Tuesday, December 31, 2013

So long 2013. And good riddance. Bring on 2014!

2013 was a lousy year. Wait, let me rephrase that; 2013 was a mostly lousy year. I should have known things were looking bleak when Betty the Beagle passed away rather suddenly within the first seven days of the new year. It pretty much went downhill after that. It's ironic that I probably hit the lowest point of the year smack dab at its central point, during my birthday on June 30. At the same time while that day was filled with worry about the future as I leapt into the unknown, it was also a day filled with promise. And from that point on 2013 gradually got better and better, for the most part. There were still rough patches—and god bless GalPal for sticking with me through the last 365 days because it wasn't easy—but as I stand at the door to 2014 I can say with certainty that this is already shaping up to be a great year. And I'm not just saying that because 2013 blew.

Though, before I make it sound like I've just come through a year of darkness, I want to emphasize that it was really the first half that was the hardest. And even that had incredible moments, like standing on top of mountains interviewing once and future Olympians and filming them doing the amazing things they can do. And while there were other moments of incredible stress and pressure I came out the other side confident in my skills and occasionally marveling at what I was capable of. 2013 was hard, but it did make me an incredibly wronger person.

And like I said, the second half went from hopeful to downright awesome. I am at a terrific place both personally and professionally and I think everything's set to become even more terrific in the next twelve months.

And I sincerely hope you feel that way too.

Huey Lewis explains 'American Psycho.'

It appears this came out months ago so I have no idea how I never saw it and no one ever forwarded it to me, so maybe you missed it to!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The best doesn't always win.

I was talking with GalPal's dad over the holiday and the conversation steered towards Apple and their triumph over other brands through smart marketing and slowly positioning themselves as the cool brand everyone has to have. He mused that now Apple's reached this apex they were in danger of turning into Microsoft as far as constant upgrades to software—not all of them welcome—and a general trend to keep you tethered within their system. And, he noticed, it all tied back to Apple's slow but steadily successful marketing push. At this point is it even fair to say Apple is "better" than their competitors? Or has their system become so ingrained in the general media consciousness that they just win by default?*

I didn't get a chance to say it at the time but it also really reminded me that this paradigm is as old as Tesla versus Edison: the superior product doesn't always win but the best sales pitch always does. In Apple's case I think at one point they actually had both those factors working for them, which is why they ended up beating the Goliath's that surrounded them, but I'm beginning to think that over time David's feet have slowly turned into clay.**

*If you question this remember that if you are reading this you are probably someone that runs in the same general demographic, at least technologically, that I do and that our perception about what is "universal" is heavily skewed and not at all in touch with what the general populace is probably using or aware of.

**Mix those metaphors!

Friday, December 27, 2013

'Community' is almost back!

GalPal and I have been fans of Community since day one, and stuck with it even when things got a little shaky (though I don't think last season was that bad). It's back next week and the promos have been ramping up! If you want a clue as to how they're setting up the season now that series creator Dan harmon is back in the driver's seat, this little animated short should help you out.

If you, like me, find the Mad Men "next episode" promos absolutely hilarious, this should make you laugh.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The warm fuzzies you get seeing GalPal looking adorable with this Gingerbread Kid is, believe it or not, the way I feel towards American Airlines this morning.

I know it's after Christmas but I just love that picture above so much. GalPal looks like adorable holiday spirit personified. And now I'm already back in Chicago after an ungodly early flight in an airport woefully unprepared for holiday travelers—though I admit when I got to Lambert–St. Louis International Airport and saw the HUUUUUUGE line to security after a few brief chats with the people around me we all thought the same thing; we would be the only ones crazy enough to fly so early on the day after Christmas. Not so! Regardless I made my flight with literally seconds to spare. And I'm thankful I did; there is NOTHING to do in that airport besides drink and since I was going straight to work that wouldn't have ben an option and I would've been bored off my ass.

The one bright spot of this morning's stressful travel belongs to whoever was running American Airlines' Twitter handle. Not only did they reach out with kind words of encouragement while I was stuck in the security line—not that it actually did anything but it was nice to know someone else was awake and wishing me the best—they then went the extra mile and noticed I had two AAdvantage numbers and offered to merge them so I wouldn't lose any of my miles.* That definitely brightened my day since, on top of relatively frequent travel anyway, I accumulated quite a few miles when traveling on all those video shoots of Olympic hopefuls earlier this year!

Honestly, sometimes the little things, that one extra nice gesture, can really make a complete difference in one's day. I need to remember that as far as guiding my own actions.

*Long story, but I couldn't seem to find my old account and figured it had somehow been deleted so when I had to travel a few months ago I created a new one figuring I'd just start gathering miles all over again. But no! My old account still existed and now the two have become one. Huzzah!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Catsmas!

GalPal's family insists all their cats get into the holiday spirit.
Hope your day has been as lovely as ours.

And I hope you, unlike me, doesn't have to work tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Twas the night before Christmas.

And I ain't doing a damn thing other than enjoying good company and perhaps imbibing a spirit or twelve. I hope you are doing the same!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holly jolly Friday.

We're in the midst of a move in our office—to bigger digs!—so the last few days have seen those of us still here basically living a nomadic lifestyle. And it's actually been kind of fun. The work hasn't slowed down, in fact it's only grown heavier as everyone tries to cross t's and dot i's before the holidays, but since no one really has a home base the in-person collaboration has increased and its been lovely. The 9-to-5 is already a pretty collaborative space, but when you have no space of your own it's wild how quickly that cause the whole room to become a thriving community hive.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Strugglin' with that year end list...

Usually I take great joy in putting together a list of my favorite 20 albums at the end of each year. And yes I wait until the end—especially now—since you never know what might come out in the month of December; a time when most other publications have already long ago published their own lists. Which, an aside, seriously?! I know it's an arms race to get your list up first, but the days after Thanksgiving, when many lists were released this year is too early. Add to that the fact that most are formed by committee and you end up with things that give you an idea of what was most written about in regards to each publication's particular audience but you don't get good recommendations with heart. That tend to come from the music writers who put together their own lists. Writer like, O.K., me.

So many lists this year, even personal ones, go on and on about what a great year it was for music. To this claim I say, "Whaaaaa-?!" It was a year for huge disappointments from people that should have delivered better and underwhelming albums from underground artists who had credit heaped upon them because people still want heroes. But it was not a great year for music.

Was there good music? Hell yes. But I'll be honest, this may be the first time I cut my list from 20 to 10 because I'm not sure there are more albums than that able to hold my attention for the whole year. And I think that's one point of these lists. It's not just music you could appreciate upon hearing it for the first or second time. It's music you still love after hearing it over and over and over and over and over again.

So I'm struggling. Usually I try to name what knocked me out off the top of my head before revisiting my library to refresh my memory and fins something I listened to rabidly months ago to give it a few re-listens to make sure it still holds up. So far I can count the number of bands that leap immediately to the top of my head on one hand.

So no, this year was not an embarrassment of riches in the music world. It was just another year that saw the musical landscape become even more flooded with lots of bands that are really pretty god but quite definitely not great. At least to my ears.

But I haven't lost hope because there were a couple greats in there too.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When you go to a place legendary for long waits and there's no line, that makes for a happy Honey Butter Fried Chicken-filled belly

Delicious, delicious Honey Butter Fried Chicken.
Hey, another bit about food! At least this is a food I'm well equipped to write about because fried chicken may just be my favorite food ever. Well, next to Texas brisket. It's up there though! Honey Butter Fried Chicken opened in Chicago recently and have been getting major kudos, which has lead to long lines and wait times, so we took our time after it opened before finally making it over to the joint tonight. They debone their chicken, so I was intrigued to try that out.

The ambience is rural roadhouse chic. Tables lined up next to each other, you orderer at the register and then sit while waiting for food. The cocktails are a bit pricey for little return on actual flavor so next time I think I'll either just go for a beer or stick with good ol' just plain water. The wait between ordering and eating was about 15 minutes, so if that's how long it takes to get food when the joint is nearly empty I can only imagine what kind of wait their is to get your meal when the place is hopping.

On my end, the meal didn't disappoint. I ate two chicken breasts and was stuffed. The breading is slightly spicy and they serve the chicken with honey butter that you're urged to put on the chicken to eat. I tried it both ways and thought the flavor of each piece was enough on its own o apply butter at your discretion. For me it was a nice option but didn't really add anything to the chicken's flavor. I did taste delicious on their cornbread muffins though! So apply liberally to those, should you try the place out. GalPal tried some of their hot sauce on her chicken near the end of the meal and lamented not utilizing it before her tummy was full because she thought that condiment did add an extra layer of yum to the chicken. She also tried their Schmaltz smashed potatoes with chicken gravy but gave that side the thumbs-down. Stick with the chicken plates.

We drove by on our way home an hour or so after we left and saw their was a line stretching to the door and every table was filled, so my guess is that if you want to get in and out you should eat their before 7 or 7:30 p.m., otherwise make sure you bring along a good conversationalist or have a bunch of reading to catch up on. We'll be back, even if there is a wait, because the food was worth it. It wasn't so amazing we'll be there more than a handful of times a year, but it is tasty enough for us to trek out to its not-so-easy-to-reach-by-public-transportation location that handful of times!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sausage date!

Yum. Delicious.
GalPal and I went on a unique date Sunday night; I took her to a private class for the two of us at Chop Shop on how to make sausage from scratch. We made a bunch of it and then sat down to a romantic dinner to eat some of what we made. It was excellent. OUr guide through the process was this guy named Mike and he was terrific; knowledgable, an excellent teacher and a funny dude. We also met the main man of the joint Mario and he was a total pleasure to talk to as well.

While we were in the kitchen we saw a bunch of their food being made and my mouth was absolutely watering. The joint also has a functioning butcher counter and they're opening a live venue in the back.

We'll definitely be back for more meals, to buy some meat to make at home and to catch some live music.

Monday, December 16, 2013


It's the weather. It has to be. For the last few years I've been the type of guy who is up and at 'em at 5:30 a.m. with a literal spring in his step. Even on three or four hours of sleep. But the last few weeks it's been incredibly difficult to get going in the morning.

If it didn't sound so lame I'd say my get up and go got up and went. But I don't think that's entirely accurate. I think the grey, cold freeze of the last few weeks has just sapped the life out of me (and from what I can tell, quite a few others) so either the weather will improve* or I'll just adapt.** I just can't remember previous winters knocking me out quite this much.

* It won't.
** I will.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Beauty and the Bea(s)t.

Photo by Tasya Menaker
Captured at the Metro / Smart Bar holiday party. GalPal is doing her darndest to do the heavy lifting and make me look good. The highlight of the evening was—I kid you not—the DJ set by the owner of the venue's daughter. She slayed.

Holiday party time! Excellent!

This time of year always feels like an endurance course. You can't go nuts at parties before your official company party*, but that doesn't mean you're not required to attend many soirees with excellent gastronomical choices and libations before then. At this point there are nights where GalPal and I are triple booked.

Happy holidaze.

*Which, lord, that's not to say you should.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A friend of mine just got an awesome job!

Look at how excited Pickle and I am?

Trust me, that's Pickle's "I'm so excited and I just can't hide it" face.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ice ice baby.

We in the Midwest are a hardy lot. Also crazy. At least that's obvious every time I visited a warmer locale in the months between November and May. But today is threat-level 10, red alert red alert, Hoth cold.

So if you are living anywhere else, be thankful your fingers aren't in danger of falling off just because you walked outside for ten minutes without gloves.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Happy birthday to one of my favorite people in the world!

GalPal turns another year older today! Wish her a happy birthday!

I am so thankful she puts up with me year in and year out and allows me to be part of her life. Happy birthday!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sing along with Star Wars

This starts off lame, but then gets pretty funny. If you don't love it by the end of the first guitar solo, though, just walk away.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

On "best of" lists and making them and talking about them and responding to the responses to them.

The Wrens playing Schubas, one of our choices for best music venues in Chicago. Photo by me.
At Chicagoist we do a "best of" list at least weekly, and I always look forward to them for the conversation they generate and the new things they expose me to. This week it was "Best Music Venues" so I was in charge of rounding it up. The writers came up with a great list that had real breadth and depth so I couldn't be more proud of what we produced. In the introduction I underscored how great our music scene is and that these were our favorites and that, yes, of course we would leave stuff out or maybe not include your favorite, or your favorite. It seems like there was a LOT of chatter around it—I missed a lot since I don't monitor the Facebook page or Twitter feed for the site that often (that's the purview of the E-in-C and full-time AE)—so I'm stoked that we touched nerves both good and bad.

If a venue isn't on the list that doesn't mean it's not great or that none of the writers liked it, it just means it didn't rank at the personal top for any of the contributors. Some places we didn't list are awesome places to see shows but are weaker on the booking front, others were outside Chicago, and others are still establishing themselves and could very well become a standout music venue. 

Some people would argue a best of list should be an objective thing that dispassionately selects its subjects and I would agree that in some cases that's true. I think the Michelin Guide probably falls into this category. But music, and especially one's preferred environment for experiencing it, is such a subjective thing, so I think our "best of" list stands on that foundation. And honestly I find those kinds of list a lot more compelling since they come from a deeper place in the writer and that buzz often comes through in their writing that supports their selection. That's awesome.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Get into the holiday mood with The Dandy Warhols.

Zia wants you to sing along with the band. Photo by me.
It's after Thanksgiving which means it's officially not only O.K. but pretty much mandatory to get into the holiday spirit. The Dandy Warhols are willing to help you out with free downloads of some holiday tunes played through their distinctive filter! Give 'em a listen and if you like 'em, download 'em and play them as needed when you need a dose of holiday cheer.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Travel times may fluctuate with career choices.

Chicago traffic in 1909, photo by Frank M. Hallenbeck
I've had all kinds of commutes throughout my life. Everything from working somewhere that was a 15-minute walk away to a job that had me in the car 3+ hours a day in bumper-to-bumper traffic. These all have their pluses and minuses. For instance, that long drive is the thing that got me into podcasts in the early aughts (though I can't imagine how I didn't go insane not being able to listen to them at 2X speed!). And the 15-minute walk meant I was almost always late because I'd misjudge when I had to leave. Luckily it was a recording studio and punctuality wasn't all that important since there was someone there pretty much 24 hours a day in one of the music rooms. When I got my first job in the loop five years ago I was stoked because I could finally just take a train to work, allowing me to sell my car and go fully urban. Plus I love being able to read or zone put on the train. And with my current commute I get to choose between taking two train or a bus and a train and the time between my front door and my chair at my desk is even shorter now!

The only way I could beat this is if I worked at home and my commute was between my bed and my office desk 30 feet away. But that would suck because who wants to work from home?!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thankful, I am.

I was grumbling earlier today about a standing meeting my 9-to-5 has every Monday at 8:30 a.m. The meeting is always informative and interesting, to be fair, but it's so early! And then I realized that was really the only gripe I had about my 9-to-5. Of course that mad me realize what a non-gripe that was and I further reflected on just how thankful I am for how the last year went. I won't lie and say it was an easy year—for a large amount of time I was under enormous stress—but without this year I wouldn't be where I am now; happy, supported and feeling fulfilled.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to GalPal, who stuck by me even through periods of me being nigh intolerable. And I owe thanks to co-workers both past and present, because it was only because of the teams of people I worked with that I was able to accomplish great things, deliver some amazing work, and travel down the path that eventually brought me to where I am now.

It's been a wild ride in a year that seemed to last a decade—at times stretching on into forever with not nearly enough time to accomplish everything I needed or wanted to—but it's all accumulated into a collection of moments whose result is my own inner happiness.