I can’t tell you how nice it feels to start doing normal-life things again.
The pandemic is not over, and I really hope that countries like ours with a vaccine surplus will step up efforts to distribute doses to areas that are still battling high case counts. All the same, we’re fortunate that things are looking good here. Back in the early days of writing these emails, we were preparing for what we thought would be a two-week quarantine; it felt as though those two weeks would last ages. And then… the quarantine never really ended.
Finally, this was a week with some big milestones. Our downstairs neighbors moved in sometime during 2020—I couldn’t even tell you which month—and we managed to become friends without actually spending any time in the same room. Last weekend, now that we are all fully vaccinated, we visited their place for the first time for dinner and a game night. I had forgotten the simple pleasure of having a night in with friends and just hanging out.
Yesterday, Ashley and a co-worker were helping that same neighbor with an outdoor construction project. I went outside to say hi, and they asked if I wanted to go get Tex-Mex with them. Like, you mean, we can spontaneously decide to go somewhere, just like that? We don’t need to draw up a formal proposal for how to do this safely? We ended up getting take-out and eating at home, but still, that was the first time we’d had people over to our place for a meal in almost a year.
And today we took our first extensive visit to a new Chicago neighborhood since before Covid. We ate at a fantastic Senegalese restaurant in Bronzeville, and then we walked to the lake and explored interesting things that we encountered along the way. One was a little park marking the resting place of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, a.k.a. the guy who debated Lincoln and later lost the presidency to him. It consisted of a statue of Douglas atop an obscenely tall obelisk. Given the man’s heinous racism and the fact that this is a largely Black community, it really should be removed (the statue, not the body). On the other hand, there was a hip-looking raven perched on Douglas’ head the whole time, so that somewhat made up for the questionable morals of the place.
At that area of the lakefront, there is a 100-acre natural habitat area, which entails prairie grasses and other vegetation that’s native to the region. Interspersed throughout are a skate park and a basketball court, wildlife sanctuaries, and artistically-themed gathering spaces. It’s also next to a harbor where you can sit and watch the boats come in and out. It was a strange weather day, with lots of ominous clouds and no rain, but it was warm and I’m sure people have been itching for escapes, so there was plenty of water traffic.
We still haven’t lived in Chicago all that long, and there’s so many adventures that we still want to go on. Having to put that on hold was difficult; it also makes us appreciate what we have now that it is accessible again. We already found at least a dozen more places in Bronzeville to check out next time, and this is just one neighborhood.
I appreciate everyone who shared their thoughts about what I wrote last week, which I’ve also published on Medium. It’s always my goal to listen to the people who are most important to me, and to learn from your experience and perspective. While I’m ultimately the one who has to be responsible for my views and positions, I really believe that we are all better when we can think and feel collaboratively, and I am super lucky to have so many knowledgable, empathetic, and passionate people in my corner.
We are mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Bob Koester, a Chicago music icon, who recently passed away. He was a member of our mishpocheh—that’s a Yiddish word that means family, and often, “extended family and then some.” My dad’s side of the family could be in the dictionary under this definition; we’re much closer than you would know simply by looking at the genealogy. We also take immense pride in each others’ accomplishments, and Bob’s were definitely unique in the annals of his family, and his city for that matter.
His Jazz Record Mart was one of the most legendary stores in the country, and via his label Delmark Records, he recorded and reissued many incredible jazz and blues musicians. What I find remarkable is that, while he found a way to be financially successful—no easy task—that was purely a means to an end for Bob. He never put out a single record on Delmark because he thought it would sell; he only put what he wanted to hear, and what he thought people needed to hear.
In this New York Times piece, you can read some fun stories about Bob’s experience getting his label off the ground, and this remembrance from NPR includes clips from a few of the records he produced. Also, Ira Kaplan of the band Yo La Tengo dedicated a great set to Bob and Delmark Records on his WFMU radio show, which gives you a real flavor for his musical legacy.
Thank you, Bob.
That’s all I’ve got. Please take care, write back if you can, and I’ll see you next week.