People Who Brave Chicago Snowstorms

Thursday night and all day Friday, a casual observer would’ve assumed Chicago was preparing for Y2K—alas, no such superstition proved true. It was just another snowstorm.

After 36 hours of spitting snow, take-your-breath-away wind, and thick cloud cover, the weather is back to normal: sunny and cold, with a few inches of snow on the ground, and clear, salty streets. I’m sure it’s come as a surprise to the thousands of people who spent Friday afternoon spending their paycheck on bottled water, canned food, and candles.

Because I’ve only cultivated enough good sense to keep from wandering alleys in the dark, of course when it shows the first thing I do is put on my warm clothes and go outside.

After spending a few hours outside every day, I’ve learned there are lots of different kinds of people who go out in Chicago winter.

My dog is tired: A man wearing mustard-yellow ski pants charged past me, wearing an adult golden retriever slung rather unceremoniously over his shoulders. The dog kept sniffing people’s faces, and when an old lady reacted in surprise at a wet nose inches from her own, the dog-carrying man grunted and said, “He’s just tired.”

My rain boots are impervious: Chicago natives (should) all know that in a heavy snow, it’s far better to wear rain boots than snow boots. The city dumps about 1 ton of salt every 60 minutes, so within an hour of the snow, everything that used to be covered in pretty white is gray slush. Countless people who do know the secret of rain boots in the snow charge through intersections with little regard for anyone else—or their own feet.

My marathon training can’t wait: If running in the city isn’t already dangerous enough for you (concrete + knees = hasty joint demise), try doing it when there’s packed snow and ice on a third of your route—but make sure you don’t care about your pants. Yesterday, a runner hurried across an intersection in front of me, stomping in every slushy puddle. His joggers were splattered with water from knees down, and his shoes were saturated.

My sidewalk is my passion: It’s easy to tell the difference between the people who take pride in cleaning their 64 square feet of sidewalk, and the people who just don’t care. We have one neighbor who always shovels and salts his walk by nine a.m., and another neighbor who waits until mid-afternoon to casually step out, test the slickness, and throw some salt on top of everything. If it doesn’t melt today, I know it’ll by gone by April.

My closet is empty: Because I’m wearing every single article of clothing I own. And I also can’t turn my neck more than eight degrees. But it sure is toasty up in here.

My man card needs more punches: Manliness—or maybe just desperation for cash—inspires dozens of brave delivery bikers to skid and slip along the soggy streets. It’s a whole new level of crazy. Reminiscent of second grade, most of them also drag their toes to stop.

My kids? What kids? Sometimes adults forget the thrill, awe, and wonder of the first snow, and only realize half-way down the block that their six-year-old and eight-year-old are throwing snowballs back at the corner. It’s a sorry thing to be upset about.

My feet are so stylish: There’s a lot of real estate for commentary on winter footwear. About half the people who venture into the weather choose fashion over function. Apparently it’s cool now to arrive at your final destination with frostbitten toes and sloshing shoes, instead of dry feet in ugly waterproof boots. Also, exposed ankle skin must be stylish too. Who doesn’t want red, itchy ankles for two hours after coming inside?

My home is not here: It’s easy to tell who’s not from around here for two reasons. 1) I have a not-black ski coat. 2) I stop to take pictures of buildings in nine degree weather.

My, this is nothing: This measly snowfall has nothing on the blizzard of ’12. Or ‘94. ‘92. ‘86. ‘81. Etc.

What a good weekend to be alive.

Three Rules for Driving in Chicago Traffic

Most people are prompted to write because they have some terrible experience or because they have a burning message in their heart they need to share.

In my case, it’s a little of both.

On Saturday, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I drove into Chicago from the suburbs. Since it was rush hour, the drive that should have taken us one hour took us two.

By the end of the trip—though I’m neither prone to fits of rage, nor inclined to acts of anger—I was having a rather tortured experience. You know the feeling: when you sit for 20 minutes in a line of cars at a traffic signal and just when you’re about to go through, a speeding car cuts you off. It inspires some grim emotions.

What if, instead of looking out for their own gain in driving, people were thinking about each other?

Ground rules for driving in traffic and in general:

Be Smooth
Growing up, my sister gave me one ground rule for driving: imagine you’re balancing a glass of milk on your head, and drive accordingly. AKA, your grandma doesn’t want to get whiplash from the half-mile drive to the grocery store.

Be Shrewd
Think you can make the light, but you’re not quite sure and there’s a semi speeding toward the intersection? Practice critical thinking. For everyone except the man himself, driving is not a time to be padding the Evel Knievel section of your resume.

Be Courteous
If you’re letting cars in on purpose instead of trying to keep them out and waving your hand angrily when you get cut off, it pays in two ways. 1) You don’t get a rage ulcer from repeatedly not getting your way, and 2) good will begets good will. If everyone is being kind to the other drivers on the road, everyone will get receive positive benefits from it.

If every Chicago driver lived by these rules, we’d have fewer accidents, fewer heart attacks, and fewer gray hairs.

Why You Should Love Doing Laundry

I looked up poems about doing laundry, but found mostly stream of consciousness rants from disenchanted housewives.

Being neither disenchanted, nor possessing an articulate stream of consciousness by this time of night, here instead is a list of all the reasons why you should love doing laundry.

Socks: If you wash your socks your feet won’t smell. That’s good, because if your feet smell, when you go bowling and trade in your shoes, it will ruin the taste of the pizza.

Jeans: Remember the day you called in sick to work but actually walked around New York City in the rain? At the next company picnic, your boss might be suspicious when he sees the mustard stains, muddy hems, and little white spot where you sat on bird scat without realizing it.

Undershirts: Every once in a while, when you’re lifting chili or saucy wings to your mouth, a little bit might spill around the neck of your white shirts. If you wear that under your collared shirt to a job interview, it will be distracting. So distracting that your chances of getting a job may be ruined.

Under-other-things: this is just a good idea for hygiene etc.

Dress shirts: Everyone knows the middle school boy look—crumpled shirt with sweat stains around the armpits. It shouts, “I found this under the bed where I kicked it last time I took it off.” You’re thinking, if it’s fine for them, it’s fine for me. Here’s how you should decide if that’s right: are you in middle school?

Dresses: Unwashed dresses have a certain limp look to them, a look that whispers, “Four wears ago I was clean. Now I smell like musty deodorant.” And if you wear musty deodorant on a first date, the effect will likely be somewhat underwhelming.

Skirts: Wrinkles and spots: 0, Looking professional: 1. The best way to get a promotion is to look like you deserve it.

Dress pants: Dress pants are notorious for collecting white powder-ish stuff, which the casual observer might mistake for dandruff, which would interfere with their ability to make eye contact with you.

Sweatshirts: It’s hard to make an every-wear wash case for sweatshirts—but when you notice your sweatshirt smells a little funny, and has sticky drips on the front from where you ate ice cream in the dark, coffee spots on the sleeves, and a little engine grease from when you changed the oil, it’s time to wash it.

T-shirts: See Undershirts and Dress Shirts.

Many of the reasons that pressure you to do laundry are social and societal—and maybe it’s nice for everyone else if you don’t smell funny and have strangely shaped stains on your clothing.

But what’s really nice is putting on clean socks, fresh-smelling jeans, and a crisply ironed dress shirt.

And that’s really why you should love doing laundry.

Eight Classic Office Personalities

There’s a lot of high drama in an office environment. Combining a small space with tight deadlines is bound to bring out people’s real personalities fairly quickly.

What personalities, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked.

Social butterfly
Things you’ll often hear from the social butterfly:
My computer broke so I’m just wandering around talking to people.
What did you think about the new movie? I went to see it with three different groups.
I invited 270 people to my wife’s birthday party—wanna come?

Prickly nice guy
Though it’s a label with an identity crisis, there are people in the world who can grumble about projects or people in one breath and check to see if you’re doing okay in the next.

But I didn’t do it
If I’m walking with my eyes closed and you’ve got your back to me, and I walk into you and you drop hot coffee on my foot, it wasn’t me. No one listens to me, I’m misunderstood, and I didn’t break it.

Fashion connoisseur
A lot of people (okay, me. I’ll admit it) have 10 or 15 outfits that they cycle through week after week. But there are some people with special fashion taste that dive into their closet, dig out some clothes, and make new combinations every day. And they somehow always look straight-from-a-magazine good.

Endlessly consistent
Signs that you work with one of these:

  • Every time you schedule an event or plan something, it’s the exact same as the last one, and the one before that, and the one . . .

  • Whenever you see something they’ve done, you get déjà vu

  • Deviating from the norm is simply not an option

Staunch introverts
If there’s one thing that can really give ulcers to 80 percent of a crowd, it’s putting four staunch introverts in a room with one social butterfly. Side note: though they say opposites attract, in this case it’s not true.

Information bank
Everyone prides themselves for different talents, but these people have a special talent for nosing into information, keeping it all in their heads, and pulling it out whenever needed.

Who you know
Somewhere along the way, someone said it’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and really, what better excuse is there for missing a deadline: I was having coffee and crumpets with the boss.

A lot of life is spent learning how to work with people.

The process often lives on a sliding scale that can move from ‘miserable’ to ‘frustrating’ to ‘rewarding’ to ‘delightful’ in a manner of moments (words, really), depending on how an interaction is going.

When you’re working through something with someone who’s different from you—social butterfly and staunch introvert go on eight-hour car trip to a sales conference—remember that you have as many idiosyncrasies as they do. Remember that you both need bountiful grace, and at times, neither of you will deserve it.

And remember that one of the great joys in life is overcoming relational difficulties and learning how to get along. Maybe even becoming friends, if you’re feeling crazy.

The Four Types of Laundry-Doers

A week ago my laundry experience spiraled out of control. Unamused, I wrote the following:

Tonight, laundry was a four-hour endeavor. Sharing eight washers and eight dryers with at least 260 people (closer to 350) means a few things:

  • For introverts, a trip to the laundry room is a veritable nightmare. There’s always a person there.

  • There’s only about a 15 percent chance you’ll get a machine on your first trip up—especially after five p.m.

  • Heavy machine usage dictates that at any given time, at least one of the machines is broken. Sometimes there’s a sign. Sometimes there’s not and you find out it’s broken after you load all your clothes and soap into it.

I spent most of my evening sitting in the laundry room, and observed four very distinct types of laundry doers.

1) The Bold: Because washers and dryers are such a hot commodity, there are signs all over the place asking residents to please remove laundry from machines in a timely manner. If you don’t and your full load is in the only stopped machine, The Bolds will march up, pull everything out, and dump it on the counter. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2) The Timid: Even if the owner of the clothes in the machine left a note, “Please feel free to take my clothes out, I’m not coming back till tomorrow”, The Timids will stand there hesitantly, read and re-read the message, and discuss it with anyone in the room. Finally they’ll turn to the door, bag of clothes in tow, resigned to the reality of yet another week without clean socks.

3) The Patient: It is true that if you sit in one of the several chairs and wait, before too long you’ll get the chance to claim a washer or dryer. The Patients will camp out with a book or homework or just a suspicious glare whenever anyone else walks into the room, biding their time till there’s an opening.

4) The Angsty: Walking into the laundry room and seeing no empty washing machines may not seem like cause for stress, but for The Angsty it’s a perfectly valid reason to groan, glare, and huff and puff back into the hallway.

You’ll be please to know that I learned my lesson last week, and tonight my laundry strategy was much more successful (I define success here as low human interaction, no wait times, and not having to run the dryer three times in a row).

Kudos to everyone who has lived in an apartment and now owns their own washer and dryer. You deserve every moment of it, and all of us apartment folks would like to come live with you.

The Boy and The Bag

There was only one noteworthy thing about today.

While I was walking home from the vegetable market, I saw a mother and her four children lollygagging down the street. The oldest child can’t have been more than eight years old, the youngest somewhere around two. They were all slowly meandering along the sidewalk, taking up all of it and some of the grass.

Mom carried a few grocery bags, and each child carried one—well, almost carried. The smallest child, a little boy with big curious eyes, had one fist clenched around his bag handle and was dragging the bag along the ground. In his other hand he tightly clutched a set of keys. He kept pausing and looking back at his bag, then turning ahead purposefully. His mother went slowly along in front of him, coaxing him along and keeping a watchful eye on all her other children.

And then I walked past them, and that’s all that happened today.

To Be a Good Leader

There are a few different types of leaders.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Napoleon Bonaparte had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. France was looking for a strong military leader, and he was a young man with lots of ambition. He didn’t have decades of strategic experience, but he had gusto, verve, and lots of ideas.

David Ogilvy: David Ogilvy didn’t start out as the head of an advertising agency. He began his career as a line chef in a kitchen run by a martinet. This boss mostly worked in the office (planning food and stuff and things), but occasionally came out to exhibit that he could still cook a better dish than any chef in his employment. He’d earned his way to the top through years of practice and experience. Ogilvy held that principle for the rest of his career. To earn a high-ranking position, you must be an expert in your field and work your way up.

Most leaders in corporate America: Lots of people wake up in the morning and show up to work day in and day out. They’re responsible, they work hard, and they get the job done. When employers are looking around to give a promotion, this person is next in line and gets the role.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

But a successful leader needs a trait from each of these types.

Ideas: Napoleon Bonaparte had ideas. Lots of them. He wanted to do lots of things. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.

Expertise: If you’re leading people in your area of expertise that you love, you'll fall into approximately 2% of employed people. Maybe less. But to be a really good leader, you have to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing even if you don’t love it.

On any given day, you have to exhibit that you can write (produce, draw, build) something that’s not a spluttering mess.

—one of my favorite leaders

Consistency: When you’re leading people, they look up to you and wait for your input. And when you give an idea, they’ll act. If you give half-cooked ideas and change your mind after they’ve put 120 hours of work into your notion, things will go south faster than geese in October. Be consistent in your behavior, your thoughtfulness, even in your schedule. Not only will it make people trust you and listen when you speak, they’ll appreciate your stability.

If I were leading a discussion on leadership, I would ask the roomful of people what makes a good leader—and odds are they’d come up with more than a dozen valuable attributes.

We all know great leaders. Think of someone you respect and pinpoint what makes them excellent. Then emulate that.

How to Live Your Life

A not-necessarily comprehensive list of large life moments

Moving houses
Changing jobs

These major life events tend to demand lots of attention and years of plans that culminate in one day. Hours of thought, kinetic energy, and coordinating go into making everything perfect. For many of these events, we plan how we look, think about how we ought to act, and practice in the mirror for what we’ll say (besides births, unless you’re just practicing yelling etc.).

A definitely-not comprehensive catalog of the little minutes

Waking up
Seeing your family
Buying groceries
Spending time with friends

You encounter at least one thing on this list every single day—show me a person who doesn’t, and I’ll raise a skeptical eyebrow (that’s why I put sleeping on the list, so I could claim that. Unless it’s a college student . . .).

Most of the items on this list are habits. You and I have woken up every morning for so long (our whole lives, actually), that we don’t think about it when it happens. Just like we don’t realize we’re fuming at traffic, complaining about work, and gossiping about friends. It’s all so second nature we don’t even notice.

But shouldn’t we concentrate on the daily moments of life with as much effort and attention as we plan a wedding or buy a house?

If there are flowers missing from a bouquet at your wedding, it will not likely ruin anyone’s life. But if you’re rude to your cashier at the grocery store every week for an entire year, think of the emotional havoc you’ve wreaked.

Check your daily habits to see if you want to sign your name to them when you die, because you’ll have to explain to Someone why you did everything.

Live the little moments with as much intentionality as you live the big ones.

The Tiny Kind Moments

Monday morning, 8:07 a.m.
My ID holder extender doohickey (officially called a ‘badge holder’ for you types who care about that sort of thing) snapped. The company ID I’m not supposed to lose went flying up and then straight to the ground. Both of my arms were full. I was sweaty, wet-haired, and already uncomfortable (you’re familiar with my relationship with elevators?), and there were four other people on the elevator.

Before I’d formed a plan of action a nice gentleman pitied and saved me. He picked my ID up and handed it back.

I think I thanked him fervently? But I’m not really sure because he was mid-conversation with the lady to my left who had wide-set, sparkly eyes, light brown eyebrows, and a straight, pretty nose. They were discussing her carpal tunnel.

By the time I got to my desk I’d almost already forgotten about the small kindness and gone on to the next thing. But as I think over the past 16 hours that’s the 45-second moment that stands out.

There are lots of “most important” lessons here, things such as:

  • pick things up for people who drop them

  • just because someone might not say thank you doesn’t mean they’re not grateful

  • it’s the different moments in life that we remember

But it’s really a reflection of how life is a compilation of the tiny kind moments: smiling at someone in the hallway (even a weird-looking stranger). Thanking your cashier (genuinely). Asking a person how their day is going (and listening when they tell you).

God’s ultimate kindness toward us (yes, giving His Son to conquer the black-evil-torture of death for us) paves the way for our tiny kindnesses toward others.

That means being unselfish when you don’t feel like it, patient when you’re in a rush, cheerful when you’re tired and your foot hurts and you’re in a black humor because someone cut you off on your way to the dentist.

It means treating people like you’d want to be treated, every time.

It may feel like a series of small and insignificant moments—but your influence is broader than you think.

Creative People Are . . .

Know someone creative who you can't quite understand? David Ogilvy (in Confessions of an Advertising Man) cites research from a study done by Frank Barron about creative people. 

Creative people are especially observant, and they value accurate observation (telling themselves the truth) more than other people do.

They often express part-truths, but this they do vividly; the part they express is the generally unrecognized; by displacement of accent and apparent disproportion in statement they seek to point to the usually unobserved.

They see things as other do, but also as others do not.

They are born with greater brain capacity; they have more ability to hold many ideas at once, and to compare more ideas with one another—hence to make a richer synthesis.

They are by constitution more vigorous, and have available to them an exceptional fund of psychic and physical energy.

Their universe is more complex, and in addition they usually lead more complex lives.

They have more contact than most people do with the life of the unconscious—with fantasy, reverie, the world of imagination.