The Ogilvie Arches

mcdonalds

I’ve resided in the city of Chicago nearly my entire life. A toddler’s stay in Virginia here, a college move to Urbana, Illinois there. And one exquisitely awful year wasted with the wrong man in Bensenville, a suburb next door to O’Hare Airport. Oh the noise, so unlike the sonic cornucopia of sirens, bus recordings and general boisterousness that are the soundtrack of urban living. The sky screaming of planes, the smell of jet fuel in the air. Roaring, toxic monotony – much like that relationship.

I’m a committed Windy City concrete jungler. Nevertheless, I’ve spent many years traveling the Metra commuter train lines that ferry suburban workers to and from Chicago’s downtown. The operation serves more than 100 communities with 11 routes and 241 stations, a few of which can be found well inside city limits. I have a lot of love for the Chicago Transit Authority for many reasons. It’s another story for another time, maybe a novella. But two things which a trip on the subway or elevated train is not: comfortable or permissive of personal space. With cushy benches that double as nap mats during off-peak hours, upper deck seating and a smoother ride, Metra delivers a generally preferable experience to standing crushed between sweaty bodies while hanging on to a piece of metal for balance.

And the Ogilvie Train Station, which serves as a hub for many North and West Metra lines, has a few cute shops, some valuable services and a pretty amazing food court. This third wonderland has provided the backdrop to many quick office lunches, drink dates and post-happy hour carb loads over the years. Several businesses sell portable adult beverages to go for one’s Metra trip. How can the CTA compete, I ask?

Anyway the food court offers meal options both healthyish…and not. For every Subway or salad venue, there’s a Taco Bell, Arby’s…and of course, a McDonald’s.

The Ogilvie Mickey D’s has been a curious emotional foci, a place I find myself after incandescent episodes of grief. It’s completely disproportionate to my overall McDonald’s experience. Normally I eat at a franchise maybe twice or thrice a year? But when I do, it’s statistically likely the incident will occur at the train station.

  • In spring 2011, I bellied up to the bar after a stranger than fiction near miss with my soon-to-be ex-husband. The intrigue found me hiding behind a train station dumpster, crouching low to the pavement to avoid being seen. Thus forced to engage. Every second of the standoff included acute awareness of juvenile, humiliating behavior. Others saw me and possibly had a few questions, but it wasn’t their eyes I feared. After abandoning defensive crouch, I ate my weight in French fries while waiting for the next train back to the safety of my bachelorette studio.
  • While battling acute migraine headaches between 2012 and 2015, a period marked by many shameful episodes of public vomiting, fried potatoes were often one of the few foods my body would accept. Ensuing visits to the train station McDonald’s counter, where I was oft and understandably mistaken for a hungover mess. There was an advantage to the confusion. On several occasions, I was allowed to cut in line because other patrons feared my sick.
  • In February of this year, I made half a dozen grief trips on the way home from my current employer. Regular readers of this blog, as well as those close to Bob and I personally, know that this was the month where we lost two of our beloved fur babies within a three week timespan. Dead of winter devastation. Daily movement and functionality were hard-fought battles. I began 2016 on a low-carb diet, losing 15 pounds, and kept the regiment up more or less until Memorial Day. But February contained several days without any other fucks beyond immediate survival to give. There were some Quarter Pounders with cheese at the train depot.
  • In April, Prince died. I left work that day around lunchtime, a grief-stricken, sobbing wreck grappling with shock over the loss of an artistic inspiration. Double Quarter Pounder with cheese while feverishly reading online coverage of the Purple One’s untimely demise.
  • I’ve already mentioned Memorial Day. The next day, Tuesday, I threw low carb diet and exercise routines aside upon learning that my dear friend Todd had died. We’d spent time together the previous weekend and he was perfectly well. Six years of unflagging support, sardonic wit, music and political discourse – gone without warning. I can’t even recall what I ate that day. I just remember feeling pulled to the same particular fast food counter on autopilot. Ingesting my emotions in a familiar place had by now become a source of comfort through complete internal chaos.

It might be inferred (because accurate) that 2016 has been a challenge. Separately and together, Bob and I have had a lot of loss to experience and process. Certainly the complexity of it all has spilled over into our personal dynamics. Though we’re stronger and more bound than ever in our second year, the Terrible Twos aren’t just a toddler thing. Last month was hard. And of course it included an Ogilvie McDonald’s culinary therapy session. For whatever reason, I took a picture of the marquee and posted the image to Facebook with the caption “I’ve given up on life.” I suppose it was a cry for some kind of compassion and community during a moment of weakness.

My friend Meg observed, “the Ogilvie McDonald’s is a ‘special’ kind of giving up.” I knew exactly what she meant. What’s a more anonymous, pulsating and lonely experience than a train station? Add a toxic, fatty, solo meal to the mix and one has all the trappings of bad fiction. I don’t write bad fiction. I don’t write fiction at all.

I think the unreality of the scene keeps me coming back. It’s not the real Becky. It’s not my life. Those visits to McDonald’s represent a false sense of willful control during delirium, a way to organize tragic events that are lawless and messy. It’s a second’s consolation, an indulgent, fleeting fullness before beginning long, empty grief work.

A Laborious Summer

Summer in the City

Today is Labor Day, that celebration of the American worker that falls on the first Monday in September. In a lovely explanation provided by the United States Department of Labor, we dedicate the national holiday, “to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

These fine laborers also form our communities, our circles of friends and family. I remember my maternal grandfather Eugene Bosiacki, a WWII veteran who later drove a streetcar for the relatively nascent Chicago Transit Authority. Poppa was robbed a number of times on the job – an era in which drivers carried cash, expected to make change for riders. He was a man of few words so I’ll never know if these episodes frightened him half much as his time spent as a teenage POW in The Philippines. Somehow I doubt it. In the mid-1980s, Poppa was forced into retirement from his final career as a cable salesman. The company was moving out of state. He was well into his 60s and gee, management would love to extend him an offer to relocate after decades of service. But everything is being computerized and well, of course you understand….

I think of my paternal grandmother June Crowley, who juggled multiple waitressing jobs while raising six kids as a single mother in Chicago. After she retired to her own little cottage across the Illinois border in Wisconsin, June had bunions and painful arthritis from years on her feet. But she also relished the satisfaction of having earned her rest and peaceful homestead. No one had handed her a thing.

I’m reflective of my own academic, non-profit, corporate and volunteer labor. The years of under pay and few (if any) benefits. The career reinvention at age 30 that found me pursuing a dream of writing just as the George W. Bush economy fully cratered. The moments I felt hopeless and crushed under the weight of agendas not my own. And the relative career autonomy and satisfaction I enjoy today, a direct result of timely opportunities and relentless self-advocacy.

But Labor Day 2016 is full of other thoughts beyond the worker and his or her struggles and gains. The holiday also traditionally marks the unofficial end of summer and this one, for me, has been unusually hot and painful. I love the heat and any other year, the Windy City’s months of sultry humidity would be received as a blessing. However when one is physically and psychologically stunted by grief, the languid heaviness of the environment depresses an already weak will to engage.

On Memorial Day, recognized as the informal commencement of summer, my dear friend, theater companion and liberal political debate partner Todd died from a sudden heart attack. Prior to his jolting death, we’d been enjoying beer and pretzels at a local German bar in my neighborhood (where incidentally, Grandma June was employed for many years). We looked forward to a series of concerts and other plans for the coming months. We gave each other a warm, long parting hug. Then Todd went home, enjoyed some of his favorite music (per his final Facebook posts), went to bed and never woke up. I’m still struggling to process that such an important part of my daily existence is gone for good.

This past Thursday as Labor Day weekend approached, a colleague for whom I had enormous respect died after a short battle with eye cancer. Her medical leave was just announced that Monday. Three days later she was gone, leaving behind two young children, a bereaved husband and a legion of befuddled colleagues. Didn’t we just have a drink with her at the office summer outing a few weeks ago? Kristin, like Todd, was in her early 40s with so much left to do. When I return to work this week, there will be an interim director in her seat. Why does life move on with sterile logic when it feels like everything ought to stop?

These bookend summer tragedies created a strange, surreal layer of additional thickness, overlaying Chicago’s muggy air. Air that already stifled from winter’s loss of my fur babies, Dino and Meko, as well as the April death of creative muse and master of individualism, Prince. Bob mourned the passing of his beloved godmother in June.  Death is of course, part of life. But how is one to deal with such an endless conveyer belt of emotional punches? I laid down often this summer. I didn’t always get back up without strenuous effort.

I see much celebration over the advent of fall in my Facebook newsfeed. Normally I regret the end of summer too much to welcome the change of season. Because fall has this annoying habit of leading to winter – a cruel set of Midwestern months indeed. This year feels different. My grief will travel with me as I watch the changing leaves fall to the ground, but I feel the sensible need for a rotation of scenery, of a different energy charged with autumn static. The promise of a difficult year approaching its denouement.

Professional Geek Podcast Episode 4: Becky Sarwate

Pro Geek Pod

“Professional Geek is a podcast where hosts Blaire Knight-Graves and Mark Beers interview professionals with geeky tendencies from various industries. Featured you will hear stand up comedians, video game writers, music composers, accountants, copywriters, Foley artists, journalists, sales people, actors, directors, publicists, authors and much, much more. Our guests will offer listeners sage advice for how to break into your chosen industry, and tell some funny stories of how they got into the jobs they’re in now. Each episode includes a discussion on the different ways that being a geek can help you become a better professional, and advice on everything from copyright law to networking, and turning your favorite thing into your career.”

On May 11, 2016, Becky Sarwate was interviewed by the hosts about her passions for writing, literary history, the late and great Prince, the Chicago Cubs and her experiences teaching her course, Making Your Liberal Arts Degree Work: Writing for the Professional World and Internships, a class that focuses on helping budding creative professionals learn to ply their skills in a variety of employable settings. Becky is well-suited to teach this subject, following a creative career working in the corporate sector, while publishing her own creative non-fiction works.

You can listen to this and other Professional Geek interviews here.

Missing in Action: The Week’s Overlooked News Stories

missing

Welcome to May! Is a reporter fired for an unusual Prince tribute a “Sign O The Times?” Can we make a supermarket terrorist eat his weapons? And a dedicated, waitressing granny enjoys a pleasant surprise from one of her customers. It’s a mixed bag this week…. 

Sports anchor fired over his love for Prince

The staff of BeckySarwate.com continues to struggle with the loss of one of the world’s all-time greatest musical minds.  As information surrounding the life and death of Prince continues to trickle out, the multi-layered devastation of his passing becomes more clear. Drug overdoses are preventable, and after a career devoted to clean living, it’s sad and ironic that pain and addiction may have produced a stereotypical rock star end for a truly unconventional artist. As we consumed everything Prince-related that circulated through the news this week, this story got our attention. A reporter from Nashville was relieved of his duties after he gently wove Prince lyrics into a sportscast.  We find the line “The clock hits 00:00. Oops, out of time. It’s the Ducks who are going to party like it’s 1999,” to be clever and, frankly, perfect. Prince was a huge sports fan and enjoyed a good pun. The reporter’s bosses didn’t agree. If we had jobs to offer, Dan Phillips wouldn’t be in the unemployment line. As the Purple One might have asked, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”

Michigan man sprays toxic mix of chemicals on open food in grocery stories

Toss this one in the “humans are senselessly disgusting” file. It’s our job to monitor it of course, but the news can be depressing. It reminds us of how flawed and awful man can be. But this story? Ugh. Another level. The FBI got involved in the case, and says this punk (we won’t use his name) targeted about 15 different stores in cities across Michigan, including Flint. Because Flint hasn’t suffered enough. Whatever the maximum punishment is for this sort of criminal filth, I hope the courts levy it.

Grandmother raising triplets gets a special gift

Well, we need a shower and a healthier page turn. So we bring you this heartwarming story from North Dakota. A waitress was proudly discussing her triplet grandsons on the job. Shiela Weisgerber has been raising the four year-old boys on her own since shortly after their birth. One of her tables, a husband and wife visiting the area from out of town, overheard the conversation and decided to leave a large tip and a kind note on their receipt to show their support. For every crazy poison sprayer, there are generous, empathetic people. That’s how society keeps its balance.

One Of Us? Prince, Sports And The Enduring Underdog

Prince_at_Coachella

“In other words, Prince was really no different from my dad, utterly incapable of paying full attention to an activity when his team was in the mix. Except that Prince was leading a band, doing the splits and rocking a stadium while sneaking peeks at the score, whereas my father struggled to balance headphones with eating pizza. But somehow this notion of the fantastic, magical Prince as one of us only adds to his allure – and our collective grief at his loss. As GQ’s Jack Moore recently observed, ‘in typical Prince fashion, the very idea that a genius, other-dimensional being, Rock God could be obsessed with something as normal as basketball seems super weird. And cool.'”

Read the full post at Contemptor.