"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Dateline: Anchorage

Saturday we had a reunion of sorts, in downtown Anchorage at a bar, the F Street Station.

Craig Hasund, who played saxophone and oboe with me in high school band and the Anchorage Youth Symphony (1987-91) and his wife, Rena:

...and Mark Edwards, the big surprise of the night (he sat behind me in chemistry, 1989-90):

My brother with Sam Gray, also a saxophonist in the East High band:

And Jimmy Egan doesn't look a day older:

Later on that night one of my best friends, Erik Wegscheider - clarinet: AYS, All-state, All-Northwest band, showed a bit later. He actually called me from his truck as he drove past to tell me he wasn't coming in and I didn't blame. It was asses to elbows in there, some sort fire code was surely being broken, so we stopped in at Anchor Bar, attempted to find an open bar at the Captain Cook Hotel (Anchorage's answer to Chicago's Penninsula), and then to the old standard, Humpy's, for the final round of the evening...

The next day my brother took us to the firing range in Birchwood to pop a few rounds on his AK-47 and Glock .40 S&W:


Anchored down in Anchorage

I arrived in Anchorage late on Christmas Eve night. In fact, with the three hour gain, my body time was Christmas. It had been almost four years since last coming home, but walking into the house I'd first moved into before the 6th grade felt almost routine.

Christmas day was one of the best ever. Very few presents - I bought the wine for dinner, we all got socks, but Mom bought a Wii for the house, and I found out my brother had quit smoking! An old family friend came over to eat with us, and we had lots of good wine over prime rib and uproarious conversation, before heading downstairs to play a few hours of Wii tennis and bowling.

The backyard:

Today Mom and I went skiing on the truly world-class network of urban trails that Anchorage residents enjoy. My stepdad's wooden skis, handmade in Norway, are probably older than me but with the appropriate wax applied, they glide along just as well as the high-end composite models.

Madison Way at high noon in December - that's looking straight north (the sun never really gets above the southern horizon this time of year):

Just a right and a left turn and three-quarters of mile from the house is the access point to Chester Creek Trail:

One of the many underpasses on the ski trails in Anchorage:

We stopped at West Chester Lagoon, near the head of the Coastal Trail, and watched the ice skaters:

Long story short? Keep your distance:

A view of Cook Inlet and Mt. Susitna (Sleeping Lady) from the Anchorage Coastal Trail:

Informational sign at Earthquake Park, where the entire neighborhood of Turnagain Heights slid into Cook Inlet during the March 27, 1964 Earthquake. At 9.2 on the Richter Scale, it was the largest seismic event ever recorded in North America:

At Earthquake Park:

Downtown Anchorage from the Coastal Trail:

Needs no further explanation:

Three hours and 11.5 miles, it was a great workout. We are about to enjoy some leftovers from last night - I am starving - and then my brother and I are headed downtown to meet up with some high school friends we've not seeing in quite a long time over some beers.

Until tomorrow...


Thursday Hate - Early Christmas Edition

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

First, most Christmas music sucks. You can really only listen to it so many times, even Vince Guaraldi; so, I'll be pretty adamant here, there is no "great" Christmas music. Therefore, nothing is more teeth-grindingly grating than having to put up with people who rave about the "moving experience" of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and how it truly "captures" the holiday spirit. These are the same people who still think there are honest politicians left, or that the Whole Foods frozen dinners are good for you just because they say, "organic" on the box.

If pigeons are the current sad state on the evolutionary trajectory of the Velociraptor, the TSO are the natural progression from 80's hair rock. Although having said that, virtually nothing has changed since the 1989-91 era of arena rock, with their platinum blond straightened hair, petticoats and pirate shirts, and their Jackson Flying V knockoffs being wielded as though at a renaissance faire. You know that pose: where they lean way back and hold on to the guitar as if it's going to fly out of their hands at any minute while they stare at it, like they can't believe what they're hearing...

People who would otherwise call Tony Iommi and Randy Rhodes "noise" will pay good money to sit through nearly two hours of heavy metal cliches; giving their warmed-over religious Christmas favorites unneeded gravitas in order to feel cultured. Ugly sweater parties all over American suburbia will be accompanied - OH, so unironically - by these bland, Wonderbread collections.

Of course if you took these same people to some truly exciting "culture", such as Stravinsky (CSO, January 2010) or Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (Lyric Opera, March 2010), they'd fall asleep on you faster than a freshman who's just rubbed one out on the back porch couch after a frat party.

And that's a wrap for the Hate this year. It was certainly a rage-inducing 2009. I'm off to Alaska on Thursday, so stay tuned for a more heartwarming range of posts, such as pictures of frozen moose poop along the Anchorage ski trails, or accounts of my parents getting drunk and putting on some TSO; and be sure not to miss my 4th annual "Best that I could do" recap of the year.

Happy Holidays! Lots of love,

The Car Whisperer.


Anchorage (a love letter to home)

(with apologies to Carl Sandburg)

You were once the crossroads of East and West
Keeper of the gateway between new and old
Off in the corner, yet noticed when needed
At the edge of forever by our own fingernails.

I knew no differently: you were me and I was you
And together in the snow we found our place in the world
While the rest of them twisted and burned in roiling water
We simply crunched past on our frozen, quiet way.

They say you are cold and I know this
Your pitch black mornings let me stay under the blankets
Or to contemplate the day’s start - still so far off - in a quiet kitchen
They tell me you are dark, and I nod and smile
The miserly light that you offer drives me out into the snow
To risk fingers and toes before returning to the fire
They wag that you are lonely, and I agree
We are made from your expanse, meant to return
And being lost amid your empty whiteness makes us thankful

Each time away grows longer and farther
A remembered breath, misty and faint in the air,
Grown whispier in my warmer, later, lighter days
Than when it came frozen from my reddish cheeks.

Each time I’ve returned you’ve become more like them
Trying to belong
And not nearly so cold. Just like me.

We have aged.

But there are times when we can go back
To wake up in darkness, laugh in twilight
And crunch on past through the cold and quiet
While they writhe and squirm and ask for help.

I’ve arrived in search of your comforting clutch
And to hear your heart beat beneath the snow.


Thursday Hate - Dr Grammar

You're. Your. One is a contraction, the other possessive.

"You are (you're) a piece of shit who deserves the death penalty for using your car to kill an innocent bystander in a road rage incident."


Loose. Lose. Two completely different words.

"You will have loose bowels for the rest of your life once you lose your (eh?!) virginity in prison."


It's. Its. Again, one is a contraction, the other a possessive. If you write it with the apostrophe, sound out both words, "it is" and if it doesn't fit, remove the apostrophe, like so:

"It's going to be great seeing your cowardly ass shanked in the exercise yard when one gang or another gets its hands on you. Rot in hell, I hope you die from a perforated colon."

Yours in hate and education,

The Car Whisperer.


The Unified Theory of Facebook

1st Law: People who didn't know you/didn't talk to you/made fun of you/beat you up everyday in high school will add you as a "friend."

2nd Law: Any status update that is commented on enough devolves into nothing more than Big Lewbowski quotes.

3rd Law: The first time you "hide" a friend's status updates will be to block the messages from "Mafia Wars" and "Farmville.

4th Law: Posting an "I lost my cell phone" event is a really great way to ensure a smaller contact list on your new phone.

5th Law: You will have one friend who only posts DJ status updates. And you will hide him.

6th Law: You will find out that people you otherwise like are stridently Republican/Democrat.

7th Law: Your mom will be a "mutual friend" of your ex.

8th Law: You will be tagged in a monstrously embarrassing picture without your permission, and by the time you see it, 27 people will have already commented on it.

9th Law: At least one friend a month will leave only "is..." as their status update, in an attempt to be "deep" when they're afraid to just not have anything to say.

10th Law: You will want a dislike button very soon.


Hump Day

A rudderless boat on a cloudy day
On an aimless drift through a crowded bay.

Rusty steel and angry horns
Menacing bows like threatening thorns

But do not lose faith in such a place
For the sun will show like a beautiful face,

And lead you out from amid the blare
To follow that smile to quiet, sweet air.



File this under "Early hate."

I don't think it's too much to ask that I at least be able to experience my first interview to write a book, even if I had no chance at all.

I figured I should have some shot, however remote, at being chosen to write Bicycling Australia's "Where to Ride Chicago". I'm sure there are many accomplished writers out there with a long resume full of books, but I do offer a unique, or so I thought, sweet-spot combination: I can write, I can ride, and who knows the city of Chicago from the vantage point of two wheels better than I?

I would've loved to at least presented my passion, to talk professionally about what I love for the chance at a life changing opportunity. Oh, well. By 4:15 as my phone was ringing while we carpooled home from work in growing snowfall, the publishers of Bicycling Australia had heard enough and had their author. It was far more painful than if I'd received that call after meeting them. I am beside myself, and they are sipping cocktails at Rosebud.

I should've at least had the chance. I know where to go. Let's rent a tandem. One ride. Come with me.

Let's start from Navy Pier, at the Bike Chicago rental.

We'll head down the path, snaking towards the Lakepoint Tower (look up, did you know Oprah and Eddie Van Halen lived there?) and the Illinois Street viaduct, and then north onto the lakefront path.

We'll pass Streeterville, named after the lunatic/rebel who crashed his boat on the lake shore in 1886 and claimed 186 acres as his own sovereign, the "District of Lake Michigan," until 1928.

Look up to your left as we ride through the Oak Street chicane, by the majestic waterfront apartments beneath the Palmolive Building. Once a beacon of the Art Deco 1930's and Chicago's rise to world prominence, alternatively synonymous with the the acrid smoke from the Tommy guns of Capone's legion, the rotating light at the top was finally shut down in 1981 after years of complaints from the residents of the next door John Hancock Tower and the defenders of migratory birds.

Let's head west at the North Avenue underpass, and ride into the shabby chic of Old Town, with it's well worn and comforting storefronts and entryways, the birthplace of Chicago's gentrification from the counterculture that once occupied the lakefront public space from Grant Park to Belmont Avenue during those hot August nights of 1968.

We'll take a right onto Wells Street, riding by the SNL nursery and ground-breaking Second City Theater, and then jog right/left to head north on Clark Street. Just north of Armitage you'll see an empty lot that was once a garage, where seven criminals, expecting no harm from the men dressed as cops behind them, leaned patiently by their hands against the wall and had their brains and guts spilt in a fury of semi-automatic gunfire onto the dusty floor by Al Capone's gang on February 14, 1929.

Let's turn left onto Fullerton and pass by the historic brownstones of Lincoln Park, once occupied by tenants of German brewery owners, and before that nuns of a seminary. Then north on Halsted, behind the Biograph Theater alley where John Dillinger was shot dead, and past the old Everleigh Sisters' northside franchise at 2447, later a hangout-slash-lair of occultist Alister Crowely (and my first apartment in Chicago). Ask the bartenders at Tonic Room to show you the pentagram on the basement floor.

Or alternately stay on Clark Street for a visit at the Weiner's Circle, if on a late night ride. Be sure and ask for the chocolate shake.

Either way, stay on or turn left back on to Clark when they intersect, and head northwest into Wrigleyville for a chance to have beer spilled down your shirt, or to tour the "cathedral" of baseball, home to the most cramped, rank, rat infested, and hated visitor's locker room in all the major leagues. Continue on up, past Metro, where Billy Corgan got his break and Cheap Trick never forgot their fans.

We'll head west, left on Irving Park, where at this intersection the entrances to Graceland and Wunders Cemeteries beckon to the graves of such prominent Chicagoan as Marshall Field, Tribune owner Col. Cyrus McCormick, and architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel Burnham, and last but not least, George Pullman.

At Irving and Ashland stands the monolithic Lakeview High School, a massive heap of brown brick topped with turrets where my grandmother graduated in the year 1922.

Just before Damen on the south side of the street is the Blue Stem lounge, a dingy martini joint where the late-night bartender shoots the extra cocktail that doesn't fit into each drink she serves, yet amazingly stays sober the entire night.

The traffic gets a little more aggressive here, so we'll turn northwest on Lincoln, and enjoy the confines of the bike lane again. At Montrose, be sure to stop and lock up the bike before scheduling some folk guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Music.

Park again in Lincoln Square between Wilson and Lawrence to take in vintage books, authentic German delis and of course the world famous Brauhaus (where one late Sunday night I found myself with my cousin alone save another table of Polish students calling out requests to the Polka band). See a second run movie at the Davis Theater, or grab the Capitalist Pig at Chubby Weiners (a hot dog with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue from the liquor store next next door).

Jog north and go west (young man) at Lawrence, but if it's the third Friday of the month, don't pass up the open house invite to the bar at Dankhaus, the German Cultural Center. Further down, back in the bike lane, you are treated to signs written in every language from Slovakian to Korean and offered both latkes and fishballs (and everything in between - from gold rims to wholesale underpants) at seemingly every storefront. If you're going to stop, make sure it's at Great Sea Chinese, just east of Kimball.

We'll keep going to Elston and take a right, heading back northwest, into the Mayfair Historic Bungalow District, although mostly all you can see from here is autobody and machine shops. A nice sidetrip would be southwest to Wilson and Knox, for a Guinness at the Irish American Heritage Center, and then some post-drinking fries at Susie's Drive-In, or maybe karaoke at Sidekicks.

A pretty good (and massive) Italian beef can be found at Dukes, up further at Central, and there are many working class bars on the way to the city limit at Devon where we can find both a stool and an ear to lean on.

Right at the end is my personal jewel, Superdawg, with the green tomato in the box on top of your sausage and fries. Pair it with an ice cold strawberry milk shake, and a slight breeze cooling the sweat off the back of your neck on a hot summer's night under the sunset, and you might think yourself in heaven.

Across the street is only Niles however, and the very beginning of the North Branch Trail. Now, on to the botanic gardens...



Shhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet.

Well, truth be told, I didn't kill da wabbit, but I sure did cook his ass...er, cottontail...tails. I've always wanted to make rabbit stew to serve with some quality French red wine, and I had chosen this weekend to make my fantasy a reality. I don't have much of a dining room, at all really, but as long as there's enough room to stand around my kitchen island, we can make a dinner party happen.

Friday night Tina and I picked up Peter and Mopsy from Paulina Meat Market ("Bunny killer's here!"), and then we got their trimmings from Family Fruit Market in Six Corners. Carrots, potatoes, as well as the holy trinity of onion, bell peppers, and celery, and several different kinds of wild and domestic mushrooms.

After a ride in the morning up to Highland Park with the team - there was no way I could squander yet another of the seemingly endless September sunny days we are having this late November - I sat on the stoop with a Refresco glass bottle Coke and smiled as Jack fooled around before getting down to business.

Jack and coke:

First, I had to peel and precook the potatoes. The recipe calls for a 12 to 24 hour simmer, I only had time for five. Then, it was time to chop the veggies and make the stock.

The Paulina butchers had quartered each of the rabbits, setting aside the visera, backbones, and liver in a separate wrapper. Reserving the liver for now, the backbone and other material went into my small pot, along with a red onion, two stalks of celery, carrot, and a liberal amount of salt and pepper.

While this simmered I turned to the rabbits. As it was my first time doing this, when I unwrapped their two packages I fully expected them to be deboned.

Not so. Just a couple of minutes trying to do that to raw meat first had me wondering if rabbit stew traditionally was served bone-in, and then washing my hands and turning to youtube, where I found this helpful demonstration:

Be sure to skip ahead to about 2.15 if you want to miss the guts coming out, and to 2.45 if you don't want to see the cute little rabbit turd on the cutting board.

Long story short, this wry Brit chef told me I needed to brown it first, and then the bones would come out quite cleanly. Thankfully Paulina Meat Market had taken care of the guts (and presumably the cute little turds) so soon I was happilyy browning away, nearly passing out from the extremely rich aroma of the meat searing in a large amount of butter.

Done, I set the meat aside to cool, and retrieved my trusty stock pot. I've made several good soups in this pot, including a beer and cheese, tomato basil, and most recently a butternut squash, with black beans and chorizo. I think even one St. Paddy's day I made some corned beef in there.

Into the loosening olive oil went, in order: onion, the julienne-cut (not bad for the first time, either!) celery, peppers and carrots, lots of garlic, tomato, and almost a full bottle of cheap white wine. More pricey viogner was called for. Right. After that came to a boil, I dropped the flame to let it reduce, and got on over to Tina's for some herbs.

Tina was in the middle of getting some broccoli from her garden, in order to make a souffle. Outside I snipped a big handful of parsley, and from behind her kitchen table I snagged some rosemary and thyme.

Back at the apartment I walked into a wondrous aroma: the rabbit stock, the softening veggies, and the cooling, golden meat just waiting to be taken off of the bone.

With the deboning mission accomplished, the meat, livers, the stock, herbs, and potatoes went into the pot, then it was time to make myself presentable and then wait for the arrival of guests while I finished the pear and Gorgonzola salad with the pecans I'd candied earlier.

Rick, a great friend living in Madison, Wisconsin arrived first, bearing must-haves for any menu featuring French provincial cuisine:

Rob's baked brie was decorated perfectly for the occasion:

Tina's souffle didn't exactly rise, but it certainly rose to the occasion, with it's cheesy, creamy, veggie goodness, the perfect side for any French-inspired menu:

Of course, the bachelor doesn't have enough bowls and spoons for his stew party, but does have two of his own cheese boards. Go figure. So many thanks for Susan, Cari, and Scott for the extra utensils and bowls, as well as more cheese and noshes.

Brian and Jamie brought two excellent bottles - a Cotes Du Rhone and a knock out Alsace Riesling.

And when Greg, Peter, Erik and Tracy arrived (with a bottle of Booker's 130 proof bourbon, I might add) it was officially a party:

Oh, and creampuffs and brownies for dessert! Rick attempted both at once:

And as I drank more, the disco jacket had to make an appearance:

It was an unqualified success. Thanks for coming, each of you. As I said in my toast, what good is a meal without good friends with whom to enjoy it?

Let's do it again soon.


Thursday hate

Brian and Erik ride to work:

Christmas trees in November.

By time the big day rolls around how can you still stand to look at the damn thing?! I think even Thanksgiving weekend is too early to be putting up lights and tinsel and shit. And these assholes in my neighborhood are putting them up while their fucking pumpkins are still rotting on their porch!

Enjoy Fall, for God's sake. Get out and shoot a deer, play some football. Fry up that walleye that's been in the freezer. Watch 25 football games in a row, and drink a case of beer. There's plenty of time for cookies and cake and cocktails in December.

When I was a kid, we didn't put up the Christmas tree until the night of the last day of school before holiday break. We had an old artificial tree from the '60s that we'd put up, and then drag a box of ornaments up from the basement that was as big as me. We'd order Pizza Hut and spend the night decorating it and listening to Bing Crosby sing-a-long LPs.

And if you think that's waiting too long? My mom's family didn't put up the tree until Christmas Eve night. Bare. It was decorated, and had presents under it, when they woke up. Now that's making the day special.


Picture of the day

(With apologies to Newt...)

"Whoa...hey guys...um...I think I'll take the stairs..."

(from Red Kite Prayer)

Hump Day

Hipsters discussing cyclocross.


Santa Rampage.


The best part about cyclocross crash-porn is that it's mostly guilt-free. Mostly.


I couldn't have said it better myself (wait for it...1:10).


Canberra, Corn, and Candide

Ah Monday, what delightful little surprises you bring.

This arrived from Australia in the mail today:

All I will say is that there is more than just a book in that envelope. It is Promise that's hidden away in there.


I've recovered from my little rant last Thursday, and I have taken the very first steps towards directing my anger in a positive direction. I hope to tell you more soon, right after the New Year, if all goes to plan...but a simple building block of that plan was put into place just tonight, in a meal of homemade polenta, baked kale with olive oil and sea salt, and some leftover butternut squash soup with black beans and chorizo (note, that is meat - I ain't going veggie...) that I made Friday:


As I cooked that dinner tonight and listened to the Aaron Copeland station on Pandora, Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide began to play, and out spilled the most vivid visions and breathless emotions from over 20 years ago, my freshman year of high school.

On the first day of class in fall 1987, I sat in the band hall amid applause and cheers from the other students, directed at me for the sole reason that I was the first tuba player they'd ever had, even the seniors. I still had no idea what I was doing with that giant hunk of brass, having just switched over at the very end of 7th grade from trumpet, riding the instrument's demand straight out of the reject 4th period band to the top tier concert band and now this. I still had no idea at the time that I was reading a different clef and couldn't play anything higher than a middle E flat, but here I was.

Less than two months later I was in the back row of the East High Symphonic Band, in the midst of a city-wide concert on a gymnasium floor - a "battle of the bands" if you will. While the other schools were pandering - with TV show medleys (Dallas and Dynasty), or watered down movie themes - we shocked the room (or at least the other band directors) by belting out the opening staccati to Bertstein's lively intro to his opera.

Our brand new director, James Bowers, was a lot of things, some not always positive as it came to be over the following years, but he was a challenging teacher, and he showed huge balls programming a piece like this for his debut performance.

Candide is fast and complicated, written in time-signatures I'd never seen before. I faked half of it but it didn't matter. The multilayered rhythms whisked me along regardless to a level of existence that I've only reached since during peak performance; music, bicycling... As the playful melodies bantered about between the winds and brass and percussion, interrupted by my quick bursts of bass - the little kid piping into the conversation - I was electrified, overcome with a pulsing energy that made it impossible to sit still. When the final melody came to a head in the horns, then bubbled out of the winds, suddenly ending in that last tutti chord, I sat there in a daze as the applause washed over us, breathing heavily and tingling as though I had climaxed.


Thursday hate

Fuck you, Michael Pollan.

I can't walk past the meat case in my grocery store without wanting to vomit, and like Haley Joel Osment, I see dead people, and high fructose corn syrup, everywhere. Dead people made of corn syrup and oil.

Of course, I am partially kidding. I have referenced Mr. Pollan many times in this space, and I highly respect his writing. After reading his piece, Unhappy Meals, in the New York Times Magazine I felt compelled to write a somewhat longer piece than I will give tonight. Partially because it is late, mostly because I am filled with such apprehension and indecision.

I have read excerpts from his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, before and have spoken with many people who have finished it. But I never expected that upon finally reading for myself that it would affect me so deeply.

I shop at my neighborhood farmers market almost every weekend in the summer. I try to buy free range beef and eggs whenever I can. But I honestly have never imagined anything so wrenchingly beautiful as Pollan's account of Joel Salatin's "beyond organic" farm, summed up so succinctly by his image of a happy pig scratching itself against a tree, grunting with pleasure in the afternoon shade.

That image is then contrasted with the madness that is the alternative, the shit-stained, scab-covered hordes of steer and chicken driven insane by close quarters and lack fresh air and sunlight, being fed a diet of relentlessly subsidized corn that makes them sick, requiring them to be pumped full of drugs to get them through to slaughter. It's not really the suffering that hits me so hard, for there is an equal amount of human misery to worry about, but the unsustainability of it all. The hubris we display in thinking that our answer is the only answer. It's the wrong answer: the barren, scorched, burned earth we leave behind, polluted and diseased by manure so toxic farmers can't use it as fertizer.

And yet, the days and meals go by, shopping carts and mouths fill up with colorful boxes and labels all filled with the same mountains of unending corn, just reassembled into different shapes. What was once a delicacy, what once was slaughtered in rituals and prayers, is now merely shrink-wrapped in hunks of manufactured meat, or pre-cooked into a ready-to-microwave meal, now at a low, low price. Why not have it every day? And they do.

I now know what Chris McCandless must have felt like; I understand his irrational compulsion to throw it all away and leave it all behind, to become one with the earth. It makes me want to scream, as I type on this plastic computer, made from oil and corn, powered by petroleum...I can't escape it.

To be ignorant is one thing. To be willfully ignorant is quite another. I know I can't change the world, but I can't be sociopath, in good conscience, either...and to buy into this system knowing the inputs is to be a willfully ignorant sociopath.

So I choose delusion, and hope that I can change the world.


The weekend

No biking this weekend - coach's orders (rest and recovery) - so I got to sleep in and take some long walks with Jack, as well indulge myself a bit, as well.

How beautiful was the weather? See for yourself, if you were snowed-in in Colorado or something:

That night was a fundraiser for the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association (GIPNA), a wine and cheese tasting to benefit the renovation of the historic bungalow at the southeast corner of the park. Note that my name is much prettier than my friend Tina's:

Why would anyone go to a wine-tasting and not taste each of the nine Cotes Du Rhone labels offered? By time we had worked our way down the list to the last wine, a Chateauneuf Du Pape, it was gone. People had been skipping all the rest, including three labels of white, plus a rose, instead tasting - no, drinking - all of the big, spicy wine for themselves.

Oh well. It was a fun time, still. Here's a rare view from the balcony of the Independence Park fieldhouse:

And inside the upstairs level, filled with neighbors drinking all that CDP while listening to some smooth, loungy piano jazz:

The rest of the evening saw us moving from another fun raiser at St. Edward's Catholic school - "Red Rock" - where parents' bands entertained friends and family in the school's gym. The place was right around the corner from the Irish-American Heritage center - basically a bar within an old elementary school - so, naturally:

We ended up at Queen Albert's, a Filipino restaurant and kareoke bar just around the corner from home. Serving great food until well after midnight, it was packed with natives from all over Chicago singing to robotic, MIDI accompaniment to generic white girls in bikinis in various states of pastoral beauty behind the words on the screen. Tina sang "The Gambler," Rob gave us an Elvis ballad, and I struggled horribly with a Sinatra tune. I learned the hard way that "Luck Be A Lady" must only be sung in front of a live band.

Sunday I took Jack on a long stroll through the Old Irving neighborhood, west of Pulaski, on our way to the Starbucks at Kostner and Irving to chill with a book for a bit. I was amazed at the houses over there, it was as though I were in Oak Park. Beautiful two- and three story single family homes along sunny tree-lined streets, fall color spilled everywhere. I was suddenly wistful - for what, I'm not sure - but I wanted to see Packards and Studebakers along the curbsides. These are from a stretch of Byron between Avondale and Kostner:

The rest of the day was spent in Greg's backyard, drinking cold beers over the fire and listening to the Bears game. Even a shitty performance like theirs couldn't ruin such a perfect day as this.