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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

It’s ludicrous to suggest that the University of Buffalo is undergoing an identity crisis now. UB was founded in 1846 and taken over by the SUNY system in the 1940’s, during which it was given an apparently endless series of names. That means UB is closing in on almost half its existence going through an identity crisis. When the university gods were naming schools, they must have been drunk when trying to attach a permanent moniker to UB. After a century of being known as the University of Buffalo, in the 1940’s the university gods proved to be a gaggle of cruel drunks and UB suddenly found itself with so many names that we’re all a little bit confused as to what to call it: Buffalo University; SUNY Buffalo; University AT Buffalo; State University of New York at Buffalo; or just Buffalo. Most people just stick to referring to it by its old, given name, the University of Buffalo.

Well, there is now a big ol’ monkey wrench being thrown into UB’s identity crisis, UB is setting out on a marketing program meant to re-spin the name of the place even more by emphasizing the part of the name that says “New York.” That means instead of being called whatever the hell it’s called now with “Buffalo” in the title, the university is going to be nationally known as the State University of New York. The University of Buffalo will become just a bit of a side name, even though it’s the flagship university in what’s really an overblown system consisting of 64 different schools of all tiers, from full blown university centers (University of Buffalo) to provincial university colleges (Empire State), technology colleges (Alfred State), and community colleges (Mohawk Valley). I can’t say I disagree with the naming, because if it works, people might begin to think of New York as something more than New York City, and UB will start to draw more students and better funding if said students are any good at football. Basically, it would give UB – by most accounts one of the best higher learning institutions in the country – more exposure and more national prominence. On the other hand, the city of Buffalo loses the claim to something which had, for the most part, been truly its own, and one of the big things it had to truly distinguish itself as someplace separate from New York City.

This semester is the official beginning of what people are commonly referring to the University at Buffalo New York Bulls Initiative marketing campaign. It’s starting through the athletic programs; the basketball court floor now has the title “State University of New York at Buffalo” embossed over an image of New York at center court, with the words “New York” the largest by a mile. The football team will be displaying the university name on its uniforms the very same way. Since that’s now set, there’s one important question I have: What the hell is up with that nickname? Bulls? Come on! That never made any sense as a name for a Buffalo team, and it damn sure doesn’t make sense for a team that wants to carry the name of the state – especially not with New York City’s Major League Soccer team wearing its corporatized nickname, the Red Bulls. So if the University of Buffalo wants to become the State University of New York, that nickname has to go. Here are some suggestions to replace it:

New York Buffaloes

What better way to appease everyone than by naming it after both the state and the city? The animal is already a very prominent symbol in the city, so the logo would design itself.

New York Orangemen

SUNY could win an enormous contingent of Syracuse fans with this one. Syracuse has been calling itself New York’s College Team forever, and after all the other college programs are out of the running for whatever prize they were in, most fans in the state rally around them. However, changing their nickname to the Orange didn’t go over very well. Many fans – myself included – still refuse to call them the Orange.

New York Canadians

There would be no mistaking this one. Living in certain parts of New York is being pretty much Canadian by default anyway.

New York Red Sox

While most New Yorkers who have nothing to do with New York City ARE Yankees fans, we detest being associated with New York City all the time by outsiders. The New York Bulls Initiative has the skunk of trying to ride New York City’s coattails, a fact that everyone knows. So hooking up with the title of the Yankees’ most hated rivals will make sure there’s distance between city and SUNY.

New York Fighting Irish

Same logic as above. If you’re trying to sponge off New York City, why not go for the deuce and hope your recruits will be sufficiently dumb enough to be tricked into thinking they’re playing for Notre Dame? Besides, Buffalo is a highly Irish and Catholic city.

New York Empires

It really is the perfect name for the flagship university of a state nicknamed the Empire State, which contains the World Capitol of Everything inside of its borders.

New York Staters

It’s the common lament of the expatriate upstate New York native that, upon telling people where they’re from, they always, unfailingly have to verbally place the addendum “the state, NOT the city!”

New York Nickels

Hey, if I can name the team after the city of Buffalo, I can create a nickname based on Buffalo’s own nickname, The Nickel City. (Again, I absolutely, positively refuse to recognize or acknowledge The Queen City as a nickname.)


Me and Dutch

Me and Dutch

Consider James Joyce’s classic book Finnegan’s Wake for a second. There’s a book that continues to get every form of accolade, kudos, and dosh by an elitist literati for…. Let’s see, shall we, according to our favorite all-encompassing Wiki: Linguistic experiments, literary allusions, free dream associations, and abandonment of the constrains of character and plot constructions. It’s considered one of the greatest books ever written. I myself consider it one of the prime examples of the fact that the literati is a snobbish group which decides classics based on how much they hate books. After all, would you want to read a book for months only to end up believing it was a waste of your time? Yeah, they hate Finnegan’s Wake, therefore it must be a classic because they didn’t want to admit they spent ten years hacking through something this meaningless.

Now, I’ve tried to read Finnegan’s Wake in the past. My experimental shot at Finnegan’s Wake was even shorter than my go at a Jane Austen novel and the pretentious wealthy Victorian-era characters and threads in it, and that’s saying something. Finnegan’s Wake has to be read like one of those Magic Eye pictures that became hot in the 90’s. I constantly found myself moving the book closer and further from my eyes, rotating it in every direction to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. After finally throwing the book into the wall, something about it hit me: Finnegan’s Wake is the kind of thing that might come out of a third-grader’s imagination. If a third-grader had written it and turned it in as a class assignment, Teach would have slammed it with an F, with a skull and crossbones in place of the smiley face, saying it didn’t make any goddamn sense. I have half a mind to believe Joyce wrote it as a Fuck You to a teacher who failed him.

I also never understood the idea of trash books, and I always bristled whenever I heard someone refer to a book or genre I’m fond of as trash. First of all, that makes me wonder just how many of the books we consider classics now were considered trash when they were first written. Frankenstein, yeah, I know that for sure. Frankenstein, however, started out on the literary disability list by virtue of the fact that it was written by a, you know, woman, and therefore it has to be trash because women are too fair to be writers, doncha know. (It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the literati began giving Frankenstein its props.) What makes people the defining guardians of what’s trash and what’s good? My philosophy toward reading has always been the story over writing kind. Prose is nice, but if it comes at the expense of the story (Mr. Joyce and Ms. Austen, I’m still looking at the two of you), the book automatically sucks.

I was a high school student when I was introduced to Dutch books. I’m sure the literati reading this are now off to google great Dutch authors, but when I write of Dutch books, I think of one man: Elmore Leonard, the legendary crime author nicknamed “Dutch.” Compared to a lot of the books I had read by that point, the way Leonard wrote was shockingly minimal. My first Leonard novel was Glitz, a revenge story, and Leonard was writing blunt through the entire thing. He was writing as a storyteller, stripping his prose of all the unnecessary fat, letting his characters carry the book through their dialogue, and damn if it wasn’t an effective way to do things. To tell the truth, I thought Glitz was merely average, but I was interested enough to take a look at another book he wrote.

That book was Out of Sight. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. Out of Sight remains one of Leonard’s most acclaimed books, and it was turned into a Steven Soderbergh flick is fondly remembered for some reason. Yeah, maybe I was disadvantaged by reading the book before seeing the movie, but I dismissed the movie about five seconds after I saw it. The book turned out to be a turning point in my literary interest list. I loved the main character, Jack Foley, and the smoothness and swagger he displayed in making his first bank robbery in a long time…. The day after he escaped from jail. I adored Karen Sisco, her take-no-shit attitude, and her willingness to employ violence against people who got a little too fresh with her. (I was pleasantly surprised that Jennifer Lopez didn’t end up ruining Karen Sisco in the movie.)

I kept reading through a handful of Leonard’s works. Out of Sight remains a personal favorite, though I took a deep liking to Touch and Cuba Libre as well. Somehow, I kept missing a lot of the better known books. I have yet to read Get Shorty, though I loved the movie. Hombre, Last Stand at Sabre River, The Moonshine War, LaBrava, and several others which any other Dutch fan worth his salt would have read years ago. As I write this, Pagan Babies is sitting on my nightstand. It’s brilliant so far, but not among his most discussed work.

This was all before I started writing myself, though, and a good while before I began trying to experiment with fiction. It wasn’t until I started writing up my own fiction that I began to see the effect Elmore Leonard had on me. I try to write dialogue as realistically as I can. Leonard was also a firm believer in – his words – cutting out the stuff people don’t read. That’s often taken as a fancy statement for not prettying up the prose. I try not to do that, and I’m a much better writer when I don’t. My head, however, hasn’t quite figured that out yet. In the late 80’s, Leonard typed up a quick list of ten rules he always applied to his writing, and I like to believe I apply several of them to my writing. One of his rules is to never start with weather. That’s a law I took to heart – I don’t think it’s an accident that “It was a dark and stormy night” is mocked as a cliche. Don’t overuse the exclamation points is another one. The word “suddenly” might as well have four letters. Tagging dialogue with any word other than “said?” Don’t try that. Qualifying adverbs? Forget them.

Some of those rules, I live and die by. Others, I always keep in mind but can’t help breaking them sometimes. Yeah, “suddenly” is a terrible word to use at the beginning of a sentence if you’re trying to keep a tense atmosphere, but I do sometimes use it in the middle of a sentence. Also, I have occasional adverb problems; I fear readers won’t get a feeling I’m trying to convey unless I use them at certain times.

When I started acquainting myself with other authors and forms of literature, I put Leonard on the backburner, but never completely forgot him. He was always there, and my periodic looks in the library archives almost always include a stop in the L section, where they would scream “Read me!” You better believe I wanted to. Hell, I even intended to, but I have a very broad range of reading interests. I’m embarrassed that it took his death for me to come crawling back.

It was only recently that I started to feel comfortable shopping my fiction around, and I’m not enough of a dope to try to offer any writer’s advice. Here’s a little nugget of wisdom that I’m willing to fight to the death on: Read Elmore Leonard. I don’t care how haughty the tone in which you lecture me about how Dickens or Twain changed your life. I don’t care if you’re a Harvard English Professor the university is giving Alex Rodriguez cash to. You’re not too good for Elmore Leonard and if you think you are, then I’m too good for any of your literary opinions.

Shouldn’t We be Dead by Now?

Shouldn’t We be Dead by Now?

Physically, I’m living out in the uncivilized backwoods of Buffalo, New York, but my head spent most of the day in Michigan. There are a few reasons for this: First is one of my good friends from Chicago, who was originally from Michigan and has chosen The Great Lakes State as the location for her wedding today. Another was a recent football game where the Detroit Lions killed the New England Patriots, and no I don’t give a shit that it’s still only the preseason. Third was the fact that I spent a good part of the day checking up on some facts I recently learned about Detroit housing prices; I knew the city had good houses available for prices as ridiculously low as New York City has them for prices that are ridiculously high, but it turns out that some of those places are priced in the hundreds of dollars. Not hundreds of thousands; not hundreds for monthly mortgage; but hundreds as the full prices of the houses.

Rob reinstated his annual cookout today after a two-year hiatus, so it was my first time attending it since the original was created around our college graduations in 2005. It was very subdued compared to what it had been, since we’re both mature adults on the cusp of opening up exciting new chapters of our lives. I spent a lot of the day joking with others about how I was going to move to Detroit and buy a house just like his for $500. It was a very settled gathering even for me, because most of the people there had seen me around by then and knew me and I was able to feel pretty comfortable. Between Detroit jokes were games of Kan Jam, water guns, and face-stuffing. There was a little bit of reminiscing with Rob too, after I noticed that one of the trees in his backyard had a sturdy brand leading to the roof of his tool shed. It took me back to the days when both of us were young kids living on Abbott Road in South Buffalo, using a big tree to climb onto the roof of the old tool shed. This time, a rather horrifying thought came with the fond memories: Just how old was that tool shed on Abbott?

I took the issue to Rob, who told me that old tool shed existed before his grandparents moved into that old place on Abbott. In other words, the place was rotting from the time we were born to the time they finally tore it down. Of course, that’s presuming they did tear it down. Neither of us have been back to the original houses in awhile, so someone could have turned it into a bomb shelter which doubles as an ice cream parlor for all we know. And there we were back in the day, climbing all over it like your average Spider-man wannabes. As I left the cookout and thanked Rob for the invitation, he confessed that he hadn’t been able to get that thought out of his head himself. Great minds think alike, and these two particular great minds were hit with a scary truth: Holy shit, we should be dead by now!

By most accounts – including those of both Rob and me – we should have fallen right through a rotting soft spot on the roof and been impaled on an upturned pitchfork or something. We also should have broken our necks around Cazenovia Creek, hurt our shoulders falling out of trees and climbing fences, and been repeatedly bruised from our rough sports games. Both of us agree that it’s something of a miracle we’ve managed to last this long.

South Buffalo is a real rough and tumble place where kid safety is a concept somewhat disregarded in favor of letting the kids figure everything out for themselves after nearly getting killed a few times. The people there write off a lot more dangerous child behavior than most what about the children shriekers. For god’s sake, the most popular little league sports in the area are hockey and lacrosse! South Buffalo is a place in which deluxe safety accommodations don’t go much further than placing plastic shields into the electrical outlets. Those who don’t use them are quite confident in their kids’ ability to learn after zapping themselves once or twice.

Even by those standards, the two of us were nuts. We spent a significant chunk of our time learning to scale a ten-foot chain link fence to get into each other’s yards, then learning to scale slightly shorter chain link fences whenever we needed to get from Abbott Road to Marbeth Court in a pinch. Of all the things we did which would cause hysteria in any concerned parent, that was the thing we thought the least of. We also hopped from backyard to backyard with an alarming regularity. There was one occasion when Rob managed to bring down an entire phone line, and another when he wrapped a glave around a phone line. He seemed to have a talent for avoiding electricity. When an electrician visited us once, Rob was actually able to chase him up the telephone pole while me and a couple of other friends stood at the bottom removing and replacing the small steps the poor worker placed there so he could climb the pole. We also managed to crawl into a broken basement window.

When we got a wee bit older, our frequency for dangerous behavior actually increased as we got privileges to visit Cazenovia Park regularly without supervision. There are points along the creeks where there’s a drop of about 20 feet into onto the bank of the creek, without any fences to hold back unsupervised kids like Rob and Me. Let’s just say learning which parts of the cliff could be scaled required a bit of trial and error. We also took trips down to the foot of one of the creek bridges. When we got bored of doing that, we ran around in the middle of the local golf course whether or not there were golfers there.

Both of us were out of our minds, but Rob was the more athletic of the two of us and the most prone to high-risk derring-do stunts. If we made one of our periodic journeys down to the foot of the southernmost bridge at Cazenovia Park, Rob would occasionally insist on using the back landing to climb back up to the bridge. The part we used to climb down to the foot was slanted, but the other end was straight up and down. Rob would climb the up and down part, even though there were nice, pointy rocks at the bottom. I never tried to follow suit because even if I wasn’t lacking the physical strength, the idea of doing that was a little too insane for me, even back then. He was also the one who occasionally discussed the idea of diving into the creek by jumping off the Cazenovia Street bridge, something I had to talk him out of repeatedly. Of course, he had to talk me out of taking a flashlight to explore the sewer drain on the bank of the creek, so whoever was the better of the two of us is perfectly debatable.

Even as we started to get old enough to be aware of what would kill us and what would merely cripple us for life, we still found ourselves crossing Cazenovia Creek by bicycle on one occasion and walking across the concrete bank on many others. While that wasn’t very dangerous by itself, getting onto the fenced-off concrete bank could be dangerous in certain parts. Of course, we always thought the trickier parts were the perfect spots to get onto the bank. For good measure, we rode our bicycles on the park casino. (I still do this!)

Still, it’s the earliest days from when we were both living on Abbott Road that stick out in our heads because we had a nice, big, safe backyard which our twisted imaginations turned into a real barbershop of parental horrors. We had a swing set…. On which we removed the swings so we could climb the side poles to the top bar, which we would try to cross hand over hand. We had a jungle gym which we rolled over onto every side and placed next to the tree so we could climb the tree, enabling us to finally reach the tool shed roof. We climbed up a wheelbarrow situated forever against the tool shed. Rob’s backyard had one of those giant electrical wire spools which we used for log rolling.

Going over our stunt backlog now, in our maturity, Rob and me can’t help but wonder: And our parents thought video games were bad?

A Historic Post on the Phrase “An Historic”

A Historic Post on the Phrase “An Historic”

Okay, I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time now: If I was writing the laws, anyone who ever used a variation of the phrase an historic, in absolutely any context, anywhere, would have their tongues immediately cut out.

The phrase is a disgusting mangling of the English language and a violation of basic grammatical rules. It doesn’t look right in print, it doesn’t sound right when said aloud, and any first-grader at even the crappiest schools would be able to tell you it really isn’t right. This odd phrasing of the term a historic came to my attention a few years ago and its been driving me nuts ever since, largely because so many of the people using it are the ones who bitch the most about language being mangled.

Let’s get a quick ground rule settled right off the bat: As anyone who has ever seriously studied the English language – and to make myself clear, by anyone who ever seriously studied the English language, I mean everyone who ever heard it in any capacity – knows, the an sound is to be used before any consonant sound. A is used before any vowel sound. Got that? Now, the letter H, for those who have forgotten all linguistic schooling beyond the second grade, is a consonant. Vowels are pronounced with open vocal tracts, so there’s no pressure buildup and therefore no constriction. That’s in contrast to consonants, which are articulated by partial closure and more movements in lips and teeth.

I don’t know how the term an historic came to infect English. I read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago which suggested that, when many people pronounce the word historic, they tend to say it like the H is silent and so the result sounds more like an istoric. I can’t say I’ve ever personally heard anyone pronounce the word like that. If that happens, it sounds like someone was too lazy to pronounce a letter. Is this country suddenly so fat and lazy that people get tired trying to pronounce the briefest of exhaling sounds, lest they faint? Or are they uber-fit folks trying to give a lecture to a university history class after a marathon?

I wish I could be bigger and write this off as just another passing trend, like I did with the ridiculous izzle suffix that was all over street slang some years ago. But apparently an historic has been being used for decades, by prominent people. Like, you know, English teachers who get paid to teach the English language the way it’s supposed to be read and spoken.

A Brief Goodbye to a Family Pet

A Brief Goodbye to a Family Pet

Cadenzaan improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a free rhythmic style, and often allowing for virtuosic display.

No extended post about this because, frankly, I don’t really want to be writing it.

It was around 19 years ago that my folks brought home a young calico kitten that couldn’t have been more than eight weeks old. My sister and I had wanted a kitten because we wanted a companion we could keep for awhile. We found a term in one of my sister’s musical dictionaries, Cadenza, which we attached to her because it sounded nifty. The day mom and dad brought her home, Cadenza managed to get herself trapped in their bedroom. And, well, let’s just say a tone was set.

Cadenza became a flying, furry little hellion who slid on the wood floors until she slammed into the walls, attacked every loose item lying around, and always managed to get into places she didn’t belong. On several occasions, she climbed up the awning we had on our balcony and got onto the roof just outside our attic windows – we frequently had to go upstairs and pull her in from the attic. She always seemed to have enough spare energy to run faster than the Mountain Dew-drinking cheetahs from the old Mountain Dew commercials. If there was so much as a pencil on the floor, she would attack it. She attacked phone cords and other forms of wiring and tried to get on the mantle more than once.

While Cadenza managed to get quite fat, she never did fully shed her kitten-sized body. She was a small cat, and that made it even more difficult to keep her out of the places she wasn’t supposed to go. She once tried to climb the Christmas Tree. Yeah, she epitomized the idea of curiosity killing the cat, but she never seemed satisfied. Our minds all boggled wondering how such a small cat could keep getting into such big trouble.

Despite her hellraising, Cadenza may have been the world’s only extrovert cat. If there was one thing she loved more than an insignificant little knickknack to obliterate, it was attention from her humans. Cadenza was a real lap cat who could plunk herself down on someone for literally hours. Her loud purring won her the affectionate nickname Purrball, and she wanted attention which she wasn’t getting, she would find a way to get it. She loved crawling up your lap and onto your chest and rubbing her face against ours if she was receiving insignificant time in our personal spotlights. Later, she resorted to tapping people with her paw. Cadenza was the cat who was able to befriend our dog, an 80-pound behemoth of white hair. If we had guests, Cadenza would be the first one to welcome them into the house. As far as she was concerned, anyone who tapped her on the head once established a permanent bond with her.

Beating herself up resulted in Cadenza developing terrible arthritis late in her life. Her vision and hearing slowly wore out, and she eventually took to prowling the hallway yowling periodically. Also, her small body began thinning out – she looked skeletal, and the family became afraid of picking her up for fear of hurting her. She wasn’t the leaping furball she was in her youth, but her spirit certainly never diminished. Even though it would take her multiple tries to jump up to the couch to sit with us – and alternate from person to person until it got annoying – she still did it. If there wasn’t enough food in her bowl, she would still walk around in the kitchen while everyone else was there, dodging our feet.

With her starving and in obvious pain, it was finally time for her to be removed from the world. She led a very full, comfortable, and by any account happy life with all but her first eight weeks in our company. And for that, my family and I felt a bit more complete. We’ve always been cat people, and Cadenza was the one cat we owned who lived almost her entire life with us. Or at least the one cat who spent her whole life with us in my lifetime.

Food Fascism and the Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Food Fascism and the Chicago-Style Hot Dog

The Chicago-style hot dog has an odd, complex list of ingredients. It begins with the hot dog itself: Beef. Vienna beef, to be excruciatingly specific, like everything about the iconic food’s yum factor hinges on the ballpark sausage’s being not only beef, but Vienna beef! Also, the bun, which absolutely, positively must be a poppy seed bun. When the missing Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered, I’m quite certain this will be among the Lost Commandments. Once those are established, see if you can run down the rest of the toppings ten times fast: Tomatoes. Dill pickles. Sweet relish. Mustard. Celery salt. White onions. Chili peppers.

Got all that? That’s no hot dog, that’s a sausage salad on a bun. It’s practically vegetarian.

My first experience with the Chicago-style hot dog was a little bit confusing for me. It wasn’t because of the topping list; if you need a Chicago-style dog, just ask the vendors, because they’ll always know what they’re doing better than you do. My confusion stemmed more from the fact that I had no idea how to actually eat the damn thing, beyond the part where I put small chunks of it into my mouth, bite them off, chew them, and swallow. My parents raised me the right way, and pounded good manners into my head so that I conduct myself like a gentleman whenever I eat in public. Looking at the overfed frank, I asked myself, so is it acceptable to use a fork on this thing, like with the pizza? Or am I expected to just cram it into my mouth whole?

Chicago has managed to build an entire culture of food centered around this thing. Chicago boasts more hot dog vendors then McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger Kings put together. Yet, people in Chicago don’t see any problem leaving out any of that giant topping list when they want to cook their own hot dogs for the Independence Day barbeque. It’s almost as if they can’t actually remember what all the toppings are. I’m tempted to think they’re agreeing with me in secret by forgetting the toppings, and admitting this hot dog topping motherload is tedious and cumbersome.

If you’re able to somehow stuff a part of the Chicago-style hot dog into your mouth, what follows is an odd – but admittedly delicious – taste brew of the bitter, tangy, and sweet. Usually the pickles, tomatoes, and peppers aren’t a part of that brew in my case because I’ve already picked them off and eaten them individually, wondering all the while if I was robbing myself of the full Chicago-style hot dog experience by doing so. While Chicagoans swear by these toppings, I don’t know how many of them eat the dog in its complete form. Do they remove the bigger toppings too, or try to eat the entire thing as it’s presented? In the years I spent living in Chicago, I never figured out how to properly gorge myself on one of these things. While the Chicago-style hot dog has become an enduring symbol of Chicago’s food culture, to me it became my own personal symbol of the fact that I wasn’t from Chicago, no matter how much I established myself there.

The most grating aspect of devotion to this giant, cumbersome grab bag of hot dog toppings is the city’s attitude toward ketchup. Chicago people have trouble remembering all the toppings on their hot dogs and rarely have them all around for home cookouts, but they’re all convinced that of all the toppings, ketchup never, ever goes on top of a hot dog. One of my good friends in Chicago, Scott, joked that that’s how everyone would know I wasn’t a native – I put ketchup on my hot dog. I can’t comprehend my dogs without the stuff. I’m not talking about adding it to the salad the Chicago dog masquerades as, but ketchup on a hot dog, in any context. Even a lot of hot dog vendors in Chicago have bought into this foodie dictatorship and don’t even have ketchup available on the side.

Honestly, in a pinch, what the hell else am I supposed to use? Mayo? Olive oil? I’m not averse to avoiding ketchup when toppings are plentiful and I get to be choosy, but when I whip up a couple of beef dogs – Hebrew National, thank you very much – and have nothing on hand, am I expected to just take my dogs and bread the ten-hour Amtrak ride out to Chicago just to properly drench them in a fashion that drowns out the taste of the meat? Even merely removing the ketchup from the topping lineup means I’m faced with the viscous, bitter yellow semen known as mustard, one of the most insufferable substances to have ever been inflicted on this planet.

Tell you what: When I’m in Chicago and eating a hot dog, I’ll try to avoid disgusting you with ketchup as long as there’s enough acceptable toppings there as options. Don’t expect me to ruin my lunch by force-feeding mustard to a taste palate which violently rejects it if that’s all there is. And don’t expect me to not get disgusted if I have to watch you destroy your french fires by pouring loads of ketchup onto them instead of salt and vinegar, the way the gods intended for them to be eaten.

How to Bicycle Like a Real Chicagoan: A FAQ

How to Bicycle Like a Real Chicagoan: A FAQ

It’s a given that Chicago is a very ideal bicycling destination. The flat terrain makes it easier to cycle there than it does in a lot of other cities, lots of nice bicycles lanes make it convenient, and the constant traffic congestion means it will be easier to get where you’re going on a bicycle than in a car. But what, you ask, is the story with bicycling in Chicago? What should you look out for and expect? How can you make the most of a real Chicago bicycling experience? I’m glad you asked, because here I am to give you the best advice you’ll ever hear about cycling in Chicago!

I don’t actually want to bicycle in Chicago. It’s windy, cold, and the sky always looks like a harbinger of doom.


But I didn’t bring my bicycle with me!

That’s not an excuse. There are many bicycle share and bicycle rental programs floating around in Chicago, many of which will lend you a perfectly good bike for half a day or a day for a reasonable price. Dish out the cash, then you’re free to use your bicycle any way you want! Ride in Critical Mass with your rental!

How do I deal with the cold?

Dress for it! Gloves and something to cover your ears with are both a big help. Wear nylon pants to keep the wind and any rain or snow off. Don’t skimp on the socks.

Oh no, my bicycle was stolen! How?

You locked it up with a cable lock, didn’t you? Yeah, they’ll cut through those things like hot butter. You need a good padlock, save the cables for making sure the seats don’t get stolen.

Why did you just smash that car’s rearview?

What, did you miss the part where he cut me off, braked right in front of me, then sent a whole red light screaming at me and honking his horn despite the fact that he couldn’t actually go anywhere at the time? Or the fact that he went around the block to tailgate me, or that he drove the wrong way up a one-way street? Well, rearview-smashing is our way of getting even. Motorists don’t care if they kill anyone, but hit them in the wallet, and they’ll think harder next time. Maybe. Hopefully. They’re motorists, so you can never be sure.

Where is the best place to begin a good bike ride in Chicago?

You’ll want to get on the Lake Shore Trail somewhere around the Shedd Aquarium or Soldier Field. Head north from there. When you get up to about Grand Avenue, head west until you get to Milwaukee Avenue, then ride up Milwaukee. That’s a nice way to begin. Or if you’re setting out on the last Friday of the month, go to Daley Plaza at 5 PM and ride in Critical Mass.

What about my plans to see the Magnificent Mile and Willis Tow-ow! OW! Why did you just stab me?!

So, are you really visiting Chicago just to see the national retail chains? Tourists visit the Mag Mile, and the drivers there all want you dead. You’re insane to try cycling up the Mag Mile. The cars swerve in every last direction without warning. And the Sears Tower is the tallest building in the city, and you can see it easily enough from the Lake Shore Trail. And I stabbed you because it’s called the Sears Tower, not Willis Tower, no matter what the popular news and travel outlets and insurances companies try to cram down your throat! You want to throw away money, do it in the small, local, and, you know, unique boutiques and quirky places along the Milwaukee strip in Bucktown. Or for god’s sake, at least Clark Street if your tastes are really that mainstream.

Is there a good place to get a Chicago-style hot dog on the way? And… Crap, I can never remember all the proper ingredients!

Dogs in this city are a dime a dozen. Surely you can find them easily enough along Milwaukee, or back down Clark, where I’m also going to send you. And don’t worry about remembering what’s on top of one. The guys making the dog will remember, which makes them a step up from any of the people who don’t work for hot dog joints. No one remembers all the toppings on a Chicago dog. If you’re getting a dog and can’t remember what the topping are, just use ketchup. I don’t care what those ridiculous cultists who are all opposed to ketchup on hot dogs say. Frankly, I can’t stand mustard, and among those cultists you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually has celery salt in their pantry. Don’t worry about the Chicago dogs. Worry about a proper Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

So, back to Milwaukee, where do I go after going up that street?

You’re free to hang east at Belmont, but if you want to see some of the most interesting neighborhoods in the city, wait until Lawrence. No matter which one you choose, you’re heading back to Clark.

Oh god, there are hipsters in Bucktown!

Yep. They may be annoying, but look at the bright side: They’re not trying to kill you.

What’s so special about this route, anyway?

Good, wide bicycle zones, considerate drivers, and good asphalt. Be picky about your favorite streets because some look like they’ve been through a war. Parts of Lake Street were capable of ripping the treads off a Sherman when I was living here. On the subject, LaSalle is also highly reccomended. Franklin used to be really awesome until they made it two-way. Now it’s merely awesome. Damen is a wonderful ride as well. On the South Side, be sure to visit Bridgeport and Bronzeville.

What about Hyde Park? That’s President Obama’s neighborhood!

Yes, I’ve had that Obama factoid drilled into my head. No, I don’t know where his house is. Anyway, what are you, rich? Go to some real neighborhoods. Live a little.

Hey, it’s Wrigley Field!

You don’t need to be at Wrigley Field to experience the ambience of a Cubs game. Go see a White Sox game. Watch actual baseball.

Wow, this is a big city! I’m starting to hurt!

It happens.

Why are you stopping at this bar?

I need a drink.

What, now?

Hey, you said you wanted to bike like a Chicagoan. Drinking before, after, and during a good bicycle ride is a proud Chicago tradition! If you’re in Critical Mass, it’s practically required!

What’s this Critical Mass thing you keep talking about?

A giant bicycle ride on the last Friday of every month where cyclists dress up in their peacock best and join together for a long bicycle ride! In good months, there are usually several hundred participants. Great way to see cycling as a subculture!

Who are those nutcases with the bags who keep zooming around The Loop?

Bike Messengers. Don’t mind them. They have work to do. Good folks. I did that myself for awhile.

Christ, didn’t you ever get hurt?

Thousands of times! Several doors, several cars, angry pedestrians, and the times when I was just carrying something big and lost my balance. That movie Premium Rush is more accurate than you would ever believe.

How long did it take to recover from all those accidents?

In the most severe cases, a day. That’s how long it took me to get back to work. I couldn’t go to the hospital most of the time.

What are you, crazy?

That’s what everyone keeps telling me.