July 20, 2008

Back on the Boat, Y'all

Two universal truths: What goes in must come out, and what is full will become empty. Sailboats are not exempt from these universal truths. And as much as sailors like to think of themselves as lawless pirates, we are not exempt from federal regulations.

One such regulation states that untreated sewage cannot be discharged into inland or coastal waters. This means the sewage collected in our "head's" holding tank can only lawfully be discharged overboard if we take Smitten further than three miles offshore on any ocean surrounding the United States. An unlikely scenario this summer.

Which is why, every couple of weeks, we find ourselves here, at "D" dock in DuSable Harbor.

"D" dock, as well as a handy spot to pick up passengers for our standard three hour tour, is the site of one of the City of Chicago Park District's holding tank pump-out stations. This innocuous-looking white box, at the press of a button, turns into a roaring, throbbing, sucking beast that makes short order of the nasty stuff we've been flushing into our holding tank. I trust you need no further description of the nature of that stuff.

It's really quite a civilized process considering what we're accomplishing. Here's Dave wrangling the undulating yellow hose that delivers us from evil:

Reminds me of the time years ago when Dave, my sister Dort and I rented an RV to camp in Southern California's San Bernardino mountains. At the end of our week, as we tried to accomplish the same housekeeping task at an outhouse in a state park, we discovered in the middle of the procedure that the yellow hose stowed in the nether regions of the RV was afflicted with a series of pinprick holes. The resulting festive display of dancing liquid geysers was not unlike the delightful Waltzing Waters show in South Fort Myers, Florida. Minus the colored lights. And featuring a certain, um, odeur. We were still young enough to find that sort of experience wildly hilarious.

At the pointy end of the boat is our water tank. It's only for water that is destined to become "gray" -- we'll use this for washing dishes, taking sponge baths, and accomplishing other housekeeping tasks. It is not considered safe for drinking and the City is careful to state that on D dock. Once used, it can flow directly into the local waters.

The twenty gallon tank is tucked in below our V berth and filled at an opening in the anchor locker. It takes a while. It looks like I'm concentrating hard, but actually I'm totally spacing out here.

This is our navigation station. It's the nerve center of the boat with the various systems' circuit breakers, the stereo, the barometer and the desk where we stow a little bit of everything, like that drawer in your kitchen.

On the right are the tank level gauges, the top one indicates the water tank, the bottom the holding tank. It's a satisfying moment when we pull away from D dock and they look like this:

And you thought sailing was just one lark after another, didn't you? Just all la-di-da, tacking back and forth under lapis skies at our luvly city's front door. It's a lot of that, but those universal truths have to be honored, too.

July 19, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Bonnie Raitt!

Later in the day we're off the boat and back on the lawn, where the crowds have filled it up for the day's headliner, the perennially-popular Bonnie Raitt.

Thank god for IMAG or I never would've seen the girl.

We disagree about which song she used to open the set, he says Something to Talk About, I say Thing Called Love. We're probably both wrong because there was wine involved. But regardless, the darnedest thing happened. She broke a string on the first song. This can't be an unusual occurrence. So she calls out to her guitar wrangler for another guitar. Nothing happens. May I have the brown Strat? she asks again. No brown Strat comes forth. The momentum established by the first number grinds to an uncomfortable halt. "Bring the girl her brown Strat!" a woman sitting near me and I call out almost in unison. We look at each other and giggle and mime a fist bump. I almost never anymore call out at concerts, but again, wine involved.

It seemed like forever before a sheepish guy came out with the guitar, and I thought, that's one guy who'll be looking for work tomorrow. But the weird part was the reaction of the band. They stood there like deer in headlights, like no one had ever broken a string on stage before. No vamping, no teasing, no interplay. Silence. If there's one bit of road lore that follows Bonnie and her band everywhere it's that she and her boys are tight. Why weren't they supporting her? She wound up looking kinda silly. I realized then that even if you're the front gal holding the mic, the boys behind you hold most of the power.

Makes me wonder if there had been a little tiff earlier in the green room?

Bonnie, I suspect, has been dipping into the Miss Clairol #37R Kiss-My-Ass-Red. Artfully done. Her perfectly maintained silver streaks say, I have been around the block, boys and girls, and I plan to go around a few more times. Then I'm gonna stop by your house and kick your butt with some rockin' blues.

I don't mean to sound disrespectful, because I worship this woman. I mean, I'm not a lunatic fan, I just realized we don't even have Nick of Time in the collection. But as I write this I've got Luck of the Draw going for inspiration on the iTunes, and I find myself singing along loudly (sorry neighbor guy) with every lyric. By heart. Cuz I can't make you love me/if you don't. Her music has accompanied many scenes from my life, and I've loved every note of it. She makes you feel great about being a girl.

Anyway, all ended well. With brown Strat in hand, she regained control and reestablished the momentum of the evening, and we all wound up on our feet and clapping our hands and singing along, exactly where she wanted us. She wins over our wisecrackin' little Chicago hearts every visit.

'Bye girlfriend! Til next time!

July 11, 2008

Taste Me!

Taste of Chicago is like that really mortifying friend of a friend you see once a year only because some unbreakable social tradition keeps bringing you together. Leading up to the ordeal of the occasion, you're like, oh god why do I have to tolerate this idiot? Who keeps inviting this person? How will I stand it? And then eventually the occasion arrives, plays out and, wonder of wonders, you realize that you actually had a kinda good time with the person you were completely dreading seeing.

Taste is like that. Every year you go no! I'm not gonna go! It's trashy, the food sucks, the crowds are incorrigible (and now carrying weapons, apparently) and I just simply will not subject myself to the heat, the stupidity, the indignity, the outsized potential for a dose of e-coli, the utter commonness of it all and, well, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Then, then! you pack up your sunblock, your folding lawn chair, your appetite, and you go. Admit it, you do. You're a Chicagoan. There are some things, like holding parking spaces with chairs, pretending to be Irish on March 17th, and reading Carl Sandburg, that you just do. You can't help it!

When you spend your summer leisure time floating in Monroe Harbor, you have even less justification for missing Taste. It's right there, for cryin' out loud. You hear the music wafting across the water, you smell the smoking grills, you might as well just go and do it. You don't have to tell anyone. I broke down and went on July 4. Yeah, smart huh? But it was early on July 4th. Dave missed it. We both had little tasks to do at our workplaces that day. He was still tied up with his when I took a reconnaissance stroll through Taste on my way from the office to the boat.

Afraid of getting sucked too far into the festival grounds, I got my food tickets at the first booth I came to, where the lines were already forming:

Next to the ticket booth was The Aquafresh Trailer. Proof that even if it's completely idiotic, Americans will stand in line for it:

A few months ago, I was completely horrified by that Humane Society undercover video that made the internet rounds. The one shot in a California factory farm that depicted the complete disregard of a sadistic forklift operator for the dignity of an ailing cow. You know the video I'm talking about. Sickening, right?

After viewing it I decided that, going forward, unless I had reasonable assurance that any flesh I was about to eat had enjoyed a lifestyle roughly equal to the one nature had intended it (before getting whacked to indulge my gustatory pleasures) I would eat vegetarian. So, having no clue to the provenance of the meat served up at this year's Taste booths, this is what I ended up ordering:

It's not as bad as it looks, actually. It's a vegetarian gyros from, oh cripes, what was the name of the restaurant? Vegetarian Soul? Soul Vegetarian East! The seitan was steeped in a distinctly not-really-greek BBQ sauce, but it was light and not too sweet. Nice foil to the chewy wheatiness of the seitan. The real standout of the dish was the tzatziki, the white sauce over the top. It was zing-y and dill-y and cucumber-y and, man, it just made the dish. I finger-fed myself the seitan, the bed of chopped romaine lettuce, the tzatziki, and ditched the doughy pita.

Sated, and now completely unmotivated to commit to the deeper trenches of Taste, I skirted across the Petrillo Lawn and admired the foresight of these pioneers who were the first to stake their claim in anticipation of the Bonnie Raitt performance later in the day.

And I took a moment to muse on the contributions of the true, unsung heros of Taste, the guys who spend countless shifts wrangling what must be the nastiest of garbage:

Thank you, yellow-shirted Taste Garbage Guy.

Let's not overlook the green sentinels that manage another inevitable form of Taste waste:

What goes in must come out, I suppose.

So this brought me to the end of my foray through Taste, and I thought, well that wasn't so bad. Like that once a year friend of a friend, I actually kinda had a good time with Taste. Brief, sure, but maybe that's the way to do it: quick in-and-out at an off hour. Sample a snack, take a few pix. Allow no opportunity to become utterly stuffed, sweaty, bitchy, dissed, shot at, drunk, frazzled, sick or disillusioned.

Next up, Her Dependable Redheadedness, Miz Bonnie Raitt.

July 7, 2008

Let the Fourth Begin

Setting the stage, this is the view looking south across Millennium and Grant Parks from my offices at Prudential Plaza:

That smattering of white rectangles represents the spine of Taste of Chicago running south down Columbus Drive. Petrillo Bandshell and its audience delta lie slightly below and to the left. Buckingham Fountain was not spouting at the moment I clicked this picture, but if it was, you would see its spew at dead center where that open space is. Beyond that, to the left, is the south mooring field of Monroe Harbor where our Little Place on the Water is floating. This is where I'm spending the Fourth of July weekend.

But before I get there, as I leave my office, I need to walk through the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I say "need" because, full disclosure now, I am not a natural-born water baby. I am, in fact, a prairie baby. I am, by design, a land-based mammal. I prefer my feet on solid ground. So before I hand over my mortal being to the good graces of Poseidon, I need to connect briefly with the god in charge of the earth, who, if you've been anywhere near Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois, you cannot honestly conclude is anyone other than a god named "Lurie."

Because this delicately designed prairie garden is the closest thing you're gonna find to heaven on earth:

Don't you just want to run through this field in many layers of lace and gingham, beribboned straw hat flying, swinging the basket into which you will collect the blossoms for tonight's dinnertable centerpiece?

Well, me neither. But whenever I'm here I have to resist the urge to just roll around in it. I'm evidently not the only one. The polite signs warning visitors to stay on the paths and leave the trailblazing to the gardeners are copious.

Look at me! I'm a thistle! And I'm bigger and taller than any building in Chicago!:

Check out the blue stems:

According to the sign, this plant is a Mediterranean Sea Holly.

One day earlier this year when we first arrived in Monroe Harbor, I heard a birdsong that was so familiar, yet I couldn't place it. Birds are a huge presence in Monroe Harbor (and another blogworthy subject if I can just become a better bird photographer). The song I heard was so incongruous with the typical harbor birdsongs: Canadian geese, sure. Hear their trumpet calls all the time. Seagulls, of course. They're natives to the environment and their lunatic squawk is constant. But it was this other song that was making me nuts. I couldn't identify it except that it seemed totally out of place in a waterfront environment. Some moments later, a red-winged blackbird alighted on Smitten's lifeline and began singing the familiar tune. Where on earth did this bird come from? wondered the girl who only thinks of red-winged blackbirds in the context of a Wisconsin cornfield.

Turns out, they are as enchanted by this garden as I am and they (excuse me) flock to it.

Such an abundance of textures and colors. The tranquility you experience within minutes after wandering out of the tourist- and traffic-jammed city hustle and into this eden is deep and remarkable.

I confess to a preponderance of Prudential Plaza pix in this blog. I work in 2 Pru and I really love the building. Our friend Alan, a New Yorker to the core, explained to me some years back (while we were sailing, in fact) that 2 Pru was designed as an homage to Manhattan's Chrysler building. Perhaps. And while I need to confess that during a recent trip to NYC, I almost burst into tears at the site of the Chrysler Building, I think 2 Pru is the luvliest thing going on Chicago's skyline. During our floating summers I spend a lot of time gazing at our skyline, so I feel a certain sense of authority.

Next stop, Taste of Chicago ...