Where’s the Spray Paint?

After I moved in, I had many trips to Home Depot and Menards – picture hooks, curtain rods, screws, plug plates, non-skid step pad, rock salt, etc. My wrought iron patio furniture needed painting, so off I went to buy black Rustoleum spray paint and many other things on my list. It was late at night and as I walked up and down the paint section I could not find the spray paint and there was no salesmen in sight. I bought everything else on my list, again looked all over and decided I had enough shopping and went home. The next week,  I went to Menard’s ready to start my painting project. I went straight to the paint section and again walked round and round – where’s the spray paint?

I asked a young salesman and he said, “You got to go to a Menard’s not in the city.”

I responded, “What? Are you out of all your spray paint?”

“Lady – we don’t sell no spray paint in the city. To many taggers.”

“Do I need to go to a hobby store, like Micheal’s?”

“Lady – it’s against the law to sell spray paint at any store in the city!”

I had no idea what a tagger was and decided to just leave and figure this out with a Google search. Sure enough, in 1992, Chicago passed a law prohibiting the sale of spray paint within city limits to curb graffiti. It was then challenged in multiple courts by spray paint manufacturers before being upheld in 1995 by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. I also learned that tagging is different from graffiti – tagging is usually signing a name which can be a real name, gang symbol, or nick-name, and usually done in one color whereas graffiti usually takes more time and more colors.

Does this law make sense? Not IMO – Anyone can drive, or take a train, outside the city limits and buy whatever spray paint they want. Has it reduced the graffiti in the city? Not based on my daily commute and all the tags I see on my short trip to the loop. Also, just ask the thousands of rush hour drivers on the Kennedy this past December. This is when Graffiti – or a tag – you decide – was plastered overnight on a highway sign and the city had clean-up crews blocking major portions of the highway. A 30-minute commute turned into more than 2 hours for many. Also, if this law did have an impact, why after more than a decade does the City of Chicago have an entire webpage about their Graffiti Removal Program where anyone can call 311 and get unwanted graffiti removed. Here’s an excerpt… the program employs “blast” trucks that use baking soda under high water pressure to remove painted graffiti from brick, stone and other mineral surfaces. The program also deploys paint trucks to cover graffiti on surfaces such as metal or wood.

My high Chicago taxes at work…


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Downsizing – Part 2, the move to the city

For those unfamiliar with the term “three-flat,” it is basically a city house that has long ago been divided up into 3 apartments.  For tax purposes, when I moved in, I became the “owner occupy” as I, along with my son, own the entire house which sits on a typical city lot with no yard at all. Most Chicago three-flats are very old – mine included which was built in 1881 – try finding such a building in the suburbs! And old in the city means crazy additions, narrow, winding stairwells, crumbling cement, tiny spaces between neighbors, and all sorts of obstacles for movers.

To move to such a building, I made sure I got a Chicago mover. I moved in late November on a cold winter day on a Saturday. I picked a Saturday for my convenience and in retrospect, it is the best day for a move to a city street as it proved to be a time with less traffic and a lot of street parking. As the truck followed me into the city on the Kennedy (I-190), I moved to the far left-hand lane where there was less traffic and wondered why he did not do the same. He called me on my cell and said trucks aren’t allowed in that lane in the city. Who knew??

It was late in the day when we finally got to the three-flat. The movers didn’t even flinch when faced with using the back decks to hoist furniture up to my unit and roof top deck. They came with their cables and winches and in a blink they had everything out of their truck and crammed into my 1,200 sq ft and were on there way. I on the other hand had boxes piled on boxes and mix-matched furniture. Little did I know that within 6 months, almost all the furniture they moved would be replaced – a very expensive brass rimmed, glass topped coffee table looked great in my Lake Forest home – but it my new funky 3-flat it was totally out of place.

About 3 days after my move-in. I put up a little Christmas tree to bring in some cheer.


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Downsizing – Part 1, purging

1 bedroom < 2 bedroom < 3 bedroom < 4 bedroom > back to 1 bedroom…

It is amazing how life runs in circles. After college, my past homes include several 1 bedroom apartments, followed by homes with 2 bedrooms, then 3 bedrooms, and then 4 bedrooms. Moving from a small space to a bigger space from suburb to suburb means you can just pack up everything and move. No need to actively purge the baby clothes, toys,  kid’s school work from kindergarten through high school, 6 frying pans, 12 CorningWare bowls, and coats that are 10 years old. Just cram everything into moving trucks that can easily be parked in driveways and unload them with excitement of new closets and extra bedrooms.

But my eventual return to living in a 1-bedroom apartment required a much different strategy. I had to get rid of so many of life scraps collected over 30 years. In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed that I sometimes just sat down and cried in my people-empty, 4-bedroom house with a large backyard. I wasn’t ready to let go.  So I started with the easy tosses: books from my college days, video cassettes (some still in plastic wrap – God forbid I miss recording an episode of ER!), sheets and towels that were more than 20 years old, bathing suits that sadly no longer fit, stirrup pants (remember those?), and half used spiral notebooks and other school supplies that no longer make sense in the computer age. I actually had assignment calendars for 2001 long buried under reams of 3 holed notebook paper.

Thankfully I did get help from my ex, my kids, and some friends, but it was still excruciating painful to sort through what to toss, try and sell, and give to charity.  For obvious reasons, most of the big furniture had to go and I did not have the time or energy to sell, so a big shout out to The Brown Elephant – a wonderful charity resale store in Chicago.  They came with movers and a big truck and carted away my formal living room, couches from the basement, large oak bookshelves, and more. I thought I would be sad to see it go – but really, who needs a formal living room anymore?

In the end, I was ready with each box and piece of furniture color-coded as to its next destination – a method I highly recommend. Keeping organized can keep you sane as you unravel your life. Some of the stuff went to my ex, some to storage, and some to my interim home in a friend’s basement. After the last box was unloaded from the truck, whether it was from pure exhaustion or just relief that I was finally was moving on. I was able to quickly fall asleep in an unfamiliar space without any hint of remorse and a bit of excitement of what lies ahead.

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How a Life Long Suburbanite Ending Up in the Windy City

For over a half of a century, I have lived on the outskirts of large urban cities. The most picturesque was Boulder, Colorado and the least was my childhood home in Southfield, Michigan. My longest residence (almost 30 years) was in Lake Forest, Illinois, a toney suburb on Lake Michigan about one hour by Metra train to Chicago. I ended up there by marrying a hometown boy who still loves and continues to live in “LF.”

With my kids now all adults and settled around the US, (including Hawaii!), a job in the “loop,” the big house sold and a divorce, I decided to shake things up and do what so many of my suburbanite friends talk about…a permanent move to the city.

To be honest, as glamorous as this sounds, it was a bit scary. All my friends, family memories, favorite shops, bike paths, routines, etc. were tied to the suburbs. I could have easily found a nice condo, continued my Metra commute to the city, and return each night to a life of familiarity. Instead, I took the plunge and have now lived in the Old Town Triangle for almost 3 years, a part of Chicago that is rich with history and a place that I am adding city living to my own history.

So I moved from a town with a population of about 20,000 to a city with over 2.7 million. I am still not sure if this kind of living is for me.  To those who think moving to a large  city is something for them, I hope you enjoy reading about my journey. To those already living in any big city and have thoughts of you own, please join the conversation. For now, excluding the obvious tourist sights, a few of my favorite things that I have discovered are:

1. Roof top decks and watching the skyline light up after dusk

2. Loading zones – just put your flasher’s on and you can get take-out or pick up your dry cleaning without having to pay for parking

3. Street lights that glow – no need for night lights in my 3-flat

4. Lower Wacker Drive – yes, there is a way to beat traffic

5. No yard work – but you do have to shovel snow from your own sidewalk or you could get fined…but I have neighbors who sometimes shovel mine for which I am so thankful, especially during the never ending and cold winters of Chi Town!

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