Two Foreigners

Near Dearborn and Congress, the woman flags me down while asking something in an obviously Asian (or perfectly Asian-sounding) language. White winter coat, black hair, pointing south down Dearborn and showing me her cell phone, its screen displaying something in what I assume is that same obviously Asian (or perfectly Asian-looking) language I don’t understand but also with the English numeric “62″ couched in the middle of it.

There is a Number 62 bus. There is a Number 62 bus whose route runs along that stretch of Dearborn.

I know what she’s asking. I have no idea what she’s asking.

I point towards the bus stop at Dearborn and Harrison. “Yes, you can catch the 62 right over there,” I say.

I think she understands me. I have no idea if she understands me.

She asks something I don’t know how to decipher, this time out loud and with “sixty two” right in there and again pointing south. Or maybe not south but slightly southwest. The 62 runs down State, onto Archer and slightly southwest into Chinatown. I don’t want to assume she is asking if this bus is the one that goes to Chinatown. I shouldn’t assume she is asking if this bus is the one that goes to Chinatown.

I wave my right hand around above me, drawing a kind of circle in the air. “It goes north,” I say, pointing up Dearborn, “then turns around and heads south down State Street.”

She hands me the phone now and makes a motion towards it, this being what we both know as the universal sign for Here, type whatever you’re saying into my telecommunications device.

I oblige, typing into the apparatus that The 62 bus runs north on Dearborn Street, then turns around and heads south down State Street and onto Archer Avenue. and she presses the big blue button with the foreign-looking symbol on it and, like magic, my nonsense becomes useful.

Her face lights up, she visibly relieved and me a little relieved, too.

“Ah,” she says. “Archer! Chinatown.”

Never guess until you absolutely must. Never assume unless you’re absolutely sure. Stay as informed as the times allow and always, always know where the buses are going. Do that, and sometimes the rest will take care of itself.

Chicago, IL / February 20, 2014

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A Year In Music

Nails, Abandon All Life

Even by the standards of abrasive hardcore metal, this is pretty abrasive and hardcore. And metal. Always the metal.

The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Why yes, I am an urban-resident white male aged 25-40 possessing a certain disposition and worldview. How did you know?

Anyway, there’s a certain polar extremity to this band regarding their strong points, namely the “mid-to-uptempo rocker with no real riff or licks to speak unless there’s such a thing as a ‘drum riff,’” at which these guys reign supreme, and the “wistful, nearly-miserable piano ballad,” at which they also reign supreme. Most attempts otherwise come off as less than stellar, and this album goes for more of them than anything they’ve done since 2004, and you’d think any band that has so closely been associated with New York for as long as this one wouldn’t feel the need to reference “the city” and being “in the city” with any degree of otherness, and this particular album also relies more heavily on the latter lyrical references than anything (again) post-2004. But this is just one listener quibbling, and this is still a very good album.

Dido, Greatest Hits

It’s not that she can do no wrong, but that what she does right she does just so perfectly. Some subjective omissions aside (which any vested fan could [and arguably should] say about just any compilation, really), these are most of those better moments.

God Is An Astronaut, Origins

Still no vocals. Good. Added synthesized vocal patches instead. Also good.

Kenny Dorham, Kenny Dorham Quintet/Afro-Cuban/Blue Spring

No one is arguing that these albums were released a combined 144 years ago, but as far as my experience is concerned this is the greatest new music in the history of the world. Some things are excellent in any year.

Thank you as always for reading.
Chicago, IL / January 2, 2014

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The Finest Restaurants In Mexico City

Perros Calientes1.

It’s a sports bar that just opened up six, maybe seven weeks ago. The manager’s a young guy, real sharp, says that I can order from him since he’s the only person in the place besides me who speaks English. Helpful, I think.

“You’re really American?” he asks.

I nod.

“I didn’t think you all came down here except to go to the beach.”

I shrug and order another.



It’s a cart somewhere near the center of the city that sells tortas at eight in the morning because sometimes, at eight in the morning, a man just needs a torta.



It’s inside a makeshift tent city inside the zócalo, the old city center flanked by the annals of old local money and older local power. The protesting masses have taken it over, setting up camp and entrenching for a long, communal fight against the man in charge. Five tacos will set you back twenty pesos, which is a pretty good deal no matter where you are.



It’s the restaurant inside one of the nicer hotels in one of the nicer neighborhoods, everything much more modern and clean and upscale than one living up here generally hears about anything down there.



It’s a Chinese restaurant. Yeah, I know. Me either.



It’s a European-style cafe along one of the pedestrian malls, serving sandwiches and wine and coffee to anyone who wants to sit back or just wait out the rain. From inside, you can hear the rich baritone of a man outside, singing out loud as he accompanies himself on guitar, fingers finding the perfect countermelody to whatever beautiful song he is playing. Your Spanish isn’t bad, but you don’t understand exactly what he’s saying, so you sit back and just listen, really listen, until you recognize something in the way he walks the vocal melody into the chorus and it hits you: he’s singing Sinatra. Even Mexico does it his way.



It’s a fairly high-end bar in one of the more high-end districts. Everyone in and around it is educated, well-dressed, beautiful. Everyone. Meanwhile you, American, probably thought it was a good idea to dress down since you were headed to such a “rough” place and now, seeing you in your filthy jeans and faded t-shirt, the locals are all clutching their wallets and purses a little tighter, the way they did the last time they went to Rio or Caracas or Italy or Africa or all those other places you, Supposed Veteran Traveler, have not, and you find yourself reminded again that there is a huge difference between living in a world city and living in the world and perhaps you, American, have got a long way to go in that department.

Mexico City, September 5, 2013

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