Saturday, February 18, 2017

This is How The Season Ends at the Farmers Market.





On the Last Day of the Outdoor Farmer's Market in Muskegon, Farmers Had to Dig Their Produce out of the Snow to Show it Off to Customers.


Written November 20, 2016
The power went out this morning. I was pondering this news when I stared out my kitchen window at our walled garden. Our walled garden had turned white overnight. My smartphone had turned off, needing a charge, and I had no idea of time. I worried about my bacon and cheese stored in my fridge. Beyond that, I was enjoying the double whammy. I made my way to the farmer's market, biking up hill against gusts. I wasn't ready to put the bike up for the winter when the road had enough warmth to melt the snow.
I had made a note to visit the market today. Today was the last Saturday market before Thanksgiving. It was the last outdoor market. Next Saturday, the farmers who can fit will crowd into the barn, all the stalwarts who get us through to April. A few farmers had made a case to sell inside due to the cold and gusty day. Now indoors, Laughing Tree had added fresh apple and pumpkin pies, twenty dollars a pie, to their shelves of breads baked in a wood fired oven. The man from Just Klassics had his mobile kitchen read to serve, selling soups, short order sandwiches and hot beverages. He promised to make the indoor market through out the winter.
My favorite baker of apple pie had skipped the market. The farmers from Rickertville had stayed home, and I missed selecting bulbs of garlic from their selection of twenty different kinds. I bought a coffee from Just Klassics instead of Aldea, wondering where the pour over coffee vendor had gone for the day. Aldea made all the cold days last Winter. Larry and his sister had stayed home today too, and I missed shucking and jiving with Larry, who always had an item from his collection on the metal post between his stalls. Thursday morning, he posted a signed photograph of Verne Troyer, the original Mini-Me, from Austin Powers. Troyer had dedicated the picture with the words, "No,you grow up".
Chef Char and Renae Hesselink fussed around the market kitchen, teaching pie makers, around twenty men and women focusing on baking pumpkin cheesecake pies. A few students considered my offer to buy one of their pies when it came out of the oven. Chef Char looked dashing, dressed in her signature pink tunic.
I had to look more closely at people because knit caps and parka hoods had transformed appearances. I recognized right away the woman scoring a Laughing Tree pumpkin pie. She had plans to serve with the Peace Corp in Ethiopia. Now, she would have to make do with an assignment to Jamaica. Next to her, it took me a few seconds to distinguish the lead singer of a favorite local folk band, her distinctive glasses concealing her friendly eyes. I didn't recognize anyone else, the Saturday crowds of summer now dwindled to a handful of dedicated farm-to-table shoppers.
When I went outside, I counted four farmers who hadn't made the jump inside. Amish Bob took a stall near the barn and left most of his staff of women at home. His assistant was happy to see me, declaring, "Buy these two pecks of freshly picked strawberries and we can go home". He offered me one, sweetened with flakes of snow. I chewed on the sour berry as he shilled, "Isn't that a sweet berry for November"? I had a peck of strawberries in my fridge that I was putting on my hazmat suit later today to remove. So I couldn't help out Amish Bob and his assistant. The two still had Swiss Chard and Kale to sell, which grows fairly well outside if covered under a tube of fabric that allows light to pass. "This might be the last time you see me until spring", exclaimed Amish Bob. "Let me wish you a Happy Thanksgiving then", I said in farewell.
I was surprised to see Barbara Bull selling her baked goods filled with her fresh cherry sauces. She had two inches of snow on her table, and she had to pull a cherry pie out of the blanket of white to show it off for sale. She's a cheerful woman who writes a book every year, published with illustrations she commissions from an artist in Illinois. Today, I could sense she was feeling the cold, shivering in the blasts of wind, but determined to sell all of her baking.
When I sat down to enjoy my coffee and two scones from Laughing Tree, Renae Hessenlink visited with me. I had to ask. Why were four farmers still outside when it was so much more cozy inside the barn? Renae had showed up early this morning to prepare the kitchen for Chef Char's class, and the snow hadn't arrived when the farmers picked their stalls. We were seeing the farmers to stubborn to give up and leave or retreat inside, no matter how much snow filled their tables.
This is how the outdoor season ends.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Waiting for My Sadako





February 16, 2015



My daughter grew to love Sushi. So two years ago, on a day cold enough to be annoying, I treated her to Sadako, a sushi restaurant in Ann Arbor.



Sadako honors a young woman of Japan who suffered radiation sickness after surviving the atomic blast at Hiroshima. Her name was Sadako. She folded 1300 origami paper cranes before succumbing to leukemia. She believed in a Japanese myth that she would be granted power to change the world. She is honored by a statue in Hiroshima; daily, hundreds of paper cranes are offered at the base. That said, I read Friday that a great flock of Sandhill Cranes had been reported resting on its northern migration near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. I hope this sucker punch of a late winter polar surge doesn't cause illness and weakness to lessen the flock. My thoughts are migratory from Japan to Kentucky and to Ann Arbor as I await my Sadako. She has added five minutes onto my wait and yet I await her as expectantly as I await the arrival of Sandhills to Jackson County, Michigan and Jasper County, Indiana.



— at Sadako.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Escape Gentrification New Orleans By Thinking Outside the Box





Dorise's place near Franklin and Claremont gives you the real New Orleans experience. So it's just outside the gentrification along St Claude. So what is gentrification good for but lightening your pocketbook? Walk along a boulevard of old Live Oaks less than a half mile and arrive at St Claude near St. Coffee. Near St Coffee, a really intimate wine bar and bottle shop awaits with fresh baked bread, Louisiana cheeses and wine by the glass for five or six dollars each. Mix and match and have fun. We're not talking some yuppie cheese sampler to loot your wallet but purchase by the pound and slice the bread and cheese yourself. Trader Joe prices keep the soirée going. Enjoy better prices than the lovely St. Roch Market, which is seven-tenths of a mile from Dorise's. But St. Roch Market is so vibrant and so in the key of NOLA's transformation, so go.

From Dorise's, you could throw a rock into the walled St Roch Campo Santo. But don't. You could put up three couples in comfort for the cost of a single in Marigny. If you like to cook late at night, Quicky's gas station has a butcher counter open twenty-four seven selling chicken, pork and Cajun Creole sausages for prices that will make people blink. I think beer is ready to go around the clock too.

The house itself started life as a pure shotgun shack in 1936 and Dorise and her team totally upgraded it. One has to dwell in a shotgun for a few nights just to appreciate the physics of this vernacular architecture. Shotguns keep cooler inside than outside by some magic and have powerful circulation. Dorise's renovation kept all of the pluses and removed many minuses of the form. The house feels solid and secure. Passcode entry on the main entrance and the bedrooms add to the feeling. The heart of pine flooring present could not be harvested from American forests now without great cost. The concrete porch has a feng shui all its own, perfect for porching.

The kitchen has all that's needed to make good use of the soul food butcher at Quicky's. Some of the furnishings have a history but history gives things soul. The tub has cigarette burns on the edges yet the narrow and long tub might make one wish to burn one during a good hot soak. Use a vape because Ms Dorise doesn't allow smoking on her premises.

Dorise communicates well and her team responds to issues rapidly. Draw her into conversation because she's worked real estate magic in New Orleans since Katrina passed through. She knows how it's done.

It is bittersweet to praise this property so highly because I'll never see that introductory deal again.

Cycling the Dreamlike Streets of the French Quarter





Biking is a way of life in New Orleans. The streets were made for coach and horses. And a surprising number of carriages travel the streets of the French Quarter. Cars lose their usefulness on streets that flock with people, even off Bourbon Street the streets flock with people. Royal Street is a street and sidewalk. Decatur is a street and sidewalk. A car is a boat anchor on a street that is both street and sidewalk. A bicycle can slide through the gaps left on a narrow street by a set of four friends walking side by side easily. A bike can slow down until balance is almost impossible and let pedestrians pass. A bike can be walked or tied up where a car cannot park. The only vehicle that has an advantage is the police car. An officer sounded his klaxon at a group of pedestrians and the sea of pedestrians divided like the Red Sea.


A bike has huge weaknesses though. Last night, I was horrified to see a bike locked up near the Cathedral, fair and square. Ordinary really but someone had popped up the bike seat and made off with it. The rider would have to ride home standing up on the pedals. Not impossible but quite uncomfortable even for a strong cyclist. Finding a bike seat to replace it might be a costly quest.


I've taken to passing my cable through a loop in my bike seat and then through the frame. I've added a second lock to secure tires and frame to the rack. I am even sporting around on a cheap bike. It won't cost me too much to replace it. Far less than the going street rate of two fifty American for a refurb with parts guaranteed to be legit.


I had a talk with Alex, who has helped recover hundreds of stolen bicycles. He's famous for teaming up with bike shops and police to use social media to create a dragnet. The only place to sell a hot bike for good money is inside the community that Alex has connected.


He rents and sells bikes out of a shop by the Friendly Bar on Marigny Street. He had two refurbs to sell, a class above a mere used bike for sale. He totally rebuilds his refurbs, even repacking the hubs. He uses only parts from suppliers he can trust. That's why only two at two fifty each awaited my shopping three days ago. In my hometown of Muskegon, I bought a new bike that I still miss for sixty five dollars.


I contemplated loading up  a Uhaul full of Muskegon bikes and driving for NOLA. Alex asked. "Can you prove your sources to be legit"? I am pretty sure I can. Bike theft doesn't occur often in Muskegon. It's just not worth it. My guy with a barn full of bikes has been selling openly for years. He goes to police auctions, which clear up a bike's title. Or so I have supposed . He handed me his card. "Let me know if you go home and can fill a truckload". I began to calculate a breakeven point with a U-Haul rental. It probably only looks easy.


Some men have bikes and no home. A man approached me at Royal and Peters street, mounted on a bike. His bike would fetch four hundred on the second hand market. He hit me up for money. I give alms to street people but only when I am flush and a bit of good luck calls for paying it forward. I had been panhandled relentlessly that day. "I'm sorry, I cannot help you". That phrase ends most panhandling conversations. He persisted. "I'm a veteran. Give me some change". He seemed indignant.


I support Veteran's charities. I remember once buying a round of drinks for a woodwind quintet in Air Force uniform on the pleasure boat called the Port City Princess. But this man was shaking me down. There's a fine line between a panhandling and a stick-up. He had crossed it. I didn't say, "Did you fail survival training during boot camp"? I said, "Please move along". He charged me on his bike and I got out of his way. I saw him get right into the face of a street musician named Samantha Pearl, who had to stop playing to listen to his hard sell. She frowned. She had dressed in a tweedy jacket and skirt outfit, touched up her makeup. And an aggressive man panhandling on a bike was hijacking her show.


I pointed this out to a security guard assigned to keep the peace outside Rouse's Market. He walked over to the scene and yelled at the man, "Hey. cut that out". The man pedaled away on that old but nice bicycle and yelled at me, glaring. I couldn't make out what he was saying. I pedaled over to Frenchman Street, just to be safe.


When I returned an hour later, she was packing up. Slow night, but she had made her plan of twenty dollars an hour. She had an album project to fund and a tour beginning in Europe to fund. She was her own label and backer. She had to make a thousand dollar rent bill and save for her plans. "Slow night. But the French Quarter is my home.


The French Quarter might not be my home and yet it is the most dreamlike place for cycling.


I came out of Rouse's later that night after a bit of shopping. Chained up, my bike had toppled to the ground. It's those falls that knock a new bike out of tune.

My Writing is My Begging Bowl







On the Steps of Harrah's Casino near the Mississippi River, Wilbo Contemplates Socrates, Buddhist Monks and the Pure Conversation.




Airbnb has offered to waive fees to people displaced by the New Orleans tornadoes. Which is interesting because most people who use the service are savvy travelers with credit cards. People knocked out of a "family property" handed down over generations might not work that way. I see an adequate instant booking room near my current situation for twenty a night. Instant booking means that the host has said yes in advance. Now if I were tossed out by the storm, I would have jumped on that by now.


I encountered a woman last night on the steps of the casino, panhandling. She had yet to have the marks of the outdoor all the time life bite into her youth. Six slender bags scuffed with grime hung from straps around her shoulders.


She said to three of us in conversation, "We can get a room in a hostel for twenty-two dollars". I answered, "I'm working and I never give alms while I am working". I was waiting for a page to a restaurant ready to send a meal to a customer. A man next to me said, "We have no cash. We use cards for everything".


She walked away in a huff and waved the fingers of her right hand in a salute that wasn't the middle finger but clearly wasn't a gesture from the American south. I was reminded of Italy.


"I've never been panhandled so much in my life", said the man. He had traveled to New Orleans from Virginia Beach for a conference on disaster preparedness. He fixed me with the eyes of a Ranger or a Seal when he talked to me. His girlfriend, his girlfriend since last April, chimed in with questions about my purpose in New Orleans. "I'm writing and working, trying to keep occupied until my teaching job starts in June", I answered.


I told them all about my series of plays honoring my father, whose nickname in high school was Jughead. I call them the Jughead plays. The first sent to a playhouse in Lowell, Michigan failed to be accepted for performance. "Congratulations, you were so brave to send up this play, and yet, we'll not move forward with it". Playwrighting is a tough row to hoe. (Yes, I am still besot with the Lowell Playhouse).


After fifteen minutes of shooting me question after question, the two felt the call of their nice hotel room at Harrah's Casino and shook my hand and wished me well. He had skill in asking questions that showed when he deflected all of mine.


Another brief conversation struck up on the streets of New Orleans ended with a small transaction of information. This is the currency of this old city that requires no begging. How to use that currency as if it were bitcoin has eluded this writer up to today.


It's nuts to think, but it might be true. I practice the street art of pure conversation as if I were Socrates or a Buddhist Monk.


It's different. Socrates had disciples who memorized his every word and eventually had to drink hemlock as his poison. His students brought him roast lamb from their leftovers. Buddhist Monks are taught to beg for food as novices and followers flock to the streets near the temple to fill up begging bowls held by the young monks in their saffron robes.


My writing is my begging bowl.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

We Wander in the Worlds Left by Tennessee Williams and Great Writers at Our Peril.





A crew was working in the backyard of Tennessee Williams' final home in New Orleans, the house he hoped to spend his final day, dying in the big brass bed. Why? He loved in that big brass bed. Now, not to be a ghoul, but did this wish come to fulfillment? One has to check the biography. The big brass bed probably isn't in the building now. The two story apartment has been divided into six apartments, judging from the number of mailboxes. What about the swimming pool he enjoyed almost every possible day for two decades, give or take a year? Swimming pools are hard to maintain and easy to fill with concrete. I looked through the iron grate gate towards the yard, and scaffolding had been erected in the passageway. I heard the sound of hammer pinging on stone. I didn't see a workman who might let me wander about. I could have tried the gate but thought twice upon trespassing. One picture looks north towards St Claude with Marti's yellow painted exterior looking cheerful in the sunshine. Past Marti's awaits the park that honors Louis Armstrong. We wander at our peril in the worlds left by great writers, especially writers who experienced success. Many people have made this visit to this home marked by a bronze placque paid for by a library association. Also, there's a cottage industry in tourism and scholarship in the name of Williams. Better scholars than myself turning over the same box of facts.

Why don't I roam the Keweenaw again and really get to know how my Grandmother Aino lived in South Range until she moved? I could look up my father's National Guard records. I could figure out how my brother Ed manages to live in Corunna without going nuts.

However, I wonder if I get something about Williams. He had to hustle in his early years in town, selling and serving sandwiches made by his land lady. He loved to people watch. He dated everything, including a postcard in the collection of Marti's, signed and dated 1977.

I'm reading his plays. Cat on a Tin Roof has baroque descriptions of the light in the upstairs room shared by Margaret and Brick. He wrote COTR on a sunny terrace. From his sunny terrace on Dumaine Street, his home faced the sunrise and the park offered a long view. And look how Marti's glows in January sun?

Rescuing Snowmobile One Hundred and One from the Portage Lake Canal





Around lunch hour today, a snowmobile fell through the ice of Portage Canal, probably the first one of this season. A perfectly good passage for snowmobiles passes under the road level of the Portage Lake Bridge. Even when the ice looks solid on the canal, fear it. Take the snowmobile bridge.
According to my friend who recovers them from the deep, the machine caught on the skis when the tail bust through. Friends helped with a truck and a rope and the rope snapped and the machine sank, messing up the skis. This master diver has recovered one hundred machines from the drink, mostly the canal, and he knows how to calculate current when finding the final resting place.
Today, he's going after snowmobile one hundred and one. We had lunch in downtown Hancock Thursday and as we drove over the bridge, he pointed at snowmobile tracks laid near the bridge, along the center of the waterway. "That's where the ice stays thinner. Speed helps. Slow down and gravity takes hold".
Recovery by diver costs the owner a cold thousand dollars. The Department of Natural Resources charges five hundred dollars a day in fines while the sled is submerged unless one hires a rescue diver right away. Stay off canal ice. Stay off canal ice. Stay off canal ice.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On the Steps of Harrah's Casino near the Mississippi River, Wilbo Contemplates Socrates, Buddhist Monks and the Pure Conversation.

Airbnb has offered to waive fees to people displaced by the tornado. Which is interesting because most people who use the service are savvy travelers with credit cards. People knocked out of a "family property" handed down over generations tend to pay cash. I see an adequate instant booking room near my current situation for twenty a night. Instant booking means that the host has said yes in advance. Now if I were tossed out by the storm, I would have jumped on that by now.
I encountered a woman last night on the steps of the casino, panhandling. She had yet to have the marks of the outdoor all the time life bite into her youth. Six slender bags scuffed with grime hung from straps around her shoulders.
She said to three of us in conversation, "We can get a room in a hostel for twenty-two dollars". I answered, "I'm working and I never give alms while I am working". I was waiting for a page to a restaurant ready to send a meal to a customer. He said, "We have no cash. We use cards for everything".
She walked away in a huff and waved the fingers of her right hand in a salute that wasn't the middle finger but clearly wasn't a gesture from the American south. I was reminded of Italy.
"I've never been panhandled so much in my life", said the man. He had traveled to New Orleans from Virginia Beach for a conference on disaster preparedness. He fixed me with the eyes of a Ranger or a Seal when he talked to me. His girlfriend, since last April, chimed in with questions about my purpose in New Orleans. "I'm writing and working, trying to keep occupied until my teaching job starts in June", I answered.
I told them all about my series of plays honoring my father, whose nickname in high school was Jughead. I call them the Jughead plays. The first sent to a playhouse in Lowell, Michigan failed to be accepted for performance. "Congratulations, you were so brave to send up this play, and yet, we'll not move forward with it". Playwrighting is a tough row to hoe. Yes, I am still besot with the Lowell Playhouse. Yet, I would love to know what was wrong with a play I totally love every time I read it.
After fifteen minutes of shooting me question after question, the two felt the call of their nice hotel room at Harrah's Casino and shook my hand and wished me well. He had skill in asking questions that showed when he deflected all of mine.
Another brief conversation struck up on the streets of New Orleans ended with a small transaction of information. This is the currency of this old city that requires no begging. How to use that currency as if it were bitcoin has eluded this writer up to today.
It's nuts to think, but it might be true. I practice the street art of pure conversation as if I were Socrates or a Buddhist Monk.
It's different. Socrates had disciples who memorized his every word and eventually had to drink hemlock as his poison. His students brought him roast lamb from their leftovers. Buddhist Monks are taught to beg for food as novices and followers flock to the streets near the temple to fill up begging bowls held by the young monks in their saffron robes.

My writing is my begging bowl.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wilbo the Shill Explores Pop Up Culture in New Orleans and Misses the Badly Produced George Perot show.

Artists wait a long, long time for a section of wrought iron fence in Jackson Square, a theoretically free section of fence where art can be exhibited and sold. Have to work through the city and wear an identification card on a lanyard. Artists keep those spaces until going to the great art gallery in the sky. I saw a young man drawing on scores of cedar panels at Cafe Envie. He draws the exteriors of the French Quarter stores with their filigreed verandahs, then paints in the colors. His collectors assemble little French Quarters at home from his panels. I see him working from noon to four to build up his stock, heads down, working carefully. He doesn't have a prime street location but it works for him. He has his eye on the better fences, but that will take time.

Pop-ups are the way in this artistic city, and any place with a large interior or a pleasant patch of grass hosts pop-ups. Allways on Saint Claude hosted an evening with every inch stuffed with racks of Mardi Gras costumes. The event attracted my attention because of an awkward sign pinned up on the front, facing St Claude. I walked over and chatted with a customer. She offered to sell me Dr Cory's hangover pills, six dollars the dose. She placed a pack in my hand and spieled on me.

It's a passive sales close. It's a presumptive close. For a second, the item in the hand seems like a free sample. It is possessed but not free. When the prospect turns to leave, collect the money. Lyn Coffin, then editor of the Michigan Quarterly, placed a "Stop Starr" sticker in my hands when I met her at a poetry reading. When I turned to go, she reminded, "That is two dollars". I pulled out two dollars and paid. Despite that, I still read her poetry and admire its accomplishment.

I read her package, looking to make conversation. "Are you Dr. Cory"? "Dr. Cory is a good friend of mine". Dr. Cory is a naturopathic doctor living and practicing in Santa Monica, who performs with a troupe called the "Shamanic Cheerleaders". She went on educating me. I have an extra strength pack in my car for those nights when dropping the heavier stuff. I assumed she meant e. "Take half beforehand so the jaw loosens and the face doesn't look aggressive". She rubbed her jaw joints. "Take the second half later so your head doesn't hurt in the morning". I passed her back her six dollar light industrial hangover kit pack. "I'm hardly a hangover kind of guy anymore. Thanks anyways". Some people believe that the prospect either buys or dies. That doesn't work for door-to-door or face-to-face marketing. She was five feet down the sidewalk before I could blink. "I'll have a table at next month's pop-up. See you there"! You can be sure I updated my calendar as soon as I pulled out my smart phone.

I am sure I had a surprised look on my face. She got to make a pitch. I got to ask a few questions and get a little glimpse into the tight rope act of living in New Orleans. I am sure I got the better deal. Who do I think I am. Charles Kuralt? Nope. Go back further into the annals of Detroit Television. I would sit with Grandma Aino and watch George Perot, who had as huge a following as Howdy Doody once. Perot got a little sleepy on his show and would nod off while his guest rambled. Everyone watching understood Perot was an older man and still watched. Until the show got cancelled. Perot would talk with travelers and authors whose purpose in life was stumbling around. People who stumble around don't buy and travel on the cheap. My brief acquaintance was quite right to ease on down the road. But still, where has gone the art of pure conversation? That's how my professor Phil Shepard said Buddhism grew through the Orient. Travelers would rest by the side of the road and talk.

The Art Garage has a capacious space where artists can table while events progress. Local authors gathered to read aloud on a lousy microphone before a huge, elephant painted white. Rather than read from published or work in progress, everyone read from protest literature from the past. One earnest guy read aloud from a journalistic account, day by day with Benito Mussolini. One person tended a pop up bar. Five tables sold jewelry or books. A photographer had a book called "True South" documenting the homeless people of the bayou parishes. We rapped about solving the twin issues of drug addiction and homelessness. He was very interested in the Sami, a nomadic people in Finland where all the towns went dry in a single winter, thanks to a minister of the Lutheran Church who finally "got it" and delivered a message that worked to his flock. He made notes. Thank goodness a woman listening to us talk bought a copy. I hear it a lot. "Thanks for shilling". That's me. Will the Shill.

Yes, these are pop-ups where the artists pay a small fee to set up a table. However, there is always an event with purpose occurring in the space, a turntablist spinning discs at least. The bathrooms are not public, but the Hi Ho lounge across Marigny Street didn't seem to mind if a flaneur ducks into the loo from a party at Art Garage. Hi Ho staff can't keep up with the drinking customers and the doorman are just monitoring the peace. I've sat and drank a street beer, a can of ling ling, sitting on the outdoor deck. Just so Big Easy. If there were a place to shower and sleep, I might live there.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

On Christmas Eve, Wilbo Found Himself in a Mission Church in the Heart of Chicago, Discovering that Mole and Tamales and Pozole Are As Vital As Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

I arrived in Chicago at Two-Thirty in the afternoon. I had already booked two nights at an AirB&B property near the National Museum of Mexican Art. I had stayed a night there in November and liked its location right on the Pink Line, near Western Station. I popped up my laptop to kill some time before check-in time. I was wondering about the evening. I couldn't wrap my mind around some of the events. They were all so diverse. I noticed an evening mass close to my home for the night, and I decided on that. The description promised a service in Spanish, and I just wanted to be immersed in another language for a few hours. 

Crossing over the Chicago River as the early sundown arrived made an impression on me. I was glad I hadn't taken a rideshare to the flat. I checked in, stowed my gear and began making sure I knew the directions to the storefront church. A group of four people arrived, and a woman struck up a conversation with me. The four had just passed the afternoon in Chinatown. All were Chinese students on break from their midwestern schools.

She finally coached me to say her name, which sounds like "Jiffy". She was very inquisitive. "Was it colder in Michigan than it was in Chicago"? The Great Lakes surround us in Michigan I answered. The lakes are like a blanket. I went over my plans for the evening. "Is that an invitation?", she asked. I said it was a bit of a walk through the streets of Little Village. She didn't mind a walk. I excused myself to change into better clothing. Most churches say, "Come as You Are". I'm not one to wear blue jeans and a Planned Parenthood tee shirt to a church.

I made extra certain I knew where I was walking. It turned out to be farther than I had estimated. It required walking west an entire subway stop on the Pink Line. "I trust you", she said. I kept checking the map on my cell phone. The sidewalk turned to a puddle filled rubble. We made our way carefully through the street. She started to hum a song. A brick building without windows or a back wall alarmed me. I saw plenty of places open where one could duck inside for safety, including an office of Alcohólicos Anónimos holding meetings around the clock. I was so relieved to see a cross above a door and a sign in Spanish confirming we were in the right place.

We sat in the front pew because all of the pews were taken. A man in priestly vestments walked in looking like a lumberjack with a long red beard and he questioned his flock in a voice with a deep tone, "Who would like to carry the baby Jesus to the altar"? A man was plucking out Christmas songs in Spanish on the guitar, using a ballpoint pen as a cheater. I asked her if she were a graduate student at Purdue. I was surprised to learn she was wrapping up her first semester as a Junior. I had brought pretty much my daughter, a Chinese daughter, on an adventure.

I liked how Father Tomaz Pels delivered his homily in Spanish and then English. He began with a humorous question. "Ever notice how we keep celebrating the birth of Jesus and never his Quinceañera"?  I never thought about that. Everyone in the congregation wanted to shake her hand when we all went around giving the sign of peace. "They were saying 'La Paz'?", she asked me. "Peace be with you", I answered. Looking it up later, we were wished, "La paz esté contigo."

After Baby Jesus and Father Tomaz proceeded to the rear of the church, we began Googling the sheet of carols for translations. Google revealed Campana Sobre Campana to be Bells Over Bells. "Don't leave", father declared from the rear of the church. We have mole and tamales and pozole. In marched a man with a huge pot of the spicy soup. After followed two women bearing a cooler of tamales. Children carried in trays of limes, cilantro, and enough corn tostadas to feed three congregations. I thought, "Dear three wise men, you can keep your gold, frankincense, and myrrh". Three men erected a table for this banquet faster than one could say loaves and fishes.

A woman of the congregation reached out to her to make sure she felt welcome. Father came to me to say that there was plenty. I asked how he learned his Spanish. "On the street corner. Every other week, I drive down to St. Louis to lead services in Polish". We talked about Hamtramck, the Polish city inside of Detroit where the people honored the visit of Pope John Paul II with a statue.  "I've just read about Hamtramck. It's where the call to prayer of the Muslims is heard and Catholics and Muslim live together in peace". I told him of seeing the call to prayer one day, the faithful walking to that mosque at Caniff and Joseph Campau. "It stands in the shadow of the bell towers of St. Florian". "Eat", he said. "It'll grow cold". 

I have visited Mexico numerous times. I once taught in Detroit near all the restaurants of Mexicantown, and I visited them all. I once had dinner with the Mayor of West Hollywood at his favorite Mexican restaurant near city hall. This was the best Mexican food I had ever feasted upon. "They fussed over us", I told her. "What does that mean", she asked. "Did you notice how they made sure the pozole had all the right touches on top"? "The lime? The cilantro? Oh, got it." Miraculously, I didn't get a spot on my khakis as I enjoyed two helpings of the pozole.

On the way home, we walked by three Catholic parishes with Spanish on the signs out front. Two ambulances rushed up California to a crisis north of the Pink Line. I picked out sign after sign in Spanish and translated. By the subway, I said, "Do you see that word 'Esperanza' in red letters. That is the Spanish word for hope". She spelled the word aloud. After this beautiful evening, my mind felt more Esperanza than when I had arrived in Chicago.

This morning, by the Esperanza sign, a building sign promised Pollo Vivo. I was on my way to a meeting and had little time to see the live chickens.