My Favorite Summer Place

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The front porch of our Avondale home is where you’ll often find me these months of summer.

The summer, at least here in Chicago, has been sultry and scorching, the sun frequently scintillating from the blue sky often void of clouds.

Yes, the days of June and July of 2018 have been marked at times by record heat, tropical dew points and often fierce, drenching thunderstorms that swept across the metropolitan area, leaving flooded roadways, shattered tree limbs and a reminder that the forces of nature can often prevent the even emboldened from venturing out from the safety of a covered roof and air conditioning for very long.

And, it’s only the first week of July.

Still, there’s much to revel about in summer, much to savor. Like finding a favorite summer place.

Mine is depicted in the image above, the front porch of our Avondale home.  There, on the corner of two one-way streets, I can observe or appreciate:

  • The evolution of our neighborhood, from decidedly diverse and middle class to increasingly youthful, Caucasian, artsy and professional.
  • People in motion, on foot, on bicycles, on skateboards, on scooters and pushing carriages. People walking dogs, people with arms outstretched, their eyes and attention directed to a handheld.
  • The flight and calls of all sorts of birds — robins, cardinals, sparrows, grackles, crows, finches and, this being Chicago, pigeons.
  • The emergence of fireflies and the symphonic sounds of cicadas, unseen but yet there.
  • Vendors selling frozen desserts from push carts, including the Hispanic man with the tanned skin who knows I prefer the lime popsicle.
  • Peaks from the sun coming through the trees to the east in the morning, and the remaining rays of light to the east at dusk.
  • The opportunity to read without a light, not caring if my mind wanders off the page, the result of a distraction by the world around me.

In essence, simple things, aspects of the world around me punctuated by the perspective provided by positioning my posterior on my modest perch.

Bring on more heat. I don’t care. It’s always cool in my favorite summer place.

Now, what’s yours?

* * *

Have a little more time? Then read my essay, “The Greening of Avondale,” written in fall of 2017 for a Non-Fiction Writing Workshop class.

 

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Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!

 

 

One Image, One Question: September 24, 2017

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As this post is about to be published, the temperature outside here in Chicago this Sunday in September, the first official weekend of autumn, is 88 degrees.

Yes, 88 degrees this late in the season.

Do you have a favorite spot to observe the changes around you?

Hey, that’s a bit less July-like than the record breaking mid-90 degree temperatures recorded here and around the Midwest the past few days.

But enough weather talk.

The image above was taken on our front porch, where Susan and I sit often during the warm months to read, drink coffee (and sometimes wine or beer) and watch activity in the neighborhood.

By this time of year, opportunities to enjoy the outside on the porch dwindle.  But, not today.

From this perch, we’ve observed many somewhat subtle but significant changes to Avondale. Most specifically — the people.

Avondale’s proximity to downtown Chicago and public transportation, great housing stock and relative affordability has attracted families and a younger demographic.

Okay, the neighborhood is becoming gentrified.

We observe this in three quantifiable ways:

  • Rising prices for housing, meaning less affordability for many, including long-standing residents.
  • A reduction in gang-related activity, which was prevalent when we moved to Avondale 17 years ago.
  • An increase in people walking dogs! (I’m not kidding; being on a corner, we are at the dog walking crossroads.)

So on today’s question:

Where and how do you observe changes within your community?

Time to get back outside to continue this research. Real autumn weather will be here. Someday.

 

 

Memorial Day 2015: A Memorial Close to Home

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This Memorial Day 2015 morning, I set out for a walk in our Avondale neighborhood seeking exercise and inspiration.

I got both.

My hour stroll along quiet, empty streets took me north along Milwaukee Avenue north past Diversey Avenue, where I could observe first hand the changes taking place in our little corner of Chicago.

The next time you're in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

The next time you’re in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Some old storefronts, once home to mom-and-pop shops, were getting a facelift and new businesses were opening up. Old frame structures on the side streets were replaced by modern homes, adding a new dimension to some blocks.  Improvements — or call it gentrification — was happening beyond the Logan Square apex.

Then I got to St. Hyacinth Basilica and found the inspiration for this post.

There, in a small garden, next to a statue to commemorate Pope John Paul II, was a memorial to men of the then predominantly Polish parish who died and served in World War I. The handsome stone marker was dedicated in 1924, four years after the war ended.

There were 499 men from the parish who enlisted and were sent to Europe — the place where they or certainly their ancestors were born — to fight in the “war to end all wars.” Twelve of the men — 11 with Polish surnames and one Italian (I think) — did not make it home.

The memorial to men from the parish who served -- and died -- in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

The memorial to men from the parish who served — and died — in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

(Unfortunately, of course, we’ve not found a way to end all wars.)

I sat in the garden for a while and read the names of the men who died on the battlefield and the inscriptions. Their sacrifice allowed their families to continue to live in America in peace and build lives here.

What I realized this Memorial Day is that there probably are thousands of small memorials, like the one at St. Hyacinth’s,  to those servicemen and women who died in places far from their homes.

What I hope is this: That along with the large, public ceremonies that will take place in America on Memorial Day 2015, that someone visits the smaller places, too.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired, just like I was earlier today.

* * *

Want more Memorial Day inspiration from The PRDude? Please read this 2013 post.

Is the “Greening” of Avondale a Good Thing?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The images that accompany this post are fairly explicit, yet there’s something beneath the surface. They show what once was a modest home under significant renovation, actually a gut rehab.

Whipple two

The homes that flank the one under rehab also were ungraded in the past few years.

In fact, as depicted, the contractors working on this home have literally raised the roof. The dumpster shown is one of perhaps five dumpsters workers have filled with debris removed from this century-old structure the past four months.

Whipple three

Hope they get the roof installed before it rains. We are in April.

Located just a few doors north of our modest home in Chicago’s suddenly hip Avondale neighborhood, this home once was owned by an elderly women; then it sat vacant for a few years.  For the past two or so years, and man and his family lived there.

Now, it’s undergoing renovation that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.  A neighbor estimated the home will be put on the market for around $650,000.  And, I think he’s right.

Whipple One

Ah, the sign of progress: A dumpster.

On the surface, this project is a good thing for the neighborhood, a good thing for Chicago and a good thing for me.  Rehab projects preserve the character of the neighborhood and contribute to the housing stock. The city gets another property back on the tax rolls — at assuredly a higher valuation than before the work was done.  And, the value of our home most certainly will rise.

But I wonder if examples of this type of “greening” or rebirth — okay, call it “gentrification” –is changing our corner of Chicago entirely for the better. Is Avondale now a “destination?” Or will it remain a neighborhood?

Yes, the neighborhood is safer, quieter and cleaner than it was when we moved here 15 years ago. New merchants are opening businesses nearby, escaping the higher rents in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and West Town — where I lived for the first 19 years of my life. Yes, there’s a growing sense of community here.

Still, I don’t envision the future owners of this home-down-the-block staying in Avondale for the next 15 years.  Perhaps it’s how society is changing, but to me many people today use a place for what it’s worth, then move on.

Perhaps I’m wrong.

I do look forward to meeting the people who will move into this home-down-the-block. I hope they’ll cherish the home, perhaps as much as the elderly woman who lived there for many years.

 

Fixies, Tats and Fedoras: In Search of Hipsters, Part 2

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Last time, we reported on primary research conducted to better define the urban creature known as The Hipster.

In this post, The PRDude offers followers insight as to where to find Hipsters in his rapidly gentrifying Avondale neighborhood and surrounding communities like Logan Square, and what’s perhaps the epicenter of hipsterism — Wicker Park/Bucktown.

Not sure, but there’s probably an app — or someone is developing one right now — that will let users identify venues of hipsterism in major metro markets around the nation.  Or, just do it the old-fashioned way and search for Chicago “hipsters” on Foursquare.

Otherwise, if hipster hunting, here are three sure-fire places you’ll fine them:

Longman & Eagle, perhaps the most "hipster" of hipster eateries. Yes, those are fixies parked in front.

Longman & Eagle, perhaps the most “hipster” of hipster eateries. Yes, those are fixies parked in front.

Eateries. Yes, most people call them “restaurants.”  But some how, “eateries” has more hipster panache.  Look for eateries with single-syllable names, especially those that have nothing even remotely related to food.  Establishments with ampersands in the name are common hipster gathering spots, and a telltale trait is the line to get a table.  As far as type of cuisine, hipsters are not very choosy: As long as the food costs more than it should and bone marrow — in several forms — is on the menu.

Craft Cocktail Lounges. The companion to hipster restaurants,

This may look like any upscale tavern; but this is the interior of Billy Sunday, a certified hipster craft cocktail lounge.

This may look like any upscale tavern; but this is the interior of Billy Sunday, a certified hipster craft cocktail lounge.

craft cocktail lounges (don’t call them “bars” or “taverns”) serve cocktails that truly are out of the ordinary.  Ingredients along the back bar include Sac’Resine, Blackstrap Rhubarb Bitters, Milanese Fernet and other stuff only a handful of people on earth truly can comprehend.  You’ll know you’re in an authentic hipster craft bar — I mean lounge — if the bartender — I mean mixologist — is bearded, has sleeve tats on both arms and wears a vest; and if your cocktail averages $15.

Milwaukee Avenue. Known by some as “The Hipster Highway,” this diagonal arterial thoroughfare has evolved (or devolved) into a linear microcosm of hipster culture.  One will find the requisite eateries and craft cocktail lounges on or near this North Side street, and there’s always a perennial parade of hipsters on fixies out for adventure. I’ve observed several shops that sell fedoras.

No self-respecting hipster would be caught dead or alive in a K-Mart.

No self-respecting hipster would be caught dead or alive in a K-Mart.

And, from another perspective, here are three places where you probably won’t find Chicago-area hipsters.

  • Schaumburg. Would be hard to ride a fixie on a busy four-lane highway like Golf Road.
  • K-Mart.  It’s possible this national retailer sells hipster staples, including fedoras. But I think the Blue Light Special might be a turnoff.
  • McDonald’s. Yes, there often lines at the world’s largest restaurant, but they move quickly in most cases. Plus hipsters deplore dollar menu items.

This tongue-in-cheek commentary was meant to amuse, as I have no qualms with hipsters. Like other preconceived demographic groups — hippies, preppies, yuppies for instance — they probably don’t exist.

Besides, I’ve never heard of anyone defining themselves as a hipster. Have you?

 

Fixies, Tats and Fedoras: In Search of Hipsters, Part 1

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As all strategic public relations professionals know, conducting research drives communications plans. Primary research, or the studies you conduct yourself — can and should — offer insight needed to craft a plan that helps realize realistic goals and produce measurable objectives.

For the past several months, The PRDude has been conducting primary Hipster man and womanresearch of sorts into a unique sub-species of human: The urban hipster.

The purpose, of course, is to craft a plan to build greater awareness for and acceptance of hipsters and hipsterism in and around my humble Chicago neighborhood of Avondale and its sister ‘hood, Logan Square.

After extensive study, actually just looking around at people, I’ve identified these three key hipster traits:

1. Fixies. Or, to be precise, a fixed-gear bicycle.  Every self-respecting hipster rides a fixed gear bike, or some derivation thereof.  Breaks, gears and comfort are for nerds. Accoutrements include a stylish messenger bag and helmet color-coordinated to the bike.  Alternatives to the fixie: An Uber or Lyft app on the iPhone 6, Divvy membership and unlimited ride Ventra card.

Hipsters2. Tats. Self-explanatory, but with some provisions.  Hipsters opt for more subtle placement of ink on their bodies, although I’ve witnessed some with a full sleeve.  And never will a hipster let the tattoo artist work on hands or neck; that can hurt, I’ve been told.  As for designs, most prefer stars or other celestial objects and Japanese or Sanskrit messages that translate to phrases like “love, truth and identity.”

3. Fedoras. Every self-respecting hipster dons a fedora at some point during the week, especially when off to dine at restaurants that charge $13 for a bowl of soup and feature entrees made with lots of bone marrow (whatever that is). Why a hat my father once wore has become the de rigueur hipster dress accessory today remains a mystery.  Perhaps a fedora helps hide a premature bald spot better than a baseball cap.

Now kind readers, let me know if my casual research is on target with identifying today’s hipster.  And, watch for Part 2, where I point out some places in the neighborhood where hipsters are known to congregate.

How do I know where to look?  Fixies, tats and fedoras will show me the way.

* * *

Want more on Avondale and Logan Square?  Here are some other posts to consider.