Ergo Sum

January 22, 2011

Look, I am not claiming supernatural powers.

Its just that stuff happens.  It follows me around. And with no one else stepping forward to claim credit, I figure – why the heck not me.

For instance,  my ever changing, adopted Sweet Home Chicago was recently crowned the Traffic Congestion King of America.


And who do you think was responsible?

When I lived in LA – the world renowned gridlock was both a daily excuse and a badge of honor.  I used to work on the Paramount Lot in Hollywood for the Walt Disney Company (another story for another day) – and live in the Valley. I tell people I would commute to work via the 405 to the 101 and never remember actually stepping on the gas pedal. I simply lifted my foot off the brake. I almost got into a fistfight with a particularly aggressive commuter once because she (I would never hit a guy) after almost crashing into her as she tried to merge onto the Hollywood Freeway at .5 mph because neither of us backed down.

And when I moved to Chicago all my LA friends used to say, well, at least the traffic isn’t as bad.

Oh no???? Well I moved here, and now it is. Actually, it’s worse. So there.

What else am I claiming credit for – in addition to driving, owning a car and thus helping make Chicago King of Something again.

Trader Joe’s moving out of California to follow me here.  My wife used to tell me she could live anywhere if I could conjure up a Trader Joe’s nearby. Two years after we moved to the Midwest.  Voila.

Then Barnes and Noble followed me here from New York City.  You might have to look quickly for this one (as internet taxation policies, or lack thereof, threaten bricks and mortar enterprises and this phenomenon may be short lived) … but back in the day, when I was at the High School of Music and Art in NYC, I used to love going to Barnes and Noble.  The only Barnes and Noble.  The one on Broadway and 18th Street.  With its floors of books… used and new.  I always wanted to live within walking distance of that book store.  And, lo and behold. Here in Illinois, at least for now,  I have a shopping mall clone.

Another New Yorker who relocated next to me… is Abercrombie and Fitch – surviving and flourishing  in this day and age.  When my dad took me to the original store on Madison Avenue, we used to look in awe at the stuff the folk from Park Avenue and 5th Avenue used to buy to be properly outfitted on Safari.  We couldn’t believe how much that nonsense sold for. I know the brand has been re-invented to and sells stuff using  barely clothed teens and pre-teens and the strategy seems to be working. Now I don’t dare go in their with my daughter, for fear she will see some of those half naked kids modeling clothes.  I certainly won’t go in there looking for an elephant gun.

Or Macy’s, the huge emporium on Herald Square – where I once applied for a part-time job in the hopes of earning the right to be a balloon wrangler during the parade – and has since bought its way onto State Street.

How about LL Bean.  In the early 70’s I spent a year at Bowdoin College up in Maine, before I realized attending an all-girl (oops, I mean woman) artsy college much more like my high school,  held more promise for my studies than an all male tradition bound college. At least socially.  Not much in the way of nightlife in rural Maine in those days.  So we used to, no kidding, drive the 20 miles to Freeport in the middle of the night and shop at this crazy barn of a store that was open 24 hours to outfit the sportsman coming up to Maine from southern New England.  It also was the volunteer fire department headquarters.  And they sold something (and still do) called Maine Hunting Shoes. It was their signature product.  Ugly as sin, but practical.  I once bought a custom made pair on deep discount that was never picked up by the customer who ordered, that was about knee high. I never had the cahones to wear them, as I never went hunting… but they sat in my closet for many years.  I never would have imagined that there would be an LL Bean 2o miles from my house in the Midwest, though there is.

How about Nordstroms that Seattle Icon – which followed me to Fairbanks. And if you think I wasn’t happy to find a store of that caliber there, you would be sadly mistaken, even if it was an outlet store. Not because I shopped there so much, but just so I could FEEL connected to the greater fabric of America by having something of that stature in the hood. B/T/W Nordstroms has spread also all over the Windy City.

Or Eddie Bauer – the outdoors outfitter in Seattle that sold me the coat I wore to Fairbanks to keep me warm during the years I spent up there… it’s planted its flag on Michigan Avenue.

Or REI the tiny mountain climbing cooperative from Seattle that followed me to Southern California and then Illinois.

Ergo Sum.

I was old enough and fortuitous to have experienced this kind of shopping in the stores and places where the experiences/brands originated. The regional/local stuff. The stuff that wasn’t homogenized and blended, automated and coordinated.It became iconic because it was iconic.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like being able to buy electronics from China directly for less than the cost of shipping it here. And maybe the only way for retailers to fight the uneven playing field is to offer less to everyone. But something is lost.

And for me, the best surprise really isn’t no surprise!

That’s why I am heading up right now up to the Brat Stop this weekend to watch the Bears play the Packers – I want to experience the original before it expands again and there is one on every corner.

Truth be told, it’s still a couple of days before the game.  But I need to leave now if I want to beat the traffic.



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