Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Post: The Reawakening of Righteous Anger, For What It's Worth -- Scenes from the "Rally to Save the American Dream" (Chicago, Feb. 26, 2011) by a friend named Ken

(Note from Seth: My friend Ken, who I met through job search networking, has been out of work longer than anyone with his breadth and depth of experience should be. But in his 50's, Ken suspects there might be more than misfortune to blame, as the "salt & pepper" of his beard may not be the type of seasoning employers are willing to invest in anymore. 

Angered by the cannibalizing of the common good by Wall Street speculators, corporations, military contractors and other parasitic self-interests, on Saturday, February 26, 2011, Ken attended the Chicago edition of the "Rally to Save the American Dream," in solidarity with union interests in the Wisconsin budget battle. 

He wrote about the experience and asked if I would run his piece on my blog. I hope you find value in Ken's insights, ire and small sense of uplift, and should you know of any opportunities for a Systems Consultant/Project Manager with a strong track record within Fortune 500 companies, be in touch and I'll be sure to let him know. 
“There's somethin' happenin' here...”
-- "For What It's Worth" by Stephen Stills, 1967
Dateline: Chicago, February 26, 2011.....somewhere in the front lines of America's class war.

Today, a nationwide protest movement came to life. This is the story of one of its birth pangs.

In each state capital of the United States, protesters rallied to show solidarity in support of the beleaguered Wisconsin teacher's union, whose members are under siege in Madison.

In Chicago, the harmonious rumblings of discord started on the 'L.'

On the trains going into the city, they boarded, at each stop, in twos and threes. You could tell who they were by their red sweatshirts, jackets and hats. ( organizers had suggested that supporters wear the University of Wisconsin colors of red and white.) But even among those not impersonating Badger boosters, snippets of conversation revealed a subdued but discernible enthusiasm:

“Did your local ask you to show support?”

“I'm an electrician...”
“I'm a teacher...”

“You know the cops are next....”

“Gotta do something...I've got grandchildren..”

“Do you listen to Progressive news?”

The rallying point was the State of Illinois Building in the heart of downtown Chicago, more conducive to a large turnout than the remote Illinois Capitol in Springfield. Not to mention, historically significant.

I wonder if anyone is still cognizant of Chicago's Haymarket Riot, which happened just 8 blocks west 125 years earlier. Does anyone ever read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle anymore, about the brutal time at the turn of the 20th century when Chicago was Hog Butcher for the World? Some things never change.

As I turned a corner at Clark and Randolph, I expected to see a small throng. What I ran into, instead, was a mass of two thousand people.

They were all there: white, black, Hispanic...young and and women...adults and children...they were all there.

Photo: HCan Illinois, from
The unions were there: AFSCME, Machinists, Laborers, Construction Workers, Electrical Workers, Chicago Teachers Union, Pharmacists. They were all there. But it wasn't a union-only crowd by far.

I circled the tightly packed crowd taking my bearings and trying to put my finger on a feeling I had but couldn't name.

It didn't have the buzz of an impending rock concert, that sense of gleeful anticipation. What was it?

I wormed my way into the center of the crowd. There were signs everywhere. Some factual, some poignant, some acerbic and some funny.

“United We Stand, Divided We Beg”

“Pharmacists stand with Teachers”

“Hey Obama, want to borrow my shoes?”

“Courage: 14”

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

“People Before Profits!”

“Benefits Not Bailouts!”

“When Do The Rich Sacrifice?”

And some...profane:

“Walker is a Koch sucker!”

The crowd was not unruly. Conversations were political...erudite...well informed...heated but not hysterical.

The politicians started speaking at the podium, mouthing platitudes to which the crowd responded politely but loudly.

What was that buzz I was sensing? Tension? Excitement? Thrill?

The union officials were speaking now, trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy. it was starting to work. I could feel it start to build, like the feeling you get in your chest when a master musician builds a crescendo.

I kept looking at the faces around me. They were mostly middle aged. What was it about their faces?

It was the eyes...their tired, tired eyes.
I was looking into the eyes of the modern day grunts of the world. The people who make it go.
I wormed my way into the center of the crowd. There were signs everywhere. Some factual, some poignant, some acerbic and some funny.

Tired of endless bills that keep going up, tired of trying to make ends meet, tired of struggling, tired of the unpaid overtime, tired of more taxes, tired of benefits cuts, tired of extra burdens, tired of never enough, tired of too many hours, tired of insecurity, tired of astronomical medical insurance costs, tired of never ending layoffs, and tired...of being scared.

And all they ever ever the same: 'you don't produce enough, you don't compete enough, you don't work hard enough, you have to give more and more and more.' And now they hear: 'AND you make too much money!'

They didn't carry Gucci purses or wear Ugg boots, they're not the types to shop upscale. They were wearing nondescript gym shoes, cheap hiking boots, plain sweater caps and quilted jackets, most of which were probably made by urban peasants in east Asia. Our brothers and sisters?

These are the grunts of the world who meet their needs through family, love, kids, church, sports, ice cream, movies and once in awhile a few pizzas and beer in the back yard. They used to be America's middle class. And they're damn tired. They don't even care so much for themselves; just give the kids a chance.

It's starting to snow. A woman at the podium grabs my attention. Impassioned, she screams into the microphone, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!” Then she tells of her father, a steelworker, who laid down on the railroad tracks in South Works to keep the scabs out in 1935. She'll be damned if they bust us now. Some things never change.

I'm feeling it too, what's going on in the crowd, but now I can name it:  righteous anger.

Not indignation, not annoyance, not peevishness...pure, unadulterated, righteous ANGER.

I don't know what happened in Madison, but it's happening here. The dispossessed and disenfranchised now know they too are under siege in our own urban Alamo.

Now they're drawing a line.
Here we stand. We're tired of being afraid. You took our houses. You took our 401(k)s. You took our IRAs. You took our retirement plans. You took our credit. You took our future. You took our kid's futures. You took it all already. Now we're gonna fight. Now we're gonna fight like we haven't fought in the last forty years. We are all Madison now.
I remember Admiral Yamamoto's quote, after Pearl Harbor, when he said the Japanese had roused a sleeping giant. Am I part of that sleeping giant? Some things never change.

A student at the podium announces that every cop in Wisconsin has been asked to drive to Madison and sleep over night in the rotunda. Individual citizens from over 20 countries have donated money to buy pizzas to feed the 100,000 making a stand in Madison.

The crowd is worked up now. It's intense, but not a frenzy. These aren't kids fooling around or aging baby boomers looking to relive their lost youth. These are people whose anger has been tapped. A primitive survival anger. They really aren't gonna take it anymore.

And we all know isn't the politicians. They're all bought and paid for. It's the corporations. It's the corporations. It always was...for years and years...the corporations.

And next, for me, the pivotal moment of the whole rally is about to occur.

It's snowing pretty hard now and I can't stop shivering. But this is where I belong.

A middle aged, black-haired woman is at the podium. She is speaking passionately...with conviction...and that indefinable something. Call it...soul.

That mercurial something that sometimes occurs when another human being cuts through you and touches you and connects. And what she says next gets to me:
“...and I know some of you...some of you stand there....and don't have a union card in your pocket...and some of you...have never been in a union in your life....but I tell you stand here NOW...and have now joined the Labor Movement...YOU all are now the Labor Movement...and we are all in this together!! starting right here and right now let the corporations know...the battle is joined! WE ARE THE LABOR MOVEMENT!”
And in the midst of my shivering...a new shiver goes up my spine.



My mind flashes back to a dirt poor Tunisian kid, better educated than me, who was so economically downtrodden, humiliated, defeated and bereft of all hope he killed himself with a fiery death. Did that kid die for nothing?


Another mind flash: an Egyptian kid stands with a sign which says “Egypt stands with Wisconsin workers. One pain”. Jesus, even the Egyptians feel sorry for us.
The chant dies down.

The final speeches are made. The crowd disperses ever so slowly. But they don't want to disperse.

Something happened here. It happened in Madison. Maybe it's happened elsewhere.
We are the Labor Movement. Today, we found something..that something that the corporations have coveted and tried to take from us for hundreds of years: Hope.
In this life you don't get to pick your parents, your genes, your life circumstances, your luck, and not much of anything else.

But do get to make choices. You have to take where you find yourself...and choose.

What the gotta die somehow. I want to die fighting.

Some things never change.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

11 of the Worst Best Picture Oversights, As Selected by a Friend -- Now Posted on Booth Reviews

Click here or on the image below to see my latest post to Booth Reviews on, featuring my friend Brad Strauss' picks of 11 Films That Should Have Won "Best Picture" Oscars but didn't.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Foo For You

Click the Play Button to hear the Foo Fighters' hard-rockin' new single, "Rope."

Rope by Foo Fighters

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Story Deserves Your Attention

Another great piece of journalism by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who definitely deserves a Pulitzer Prize.

Fortunately, it seems some important people are reading Taibbi's work.

You should too.

Click the image or here to read the full article at left on

Sunday, February 20, 2011

McDonagh's 'Beauty Queen of Leenane' a Bit Beastly, but Still Worth Beholding -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Beauty Queen of Leenane
a play by Martin McDonagh
Shattered Globe Theatre
presented at the Athanaeum Theater
Thru February 27, 2011

Martin McDonagh is a master at dark humor. I have now seen four plays by him--The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Lonesome West and now, The Beauty Queen of Leenane--plus In Bruges, a movie he wrote and directed, and have enjoyed everything.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane was the first of his plays to be staged, initially in Galway in 1996, and its subsequent Broadway run earned a Tony nomination. Today, in a local Chicago production by the recently reconstituted Shattered Globe Theatre, I saw it for the first time.

Although the acting and production values were stellar, I can't say I loved 'Beauty Queen' as much as The Pillowman or Lieutenant of Inishmore, my first two experiences with the Irish playwright's work. Back in November, when I saw a production of The Lonesome West for the first time, I said much the same thing.

Linda Reiter and Eileen Nicolai, above, were both quite good.
There was nothing really wrong with Beauty Queen, but with the strong Irish brogues sometimes hard to follow and the story of a spinster battling with her derisive mother lacking some of the over-the-top humor I've enjoyed in McDonagh's other plays, it took a quality production--directed by Steve Scott, an Associate Producer of Goodman Theatre--and a strong final half-hour to convince me that it deserves @@@@ out of 5.

If you're a McDonagh fan like I am, The Beauty Queen of Leenane is well worth your while, especially in support of the Shattered Globe, whose 19th season was in serious jeopardy last fall. But if you're looking to get acclimated to McDonagh or just catch a good play next weekend--which is the last of the run--there may be other works to behold ahead of this Beauty.

Another Fine Radiohead Album I Likely Won't Tune Into With Great Frequency -- Album Review: Radiohead: The King of Limbs

Album Review:

The King of Limbs
(available for purchase in various formats--including instant download--at

There are few currently active rock artists whom I hold in greater reverence than Radiohead.

Beyond the long-standing and frequent brilliance of their music--both recorded and in concert--I greatly admire the British quintet for avoiding easy and conventional choices in terms of their music and the way it's distributed.

Rather than continue the more accessible, yet inventively evolving guitar-driven sound of their first three albums, Radiohead has, beginning with 2000's Kid A album, largely been (pick your preferred adjectives) adventurous, experimental, oblique and/or obtuse in their recorded output. And, quite impressively, they have seemingly become more critically acclaimed and immensely popular because of it.

With their last album, 2007's In Rainbows, being released initially over-the-internet for "pay what you want, even free" but subsequently still selling millions of hard copies, Radiohead showed the once quite bloated, now paying for it dearly record industry how relatively simple it now is to get music into the hands of fans (mind you, Radiohead didn't need all the marketing muscle many lesser-known artists still might value).

And then, just last Tuesday, Radiohead announced that their new album, The King of Limbs, was ready for release and would be available for internet download for as little as $9.00--various formats are available--starting yesterday (Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011). It actually became available a day early, on Friday, further accelerating what was a ridiculously quick turnaround from announcement to release of a new album by one of music's most popular artists.

I downloaded The King of Limbs early Saturday morning and have listened it steadily ever since.

Although almost every Radiohead album, especially those since Kid A, has grown on me over time, at this point I feel that while it is still worthwhile--particularly for  Radioheadheads--The King of Limbs is likely the least satisfying album they've yet recorded. Even their grunge-era debut, Pablo Honey, while not nearly as musically adventurous, is a more enjoyable listen.

My problem with The King of Limbs isn't that it is devoid of quality; Thom Yorke and company are far too talented and meticulous for that. The first single, Lotus Flower, which features a fun video of Yorke dancing kinetically, and Morning Mr. Magpie are two songs that have already blossomed within the radio in my head; I imagine the other six tracks will continue to reveal a certain amount of surreptitious appeal.

But for a band that always seemed intent on advancing its art, collections of somber songs built over electronic beats now seem to have become the norm, and done considerably better before. I hope not to be excommunicated from Radiohead nation to suggest that it's about time the guys rediscovered electric guitars and engaging melodies, for avoiding them now appears to be the easy way out.

Certainly, Radiohead has never been for everybody. Detractors have long insinuated that they're a band for geeky guys and the morbidly depressed (or those who want to be).

Appreciating latter-day Radiohead does take significant time and effort, but I have found considerable brilliance and beauty in their post-Y2K output--Kid A's "Optimistic," Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong," "Sit Down, Stand Up" from Hail To The Thief and "Bodysnatchers" from In Rainbows are just a few of my favorite testaments to how good they've been.

Yet I also can't deny that for pure listening pleasure, I almost always will choose 1995's The Bends and 1997's OK Computer, which I still consider their masterwork, over anything that has come since.

Call me facile if you want, but I would rather listen to a long-forgotten B-side like Lift than anything on The King of Limbs. And if I'm fortunate enough to see Radiohead again when they come through town, you can be sure I won't be secretly hoping that they'll play Give Up The Ghost, one of the new album's more somnambulant tracks.

Keep in mind that second-rate Radiohead is still better than a lot of music that's out there. On the same day last week that I noticed the Lotus Flower video on my Facebook wall--and found it to be fun, visually and audibly--I noted someone had posted Britney Spears' new video. I couldn't even get through a minute of that, yet have now listened to The King of Limbs at least 10 times in full.

So I'm only giving The King of Limbs @@@1/2 next to the rest of their output; it still says a lot about Radiohead that it is one of few recent albums I've been inclined to acquire instantly.

But the truth is that 40 months have passed since In Rainbows. If this is the best a band that I and others often refer to as "the best band in the world" can do, well, I'm sorry. I'd rather hear "Creep" any day of the week.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My 11 Favorite Non-Oscar Nominated Performances From 2010 Movies

A new article with a photo slide-show is now posted on the Booth Reviews blog. Click here to see it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Working" Pays Off Surprisingly Well -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

a musical based on the book by Studs Terkel
adapted by Stephen Schwartz & Nina Faso
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Center, Chicago
Thru May 8, 2011 (officially in previews til March 1)

The shortest theater review in history is commonly credited to legendary critic Walter Kerr, who sublimely summed up his take on a 1951 played called I Am A Camera by writing simply: "Me no Leica."

Before heading to the Broadway Playhouse to catch the first night of a newly revamped musical called Working--which was originally created in 1978 based on a book by Studs Terkel--I wondered if potential displeasure might prompt me to compete for the "shortest review" title.

Fortunately, although "Working isn't" and "Working stinks" came to my always semantically-inclined mind, the show itself quickly proved that Working needn't engender such negativity. Nor brevity, which has never been a strong suit (and "Working is" just doesn't have the same ring).

Mind you, although I am far from a professional critic and not forbidden from reviewing "Preview" performances--nor caught up in the recent controversy on the matter--I probably wouldn't have felt too good about slamming a recently re-created show on its first night in town, even in two words or less.

But even if I didn't see the show in peak Working condition, I was tremendously impressed with the content, production and performances. Somewhat surprisingly so.

I was largely oblivious to the history of the show until yesterday--I'd heard of the book but have never read it--so didn't realize the 1978 Broadway run was nominated for five Tony Awards. And while the pedigrees of the multiple songwriters involved were quite stellar, I was skeptical about Working coming off as something more than a stunted, stylistically-divergent revue of songs about working life.

But in accompanying compelling insights based on Terkel's interviews (and some more recent ones) with individuals in a range of occupations, the instantly apparent quality & depth of the songs was remarkable. It says much about the resonance of the 1978 tunes by Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked fame), James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rogers/Susan Birkenhead and Micki Grant that none seemed out of place in 2011--though a few of the old songs have been dropped--even next to two newly-penned numbers by streetwise In The Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

With Gordon Greenberg directing a uniformly wonderful cast of Chicago stage stalwarts E. Faye Butler, Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt alongside the younger trio of Michael Mahler, Emjoy Gavino and Gabriel Ruiz, a few of the many highlights included Schwartz's "All the Livelong Day" & "It's an Art" (about waitressing), Miranda's "Delivery," Taylor's "Brother Trucker" & "Millwork" and Carnelia's touching, Sondheimesque "Joe" about a recent retiree.

In addition to finding the employee vignettes--some within songs, some without--rather riveting, perhaps in keeping with Studs' man-of-the-people sensibilities, I noted how nearly all the occupations showcased were ones involving building things, directly helping others or otherwise doing something quite tangible.

Chicago's late, great Studs Terkel
In other words, there were no odes to the joy of trading derivatives. In fact, a non-singing character of a hedge fund manager came off with less likability than that of a prostitute.

As a 90-minute one-act show with often tenuous connectivity from one musical number to the next, Working isn't going to make anyone forget that Les Miserables is also in town. But in terms of accomplishing what it intends to do, Working pays off remarkably well.

With Schwartz--who originally adapted Terkel's 1974 book with Nina Faso--directly involved in this new production, which is well-suited to the comfortably intimate Broadway Playhouse, features local actors and isn't merely the latest stop of a road show, this is a rewarding work of musical theater any Chicagoan should work to see. (It should even go over well with atypical theatergoers.)

Mind you, outside a Broadway In Chicago subscription, standard ticket prices may be a bit steep for working (and especially non-working) stiffs. But with half-price tickets already showing up on HotTix, you shouldn't have to spend your whole income on Working.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

With the iPhone Now On Verizon, A Guide to Apps iLike Best

I have had an iPhone since December 2007, six months after Apple introduced its first generation model with service exclusively on AT&T.

The first gen iPhone served me very well and I never felt compelled to upgrade to the 3G or 3Gs versions, but last June got an iPhone 4 upon its release, largely because the battery life on my first one had dissipated sharply.

Not only has the iPhone been my only phone since I've owned one--I've never installed a land-line at my condo--but I have found it to be, both the 1G and now the 4G, the best engineered piece of machinery I have ever owned.

Lately I've had some weird connectivity issues when using Speed Dial, but nothing extreme, and although I've read about the popularity of Android-based phones, I can't currently perceive ever wanting a different model cell phone, especially if Apple continues to set the curve when it comes to innovation and industrial design.

Funny thing is, especially given the topic of this post, is that if you were to ask why iLove my iPhone, I would probably say that the apps (applications that can be installed) add a great deal of fun and functionality. Yet, in being truthful about how I predominantly use my iPhone, I would say: 1) to make phone calls 2) to check email and Facebook, although for email I prefer to check Hotmail through the Safari browser, not use the iPhone's built-in email interface 3) to browse the internet 4) to exchange text messages, but only about 20 per month and 5) to listen to music I own (i.e. as an iPod).

So in other words, nothing I couldn't have done before.

And yet, I am somewhat of an App Junkie. But only somewhat. For even though I have 89 Apps installed on my iPhone (grouped into categories as at right), I can't say I regularly use too many of them, and the vast majority of them were of the Free Download variety.

So with the iPhone now being newly available on Verizon, in addition to AT&T, I thought I'd share my opinions on the coolest, niftiest and most useful Apps, many of which I think are also available in similar form for Android and other smart phones. I don't have an iPad, but also assume many of the same apps are available for it.

What Constitutes an App?

Interesting question, one my mom asked me not long ago when considering new mobile phone options. I'm not sure what Apple's official definition is, but on their Apps for iPhone page, they open by saying:

The apps that come with your iPhone are just the beginning.

But I don't consider Calendar, Clock, Notes, Calculator or even Maps, Weather, iPod and Phone to be apps. They are just the factory-installed functions, which you access through icons. And even though you can add a Home Screen icon for easy access to any website, which I often do, those aren't apps either.

Although imperfect, my definition of an app would be: a program that adds functionality to your iPhone (or any smart phone) beyond simply accessing a browser-based website or launching one of the phone's pre-loaded capabilities. All apps are represented by icons, but not all icons represent apps. 

Some Apps iLike But Don't Count Among "the Best"

As if my ramblings above don't convolute things enough, even among apps that qualify as such--including some that I use relatively often--there are many that I don't think merit official mention among "my favorite iPhone apps."

For instance, I use the Facebook app all the time, because I enjoy checking and posting onto my Facebook wall. But beyond enabling me to do so, the Facebook app itself isn't particularly inspired or fantastic. Similarly, apps from Amazon, Ebay, Yelp,, IMBD, Goldstar and even Bank of America offer great convenience on the go, but primarily just replicate what makes the websites appealing, and really only save you a click from what you can access through the Safari browser.

Likewise, news/sports/information website-offshoot apps from CNN, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Google and Wikipedia are valuable, worth having and among those I utilize most, but not spectacular in their own right.

iPhone Apps iLove
These are my picks for the Best iPhone apps. (Note: Categories cited are mine and not necessarily those used in the App Store)

Scrabble (category: Games; cost: $1.99)
I've long been a Scrabble freak and this well-designed app version allows me to play against the computer (at multiple levels; the hardest is extremely tough), friends on Facebook or unknown opponents.

Yours, Vincent (category: Art; Free)
A bit of a memory hog, but really cool for art lovers. With this app, you can see dozens of Van Gogh's paintings from various periods and locations, along with his letters written to brother Theo, some with voice-over narration (albeit not by Vincent himself, of course). Another great art app is simply called Art (the icon is Mona Lisa; cost $0.99), through which you can see works by dozens of artists.

Flixster (category: Movie Info; Free)
Though many options abound for checking movie showtimes and opinions, including the Fandango app through which you can even buy tickets, Flixster is my favorite. It has the quickest & easiest interface, and includes composite ratings from Rotten Tomatoes. Although the IMDB app basically replicates the online database, it is great for quickly getting cast & crew info for any movie.

Dragon Dictation (category: Utilities; Free)
What's the best way to get a head start on a long-winded blog post? Dictate it into this pretty accurate voice transcribing app, and email it to yourself. (category: Media; $3.99)
Even in an online & virtual world, I'm still a newspaper junkie. This nifty free app--derived from the website--lets me see front pages of papers from around the world. It's cool to see what's most pertinent in each region and how unifying stories--such as the Mubarak resignation--are handled by different publications.

RedLaser (category: Comparison Shopping; Free)
Use your iPhone camera to scan the bar code of any product and RedLaser will show you prices at which it's available at various outlets, online & off. I first saw this feature on the Amazon app, but RedLaser makes it a bit more universal. Ironically, I used it to scan a Blu-ray of The Social Network at Walmart, and found that it was cheaper on Walmart wouldn't match the online price, so I didn't buy it there.

AccuRadio (category: Music; Free)
I have a pretty good music collection on my iPhone (and also older iPods), but sometimes I like to be surprised and/or hear something I don't own. AccuRadio--which is also a great website I discovered in writing this piece on online music resources--feeds free streams from its own "radio" stations in hundreds of genres. I also recommend Wolfgang's Vault (classic concerts), Pandora, Slacker and NPR Music when it comes to free music apps.

Rush (category: Music, $2.99 )
Speaking of music, the erstwhile Canadian power trio may be an acquired taste, but Geddy, Alex and Neil put several of their best songs in the palm of your hand for much less than they would cost to download. A pretty neat interface and tour information, too. R.E.M. also has a decent app.

Ballpark Envi (category: Sports, Architecture; $0.99)
As someone who has been to every current major league ballpark except 3, plus several shuttered ones, I enjoy reminiscing with this app. Photos of every present stadium, and most past ones, are included. I especially enjoy using the "Ken Burns Effect" (the app's term) to create something of a virtual tour. There are also Envi apps with photos and information on many subjects; the free Envi Sampler is a good place to start.

Tap Tap Nirvana (category: Games, Music; $4.99)
The Tap Tap series of games are akin to Guitar Hero, and work well on the iPhone. I love Nirvana and enjoy playing along to many of their great songs. Just the music alone makes this one worthwhile.

Tap DJ (category: Music; $1.99)
I don't know if this is the DJing app shown in a recent iPhone commercial, but that's where I got the idea to download it. I've never "spun" on a DJ turntable console, but this is a fun replication that lets you import songs from your iPhone's iPod collection, onto two turntables. You can mix between them, scratch, speed/slow, alter volumes and even record your creations. (category: Reference; Free)
A great free resource for those of us who always like to have a Dictionary and Thesaurus handy. For those traveling or learning another language, Free Translator (by Codesign) is also valuable.

Lose It! (category: Weight Loss; Free)
Unfortunately, I haven't really lost it, but probably because I ceased using this app, through which you can track food/calories consumed and time spent exercising in order to tabulate the needed balance to meet weight loss goals.

AAA Roadside Assistance (category: Help!; Free)
The app from AAA Motor Club makes requesting their roadside assistance services even easier. Once you input profile information, you can ask for needed help (tows, jumps, etc.) with the press of a button. I haven't needed to do this yet, but even over-the-phone AAA is probably the best service provider (both road and customer) I've come across, so I imagine the electronic version is just a boon. The app is free, but service requires AAA membership.

Tetris (category: Games; $1.99)
Admittedly, the purpose of many apps is simply to kill time, and for me, Tetris has always fit the bill, in airports, on planes, even just when unable to fall asleep. The classic game adapts very well to the iPhone.

Paper Toss (category: Games; Free)
This one's really more of a time waster than a time killer, but it's pretty addictive. Who needs Halo when you can spend your time throwing virtual paper into virtual garbage cans, having to gauge wind speed (from a virtual fan) as you do so.

A Few More Apps That iHave (which you may find useful)

American Airlines, LinkedIn, Twitter, TheaterMania, Kindle, OpenTable (dining reservations), Google Earth, Pac-Man, Glow Hockey, Flick Bowling, Netflix (watch movies on your phone), PhoneFlicks (manage your Netflix instant & disc queues), Pocket Piano, Pocket Guitar, Shazam (identify songs), Camera Zoom, WolframAlpha, StubHub, PayPal, MLB At-Bat Lite, Evernote, Genius Scan, Voice Memos, iHandy Level and although I haven't used it much since the World Cup: Vuvuzela.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My 11 Favorite Broadway Musicals (plus 11 more) -- New Post on Booth Reviews

Please click here or on the image at right to view my ranking of favorite musicals, which I've written for  the Booth Reviews blog housed on Chicago

If you wish to Comment, please do so on the Booth Reviews post.


Friday, February 11, 2011

I Wanna Thank 'The Producers' -- Celebrating Leo & Max on the 10th Anniversary of their first producing tremendous enjoyment

The original Chicago Tribune announcing
The Producers pre-Broadway tryout
This past Tuesday in Chicago I saw a new touring production of Les Miserables, which I believe to be the best Broadway musical ever created. But as I noted in my review, Les Miz is not quite my favorite musical of all-time.

Given my title and graphics here, I don't think you're exactly in much suspense. But when I saw the full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune at left on November 12, 2000, I had attended only a handful of other musicals and had never seen the classic Mel Brooks movie on which he based his stage production of The Producers. And as this was to be the musical's "pre-Broadway tryout," with tickets going on sale weeks before the start of its February 2001 run at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, I knew virtually nothing about it.

So it was somewhat fortuitous that I had enough of an appreciation for the greatness of Nathan Lane--and an American Express card--to buy advance tickets for a Sunday night performance on February 11, 2001, or exactly 10 years ago today.

As I'll elaborate upon, I've now seen The Producers on stage a total of 11 times, but as the cliche goes, there's nothing like the first time.

With my mom, sister Allison and myself in prime fourth row seats for what was just the 14th public performance of a theatrical work that would go on to be seen by millions around the world, I still don't think I have ever laughed harder. I'm sure Brooks, who wrote the music & lyrics, director Susan Stroman, co-book writer Thomas Meehan and other creators continued to tinker throughout the rest of the run of previews--it wouldn't officially "open" in Chicago until the following Sunday--but they had clearly produced a magnificent, monster smash from the get go (as corroborated legendary Tribune theater critic Richard Christiansen in his review on Feb. 19, 2001).

Offensive jokes insulting just about everyone (Jews, gays, blacks and more), audacious dance routines and a central conceit featuring Adolf Hitler went over as well as anyone--certainly not Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom--could ever have imagined. And with Ron Orbach, who was to play Franz Leibkind, himself the ironic victim of an injury, the central Broadway cast--Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Brad Oscar (as Leibkind), Ron Beach, Cady Huffman and Roger Bart, all of whom would go on to earn Tony nominations, with Lane, Beach & Huffman winning--was in place...and absolutely phenomenal.

If I wasn't already sold on Broadway musicals as an art form about which to be passionate, I was fully enraptured after my initial viewing of The Producers. So in planning a trip to New York City in June 2001 to see U2 at Madison Square Garden and catch the Mets play the Expos at Shea (two of which are now extinct), I bought a ticket to see The Producers on Broadway.

Beyond getting a chance to see the original cast on the Great White Way in catching the show a second time--Lane and Broderick still rank as the best Max/Leo pairing, by far--this worked out in incredibly fortuitous fashion. To begin with, while planning my trip I bought an excellent balcony seat at face value for $46. By the time I got to the St. James Theatre on June 17, 2001, The Producers was likely the hottest ticket in the history of Broadway, having won a record-setting 12 Tony Awards (out of 15 nominations) just 2 weeks before.

And while I would have been quite happy with my balcony seat, a woman next to me said she had a friend sitting by herself in the orchestra section. 'Would I mind switching seats with her friend?' she asked.

Once I ascertained that there was no way this was a scam, I happily made the trade and wound up sitting six rows from the stage, in a seat that was probably being scalped for a grand and that the box office would subsequently start selling for hundreds ($99 was the face value on the ticket at the time, but the lady & I made an even trade).

Although the shock value the second time obviously couldn't match the first--patrons around me seemed puzzled as to why I wasn't loudly guffawing like they were--the quality of the show (both the source material and the performance) was every bit as wonderful as I initially experienced. So beyond simply being someone who enjoyed "The Producers," I became something of a groupie (sans any stalking; even the signed program above was admittedly an eBay purchase).

If you really care, you can click my collage of Producers tickets to see it larger, but I next saw the show upon a trip to Cleveland in October 2002, where the first national tour was playing before routing back to Chicago the following Fall.

In May 2003, I traveled to Los Angeles and saw The Producers at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.
I really don't ever need an excuse to go to LA, where I lived in the early '90s and still have friends. But even though I also attended a Coldplay concert at the Hollywood Bowl--the only time I've ever been there--the true impetus for my trip was seeing the West Coast premiere of The Producers.

It starred Jason Alexander as Max Bialystock and Martin Short as Leo Bloom, the only time that pairing played the leads, as far as I know.

I also caught the show early in its London premiere in late 2004. Richard Dreyfuss was supposed to play Max, with British comedian Lee Evans as Leo. Dreyfuss dropped out before the run began and Nathan Lane stepped in, only having to bow out himself after just a few weeks due to back problems. But he was there when I was, on November 15, 2004, making for the third time I'd seen him in the role.

By February 2005, I had seen The Producers on stage seven times in its first 4 years in existence, but that didn't stop me from catching it again that May in New York, with Richard Kind as Max and Roger Bart, who had won a Tony for originating the Carmen Ghia role and was then having TV success on Desperate Housewives, as Leo.

I've since seen it three more times, including the regional theater premiere at Marriott Linconshire in fall 2007, in Leo was well-played by Guy Adkins, an accomplished local actor who would pass away from cancer in 2010 at just 41.

But it has now more than two years--my longest stretch ever--since last seeing The Producers, which closed on Broadway in 2007, despite initials predictions of a 20-year run, and also ended its touring cycle after many years.

Fortunately, the stage musical based on Brooks' 1968 comedic classic--which I have now seen--begat a 2005 musical film, which I own (along with the Original Broadway Cast Recording) and can watch anytime. However, I don't love the movie musical nearly as much as live renditions, though it stars Lane and Broderick. 

Although I have found that the quality of the piece--including very much so Brooks' score--has held up exceptionally well at every level, even without celebrity stars, I don't know that given all its raunch, The Producers will ever make to the high school or community theater circuit. But as referenced in its Wikipedia article, the show has played in dozens of countries, in myriad languages, and I have no doubt that I will see it on stage again someday. Somewhere.

And if only I could sing, I think I would make a helluva Max.

(Here's a clip from the 2001 Tony Awards, where The Producers won 12 trophies, still the most ever for a musical.)

This Ballroom Blitz Is Only Semi-Sweet -- Chicago Theater/Dance Review: Burn The Floor

Theater Review

Burn The Floor
A ballroom dancing revue
Bank of America Theatre
Thru February 13

I admire almost anyone who can do anything really, really well. So in saying that I didn't care for--or perhaps more accurately, about--Burn The Floor, a ballroom dancing showcase that is part of my Broadway In Chicago series, I don't mean it as an indictment of any of the performers involved.

Although I have no point of comparison--I've never even seen Dancing With The Stars--the tight-bodied, often scantily-clad dancers, accompanied by two singers and two drummers, seemed fantastic to me. Albeit at an art form for which I have no particular familiarity or affection.

So while I have no idea if aficionados of ballroom dancing would find anything done in Burn The Floor particularly groundbreaking, nouveau or extraordinary--as befitting its tagline of Ballroom. Reinvented.--all the dancers appeared to my novice eyes extremely adept as they shimmied through a series of cha-cha's, waltzes, rumbas, sambas and other dance styles.

But despite the impressive skill, stamina and versatility of the dancers, and nice work done by vocalists Peter Saul and particularly Vonzell Solomon, I can't deny being rather bored after about 15 minutes into the two hour revue.

Sure some numbers were livelier than others, with the high-energy group routines nicely syncopated, but I never felt anything much more than a detached appreciation.

Photo from Broadway production
In saying that--and with just four Chicago performances remaining I imagine ballroom dancing devotees already have seen the show, or soon will, and nobody else likely needs to--it seems a bit silly to quibble. But some of the song selections--and I believe the music was all canned except for the drum and vocal parts--felt either obvious, odd or obtuse.

Singer Solomon showed nice range in covering "Nights In White Satin," "Sway" (this one) and "Proud Mary," adding a vibe that many instrumental accompanied routines lacked, despite the dexterity of the dancers. Perhaps it reflects how little I know, or care, about the current ballroom dancing scene, but something that seemed missing was a modernized Fred & Ginger routine.

All in all, I am sure that 20 minutes of floor burning accompanied by cocktails at the Copacabana would be quite dazzling, but two hours from the balcony of the Bank of America Theatre was a lot more hot stepping than I really needed.

Thankfully I had switched my ticket from February 1st to last night, as Burn The Floor--at least for me--certainly isn't a show worth traveling through a blizzard to see. If at all.

(This is a video from the Burn the Floor website that should give a good indication of what it's all about.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Talking About the Weather--plus Helping Kids, Chasing Storms, Saving the Earth and Watching Jersey Shore--with NBC 5 Chicago Meteorologist Ginger Zee

Between last week's third-worst blizzard in Chicago history and this week's sub-arctic temperatures, the winter weather has been one of the hottest topics in town (and throughout the Midwest).

So it made for a nice excuse for me to reach out to Ginger Zee, the amicably engaging weekend meteorologist at Chicago's NBC 5 with amazingly aquamarine eyes.

Every bit as friendly over the phone as she appears on TV, Ginger certainly wasn't happy about the consequences of the 20.2" of snow that besieged Chicago between February 1 & 2. But she is proud to have been largely dead-on in her forecasts.

Yes, she foresaw the coming of the snowpocalypse
(and tried to warn us)

"Although meteorologists can see a major storm system up to seven days before it hits, it's not until four days prior that we that we really get a great idea of how it will take shape," she explained. "Once the storm hit land on Sunday [Jan. 30], I realized how big and impactful it would be."

Indeed, on her TV forecasts--she does triple-duty on both weekend days--as well as through her Facebook and Twitter feeds to a combined 10,000+ followers, Ginger was well out front about the vehemence of the blizzard. On Sunday, she tweeted, "At least a foot...potentially a foot and a half" and by midday Tuesday, she chided any remaining skeptics with this Facebook post:

While she won't second guess the decision not to shut down Lake Shore Drive--resulting in the situation I wrote about here--and notes that the accidents exacerbating the massive standstill could also have happened on the Eisenhower, Dan Ryan or other expressways, Ginger did note that at a 3:00pm appointment on Tuesday, Feb. 1, she advised an acquaintance against taking the Drive home.

Ginger doesn't claim to be prescient, but with a Bachelor's degree in Meteorology from Valparaiso University--where she now serves as an Adjunct Professor--she is a scientist who prepares her own forecasts. Although she didn't specifically say it, she clearly enjoys disproving whatever archaic perceptions some may have of a "weather girl," and remains rabid about expanding her expertise.

Of the near-record accumulation, Ginger professes to have been enthralled by the intensity of the lake effect snow. "One lake effect band on Wednesday morning brought a 1-2" snowfall rate per hour, which is what really got us up over 20 inches." (20.2" was the official recording at O'Hare, but even more fell elsewhere, including 21.2" in Downers Grove.)

No, Zee isn't her real last name,
but Mary Ann could have been her first

Growing up near Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ginger--so named due to her Dutch father (she's also half Italian) learning English through a love of television, particularly Gilligan's Island--first became fascinated with the weather at age 8, when derechos (windstorms) and water spouts spiced up a summer spent with her family alongside Lake Michigan.

Her interest in studying Meteorology at Valpo was further inspired by her father's unique vocation: making tennis courts. "I noticed how upset people got whenever it rained when it wasn't supposed to. I guess you could say it [her chosen course of study] was a way of making daddy happy."

VU's meteorology program, in which Ginger began as a freshman, provided her the chance to embark on storm chasing excursions that greatly amplified her education. "It's such a great way to learn. You're able to watch your forecasts come true almost instantly," she imparted.

Without collegiate training in journalism, communications or broadcasting, a future in TV wasn't necessarily in Ginger's long-range outlook until an internship alongside noted meteorologist James Spann at the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, proved quite enjoyable. While still in college, she was hired to deliver weather reports for WYIN in Merrillville, Indiana.

Coming to Chicago and WMAQ-TV in 2006 after stints in Grand Rapids and Flint, MI, Ginger is pleased with what she is able to provide to viewers.

Tomorrow's weather--and everything she says--remains entirely unscripted

"I hope to add to a little light in the middle of the newscast. Excepting days when the gravity of preceding stories or my forecast preclude it, I think it's OK to smile," she shared, while revealing that like most TV meteorologists these days, she doesn't script her weather segments nor use a teleprompter.

Although her talents have led to a guest stint on the Today show, in order to gauge how well she's heeding her abiding tenet for televised forecasts, Ginger admits to occasionally using a tried and true barometer: her mom.

"One thing I tell my students is to answer your viewers' main questions right off the bat. If I'm not quickly telling people what they most want to know, that's not good," Ginger remarked. "So sometimes I check with my mother to make sure I'm not overlooking the obvious."

As evidenced by my admission that I wasn't familiar with Ginger Zee until a couple months ago, a lot of people get their weather in ways beyond the local news. Rather than bemoan the new virtual reality, Ginger embraces both the benefits she brings to TV viewers and the advantages offered by the social media age.

"Especially in the case of extreme weather, an iPhone app can never provide the same sense of proximity and urgency that I can on TV. But with the Chicago vicinity being so vast, there's an inherent difficulty in giving each viewer a precise indicator of what they can expect, as weather can vary greatly over a 30-mile span and beyond. With Facebook and Twitter, I can provide more detailed projections, region by region. It's like a never ending broadcast."

Ginger recently donned a chocolate gown to benefit the
For The Love Of Chocolate Scholarship Foundation
She welcomes your feedback,
but please keep it clean
(and preferably not mean)

Although Ginger enjoys and appreciates her legions of online fans, friends and followers, and--as corroborated by her quick response to my request for an interview--reads and responds to all e-mail messages, some of the attention she receives is a bit untoward. As Christopher Borelli of the Chicago Tribune detailed in this 2010 article about her, Ginger is often the recipient of insulting, inappropriate, lewd, creepy and downright disturbing comments.

In the Borelli piece, she suggests that someday she'll "publish a book of crazy e-mails to meteorologists," but admits that it took awhile for her skin to thicken. "During my first two years in Flint, I cried every day. No one prepares you for getting ripped to shreds in e-mails and other online forums.

"I don't mind criticism and will take valid comments to heart. But when people get really vicious, not just about me but in ways that demean others around me, I'm sure to share those comments with my colleagues."

The above event benefiting the
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
took place last May
From the Green Screen
to the Green Scene,

with lots of charity work in between

In addition to her somewhat arduous weekend schedule on Channel 5--between working morning, 5:00pm and 10:00pm newscasts, napping is a vital weekend activity, especially as she is narcoleptic--Ginger does environmental reports for the NBC station.

Her "Green is Universal" segment airs Thursdays at 5:00pm and "Ginger's Green Scene" is a weekend staple. Having spent much of her adolescence on an organic farm, Ginger clearly conveys that her environmental concerns go far beyond a nice way to increase her air time.

"Our air is dirty, our water is dirty. We have to do something about that. We have to take care of the Earth," she stresses. "Though friends keep it light by calling me the 'recycling police,' it's really quite serious.

"Don't you want to breathe clean air?"

Something else Ginger is deeply committed to is putting her time off work to good use, not just for herself but for many others. Although she is proudly a TV junkie, happily watching everything from 30 Rock to the History Channel to Jersey Shore--"it's important for us be entertained," she posits--Ginger spends hours each week teaching Meteorology at her alma mater, talking to elementary school students and participating in (and often hosting) many charity events.

Tonight (Feb. 10) she will be at the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity; on March 19, she will host the Spring Fashion Show for the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, where she serves on the board. She is also on the board of the Chicago's Children Choir--I neglected to ask if she herself can sing, although I've read she was quite a hit at past Newsapaloozas--and each year assists with the One Step Camps through which Children's Oncology Services allows kids with cancer to enjoy a variety of outdoor pursuits.

"I usually do 2 or 3 charity events per week," Ginger told me, saying that she has particular affinity for non-profits that provide very tangible and local support to affected individuals and their families. "If someone asks and I have time, I'm usually open to helping out."

Sorry guys, she's got a boyfriend
(and a big dog)

Photo from
Last fall, Reed Timmer, who like Ginger grew up in Grand Rapids and became a meteorologist, asked her to chase tornadoes with him for the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers, in which he stars. Having loved storm chasing in college, Ginger leaped at the invitation.

"He's breaking into science in a way that's so exciting to me," declares Ginger, who is now dating Timmer. "We're learning much more about how exactly tornadoes work, and in getting a better read on the vertical wind of each twister, it will eventually enable more resilient structures to be built."

As Ginger shared on Facebook and Twitter, last Saturday, Feb. 5--National Weatherperson's Day, though she suggests the title should denote Meteorologists--she was delighted by visits to the NBC Chicago studio from two special guests: Timmer and her beloved black lab, Otis.

With some recent national TV exposure and an enthusiastic fan base, it's easy for me to imagine Ginger being in a position to significantly expand her presence in coming years. But she claims she is "thrilled and grateful just to be working." Like anyone, she'll weigh possibilities as they present themselves, but while she's not adverse to becoming a bigger TV star, even perhaps beyond the realm of meteorology, it's clear that her passion remains where it began: with a love of the science behind the weather. Particularly in the Midwest.

Some days are hot, some days are cold. But at the end of most of them, I imagine that Ginger Zee genuinely enjoys her life, and whatever effect her expertise may have on yours.

Even as I conclude this in the dark of night, with the outside temperature below zero and feeling much colder, I expect that Ginger's own forecast for all the weeks ahead will be nothing but bright, warm and sunny.

Just as she is.

Ginger Zee, NBC 5 Chicago Meteorologist
Saturday 6am-10am, 5pm and 10pm newscasts
Sunday 6am-9am, 5pm and 10pm
Twitter: @ginger_zee

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

No Longer "Turning, Turning," Revamped 'Les Miserables' Isn't Quite As Revolutionary, but Remains a Glorious Success -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Les Miserables
25th Anniversary Tour
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 27, 2011

Having seen over 200 different Broadway musicals--not on Broadway but on stage--I believe Les Miserables is the best piece of musical theater ever created. (Though it isn't quite my favorite musical; I'll be writing about that one later this week.)

Based on the classic 19th century novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miz was originally created as a French musical in 1980--with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil--and opened in London in 1985 and on Broadway in 1987 with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.

Willfully oblivious to great musicals until well into adulthood--or at least an age typically associated with it--I didn't see Les Miz until I caught it on Broadway in 1998. With an absolutely phenomenal score, including great anthems, ballads and recurring motifs, accompanying a compelling storyline and amazing scenery, I consider it--in its fullest form--one of the most perfectly-realized artistic creations of any kind.

Touring versions of the original Broadway production ran for years, but at some point after I caught it in 2002 and 2005 with the great Randal Keith as Jean Valjean (the lead character), the original production was retired, at least in America. For whatever reason, there isn't a even a DVD of the original Broadway or London stagings, just "concert" versions, but I would see high school versions of Les Miz--I haven't yet--and found Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire's in-the-round 2008 production of the show to be the best thing they've ever done (and that's saying a lot).

So when my current Broadway in Chicago season included a new "25th Anniversary Tour" version of Boublil & Schönberg's Les Miserables, featuring an all new staging and some revised orchestrations, I was pretty excited. I understand that economics mandate some scaling back of Broadway tours--though technically, this version hasn't played the Great White Way--and figured the source material was so great that the show would be wonderful in any form.

And indeed it is, if not quite as exquisite as in the past. If you've never seen Les Miz, you should definitely get down to Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre (or wait for it to hit your town) and if you are a longtime devotee of the piece, there's no reason to avoid this rendition. It remains a staggering work of art, and even with some scaling down of the sets--no turntable, a less intricate barricade--it is a bigger production than almost anything you'll see coming through Chicago for less than a month.

The price on my "Balcony Club" subscription ticket was $10.00, and even from the last row in the house, the artistic value I received in return was easily many times that much. Lawrence Clayton--the first African-American ever to play the lead at this level--was very good as Valjean, if not quite the best I've seen. Andrew Varela as Javert and Betsy Morgan as Fantine sang their showcase songs--"Stars" and "I Dreamed A Dream", respectively--as well as any Les Miz junkie could have hoped. Jenny Latimer as the grown Cosette and Justin Scott Brown as Marius were also notably good.

I can't say I noticed much variance in the orchestrations, although some of the lyrics and/or phrasings felt unfamiliar. At a full 3 hours, this wasn't an abridged version, but without the turntable and other past set pieces, some of the segues and even songs themselves felt rushed at times. The character of Gavroche and his "Little People" song was cut for no readily apparent reason, so [Spoiler Alert] the capture of Javert was dramatically diminished. And I missed the scrims telling me the years in which action was taking place.

None of this, nor anything else that made for a lesser Les Miz, will be much missed by those not intimately familiar with past editions. But I did notice that the emotional heft, particularly in Act II, seemed to wane a bit. Usually the Finale song, with the marching chorus of departed souls, gives me goose bumps. Last night it didn't.

While I respect producer Cameron Mackintosh's decision to freshen things for yet another Les Miz tour--supposedly Victor Hugo's own paintings served as an inspiration this time around--in the end, I can't say that it was necessary to mess with perfection. Or that the result improved on it.

Les Miserables is a @@@@@ piece of work that no musical theater fan should miss, but compared to its past glories, the current version is a 1/2@ less rousing.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Snowbound for 13 Hours (or: The Worst LSD Trip Ever) -- as shared by an ever grateful Paulette Jacobsmeier

Paulette Jacobsmeier's back Mini Cooper is in
the left lane near the top of this photo.
Paulette Jacobsmeier is a smart, accomplished businesswoman. She makes her living helping to settle personal injury lawsuits, so she's acutely aware of risks and consequences. As a self-described "tough Iowa chick," she has long experienced Mother Nature at her most diabolical. And as Chicago's near-record "Blizzard of 2011" began touching down during the afternoon of Tuesday, February 1, her downtown office offered a great vantage point to see the storm's developing impact, even on nearby expressways.

Far from oblivious, Paulette didn't feel compelled to leave work until shortly after 5:00pm, had no problems making a routine stop at a post office and still doesn't feel foolish for her choice to take Lake Shore Drive, her regular route home to Rogers Park (on Chicago's far north side).

"Once I got on Lake Shore Drive, it was slow going, and the wind was really whipping off the lake, but we were moving," Paulette told me this morning, a week later. "Perhaps I could have been more aware of how treacherous LSD might be, but in discussing the drive home with colleagues, no one expressed undue concern."

Her commute typically lasts 30-45 minutes. After getting on the Drive at 5:30pm on Feb. 1, Paulette Jacobsmeier didn't arrive home until 6:40am on Feb. 2 ...without her car, with which she didn't reunite until the evening of Friday, Feb. 4.

Paulette and I share a close mutual  friend, Paolo Palazzi-Xirinachs, and I had met her at a party last Halloween. We weren't connected on Facebook until last Thursday--after Paolo had relayed that she was one of those who had gotten stuck on LSD, one of the most harrowing repercussions (and likely lasting images) of the blizzard--so I didn't know she had been posting updates in real time. But reading back through them was still incredibly compelling and in addition to talking to me about her experience, Paulette kindly allowed me to share her posts here.

Saying that she considers what happened something of a 'Perfect Storm,' Paulette notes that it wasn't the snow, waves or wind in themselves that left her and nearly 1,000 other motorists stranded, but a series of accidents up ahead in Lake Shore Drive's northbound lanes.

Photo by Paulette Jacobsmeier
"I didn't specifically know about it as it happened, but the bus accident at Belmont is what really brought everything to a standstill" says Paulette, who would spend most of the night in her black Mini Cooper, stalled just north of the North Avenue footbridge. "Certainly, I thought of trying to get off the Drive, but we were bumper-to-bumper, so there was never really an opportunity.

"At 8:00, I had stopped moving. By 8:30, when about 6 to 8 inches of snow had drifted onto the cars around me in just a half-hour, I was pretty convinced we weren't going to move again. And we didn't."

As you can see, Paulette's Facebook posts were becoming steadily more concerned--and concerning--but she says that her Friends provided vital support...and more. [Note: I'm not sharing the Comments to her posts, both for space and privacy reasons, but there were many heartwarming responses to everything Paulette expressed.]

"I usually don't post often to Facebook, but I'm so glad that I did. I never felt alone and there were even practical benefits. A friend of mine called her sister, who lives in a building overlooking the Drive. She called me and was able to provide a bird's eye view, so I had a better idea of what was going on, or if help seemed to be on the way."

It wasn't until 10:30pm that Paulette first spoke to an on-site firefighter, who told her that 'help would come in a half-hour.'

With a full tank of gas, a warm car and friends keeping her company via her fully-charged smart phone, Paulette was relatively secure, although understandably frightened, as that "half-hour" turned into five additional hours before she was told to leave her car and board a warming bus.

Even today, she sounded much more relieved and grateful than angry or bitter, and I greatly admire her positive outlook. Still, she can't help but wonder if things might have been handled a bit better.

"I know it was a crazy situation, and to their credit, the firemen who helped me and others, candidly admitted there wasn't really a clear plan. So I'm extremely glad it turned out well," Paulette assessed. "But do I think they could have gotten to us sooner? I do. Early on, there were snow plows and salt trucks in the southbound lanes. So I'd like to think they could have brought in buses and gotten us out of our cars a lot earlier."

As it turned out, even after being safely removed from her car after 10 hours of being stuck in it, Paulette's night didn't get any easier.

Following her rescue by firefighters, one of whom walked with her to the warming bus, only to mutually fall into a snow drift--"I looked up at him and managed to wryly say, 'this is ridiculous,' and he agreed"--for whatever reason, hundreds of frazzled citizens who were heading northbound on Lake Shore Drive were taken to Malcolm X College, located near the United Center on Chicago's West Side.

There weren't enough cots for all those stranded and after about 15 minutes, Paulette and a group of fellow refugees walked to the Blue Line 'L', which was relatively full of shift workers heading in on a Wednesday morning when many area employees would stay home. Paulette then switched to the Red Line and rode it to Howard, normally a nice 15 minute walk to her Rogers Park home.

It was the worst part of a calamitous night, as Paulette began to wonder "if I was going to make it" in the midst of a blizzard that would drop 20.2" inches officially and feature some of the harshest blowing snow in memory. There were no cabs at the Howard station, and not many cars on the street as she soldiered home. "As a runner, I did what runners do. I counted down the blocks."

"At 6:40am, I walked in my door and started sobbing."

It's clear in talking to Paulette that her car was never her major concern, even in the subsequent days. Although it seemed a bit silly to her that license plates weren't recorded and tracked, resulting in a fruitless search on Thursday night, she says after surviving the experience largely in tact, her attitude about her Mini was, "I'll find it when I find it."

Still, once we had connected on Facebook, I was quite happy when I saw her Facebook post on Friday night.

Quite a story; one that I'm grateful isn't my own but just as grateful didn't wind up worse for Paulette, or seemingly most others who were among the most visible victims of Snowmageddon. For her part, Paulette says the experience left her shaken and emotional, but that she's doing well both physically and mentally.

In a world where people can't stop grouching about minor contrivances--heck, I whined about being stuck inside my safe, warm condo during the snowstorm--what's remarkable to me isn't just Paulette Jacobsmeier's perseverance, but her perspective. During our hourlong conversation, she not only was entirely open, but effusively grateful to the firefighters who extracted her and others from LSD, to the numerous friends who kept her upbeat during the ordeal and to the workers at the Soldier Field parking lot where she retrieved her car--"they cleared off my car, had jumper cables & tow trucks at the ready and were just extremely nice."

In summation, Paulette suggests:

"If you come out of a 13-hour ordeal like this with only a tiny bit of frostbite on your feet--despite having worn kitten-heeled boots to work that day--I think you're pretty lucky."

I'm glad you were, Paulette. Thanks for sharing your story; let's hope it never happens again. And if anyone deserves a trip to Florida, it's you.