The “Mall of America” is no bigger than the malls of Woodland Hills, rollercoasters or no rollercoasters. I visited, with an 8-month-old baby, this afternoon, and we were both underwhelmed. She fell asleep.
Walking the cold, green circuit around Mt. Normandale Lake today, in Bloomington, Minnesota, I met a fisherman. The shores were so landscaped and office-parkized that I couldn’t believe there were fish, but there he was, wearing a plaid shirt, standing in the grass, throwing a line out into the reeds.
D: Are you really fishing here?
D: What’re you going to catch?
S: Bass, hopefully.
This trip is just a side trip for my day job, and I have no explicit theatrical agenda. I guess that must mean I like travel for its own sake, now – meeting new people, and imagining theater projects in the future. Seeing new places, like pancake-flat Minnesota, with lakes like the holes in the dough. I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying this. It’s very nice to be back on the road again, but with a home to return to.
Last night I went to the Montrose Saloon, which has been a Chicago venue for beer and music for over 100 years, to hear my roommate Angela’s old-time string band WABOLABR play. (I know what the name means, but then I’d have to kill you.)
I joined Janna, who’s just relocated to Chicago from SF, an actress and improvisor. We met through friends of friends at a reading at the Goodman. We ate chicken, rice, and beans from next door, drank Old Style (regrettable, but a necessary experiment) and talked about the unlikely, fortuitous journeys that have brought us here.
I am another version of her, or she is of me. She got into town a week before I did. We both have 415 area codes, professional links to TJT and the 16th Street Theater, and took extended Amtrak train trips along the way. And we both agreed that this city has all the resources, artistic generosity, and open spirit you could possibly ask for. Listening to ourselves and asking what would make us most happy and fulfilled, as artists and as people, is what has brought us to Illinois.
I knew it was a trend, coming here, but I didn’t realize how much of one it was. Janna’s profile as a person is very similar to mine, and we’ve taken many paths next to each other, and now we’re both here. This is exciting. It means the collaborators I’ve been looking for are looking for me, too. There have been times in my artistic career where I’ve been afraid of finding my doppelganger, thinking that she, whoever she is, is going to take “the spot” designated for me. That comes from a more competitive point of view. My doppelganger, today, would want to work with me, because that’s all I want to do. And if she’s out there, I hope she contacts me soon. The idea is really appealing. The pie of artistic collaboration is not limited to a certain number of slices. The more you eat, the more there is.
It was the first time I’ve really gone out just to enjoy myself in Chicago, and it was wonderful. The band’s voices echoed like Superballs. I walked Janna to the train station and we felt the windy chatter of the trees and air around us. The air moves so much here that you can’t walk down a street in silence, even when there are no people around – the trees are always, always talking.
I think what they might be saying now is, “Autumn is coming.”
I realized today that people on the Chicago trains let their thoughts pass over their faces much more freely than on the New York subway. You don’t need a prop to distract and protect you, because you can silently interact with your fellow riders. The shared thoughts on the train are public property. You can people-watch. Everyone else is doing it.
Headphones are rare, as are sunglasses. The eyes of the riders wander like flies around the car. Everyone looks at everyone, and acknowledges that they are looking. They don’t turn off the Commander Data emotion chip in their brain for the duration of the commute. They are on the train, together.
And you’re surrounded by sky. You’re not staring at the wrong side of the earth’s crust, thinking about analogies beginning with bowels and bellies and Grendel’s mother’s digestive system – the train is flying through the air, eye to eye with birds and skyscrapers, making a loop above the rivers.
In New York, all I could see on people’s faces on the subway was “Don’t look at me,” and I had to have an elaborate equipage to survive an hour of it. Sunglasses, book, headphones, outfit, all armed and ready from the moment I got onto the train. On the daily commute from not-so-Prospect-Park-adjacent to 23rd and 6th, you were judged by the strength of your defenses against the other inhabitants of the subway cars. It was not okay to put your headphones on in the train. That made you look stupid. They had to be on already. You had to enter the train looking as if you slept with your headphones in your ears. (I think many of the people there did. In fact, I’ve just remembered, unpleasantly, that when I was in New York, I started sleeping with my headphones in, too. I started feeling naked and unprotected without them.)
Due to something being wrong with my skull, I couldn’t ever make the little Ipod buds stay in, so I was stumbling around the G and C and A trains cramming them back into my ears and looking like I didn’t know Brooklyn from a hole in the ground (which was true – I spent more time in a hole in the ground than I ever did in Brooklyn).
I finally caved in and went out bought white wraparound headphones with ear clips to make them stay on, but with the white cord so I could still be an Ipod poser hipster. Thus fully disguised, I sat there writing poetry through the battlements of my sunglasses, all over the yellowed pages of a chemistry notebook, staring around the train like the country mouse from Planet California that I was. I knew better – I knew you weren’t supposed to look – but no one has yet explained to me how to spend an hour trapped in a car with a hundred other people and not look at their faces.
But here, in what Rush calls “The Middle West,” everyone is so comfortable with themselves, their city, and their trains that you could recite poetry, I think, without incident, on a Brown Line car from Montrose to Merchandise Mart. Someone is probably doing so right now.
I told my father that after New York, Boston felt like Yosemite National Park, for its nature. Likewise, after New York, Chicago feels like the Emerald City of Oz, for the friendliness of its inhabitants. Or perhaps Munchkinland. Everybody wishes to welcome you. Chicago is the Miss Congeniality of cities.
New York is a one-night stand. Chicago is the city you go home with. (That is, if the train is running late enough.)
This sign is all over Ravenswood: “No Parking If More Than 2 Inches Of Snow.”
I find it amusing, because today the weather is mild and sunny, with a light wind moving through the air. The trains are full of girls in flip-flops and sundresses on their way to the “beach.” I can’t really imagine what more than 2 inches of snow looks like: Denver’s winter, at least the one I went through, rarely exceeded that.
This summer wind is so gentle, before and between the storms. Deceptively gentle. My parents, last night, told me that a family friend of ours spent a year in Chicago and, one day, was blown into the middle of oncoming traffic by the force of the winter winds. It sounds positively comic-book violent.
Welcome to Chicago (and to my weblog, if you’re new here.)
I will try to keep it interesting.
I didn’t know I was coming here till just a few weeks ago, but I’m glad to be here. The place feels like Ithaca, with thunderstorms rippling through the trees. The air breathes with you.
In honor of the move, which now feels official since we signed a lease on Tuesday, here’s William Blake on the unbelievable:
Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.
I’ve just relocated to Chicago. Signed a year-long lease in Humboldt Park today. This isn’t the end of freelancing, but the end of doing it without a home base. I didn’t want to blog again until this was official.
Chicago is one of the most interesting cities, and best theater communities, that I have found in this year, and also home to many of my friends – and some of my family, too. I’ve been here exactly one week today.
I have a backlog of old posts from the drive through Nevada and first impressions of this city, which I will be putting up gradually.
Thank you, Sufjan, for the title.
Flashes of Los Angeles, as I shut down Operation Pasadena and prepare to be on the road again.
1) The road.
With no time left to use it, I discover 6th Street. You can have lived here all your life, worked here for years, and still find another (better) way to get from one side of it to the other. It’s particularly good for the Pasadena-to-midtown stretch: the 110 to downtown, and 6th west. Driving here feels like negotiating: I’ll see your sun blinding you off the face of the enormous iridescent office building lurking over the 110 North, and raise you a Cone Zone construction closing off your exit. There’s no one way to get from one place to another, only a series of guesses.
2) The Fairfax corridor.
There’s no more alien pizza, or cosmic pizza, or all the wrong names I ever gave Nova Express. I had two of the three most significant meetings of my time in Los Angeles in that all-night, sci-fi-decorated Fairfax pizza joint. i only remember one of them, but I know the other one happened. And now it doesn’t exist. If anything is a confirmation that I should be leaving town, it’s this sad disappearance. The front is boarded up.
We end up in Canter’s instead. A friend suggests that everything in life that isn’t theater is the green room. I buy sunglasses and a suitcase in the thrift stores, observe the selection of vintage menorahs, walk the walk, and eat the kugel.
3) The Heath Ledger Experience.
Waiting in line at the Grove. Running into the theater, dignity abandoned, scrambling for seats. One of the most wonderful performances I have ever seen, or ever hope to see. We laugh loudly at all the wrong places, at the most violent moments, when his acting is superlative. Which is a lot. I’d watch Christopher Nolan direct the phone book.
I was guilty of some of the cheesy reasoning folks have been throwing around about his death, BSing with a philosophy professor friend of my parents’ that a dark role makes your outlook on life darker, that playing the Joker drove him over “the edge.”
But that’s just not true. I don’t know how anyone can say that the performance actually drove him mad, when any actor would be so proud of that performance that it would drive them to greater sanity. He knew how good he was, and he was enjoying being that good. He was on top of his game, technically perfect, and proud of it.
Makes me believe, even more, that his death was an accident.
(I created a new category with this post, location, for things that are about places but not necessarily just about traveling. All my observations on place have been travel-related, for the last year, but I want to link into them with a more grounded noun.)