The Ogilvie Arches


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.


Whining and Wine: Hell is an Address Change

There are two tasks on this planet that make me, as my good friend Beth offers in metaphor, lose my bones. You know when something is so tiresome, boring and awful, you feel like you’re actually turning to jelly and slumping to the floor, as if the cartilage in the body instantaneously decided it can’t offer support against such an onslaught of tedium? For me, the two activities that cause this childish collapse are cooking (or really food preparation in any form) and moving.

I don’t mean literal motion. I mean the act of packing boxes, renting a U-Haul, filing address changes with government entities and other places with which one does business, cancelling the cable service. Under the most pleasant of circumstances, like the present set, the arduous work of changing homes is joyless. It’s time, often lots of it, spent doing something dammit, that should be simple. Time I’ll never get back. Each time I relocate, I swear it will be the last. And how the hell did I accumulate so much stuff anyway!?

When Bob and I started dating in February, it didn’t take long for either of us to understand that this is it. At some quick point we verbalized our mutual, peaceful satisfaction with each other. We’re off the market. It’s a wonderful, surprising certainty heretofore totally alien. I am a writer. We thrive on gray areas. It’s where we live and obsess. Great, painful products result. With Bob, I get the great without the painful. Huh. But this revelation came at an awkward winter housing moment. We were in love but so new. And then a renewal for my current lease arrived. I signed it. It seemed too soon to talk cohabitation.

By early May, I had my own set of keys to Bob’s condo and wasn’t going “home” (already the word was dissociating from my Rogers Park apartment) for more than the feeding and maintenance of Dino. To grab a few things that I needed in the love nest.

In early June, Dino relocated entirely. The act was infused with more than the simple transplant of an old, four-pound ball of fluff. Dino is my baby, at the time my only furry boo. We had a full, independent life before we met Bob. We were the dynamic duo that ate cheese in bed together. We couldn’t imagine a reason to improve upon perfection. We didn’t know we could have more than enough. So when Dino was released from his cat carrier into a new environment, with a warm man to cuddle and canine siblings to tease, I knew we’d reached a tipping point. The five of us were all in.

One thing you have to know about Bob. He’s quiet but that should never be mistaken for weakness or lacking in passion. Others have made that error at their own expense. His is one of the strongest personalities I’ve known. It’s part of why I love him. Supportive, solid, funny – without the noise and drama. Bob doesn’t make more work for anyone – including himself – than is logical. Combine this fluid, yet determined sense of purpose with my innate aversion to drudgery, and it’s probably no surprise to learn that it’s mid-October and I’m still not out of my old place.

I no longer sleep, eat or shower at the bachelorette, beachfront studio that served as a personal healing and growth bunker for four post-divorce years. My mail is forwarded. The furniture has been donated. There’s just boxes of memories left. I have no emotional attachment to the rooms where I recovered from cervical cancer surgery alone, or responded to knocks on the door from the police after my alcoholic ex came home from another night of binge drinking. The place has been done for me for a long time. And even if I hadn’t met Bob, Dino and I had been inching toward a fresh environmental beginning. Maybe it’s because of the literal and metaphorical baggage of the place, compared with the light warmth of our new home with Bob, Meko and Jude, that returning there to retrieve my photos, yearbooks, awards and trinkets feels so passé, a trip to another era that I am ok with leaving in the past.

But it’s increasingly clear, in the best, most comforting way that it’s time to bring this business to an end. The only sensation to rival my distaste for cooking and moving is an absolute hatred of loose ends. Bob and I (it’s all “we” now) are spending money on two homes. In increments we have merged our utility and grocery expenses, but the waste involved in delaying a complete domestic unification grows more oppressive. It’s not even something we have to discuss. It hums between us, a frequency that speaks: “I’m with you. There’s nowhere else I can be. Nowhere else I’d want to go.”

So tomorrow morning, we’re finishing what we didn’t realize we were starting in February. The natural second and final act – living together contentedly until death does us part. I will whine, rush and verbalize my displeasure with every second of the work. Bob will shift into focused task mode, silently doing the heavy lifting, pausing only to give me a kiss or ask what to do next. His legs will grow sore from all the trips up and down both sets of third-floor walkup stairs, but he’ll never complain once. That won’t stop him from smiling when I do – profusely. Then we’ll look at all the boxes in our living room, open a bottle of wine and I’ll be home. Never to move again.

The “Ike Turner” (September 5, 2013)

I have lived in the Rogers Park neighborhood along Chicago’s far North lakefront for nearly four years. In that time I have patronized a number of the vibrant community’s watering holes, theaters and restaurants. It’s hard to keep up with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood’s latest offerings, but in the effort, I try to stay familiar with the old vanguards of the RP as well. These are the small business staples that have persisted through the locale’s long-running artistic community versus gang turf war tensions, and remained for this decade’s infrastructure rebuilding and beautification efforts. A truly democratic process of public line item budget voting buttresses the feeling of personal ownership that has accompanied the area’s evolution. And the hardy businesses that have served customers for multiple generations are like the links between the neighborhood’s turbulent past and promising future. Pockets of living history.

The Red Line tap, situated along a sparsely trafficked section of Glenwood Avenue, looks like a total dive from the outside, perhaps not the sort of place where a single lady could enjoy a cocktail unharassed. I admit to a certain amount of prejudice and caution which played a role in overlooking the joint for so long.According to the venue’s website:

“How far back the tavern goes has yet to be established, but we’ve had personal reports of people visiting the ‘7006 Club’ and the ‘Rogers Park Boating Club’ since the early 1900′s…in 1996, the long popular tap was expanded, refurbished, cleaned, overhauled, painted and reenergized as the The Red Line Tap, so named because of its proximity to the Red Line train, its track, and its route name.”

Upon crossing the threshold for the first time last Sunday, I immediately noticed four amazing things:

1.Advertisements for live music almost every night of the week.

2.A vintage pool table tucked away in the back room, and classic 1980s video game machines near the entry.

3.An eclectic assortment of patrons ranging from hipsters to old men, wearing basically the same clothes.

4.An above-bar advertisement for an $8 shot called “The Ike Turner.”

I am no fan of domestic violence but my curiosity was officially piqued. So I asked the bartender for details. Turns out that $8 buys customers a slap in the face from the barkeep, followed immediately by a generous shot of Hennessey. As the conversation progressed, I noticed a tally board next to the cash register behind the gentleman. To make things more interesting, staff members have sort of an ongoing contest, keeping track of who has doled out the most “Ike Turners.” The current two leaders are several hundred ahead of the rest of the pack. My new friend explained that these folks usually work “primetime” hours – Friday and Saturday nights when the bar is full of drunk, rowdy patrons hopped up on alcohol and rock and roll, looking for a new challenge.

My favorite vignette from the conversation was the story of a victorious local softball team that celebrated with an assembly line of “Ike Turner” shots, each member patiently waiting his turn while the dude in front of him was smacked, then downed his cognac. Apparently the female bartender on duty was really into her work that day, winding up before each face presented itself. The effort to give the men their money’s worth resorted in happy smiles and a stinging palm.

I had one more question for my educator: had any women ever ordered the shot? Nope. Never. Personally I enjoyed the novelty and the backstory of the drink but I was not the least interested in the experience. Mind you I only minored in psychology but I think the reasons for female avoidance of “The Ike” would be fairly obvious. Most women live in a world where threats of violence are a daily consideration. In fact, that was the reason I had avoided The Red Line Tap in the first place. We’re not about to pay for something so ugly, commonplace and psychologically damaging.

But why do the men line up to be slapped? What is it about identification with the victims of a high-profile 1960s and 1970s wife beater that makes otherwise normal men belly up to the bar for subjugation and humiliation? And what of the grotesque underbelly of a section of my gender that takes mercenary pleasure in the idea of oh-so-ironic hipsters and over privileged frat boys paying to be treated like garbage?

As I considered these questions, my laughter died away. True the men who undergo this Red Line Tap ritual are willing participants in the spectacle, not innocent, helpless victims dragged out of cages into the gladiator arena. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. But I can’t help earnestly reflecting upon the ease and comfort with which I slipped into bloodthirsty mob mentality, wishing for a moment that one of the grabby college losers who caused me to prefer the company of my living room to keggers, would show up and order a shot.

American Community Onlooker (January 7, 2012)





For my first blog post of 2012, I would like to share the story of a woman who nurtured a late-2011 resolve to feel more even keel about life as a mid-30s divorcee. A wizened chick who had directed much of her considerable energy to achieving independence and a thriving media career, despite tremendous emotional and other personal costs. A gal who had finally started to come to terms with her circumstances and comprehend that though we don’t always live the existence we imagined, there is a way to learn to love the universe you have created.

That is until the American Community Survey showed up in the mailbox to remind her just how footloose and unattached life really is, and how frayed from the nation’s social fabric this renders her. Leave it to the Census Bureau to create revulsion and anxiety even in a year that doesn’t end in “0.”

Though the Bureau states on its website that the ACS is issued annually, I had never been selected as a respondent. Being a curious individual and a journalist by trade, I went looking for information. This is what I found:

“The ACS is oriented around giving communities the current information they need to plan investments and services. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year…All this detail is combined into statistics that are used to help decide everything from school lunch programs to new hospitals.”

Well that all sounds good and I am nothing if not a civic-minded person. I love my community (the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park) and will do gladly do anything I can to better it. Naturally however, I wondered how I came to be selected to complete the survey. I learned I was chosen “as a part of a sample and represents thousands of other households like yours. We randomly select about 3 million addresses each year to participate in the survey.”

I have only lived in my studio apartment for eight months. I happen to know from mail forwarding mishaps that the previous occupants were a married couple. As I sat down to provide the requested survey information, I realized with irony that the Census Bureau may have been coveting the information of the stable ones who came before me.

The survey began benignly enough: questions about birthdate, hometown, occupation, race and income. Standard stuff. But since the well-meaning folks at the ACS plan to use the cumulative data to plan educational resources and other bedrock elements of society, naturally the queries began to get more personal and for me, uncomfortable.

17b. “Is this person blind or does he/she have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses.”

Ok, well I am pretty damned near-sighted (20/1100 vision), but I am not ready for a service dog yet. Let’s continue.

  1. “How many minutes did it usually take this person to get from home to work LAST WEEK.”

Please don’t ask me why the last two words are in caps. I am not omniscient. Maybe corporate headquarters move around sometimes like magic? Anyway, I leave my apartment at 6:05 AM and arrive at the office at 8:20. Thanks ACS, I love my work but after seeing the numbers in such stark terms, I am officially depressed about my commute. What’s next?

  1. “What is this person’s marital status?”

Fine, it stings, but this is an easy one: divorced.

  1. “How many times has this person been married?”

Um, I think I need to open a bottle of wine while I finish this.

  1. “In what year did this person last get married?”

How in the world is this important information? Obviously I am divorced. How does it help the community to know when the long process of failure began?

24a. “Has this person given birth to children in the past 12 months?”


24b. “Ever?”

Xanax please. Am I on Candid Camera? Again how does my barren womb aid the neighborhood? Does this open more early childcare spots for families in need if the federal government is reasonably certain that no offspring of mine will ever require one? Just tell me what the endgame is here so I feel slightly better about recording my solitude and loneliness for posterity.

I think you get the picture right? As a dyed in the wool social liberal I want to do everything possible to benefit my fellow citizens. But come on Census Bureau, have a heart. It’s a new year and some of us are trying to convince ourselves that a life without attachments is uplifting and full of promise, rather than empty and simply a matter of counting the days until we become society’s burden.

Come to think of it, maybe those rascals at the ACS are attempting to ascertain when single “households like” mine will be in need of Social Security benefits and a public retirement home. Or perhaps this survey was placed in my hands a true test of my ability to accept myself and my life choices.

Survey says?

Bicycle Bumper Cars Part II (May 5, 2011)

Some of you who have been reading my posts for awhile may recall this one from last October, Bicycle Bumper Carswhich recounted the experience of being knocked off my bike by a heartless hit and run driver.

Since that time I have upgraded bicycles (see photo above) and to say that I am having a love affair with my 2011 Schwinn Madison is possibly the understatement of the year. My Facebook friends are absolutely weary of endless bragging about my mode of transit’s speed, attention grabbing proclivities and general adorableness. Tough for them. I won’t stop.

I used part of the cash settlement I received as an outcome of my separation from Eddie to invest in the cycle. I no longer have a car (one of many things I have had to relinquish post-marriage) and my bicycle is now my primary form of transportation. I needed something light (so I can carry it to my third floor walkup), fast and naturally, aesthetically pleasing. The Madison satisfies all of those requirements.

But apparently, it can’t do much to protect you from other people. Shame.

Yesterday after work, I took advantage of a rare sunny, and somewhat warm Chicago spring day to enjoy a leisurely ride around my neighborhood. I live on a side street in the Rogers Park community and the road is fairly narrow. At one point there was a large SUV that wished to pass me, so I scooted slightly to the right, nearish but not adjacent to a row of parked cars.

I was humming along, enjoying the feeling of warm rays on my face, eyes firmly engaged on the pavement ahead when it happened….

BOOM! Car door! Had I ridden by one second later, it would have missed me altogether. Had I arrived a second earlier, I would have swerved around the careless parkers. Just one of those perfect timing things.

The impact sent me flying over my handlebars. My front right thigh bears a blackened imprint that bears a perfect resemblance to the bar. I landed on the backs of my hands and slightly to the left of my keister, so there are swollen bruises in both of those general areas. But seriously, apparent bad bike karma aside, I must have a guradian angel watching over me. It could and should have been much worse.

My assailants clearly knew they were guilty of attention deficit, because you never saw men so solicitous for my well-being. The real tragedy only became apparent after I stood up and realized that I had not broken any limbs. My beautiful, beautiful bike suffered some scratches, a loosened handlebar grip and – horrors! – a realigned front end. The men held the bike in place and readjusted the forefront of the cycle to a point where I could adequately finish my ride. However I will have to stop at a Schwinn shop for a full workup. Yes, I helicopter parent my bike. What of it?

The gentlemen did have the integrity to ask if I wanted to call the police, but given that I was alive, if shaken, and my baby (Lil’ Red) was operational, I thought it best to put the incident behind me.

I think this narrative provides an accessible metaphor for my life at the moment – a journey into the unknown equally fraught with danger, excitement, and the occasional fall. The bruises adorning my body reflect interior contusions that I often struggle to articulate. I can achieve moments of assured self-confidence yet turn into an insecure sobbing mess just as quickly. There are many things that are exhausting and painful in a divorce, but the sudden removal of a stable identity is among the worst. It presents a tabula rasa on the one hand, yet a sense of failure and isolation on the other.

I mean who are we really as individuals, independent of others? Is such a question even answerable? I am slowly becoming aware, through ample self-reflection and quality therapy, that so much of the construction of “I” is based upon relationships: personal, professional and otherwise. Is there a consistent “Becky” that I could identify, had I been a feral child raised alone in the wilderness, a woman who never met parents, sister, husband or colleagues? Would she have any traits that I would recognize, that would remain after 32 years of being smacked by the car doors of culture and society?

I admit that I am a little more fearful and cautious in my heretofore bat-out-of-hell riding style after yesterday’s dethronement, so perhaps that answers my question.