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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Main & Chicago Avenue, Evanston IL - Update on a vacant lot

Feast your eyes on this ugly beast of a building!    It is what has been proposed for the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.  Yes, it does match the other ugly beast buildings on the northwest and northeast corners of the intersection, but that doesn't make this a good idea. For those of us who live in south Evanston, this is another injury.

I see this vacant lot almost every day, and have come to appreciate the open space.  There used to be an old two-story commercial building at that location called "the Main," but it was knocked down by some developers right before the financial crisis.  I wrote about the loss of The Main when it happened.  The vacant lot is sometimes used by dog owners now.  It is good to have a vacant piece of land in the concrete valley.  The new building will increase the grimness of the landscape.  It also appears that the developers are not including enough parking for a multifamily development of this scale, so there will be more folks searching for street parking - already a scarce commodity in the neighborhood.

The new development will add a bunch of living units to the neighborhood.  Congestion is already a problem and this building will make things worse.  There will be first-floor retail space; the neighborhood is rotten with empty storefronts already.  I foresee more national chains/fast food places taking up the slots (we have a Subway and a Starbucks at the corner already; I expect Dunkin Donuts, Panera Bread and the rest of the usual crowd of homogenized retailers.

I sound like a grumpy NIMBY.  Certainly we need tax revenues in our town, but it isn't clear that this development will make a significant difference (especially in view of the Tax Increment Financing deal that the city government has awarded to this parcel). I know that this vacant lot needs to be filled and the location at the transit hub of Main and Chicago makes this a great place for a high rise.  Nevertheless, the proposed structure will not be attractive and will increase the hassle of living in the area.  Maybe I am wrong and it will be prettier in real life than it is in an artist's sketch.  Maybe the congestion won't be any worse.  But I think these outcomes are quite unlikely.

For anyone who is interested, here is a link to the presentation the developers made last fall to a community meeting.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Finding the lost key


This little story began a few weeks ago.

Like many people, I have a safe deposit box.  I use that box to store important stuff - some valuables, some papers, etc. - that I want to protect in case my house burns down.  I also get a kick out of having a safe deposit box; I like going into the basement of the bank building, pulling out the old-school key and unlocking my box, which is in a wall of boxes, all protected by a two-inch steel doors.  The safe deposit vault smells like the bank of my childhood, metallic and slightly stuffy.

I had an important item that I wanted to put in the safe deposit box a few weeks ago.  I went to the corner of the kitchen where I store the key, and it was GONE!  I often shuffle things around absent-mindedly, so I wasn't too alarmed.  I put it on my list of things to do ("find lost key").  It has sat on my list for a while.

My daughter woke up yesterday and decided she wanted to open a bank account.  We went to the bank but couldn't finish our chore - the bank needed to see government-issued ID and my daughter doesn't have a driver's license yet.  We went home to get her passport, but we couldn't find it.  I thought, "maybe it is in the safe deposit box."  "Find lost key" moved to the top of my list.

I turned the first floor of the house upside down, emptied out drawers, looked in the car, went through my coat pockets, etc. etc.  This took a few hours and killed my Saturday, basically.  I ended up feeling frustrated, dispirited and angry with myself for misplacing such an important item.  Lack of organization has been the bane of my existence, and I truly hate it when I lose stuff.

So I gave up and tried to forget about it.  I couldn't, of course.  It is hard work to kick yourself all day for being a scatter-brained idiot.

As part of my effort to get more organized, I am going through each room of my house slowly to de-clutter, categorize and file.  A good friend of mine used to do this type of work for a living, and she has been kind enough to lead me through the process. My friend came over late in the day yesterday, and we attacked one corner of my basement office.  On the corner of my desk was a pile of papers that my daughter dumped into my office last fall.  My friend and I attacked it - old bills (all paid), junk mail, 3-year old birthday cards, the usual pack-rat pile.

And in the middle of the pile I found.....

the lost safe deposit box key!

There is no joy on earth quite the same as finding an important item that has been lost.  I was hopping up and down in relief and excitement.  It is a huge hassle to drill into a safety deposit box, and they charge at least $100 for the service.  A load of worry and self-loathing was lifted from my shoulders.

Now, it is tempting to insert a cheap metaphor into this narrative.  I won't.  All I am saying is it sure feels good to find a lost safe deposit box key.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Following Your Musical Dreams vs. Facing Harsh Reality

I was in New York a couple of months  ago and looked up an old friend - a really old friend.  I met Chuck when we were both about 13 years old.  We were in the John Muir Junior High School bands together - concert band, jazz band, orchestra, etc.  We were in thrall to the high-energy music teacher at Muir, Tony Caviglia.  Mr. Caviglia played lead trumpet in the Oakland (California) Symphony and  he was also a monster jazz player. Chuck was a Caviglia protégé on trumpet.  I was a mediocre, but ambitious, trombone player.  We both had dreams of musical glory then, and throughout high school.  Chuck made a commitment - he was going to play trumpet for the rest of his life, and he would do the best he could to become an elite player.  I was a big chicken and hedged my bets - I went to Cal Berkeley and became a music major with an economics minor.  Within a year, I was an economics major and my musical pursuits were restricted to extracurricular activities. 

When you are a brass player (especially a trombonist), you eventually have to face harsh reality.  Fact #1:  It is a stone cold bitch to become an elite brass player.  It takes 5 - 10 hours work each day; mostly solitary, physical, tedious work.  Of course, this work will only pay off if you have talent and passion, but fierce determination to master your instrument is the most important thing.  I lacked the steely will to master my horn.  Chuck had the will, in spades.  Fact #2: Even if you succeed in becoming an elite brass player, that doesn't mean you will make a decent living.  There are many more aspiring trumpet and trombone heroes than there are paying positions for brass players.  You must possess  a thick skin and a certain Zen-like serenity to get through the ordeals and rejections associated with auditions.  You have to patch together multiple sources of revenue - teaching, private lessons, gigs, and perhaps even the hated non-musical job.  I know great musicians that are part-time IT consultants, restaurant wait staff, bus drivers, you name it.  The time you devote to making a living outside of music is time you can't spend practicing or seeking employment as a brass player.  The day job keeps you alive, but reduces your chances to succeed as a musician.

I threw in the towel early and became a working professional person in an office with a MBA and all that.  The trombone went into the closet; I took up harmonica (easier to carry and you can practice while driving to the office).  I felt some regret because I didn't pursue my dream, but I was convinced not every dream should be pursued.  I still believe this.

Chuck refused to give up.  He went to San Francisco State and received degrees in music education and performance.  He moved to New York and got a masters from the Manhattan School of Music.  He studied and practiced the trumpet for countless hours, he taught others, he auditioned, he got gigs, he became an adjunct professor at a college in New Jersey.  Chuck is one of the top classical trumpet players in the country, but it is a hard profession.  This is not a path to massive wealth.  If you are a top player, and hustle, you can make a good living.

I have deep respect for my old friend Chuck.  He is still working on his art and taking auditions.  The quest for musical excellence is a lifelong pursuit.

I have forgiven myself for putting away the trombone, but I still feel a small ache when I think about this road not taken.