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In Praise of Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron, an American genius, is dead.

I came to Gil Scott-Heron via Amriri Baraka. As a young poet in the late 80s in Chicago, I loved the visciousness that Baraka could bring to beauty. Knocking around the UIC Main Library, I found The Vulture and it blew my mind.

The last two tracks of Kanye's record brought Gil Scott-Heron back to me. Whatever Kanye wanted that song to mean, to me it's all about trying to be an artist in the middle of that which is not artful. Solitary, earnest, lasting attempts to make something worthwhile. It's about the optimistic idea that in spite of all of the lights, and the lack of milk & honey, we just might survive in America, with just a few people in a bare room clapping at the end of a poem.

God bless, and all hail, Gil Scott-Heron.


Bill Cunnigham is an Amazing Artist and Bill Cunnigham New York is a Great Film

Shawn-Laree and I saw Bill Cunnigham New York at the Music Box Theater last Friday. Go see it. Bill Cunningham is the greatest living Irish Catholic artist. There is such joy in his work, his methods, and his theory of art.

Early on in the film he talks about clothing having "an idea". That's what he wants to see-- an idea that is conceived and executed. He seeks and finds beauty daily. All hail Bill Cunningham.

Bonus: recent pic of Cunningham taken by a Chicago Street Style photographer.

Screen shot 2011-05-25 at 10.49.23 PM

Amazing Mural at the Zingo Express/ BP Amoco in Knox, Indiana

Whilst traveling back from Wabash over the weekend, we stopped at a BP for gas &etc. Inside was this epic mural of architectural life in Knox, Indiana in the mid-1980s:

Knox, Indiana BP/ Amoco Zingo Express Gas Station Mural: Panorama

Here's some detail, starting with an old school take on the original gas station-- "Zingo", when diesel was 30 cents a gallon:

Knox, Indiana BP/ Amoco Zingo Express Gas Station Mural: Zingo Diesel Fuel Detail

Here's a look at Knox City Hall:

Knox, Indiana BP/ Amoco Zingo Express Gas Station Mural: City Hall Detail

Matched against the Google Street View take of the place recently:

Knox, Indiana City Hall, 101 W. Washington St.

Here's a 1980s-ish look at the place when it was an Amoco:

Knox, Indiana BP/ Amoco Zingo Express Gas Station Mural: Amoco/ Burger King

And on StreetView:

View Larger Map

This is some amazing folk art by this guy:

Knox, Indiana BP/ Amoco Zingo Express Gas Station Mural: Jeff Shepard, Artist (1986?)

Architecture of Wabash, Indiana

SL and I went to Wabash, Indiana, for a family function over the weekend, and I took some shots of the Wabash, Indiana downtown. Really good stuff.


In Praise of Invasives

Naturalists like to talk about "invasives" in derisive terms. Here's a snip from the wikipeida entry for the term:

They disrupt by dominating a region, wilderness areas, particular habitats, and/or wildland-urban interface land from loss of natural controls (i.e.: predators or herbivores). This includes non-native invasive plant species labeled as exotic pest plants and invasive exotics, in restoration parlance, growing in native plant communities.

But I wonder if this isn't an unfair take on the species we consider "invasive". I'm guessing the mothers and fathers of these so-called invasive plants think that their offspring are right at home!

Broadleaf Cattail (Typha latifolia) with fall-blooming fuzz at Lincoln Marsh, November 2010

Wildflowers of Michigan

I love nature-- experiencing the simple joy of flowers, shrubs, plants, clouds, lake water-- all that stuff. I also like to think myself a student of how we approach nature. I love how we fix it to be just so, like in my periodic shots of the retention pond outside of the California Pizza Kitchen in Warrenville, IL:

Suburban Nature, California Pizza Kitchen, Warrenville, IL, August 30, 2010

Rather than approach this vista with contempt, like Thoreau might, I want to see and appreciate it for what it is-- the conscious work product of a well-minded landscape architect who made a series of choices about this spot. Here it is from above:

View Larger Map

Can't you just see the ordered drawing of a professional there? I assume this little pond serves a purpose (catching runoff rain water), but it also provides a welcome view before pizza-flavored num-nums.

So while I dig this order that comes from our studied approach to nature, I am also crazy for the disorder of nature. And one of the most common ways for an Illinoisan/ midwesterner to get in touch with the joyously fractured nature of nature is to go into the woods and look at wildflowers.

So that's what i did, on Mother's Day morning, with a learned family friend, Lyla Rodgers, who took me on a short walk and pointed out wildflowers as we went. Here's the complete set and here are some highlights:

Wildflowers of Michigan: Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple) Detail

I had never heard of a Mayapple before. It is a very widespread flower that pops up in bunches and yields a teeny little apple. Careful, though-- apparently it has some toxicity:

The ripened fruit is edible in moderate amounts, though when concussed in large amounts the fruit is poisonous. The rhizome, foliage and roots are also poisonous,[4] Mayapple contains podophyllotoxin,[5] which is used as a cytostatic and topically in the treatment of viral and genital warts.

I like the specificity of living things. Marsh marigolds apparently really like to hang out near wet areas:

Wildflowers of Michigan: Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)

Makes sense.

There are dozens of photos in the set, with links to more information about each species, but I'll leave you with one more, the Eastern Skunk Cabbage. Tear off a piece of this leaf and you'll know why it's called that.

Wildflowers of Michigan: Symplocarpus foetidus (Eastern Skunk Cabbage) Detail

Logan Square Land Use: Mega Mall Block Through Time -- Emptiness, Movie Theaters and Auto Dealerships

Lately, after having been schooled by architecture & design educator Jen Masengarb on the topic, I have had a mini-obsession with Sanborn Fire Maps in Chicago. She obtained a set of maps for the area around my apartment in Logan Square for 1896, 1921, and 1950 and helped me (and some other nerds) analyze these treasures.

The thing that interested me most about these maps were the changes in land use through time. We all know there is often a lot of heat around how we use the landscape to serve our needs. One element that I think is often lost in these discussions is a simple, towering, fact: things change.

In land use discussions, we tend to constuct narratives that go back as far as make sense to us or support our arguments. But seeing these plain maps, with no judgements applied, and the context of time stripped from them, makes us see another view that really doesn't have anything to do with us. And that is refreshing to me.

So the first area I zeroed in on was the Mega Mall block-- the 2500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. Here it is in each map:

1896: The Mega Mall Block, Logan Square

Mega Mall Block, 1896

1921: The Mega Mall Block, Logan Square

Mega Mall Block, 1921

M 1950: The Mega Mall Block, Logan Square

Mega Mall Block, 1950

The number one/ most obvious observation here is how underpopulated the area is in 1896. There are basically a set of empty lots, waiting to be built upon. Like a sad suburban subdivision with no chance of success. It reminded me of this shot I took of vestigal driveway curb cuts in Charlotte, NC:

Vestigal Subdivision Driveway

By 1921, there was some action on the block. The Milshire Hotel (2525 N. Milwaukee Ave)  was there by then. It's still standing, still serving:

The MegaMall Block: Milshire Hotel

The Milshire is an interesting place from the outside. Here's a snip from a TripAdvisor review from someone who's been on the inside:

I've stayed at some run down places all over the world, but this place takes the cake. First off it is a brothel, and filled with meth/crack heads. I have no idea how this place passes any inspections. I was going to a couple of shows at the Congress theater, and this place is the closest place to it, so...

The second thing I noticed was that there are no less than 13 auto dealers on this block by 1921. Here's the map, viewed large, so you can see yourself. Some of these shops are on 25-foot long lots. There are also lots of repair shops on the street behind Milwaukee (north of WIllets and Sacramento). Many of the structures from these auto dealerships (including the Mega Mall) remain. One can easily picture the bricked-up portion of this building as a picture-window showroom at 2511 North Milwaukee:

The MegaMall Block: Former Car Dealership

Who knew that it used to be the Western Avenue of Chicago? I had no idea that the auto industry was even that robust at this time-- big enough to support 13 dealerships on one city block. But since the first auto assembly line was in 1913, the timing pretty much makes sense.

The next thing worth mentioning is the movie theaters. In 1921, it seems there was a large movie palace-- the Rio Theater at 2540 N. Milwaukee-- in the empty lot north of the Mega Mall next to where the Blue Line goes underground northbound.

Screen shot 2011-05-06 at 4.14.42 PM

Rio Theater, 1921

One thing I don't understand is the Logan Square Theater, directly across the street to the east at about 2547 N. Milwaukee:

Screen shot 2011-05-06 at 4.31.18 PM

Logan Square Theater, 1950

Part of this is clearly the Logan Square Affiliated Physicians Building (2551 North Milwaukee Ave), pictured here, from the other day:

The MegaMall Block: Former Logan Square Theater

Logan Square Theater, 1950

But what I don't understand is if the buildings to the north are part of the theater as well. I think this may have to do with the way the maps start and end. Here's the large version of the 1950 map for your perusal. Very little had changed since 1921, it seems.

Here's my full set of recent photos of the block here. This block is going strong-- many new restaurants, and even a new structure at the Mega Mall:

The MegaMall Block: MegaMall Addition

One day at a time, Logan Square lovers.

Picturing Pitching O'Neils

I like to take pictures. I like my children. I like it when my children pitch. I like talking pictures of my children pitching.

CXO Pitching

Detail of Caleb Tilt-Shift Windup

Here's a Bunch of Badasses Watching a Bunch of Badasses Getting Ready to Kill an Asshole Yesterday.



Daniel X. O'Neil: Chicago-based writer and internet developer. I am a co-founder of and the People Person for EveryBlock, a site that pulls together local news and public information. I run dozens of personal projects and websites for clients, and also own half of a poetry book company.


EveryBlock: A news feed for your block.
CTA Tweet: Unofficial Twitter tracker for the Chicago Transit Authority.
CityPayments: Database of all vendors, contracts, and payments that have been posted by the municipal government of the City of Chicago
Wesley Willis Art: Site dedicated to the fact that Wesley Willis was an artist.
Wide Right Turn: An incomplete look at the role of variation in a capitalist society.


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    • Wesley Willis Art
      Site dedicated to the fact that Wesley Willis was an artist.
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      Wireless notifications about service on the Chicago Transit Authority.
    • Wide Right Turn

      An incomplete look at the role of variation in a capitalist society.
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      Simple form for creating Y!Q links to add relevance, annotate text, and provide more sophisticated layers of meaning to web content.