Moving About the Globe Proves That You’re Alive, If Not Well

“Instrumental in traveling is the participation in it, the belief in progress, the witnessing of passage.” – Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, is a travel journal with a lot of internal gyrations, a.k.a. dialogue from the narrator, whose mind “hovers and churns.” I just finished reading the 400-page book on the Kindle, and now I want to reflect on some of its themes and stylistic devices.

Will, the protagonist and narrator, departs Chicago O’Hare with his best bud Hand, for Senegal, Morocco, Estonia and Latvia. The trip is motivated by their friend’s death in a car accident and the consequent desire to offload $80,000 that Will came by unexpectedly (thanks to his silhouette being used on a new lightbulb package).

Adam Mars-Jones of The Observer notes that the book “might be a bleak and uneasy satire on American ignorance and cultural consumerism, with Will’s and Hand’s currency-scattering mission only slightly exaggerating the ridiculousness of over-ambitious holidays – If-this-is-Monday-this-must-be-Tallinn-or-maybe-Riga. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the intention. The title of the book is mystical-technical (finally explained as the motto of the Jumping People, an apocryphal South American tribe), but the style is pushy-flashy, dedicated to producing elaborate effects.”

That’s a solid read by Mars-Jones. The two characters are ridiculous in the way that two “normal dudes” who grew up in Milwaukee might be. Hand and Will are not Wayne and Garth, but they’re not all that far away from these overly-exaggerated characters.

Eggers makes some interesting choices in the construction of the book. He indicates to the reader when Will is talking to himself by placing an em dash in front of a thought. So, you’ll be reading along in a plot-driven passage, and then be dealt a series of dashes, with inner imaginings of the somewhat paranoid, totally addled narrator.

Eggers also time shifts the story, and puts the narrative in Hand’s hands about two-thirds of the way in, before circling back around for a Will-narrated finish. Which is weird, and a bit frustrating because Hand contradicts the things we as readers have come to believe. It does work to shed more light on the situation, but it’s not a fine light, where all looks happy and good.

Ultimately, You Shall Know Our Velocity, is a book with a message. The message is don’t waste time. And don’t run from things, like time, that can’t be outrun. It’s a wonderful philosophy, delivered by clowns in this instance, but that’s okay. We don’t always want our philosophies from a professor, poet or pundit.

This Weatherman Knows Which Way The Wind Blows

This Weatherman Knows Which Way The Wind Blows

The New York Times Sunday Magazine today features Chicagoan Bill Ayers, college professor, author and former member of Weatherman Underground. He provides some great answers.

How do you define yourself politically?
I think I am a radical. I have never deviated from that. By radical, I mean someone trying to go to the root of things.

Do you regret your involvement in setting off explosions in the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol?
Anyone who thinks what we did is despicable should look at the fact that the U.S. government killed three million people in Indochina between 1965 and 1975. That’s really despicable.

How do you feel when you wake up?
Happy, and then I drink coffee and I’m even happier. I’m a work in progress and, even at 64, living in a dynamic history that’s still in the making.

You’re weirdly cheerful for a former bomb-thrower.
I suffer from a genetic flaw, whichis that my mother was a hopeless Pollyanna.

The Oregon Trail, Circa 2008

The Oregon Trail, Circa 2008

We just completed a nine day journey cross country by car from coastal South Carolina to Portland, Oregon. On day one, we stopped for lunch in Asheville, NC to say “hi” to Gary and Katie. We then pushed on to Lexington, KY for the night. From the hotel we walked first to Mexican food and top shelf margs, then over to the historic Red Mile for harness racing. In the morning we found our coffee place downtown, before heading out to horse country for a tour of the distillery where the world’s best bourbon, Woodford Reserve, is made.

From the limestone hills of Kentucky, we headed north for Cincinnati where our wonderful hosts, Dave and Tera Ackerman, plus their kids, dogs and friends entertained us in their fine Craftsman-era home. That was fun. Day three took us northwest to Chicago where Casey and Gwen opened their Ravenswood apartment to us for the night. Stef came over and we walked down to Pizza D.O.C. on Lawrence to meet Liz and Buban for dinner. Pizza D.O.C. rocks, as does having dinner with friends one hasn’t seen in years. There was more drinking at two Lincoln Square bars after dinner–hey, this is Chicago we’re talking about here–before retiring to Casey and Gwen’s.

Sunday we dropped in on Evil Vince for a visit, before heading west. When Chicago started to give way to the fields of corn, I started to feel good. I felt even better when we crossed the Mississippi River and drove through the picturesque hills of Iowa. The sunset and simultaneous moonrise, as we were pulling into Omaha on night four, was stunning. We grabbed some salad, pizza and wine for dinner at a patio table in the Old Market before heading over for a free night on points at Hilton Garden Inn. In the morning I met with Shawn at his work place and had a chance to talk to his boss about picking up some copywriting assignments. We then met my aunt Leanne for lunch at Kona Grill in West O before heading for the Sandhills on Highway 2. We stopped in Halsey–where my grandpa and I used to go deer hunting–to mail some letters. At Seneca, we pulled over to see the Middle Loup River up close. A local gentleman directed us to his “rickety” cable and plyboard bridge over the river, a kind gesture we greatly appreciated.

We looked for a dinner spot in Alliance but decided to head on to Scottsbluff for the night. When we got there places were closing, but The Gaslight in Gering took us in and made steaks for us. I love Nebraska and Nebraskans. On day six we took the back way to Laramie, seeing the North Platte River near Fort Laramie. In the college town of Laramie we ate a kind hippie lunch at Jeffrey’s Bistro before heading over to Martindale’s for some new pearl snaps and a straw hat. That’s Laramie in a nutshell–part hippie, part cowboy.

We pushed westward on I-80 to Salt Lake City, where DK was entertaining his family rooftop at American Towers. DK and Anina recently purchased a truly outstanding 19th floor apartment in American Towers, with south-, west- and north-facing views. In the morning we headed up City Creek Canyon for a hike, then ventured across the tracks to Red Iguana for a mole festival at one of the nation’s best Mexican joints.

We were tempted to stay another night in SLC, but opted instead to drive five hours further west on I-80 to Winnemucca, where I thought we’d rent a cute little cabin or roadhouse room for the night. Instead, we looked at several flea-bitten options before settling in to the Days Inn. Thankfully, the grocery store had a Peet’s Coffee in it, so we fueled up in the morning and headed onto one of the loneliest stretches of two-lane road you’ll find anywhere in America. North of Winnemucca about 40 miles, we turned left onto Highway 140, which goes for many miles before delivering one to Oregon and the homey little town of Lakeview. Jerry’s Restaurant in Lakeview made us perfectly prepared hash browns to go with our sandwiches and iced tea. We then took more country roads toward Crater Lake National Park, a park we’d never visited before. After you enter the park, you climb up several thousand feet to the rim of the ancient volcano and peer into the pearl blue otherworldly lake. Wow.

We took Highway 138 north from the park and wound down the canyon with the North Umpqua River as our guide. Another major wow. We caught up with the interstate highway system again in Roseburg and punched it up to Eugene for the night, where we dined on Thai food and infused ginger-cranberry cocktails. We made it to Portland by mid-day on Friday and began to settle in.

Standing in the Twilight of Open Outcry

The Chicago Tribune looks at James Allen Smith’s documentary film, Floored, about open-outcry traders at the Mercantile Exchange.

Here’s how the paper describes their lot:

Open-outcry traders always stood apart from the rest of the financial crowd, or maybe their rough-and-tumble grab for megabucks just made it seem that way. With their colorful jackets and a swagger born of fast money, they were the gaudiest ornaments in the downtown Chicago business world.

Floored is currently in production. It will be released in 2009.

Power To The People

Power To The People

Chicago-based In These Times offers a look at a political struggle taking place in Chicago’s city government.

Chicago’s labor unions decided to send Mayor Richard M. Daley a message: The “city that works” doesn’t work for working families. In the February and April elections, the labor movement broke with the city’s fabled but feeble Democratic machine, and helped oust key Daley allies and elect seven new members to the 50-seat city council.

Unions spent roughly $3 million and fielded a political operation stronger than Daley’s that backed challengers to the mayor’s council allies.

University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson says, the new council bloc will be pushing a “working-class, middle-class agenda, as opposed to the global economy tilt of the Daley administration.”

According to Chicago Tribune, Chicago is governed under a “weak mayor, strong council” system. But that hasn’t been the case for much of Daley’s 18 years in power, with critics contending the council has all-too-humbly served as a rubber stamp for the popular mayor.

Savannah To Chicago And Back

Savannah To Chicago And Back

I returned to Chicago this week for the first time since I moved from the city 16 months ago. It was a good trip. I stayed at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco on Wacker and Wabash. I enjoyed some salmon downstairs at South Water Kitchen before venturing out to The Map Room, “A Traveller’s Tavern” on the corner of Hoyne and Armitage. While there I finally got my first taste of Victory’s HopDevil Ale.


The brewer’s site describes it thusly:

Menacingly delicious, with the powerful, aromatic punch of whole flower American hops backed up by rich, German malts. HopDevil Ale offers a roller coaster ride of flavor, coasting to a smooth finish that satisfies fully.

I had reason to cheer. Since, my hotel was but a block from 233 N. Michigan, I could not help but reflect on how much things have changed for the better since I stopped working in that black building. Which is not to say I don’t love Chicago, because I do. Without a doubt, it’s one the great American cities along with San Francisco and New York.

While we don’t have the number of amazing restaurants, neighborhood bars or limitless live music possibilities, life in Lowcountry or Slowcountry, if you will, has its own advantages–natural beauty, great weather, affordable housing and recreational pursuits like beachcombing, boating, fishing, surfing, etc. Yet the thing that trumps all of this is the fact that I now have the job I was looking for in Chicago and could not find.

Rockwell Crossing, Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois

Rockwell Crossing, Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois

Image courtesy of Luke Adams

I love this romanticized image of our old neighborhood. It makes the place seem so quaint, and it is quaint for a few blocks in each direction. But this neighborhood is also surrounded by concrete and traffic and noise in every direction for miles upon miles. I guess that’s the beauty of photography–the focus.

Ball To The Walls

Ball To The Walls

It got a kick out of seeing The Trib’s Lifestyle feature on squash. Notice the paper did not place it in the Sports section. That area’s reserved for men of the gridiron, and such.

“Squash, the racquet sport, not the rustic vegetable, has built an impressive resume since graduating in the mid-1800s from Harrow boarding school in Britain, whose alumni include Winston Churchill. Advancing across the British Empire, it also secured positions in the Ivy League, Wall Street, the Pentagon and enclaves beyond.

Some prep schools and elite universities have been known to prize varsity squash the way others do football. As a high school student at Francis W. Parker in Chicago, Beau River, 27, who now plays on the pro squash tour worldwide, was probably “85 to 90 percent of the academic package that Ivy League schools are looking for,” he said. “But suddenly, when they found out I played squash, I was a lot more desirable.” River, who is competing in the Windy City Open, chose to attend Dartmouth.”

Action from the Windy City Open

As it happens, I went to school at a squash powerhouse. I recall a particularly satisfying win over the Princeton Tigers, on the road in ’84. F&M is currently ranked 16th in the nation. Since this will most likely be the one and only chance to ever make mention of it, I’m taking the opportunity to do so.

Blog Walkers Talking

Participants in last Saturday’s Blog Walk 6.0 have been posting their summaries of the event. Here are some of my favorite comments:

“More than anything else, what blogs and social software do is make it drop dead simple to make the conduct of knowledge work visible.” –Jim McGee

“If I like what you write, it stands to reason that I might like what you read. This is the ‘social’ piece that I was thinking about it. Through things like blogrolls, subscriber lists and listings of who else bookmarked a specific page, I am able to be connected with other like minded people.” –Steve Dembo

“One concept that really crystallized for me is that bloggers are the the new starving artists — we allow our passion for producing our product (the information in our blogs) to adversely impact our ability to rationally place a value upon it.” –Matt Homann

“At the end of the day, Mark Bernstein (Tinderbox!!!) said something to the effect that blogs should be changing the world.” –Dennis Kennedy

“There’s a sense in this crew that the real action is Somewhere Else, that they’re at the margins.” –Mark Bernstein

“BlogWalk 6 was a fantastic event for conversation and idea exchange. It was not a place for decisions or conclusions.” –Tom Sherman

Blog Walk 6.0

Blog Walk 6.0

On a snowy, windy (but nice) day in Chicago, 16 bloggers from all parts of the country and Europe gathered for the first Blog Walk held in the United States. The first five were conducted in Europe. Today’s took place in Room 22 at the Seabury Theological Seminary in Evanston.


The bloggers present represented a variety of industries–education, law, advertising, publishing and high tech to name a few–and thus individual concerns were also varied. I wanted to talk about blogs and wikis as external marketing tools. But other topics took the day. Still, it was highly informative and a pleasure to meet 15 other bloggers on a face-to-face basis.

For a more thorough examination of the event, see Tom’s detailed summary.