Chicago: The 2nd Coming

There really is a lot I could say that would dispel the Chicago that the outside world likes to think they know about, but I already did that with my first Chicago piece when I visited in 2014. This time around, I was there for a different purpose, thus came a different experience which opened me up to another side of Chicago that I didn’t get to experience the first time around. First of all, it took me longer than I thought to even make the trip possible, because I’m one who just likes to overthink and that tends to drag on, and then eventually time gets wasted, then I get fed up with myself, then anger sets in, then I just act impulsively to get it out of the way. For someone who seems to be a pretty organized person, I work spontaneously when it comes to doing a lot of things. There are pros & cons about that, but I won’t change that characteristic about myself. Not ever.

The difficult thing about my birthday is that I haven’t cared much about what to do for it since I was a teenager, because 1. It’s in the summer, 2. I usually worked on my birthday since I turned 17, and 3. I never really had those friends who were down to do something even if it was anything. I probably only had a handful of birthday parties, but I do remember going to places like Centre Island (in Toronto) or Ontario Place (no longer a thing) when I was kid, and those were fun times. But as I grew older, working was the only thing I really cared about, and since my friendships were ‘interesting’ to say the least, it didn’t really phase me on what I did, and that was still the case as a 25-to-be-26-year-old man, that I am. I thought it would be a good idea to get out of Toronto and celebrate my birthday in another country. What first came to mind was Italy, because it was somewhere that I always wanted to go, and because a friend of mine (Ellen) went by herself, and my best friend (Mirna) is the most travel versed of anyone I know, I figured ‘yeah, I can go away to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language for an entire week.’ I mean things change when you’re a Black man in this world, and you don’t know what to expect, especially when going by yourself. Mirna had planned out 2 separate excursions (pricey as hell, because my birthday just has to be in high travel season) and I thought them over. I talked to my Mom, and she made a good point that if I was going to go to Europe, that my first time should (ideally) be with someone who has been before, because I don’t want to fall victim to things that could easily happen to first time travellers. And that’s a fair statement. I mean, unless something comes up in life that I have to go there alone, I think on short notice, Italy wasn’t going to be the ideal getaway trip that would have been relaxing.

My other option was going to Chicago for their annual Pitchfork Festival (this would be the 10th year), and there were some artists that I listen to in which I would have liked to see perform live, even though I saw some of them live in Toronto (Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper, and Freddie Gibbs I saw up here). Vince Staples has a great album out this year, and I missed him in Toronto, so I thought that’d be great to check out, plus as usual, I’m always open to listening to new acts and discovering new music not only for the sake of writing about it, but to listen to it. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? I thought that weekend made sense because I loved it in 2014 when I went with Mirna, and although my birthday was on the Monday (July 20th), and the festival ran from the 17-19 (Friday to Sunday) it gave me an excuse to stay an extra day just to celebrate it and do whatever comes to mind. I waited, waited, and waited some more, and that was stupid of me because I ended up missing out n grabbing $65 tickets for Saturday & Sunday (I would be flying in Friday) so I had to pay extra on Stubhub (minor loss). But with all that out of the way, it was decided that I was going to Chicago. So I let the people know, went through the stressful task of getting the trip set up, and I was off to spend my 26th birthday in the United States of America. It was on like Donkey Kong.

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Now, I’ve become more used to flying at this point, although I still get nerves before take off and I still hate the process of landings, because they’re never smooth. However, the flight over on Friday afternoon was great and everything went particularly smooth. It’s a relatively short flight, and a 1-hour time difference, so all was well. I was a bit of a way out from the Airport as compared to last year, but the convenience of there being a subway (they call it the ‘L’ for ‘Elevated Train’) from the Airport to Downtown wasn’t a problem for me. I had to transfer lines anyways. I would be staying in the Pilsen neighbourhood, which is 10 minutes from downtown (3 Subway stops on the Pink Line) and features a very heavy Mexican presence.

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When I got off the train, obviously I was trying to figure out my way (thank you Google maps), but I figured I’d ask some locals hanging out, about which way to go. Chicagoans, much like a lot of Midwesterners, are very welcoming and love to have you in their city if they know you’re from out of town. They are genuinely friendly people, and I really haven’t experienced any hostility from them during my 2 stays. I walked a short distance towards the house I’d be staying at, and I would right across from Harrison Park, which was swarmed with children and basketball courts with people playing around, and it definitely reminded me of my days living in Scarborough (before things went awry). I passed by a pair of shoes hanging off an overhead cable line, a couple of graffiti murals, and even a vigil that was filled with candles, but weren’t lit. There were a lot of signs to me that I could be in a relatively rough neighbourhood, but it really didn’t faze me. It was all perception until something went down, so I thought nothing of it.

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I was staying at a 3-storey home on the 2nd floor, in a small space called the Boho Room, but the first thing I thought of when I saw the house was that it was very artful, as you could look on any wall of the place and saw art either painted on the wall or hung from it.

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It was pretty neat, considering that one of the owners (Lorie) had painted pretty much all of the work. There was a lot a of artwork in my room in particular, again on every wall you could see, and there were also quotes from different figures ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and Frank Lloyd Wright, to name a few. I had to take them in because at this stage in my life and growing more into the man I aim to become, certain messages resonate with you for a reason.

After a quick nap (because really, I was exhausted), I planned to meet up with my boy, Chicago native and great tour guide, Pierce (whom I’d finally met in person the year prior). There was really not set time in terms of doing specific things, but food was the objective, period. He too, like myself, likes to move with spontaneity, so as we headed downtown and walked around, it was just a process of walking around and seeing what we could find. His first suggestion is that we try to get Giordano’s, which is very well-known for their deep dish pizza. Last year he brought me to Lou Malnati’s, so why not follow up with Gio’s? Well, I didn’t know this, but along with Pitchfork Festival, Taylor Swift was also in town, plus it’s summer, which means tourists aplenty. You see where I’m going with this? Giordano’s was packed when we got there, so there was no chance we were going in. The next suggestion (which was actually an early suggestion) was to head down to Quartino Ristorante, which is exactly what you think it is – Italian food. I was all the way down for that, so we get there, it’s busy, but we got seating and we got to eat. Gnocchi with Pesto was my choice and the bread was amazing, so there was really no wrong that could have been done for dinner. It was pleasant and I was satisfied.

Something quick and easy was to our delight and it was really a warm welcome back into the Windy City (which surprisingly wasn’t all that Windy on Friday). As for the evening, I really had no plans, but through talking to Erik Flowchild, a rapper based in Toronto, he had a show in Chicago, conveniently enough, and I thought it would be a great idea to head out into town to check him out and see what was happening in the Chicago scene, which seems to just continuing to grow, although I discovered that they too have their politics like Toronto does (to some extent). That was my focus of the night, until I got a text message from Lorie saying that she was putting on an event in the backyard of the house, calling for everyone to come out and chill out. I figured that I should have for some reasons: it was free, I didn’t have to go anywhere but downstairs, and it could be a great chance to meet people who lived there and overall just more locals in the city.

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BE.water
Mance Raiders
Mance Raiders

Just like that, I decided to stay and kick it with the people. One of my main struggles when it comes to Canadians at times is that they don’t have a lot of passion for sports the way I do. As I was walking down towards the lower level, I overheard people talking about football and my eyes just lit up, because that was my in to conversation. There’s really nothing that brings people together like sports & music, I truly believe that. After getting the names exchanged throughout, everything was just really chill, and out of nowhere, a loud bang went off, and no one seemed phased. One guy (Cory) said simply “Welcome to Chicago,” which I thought would have implied that it was a gunshot that went off, but they were firecrackers that were being lit down the street. They would be frequent throughout the night, and it really just cast a cool background as darkness fell deeper into the late hours of the night. There was a great assortment of singing, live instrumentation and rapping (met a group called The Terra Godz that will come up later in this piece). It was entertaining, and there was even a spirited conversation with some really laid-back people that I’d met. It was definitely a great first day, and considering that I had been awake since 7am (Eastern) that morning, I was surprised that I stayed awake to see all of it. But the main events were about to take place, so I had to rest up to get it going for my Day 1 (but Day 2) of Pitchfork Fest.

Union Park has been around since 1853, making it older than Canada itself (sheesh), and it was the playground for the Festival for which I came for. I decided to get there early because I didn’t know how the line-up would fare. It wasn’t bad at all, and I got in relatively quickly. I have a paranoia about bringing my DSLR camera, because so many places won’t let you in with a detachable camera unless you’re media, and I wasn’t. Thankfully my phone (Galaxy S6) has a more-than-just-decent camera for me to take photos. I walked around a bit and checked out what was happening, because it’s not just all music. There were food tents & trucks, drink tents, even two big areas that occupied a Tennis court that housed merchandise, and just outside of those were other merchant tents and artwork.

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Union Park
Union Park

There were a whole lot of things happening, and I was just casually browsing. Really I was thinking of what to buy for my sister, since she was a little upset that I was going without her, so I thought about what I could bring back. I didn’t see a whole lot that held any interest, but the day was young and something could pop up. I was there for about an hour before Jimmy Whispers (native of Chicago) graced the Green stage to open up Saturday. Now he was a bit different, I wouldn’t know the exact words to describe his music per se, but he definitely made songs that were more so on the depressing side but projected them with a lighthearted tune. He ran the instrumentals for the first 3 songs off of his iPhone or iPod (I couldn’t see from my side of the stage), until he had a band of his friends (also Chicago based) that joined him and played a couple of songs. One that stood out was called (I believe) Only In America, and he had a nice message prior to singing it. America is a country that is full of their problems, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the people still love living there (depending on which type of Americans you speak to). Their pride is what keeps them moving forward, and that’s really the essence of being an American. Call it what you will, but they are very passionate about their country. Jimmy’s set was a cool opener, nothing astounding, but it was nice enough to bop my head along for a few songs.

Jimmy Whispers
Jimmy Whispers

The purpose of these festivals (like Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, etc.) is to showcase not just Hip Hop, which is what I primarily listen to, but genres all over. Rock & Roll is still very much so a very overall American genre, so there would definitely be plenty of that, as well as electronic and whatever else Pitchfork Media covers on their site that displays their musical diversity. Music that I don’t listen to often doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed. I made my way across the park to the Blue Stage where a rock band named Bully would be performing, but I stopped and got some American poutine and I wanted to see how it stacked up against the Canadian version, which is the greater of the 2. Needless to say, Canadians are still victorious in that category. The first thing that struck me about Bully was the lead singer, Alicia Bognanno. Her voice was dominant, and for it to come from such a small figure, that was the more impressive thing about it. I don’t listen to Rock voluntarily out of the generosity of my own ears, but it was really a set that I enjoyed from start to finish because they had great songs, and as much as the screaming may have been a constant, it wasn’t obnoxious to the point where I was cringing within. I was actually enjoying it. They hail from Tennessee, Rock & Roll Capital of the World, so it doesn’t surprise me that they sounded as good as they did live. I’m going to check out their album, Feels Like, a spin (Trying is a great song).

Bully
Bully

No lie, it was hot as Hades in Chicago that day, but I was perfectly okay with it. I had my water, and I hat, so everything was all good. My skin felt great being exposed to the sunlight. The forecast didn’t call for any rain, though it did for Sunday (I bought a poncho on Friday to be safe), but as I made my way back to the Green stage for Future Brown’s set (he’s a DJ), it started to get a little cloudy, but I figured that was just something that would be passing by (or so I thought). Accompanying Future Brown on stage were some local rappers that I had no idea who they were, but the records that were spinning featured the likes of Chicago artists mixed in with some of the popular songs that were out and got the crowd energized (there wasn’t a huge presence, but they were still there).

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To hear Drill music while being in Chicago holds a different meaning and is really a different experience, so I felt that, but the entire time with about 5 dudes on stage each with microphones in hand telling the crowd to turn up, the clouds got greyer, thicker, and then all of a sudden the rain started to fall. And fall. And fall some more. Then there were thunder and lightning, and the rain decided to fall a little harder. This reminded me of what happened at Soundset in 2012 when there was a tornado warning in Minnesota during Lupe Fiasco’s set that ended the festival earlier than it was supposed to. I thought that would be the same case here, but the show continued after the rain appeared to chill out a bit. I was making it over to the Blue stage, and we were told that Vince Staples was being held up by plane issues in Detroit, so he would definitely be late for his performance. Then out of nowhere, the lightning returned, the thunder followed, and the rain poured down. Over the loudspeaker, an announcement was made that Pitchfork was closing down the festival, and this was when I’d been keeping in contact with Pierce, who was getting a haircut before he came to the festival to see A$AP Ferg. Immediately after the announcement was made, a lot of vocal displeasure ensued and a loud crashing thunder sparked a fury of rain that descended at an angry rate. I figured to run, then I retreated back under shelter, then I just said ‘fuck it’ and I ran wherever I could to the train station (which thankfully wasn’t far). My clothes & shoes were soaked from head to toe, and I’m grateful that I only needed to go 2 subway stops west back to the house so I could change and contemplate what I would do for the rest of the day, since the festival was cut short. Or so I thought. Pierce told me that Pitchfork tweeted out that they were reopening the park at 4:20pm, and by the time I got back, it was around 4:45. My Chucks were soaked, so there was no way I was going to keep wearing them, and then my clothes were drenched. I didn’t have a lot of options, and I was already annoyed with having to be all wet and gross, so I dried off, changed up, and headed right back to the festival, where they were letting people back in who were already in previously. My mood had already gone down to a level where I just didn’t care for much in the world at that point, because everything had been thrown off, and I was even more annoyed because I bought a poncho the day before and didn’t bring it because it wasn’t supposed to rain. Life happens. I was more so just waiting for A$AP Ferg to take the stage, because I’d never seen him perform live, and the last time I actually saw him in person was when I interviewed him in 2013. There were songs I knew he would perform, and I figured the crowd to be hype (and full of annoying teenagers) that would make for a most very interesting experience. Hopefully it would lighten my mood a bit, but I didn’t see it happening. His performance was pretty good. I mean, I was one of the only people in my area who knew the words to practically everything, but that wasn’t new to me. He performed tracks from his album (Trap Lord) and his recent mixtape (Ferg Forever) that were nothing but energetic for the duration of the set, although the audio from the stage was piss poor.

Ferg
Ferg

Dump Dump, Work (including the Remix), Let It Go, Shabba, Murda Something, Fuck Out My Face, Fergsomnia, and JA Rule were the notable songs that he performed, and also his verse from Hella Hoes, which I was most looking forward to. It was a good time, and even from tree climbers to my right provided extra entertainment, but my mood was still ‘meh’, because the ground was muddy and I was pretty much over Saturday until I saw Vic Mensa in a couple of hours. Pierce came through after Ferg’s performance as I checked out The New Pornographers. We headed back to the Blue stage to check out Shamir, and it was straight up a dance party in that place. It was funky and I was digging his music (although for the whole time, I thought he was a girl because of the voice and flamboyance). The dance music is also a genre that doesn’t particularly visit me often, but it served its purpose in finally lightening up my mood and enjoying the scenery of people enjoying themselves (including beautiful women). After Shamir, I headed over to the Red stage to see what Future Islands was all about. I gave them about 2 and a half songs and then I was out. The lead singer was getting on my nerves, and the music just wasn’t hitting it for me, so I was just chilling with Pierce at the Blue stage where we would spend the rest of the day as Towkio from the SAVEMONEY crew was replacing Sophie, and would serve as the opener for Vic Mensa. All was right in the world, and we even met some cool people in the process. I knew nothing about the other members of SAVEMONEY outside of Chance & Vic, but Towkio certainly held a similar characteristic that made me like the other two. Heaven Only Knows is the standout track that had the crowd in frenzy, so off that alone, I might give him a spin or two. The likeliness of going over to the Green stage for Sleater-Kinney was very unlikely, and I was fine with that. A lot has been made of Vic Mensa, with people saying that his quality of music had fallen off since being signed to Roc Nation because of songs like U Mad, Down On My Luck, and Feel That not being to the standard that INNANETAPE provided prior, and I understand, but that certainly doesn’t take away the fact that an artist still explores their different avenues which appeal to different people. All 3 of the songs listed work within their own rights, and U Mad certainly was the song that created the most energy during his set, but it wasn’t the only stand out. He performed the likes of his verse from Chance the Rapper’s Cocoa Butter Kisses, his own tracks like: Orange Soda (along with the 3 tracks I mentioned), and even new tracks like No Chill which features Skrillex.

Vic
Vic Mensa

One of the more impressive moments came when he performed a cover of Future’s Codeine Crazy, which he also added some other bars of his own to switch the style up to make it his own. The performance felt short, but it was definitely an enjoyable experience despite what had happened during the day at that point.

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Afterwards, Pierce and I headed back to my spot and we chilled for a bit with another housemate, Jon, who was in from Kentucky. We talked college basketball and what not, and that was cool. One of the guys I’d met from the Terra Godz on Friday night, I connected with and they were having an event in the Northwest side of town on Milwaukee Avenue. It was still early in the night, and I wasn’t quite ready yet to turn in, because I knew I wouldn’t be going early into Pitchfork on Sunday like I did today. He texted me the address, and after much delay, Pierce and I took an Uber over ($11 by the way) to a pretty busy bar filled district that was buzzing. We found the building, but it looked abandoned until a man opened the door and told us that this was the place we were looking for. It was pretty trippy, but after climbing a few flights of stairs, we were exposed to the live music, mixed with an open art space where spray painting was happening, drinks were being served, and immediately the vibe was really chilled. It was free too, so there was the added bonus. The Terra Godz were about to perform just as we arrived, so it was all blessed. BE.water & Vagabond Maurice were two of the members that I was formally introduced to, but the bulk of the group (Muten Black) has flat out bars with energy that certainly filled the whole room (Maurice’s album The Dragon Who Devoured The Moon is a good one).

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What I like about them is that they’re genuinely themselves. Admitted anime nerds who just simply love to rap, and they have fun with it. That’s the first thing that brought me to liking them, and they generally have fun. It’s funny that Maurice was in Toronto for our North By Northeast festival but we connected in Chicago. Life is weird. We stayed there until about 2am, when people were slowly starting to file out, but there was a great vibe that neither I or Pierce had really been exposed to, and given that it was just a low-key event, that made it that much more rewarding. We walked around for a bit to see if there would be food available or whatever we would encounter. We stepped into a bar that was also an arcade, called Emporium. Only 25 cents to play a majority of the games, but there definitely wasn’t any time to be playing anything. We walked back to Ashland & Milwaukee where we caught the bus back and planned for Sunday. Sleep awaited as it was a long ass day.

Sunday was the last day of the festival, so hopefully it wouldn’t be discombobulated like Saturday proved to be with that freak Thunderstorm interrupting the day a bit. I brought my poncho just in case because it really was supposed to rain that day. Pierce brought over Mexican food to eat from Taqueria El Mezquite. It was probably one of the best burritos I’ve ever had, possibly because it’s authentic Mexican food that left me full beyond belief. We figured that it would have been better to roll into Union Park later than earlier just to see who we had to see, and on deck would be Freddie Gibbs, Jamie xx, Run The Jewels & Chance the Rapper to close out the festival. The line up was crazier than last year, as one of the lines snaked around the block from the train station, but there was no way that we were waiting in that line especially if there were openings further up towards the entrance. That figured to be the smart idea since there were about 6 or 7 other lines that were letting people in, and we got through in 5 minutes. Simple as that. It was another scorcher, and one of the constants that we spotted throughout the festival was the amount of throwback basketball jerseys that were in attendance. Pierce wore his Kevin Garnett Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wore my custom Toronto Raptors.

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We spotted the likes of legends like Clyde Drexler, Allen Iverson, and someone even brought out a Bel Air Academy Carlton Banks jersey (we even made it onto a Buzzfeed article, believe it or not). It was a good way to pass time, but when Freddie Gibbs & Madlib took the stage, the crowd lit up and it would prove to be a good start to our Sunday as Freddie took his lyrical abilities through Madlib freestyling on the beat machine and Freddie jumping from song to song almost seamlessly at times. Him being drunk also provided entertainment as he brought out his Brother & Sister on stage to honour them as he emphasized the authenticity of his lyrics when he talks about his own life. Running through most of their Piñata album with Thuggin, Deeper, Harold’s, High, Shitsville and Knicks, he also dove into his previous tracks like Rob Me a Nigga, Have You Seen Her, Kush Cloud, BFK, and Still Livin’. He also performed Pronto from his latest EP of the same title. It was pretty complete set although he came back for 3 encores to the request of Madlib who didn’t feel like leaving the stage, which was great. You could really see the love and appreciation that they had for each other as it was a different chemistry for the both of them to adjust to during the process of creating their album. It certainly helped Freddie’s career progress.

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There was a lot of walking around and chillin on Sunday because there weren’t a whole lot of acts that we were really looking forward to, and in the back of my mind I was anticipating rain again, but it didn’t look like it was coming. Me forgetting my belt in Canada was taking a toll on my shorts (skinny waist problems). During Jamie xx (of The xx group), I was approached by a dude named Moe who spotted me because of my Toronto YYZ hat and he was wearing a Raptors shirt. Turns out that he’s a Toronto native that moved to Chicago a few months ago and has been there for work. It certainly gave me hope that I too could likely be a resident of the city at some point. We talked about which neighbourhoods we came from and shared that Canadian connection moment, so it was all gravy from there. It’s funny, of all the Canadians that I saw at the festival, he was the first one to actually strike up a conversation (it also helps that he’s Black, but that’s not important). We sat to rest the legs during Caribou’s set and that was funky too like Jamie’s. The two stepping and head bopping were in full effect; Jamie randomly has a song with Young Thug & Popcaan and it’s actually fire, especially when he played the original sample (The Persuasions – Good Times) leading into the song itself.

All this for Jamie
All this for Jamie

The main focus was Chance the Rapper and getting a decent spot to see him. I’m not a fan of Run the Jewels (their sound just does nothing for me), so the focus was more about Chance as Pierce and I mutually agreed. I got my very first authentic Chicago style hot dog (no ketchup – that’s a sin in Chicago).

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It was very refreshing, and given that I don’t like onions a whole lot, it was delicious, no lie. After that, we decided to just post up at the Green stage and wait for Chance.

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We befriended many once again (Chicagoans are hilariously sarcastic) and the ground was muddy, which meant that shoes were going to be destroyed. A shame. After what seemed to be a wait forever with Run The Jewels doing their set, Chance came out on time at 8:30 and with The Social Experiment & Donnie Trumpet accompanying him throughout the set, it was energetic, entertaining, and certainly one of the best shows I’ve been to, considering that it was in Chance’s hometown, which meant that much more. This would be the 3rd time that I’d seen him, but this was definitely the best of the 3 (not meaning that the 2 prior weren’t bad). The progression of Chance as an artist has shot up, and since Acid Rap, what he took to the other level with Surf was unexpected, but he deemed this as the last show in his current state of mind & body as he’s aiming to transition to a next level of artistry. Great self-awareness. He ran through a host of tracks from 10 Day & Acid Rap, shouted out his mother, and even brought out Kirk Franklin of all people to join him. It was nuts. I felt the Holy Spirit rush through (well for those who knew who he was, which was practically every Black person in attendance). 14,400 Minutes, Brain Cells, Hey Ma, Everything’s Good/Good Ass Intro, Pusha Man, Cocoa Butter Kisses, Juice, Everybody’s Something, Favorite Song, Acid Rain, Chain Smoker, Sunday Candy, Miracle, Slip Slide, Wanna Be Cool, a solo trumpet performance by Donnie for Just Wait, and Kirk Franklin performing Brighter Day and Looking For You were what made the whole set lively and memorable for a long time coming. I almost regret not buying merchandise from the festival, but being there was enough (and I did get more than a few photos on my phone). There were no plans to do anything for the night as I was completely too tired to try to go anywhere at the end of the show. It was just an overall great experience at the festival (yes, including Saturday) and as my birthday was approaching the plan for Monday was truly up in the air. I thought about going to either the Field Museum in the South Side by Soldier Field, or the Art Institute of Chicago which was recently voted the number 1 museum in the world, which was crazy in itself. As the flurry of birthday messages started pouring in, I got a call from Mirna and she sent me a voucher for a sailing trip along Lake Michigan for the Chicago skyline, which Pierce had been keeping a secret until that point. Stunned is not even the word for what I was feeling, but I was definitely looking forward to it. I don’t usually do a whole lot for my birthday (as I mentioned in the first page) but this was going to be something.

26 was already starting off well when I woke up. It was sunny, it was pleasant, and really I was relaxed while checking messages, sending texts (running up my phone bill in the process) and just enjoying the yearly showering of appreciation from family and friends. It’s all love. I decided to head over to Mezquite as soon as I decided to roll out of bed, to get a big ass breakfast. 2 eggs & sausage with all of the fixings, plus a big glass of OJ was quite the start to the day (just over 10 dollars too).

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I headed downtown and before I got on the train, I ran out of money on my Ventra (like NYC’s Metrocard or the GTA’s Presto), so I had to throw some money on there, which left me at around $40. I kind of didn’t feel like spending a whole lot more money, because I might have needed the cash at some point, so that kind of threw me off with regards to wanting to pay $25 for the museum (I’m odd like that). By the time I got down to Wabash & Lake, I didn’t feel the urge to stand in a long ass line to get into the museum, so I just walked around Grant Park, took some pictures, grabbed ice cream, did some more walking, and really just took in the scenery as I thought about where I was at in my life and just how grateful I was to see a 26th year of life and hopeful that I can continue to progress and make something significant out of my life.

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I’m really that enclosed when it comes to my birthday because it’s more so for reflection rather than abundant celebration. After doing a bunch of walking, I found myself at Millennium Park in front of Cloud Atlas once again (aka The Bean), and that’s where I did the bulk of my thoughts. It was really an emotional thing happening (not on the brink of crying) and I just wanted to take some time to collect my thoughts and just observe everything around me (that’s how the Thoughts In Millennium Park piece came about). Pierce and I met up around 5 and we walked over to Navy Pier where we would be going on our trip provided by Mirna, brought by Tall Ship Windy.

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We're on a boat!
We’re on a boat!

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There was some cloud cover, but not really any threats of rain. It was a bit cheesy with the whole Pirate theme, which was geared more so towards the children, but that still didn’t take away from the experience a whole lot. I got to raise one of the sails and really got some history about the founding of Chicago to just how it became one of the most popular and forward progressive cities in the United States (you could say the World too). Also a random nugget, the bar server on the boat looked like Shailene Woodley, which tripped me out a bit, but it was all good. Chicago’s skyline is definitely up there with New York’s & Toronto’s (I mean, ours probably won’t be fully completed until 2040 but whatever), but it’s certainly majestic and iconic for many reasons. The 75 minute tour was a great way to spend my birthday, but it wouldn’t be finished there. We took the Red Line then Brown line up to the North end to meet up with Delancey and his friend Reggie to get some 25 cent wings (yes, you read that right) at The Rail, located in the Ravenswood neighbourhood. I don’t often hug many men in my life, but Delancey is an exception. Last year, the big joke was that we shared a long ass hug that would have seemed awkward, but I was laughing the entire time. Needless to say, I was definitely looking forward to it (I believe this time it was 25 seconds – that’s a long hug). Wings, guy talk and sports on in the background was the perfect ending to my birthday, and even as Reggie dropped us all off, it was nothing but jokes in the car (Delancey has this thing about Nick Cannon that cannot be explained).

Chicago Brothers
Chicago Brothers

It was a fitting end that I spend time with people that I’ve known strictly through social media, but in their hometown that was filled with food & music with nothing but good vibes to seal it all together. I also got a sense of the neighbourhood that I was in, when I happened to strike up a conversation with a woman named Laura who happened to work at the Chicago Commons Guadaloupano Family Center, and I just asked about what makes the neighbourhood so unique.

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She let me know that it was home to a lot of Eastern European immigrants (Czech, Polish, etc.) and it wasn’t until around the 50s and 60s when the Mexicans who lived in the South Side started coming up to the West and inhabiting the area. There were (and to a lesser degree still is) a presence of gang activity, but the community is unified and they even fought against an overhaul to really gentrify the neighbourhood. Chicago, as Laura described, is a Social Justice city because of the riots and the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King marched on their streets, and even to this day there are evidence to support that statement of it being for the people, which is looked as a pretty Liberal bastion. No city is without its flaws, and Chicagoans are very aware of them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to fix what’s going on. It is a great city that has so much personality that enables me to say that I can really see myself going there time and time again. There are a lot of neighbourhoods that I’ve yet to see and I still don’t even have a great sense of just how much more there is to see in the city, but I’m determined to go back as much as I can, you can believe that. So, Chicago, I thank you yet again for the hospitality and warm embrace that I was given, but until next time (which is likely to be sooner than later),

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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