Yep, my bike was stolen

So what had happened was…I decided to bike to work today as part of the aptly named Bike to Work Week.  I woke up this morning already anticipating the rapturous blog I’d write about my beautiful ride up the lakefront.  I was going to share a photo with you of the Chicago skyline as viewed from the South Side.  I was going to pat myself on the back for completing another training milestone as I prepare for Ride for AIDS Chicago. I was hoping for the cycling equivalent of a “runner’s high” to spirit me through the long day that lay ahead of me. I was, as my sister might say, totes excited about biking to work.

Let me paint a picture for you.  I was decked out in what passes for “serious” riding gear for me (so what if my spandex capris are from Old Navy?) and on my way over to the secure bike room in the other building of my apartment complex to air up my tires.  Then an all-too-familiar scenario unfolded: as I approached the bike room door, I noticed it wasn’t fully closed.  And when I went to put my key in the lock, the door freely swung open.  I looked over to where my bike is usually locked and saw only my Kryptonite cable lock, dangling pathetically with the 1/2″ cable cut clean through. It was basically just like this:

Le sign. It happened. Again.

I calmly walked back to my apartment and dialed 911.  The dispatcher put me through to the non-emergency line and a friendly and sympathetic officer walked me through the police report process, a process I’m all too familiar with.  I provided as many details as a I could, staying calm and even cracking jokes.  Just like I had the first time my bike was stolen and an officer came over to my apartment to file the report (those were the days before 311 or widespread computer use).  Just like I had when – a month after the stolen bike incident – I was mugged at gunpoint and flagged down a cop car in the next intersection over and filed a police report and looked at books of mugshots and went to a line-up at the local precinct.  Just like I had when – several years later – the door to my apartment was kicked in and all of my electronics were stolen and the forensics team dusted for fingerprints and the cops left me with a broken front door that I had to repair myself.  It’s fine.  These things happen and we take care of them and we move on.

But the thing that riled me this time was that my bike was locked to the wall in what was supposed to be a locked bike room, which was in a locked building.  Turns out the bike room had been broken into several days ago, but nobody had notified the tenants, save for a single sheet of paper taped to the back of the door by someone who doesn’t even work on site.  Again, I calmly picked up the phone and called the 24-hour maintenance hotline to report that the door was still broken and, yes, mine was one of the stolen bikes and, yes, it would have been nice to have been informed of a break-in when it actually happened and not to have stumbled upon a broken lock when I was ready to ride into work for the first time since I moved here.  The guy on the phone and the woman who works in the on-site office were extremely apologetic and neither of them knew the door had been pried open (or even about the theft!), so at least that’s getting fixed today.

I hung up and threw myself a pity party for approximately 45 seconds.  Then I got over it.  Procuring a new bike would be easy: Blackstone Bicycle Works is in my neighborhood and everybody raves about how great they are, plus their refurbished bikes start at around $100, which is great.  I have renter’s insurance, which might help me recover some of the costs of the stolen bike, which wasn’t even an expensive bike to begin with.  And nobody (as far as I know) was hurt when the crime was perpetrated.  So, not that bad.

Em Hall Ride for AIDS ChicagoPLUS, I had to remind myself why I was even biking to work in the first place, and that’s to train for Ride for AIDS Chicago 2013.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I’m doing the ride for a number of reasons – not all of them are altruistic (I’ve already lost 5 pounds!) – but foremost is to raise money for About Face Theatre (where I’m the Marketing Manager) and TPAN, two amazing Chicago nonprofits that are doing important work for this city and beyond.  As the name of the ride implies, a portion of the funds raised will go directly to people living with HIV and AIDS in the Chicago-area, a reality that affects us all, whether we realize it or not.  And the statistics are shocking: 35% of gay black men in Chicago are HIV positive and the HIV infection rate for heterosexual black women in DC’s poorest neighborhoods has doubled since 2010.  In the UK, heterosexual women over 50 make up the fastest-growing group of those living with HIV.  And Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for an astonishing 70 percent of all AIDS deaths in 2011.  So yeah, a stolen bike is definitely something I can deal with – gotta keep some perspective.

This doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed in whoever took these bikes and whatever it was that drove them to steal them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not disappointed in myself for not springing for the U-lock that I know I should have gotten a long time ago.  But I’ll get it over it.  I’ll move on.  And then I’ll hop on my new bike and start pedaling away, training for my ride and looking forward to the day when biking to work becomes a regular occurrence.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

Don’t Leave Me Alone

I managed to enjoy working from home for approximately one week.  That’s how long it took me to memorize my daytime TV schedule: NBC for the Today Show (hour three being my favorite since it features Willy Geist) and Access Hollywood Live (Billy Bush is kinda creepy, amirite?), then over to ABC for The Chew (anything with Clinton Kelly is a-ok by me), then to CBS for The Talk (don’t ask), back to NBC for Steve Harvey and Ellen (those shows have way more in common than I thought), then it was time for news and primetime programming.  Wake up the next day and start all over again.

I came to loathe this routine.  I mean, I had enough work to keep me busy for several hours each day – and I did my job just fine – but it was a monotonous and lonely existence for a couple of months.  I did my fair share of work at the library or in coffee shops, but you can only sip a cup of tea for so long, plus dragging around a laptop and power cord all the time got old.  At this time I was working remotely for my last job in DC and although Gchat and G+ Hangouts made it easy to feel connected to distant colleagues, it just wasn’t the same.

I soon found myself staying online nearly all the time, whether I had work to do or not.  I craved some sort of interaction from the “outside world” and I missed my DC friends.  I felt more useful – not just as an employee, but as a person – when I had five chat windows open and texts firing back and forth.  See!  People want to talk to me!  I’m still at the proverbial popular table!  (Even though it was a table for one.)  I mostly stopped reading my daily newspaper, breaking a habit I’d had for over a decade.  Without a commute, it was easier just to settle down with a cup of coffee and Facebook status updates every morning.  How terribly edifying.

Whatever was going on was not good.  I was sleeping poorly, worrying about my current job and my still-nonexistent future job and generally getting way too much into my own head for even the smallest things, especially regarding electronic communications.  Had my last instant message conveyed that I was joking or did I come off sounding like a jerk?  Did that email convey the urgency of what I was requesting?  Should I text this person to make sure they have everything they need for the meeting tomorrow?  And on and on it went for nearly two months.  I didn’t get terribly down about it, though, because I knew the situation was temporary.  But still, by the time I returned to working at an office, I was more than ready to jump out of bed, get dressed in pants with a non-elastic waistband, and bid the kitties adieu for a day full of face-to-face interaction with real people.

Alone Together by Sherry TurkleI was thinking back over this (mercifully brief) time in my life the other day while listening to a podcast of Fresh Air from last year.  At my last few jobs in DC I was fortunate enough to be able to walk to work and podcasts were something I’d found helped keep my mind sharp during all those hours of pounding the pavement.  Still an avid pedestrian and podcast listener, I’ve enjoyed catching up on years’ worth of Terry Gross interviews, as I never really listened to this show before.  The podcast that popped up the other day was an interview with Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together, which addresses the digital dependence that so many of us have formed in such a relatively short amount of time.

I highly recommend you listen to the interview – I haven’t picked up a copy of the book – or at least read the accompanying online article where Turkle shares among other insights the cultural shift from ‘I have a feeling, I want to make a call’ to ‘I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text.’  Whoa.  That part hit home.  How many times had I reached out digitally during my work at home days because I was bored or lonely or just found myself with my own thoughts for more than a few minutes?  I want to have a feeling.  Her statements also explain the seemingly endless parade of cryptic Facebook posts designed to elicit sympathy from one’s “friends.”  And what else could explain Facebook’s decision to let users select their “feeling” from a drop-down menu of options, over 1/3 of which express negative emotions?

If Turkle’s interview doesn’t sufficiently make you reconsider our always-online-but-not-really-connected existence, then I offer as Exhibit B Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent New York Times op-ed “How Not to Be Alone.”  Are you sensing a theme here?  Foer presents the concept of “diminished substitutes” and explains how evolving technological advances in communication have actually served to make us ever more disconnected.  Cancelling dinner is now accomplished with a single text message followed by the relief that we don’t have to see face-to-face the person whom we’re brushing off or letting down.  Parents obsessively browse their emails from the sidelines instead of watching their kid’s soccer game.  And on and on it goes.  The problem is that “with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.”  I want to have a feeling.

I’m not here to advocate that we revert to some antediluvian existence of fax machines and party lines, but I have been reflecting on my own need to feel connected, to feel feelings, and realizing that technology is neither a facilitator of nor a substitution for actual relationships, be they work, personal, or just casual acquaintances in my neighborhood.  At my current jobs I convene no conference calls unless absolutely necessary. I make a conscientious effort to try to communicate via face-to-face conversations or telephone calls whenever possible, which is really tough because I partly work remotely for one of them.  And I’m lucky enough to work with people who take seriously the notion that everybody deserves a break in their workday.  Just yesterday three coworkers and I went out for tea, pausing to sit a few minutes in Daley Plaza.  Those moments of sunshine and lighthearted conversation were probably some of the most enjoyable of my whole day.

As much as I love texting (and I love texting), I’ve come to the realization that it’s no substitution for authentic conversation.  Most importantly I no longer stare at my phone or Gchat hoping to have a feeling.  And if I find myself once again in the position of working from home at some point in the distant future, I’m confident that I’ll approach it in a different, more balanced way.  Less Billy Bush and Steve Harvey, and more face time with clients and friends.  Now that’s a good feeling.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

What’s so hard about taking a break?

I’m in this marketing certificate program at the University of Chicago’s Graham School right now and I have to say that being back in a classroom suits me well.  It’s a very different environment than my first go-around at UChicago as an undergrad.  Students are far more likely to be carrying around Marketing case studies than The Marx-Engels Reader (imagine that!) and the instructors are highly accomplished professionals who are more likely to drive a luxury SUV than possess a PhD.  But it’s great.  My classmates are lively, our guest speakers are engaging, and even though it’s the first time I’ve paid entirely for education out of pocket, it’s absolutely worth it.

During class earlier this week one of our guest speakers revealed that it was actually her last day at her current job and that she had a six week break before she started her next one.  Six weeks!  Jaws slowly dropped in a combination of jealousy and disbelief.  My instructor commented something to the effect of “Studies have shown that that’s the only time you can really relax, when you’re in between jobs, but you know you already have the next job secured.”  Heads nodded, still not able fully to comprehend the idea of being blissfully unencumbered by work emails for more than six minutes, let alone six weeks.  And with that the guest speaker walked out the door, possibly 20 pounds lighter than the rest of us.

Japan Airlines and MicrosoftThis morning on the bus I was reflecting on that quick interchange in class when I saw an ad for Microsoft Office 360, of all things.  The ad caught my eye not because it was advertising software that nearly everyone uses at some point in their working life, but because the “Japan Airlines” image caught my attention.  The juxtaposition of exotic travel and a mundane office product was timely.  I thought, “When’s the last time I went on a proper vacation? Or even staycation?”  Even though I had a couple of weeks off in between jobs when I moved to Chicago, that time was consumed by job hunting, almost to the point of obsession.  And I spent an inordinate (and probably unhealthy) amount of time reading Gawker’s absorbing series “Unemployment Stories” which was alternately terrifying and slightly encouraging.  But at no time did I consider myself on a break from working.

As long as I can remember during my professional career (i.e. not grad school or hourly jobs), I’ve taken off just the weekend between ending one gig and starting another.  Oh, except that one time when I took off two weeks between jobs…in order to write my Master’s thesis.  I know what you’re thinking: that Em Hall sure knows how to relax!

But there’s no reason to punish ourselves for stepping away from work emails and an office environment for a break, even on a regular basis.  I’m lucky enough to work at two jobs now where getting out of the office – whether for professional development, special events, or just a mental break from the cacophony – is actually encouraged.  What a gift!  And I’m really glad that our guest speaker shared with us that she felt no guilt for a six-week break.  She shouldn’t!  Nor should any of us.  I’m not looking to change jobs any time soon, but I know that when I prepare for the next big adventure in my life, I’m going to take some time to myself, to honor all that I’ve accomplished and celebrate what’s yet to come.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

Saddle Up!

Okay, so the original idea I had for the new was a blog devoted to work, because at the time I fired it up, I was in the middle of a job hunt and was – for the first time in my adult life – staring in the face of involuntary unemployment.  I had a couple of small side projects going on, but nothing that would count as full- or even part-time “work.”  And that was terrifying.

Fast forward a few months and now I have two 25-hour-a-week jobs, plus an additional side project!  Some days I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but for the most part it’s exhilarating to get paid to do things like market a theatre or communicate about public housing.  And I get to work with so many smart, funny, wildly talented people that it’s unbelievable.  I learn new stuff every day and I am challenging myself professionally in new ways that I haven’t experienced in years.  In short, work life is good.

But one thing I have not been doing is challenging myself personally, either mentally or physically.  I’ve slipped into old patterns of too much couch time and too little fresh air, which is ridiculous because I live blocks from one of the most beautiful lake fronts in the world.  Plus I don’t have cable anymore so that’s not even an excuse!

I had to find something radical to snap me out of my pattern of behavior and jump start a goal I’ve had for years, which is to lose a significant amount of weight and get myself to a place of good health.  Like, no more late night pizza, no more going days without eating a fresh vegetable, and no more instances of getting winded by sprinting up the steps to catch a train.  No more.

presta valveSo I found something to kick my lazy rear into gear: Ride for AIDS Chicago.  I know what you’re thinking: Em Hall is neither an AIDS activist nor a cyclist.  Tawk amongst yourselves.  But seriously, what am I thinking?  Well, I’m thinking a couple of things.  I get to raise money for an organization that I’ve fallen madly in love with – About Face Theatre – and I get to spend time doing something that’s good for my health in so many ways.

My biggest fear isn’t that I won’t complete the ride (because I will) or that I’ll injure myself (because I won’t).  No, my biggest fear is that I won’t know how to live with my new self, a self that eats a healthy balanced diet and craves exercise.  A self with a mind that’s sharp as a tack during the day and quieted during the night.  A self that’s better to those around her because she’s better to herself.  So yeah, that’s the scary part.  Becoming a better version of myself.  Because let’s be honest: it’s far easier to stick with bad habits and tell yourself that tomorrow is the day you’ll change.  But today is the day I’m changing!

I hope you’ll follow along on my journey.  If you want to donate to support my ride, that’s fantastic (and I thank you in advance!) but really I just want you to join me as I work to be that better self that I know I can be.  I’m going to need all the support I can get.  And I’m already learning new stuff, like the fact that my road bike as Presta valves (that’s an example above) and that I need an adapter to air the tires (the Chicago Bike Blog tells you how).  That should tell you how often I’ve ridden that bike!

Okay, that’s enough to get this thing started.  Look for lots more content from me moving forward.  It’s great to have you along for the ride…

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!