpture," or "Really?  How much of that sculpture do you think is gonna be in the selfie with the five other people?"  Screw me, I then think, they're having fun.  I am almost upon them when it occurs to me I need to take out my device.  They have, of course, dispersed by the time I get close to them.

This week I came around the corner of Kluczynski Federal Building to go get a lottery ticket at my favorite place, and there was a man with a DSLR.  He seemed to know what he was doing and was taking pictures from different angles.  This was probably my sole opportunity to take a picture for the rest of the day.  I took out my iPhone -- no simple thing as my iPhone holder is a Zip-Loc plastic bag (don't judge; it makes me happy) -- and I raised it to take a picture.  Just then he stopped and decided to go another way.  I am not proud of this, I acted like I was fascinated by the Garrett's popcorn story that's kittycorner from this spot while he made more decisive moves.  He took some shots; I took a picture of him.  He whipped around and looked and me and I had already returned to the mode of "is-that-light-red?'  He approached the corner and had to wait for the red light, taking some pictures as he waited and I got another.  I beat feet through the green light because he was probably on to me.

You will be pleased to know that the light was in his favor and both pictures aren't as good as most of my efforts.  I won't say that I will swear off stalking photographers but it might be better for me to stick to what I know -- sidling up to the unsuspecting and stealing their image while they're thinking about something else.
My prey

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where have all the unusual, affordable outfits gone?

In the days before Macy's became Everyone's Local Department store, there were local and/or regional department stores.  Growing up in Detroit, we had J.L. Hudson, which later became Hudson's.  We also had Crowley's.  People in Minneapolis-St. Paul had Dayton's.  In Chicago, the most venerable of stores was Marshall Field's but there were also Evans and Charles A. Stevens for well-priced, good value clothes for women, and Wieboldt's and Goldblatt's for less expensive things for the whole family (when I first moved to Chicago in 1978, I bought myself a t-shirt in the bargain basement at Goldblatt's on State Street for 88¢ and I just recently put it in the bag to give to one of the clothing boxes).  There were many different options, each store having different buyers, price points, points of view, and levels of taste.

It was a good time for shopping because there were a lot of choices.  I think one of the things that made America great is the vast number of choices we mostly have (and cheap produce).  Because of all the choices, I used to enjoy shopping in Chicago (or Detroit, when I visited there).  I no longer do.

Macy's is everywhere so the outfits/shoes/accessories you buy at Macy's on State Street are pretty much like the things you find at the store the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, at Woodfield Mall, in Peoria.  The store on 34th Street in New York is still a very good and enormous store but when Macy's on State Street was Marshall Field's, before Target cut it loose, it was better.  The sales were better -- a couple of times a year they had a coupon in the paper that gave you 25% of everything including sale prices and if you used your Field's charge and racked up $400?  $500? in purchases, you got a coupon for a decent percentage off anything, including cosmetics and fragrances.  It didn't matter how long it took you to get to the $400?  $500? Once you got there -- after three months, after three years -- they sent you the coupon.  Once a year, Macy's sends a check to its best customers that is attached to their credit card statements;  I will never see it as I mostly don't like their merchandise.  They carry the same things as Lord and Taylor and that store always offers coupons for a percentage off, even full-priced merchandise on occasion.  The Marshall Field's merchandise was also better because it appealed to a broader array of customers and the quality was very good.  Yes, fine, the Macy's in Miami will never offer winter coats or probably coats of any sort but the merchandise is not that different otherwise.  It's still Macy's.

There is an Iowa-based store called Von Maur with a couple of locations in suburban Chicago.  They have some different stuff that might be worth investigating but lately I don't like driving for 40 minutes on the outside chance they might have something that might look good and might be affordable.  (Blow-it-out-the-door sales and coupons are not their thing.)  Mostly, though, their merchandise is very much like the merchandise at all the other stores.  Their thing is customer service and they do a decent job of it.  I don't need customer service as much as I need choice.  Seattle-based Nordstrom has one terrific sale a year, a semi-annual sale that is okay, excellent customer service, some decently-priced things, a modest sale rack, and some items that are priced to make one's eyes bulge out from one's head as the word, "Boing!" echoes in one's ears.  The variety is mostly the same in its stores with some locations carrying things the other locations don't have, like the British brand Evans.  (I got a great sweater in Seattle that was never carried at the Chicago stores.)

Last year I went to New York and was very impressed by the merchandise at Macy's on 34th Street and the Lord and Taylor on Fifth Avenue.  There were things the local stores weren't carrying because they've no doubt decided we don't want it.  Did they even try?  At least Nordstrom tries.

So what's my point and get to it already?  People need regional stores, places to shop that reflect the local market.  There used to be locally-owned clothing and gift shops around Chicago that have mostly gone away.  Yes, stores go out of business for various reasons but sometimes they're driven out by rising rents that chains and designers are more easily able to pay or they were made an offer they can't refuse.  Yes, that's driven by greed.  It's like what's happening to Manhattan restaurants -- chains are able to pay rising rents but individual restaurants are not.  What made Chicago shopping and Manhattan dining unique from other places has been forced out by what the market might bear and that gets no one an outfit or a nice meal.