Grin and Bear It

I had zero expectations for the Chicago Bears before the season started.  We have Green Bay and Minnesota in our division, after all, and those two teams are pretty good.  Then, right before the season started, we picked up Khalil Mack.  I honestly didn’t know who he was before we got him, but it sounded like he would be an impact player.  People suddenly began to whisper that, you know, maybe the Bears could do something.

I didn’t get my hopes up.

But then I watched that first game with Green Bay, and even though we lost, wow, I became a believer right then and there.  Between our intense defense, the refreshed offense, and Nagy’s general leadership, we seemed like a totally different team.  A confident team.  A capable team.  A championship team.

We had some silly losses along the way, but I truly believed we’d make it through a round or two in the playoffs.

Well, that didn’t happen.  I’m not getting into the double doink fiasco.  It still seems statistically impossible, but that’s football.  For better or for worse, football always finds a way to surprise you.

I have no idea if we’ll be as good next season.  It seems like we should be, but things can change quickly in the NFL.  Every team is just an injury away from having their hopes dashed.  Our powerhouse defense will certainly have to adjust now that Vic Fangio has left to coach Denver.

Whatever happens, I want to thank the Bears for giving me great happiness this season.  Their fire, competitiveness, and athleticism were a joy to behold.  Thank you for making NFL football fun again, Chicago!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Seeing Hamilton In Chicago – Our Complete Journey

My wife recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and so I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a special event.  Because she’s been dying to see Hamilton for years, I figured that would be something special for us to do.

However, tickets for Hamilton are always in demand, so I had to plan ahead if I wanted this to work out.  Way back in January, I bought tickets for the May 19th matinee.  (You can do the same by clicking HERE.)  Be prepared, the tickets range from ridiculously expensive to fairly overpriced.  Unless you buy at the very last minute, you’re going to spend a pretty penny.  But our loved ones are worth it, right?  Absolutely.

We originally planned to take the Amtrak train from Normal to Chicago.  We’ve done this in the past and it’s always been a simple endeavor.  Shockingly, Amtrak cancelled our train the week before departure.  Again, I scheduled these tickets back in January, so this proved unwelcome news.  I discovered when I called to find out what caused the cancellation that they had transferred our train tickets to bus tickets without telling us, so I immediately cancelled those and told them we’d be driving ourselves.  Oh, by the way — the reason for the train cancellation?  Line work.

I don’t mind driving into Chicago, but it does introduce a new set of challenges —  primarily the issue of parking.  Fortunately, this turned out to be easy.  I found a website called iParkit which allows you to reserve a spot.  This particular spot could be found in a parking garage near the theater.  I just had to mark the date, the arrival time, and the departure time.  They then sent me a QR code via email.  When I got to the garage, I simply scanned my code and drove in.  When it was time to leave, I scanned my code again and left.  We reserved our spot for ten hours and it only cost $13, which I prepaid.  It could not have been less complicated.  (If you want to reserve a space at the garage we used, click HERE.)

We took I-55 literally from Normal to downtown Chicago.  I think we only actually had to make three turns from the time we got on the interstate to the time we reached our garage.  Driving into Chicago from two plus hours away can be an unpredictable adventure.  The show began at 2:00 and we knew we wanted to grab lunch, so we left at 8:00 a.m.  We reached the garage in just over two hours.  I’ve never reached downtown Chicago so quickly!

After parking the car, we walked around a bit and got our bearings.  We specifically made sure we were clear on where to find the CIBC Theater — home of Hamilton.  We took a look at a few restaurants before settling on Miller’s Pub.  It had great reviews online and rightly so — we loved our meals.  If you have a chance to eat there, I recommend it.  It’s got a great atmosphere with a diverse menu.

By the time we were done eating, we had about an hour before we wanted to enter the CIBC Theater.  We shopped around a bit, then made our way to the show.

We arrived about twenty minutes before showtime.  A large crowd blocked the entire front of the theater.  We walked around them and made our way through the doors.  I’m still not sure if they didn’t realize they could go on in, if they were trying to buy tickets, if they were just gawking — not sure.  Once we got into an actual line, we moved indoors at a good pace.

Security checked my wife’s bag.  We noticed they were confiscating drinks and snacks.  Signs were posted clearly prohibiting such things, but it still caught us by surprise when we saw them throwing away people’s drinks.  Be aware — don’t try to sneak in any food or drink!

We climbed a few flights to the mezzanine.  Upon entering the actual stage area of the theater, a few things struck me.  First of all, I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house.  The theater is a relatively small space, but when one considers that it was built in 1906, this may not come as much of a surprise.  We were high up, yet we were still fairly close to the stage.  No need for binoculars, that’s for sure.  Also, the seats are very close together, both in terms of width and leg room.  Don’t plan on stretching out.  Luckily, I had my wife on one side of me and an average sized woman on the other, which afforded me plenty of shoulder and elbow room.  Had a man similar to my size or bigger sat next to me, it may have been uncomfortable.

My wife loved the actual show itself.  Miguel Cervantes starred as Hamilton.  He performed magnificently with a charismatic voice and fun comedic timing.  Cervantes aptly pulled off both song and rap, and could also deliver more sentimental moments.  His blend of charm, intelligence, and street toughness felt authentic.  I won’t run though the whole cast, but no one stuck out as performing poorly.  Everything seemed top-notch.  The voices, the dancing, the costumes, the choreography — perfect.  (If you want to learn more about the cast, click HERE.)

Theater is always hit or miss with me.  I’ve loved things I thought I would hate and hated things I thought I would love.  Hamilton fell somewhere in the middle for me.  I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it.  My wife described it as a musical history lesson, and she did so affectionately.  However, in my view, that’s an apt description, but for a different reason than my wife’s.  Hamilton is a lot of standing around explaining.  There are few scene changes, few costume changes, few moments of actual action.  Dancing is happening all of the time by the background dancers, but Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson — they are all mostly standing still while singing to us about things that are happening.  As a writer, I believe firmly in the old adage:  “Show, don’t tell.”  I found all the explanation a little boring, to be honest.  Show me what’s happened and happening, don’t just tell me about it.

Even with that being said, though, I want to be sure to voice my appreciation at the genius of the writing.  The musical unfolded in complete song.  To deliver so much exposition in perfect rhythm and rhyme — it felt Shakespearean.  Seriously.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’d like to make a few comparisons … if I may.  First of all, I love Shakespeare, yet I’m the first to admit that he also could lean heavily into explanation.  I feel that the more I study Hamilton, the more I’ll probably grow to love it.  Also, some are very troubled by the fact that Hamilton is not entirely historically accurate.  All dramatist are known for fudging facts a bit for effect.  Shakespeare also played fast and loose with historical fact if it meant a good payoff for the audience.  Let’s not get too bogged down with historical accuracy when seeing a musical, okay, folks?  Take a history class at your local university or community college if you want textbook precision.

On a related note, I found the cast diversity thrilling.  I noticed it, but it did not bother me in the least.  I’m glad this musical is more than willing to give people of color their shot.  Talent should be the driving factor in doling out these roles, and let me tell you, the talent shined.  Again, for those crying foul, for those concerned that every major historical role in the play was filled by a person of color — relax.  I don’t think anyone but the severely uneducated are going to walk out of Hamilton believing that George Washington was black.  This is not a big deal.

Speaking of “shot,” I personally found the themes of seizing the moment and working against time interesting.  I think we can all probably relate to these themes, which may explain the musical’s popularity.  Knowing Hamilton’s ultimate fate, we could forgive his burning desire to achieve at the cost of his personal and family life, even as his friends and family couldn’t.  That’s called “dramatic irony,” by the way — when the audience knows things about the plot that the characters don’t.

For the financially minded — are the tickets worth almost $200 at the minimum?  Frankly, no.  It astounds me that the floor prices were over $500.  I saw some near the $1000 mark.  However, we are a economy that thrives on supply and demand.  I’m not going to begrudge the artists, management, or the theater itself for taking advantage of the musical’s fame.  It’s hard to make money in the art business — go for the profits while you can!

Including the intermission, the musical concluded at just under three hours.  My wife and I did not use the bathrooms, but from what I understand, there are not many of them in the theater and they are not very big.  Again, considering the venue’s time of origin, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

Leaving the parking garage offered no problems.  I scanned out as easily as I scanned in.  Google Maps took us on kind of an odd route out of the city, but I think that was due to construction.  We still made it back home in just over two hours.

All in all, it was a wonderful time.  We had a ton of fun, my wife loved Hamilton, and it was nice to spend the day together as husband and wife.

If you’re thinking of attending the show, I hope this serves as a helpful guide.  Thanks for reading.

Hamilton

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Break-Up – A Movie Review

I’ve argued in the past that I believe Jennifer Aniston could be a very good actress if only she’d start taking meatier roles like she once did with The Good Girl.  I really feel like the last several movies I’ve seen with her have been the same character over and over.  She’s become like the Tom Cruise of female actors-a victim of her own popularity.  Granted, I get that America wants to see her the same way in every movie, I understand she’s a lock for big box office, but I still don’t like it.

I’ll also admit that Vince Vaughn does the very same thing, yet it doesn’t bother me so much.  Is that a double standard?  Yeah, it probably is, but in my mind the main difference is that I like the fast-talking, joke-making Vince Vaughn and I don’t like the semi-whiny, always-the-victim Jennifer Aniston.  (I’m talking about the characters they play, mind you, not the actual people.  I have no idea what their true personalities are like.)

Anyway, let’s talk about The Break-Up.  Vaughn and Aniston stick to their typecasts and play the usual.  The story line is pretty simple-they meet and fall in love, buy a condo in Chicago together, break up over a lack of communication, and then the “laughs” ensue. 

Notice the quotes.

The quotes are there because other than a few truly gut-busting laughs, this movie was very, very stressful to watch.  Aniston and Vaughn spend much of it yelling at one another or doing things to upset the other.  It really had a lot of tension, more tension than I wanted from my comedy on a Saturday night. 

One thing that I love about this DVD is that to even get started you have to pick a side-are you with him, or are you with her?  That’s a nice touch, because I think you can’t help but pick a side as you watch this film.  Of course, my wife and I were siding with two different folks and we were having trouble convincing the other why they were wrong.

The supporting characters really made this film.  Jason Bateman (always gold) was barely recognizable, and that’s what I love about him.  Vaughn’s buddy Jon Favreau played Vaughn’s buddy in the film and the dynamic displayed in Swingers still exists.  Aniston’s brother in the film was truly hilarious, and Vaughn’s brothers were also very amusing.

So I guess the real question is if I would recommend this film to you?  Well, that depends.  If you’re a Vaughn or an Aniston fan, you dig their usual style of performance, and you don’t mind top-of-the-lung yelling, I think you’ll be pleased.  Otherwise, I might give this one a pass.

Support An A-T Marathoner For The Chicago Marathon

The following comes from my brother-in-law, Chad Schultz:

 
Friends and Family,

Join me in supporting the A-T Children’s Project by sponsoring me in my marathon efforts. I am raising money for a cure or life-improving therapies for a rare genetic disease called ataxia-telangiectasia, or A-T for short. Visit my fundraising page, and please pass it on to your friends! Either click on the link below, or copy and paste the link into your web browser.

Well, it’s that time of year. The Chicago Marathon is just over a month away, and I am running it for the A-T Children’s Project in honor of Alyssa Wood (Stepanie’s cousin). I have set my goal a bit higher this year, hoping to raise at least $2,500. All donations are tax deductible as the A-T Children’s Project is a 501(C)(3) charity.

I know that many people are being stretched to the limit with expenses due to high gas and food prices, new home purchases, and starting families; so I am going to donate the first 10% towards my goal. Please visit my webpage and give what you feel you can. Any contribution is greatly appreciated, but if you are not able to donate at all this year, I still encourage you to visit my page to learn more about A-T and see pictures of me, Alyssa, Stephanie, and others. The deadline for all donations is September 26, 2008.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

*For those who prefer not to donate online, there is a link on my page for a printable donor form that can be mailed. I will be happy to collect checks to mail for anyone in the Chicagoland area.

Sincerely,
Chad Schultz

Here’s my fundraising page link:
http://www.communityatcp.org/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=747&srcid=745&erid=42557&frsid=1214

Click here to make a donation:
https://www.communityatcp.org/NETCOMMUNITY/SSLPage.aspx?pid=745&srcid=745&tab=3&erid=42557&frsid=1214

Or, if you’d like to join me in the race, click here to register:
https://www.communityatcp.org/NETCOMMUNITY/SSLPage.aspx?pid=745&srcid=745&tab=2&erid=42557&frsid=1214

© 2007 A-T CHILDREN’S PROJECT 

 

I hope you’ll all consider donating to this worthy cause.  Chad is a dedicated runner and a good man who has participated in this worthy endeavor before.  He would appreciate any support you could offer.

Meeting Michael Chabon

Note:  Originally Published 5-24-07

About a year ago, Michael Chabon (who is, in my opinion, America’s greatest living author) had been scheduled to do a book signing at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago in order to promote his latest novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

One problem-the book got delayed for many different reasons.

That being said, the Chicago appearance obviously was cancelled, and I was devastated.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I was very disappointed.  Chabon is my literary hero, and I wanted to meet him terribly.

So several weeks ago, I discovered that with the novel coming out on May 1st of 2007, his appearance at the Harold Washington Library had been rescheduled for the 21st of May.  Well, after losing out last time, I knew I would always regret it if I let this opportunity pass.  I took a personal day from work, and Kristen and I made a trip out of it.

Monday night arrived and we made our way to the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Neither of us had ever been there before, so after finding our way inside we asked a helpful security guard to direct us to the Michael Chabon signing.  She pointed us into the next room, and from there a staff member escorted us to a reserved elevator.  Had we not been with a few other anonymous Chabon fans I would have been a little unsettled by the strange proceedings. 

All was well, for when we got off the elevator we were immediately faced with multiple persons waiting in line to sign in and get their reserved tickets.  Luckily, my self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder served us well as we were nearly an hour early.  Even so, after receiving our ticket and entering the room he would actually be speaking in, we only got about a fourth of the way to his podium; all of the front seats had already been filled.

So, Kristen and I sat and waited.  I had a wonderful time listening to all of the conversations taking place around us as people discussed their favorite works of Chabon.  Several minutes passed and then, finally, I caught a glimpse of Michael Chabon coming from the front of the room and grabbing a seat in the first row. 

I seemed to be the only one who saw him!

I immediately wanted to scream, “There he is!” but, thankfully, my common sense prevailed and I instead grabbed my wife’s arm and whispered loudly, “There he is!”

What kind of fans were these?  No one seemed to even care he had entered the room!

Anyway, several of the event’s organizers gave their spiel and then they finally introduced Michael Chabon.  Just before he opened his mouth, I realized that all the trouble of taking the personal day and traveling to Chicago had totally been worth it.

Then he spoke.  (Man, I totally sound like a freakazoid stalker, don’t I?)

I won’t recount the entire talk and reading, but let me just say that this man is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  This is a world-renowned author.  He is, in every conceivable way, a very big deal.  Best of all?  He was totally cool. 

I couldn’t believe the humility and warmth the man exuded!  He genuinely seemed like a nice guy, and that made me feel very good about touting him as our greatest living author.  So many times, people reach his stature and become-how should we put it?-arrogant.  Not so with him.  He cracked many jokes at his own expense, and when the audience put forth questions (some of them asinine in every sense of the word), he handled them with grace and respect.  The faulty microphone they gave to the questioners didn’t even faze him.  He was a class act, without a doubt.

When it came time for the actual book signing, our tickets all had a number on them.  Because five hundred people had showed up, they had us get in line by groups of fifty.  I was ninety-one and Kristen was ninety-three (don’t know how that happened), so we had to sit and wait for quite a while, which was fine.  We didn’t actually have to get in line in numerical order, but they have the first fifty people get in line, then the next fifty, and so on. 

My all-time favorite book by Chabon is called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (if you haven’t read it, leave your computer, get in your car, drive to your nearest bookstore, and purchase it immediately-I’ll wait for you to return … Back already?  Good, I’ll continue).  I realize it’s considered common courtesy to only have an author sign one or two items, so as much as I wanted to bring my entire Chabon collection up for him to sign, I limited myself to this favorite paperback of mine.  I gave my wife his latest release, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and we agreed she would have it signed specifically to me-first and last name.  (Yes, I’m that neurotic.)

As we got nearer, we saw that Chabon was taking his time with people, actually talking with them, and most surprising of all, he extended his hand to every single one of his fans before they even got directly in front of him!  The women in front of us had their books signed, and then one of them took out a camera and sheepishly started to ask if she could take his picture with her friend.  Before she could even finish, he was out of his seat and putting his arm around her friend, saying, “Sure, no problem!” 

I had been contemplating the words I would say to the man who inspires me on a regular basis.  I was prepared to discuss his themes, his many interests, and his impact upon both the literary world and pop-culture in general (after all, he’s appeared on The Simpsons).  I even had brought a spare copy of my own novel, fantasizing that I would give it to him, he would read it as he sat alone in his hotel room, then seek me out as a peer and we would keep in touch through correspondence for the rest of our days.

Instead, within the span of a minute and a half, I introduced my wife to him twice (no idea why), spat out something about Kavalier and Clay being my favorite book, and generally acted like an eight-year-old girl standing before Justin Timberlake.  My wife had a wonderful time laughing at the star-struck, babbling fool I had morphed into.

Be that as it may, I shook my hero’s hand, and he signed two books to me-to Scott Foley.  No matter what happens, no matter what becomes of me, for those few seconds he knew I existed and those books are proof of it.  Those books will always cement the fact that I met Michael Chabon, and he signed his work for me.  Our names will forever be linked.

Like I said, it was all totally worth it.

Man, I really do sound like a stalker.  I’m starting to creep myself out!  Oh, well, if you’re a literature fan, maybe you can relate.

On a final note (if you’re still reading this, you’re a saint), I’ve decided to reread The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  I usually don’t take the time to do such a thing, for there are far too many books I want to read and not nearly enough time to do so, but I rushed through the book so quickly I didn’t really savor it.  I compare it to wolfing down a meal without tasting any of the food.  I wanted to have the book finished before it was signed, but now I realize I didn’t focus on it enough in my haste.  Having met the man and listened to his personal thoughts on this book in particular, I think I’ll read it anew with a greater appreciation.

I tell you, when you find out your literary hero is a genuinely nice person, it just makes you feel all the better about following his career and trying to get anyone who will listen to read him as well.