Locked Shopping Carts

In the burbs, I had never given it a thought that in urban settings, stolen shopping carts are a big deal and have been for a long time. In 1969 a Chicago supermarket owner Anthony Dinolfo was so enraged by the volume of stolen shopping carts popping up in places like rivers, auto repair shops, and people’s basements that he deemed February the month to “Return Shopping Carts to the Supper Market.”

This problem has led to “locked shopping carts.” If you have never experience one of these – read carefully so you won’t look like an idiot trying to get out of a grocery store. I recently went grocery shopping at a newly opened Walmart in Lake View- not my usual place for groceries, but I was there to pick up a window air conditioner I got at a great price. I had no idea they sold groceries until I went inside after parking on the rooftop. I bought some groceries and my AC and asked for help to get the heavy AC to my car. The service clerk summoned a helpful worker and told me to just follow him. He picked up the AC box and went on the ramp to the elevator for the parking lot.  I dutifully followed, but at the start of the ramp, my shopping cart stopped moving. Thinking the wheels were stuck on something, I just kept pushing trying to move the cart forward.

The IMG_Walmartguy with my AC was laughing and shouted “Get the service clerk so she can scan me.” I had no idea why I would need to be scanned so I kept pushing. Soon a pack of blueberries somehow opened in my cart and were spilling out on the ramp – what a mess!

A smiling clerk shaking her head appeared with what looked like a TV remote and scanned the front of the cart – and boom – my cart moved effortlessly.  She explained, “They have these everywhere in the city. The wheels will automatically lock near the doors unless someone scans the wheels.” So she overrode the locking mechanism and I sheepishly left the ramp as another clerk handed me a new pack of blueberries. Kudos to the Walmart staff for being so friendly. I am now fully aware of what to do if my cart wheels lock-up in the city.


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Look Up!

From an early age, our vision is “cued.” We perceive what we are looking at through size relationships, shadows, orientation, and a whole host of other interactions. A famous optical illusion is Roger Shepard’s tables. The table tops below are the EXACT same size. Really. Try this link  to see for yourself.


As someone who lived in the suburbs most of my life, there weren’t a lot of buildings more than a few stories high. So I was cued not to look-up. My high school had over 3,000 students and yet the only building higher than 1 floor was the gym.  “Strip malls” are everywhere in the suburbs and the bigger malls cover vast amounts of land with huge parking lots and most have only 2-3 floors.  Ditto with the many office parks that dot the landscape.

As I walk among the buildings in Chicago I bring my lifetime of vision cues of only looking at the ground floors with me and so does my daughter. On a recent shopping trip, we decided to check out the new shops in the Lincoln Park area dubbed “The NewCity” around the North and Clybourn corridor. This area is anchored with a new high rise apartment building, Mariano’s (my favorite grocery store) and many new retail stores.   I had seen the signs for Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nordstrom Rack, DSW, Ann Taylor Loft,  and REI, and felt those were enough stores to fill our day.

So on foot, we began to explore with our sights set on some new sweaters and shoes. We spent a long time at Ann Taylor Loft where there were great sales, but Dicks’ was a total bust – hardly anything on sale even though it was the day after Christmas. We scored some great gloves and REI and due to an unnoticed red tag bonus at Nordstrom’s, I was thrilled at check-out with another 20% off, so I got a “spinner” suitcase for under $40!! But where is the DSW?? We walked around and around. We had seen the signs, but couldn’t figure out where the store was.

Tired and loaded with bags, we started to head home and then across the way – I looked up. And there through the cold gray sky was DSW – right next to  Ann Taylor Loft, but on the second floor. As most women, we had to check out shoes on our shopping trip. So we finally found the door along the side street that led to the up escalator to a very large and nice DSW store. We didn’t find any shoes that day, but at least we did find the store!



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Big Tree – Little Tree – Holiday Trains

While living in the suburbs, Christmas time meant a lot of wreaths, garland and trees. Bigger houses mean stair rails to decorate, front and side doors, and 7-10 ft Christmas trees. In the city of Chicago, the lights and sounds of Christmas are everywhere, but are often more unique. You don’t need the big decorations in your home because they are all around you, so I traded my big tree for a “pencil” tree which fits perfectly in my small space. A mini festive home and the sights of Chicago are more than enough to fill anyone’s need for holiday cheer.

Big Tree

Little Tree

In Chicago, there’s the obvious – the brightly lit Magnificent “Mag” mile  of shops along Michigan Ave, the Chriskrindle Market at Daley Plaza, and the dressed windows on Macy’s on State St.  For a fun treat, make reservations at the Walnut Room in Macy’s – it’s been around for over 100 years  and at Christmas time a huge tree is its center piece. However, for anyone who visits or lives in Chicago during the holidays, all should just stroll through any neighborhood and downtown and look around. The tower at St. Micheal’s in Old Town has red and green lit clock faces, random condo railings light up the sky, the top of the Hancock building and many others glow with red and green, and if you really want to smile, catch the Santa’s Holiday Express L train. This 20+ year annual tradition provides a brightly decorated train throughout Nov-Dec, providing a time for  families and harried downtown workers to mingle. I was just on my way home from work in the Loop and along it came to the platform – lights and music and smiles. As most regular commuters snapped pics, babies in strollers, mothers and fathers in holiday garb, and grandmas and grandpas swarmed the platform to jump on board. My short trip home was filled with kid’s happy faces bringing many nostalgic holiday memories. If you enjoy  great shopping, food, lights, and people, Chicago is a great place to be during the holidays!



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Chicago Lake Front – Raise Money and Walk for Causes Important to You

With Fall almost over, the Chicago lake front events are winding down. With it’s vast walkways and vistas it is a great place for groups to have fund raising walks for causes near and dear to those who attend. Until I lived in the city, I had rarely attended such events – to far to drive on a weekend, but living here allows me to easily join others and support their causes. On a beautiful September weekend, I volunteered for the Out of the Darkness walk in Grant Park on Saturday and walked to End Alzheimer’s along Montrose Harbor on  Sunday.  The Out of the Darkness walk supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (for info go to afsp.org). I got involved for the first time through a friend of a friend who lost their teenage son to suicide. He got to wear a white necklace meaning he lost a child where others wore red for a spouse, gold for a parent, orange for a sibling and others.  Many families had t-shirts with the picture of the person they lost. It was sobering and yet comforting to see so many people who were there with hugs and smiles, determined to help the cause and erase the stigma. With a very small staff, it is clear this wonderful organization, AFSP has truly impacted others is many ways and I plan to help out again next year.

IMG_1283       IMG_1019

The next day, I walked to End Alzheimer’s (for info go to alz.org). With age being the number one risk factor for this fatal disease and the boomers rapidly reaching their aging years, everyone should support this cause. With no cure or treatment that modifies the disease course, the burden on our healthcare system and family caregivers is growing everyday and will get worse.  This was my 6th walk, and I plan on many more. The walk included the “flower garden” where walkers could select a flower – representing that they lost someone to Alzheimer’s, have Alzheimer’s, are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, or they support the cause because so many if not touched directly, know someone who has been impacted.

So if you are in Chicago enjoy the many options in the big city to volunteer, meet others and help others –  you will be greatly rewarded.

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You Are Never First

Long gone are my suburban days when I can run into the store for a quick pick up of something for dinner. Ditto for deciding to go out to dinner at that last minute on a Friday or Saturday night. In Chicago, you need to plan ahead and just accept that waiting in line is the the trade-off between hundreds of choices and hundreds of other city dwellers doing the same thing. Even a quick trip to the ATM at 8:00 pm often involves a wait.  Along with never being first, it also means that many sale items are often gone by the time you get to the store – anything from the buy 1 get 1 free bottles of green ice tea, to boxes of tissues. Sometimes I have gone to 3 stores to find a liter of Diet Coke!


The upside of this is when you do have a short wait, it makes your day. Starbucks with only 4 people  – hooray – a table on a Friday night after only 10 minutes – fantastic, we don’t have to try someplace else. But the best natural exhilaration I ever got was on a trip into the city just a bit past rush hour. The traffic was crawling in both directions as I reached the junction where the express lanes start and end. The signs before said the express lanes for inbound traffic were closed, so I crept at 2 miles a hour with everyone else. All of a sudden the car in front of me darted on the express lane – it had just opened. I quickly followed. It was surreal as on both sides of the express lane barriers cars were at near standstills and yet here I was going 60+ miles an hour with only 1 car in front.  I wasn’t first, but I smiled the entire way into the city that night and I still smile when I think about the chances of me being in the right place at the right time and almost being first in line in the City of Chicago.

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The “L” or “El” Getting around Chicago on public transportation


The  “L” or “El”  –  In other big cities around the world, the core public train systems are known as subways, underground, metra rails, etc, with neat icon symbols marking their entrances.


Not so in Chicago. The main trains in the city are known as the CTA and are for the most part built on elevated tracks, hence the “L.” Finding the stations can be challenging – most are up long stairways, but some are underground.  The train routes are assigned a color, but be aware the trains can change color in route, especially in the Loop, such as jumping on a brown train which changes to orange at a later stop.  An announcement is usually made, so you need to  listen to them so you can get off and catch the route you want. (FYI – the Loop is the main business district in Chicago.)

cta steps

Knowing the color of your route is critical. To get to the right platform, you usually have to climb steps, know what color your route is and which end stop your heading towards – or to the Loop, which is exactly what it says, the train will loop around and go back with the end stop changing to its new destination.  Entrances are marked with the color of the line and end stop. For L platforms, the color/stop are on the stairs or on a sign overheard. For underground stops – it’s not as clear. You really need to know the color of your route like the Clybourn station shown below for the red line – and again don’t expect a nice CTA icon!

Last – do not confuse CTA “L” trains with Metra Trains. The CTA trains run every 8- 20 minutes, whereas the Metra trains going into the city from the suburbs, run on very set schedules. Metra trains are much nicer, so if you have a choice, such as getting to Chicago from Evanston – take the Metra. A big negative with public transportation in Chicago is that the only place to switch trains – regardless if it’s Metra or CTA is around the Loop. If you are trying to go from a west suburb to a north suburb – you have to go all the way into the city. If you want the blue line to O’hare – again into the Loop make the switch and then out. Most cities have more transfer stations – but not Chicago.

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Driving – Time of Day is Way More Important Than Miles


A common joke among Chicago residents is that there are only 2 seasons – construction and winter.  This just adds to the nightmare traffic around the city.  Chicago is home to 5 of the top 20 most congested roads in the US and is ranked 8th worst overall compared to other urban cities. (Ranking of most traffic are: Washington, D.C. in the number 1 spot, followed by  Los Angeles; San Francisco; New York; San Jose, Calif.; Boston; Seattle; Chicago; Houston; and Dallas. ) As expected rush hour is the worst, but add rain, snow, or construction and no matter what – traffic is a mess. I am asked, “What’s a good time to drive through the city?” I wish I knew. I travel a lot and often take a taxi to go to O’hare Airport at many different times of the day. It can take me 20 minutes or over an hour to travel the 16 mile route. I always plan for the worst and am delighted when my trip is fast. So when planning your errands in a big city, miles mean nothing – a 2 mile trip can take 30 minutes if the traffic is bad, but certain times during the day can increase your odds of a faster trip.

My tips for driving in the city, during the week, wait until after 7:30  pm and then go out shopping. A good thing is many stores in the city are open later compared to the suburbs. I have found that even though NYC is known as the a town that never sleeps – neither does Chicago. (Just check out any street with a lot of bars on Friday night – people are everywhere!).  This means on the weekends, get up and get home before 11:00 am and you miss all the Millennials who make Chicago their home.

And last…the very best way to get around Chicago is public transportation. For any move to a big city make sure you can walk to a transit line. You will be grateful you did.

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