Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Technology Has Changed The Dating Game!

Technology has changed the Dating Game!  No, I don’t mean the infamous south side of Chicago lounge where one can step in the name of love…I mean the instant accessibility via text message, social media, and chat rooms have literally replaced long, late night phone conversations while dozing off but claiming not to be tired and dinner and a movie - dates!  The convenience of instantly conveying catch phrases like – I’m running late, call u right back, and maybe even GM, have been manipulated into non-confrontational, impersonal, and often misinterpreted moments.  They grant the illusion of getting to know one another without any real experience, created memory, or uncomfortable conversation.  I mean you get the ability to retract your comments.  Better yet, if I don’t like where the conversation is going, just mute it and the messages instantly reroute to text heaven.  I call it accessibility with an option to ignore because you’ve no longer kept my immediate interest, but I’m too chicken to actually say it.

Oh yeah, social media has definitely changed the dating game!  At first it seemed like such a great idea - a medium for two people that otherwise would not cross paths, to meet with a common agenda – forever.  But over time, that idea has evolved from forever to just lunch to tendering - the process of making an offer, bid or proposal, or expressing interest in response to an invitation or request.  

Tendering, spelled Tinder is an online dating app that finds your location using GPS, and then finds potential matches near you.  When I moved to New York, a colleague gave me the “short list” of all the apps I needed to get acclimated and survive this concrete jungle - MTA to commute, seamless to eat, and Tinder to date.  As she put it, I could use this app to meet new people so that colleagues weren’t my only option of friends in this cold, hard city.  Initially, I laughed.  Did she not know?  I am not the online dating type!  Or perhaps she was thinking what my 80 year old grandfather had already told me a year or so ago, “Tanisha, you need to try that online dating thing.  You know, go on the Internet and find a husband.”  Wait, she didn’t even know me.  I mean, I’d literally been here one month and she was already telling me to find me forever?!  

After contemplating the thought for a whopping 3 months, I realized that she was telling me I needed to find a mate quickly to share in this NYC rent expense!  I mean it’s the equivalent of buying a designer handbag or first class trip to France every 5th of the month!  Eventually, I figured out that if you're single, you're probably on Tinder.  Actually, if you have a Smartphone and the ability to swipe – you probably have a Tinder account.  Two swipes to the left, one swipe to the right!  This is what modern day dating – actually new age, pretentious, no time to get to know you, no flowers, no candy – straight to the bedroom activity called dating looks like today!  It’s hard to escape yet easy to imagine while swiping my next date over lousy conversation and a cappuccino with the date from hell!   

But here’s the question, can I really blame you for continuing to seek out the next opportunity when you’re bombarded with endless amounts of pictures and videos of the next wanna be model or the latest hot stripper on Instagram and Facebook?  Society has made this showcase a source for men to determine beauty in women, a meat market none-the-less.  Follow, follow, and follow – a hunt for an upgrade while performing the least amount of work…no expense involved, no pursuit, just lazy!

The Dating game has changed, but there are a few things I would prefer stay the same.  I still like fresh flowers and frivolous chitchat.  Holding hands while strolling through the park merely enjoying each other’s company is definitely a missing art.  What’s next?  Adding dates to a shopping cart with a checkout feature that alerts me “this man has been removed” because I waited too long to actually message him?  Actually, that one doesn’t seem so bad – at least once he’s checked out, I clearly know he’s off the market – no gimmicks, no refunds, no exchanges!  Oh wait; there IS an app for that.  Its called Coffee Meets Bagel!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Part of History

The towns were buzzing with anxiousness and excitement as the selection of a new Pope was underway.  We’d been waiting for what seemed like an eternity and had hoped to see the new Pope last week while visiting Rome and the Vatican City.  Today we were headed to the island of Capri or KAH-pree as pronounced by Italians!  From Sorrento's port Marina Piccola, a hydrofoil (“jet boat”) or ferry was the two options of travel and somehow we were stuck on the latter.  This ferry held what seemed like hundreds of people and took approximately 45-minutes to the jet boat’s 20-minute speed.  I was so excited to see the infamous “Island of Dreams” that I hurried aboard, sat nearest a window and waited to set sail.   

As we navigated out into the Tyrrhenian Sea, it began to rain and I quickly felt the choppiness of the water!  Actually, I was pretty sure I saw cats and dogs coming down from the sky.  The waves propelled against our windows and although I continued to look out, with every thrust, I was sure my window would soon shatter.  I mean the ferry rocked from side to side as if were a 4-wheel truck turning the corner on only two of its wheels.  To my surprise we never tipped, but I thought to myself, “did I board the local version of the Titanic?”  Then I remembered Steve Harvey’s standup in the Original Kings of Comedy… "The band was playin' as the ship went down" - What black band YOU know gon' keep playin...with the darn ship goin down'?  Kool & the Gang woulda been unpluggin' sh!#..!  Suddenly, I didn’t remember getting that brief safety lesson on how to fasten the lifejacket in the event of an emergency.  In fact, I didn’t even know where these lifejackets were located!  I began to panic!  Man overboard is all I could envision!  And just like that, the rain calmed, the sun shown thru and we were docking at the Marina Grande harbor.

We dashed for the ticket booth to catch the funicular up to the actual town of Capri.  The main attraction here is the Blue Grotto, a sea cave with a tiny opening that only a small rowboat can get through.  It opens and closes with the tide and is flooded with a brilliant blue or emerald light.  Since the entrance is small and the tide was high, we were not able to visit so we transferred to a bus and headed for the town of Anacapri.  “Ana” which means “up” is the island’s second town located at a higher elevation.  The small bus to get there seemed only enough to accommodate 3 couples yet there were easily 30 people smashed together hanging on for dear life as we coiled around the mountain while trying to sneak a quick peak at the dramatic views behind us.  


Finally here, we strolled down the pedestrian-only streets, peeped in shop after shop and even visited the Church of San Michele.  This 18th-century Neapolitan style church’s floors were entirely covered with hand painted ceramic tile featuring a grand scene of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  It was quite elaborate yet amazing!  Kudos to the artist that sat there tirelessly drawing then painting all of these animals with human expressions on a floor that could be seen best only after climbing a tiny spiral staircase - barely wide enough to hold only one person!  Dark clouds reappeared calling off our chairlift up to the highest point - Monte Solaro, a 1,900-foot summit with a commanding view of Naples so we headed downhill and on our return Ferry.  The ride back to Sorrento was much more calm than before but, the rain was still coming down.  Once there, we boarded a tiny shuttle headed towards Sorrento’s center and rode it around and around the city until “light” rain subsided! 

Later that evening, we popped into our favorite pizza & gelato shop and chatted with our new friend, the owner.  “Any sign of smoke yet,” I asked.  This was now Day 5.  White smoke in the air meant the Cardinals had finally elected a successor to Pope Benedict XVI while the prior 4 days of black smoke meant they hadn’t.  “Yes, Pope Francis of Argentina, the first Latin American and member of the Jesuit order (Christian of the Catholic Church) was elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church,” said the owner.  He is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years.  In other words, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church was just elected and I was able to experience that piece of history!  Since there wasn’t enough time to board a train back to Rome and actually see Pope Francis speak, we hustled back to the hotel to watch him address the people on television from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican only hours after election into papacy.  There were massive crowds and celebratory tears all over Italy as the Pope gave his first speech.  It was much like any city celebrating their local sports teams’ win.  Now I was just touring - visiting places I’d always wanted to see.  I never could have imagined I would be in the same country at the same time as the Papal Conclave, 115 Cardinal-electors representing every continent in the world and the election of the new Pope.  This was truly a momentous and historical occasion!

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's a classic of course!

This year I decided to trade out the routine Auto show for the AutoRama, a custom car show!  Year after year since I can remember, I’ve visited the Chicago Auto Show.  So this year, I left the boring selection of concept and electric cars, for a more adventurous option, a World of Wheels.

As I entered the showroom floor, I was blown away with amazement: an El Camino, Coupe Street Rods, and oh yeah… the Deuce and a Quarter!  That infamous Buick Electra 225.  I immediately recognized this model as my great-grandfather’s Buick classic is still in our family.  As I peered from car to car, I could only imagine myself behind the wheel of one of those jewels!  “I’d choose that car; it goes with my outfit,” I thought to myself!  There was so much history in the place!  Car collections spanned from as early as the 1930s.  There was even a barn find that had been parked since 1973 – yes, 41 years ago!  And oh, the paint…yes, let’s talk paint.  It was pristine!  As if each vehicle was covered in fresh coats of Chanel nail paint, trend defining shades of color with high-shine and definition, class and style of course. 

Hot rods were the heart of the show!  These old, classic American cars were popular between the 1940s and 60s.  They have large engines modified for linear speed and were built using a lot of original equipment parts from junkyards or Nitrous Oxide Systems (“NOS”), which effectively control the power.  Next up, the bobber, the earliest motorcycle hand-built by individuals in the 1940s and 50s whose style influenced manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson.  Its front fender has usually been removed; the rear fender made smaller ("bobbed"), and any extra parts were removed to reduce its weight.  It was often part of the early biker club’s scene before there was the chopper, although its original intent was just to keep motorcycles on the road for as cheaply as possible.  Owners were onsite, ready to share their memories and explain the work done and there were even custom chop shops onsite giving live demonstrations. 

As I wandered along the aisles, couples danced to Rockabilly bands playing rock and roll music dating to the early 1950s.  It was like watching the Fonzarelli and Joanie Cunningham dance to tunes from Arnold’s jukebox in a scene from Happy Days!  The cars were strategically spaced giving each car in its series breathing room.  It was like a fine red wine:  room to concentrate, evaluate, and examine from every angle.  I turned the bend and was pleasantly surprised to see my high school and alma mater showing off their skills at this prestigious event.  Ok, I am playing coy…I was ecstatic to see the Blue & Gold representing – the color of Mighty Men & Women!  A small team of 3 juniors and a sophomore from the auto mechanic & body shop at Dunbar H.S. were onsite displaying their custom work along with their instructor, Kellen Davis.

Before I left, I popped upstairs to check out the Tuner Galleria.  This exibition focused on domestic and imported vehicles with grandiose and showy elements unique to their owners yet relevant to this generational market.  Custom racecars zoomed around at top speed and I immediately observed some noticeable differences between the two floors.  Unlike the smooth tunes of the first floor, this showroom blasted loud, techno music; the seasoned crowd now appeared young-looking and there were scantily dressed girls dancing near the popular cars to complete the look.  The generous amounts of viewing space turned into crowds of gridlocked cars  - a scene from Freaknik in Atlanta during Spring Break of my college years and the beer stands were replaced with premium alcoholic beverages for purchase.  I presume these strategies attempt to convert dreamers of these cars into actual owners.

I thoroughly enjoyed the World of Wheels AutoRama!  In fact, I had a brief love affair with these classic automobiles.  Who knew that I could spend a half-day fantasizing over custom paint jobs, cars and motorcycles?  But after my new adventure, I now desire one of these timeless, vintage, fashion accessories to add to my ageless collection!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To Coffee or To Kusanya Café

It’s Wednesday or hump day as most people call it!  The weather is hot and girls are dressing less and checking out the fellas to tell 'em who's best – err wait!  This is February in the Chi!  The land of warm weather today and arctic cold tomorrow!  Somehow, Will Smith’s “Summertime” lyrics seem so appropriate as I head out into this gaw’jeous weather in search of a cozy place to sit, think and ah yes…to write, but as I packed my bag to leave the house, in go an umbrella, sunglasses, a thin pair of gloves, my scarf, and a change of shoes.  I know what you’re thinking, but hey – it’s the city I live in!

As I warm up my car, I think to myself “do I just want mainstream coffee, Internet, and a fight for the table near the plug to set the mood and inspire my thoughts?"  Or "do I desire a neighborhood gem that feels like home like Cheers – where everyone knows your name?"  There are approximately 77 communities and 200 neighborhoods in Chicago so finding the right place to relax and write with free parking of course, could be a challenge. 

I headed to Englewood - a neighborhood with charm and inspiration and whose notable residents include singers such as Chaka Khan and Jennifer Hudson and the Chicago Bull’s player, Derrick Rose.  In its heart sits Kusanya Café, the only non-fast-food restaurant in Englewood started by a group of neighborhood residents.  This comfortable, inspiring place where 70s soul music is played in the background and the sandwiches are named accordingly is run by Phil Sipka.   Its Swahili name means, “amass” or gather and its Afro centric vibe yields power and encouragement.  As I sit and contemplate on whether to order the Chicken Funkadelic or a Cafe Au Lait, I settled on peppermint tea and a glazed donut.  I observed the décor - reclaimed materials were used as inspiration for design.  The laptop coffee bar is made of church pews and the lights of old glass bottles.  There are painted pictures of Malcolm X and the countertop is made of old wooden doors.  Although this café has only been open a mere 3 months, it boasts employees from the neighborhood and a desire to give Englewood residents an alternative outlet thru a number of programs highlighting the arts such as poetry night by Team Englewood H.S. and Yoga sponsored by I Grow Chicago. 

As I got ready to wrap up and leave the cafe, in walk 3 gentlemen.  Since they sat next to me, I decided to spark up a friendly chat.  It turns out they were visiting from Erfurt, Germany with Spirit of Football CIC, a not-for-profit community interest company dedicated to promoting a very special soccer ball as the “star of the beautiful game” in the run–up to each World Cup.  “The Ball 2014” started traveling in January and will journey from London across 25 countries and hundreds of schools to the World Cup in Brazil this June.  This Football’s Olympic Torch links people and communities around the world together in the spirit of fairness and respect – one signature at a time!  One ball: One world!  I signed this famous ball.  In fact, my signature was #3,527.  Before I could sign, Andrew, the program director tossed the ball to me to complete a header - a play with the forehead and a ritual completed by every single signer before me!

Kusanya Café is definitely a rare gemstone in Englewood! Its “pay-it-forward” strategy and $1 cup of coffee are also inviting ways to fill the atmosphere with warmth and positive energy! Who knew that when I set out to relax and write, I was nixing the “just coffee” atmosphere for a more appealing and fun yet delectable option better yet adventure? I literally went from writing to semi-playing soccer at this café. I must say, today was a good day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Planes, Trains, a 4X4, & a Camel - the Journey from Marrakech to Fes!

On a 10-day trip to Morocco, I decided to close out with a journey to Fes.  Fes is the 3rd largest city in Morocco, located in northwest Africa just above the High Atlas Mountains.   It is famous for Fes el-Bali, the oldest walled part of the city and the oldest degree-granting university in the world, Al-Karaouine.  The Fes Medina encloses mosques, fountains, squares, and souqs (open-air market or bazaar or flee market).  However, I was interested in visiting Fes because inside the medina (old city) is a leather souq, the oldest leather tannery in the world!

With 5 new friends in tow, a driver and an English-speaking guide, we set out from Marrakesh to Fes - in a 4x4 jeep, I might add.  We journeyed thru Berber villages and across the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, which literally means difficult path because it has so many switchbacks; thru the door of the desert - Ouarzazate (Wah-zaz-zatt) and across the Sahara Desert on a camel…a camel that I had to name!  We drove between the Dadès and Todra Gorges and thru more sand dunes to finally arrive in Fes! 
Berber Village
Tizi-n-Tichka pass
Meet Hanjee!
Sahara Desert
Todra Gorges
We all hugged and promised to stay in touch and my friend and I went on to our Riad, a traditional Moroccan house.  Our room was beautiful!  It was furnished with antiques and local crafts; it comfortably overlooked a lush courtyard garden and a pool.  Our staff was quite attentive.  Upon arrival they served us mint tea as we filled out our hotel documents.  Mint tea is the national drink of Morocco.  This green tea is brewed with lots of mint leaves and loads of sugar and is offered for every occasion – breakfast, rug shopping, or as an icebreaker to lure you into a shop and have a look at their goods!  We quickly settled in quickly then headed to the Hammam, a steam room where Moroccans go each week to catch up with friends and follow long rituals for cleansing their bodies.  As Moroccan people are very kind – tolerant to say the least, it was on the way here that we met a local that would guide us on a quick city tour the next day. 

Fes is the world's largest car-free urban zone and the city infrastructure is not necessarily prepared for tourism, especially English speakers.  It houses some 1,000 narrow, maze-like, passageways and dead-end alleys filled with people and donkeys and shops and more people and scooters and mules transporting goods to the many merchants, as trucks cannot fit.  The crowds are chaotic and each step is on cobblestone.  The adventures of walking thru the souq was like maneuvering thru rush-hour traffic on the busiest and most congested freeway in the United States – the I-405 in Southern California.  
Streets of Fes
Oops! a dead-end alley! 
Walking alongside a donkey!
Finally, we arrived to the leather tannery!  We walked up step after step and passed floor after floor of beautiful handmade leather items.  We were heading to the terrace for a view of the dyeing process.  As we climbed to the top for a look, we were handed handfuls of mint to put off the smell of the rotting animal’s flesh and skin.  Here we saw numerous stone vessels filled with dyes and odorous liquids.  Men worked in unbearably hot conditions skinning animal hides and standing in the vessels manually soaking the rawhides in diluted acidic pigeon poop and vinegar then transferring them to other vessels with vegetable dyes.  The hides are then dried on the roofs of the Medina and cut into patterns and stitched into a final product.  Minus the smell, I was in heaven!   Where does a girl begin?  Slippers, bags, clothes, knickknacks…if you could describe it, they could make it – in any color – with a maximum of 1 day’s timing. 

After combing thru each floor, we both decided on a few items.  As Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country, women have a more conservative role than Westerners.  Knowing this, we set a strategy before entering the stalls that I would hold the calculator, thus the final say!  As the stall owners were not prepared to negotiate with a woman, I had more time to determine a fair price while looking at the goods uninterrupted.  Now comes the fun part – negotiation!  After close to a half hour of punching numbers into my calculator – converting from the MADirham to the Dollar and even walking towards the shop’s exit several times in order to get them to my price, we finally agreed and shook hands on a price for the goods.  As you consider buying goodies in the souqs of Fes, here are a few market bargaining tips that have worked for me:
  1. EVERYTHING is negotiable!  Ask for the discount.
  2. The “final offer” is hardly ever the final number; however, be willing to walk away if necessary.
  3. Be patient, but firm! Don’t rush the process.  
  4. Sometimes bargaining takes a little more time and effort. 
  5. Cash is King and minimal cash is Queen!  It’s tough to persuade shop owners to give a discount when using credit; there are additional fees for those transactions.

Morocco is the kind of place one could visit a few times and it always seems like the very first time!  The equivalent of a 10-minute chair massage at Brookstone on the sales floor – in the airport!  It’s enough to immediately trick your back into believing the kinks are gone but then realizing on the next leg of the flight that you’ve got to go buy that chair!  As I board my train to the airport, I can’t help but think, “When will I return?”