Bicycle Diaries: Outside Reading

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Outside Reading

I am not a hermit...

in my dusty apartment surrounded by mountains of books, empty pizza boxes, or cat food tins.

When I first moved to Chicago, freshly divorced and without knowing anyone, I decided I wasn't going to become the creepy, lonely guy in my building. You see, this was the first time I had really ever been on my own. Until 2000, I had been been in one relationship after another, all of them nearly overlapping, going all the way back to junior high school. So what I had to figure out was how to be on my own without being lonely and, more importantly, how to create relationships (family, friends, lovers, etc.) on my own.

Reading in bars, restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops BY MYSELF was the answer. And over the last 6 years I've found a number of perfect places for outside reading.

What I need for a perfect place is:
a) natural light since most places dim their lights to preserve the bar-fly atmosphere for which Chicago is famous
b) comfy seats with plenty of space for my bag, books, palm pilot, notebooks, pens, and, of course, victuals,
c) an accommodating staff that doesn't immediately assume that you're a creepy, lonely guy,
d) a solid contingent of regular customers who also don't immediately assume that you're a creepy, lonely guy and don't take offense when what I'm reading is more interesting than the idle chit-chat, and
e) smoking which is getting more and more difficult with the creeping smoking ban instituted by our otherwise beloved mayor.
Beyond that, each of the perfect places I've found has its own unique and often peculiar qualities from outside reading. The Grafton, for instance, is my favorite by far. It opened just after I got here, replacing a seedy sports bar that was really only good for finding late night, provisional hook ups. The light is phenomenal, the seats comfy, and the staff as well as the regulars are very accommodating. The only problem recently has been it's growing popularity with the kind of folks, typically from the hipster'hoods, coming in to see and be seen.

When I get too many inquiries about what I'm reading; as if the book were an invitation for idle chit-chat rather than a request for solitude, I'll usually head up north to The Leadway. It too used to be a seedy place before Frank, an affable Romanian sculptor, bought it. He's filled it with his huge metal sculptures and tons of watercolors done in the bar by customers for which he provides the materials gratis.

But the really cool thing about it is that the bartenders, mostly Romanians, and the regulars, mostly neighbors, are about as laid back as you can get in a local Chicago bar. If you read, no worries. If you want to talk politics, no hassles. If you want to watch heavy metal videos, you're in like Flynn.

I'll be returning with two other perfect places over the next couple of posts. Since I don't plan the word count, this has turned out longer than I wanted. BTW, if you want to know why I wound up among so many Filipino students you can go here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for a good place to read in Chicago. No luck yet. When I lived in San Diego I used to go to big downtown hotel lobbies. There were always people coming and going and the large lobbies had comfortable furniture. I was never bothered by any staff, maybe they thought I was a guest. I have not tried it here yet. These big city hotels seem more intimidating.

16/2/07 23:37  
Blogger Da' Square Wheelman, said...

Go for it! I did that a couple of times when I first got here. Try the Palmer House. They also have an open wifi!

17/2/07 10:02  

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