Entries tagged with “personal memoir”.

Come Celebrate The Long Awaited Advent Of Summer Weather With A Rollicking Hootenanny! The Roots Room Has Merged Into Merla’s Kitchen And We Are Having Our Second Go With The New Configuration.


This Month The Hootenanny Falls Exactly On The Full Moon, And Its Proximity To The Summer Solstice Will Make This An Extra Henge-ariffic Affair.

FRIDAY, June 9 at 7:30 PM (Doors Open)

Merla’s Roots Room 5205 N Kimball

(Inside Merla’s Kitchen)


You Know How It Was Written And How It Shall Be:


Merla’s Kitchen Will Be Offering Fantastic Filipino Food.


Great Poets, Storytellers, Musicians, Comics, And All & Sundry Forms Of Performer Shall Be In Evidence.

Come And Enjoy Them — Or Better Yet Sign Up To Be One Of Them!

We Shall Have A Howl At The Aforementioned Moon And Perhaps Attempt A Cover Of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge.*

A Peter Gabrieliciously Solsbury Hillistic Time For Performer & Spectator Alike!!!


The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.


When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]


My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…


The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.


And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!


The Roots Room is BYOB & All Ages. (Must Be 21 To Drink Alcohol)
$5 Suggested Donation


Spring Has Been Tantalizing Us By Making An Early Appearance, And We Shall Encourage It To Continue On With A Hard Rockin’ Snootful Of Hootenanny Power!

FRIDAY, March 10 at 7:30 PM (Doors Open)

Roots Room 5203 N Kimball




Great Poets, Storytellers, Musicians, Comics, And All & Sundry Forms Of Performer Shall Be In Evidence.


Come And Enjoy Them — Or Better Yet Sign Up To Be One Of Them!


As Always: Merla’s Kitchen Will Be Offering Fantastic Filipino Food.


A Paganistically Scent-ual Time For Performer & Spectator Alike!!!




The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.


When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]


My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…


The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.


And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!


The Roots Room is BYOB & All Ages. (Must Be 21 To Drink Alcohol)
$5 Suggested Donation

Old Man Winter Continues His Assault On Our Senses And Our Psyche, But We Shall Forge On And Persevere With Another Raucous, Rabble-Rousing, And Recreational Hootenanny!


FRIDAY, February 10 at 7:30 PM (Doors Open)

Roots Room 5203 N Kimball


Great Poets, Storytellers, Musicians, Comics, And All & Sundry Forms Of Performer Shall Be In Evidence.

Come And Enjoy Them — Or Better Yet Sign Up To Be One Of Them!

As Always: Merla’s Kitchen Will Be Offering Fantastic Filipino Food.

A Topical & Torridly Tropical Time For Performer & Spectator Alike!!!




The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.

When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]

My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…

The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.

And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!

The Roots Room is BYOB & All Ages. (Must Be 21 To Drink Alcohol)
$5 Suggested Donation


Luscious Sunset Sky Over The Port Of Aarhus.

A couple days at S’s place put me back on track emotionally. I met her in Shanghai in 2010 with E and several other folks from a unique and fabulous school in Aarhus called KaosPilot (kind of an alternative MBA program with an emphasis on social change). They all wandered en masse one night into my Cousin J’s club just as I was hitting my stride with my Musical Epiphany and we all became very close over the next several weeks.

She is quite unique and fabulous herself; a beautiful Afro-Cuban woman who has lived in Denmark for many years, speaks 5 languages, and holds several advanced degrees. She just returned from a long sojourn in Brazil (her dream country she’s always wanted to visit) and was adjusting to life back in Denmark while trying to get yet another PHD.

Her brilliant mind, sunny disposition, indomitable spirit (she came to Denmark from Cuba with nothing and managed to make her way there), and wonderful cooking (I didn’t realize how much I had been jonesing for spices) provided me with just the impetus I needed to get over my funk.

Now it was time to make a final push to discern what my Life Path shall be.

The Oracle shall not be back in Madrid until the middle of the month, so it seemed that the best thing to do was to continue my original “Route Plan” which brings me closer to Spain anyway.

Therefore, on early Thursday morning I bid farewell to S with a heartfelt thanks for her generosity and kindness, grabbed a 7AM Aarhus City Bus to the Train Station, and began a very long day of travel to Prague (actually a city outside of Prague called Kladno).

My route required me to switch trains in Hamburg and in Berlin on the way to Prague. There was a layover of a couple hours between trains in Hamburg, but I had only 4 Minutes to switch trains in Berlin. I was assured that the next train was directly across the platform and that Deutsche Bahn ran like clockwork etc. etc. but I was still a bit concerned.

My concern grew when the train out of Hamburg was delayed by 15 minutes- the math just didn’t seem to add up. The conductor told me that the train would be able to make up some time and that it “probably” would be able to connect with the Prague-bound train. “We will know about 10 minutes before we arrive,” she said with an almost wry grin. Fanfreakingtastic.

Once the train got outside Hamburg it really began to cruise, and the little LED info readout over the door of the train car said “Speed 231 KPH” (140ish MPH) at certain points.The scenery was whizzing by at a pretty good clip, so it seemed that they were doing everything they could to get back on schedule. Since there was nothing to do about it anyway, I took nap in my seat.

I woke up about 15 minutes before the scheduled arrival and we were still in farm territory, but I knew from my previous bus trip that farms started pretty soon outside of Berlin. Time to gather up the cargo and go stand by the door to prepare for a mad dash. The scenery started to “urban up” but we were only 5 minutes away from scheduled arrival. Just as I was beginning to lose hope the conductor came on the loudspeaker and said that passengers making changes would be able to get their trains. WHEW!

Of course, I was in the very last car of this long commuter train and my connecting train was quite short, so I had about 30 seconds to sprint through several meters of empty platform and managed to get in the last door of the Prague train just as the “Get Deine Ass On Der Bahn!” alarm was sounding. I dragged my stuff through several cars to reach my seat and was headed to Prague!!!

My seat was in an actual train compartment (very filmic) that seated 6 but there were only two other guys in there, so it wasn’t too snug (good for them because I was already a bit ripe from my exertions so far). As we headed south the scenery changed from farm to hill/forest/river country. Eventually we rolled into Dresden (I was having major Slaughterhouse-5 flashbacks) and things began to get medieval. My two cabin mates got off the train and I had the compartment to myself as the train snaked along a river with ruins of castles and really picturesque old villages and various structures along the cliffs of the opposite bank. It reminded me of a trip along the Rhine from my High School Days but it was the Elbe River. Since it didn’t seem like anybody else was going to get on anytime soon, I spread out and plugged in my laptop & phone and made the compartment my own.

I started listening to Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso album on headphones. It’s a live recording from the 5-Spot nightclub with Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, and it’s quite a trip to listen to on headphones because you can hear conversations and trays of glasses being dropped in the background- plus every single “I got it, I got it, I got it!” and hoarse orgasmic rasping groan (to quote a favorite poet) from Johnny Griffin. It was a marvelous accompaniment to the picturesque scenery as night fell and the darkness set in.

More people began getting on as we got closer to Prague, so I packed up camp in case somebody entered my compartment and prepared myself to get off the train.

Because the train was running late and I was tired from the long day (and just freaking stupid) I mistakenly ended up getting off one stop too early. AAAARGGG!!! After finding that this hinterland-ass station had no cabs at all to get me to the main station (and the “totally not giving a shit” train station people wouldn’t call me one), I grabbed a Metro train to the Main Station and hoped I could find my friend C who was waiting for me.

When I arrived much time had passed and he was nowhere to be found, not that I would really know where to look for him anyway. He may have very well headed to the station I had just left thinking that I had made the boo-boo which I did. He had no mobile phone so even if mine was working in Prague there was no way to contact him. “Here we go again!” I thought to myself. But knowing that he would do everything to find me I just stood in a very visible place and waited for him to show up. Not long after that he did.

Turns out he did go to that station and found out from the people there that a whiny English speaker with a bunch of luggage who had gotten off one stop too early had recently been there and had taken the Metro to the Main Station. He brushed off my apologies and we headed to Kladno, which took two more Metro trains and a regional bus.

We caught up during that time (we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years) and 90 minutes later we reached his place, where his wife H had a late dinner waiting. That and a shower (sometimes a shower feels so good/needed that it almost makes you weep with joy) made me feel halfway human and we all bid each other good night. I laid down in the couch bed they had prepared for me and reflected on the day as I drifted off to sleep. Approximately 17 hours in transit (a bus to a train to a train to a train to a train to a train to train to a bus) and 730k/450m traveled as the crow flies. Quite the long day.


The next day C led me to and checked me into an extremely homey and nice Czech Pension (kind of a European Bed & Breakfast) where I was to remain for the next several days, and left to let me get situated.

A few hours later he showed up again and took me around Downtown Kladno. Aside from being the birthplace of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; Kladno’s claims to fame are coal mining & steel production (both pretty much moribund) and being the location of an immense LEGO factory (C always has the hookup for his nephews & nieces). The older downtown area was very cute and picturesque.


The Kladno Lego Factory From The Window Of A Moving Train.

We had a late lunch and then wandered around a bit more before hanging out waiting for a Blues Concert to begin that evening. A friend of C’s organized a Jazz/Blues Series that happened in various venues in the city. Tonight it was a concert in an adorable old courtyard that was to feature American Blues Chanteuse Marilyn Oliver (who is the great-niece of Muddy Waters) and a Czech band that was hired just for a tour that was going around the Czech Republic for the next month or so.

C and I first met in Hangzhou, China at the Hostel where I was staying every weekend while playing/singing with a Chinese Jazz Trio at a Jazz Club a few doors down (a story for another time). He was from Chicago but had been living abroad for several decades teaching English; first in Japan (where he and H met) and then in the Czech Republic. He and I struck up a conversation in the Hostel Cafe and then he and H came to see me play at the club later that week.

He was quite impressed with my playing back then and wanted to see me blow some harp again, so he asked his organizer friend P if I could sit in with Marilyn and the band. Of course P said it would be her call. I knew how delicate those matters are, so I really wasn’t expecting to be able to sit in, although it would have been awesome.

We sat and chatted and enjoyed the day as the band set up and went through sound check. They were a trio with drums, guitar, and a Hammond B-3 Organ player. They sounded pretty hot as they went through their paces. Usually Kladno hosts touring bands on the last night of the tour (final gig right by the airport), but this time it was reversed and Marilyn had just landed the day before and she and the Czech cats had just one rehearsal together. I didn’t think that boded well for a new person to sit in for a tune.

The courtyard began to fill up with folks, the star arrived, and the show began. Marilyn was a great singer and even though they had only one rehearsal things were going pretty well, although you could tell they were still a little tentative with each other.

During the break P motioned that I should go talk to Marilyn, so I went and introduced myself and asked if I might sit in for a tune so my friends could see me play again. She was very kind and gracious and said “Sure, why not?” and we all set to figuring out what tune I might be able to fit in on. They had messed around with a straight-up jam (my forte) the day before, where the Hammond player got on drums, the drummer picked up the guitar, and Marilyn got on the Hammond; but the Hammond player said “No, this show is too serious” (I knew what he meant, it kind of had a mini-Ravinia vibe) so we ended up deciding on the classic “Stormy Monday.”

I went to go warm up my C Harp (literally, it had gotten cold as hell and I was regretting that I hadn’t brought my jacket) and move from spectator to performer mode. These shows were obviously a big deal for the little town of Kladno, and I didn’t want to embarrass C by screwing the pooch in front of the village big-wigs; therefore I was a bit nervous aside from the jitters that come from playing with someone new.

But nonetheless I acquitted myself fairly well (my solo got some nice applause) and Marilyn and the band really seemed to dig it. Afterwards, we all had a nice chat and bid each other farewell. It was time to go back to the Pension (after Craig showed me a couple local watering holes). I can now say that I sat in with Muddy Waters’ great-niece, and in a small Czech town even.


Marilyn Feeling It.


The next day C and I did a Day Trip into Prague, where he showed me around the old (UNESCO Heritage Site)  especially historic part of the city. Many years before he had learned a great deal about Prague and took & passed the Guide Certification Exam (since he had done so much research anyway), and he really gave me a nice well-informed tour of some fascinating things.


Prague Is Gorgeous And Filled With Vistas Like This.

The only problem was it being a Saturday (and a wildly popular place in general) the whole area was absolutely jammed with hordes of tourists (like a Navy Pier/Mag Mile on Steroids meets the Art Institute) to the point where I was getting claustrophobic at times. Still we had a wonderful afternoon and it was cool as hell.


Hi Mrs. Kafka, Can Franz Come Out And Play?



As Befits A Kafka Monument, It Is Rife With Symbolism.


Kafka Monument In Profile.

I especially enjoyed Kafka’s House and nearby Monument (this whole quest has sometimes made me feel like The Land Surveyor in The Castle), the old Jewish areas, and even the crazy packed main historic square was nice. Although I really felt for the guides who I saw giving walking tours to groups of 50 in that absolute Zoo, it’s hard enough giving a walking tour for groups that size in the least crowded of places.


The Old Jewish Town Hall. Note The Clock In Hebrew Which Reads From Right To Left.


This Moment Outside The Prague Synagogue Was So Poignant & Touching I Broke My Rule About Avoiding People In My Photos.

We eventually transported back to Kladno and said goodbye until the next evening, when we would be going to have dinner with a fascinating friend of he and H’s.


The next evening C stopped by and led me to B’s house, where we had dinner with he and his family and a few friends. H had brought some homemade sushi and there was a nice array of other foods and much fine red wine.

B is Swiss & Czech and has worked many decades as a musician, arranger, and composer. He’s now quite in demand as all three and actually has his own Orchestra [one of NINE FULL ORCHESTRAS that exist in Prague. Dig that, Chicago Musicians!] which tours and records on a regular basis all around Europe. He held forth on some of his current projects (even played some rough recordings of one he was in the midst of with a famous French Pop Diva), told a bunch of great stories, and was an all-around wonderfully fascinating and sophisticated fellow.

I was SO honored and privileged to be able to meet and spend time with him, and I thanked C profusely afterwards as we made our way through the streets of Kladno.


It is now Monday and I am spending the day at the Pension preparing to take a bus to Vienna the next day to spend some time with A, who’s another friend I met in China.

Really looking forward to Vienna and to seeing A again. Hopefully I can manage the trip without some major or minor screwup on my part!


Friday Started Out At This Lovely Lighthouse On The North Sea Coast



The Air Off Of The North Sea Is Intoxicatingly Fresh

Perhaps I was too optimistic a couple of postings ago when I said no matter what I would be OK. The flip side of the coin of the Seat Of The Pants Travel Adventure recently reared up and bit me in the ass.

L’s need to suddenly return to Copenhagen early really caught me with my proverbial pants down because I hadn’t yet contacted my other great friend in Aarhus (S) about when I could stay with her on my way back south. The fact that I was only able to get internet at L’s museum further complicated things.

Since S and I were in sporadic contact, L offered to give me a ride to Copenhagen, where I could find a hostel or hotel to stay in and then either make my way over to Aarhus to stay with S or head south for Berlin or Prague depending on what was up (the problem with having creative nomadic friends is that they aren’t always at home and/or able to receive visitors).

I decided to take L up on her offer, and Friday morning and afternoon we closed up Country Town, the Museum, and then the summer home- and left for Copenhagen with the trailer in tow. The ride to Copenhagen was spectacular. I thought maybe I was overly impressed with Denmark because I hadn’t been out in the country in so long, but the place is just amazingly and relentlessly beautiful.

Once we arrived in Copenhagen things went completely sideways. It was now almost 10PM on a Friday night and the hostel I was hoping to stay at was booked up. L couldn’t be driving around with the trailer in downtown Copenhagen, so she let me off on hotel/hostel row, where I thought there must be something available.

But as I wheeled my big suitcase and bags around the jam-packed city center (big weekend beginning), it quickly became apparent that there was no room in the inn(s). So I grabbed a sandwich and drink at a convenience store and sat down on a bench to replenish myself and ponder my options.

My on again/off again phone wasn’t behaving so I wasn’t able to contact L, and her place was too small and she didn’t even have floor space for me to crash on anyway. That part of Copenhagen is a bit sketchy and unfriendly, defiinitely not the place you would want to rely on the kindness of strangers or even fall asleep in public, and I could feel myself drawing the attention of predatory looking people (at least they seemed that way to me- my street radar is set for Chicago). I decided to head to the train station and see if I could grab a train ticket to Prague, which would give me a place to sleep and end me up somewhere with cheap hotels and hostels, where I could lay over until I could contact my friend C, who lives outside of Prague and I had been talking to about visiting later that week.

I walked around the station looking for an open ticket booth where I could consult on travel options, but they were all closed and there were nothing but automated ticket machines available that only seemed to be for local trains. This was getting really messed up and all the magic seemed to have been sucked out of the air since I hit Copenhagen.

I sat on a bench in the station and wondered what the hell I was going to do, trying to stave off a total panic moment. I looked up and noticed a sign pointing to a platform downstairs that indicated a train for Aarhus was leaving in 15 minutes.

That seemed to be the straw I needed to grab at. I would take this late train to Aarhus that would either take the rest of the night to get there, and then I could get ahold of S (or maybe E & P) the next morning, or I could grab a room somewhere there if the train was quicker. I scrambled to find the right machine to get me a ticket for that train, purchased it (way pricey but I felt I had little choice at that time), and managed to get on the train with seconds to spare.

Turns out it was a relatively fast train that put me in downtown Aarhus at about 1:45 AM. The place was an absolute zoo; partly because it was bar time (ish) on a Friday night but mainly because (unbeknownst to me until arrival) it was the start of the huge Aarhus Fest, which drew revelers from all over Denmark & vicinity to attend the slew of awesome musical entertainment to be had at multiple venues for the next week.

I pushed my cargo ensemble through the throngs and didn’t even try to find a room, I knew I’d be wasting my time. I rolled on down to E & P’s building, hoping against hope to see a light on at that extremely late hour. No such luck. Feeling much too embarrassesd to wake everybody up past 2AM and not knowing what else to do, I headed over to a secluded bench in the park across the street from them, set my things around me and decided to tough it out until morning.

Aarhus was a much safer place to do this than Copenhagen, but I still was keeping both ears open as I nodded off and dozed fitfully for an hour or two. Lots of drunken rowdy folks were streaming down the street nearby but nobody took notice of me (or at least decided to mess with me). I almost hoped the cops would bust me so at least I’d have a place to stay, but they were apparently too busy keeping tabs on the throngs and busting drunk drivers to mess with a dumbass sitting in a park (cops keep a pretty low profile here anyway). I tried to keep my Zen going and laughed at my misfortune instead of freaking, and was doing pretty well for a while.

After a couple hours the wind changed and it got really really cold, to the point where I moved camp over to a bus shelter that was in the lee of the breeze, but it was right on the street that was still seeing a steady throng of rowdy drunks stumbling by (man, do people party here!).

Feeling too exposed and still cold as hell, I began to just roll the cargo around the neighborhood, which was still seeing many parties in full swing. Eventually, I found a relatively remote bus shelter and dozed and shivered for another period of time until the sun came up. Then finally the buses started running, and I took one out to the quiet outskirts and got a nice nap 40 minute nap in as I waited for one heading back into town.

I waited in another little mini-park for the grocery store to open, and when it did I got some fruit, cheese, and bread and headed back to the park by E & Ps to have some breakfast and await a sign that folks there might be awake, just to get warm and use their internet to contact S. It got to the point where I knew that everyone would be up and I went to ring what I thought was their bell (turned out it wasn’t) but got no response.


As Bad As I Felt At Sunrise, I Still Had To Take These Pics Of The Clouds In The Morning Sky



Lovely Clouds

Lovely Sky over ArtM

Flummoxed by this, I decided to head just across the narrow street and see if I could at least snag their wifi signal (my computer was attuned to their signal and I thought I might as well give it a try). I was actually able to and I sent an email to E (she’d recently gotten off that certain social media site) that explained my predicament and location- and got on that certain social media site to see if I could IM S to see if she was able to put me up that night.

As luck would have it, S responded, and as luck wouldn’t have it, was out of town. She tried to contact some friends of hers who might help but couldn’t get ahold of them, then gave me the address of a hostel that she thought might have a room even though the city was filled with folks.

All this time I was standing on a sidewalk with my bags all around me pecking away at an open laptop perched on top of a wall and looking like the King Of The Sketchy Unsavory Dudes. My first thought if I saw myself would have been that I was a homeless guy stealing someone’s wifi, which in a way I was, and I was getting all kinds of extremely quizzical looks from folks passing by and half expected some sort of internet police to ride up and begin questioning me.

As S was giving me the address and we were furiously IMing back and forth, suddenly P walks up to me with a huge grin on his face. I greeted him and told him of my plight and he asked if I wanted to come inside and have some coffee. An offer that almost made me weep with relief, as my Zen had totally disappeared about 3 hours before and I was in awful shape.

We went upstairs and P made me coffee and I explained my stupid predicament to everyone. They were full up with folks as well, so my staying there would be a huge inconvenience, since the only space for me to crash would be in P’s work space and he was painting like a demon these days and couldn’t afford the distraction of a person in his “office.”

I couldn’t get in touch with the Hostel in question, so I spent a couple hours searching Air B&B to no avail (put in one request on the one available place in my price range but never heard back). Finally I just went down to the hostel. They had no room that night but they did have one for the next night only, so I booked it and went back to E & P’s to see if I could impose on them for one night. They accepted only because they didn’t want me to have to sleep rough again, but I felt like a total a-hole for even having to ask such a huge favor (especially after all the hospitality they had previously shown me).

But nonetheless, I was able to sleep indoors that night. I even managed to walk around earlier and take in some of the Fest (it was amazing stuff) but the previous night of little sleep, constant cold, and a taste of what it’s like to be homeless (absolutely horrifying and soul-destroying) had really put me off my feed.

The next day I wasn’t able to check into the Hostel until 4PM, but at least they were able to let me put my huge rolling bag in their luggage room the day before. I went to check my other large-ish bag and my smaller computer bag in there as well early in the afternoon, but the reception desk was closed from 11AM until the 4PM check in time.

Since I couldn’t lug that heavy bag around anymore (it had extra stuff in it because I had taken some things I needed from the rolling bag the day before when I stored it) it was another session of lurking around a park with luggage. Even though I had gotten some good sleep in at E & P’s, I was still way out of sorts; and another few hours of getting the fish eye from wealthy Danish people (it’s a really gentrified area) was not what I needed emotionally. I felt like everyone in downtown Aarhus now thought I was “that weird homelss guy.” Then I started to ruminate on the fine line between open ended traveling like I was doing and just being homeless and felt like maybe I was on my way there and that worst-case scenario was right around the corner. By the time the Hostel opened up I was about as low as I could get.

The expensive hostel rate on top of the expensive train ticket further heightened my panic, and when I reached my room I was an emotional wreck. I sat and for a bit and tried to get my equilibrium back, to no avail. I thought perhaps checking out some fest would improve my mood, but it was Sunday night and there wasn’t as much stuff going on. It was time to call it a night and go back to the hostel and lick my wounds.


I ended up being able to stay one more night at The Hostel and now I am at S’s place getting my equilibrium back and preparing to leave for Prague on Thursday. S’s wonderfully warm and friendly ways and delicious homemade Cuban food are doing wonders for my disposition and outlook. And writing about it all has also helped me quell the panic/depression and get some perspective.

As unpleasant as it was, my little traumatic weekend was a picnic compared to the experiences of those who are actually homeless; and I can’t stop thinking about what it must be like to be someone from Syria or North Africa who is trying to make their way through Europe without a place to stay or any resources. My white skin and American Accent affords me many privileges that aren’t available to them, and a little bit of attitude and fish-eye is the least of the problems of those real refugees.

I think of all the people I tutored at the Albany Park Community Center (and who I’ve met over the years) who have spent time in refugee camps, and the over 50 million people worldwide who currently are refugees and/or displaced, and my mind boggles. What I went through was like stubbing a toe compared those millions of peoples’ metaphorical broken or amputated legs. So please forgive me for whining about my petty traumas.


My plans have changed because of the experiences of the weekend and the fact that my meager finances took a huge hit from the unexpected expenses. My original thought was to visit a few more friends in Northern Europe over the next month then as a final stop visit someone who I met during my childhood and who lives in Spain.

They are quite famous and important and can most help me figure out just what it is I am supposed to do with myself to be of the most use to the world at this point in my life. I thought my meanderings would provide me some sort of idea of what that might be and I could consult him about those ideas, but I now realize it’s time to see the Oracle immediately after I visit my friends C & H in Prague.

Finally: I understand that I have brought this on myself and that this was a strange and irresponsible endeavor from the beginning (I was well aware of that fact all along, but had to follow this compulsion), but if anyone has some funds they can spare and wishes to help me continue this quest they can please go to this web page and click on the “Tip Jar” icon to drop some philanthropy into my PayPal account.

I’m not trying to live a life of luxury here, just trying to find my path. If you enjoy reading about my wanderings and want to help continue this quest- any little bit would help.

The following incident from my years in Rogers Park has been on my mind a lot after repeated viewings of The Interrupters:

I still remember how beautiful it was that day. A freak February thaw had brought a week of sunny skies and balmy temperatures to Chicago. Unfortunately, the weather coincided with an intensification of a long-simmering gang feud in my area, and the animosity between two rival neighborhood leaders had somehow spiraled out of control to the point where the honor of the entire Vice Lord and Gangster Disciple Nations became involved. A day before the shit had totally hit the fan, and cars and vans started streaming into the area dropping off foot soldiers from all around Chicago and vicinity. Groups of up to 50-60 guys armed with various weapons had been roaming the streets engaging in pitched battles.

This was something nobody (be they cop, citizen, or criminal) had ever seen before and myself and the other people in the fledgling CAPS program were on high alert (hell, everybody was on high alert). Rogers Park was one of the CAPS pilot districts and we had just put together a Beat Plan and were continually trying to organize against a full scale invasion of the neighborhood that had happened the previous Spring, but this was something completely beyond even what we had already been seeing. Ironically, it was the success of our initial efforts which contributed to sparking the conflagration that was now consuming the area.

The quality of the neighborhood had begun slipping several years before when a group of idiot douche bags (I met them once so I know of what I speak) bought all the big buildings in the area toward the end of the late 1980s “no money down” real estate craze. When the bubble invariably burst, they just walked away from all their properties, which went into foreclosure and were then abandoned and/or purchased by slimy slumlords. Over the next few years the neighborhood changed from a bucolic middle class polyglot of many races, ethnicities and backgrounds into an increasingly sketchy and distressed one, with friendly conversations on the sidewalk between neighbors being replaced by street drug sales and trashy assholes just hanging out drinking.

The slide turned into a plunge in the Spring of 1994, when a Vice Lord “District Manager” (for want of a better term) was released from prison and was given Rogers Park and Evanston as his territory. He was particularly ambitious and well organized; and one day there were suddenly five guys on every corner slinging crack, heroin and whatever else the street addict desired, as well as several 24/7 high volume crack houses around the vicinity- including one in the third floor apartment above my wife and I. Pushed into a corner, we began working with other folks in the neighborhood and various community groups under the auspices of the pilot CAPS program.

At first our efforts seemed laughable in the face of the entropy storm that had overtaken the area, but by the end of the summer our faction was starting to gain some traction as our dogged work and unconventional tactics (like putting up gaudy flyers to scare away drug buyers) were starting to bear fruit. The most notable change being that the District Manager (I will call him Bill) moved his “office,” which had previously been on the corner outside our first floor walk up apartment, a block south to avoid our scrutiny and constant (polite) requests to move himself elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this moved him right on to the turf line between his vast Vice Lord territory and that of a small enclave of Gangster Disciples further south on Damen Avenue (affiliated with a larger GD faction over by the Howard L). Friction between Bill’s crew and the GD’s soon flared into a brawl where the GD crew leader (Sean) got his face severely smashed in with a baseball bat. When Sean got out of the hospital several weeks later he was primed for vengeance and gun play became more commonplace, leading up to whatever situation it was that involved the honor of both Nations and the full out war that was now happening on the sunny day in question.

It was late afternoon and during that brief period right after the elementary school down the block let out where all the kids that weren’t involved with gangs (FYI-95%) would quickly scurry home. Battles had been going down all day, and these were not just random skirmishes, these were regimented. Earlier that morning I had watched a car with an open trunk filled with sticks and ball bats slowly roll down the street with two young guys walking behind calmly pulling them out and dropping them along the sidewalk and parkway, their demeanor like that of a couple city workers planting tulips in the median. That way soldiers roaming the area when a police car rolled by could just drop their weapons and move on knowing there would be another one strewn somewhere ahead of them (the quick melting of huge snow banks in the previous week had also left the ground littered with thousands of beer and liquor bottles which had been chucked into them). Several months of post-Bill-Invasion conditions (including occasional death threats from he and his crew) had steeled me to a lot of things, but this was some scary shit.

Not that the Police were anywhere to be found anyway. Already loath to respond to calls on those three blocks of Damen Avenue and their side streets that had been designated the battlefield, they had been pretty scarce since things had started the day before, only streaming in en masse after something so massive happened that the flood of 911 calls couldn’t be ignored anymore. Even our normally proactive and badass third watch beat cops seemed flustered by this unprecedented flurry of open warfare, not that I could blame them.

The instinct to get home before things started up again was being trumped by the unusually beautiful day, and a small group of 12 or 13 year old nerdy neighborhood kids were dawdling on the corner of Damen and Birchwood. I was sitting in the window of my first floor walk-up on the Northwest corner waiting for the next battle to start so I could call 911 and hopefully spur them into sending somebody. I had just gotten a call from a fellow CAPS person down the street that there was a big bunch of Vice Lords gathering at their rally point in a fast food parking lot at Howard and Damen, so I knew something was going to go down soon and I am wishing these kids would get their asses home. But they are fluttering about excitedly as tweens do; wired out of their minds by the end of the school day, the lovely weather, and the adrenaline from witnessing the insanely furious fighting of the previous day and night.

I don’t know exactly how many GD’s were in the group that came storming up Damen Avenue from the south. I heard over my police scanner several minutes later that someone who had called 911 apparently described it as “a million dudes” (the dispatcher had great fun imitating the guy’s voice) but I was so stunned by the river of rage rolling north that at first I just sat and dumbly stared. Damen Avenue was completely clear of cars because everyone was parking a few blocks away to try and avoid having a brick or a bat smash their windshield. A fast moving wave of guys standing shoulder to shoulder filled the entire street from building to building and stretching back at least a half block, all carrying golf clubs, bats, sticks, bricks and stones and literally screaming bloody murder. How many? Five hundred? A thousand? Two thousand? What the fuck is going on?!!!

The nerdy kids were stunned at first too, and one of them made a terrible mistake and ran west on Birchwood instead of north on Damen where he might have made his escape down an alley and away from the battle. A wave of the GD’s peeled off and surrounded him in seconds, thirty or so of them massing around to take turns kicking and stomping and whomping him as I sat horrified and paralyzed, making weird mewling noises like a panicked toddler.

After a minute or two they drifted away to rejoin the main group now facing off with the Vice Lords at the end of the block, leaving what looked like a bloody pulp laying on the sidewalk. I finally snap out of it and run to dial 911, thinking this kid has got to be dead. When I get through, I begin describing the situation and begging the operator to send an ambulance for him. “How do you know he’s dead?” she asks. More fun with 911.

While the operator is dicking me around and the battle is raging back and forth up the street, I see the kid’s mom and sister come from around the corner where they lived and carefully try to rouse him. Holy shit, he’s conscious and getting up! They help him to his feet and gently support him as he hobbles and limps away. At this point I realize that I wouldn’t be doing him a favor by getting him an ambulance, as he would face police pressure to testify and be in for more trouble no matter how it played out. I hang up.

I hear from my scanner that several calls have gone out and in another minute a swarm of police cars arrived and the remaining combatants (the battle had mostly subsided by then anyway) dropped their weapons and disappeared to the four winds. The battle had ended for now.

The war raged on for a few more days until a massive and slightly psychotic show of presence from CAPS people and other fed-up neighbors seemed to blunt the fever of the conflict and regular Chicago winter conditions returned, but that is a story for another time.

The nerdy kid eventually healed from his horrific beating. I would sometimes see him around the L station heading to or from the new school to which he had transferred after his recovery. His limp went away in a year but the haunted look in his eyes stayed long afterward. I still think about him when the weather starts getting nice and my residual anxiety at the approach of spring, still leftover from those times, begins to gnaw at me. Lately I wonder what might have happened if there had been someone around back then who could have actually tried to intervene when Bill and Sean’s tiff first began. Who might have interrupted the spiral of aggression before it became a tornado that consumed a neighborhood and turned a nerdy kid whose only sin was picking the wrong direction to flee into a bloody mass of tissue slumped motionless on a sidewalk.