Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dissing Divvy

Have you seen these around town?

They're cute, beach cruiser style, with teeny tiny blinking lights. Most of the riders are tourists. Most of the riders are rising on the sidewalk, oblivious to pedestrians scrambling to get out of their way. Most of the riders are helmetless.

Our alderman 46th ward James Cappelman is a huge supporter of Divvy. He calls it ride sharing. Of course it appears that way=$7 for a 24-hour Divvy pass.Except FIRST you have to pay $75 for a membership. Those tourists thinking they're getting a deal, get a credit card shock. That is if they still have their brains in tact. I see so many people on these bikes, all without helmets. Isn't it a city ordinance to ride with a helmet.

Next question regarding the Divvy program in Chicago--the bike stands are on city sidewalks. Do they rent the sidewalk? Does Chicago get a kickback or portion of profits?

Last year, the city of Chicago announced a controversial $65 million contract with ALTA Bicycle Share to operate a 4,000 bicycle bike-share program in the city. Chicago selected the politically connected ALTA despite the fact a local company, Bike Chicago, placed a bid that was nearly 40 percent cheaper.

Key facts about the Chicago Divvy bike share program:
  • First year cost of program is estimated at $28 million
  • Five-year contract is between city and ALTA is worth $65 million
  • Five-year cost is $17,105.26 per bike
  • Only $375,000 in annual membership fees collected year to date
  • Only $259,000 in 24-hour pass fees collected year to date
It’s quite surprising that poor revenues roughly equivalent to 7 percent of first-year costs during summertime’s peak ridership months translates to performance “beyond expectations.” If this is considered good performance, just how low were expectations to begin with? Perhaps the rosy comments from City Hall are more about political spin than hard facts.
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Don't get me wrong--I LOVE bikes and the whole idea of bike sharing is just so great. If it was actually a local bike shop or program that hired real people to help the renters get a good fit and quick over view of bike safety and also fitted the customer with a helmet. Make the helmet part of the package. Instead tourists are jumping on for what they think is a quick, cheap ride without real lights and without any head protection.

Divvy bikes are not helping the local economy or local cyclists.

On the other hand it makes Chicago and its politicians feel good about being green--green like money in their pocket.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Her Story

Question from a 4th grade history quiz: Why did Washington cross the Delaware?
Answer I filled in the blank with: To get to the other side.

I was terrible at history. I could not tell a Roman Republic from a Roman Empire—apparently this is very important and, yes, I flunked this quiz also.

Yet I was able to imagine history. Not like an abstract timeline, but the story in history.

I could close my eyes and see the cave-dark origins of the Neanderthal, see the women walking on the prairie behind wagons into canyons of deep unknown. I saw the Little House on the Prairie! I played with Laura and Mary—and prayed with them when Jack their dog went missing. I was with Hemingway in the Italian Alps fighting and falling in love, over and over again, in Paris and Pamplona, Cuba and Key West.

I can tell you stories. Right now I’m working on a revision of a YA historical novel where I’m trying to make it as authentic as possible.

Hang in there with me as I’ve been slow these past months on posting at the blog.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

One Last Time

One Last Time

One last summer to smell the green,
Water the roses, sit out on the deck drinking coffee.
One last sweeping of lady bug carcasses
And snaking the toilet with its quirky septic.
No more raking leaves, winterizing,
Or emptying the water tank before a freeze.
No more no more.

We are told to hold things lightly
In order to let them go.
We held on too tight
And now it’s time to say good bye.

Good bye kissing tree,
Good bye bass pond,
Good bye blue heron and rope swing.
Good bye good bye memories.

One last time I want to soak it all in.
The bird calls, the low hum of insects,
The open sky and mosaic of sunlight beneath the trees.
A day can’t be 24 hours—why not forever?

Forever golden morning, forever long afternoon.
Forever lavender lingering twilight, forever moonlight.
Forever the magic of the hour which isn’t an hour,
But only lasts a moment.

Last walk to the lake to see the wind ripple the surface.
We jump in one last time
And discover the cold spot where the spring feeds in,
Touch the silty depths with our toes.

Good bye ancient catfish trolling the bottom
Goodbye silly blue gills and the ones that got away
Good bye snapping turtle, good bye snakes sunning in the mud.

I will miss the shifting clouds, the darting jays,
The butterflies skimming the puddles.
The rise and fall of bumblebees above the breezy wildflowers.
The dust at dusk floating like a Japanese screen
Before drowned by the heavy dew.
I will miss seeing you, seeing everything
One last time.

The sun now level with the tops of the trees
One last blazing sunset at the intersection of
Jesus Village and Skateboard Park
I hear the haunting melody, one last concert
Of the ghost bands and circle dancers.

And as the sun slips below the horizon
The Technicolor buses of yesteryears dim.
The Flying Fish Camp has moved on.
One last train whistle serenades
while the embers of one last campfire smolder
Beneath the last of the stars.

We always knew there would be one last time,
We just didn’t know it would be

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fallen Man/Woman

9/11: A day for Re-Framing our Memory
Even the use of 9/11 is short-hand, a way to immediately conjure up an image with the reader. No matter if you were alive then or just born, now, 12 years later, one can easily have a memory or, at the very least, a working collective memory of what happened that day.

It is engraved on the conscience of the 21st century.

Much of my work has been with flash memoir. I’m sure the memory of what happened that day has shifted down through the past decade plus. From my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir I talk about the Challenger study.

The day after the Challenger disaster Emory University professor Ulric Neisser asked his students to write down their feelings. I’m sure this was cathartic for them. But also, interestingly enough, before they graduated a few years later he asked them to again write personal essays about the Challenger disaster, specifically about what they remembered about that day.
He found three things. First, the memories of the students had dramatically changed: “twenty-five percent of the students’ subsequent accounts were strikingly different from their original journal entries. More than half the people had lesser degrees of error, and less than ten percent had all the details correct.” Second, people were usually confident that the accounts they provided two and a half years later were accurate. And third, “when confronted with their original reports, rather than suddenly realizing that they had misremembered, they often persisted in believing their current memory.”

Nevertheless, 9/11 was an event that affected all of us—globally and locally, politically—even today, echoes of 9/11 and its repercussions are sounding throughout the halls at Capitol Hill. We’re living with the continued legacy of that day.

Yesterday, 9/10—a day by the way that has little impact upon my memory—I was thinking “Oh I hope they don’t do all that cheesy news stuff tomorrow. I hate how it’s become simply a news event, sort of like how the March on Washington a couple of weeks ago got a bit-overdone. It was significant and a turning point, but that message gets subliminated by the glitz, the logos, and other graphics the media uses to “brand.” There is a big difference between the oral tradition of telling a story and advertising a story.

Yet today I was totally conscious of the date as I crossed the street to my new office. This would be the first day after taking a couple weeks to move that I would come over and sit at my desk and my computer in a new space. For over three years I’d been moved out while the building was re-habbed. In the middle of the street I remembered: This is where I was when I heard the news. A plane has hit the World Trade Towers.

My husband on the morning of 9/11 met me half way and said let’s go watch TV. Are you crazy? I remember thinking, It’s only 9:30 a.m.; we've got to go to work. But I followed him and in the lobby of my building, a friend stopped us and said, Come watch TV with me. Again peculiar, so we followed and in a room already filled with people we watched. The horror. The awfulness. The unaffected images of what would turn out to be life-changing.

At that moment, as we watched, the pictures had not been re-shaped or re-framed by time and news outlets.

Now all we have is what our memories tell us, and how the event is portrayed on TV.

A powerful image from that day has now worked itself into our American Myth or the mythology surrounding that day. (Please do not confuse myth with conspiracy theories—omg—just reading YouTube comments is enough to make me want to resign from the human race and eject myself from planet Earth.) But myth in the sense of stories we tell ourself that get repeated over and over. That image is Falling Man.

There is an interesting YouTube video about this subject and about the iconic image that I imagine Susan Sontag—were she here today—would comment on (and not like the crazos commenting on the various YouTube sites etc on the subject of 9/11).

Falling Man is about re-framing memory, about self-censorship, about how we choose to remember.

It is a powerful video.

After seeing the AP photo dozens and dozens of times by the end of the film, you realize that the image is no longer shocking, controversial--it has been stripped of pre-conceptions--and given, in return, some humanity.

By the end of the film one realizes how the mind and our emotions play with memory, re-shaping and re-framing. And, because we are only human, susceptible to all our frailties, we're all fallen.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Hilde’s scar is 27 years old.

She got that scar the day before my wedding. On our last run. Though it wasn’t our last run. It was my last run as a single lady.

We have continued to run for 27 years.

The day before my wedding we planned one hour. To run. There were so many things to do. Before my wedding.

Somehow we knew things were gonna change and we needed one last run.

We ran down Leland Street, past the graffiti and corner store that sold gin in pint bottles. Crumbs of glass glittered the sidewalk. We ran toward sky and beach and a great unknown.

I’d stood up in Hilde’s wedding and now Hilda was to stand up in mine. The next day.

Along the lakefront, back behind the golf course, we ran on top of the breakwall, a jumble of concrete boulders. So many times before, and this would be our last time. Maybe.

The next time we would both be married ladies.

So we ran and talked. The whole time I was wondering what changes the next day might bring, while navigating the uneven wall. Then Hilda slipped.

I can see it in slow motion, though I don’t think I really saw it.

At first I didn’t think it was so bad. A zigzag gash in the knee. We tried to staunch the blood with cold lake water. The blood ran down her sweaty shin into her sock.

I was determined to do this—our last run.

Hilda got up and finished. The wound continuing to bleed, the skin separated with glimpses of bone. None of us knew what would happen.

She limped down the aisle the next day.

Hilde’s scar is now 27 years old.

We continue to run and contemplate the future. There are so many unknowns, we have no idea what will happen. Yet, we celebrate the anniversary of that white, unfaded scar.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dreaming in Uptown

If you haven't come out of your Rip Van Winkle cave, then you probably heard that last week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
I Have a Dream
I recently saw a documentary on King's progression as a social activist from Selma to Memphis. No matter  the issue, he said he wanted to be on the side of justice. Thus he fought not only for voting rights, but for fair housing and jobs for minorities. This is something I think society is still struggling with. Especially in my neighborhood, where every day the poor and low-income earners are being squeezed out of housing. Just this past month another SRO (sing-room occupancy) building got gobbled up by a developer, planning a 14M re-hab on the Lawrence House, once housing for seniors and others on fixed incomes.

Martin Luther King's life and death demonstrates a life not only on the right side of an issue, but one who sacrifices and pursues with a passion a commitment to that issue.

I find many people who say they are progressive (code for not prejudice), who say they identify with those struggling for civil rights, who love diversity.

But this past week I heard something that I hope is simply an ugly rumor.

On the first day of school, by the "known" troublespots in Uptown, where in the past there has been outbreaks of violence, the police randomly rounded up residents hanging out at those corners and moved them to the Jewel store parking lot and kept them there until the parents and children along the back-to-school route had vacated the sidewalks.


I heard it was an effort to rid the streets of the homeless who gather around the McDonald's at Wilson and Sheridan. Who decides who is homeless? Who decides who is a bum? And, lastly, what does this have to do with the gang violence--they are 2 separate issues.

I Have a Dream--that housing will become a human right. That the marginalized will not be reduced to the point of invisibility. That in Uptown we can all DWELL together in unity. not according to class and square feet.