Tag Archives: Chicago

That Morning

I wasn’t in NYC that day; I was working at a terrible job doing construction administration for the acoustical abatement of houses near O’Hare and Midway Airports in Chicago, for people who bought a house next to the airport and then were shocked to discover that planes make noise. Our office was a collection of small construction trailers on the periphery of O’Hare Airport, and during my drive to work that morning I had heard something on the radio about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I figured it was a little single-engine prop plane or something.

I got to work just after the second plane hit, and everybody was gathered around a small black and white TV in the boss’s office. There was lots of chatter and speculation about other planes being hijacked, and then a plane hit the Pentagon. And then another crashed in Pennsylvania. I then realized the magnitude of what was going on, and I went back to my desk thinking I had seen it all. A few minutes later, a co-worker poked his head in the room and told me the south tower had collapsed. My exact response was, “You’re fucking shitting me.” I went back into the boss’s office and, a few minutes later, watched the north tower collapse on live television. We all just knew the Sears Tower and Hancock Center were next. We also knew that our world had suddenly changed.

After that, the rest of the day is pretty much a blur. All flights had been grounded, and at one point our bosses called us into a meeting and told us we might be needed to assist stranded travelers over in the terminals. It turned out that wasn’t necessary, though, so they just sent us home for the day. I’ll never forget how quiet the airfield was when I left the trailer. Complete silence. I took the bus into downtown Chicago later in the afternoon because I had nothing better to do, and the place was a ghost town.

It wasn’t until the following weekend, while I was helping restore a vintage Chicago ‘L’ car out at the Illinois Railway Museum, that I was finally able to think about something other than burning skyscrapers, people jumping from windows, and trapped firefighters.

Now it’s thirteen years later and I try not to dwell upon it too much. I’ve been living in NYC off-and-on for over a decade now, and it’s hard for me to remember what the WTC site looked like before it was covered in construction fences. But I still get a lump in my throat whenever I see the names stenciled on the fire trucks downtown.



Well, I’ve been in NYC for about 24 hours now, and I finally have a minute to catch my breath after running all over the place for errands and official Columbia business.

I left Chicago around 5:30 PM on Saturday (a few hours later than I was hoping, but oh well), spent the night near Cleveland, and got into NYC around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. Aside from the usual traffic delays around Chicago and NYC and some construction delays in Pennsylvania, the trip was uneventful. As of yesterday, at one time or another I have moved from Chicago to each of the three biggest cities in the northeast: Chicago to Boston in 2000, Chicago to Philly in 2002, and Chicago to NYC in 2007.

Funny how each time I moved back to Chicago, it didn’t take me long to remember why I left in the first place… Never say “never,” of course, but this time I have the feeling that I’ve finally left Chicago for good. Maybe I would have felt more inclined to stay in Chicago if I had a better job there or if all my old friends there hadn’t gotten married, started having kids, and/or moved away or if there were better education options for me there. Oh well… I’ll always have some fondness for Chicago, but for now I’m just glad to be out.

Upon arrival at Columbia University I got my housing assignment, which is for a fairly large private room within a suite on 113th Street. Nothing special, but it will suffice. So far my cat seems to be handling dorm life without any problems. He’s behaved very well throughout the trip.

Today I dropped my car off at a garage over in Newark, took PATH back into the city, did some paperwork for Columbia housing, got my Columbia ID, and took care of a few other odds and ends.

Last night I was able to take a stroll around Greenwich Village, and today I did some walking around the financial district… I had forgotten just how much of a sensory overload this city can be. There’s usually something interesting to see no matter what direction you’re looking… It’s thrilling when you first arrive here, but it can become wearisome after a while… I think the secret to staying sane in NYC is to have some sort of escape destination outside the city you can head to when things get crazy here.

I haven’t decided yet, but tomorrow I may head down to Philadelphia while I still have my car and some free time… It’s been a while since I’ve been back there, and it would be nice to see the old stomping grounds again. And one of these days I’ll make it up to Boston for a visit… I haven’t set foot in that city since 2000.

And So It Begins…

Up until now, this whole idea of moving 800 miles from Chicago to NYC had been just an abstraction. But today I finally began packing, and what had been a tastefully-furnished Lincoln Park apartment a couple hours ago is now beginning to resemble the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark:


With that, the reality of this major life change is finally sinking in; until today there had been a sense that I could still change my mind about the whole thing. Now, it feels like there’s no turning back. I really hope I’m not doing something incredibly stupid.

Most of my stuff isn’t coming to NYC with me just yet. It will be put into storage here in Chicago over the next few days, and then next weekend I’ll load my Jeep with only the bare essentials I’ll need while at Columbia for the summer (computer, clothing, studio supplies, cat, etc.) and hit the road. I have a secure parking spot for the Jeep reserved near a PATH station in Newark, and I’ll take my chances bringing my cat into the dorm at Columbia.

Once I get permanent housing in NYC — which will require me getting a job and a few paychecks under my belt — I’ll need to fly back to Chicago, load my shit into a Penske truck, and make yet another I-80 pilgrimage.

Arrived in South Jersey

Just letting everybody know that I’ve finally moved to South Jersey. Today is my third day of work and things here are going well so far. I’m mostly settled into my new home here in Collingswood, about a mile from the office. I’m living with a couple roommates in a large house for a few months until I’m back on my feet financially and can move into my own apartment (hopefully around January or so).

The move itself was a total disaster thanks to the gross incompetence of U-Haul. No words are sufficient to describe their sheer stupidity and gross unprofessionalism. Even though I had made my truck reservations over a month in advance, they still didn’t have a truck for me when I showed up on Saturday morning. After almost 1-1/2 days of waiting, we stormed out of the U-Haul location on Sunday morning and managed to acquire a Ryder truck that afternoon, but couldn’t get a trailer to tow my car. (U-Haul finally called my cell phone around 10:00 Monday morning and informed me they have a truck, but my girlfriend and I were almost in Ohio by that point.) This fiasco put us two days behind schedule, and royally screwed up my plans to take Robin to NYC on Monday. So my car now sits in a friend’s garage in Chicago, and I’ll have to fly back there in a couple weeks and make yet another 14-hour drive across three states.

Lessons learned from this move:
1) Never, under any circumstances, use U-Haul. Pay a few extra dollars and use Ryder instead.
2) Never attempt move on Labor Day weekend.

But I guess the important thing is that we had a safe trip, and I got all my stuff unloaded. Most of it went into storage in Maple Shade, but there’s still a few things remaining to be unpacked at the house. My girlfiend and I said our goodbyes at the airport on Tuesday, and I’m now officially single again. To be honest, I doubt our relationship would have lasted much longer anyway, and me losing my temper at the U-Haul place on Sunday certainly didn’t help things.

In summary, it was probably the most rotten weekend of my life, but that’s now in the past and my new life here in Philly seem to be off to a good start so far. I never thought I’d say this, but good riddance to Chicago.

My new job is going well so far… The people here at the office seem nice, the place has a very casual atmosphere, I’ve got a huge workstation with a nice computer, and the PATCO train goes right behind our building. I can hear the trains go past as I type this.

Classes at Drexel start in about two weeks or so, and I’ve already registered.

My activity here on SubTalk will remain somewhat limited for a while, as I’m still in the process of getting my home computer online. Right now my only internet access is this computer here at the office, and I want to be here at least a few more weeks before I begin abusing that priviledge. 🙂

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

2001 in Review

2001 started off okay, with a decent-paying job for an architecture firm in the Sears Tower. But the firm turned out to be run by idiots, and simply finding the energy to show up each morning was becoming difficult.

In March, I managed to scrape together enough money to spend a week in London. It turned out to be the high point of the year. But a week before leaving, I received a call informing me that my father was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon after getting back, I bought my first car in about 6 years. Right around the time the first payment was due, I lost my job, and remained unemployed for about the next two months.

Soon thereafter, my just-purchased car began showing ominous warning signs that the engine was on its last leg.

I finally got a job with the noise abatement program out at O’Hare. I soon learned more about commercial aircraft than I ever cared to. I also learned more about rotted framing, NIMBY politics, shady contractors, and incompetent subcontractors than I ever cared to.

After lots of hesitation, I finally got involved out at the Illinois Railway Museum. And in early September, I led a group of SubTalkers on the first-ever field trip to IRM and all over Chicago. This turned out to be another highlight of the year.

Less than two weeks later, I watched in horror as over 3000 people in one of my favorite cities were murdered on live television.

It was around this time when I was relieved to learn that my father’s cancer seems to have been put into remission.

In October, my car finally crapped out once and for all, leaving me in a financial mess and unable to make it back out to IRM for the foreseeable future. I ended up replacing it with a $450 Trans Am, which I have grown to like.

December found me filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, but looking forward to possibly getting a fresh start on life in Philadelphia next year.

And the year finally ended on a positive note, with me taking a week off to ride Amtrak down to NC and back for the holidays. Exploring the DC Metro for the first time was an added bonus.

The year had some good points, but overall it was mostly pretty crappy. I feel pretty confident in saying good riddance to 2001, and here’s hoping 2002 is better for all of us.

Happy New Year from Chicago.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

The View from Chicago

I first found about the attack this morning while driving to work down Lawrence Avenue towards O’Hare. I came around a corner and saw a large black cloud of smoke over the general direction of O’Hare, and immediately thought that a plane had crashed. “Oh my God,” I said to myself.

I had been listening to a CD up until then, but immediately turned the radio to NewsRadio 780 AM to find out what the story was. They were frantically talking about a plane wreck and large fire, so for a few seconds I assumed they were talking about O’Hare. I then gasped in horror when I realized they were talking about the World Trade Center towers.

I never did find out what had caused that smoke cloud over O’Hare, so I assume it wasn’t anything major. By the time I got to the office, everybody was already gathered around a small TV set in our director’s office. 30 years from now, I’m sure we’ll all remember where we were when we found out about this attack.

We soon had a briefing at our O’Hare field office, where they told us we were free to head home, or to stick around in case help was needed over at the terminals. We hung around and watched the TV coverage, and then finally headed home around 3:00 when we were told that the situation over at the terminals was under control.

I got home and watched the news some more, and then headed down to my church, Fourth Presbyterian in Streeterville, for an evening prayer service. At this point Fourth Church seemed like the only safe place I could go. The prayer service was very moving, and I said a prayer for New York City and our nation.

Downtown Chicago was eerily quiet in what should have been the height of evening rush hour. There were still people around, but very few compared to normal. The Hancock Center and most of the other high-rises were still shut down, there was a heavy police presence, and cars were being towed away left and right. My ride home on the CTA Red Line was uneventful.

Chicago, along with the rest of the nation, is in total shock over what happened in NYC and Washington. Because we also have a number of tall landmark skyscrapers, and because we’ve traditionally had a very close relationship with New York City, I think we feel particularly shocked and vulnerable. In some ways New York is like a big brother to us, and our brother has been badly hurt.

But make no mistake: New York will rise again. Early Chicago was built in large part by former New Yorkers seeking fortune in the country’s heartland, and when Chicago burned in the Great Fire of 1871, New York helped more than any other city to rebuild the devastated Chicago. I think I can safely speak for all Chicagoans in hoping that we’re able to return the favor in kind.

God bless all of you, and God bless America.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum on nycsubway.org)

Back Home in Chicago

Just letting everybody know that I arrived safely here in Chicago yesterday evening. All my stuff is still on my U-Haul truck, and will be going into storage within the next day or so. I’m staying with some friends in Logan Square until I’m able to get a job and find an apartment of my own. (I’m at a Kinko’s store in downtown right now getting my resume updated.) As such, my postings on SubTalk will probably be rather infrequent over the next few weeks.

It sure feels good to be back home, although I wish my return was happening under better circumstances. Needless to say, these past few weeks have been rather difficult, and thanks to those who have had me in their thoughts.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Sweet Home Chicago

I just returned from my NYC/Philly weekend trip on Sunday, and I thought I’d let everybody know the latest details of my housing situation, as well as my observations from my first-ever trip to Philadelphia.

I arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC around 11:30 PM on Friday, after our bus spent about the past two hours crawling through traffic on I-95 and the Buckner Expressway into NYC. Given that I had arrived at Boston’s South Station straight from work, I was already very tired and about half-asleep as I lugged my baggage through the bus terminal and toward the Times Square subway station. However, once I got down to the IRT platform level and listened as a train of R-62’s pulled into the Downtown platform, I felt the Life Force entering my body once again. New York is beginning to feel more and more like a home-away-from-home for me, and it felt good to be back in town. New York has that effect over me, almost like a caffeine buzz. I’d probably grow fatigued from it after a while, but it sure feels good in the meantime. My train finally showed up, and I took it up to my friend’s place near the 86th Street stop. I promptly crashed on his living room sofa.

Saturday morning after breakfast I headed down to Penn Station and grabbed a NJT train to Trenton, and after a short wait, the SEPTA R7 train into Philly. First observation: NJT trains are much more comfortable than SEPTA’s commuter trains, despite the fact that a couple of horny teenagers, after arguing with each other as we left NYC Penn Station, were making love to each other in the seat behind me at least until about halfway to Trenton. This was my first time ever in New Jersey, and I was a bit curious to see if NJ is really as bad as the rest of the country thinks it is. No comment…

Approaching Philly, I was struck by how horrible some of the neighborhoods are in the city, at least near the NE Corridor tracks. I’ve seen some pretty horrific neighborhoods in Chicago, but at least over the past few years, Chicago has had a rather aggressive policy of demolishing abandoned buildings in bad neighborhoods. In Philly, block after block of abandoned buildings lined the streets, many of them half-collapsed and/or burned-out. Not a very good first impression.

Once into Center City, I marveled at the magnificent 30th Street Station before heading over to the nearby stop on the Market-Frankfort Line to buy a daily visitor pass. That station’s mezzanine approaches IND proportions, and Philly seems to use a rather antiquated fare collection system. My day pass was basically a strip of newsprint with a validation sticker on it, and the turnstiles look to be the same type that Chicago replaced a few years ago.

Once down on the platform level, I watched a few of the Subway-Surface trolleys go past before my train showed up. I found it interesting that the trolleys are single-ended and use actual trolley poles; I was expecting LRV’s more like Boston’s Green Line. Finally, a train of new M-4’s showed up, and I still can’t decide whether I like the M-4’s or not. The exteriors are probably the brightest and shiniest I’ve ever seen on a subway car, and I was impressed by the cushioned seats on the inside, but there’s something about the look of those cars that doesn’t seem right. Also, the interiors seemed very cramped even though they look considerably larger than the CTA and IRT subway cars I’m used to.

I rode the train only one stop, getting off at 34th Street, and then did a bit of walking around the Drexel campus. Given that it was a summer Saturday, the entire area seemed a bit deserted and there really wasn’t much to see. I got back on the MFL subway to around City Hall, where I transferred to the Broad Street Subway southbound. My destination: South Street, even though I wasn’t 100% sure which subway stop it was closest to. I got off at Walnut-Locust, the next stop. The Broad Street Subway cars sort of reminded me of the older Red Line cars here in Boston, except with bars over the interior cabs and railfan windows. Interesting feature. The mezzanine at Walnut-Locust is absolutely huge. I went up to the street level and did some walking around before making my way over to the hip and trendy part of South Street, closer to the Delaware River. I ate lunch at Jim’s at South Street and 5th or 6th, quite possibly the finest cheesteak I’ve ever had, and then headed over to the river to rest for a bit on a bench. I then walked up to Market Street and took the MFL back to 30th Street Station, where I would soon catch the R7 train back to Trenton and NJT back to Penn.

Not a very long visit to Philly, and not really long enough to get a good feel of the city, but the overall vibe I got from Philly was fairly positive despite my initial first impressions. It seems like a very down-to-earth city that has been on the edge of death for decades, and is now kicking and clawing its way back. If nothing else, Philly is a survivor and a fighter, and I admire that a lot. I’d certainly rather be in a city that is working hard to improve itself rather than in a city that’s convinced it’s already perfect and no longer needs to change or grow.

Judging by the heading I’ve chosen for this posting, it should come as no surprise that I’ve made the decision to move back home to Chicago (more about that later). However, I still wanted to give Philly a fair chance and I’m glad I did. If for some reason my plans in Chicago don’t work out, Drexel University in Philly remains a viable option.

Having returned to NYC, I stopped for a while at my friend’s place to change clothes and catch my breath. After dinner, I headed over to the 72nd Street/CPW stop on the IND and embarked on my annual pilgrimage to Coney Island. After riding the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel (my first time ever on the Wonder Wheel), and spending a lot of time just walking around the place and absorbing the atmosphere, all the stress and worries in my life finally began to melt away. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about a summer night at Coney Island that makes me feel like a kid again. Before leaving I said a silent prayer that Coney Island be around for many more summer nights to come.

Heading back into Manhattan, I took my favorite subway line, the Culver, to Jay Street/Borough Hall and then transferred to the A train back up to the Upper West Side. The station at Smith/9th Street is as magnificently raw and nasty as ever. I love that place!

Sunday morning I went to morning worship services at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, and even headed out with the young adults group over to Central Park afterwards. I met a few nice people, and felt very much at home there. It reminded me a lot of my old church back in Chicago (Fourth Presbyterian), and made me even more anxious to get back home.

By this time it was getting well into the afternoon hours, and time for me to head back to the bus terminal to catch my bus back to Boston. I said my goodbyes to my kind host and to New York, and caught the next express bus to Boston. I then spent the next 4-1/2 hours seated across the aisle from a screaming infant, while a bunch of idiot high school students were being as loud as possible in the back of the bus. Note to self: Next time, just pay the extra $30 and take Amtrak.

As I mentioned before, I’ve made the decision to move back to Chicago. Once I have a stable job and housing situation there, I plan on taking night classes at the City Colleges and getting my general education credits out of the way, and then hopefully transferring to the Illinois Institute of Technology (my first choice of schools all along). And if IIT doesn’t work out for whatever reason, Drexel remains an option.

I guess it would be pretty easy to dismiss my three months living in Boston as a failure, but I don’t see it that way. I moved out here because I thought I didn’t have any other choice, but I now realize there are some other choices available to me. If I want to take advantage of any of those choices, the time to act is now. There’s little question in my mind that it was a mistake to move here, but I have no regrets whatsoever about spending the summer here. I’ve been able to explore a new city, I’ve gotten some excellent work experience that will look good to prospective employers in Chicago, I’ve met some great people, and I’ve realized just how much I love Chicago and my community of friends there. It will be nice to be back home.

Over Labor Day weekend, I’ll be in Chicago looking for a place to live, and I’ll be loading up my U-Haul truck and driving back to Chicago the following weekend (September 8-9). Hopefully I’ll be able to find a place available for immediate occupancy this weekend and be able to move right in, but if I can’t find a place right away or the place I find isn’t available until October, I’ve got some close friends in Logan Square with an extra bedroom who have already offered to put me up while I get settled. I’d have to put my stuff in storage for the month of September, but oh well… I wouldn’t have to pay for September rent, and the extra round of heavy lifting would probably do my waistline some good anyway.

Wish me luck in finding an apartment (as well as a job and eventually getting accepted into IIT)… I’ll need it.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Chicago, Boston… Philly?

As I have alluded to here once already, I’m finding it damn near impossible to find a place to live in Boston for September 1st. Facing the prospect of finding myself without a place to live, I’m forced to consider some rather drastic actions. First, a little background:

Back in Chicago, I had my own large studio apartment in Lincoln Park, half a block away from the lakefront in a reasonably well-maintained building in a very desireable neighborhood. I was paying $530 a month in rent, a good deal for that particular neighborhood but about average for Chicago in general. And I didn’t have to jump through any hoops, kiss anybody’s ass, or otherwise compete with 50 other people to get it.

Here in Boston, I’m paying $650 a month for a single bedroom in a filthy, roach-infested apartment building in Brookline where the landlord has performed no maintenance whatsoever. He’s converting the living room into a fifth bedroom and jacking up the rent by $700 this September, so we’re all moving out. I still haven’t found a new place yet, and prospective roommates act like they’re doing me a personal favor by even returning my phone call. And if you have the slightest blemish on your credit report, forget about it. (Apparently all 3 million people in Boston have perfect credit.) Boston has its charm, but no city is worth the hell you have to go through just to find a place to live around here.

Right now I’m in the midst of starting school at the Boston Architectural Center (I’m a transfer student from the University of Illinois at Chicago). I came to the BAC because their program is set up so that students work full-time during the day at architecture firms and take their classes in the evening. It’s one of only very few schools of architecture in the US that follow that format, and it allows me to do what I was trying to do unsucessfully for five years in Chicago, that is, go to school and be able to pay the rent at the same time.

Problem is, Boston is so ridiculously overpriced that I’m already making plans to pack my backs and head back home to Chicago. I plan on turning in my two-weeks notice at work on the 25th if I don’t have a signed lease in my hand by then. Since Boston apparently wants to become an overpriced yuppie theme park instead of a real city, I sure as hell won’t get in their way. I figure it’s Boston’s loss, not mine. I have friends I can stay with in Chicago until I’m able to find an inexpensive apartment there and get back on my feet again. (With a close-knit community of friends like that in Chicago, I’m amazed that I was even able to bring myself to say goodbye to them in the first place.)

Once I’m in Chicago, I’ll probably take some evening classes at the City Colleges and try once again to get admitted into the Illinois Institute of Technology (really my first choice of school, but I didn’t get admitted on my first try). If that doesn’t work, then I may be willing to try my luck in Philadelphia…

I was just doing a little research on other architecture schools in the US, and it turns out the school of architecture at Drexel University in Philly has a very similar format as the Boston Architectural Center. A few things I’m curious about: How is the cost of living in Philly and how hard is it to get an apartment? What neighborhoods would you reccomend if I wanted to be convenient to Drexel as well as Center City via rapid transit? (I don’t have a car and have no desire to get one.) How long does it take to get to NYC from Philly by train and about how much does it cost each way? I’m sure the housing situation can’t be nearly as bad as Boston’s, and Philly is also much closer to New York (another big plus — I have many friends in NYC including some people here on SubTalk). I’ve never been to Philly before, I don’t know a thing about the city, and I don’t know a single person there. But I’ve always been a bit curious to check it out, and from what I know about Philly, it seems like a very real, down-to-earth city not unlike my hometown of Chicago.

Any thoughts? (You’re welcome to contact me via private e-mail if you wish.) Sorry if I seem to be coming down a bit hard on Boston here, but I’m just about at my wit’s end.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

The Time Has Come

All my worldly possessions have been stuffed into the cardboard boxes stacked all around me. After I post this message, I will shut down my computer and pack it up as well. First thing tomorrow morning I will load up my rented U-Haul truck, and after saying goodbye to some very close friends, I will head off to my new life in Boston. This is the last you will hear of me until I arrive, probably sometime Sunday night.

It breaks my heart to have to leave my adopted hometown of Chicago, and quite frankly, I’m scared shitless of what I may be getting myself into in Boston. This is one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever had to make, but I’m confident that I’m doing the right thing. Hopefully someday soon I’ll find my way back home.

I’ll be driving all day tomorrow and Sunday… Please keep me in your prayers as I embark on this journey.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)