Posts tagged: blogger

Broke Ass Stuart Spills the Beans on Living Frugal

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By , February 10, 2012 11:49 am

Cheap Living with Stuart. Photo by Julie Michelle of

With the economy shafted and seemingly stuck in a rut and coupon sites popping out like rabbits, Funsherpa sits down with the expert in living cheaply. Stuart Schuffman, the brains behind Broke Ass Stuart, shares his thoughts on cheap travel, cheap New York, and more importantly cheap dates. So stop splurging around and start living the Broke Ass lifestyle!

F: How did you end up starting your broke-ass living cheaply guides? Have you always been looking for the best bang for your buck since you were a kid?
S: I started off by selling zines, which are little pamphlet thingies that you can make from photocopying and stapling at a copy store. The zine was Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco and I distributed with my backpack, the bus and my two feet. At the peak I was in probably 25 or 30 stores. I did a couple versions of it, then ended up doing some writing for Lonely Planet, and eventually found my book deal on craigslist. Yeah, I know how ridiculous that sounds. For a long time I told people I always seem to come through the back back door and then I realized why all those conversations ended so awkwardly.

As for looking for the best bang for my buck, I’ve just never been into fancy shit. I appreciate real interactions with real people, not ones who are trying to make you think they’ve got more money than they actually do. So I think I’ve always been attracted to places like diners and dive bars. My whole thing is that, I’m not necessarily cheap, I’m just broke. So I’ve structured my life to make it as fucking awesome as possible while spending the least amount of money. It seems to be working out so far.

F: It’s that time of the year for fresh college grads wondering how they’re going to survive now that they’re in the real world? What’s one important broke-ass tip that you can share with them?
S: If it burns when you pee, go see a doctor…that’s not the kind of tip you’re looking for is it? Um, I think if I was to give college grads one serious bit of advice it would be this: do what you love and work your fucking ass off doing it. If you do that you’ll figure out a way to pay your bills somehow. If that doesn’t work, you can always just try extorting someone.

F: Say someone is traveling to New York on a real tight food budget, like $10 for food a day? What places would you recommend hitting up?
S: That’s a tough one because there are just so many places to eat for cheap in NYC. One awesome one is Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St. btw Mulberry & Mott Sts.) in Chinatown. You can get 5 dumplings for a dollar there. But actually there are a bunch of places that do deals like that in Chinatown. I think your best bet though is to go to either The Alligator Lounge (Williamsburg), The Crocodile Lounge (East Village), or The Charleston (Williamsburg). They give you a free personal pizza with every drink you buy. Yeah really. So that way you can kill two birds with one stone. Those fuckers are geniuses they deserve Nobel Peace Prizes.

F: What suggestions do you have on a cheap date, without fear of being called ‘cheap’?
S: Cheap dates are easy. Motherfuckers just want you to seem interesting and thoughtful. Have a little picnic with some cheap wine, then stroll over to one of the museums on one of their “pay what you want” days. Or you can do what I always do: go to some shitty Brooklyn dive bar and drink until you want to have sex with each other. Or better yet, combine the two for super awesome date time!

F: Lately, there seems to be a trend for all these ‘daily deal’ sites, What are your thoughts about it? Any favorite sites?
S: Those deal sites are a brilliant idea. I don’t really have any favorites because they are all pretty much doing the same thing. All I know is that I wish I’d thought of that shit first, then maybe I wouldn’t still be broke.

F: Can you suggest some broke-ass budget friendly countries to travel to?
S: Budget friendly countries? Generally any country you associate with hating America is gonna be budget friendly. I think they hate us because they’re afraid wankers like me are gonna go over there, buy up a whole province for $35 and start running shit like a tyrannical medieval lord. You better watch out Krygyzstan your ass is mine!

Really though, if you’re traveling on the dollar, stay out of the US and Northern & Western Europe and you’ll be fine. Go to Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia and you’ll think you died and woke up as Jay-Z.

F: On what things are you or do you suggest not being frugal or cheap on?
S: I buy $50 Levi’s jeans because I wear the shit out of them, like 6 months straight. So If I know something is gonna last me awhile I don’t mind paying extra for them. Same goes with something that has a lifetime guarantee. I really wanna buy this pair of $150 Doc Marten’s because they have one of those guarantees. Plus, I really wanna join a Riot Grrrl band.

Also, I imagine cheap tattoos are not a good thing either. Those shits are permanent; you don’t want some weird cross-eyed junkie fucking up.

F: You’ve been pretty successful with your broke-ass living cheaply guides for San Francisco and New York, and the ‘goddamn’ website, any other upcoming projects that you’re thinking about? A new city? A TV show perhaps?
S: Why yes, yes I do. I’m currently working on a new book that’s gonna be like a “General Guide to Living as a Broke-Ass”. The problem is that my SF book is only for sale in the Bay and my NYC book is only for sale out there. This way I can spread my anti-consumerist propaganda throughout the entire United States. As for a TV show, that is certainly something I’m aiming for. I have poor decision making skills, a plethora of skeletons in my closet, and at least three pending paternity tests. I was made for the spotlight…or at least politics.

But for real. I wanna make some TV dammit. If Sarah Palin can do it, I sure as hell can. I’ve had diarrhea smarter than her.

Discovering Parenthood Through the Eyes of Mom Bloggers

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By , April 28, 2010 8:00 am
Bethany Hiitola

Decoding mommy blogs with Bethany Hiitola

Discover the world of mommy blogging, free things to do in Chicago with your kids, and motherhood with Bethany Hiitola.  Funsherpa sits down with the writer behind Mommy Writer Blog to understand what it is like to be a mom, blog with kids in the house, and find inspiration in creative writing projects.

F: What do you enjoy the most about Mommy blogging? What do your kids think about your blog?
B: I never really looked at it as mommy blogging or anything but an outlet for me to write what I know. I’ve always been a writer and had a few blogs that I sorta maintained off and on for a few years prior to ever being a mom. But, when I had a kid, found myself at home most of the time with no babysitter (and surrounded by mothers who appeared to know what they were doing), I decided to turn to the outlet I always turn to–writing. And thus my blog and website were born (concurrently I also decided to pursue my dreams of writing fiction and getting it published – so they both were jointly born along with the first child).

My kids are still very young– son is 7 and daughter 2 1/2. So their opinion of my online space is yet to be determined. Although my son now can read at a pretty high level, and has his own computer and unfettered access to the Internet–he’ll find me soon. Though, I am not worried. I always try to write from my point of view (not theirs) so I hope they find it fun and entertaining.

F: Can you talk about your experience when you first became a mom? What were some of the things you had to learn/unlearn from just being an adult with no kids?
B: Frazzled. When I had my son, labor was about 20 hours, I was up all night, and well, birth was an experience that once you go through it, you are changed (in more ways than you care to share). But I survived. And had this pink wiggly crinkled thing handed to me and then everyone left the room. There was no instructions, no one to sorta sit down and tell you what you might expect from the first few nights, how to really change a newborn’s diaper, how you are going to survive on so little sleep you won’t know how to hold a conversation. And it just stays that way. No instructions. And really, no schedules and constant change.

The biggest difference from life with no kids to having kids is just learning to be unselfish. Suddenly your life will revolve around this new little being. And you have to let it for a while until you and the baby adjust. Sure, this changes as the child grows older and becomes more independent, but overall, you give us things for your kid. Whether that is sleep, time, schedules. Pretty much everything changes. And you need to find ways to make yourself a priority too (babysitters, help from family and partners, time away, etc).

And really just BE FLEXIBLE. The flexible and laid back you are about the kid, and naps, and feedings, and all that stuff–the easier your life will be. And more relaxed you will be. And the easier time you will need/have to adjust to motherhood (or parenthood. Dad’s have to do all this too). It’s all good. And children bring a new outlook on life for anyone. But as a parent they change the way you look at the world. So take deep breaths and just enjoy the ride–no matter how it takes you on little side tracks.

F: You seem to write a lot. Can you share with us some of your creative writing projects? What serves as your inspiration?
B: Is it that obvious? Yes I do write a lot. I always have written but never dedicated so much time with it until after I had children. But, then again, my children are part of the reason why I have dedicated more time to writing. After my son was born I found myself working over 40 hours a week at all hours of the day (to adjust for working from home with a young baby) and I wasn’t happy. I needed an outlet just for me and one that might get me out of the rat race.

I haven’t quite gotten out of the (corporate) rat race yet, but I knew there was no chance I could do that without giving a real, true, honest-to-God effort at writing books for publication. So here I am.

I’m working on a bunch of projects right now. The first is the 2nd technical non-fiction book about open source software. My first book was about creating podcasts with Audacity (you can find it here) and it was fun to write. So I signed up for another that I am working on now! This one is about using Inkscape as a web designer. It is due out by the end of the year.

I write for a variety of places online that you can find from my website and they keep me sane during the week when my work schedule is driving me crazy. For fiction, I have a book that I’m shopping around now, another one in the works, and some small pieces that are being published in quarterly magazines. Just enough to keep me from not going to bed too early in the evenings. And to keep me writing, no matter what my day throws at me.

F: What are some of the things you’ve learned from other Mom bloggers? What have you taught other Mom bloggers?
B: To relax. Have fun. Vent if you need to. And ALWAYS respect your children–as they are a wealth of blogging fodder (both good and bad) and are the cutest things ever. With them at your side, they sorta define that mom blogger part of your life. But you are also you. And Mom bloggers stick together. We have that common bond of parenting and we often share stories, agree with one another, disagree with one another and then always want the best for our families.

I am not sure what I have taught others. Maybe just that you can blog, have a life, be a mom, a blogger and other dreams too. Funnily enough, I have always associated myself as a writer. Before a blogger, before a mom, before a mommy blogger. So, I just hope that maybe that is what people have taken away from reading my blog.

F: If you could change one thing about being a mother, what would it be?
B: The extra 15-20 lbs I still have of baby fat. A magic potion to get rid of the constant large dark circles under my eyes. And maybe an “obey your mom” card that I can pull out and use for nap times, cleaning rooms, brushing teeth and more…

Other than that, I just want to enjoy the ride as much as I can. My son is 7. And honestly, there are times I still think he might be about 3 years old and playing super heroes with capes in my living room.

F: Any advice to new parents in Chicago to ensure their kids get to appreciate the city they live in?
B: Go to museums, shows, concerts, outdoor events. EVERYTHING you want to drag yourself too. This city offers anything from free to very expensive activities. Don’t be afraid to drag your kids deep into the city or to the ‘burbs. They both offer unique experiences that can enrich your child’s lives. And expose them to just about everything from sports games, to concerts, to small events (like free comic drawing classes), culture, and more. Just pick a few items a year and make it happen!

F: If you could take your kids anywhere, where would you take them? Why?
B: Finland. We will take a trip there at some point, we just haven’t done it yet. But we have a strong Finnish Heritage and I’ve would love to see the country itself. And the small village by the same name as my surname.

But really–I would love to take them all over the world: England, India, Africa. I’d also love to go see the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean. And well just as many new places as we can afford.

F: What have some of your best experiences on Mother’s Day been? What would make your perfect Mother’s Day holiday?
B: I don’t get caught up on the holiday too much. All I really like are hugs, kisses, and some special homemade things from the kids. If I get a few hours of “free time” after a family brunch that makes it all a bit better. Gives me kid-free time to just re-coup and then come home to more snuggles.

Ohio to Chicago – a journey on the Megabus

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By , April 12, 2010 8:54 am
Glenn Mc Bride

Glenn Blogging Chicago

Funsherpa sits down with Glenn McBride, the blogger behind And Then What, to learn his experience of moving into Chicago, the eccentricities of the locals, and his travels on the treacherous Megabus.

F: What cities have you lived in?  How do they compare to Chicago?

G: Chicago is the first “major” city I’ve lived in. I was born outside of San Francisco, moved while I was very young to Pennsylvania and moved again to Northwest Ohio before I started first grade. Really, I have no memories of anything pre-Ohio. As for how Ohio cities compare to Chicago, I guess the biggest difference is Chicago has “things” while Ohio does not. Seriously, Ohio has nothing.

F: What eccentricities have you noticed in local Chicagoans?

G: The thing that strikes me more often than anything is just how much Chicagoans know about Chicago. I know that might sound strange, but I lived in the same city in Ohio for over 13 years and I still didn’t know much about it. Maybe it’s the storied history of this town that breeds a certain civic pride or maybe it’s just more interesting. Chicagoans know their stuff.

F: You seem to have taken the Megabus a few times, do you have any ‘dream’ Megabus trips?

G: To be fair, my ‘dream’ Megabus trip would be not taking the Megabus. It’s a way to travel when your options and resources are low, but it’s no luxury. If I could plan a trip with the Megabus to my own specifications I would do a few things to make it more enjoyable: 1.) Only my friends would be on board, I’m tired of sitting next to odd strangers. 2.) I would knock out six rows of seating to increase the leg room. 3.) I would set the course for Milwaukee. Why Milwaukee? Well, it’s close enough to drive in under two hours and it’s Milwaukee. Who could argue with Milwaukee?

F: If you were to project yourself 5 years in the future, what blog articles will you be writing about Chicago?

G: Hopefully one’s that pay well. But really there are three things I would love to be able to write about on a consistent basis with a decent audience: travel, sports and culture. I love going to new places and recounting the voyage. I love following almost any sports action and giving my two cents. And I love discussing culture and adding my inane views into the mix. If in five years I was focused on any of these three I would be happy. More importantly, I hope I am not writing about the CTA. There is nothing interesting or entertaining about the CTA. Nothing.

F: Are you indifferent between The Cubs and The Sox?

G: My sports allegiance will remain with Detroit for as long as I live, or until Detroit gives up on being a city, whichever comes first. With that said, the Tigers and White Sox are bitter enemies. I hate the White Sox. Add this to being able to see Wrigley outside my apartment window and the choice is even clearer. Maybe I’m the final piece the Cubs need to make their championship run. Or I just jinxed them for another hundred years. Who knows?

F: What are your favorite bars and restaurants in Wrigleyville?

G: Wrigleyville will never run out of restaurants to try or bars to lose yourself in, that’s for sure. People complain about the bar scene down on Clark and the surrounding areas, they say the clientele are all the same and it’s like a frat party. Well, as a relatively recent college grad, I don’t mind this…yet. I will admit that most of the bars blend together and seem pretty similar.    Restaurants, on the other hand, are as distinct as they are tasty. My personal favorite is Vines on Clark. On Mondays, when the Cubs aren’t playing, all food is half off! Do yourself a favor and check that place out.

F: Are there any other neighborhoods in Chicago that you particularly like?  Why?

G: Every neighborhood has its charm. It all depends on your mood. Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, wherever, you can find good and bad things about all of them. I love the fact that Chicago is so diverse and has distinct, separate areas. Sometimes, thought, I think the whole neighborhood thing gets blown out of proportion. People will argue about which is the next up-and-coming place to live or where the artists are grouping or where the best food is. It’s all Chicago, you know, it’s not as if these places are like foreign countries. The similarities are much closer than the differences.

F: What crazy things do you plan to do in Chicago this summer?

G: This will be my first full summer in Chicago and I hope it’s filled with plenty of excitement. Crazy things? I would like the do some kayaking, maybe in the river. I’ll be spending a good portion of my time training for the Chicago Marathon throughout the summer. I guess that’s pretty crazy, right? Maybe I’ll skydive. Who knows? Chicago has limitless opportunities. No need to plan it all out now. The truly crazy comes out of spontaneity.

Being Frugal in Chicago with Lisa Koivu

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By , March 15, 2010 11:42 am

Lisa celebrating a life of frugality

Lisa celebrating a life of frugality

With the tough economy still all over everyone’s mind, we’ve decided to feature Chicago’s very own frugal tip celebrity, Lisa Koivu. Lisa is the blogger behind Fantabulously Frugal, a blog dedicated to sharing how to live a life ‘On-Sale’!

F: What inspired you to start the Fantabulously Frugal blog? It must have been good timing with the recent recession when you decided to start it.
LK: I started Fantabulously Frugal when I was reaching the end of grad school and was in a bit of a panic about what I was going to do with all of my free time. I was still working full time but was worried about all of the hours I’d have free in the evenings. (I guess I’m a little crazy.) I spent a weekend just thinking about things that I might be good at, but had to rule most of them out. I mean, I love reading gossip magazines but with no access to anything Hollywood-related, couldn’t really parlay that into anything substantial. I also love eating cupcakes, but I abhor making them. It came to me literally in the middle of the night that one thing I’m quite good at is finding bargains on the internet. And thus Fantabulously Frugal was born.

F: How did you get so good at finding deals and steals?
LV: I think it goes back to have a very thrifty childhood. When I was growing up we didn’t buy anything unless we had a coupon or it was on sale. I remember standing in line at the grocery store with my dad once and complaining about how we never bought Lucky Charms and I told him it was stupid that we needed a coupon in order to buy something. I remember him asking me why I thought it was stupid to want to save money on something, and that has always stuck with me. Why would you want to pay full price for something when you can so easily get it for less? And now that I clip coupons I realize that there were probably many coupons for Lucky Charms and my parents were just ignoring them.

Their sense of frugality has always stuck with me and there are very few things for which I’ve ever paid full price. I’m a Mac gal and I even spent time trying to figure out how to get the best discount on my Mac before purchasing. I feel good when I don’t pay full price for something, and I enjoy helping others feel the same way.

F: Any particular post on FF that got the most attention ?
LK: One of my favorite posts to compile and one that people seem to find over and over again is a post I did on everything I was able to get for free on my birthday. I’d had that post in mind ever since the early days of Fantabulously Frugal and I spent those months trying to get myself onto every mailing list possible, and especially ones that asked for your birth date. I have to say – my haul was pretty good, though I have high hopes that my tally of freebies will be much higher this year! I received multiple free meals, cosmetics, and many other items – it was awesome!

F: What neighborhood do you live in? And what do you like about it?
LK: I live on the edge of Lincoln Square and on the edge of Old Irving and so I’ll cover them both. What I like about the Old Irving Part of town is that I’m just a half mile walk from the Target on Addison. I make a trip to Target every single weekend so this location has been great for that. I can combine walking with shopping! In terms of Lincoln Square, I love how walkable the neighborhood is and the large number of outstanding restaurants. We used to live in River North and so we were able to walk to all of downtown Chicago’s finest establishments. I’m not kidding, however, when I saw I prefer the atmosphere and the restaurants more in Lincoln Square. Bistro Campagne is a particular favorite of mine.

F: What are your favorite places to bargain hunt in Chicago?
LK: Target, Target, Target! Seriously, I cannot get enough of that place! One Chicago-based store that I write about on my site is AKIRA Chicago. The fashions are fun and also remarkably affordable. (And they always have a killer sale section!)
Another of my favorites is Craigslist. I know that sounds kind of silly but Craigslist has been a life saver since I moved to Chicago 6 years ago. I’ve found so much inexpensive furniture through the site and even sold some myself. You never know what you’ll find and I try to check the listings at least once per week.

F: Tell us what things that you’re not frugal with and love to splurge on
LK: For the most part, almost nothing is off limits to my frugality. This is kind of embarrassing, but two months ago my boyfriend and I bought a puppy. We picked the puppy we now have because he was on sale! However, there are really only two exceptions to my frugal ways. Like I already said, I’m a Mac gal. (The computer, not the make-up.) I was lucky when I bought my latest MacBook that I was able to figure out a way to buy it with a little bit of a discount. However, even if I hadn’t, I still would have bought the computer. Buying a much cheaper PC is just not an option. Also, I’m not frugal about restaurants. I will never choose to eat at a restaurant because it will cost less than another restaurant. Dining choices are based strictly on quality.

F: When not updating FF, what else keeps you busy in the city?
LK: I enjoy taking my new sale puppy, Bacon, out for walks in Chicago’s many parks. In the summer I enjoy hitting up different farmer’s markets around the city. I just discovered the new French Market in Ogilvie and plan on heading down there on a regular basis to do the bulk of my grocery shopping. That market is amazing and has everything from meats to cheeses to freshly baked breads to Belgian french fries! Delicious! If you haven’t guessed, my favorite thing to do in the city when it comes right down to it is eat. I’m constantly trying new restaurants and trying to find new markets!

It’s a Wee Windy City for the whole family

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By , February 1, 2010 1:01 pm
Sharing the fun with the family

Sharing the fun with the family

This week, funsherpa discovers the family and kid friendly side of Chicago with Caitlin Giles, former lawyer turned professional mother of three and freelance writer.   She shares with us tips on how to take advantage of all the city has to offer for kids and the family.  We also learn a little bit about the mother blogger community.  Caitlin blogs at A Hen and Two Three Chicks and Chicago Now’s Wee Windy City.

F: What motivated you to start blogging and writing the hen and three chicks blog?

C: I wanted to find a way to capture the time with my little ones. As any parent can tell you, kids change so fast and the days can get so hectic. My hope was to create a place where at least some small part of our days together would be recorded.

I was also looking for a creative outlet for myself while my kids were napping.  Kids  are just naturally creative and watching my own little ones really awakened in me the desire to be more creative in my own life.

F: Can you give us some parallels between your former career as a lawyer and being a mom?

Hmmm . . .  that is a tough one. Before I had kids, I worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney in cases involving child abuse and neglect. As you can imagine, this was really emotional and difficult work. After my daughter was born, I couldn’t imagine spending my days in a courtroom dealing with such desperate situations and then still having enough positive energy to bring home to her. I knew that I needed a different career path that allowed for better integration of my home and work life. My work as a freelance writer has allowed for just that.

F: Blogger-moms seem to be overtaking the growth of soccer moms and yoga moms – do you agree?  Can you share with us some of the interesting things you’ve learned from other blogger mommies?

C: Women are the biggest social media users out there –they are visiting everything from blogs to Twitter to the popular parenting websites. I think that women are always looking to connect and these new mediums are facilitating those relationships – especially for new moms who are really looking for a sense of community as they face the challenges of parenting for the first time.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and my parenting approach from reading what other moms around the world have to say about their own experiences.

F: What do kids watch on TV these days? Any kids shows you think adults would enjoy as well?

C: Truthfully, I can not think of one kid’s show that I really love. But there are a lot of great internet resources out there that are taking the place of TV time for kids. My favorite site is called Curious Corner on the Art Institute of Chicago website.

F: Kids seem to enjoy winter a lot more than grown ups do – what are your kids’ favorite winter activities?

C: I just wrote a post about this very topic! For adults, winter means traffic delays, shoveling, etc. For kids, winter means SNOWMEN! SLEDDING! ICE SKATING! I think that adults should all take a cue from our kids’ enthusiasm and get out there to enjoy the positive aspects of winter.

Definitely check out an outdoor skating rink – either at Millennium Park or Wrigley Field. And the city is full of great sledding spots – my kids like Cricket Hill on Montrose.

F: What was your childhood like in Chicago and how different is that from your kids’? Is there anything you wish Chicago still had or didn’t have?

C: I grew up in Oak Park. I was lucky because my parents regularly put my siblings and I on the Green Line to come to the city to take advantage of all of the cultural and recreational resources available here. I think that the family-friendly offerings in Chicago just keep getting better and better.

F: What’s a good resource for parents to find fun family friendly activities in Chicago?

C: I’ve been writing a blog called Wee Windy City on the ChicagoNow site for about six months now. The blog is basically about why it is great to be a kid in Chicago. I post about family-friendly events and activities going on around town. I also feature guest posts from other Chicago parents to offer a range of perspectives and information.

F: Any advice to new parents in Chicago to ensure their kids get to appreciate the city they live in?

C: Be a positive model – if you get out there and enjoy your life and take advantage of what the city has to offer, your kids will follow your lead.

On Two Wheels and Full on Adventures in the Windy City

By , November 2, 2009 9:10 am

With the mercury beginning its precipitous fall, some of us will alter our lifestyles in very significant ways.  For one Chicagoan however, it will be business as usual.  Dottie Brackett, famed blogger behind Let’s Go Ride A Bike, will continue cycling around the city in rain, shine, sleet, and snow.  funsherpa sits down with Dottie to find out how she survives year round cycling, and debunks some bikie misconceptions.

Cycling Chicago with Dottie Brackett

Cycling Chicago with Dottie Brackett

F: Why write about bikes?  What fascinates you about the topic?

D: Interesting question, I had not thought of it from that perspective: that I am fascinated by bikes.  The word “fascinated” is accurate, but I would modify “by bikes” to be “by the simply bicycling lifestyle.”  A few different factors intersect to create and sustain this fascination.  First, the bicycle is an aesthetically perfect creature.  Taking pictures of bikes and noticing others happily riding bikes brings beauty into my life, unpolluted by the notion of beauty forced on us by the media.  Second, bicycling is fun.  Whether the sun or the snow is in my face, the experience always makes me feel alive, like a child again.  Experiencing such a simple thrill every morning and evening as my commute is priceless.  Finally, the bicycle represents the sort of simple life that we often have to forgo to live in the city.  Careers are stressful, relationships are complicated, and we are urged to reach for bigger, better, more.  The simplicity of the bicycle allows me to use my own two legs to accomplish the simple and pleasant task of getting from one place to another.

These three factors come together to foster my love for the simple bicycling lifestyle, and, in turn, I want to write about the topic to share my experiences with others.  The idea of bicycling for transportation is only now reemerging in the States after a long hibernation.  More people are starting to consider the bicycle, and by showing them that I am a regular woman who gets around on my bike wearing regular clothes, I show them that they can do it, too.  That message is the basic concept behind the website that my friend Trisha and I created.

F: Can you share with us some common misconceptions about the Chicago biker?

D: The biggest misconception is that we are a pack of outlaws.  “The Chicago biker” could be anyone – gender, race, age and profession are all up for grabs.  We are human beings with parents, spouses, children and friends, who simply want to get from one place to another safely on our own two wheels.  I certainly do not fit into the stereotypical mold, and most people who know me in a professional capacity have no idea that I ride my bike everywhere.

F: Drivers usually think of bikers as a nuisance while bikers seem to dread the crazy Chicago drivers – how can we all have peace on the road?

D: Peace on the road would require a fundamental shift in how everyone perceives the city and his or her place in it.  With so many people squeezed into one area, we cannot be selfish.  Being in a rush is never a reason to put someone’s life at risk.  I always defer to pedestrians, and drivers should defer to bicyclists, because the person with the greater power for harm bears the most responsibility.

A driver may think that a bicyclist is selfish simply by riding in the street, because the driver may have to slow down to pass the bicyclist safely.  There is nothing I can say to a person like that – our mind sets are too radically different.  That said, the vast majority of Chicago drivers are very kind.  For every driver who honks at me or cuts me off, there are 500 drivers who treat me like a human being, with patience and respect.

F: You are a year-round biker.  How difficult was it to transition to biking in cold or unpleasant weather?  Do you ever miss having a car?

D: My winter cycling habit always shocks people.  I want to spread the word that it’s no big deal.  Really.  I grew up in North Carolina, so I’m no snow bunny.  Last winter was only my second Chicago winter and my first winter bicycling.  A year ago, I did not know whether I would be able to continue through the winter, but I loved cycling and couldn’t imagine my daily life without my bicycle.  I decided that I would take it one day at a time and see what happened.  As the weather grew colder, I added more layers.  Snow boots.  Heavy duty gloves.  Ear muffs.  Scarves.  Wool socks.  Geeky safety glasses.  I realized that instead of freezing, I was actually overheating: since my body warms itself by pedaling, I need fewer clothes for my 7 mile bike ride than for my wait on the el train platform.  Also, I bought studded tires and never worried about ice.

The beauty of winter cycling is remaining connected to nature.  For most people, Chicago winter weather is cold, cold, and more cold.  A winter cyclists is tuned in to all the subtle changes in weather: which direction is the wind blowing, is it foggy or sharp, snowing or clear, warm (15 degrees) or cold (0 degrees)?   As a bonus, the lakefront is stunningly gorgeous in the winter and the park district keeps the trail plowed.

I never miss having a car.  If someone offered me a Mercedes and free parking downtown, I would reject the offer in favor of my bicycle.  I find that a personal car is completely unnecessary for my city life.  Plus, I no longer pay for a car loan, gas, insurance or city sticker, and I make money by renting my garage space to a neighbor.

F: Lets say you worked for a marketing firm tasked with getting Chicagoans to switch over from cars to bikes – what would you do?

D: I would use all the tactics that automobile advertisers use.  They show the car as sexy, safe, freeing, fun, attractive, normal, necessary.  In my experience, these adjectives describe bicycling more accurately than driving, especially in the city.  Bicycling delivers the kind of freedom that car advertising promises.  We need images of successful and happy people on bikes dressed nicely, going on dates, smiling and laughing.  Exposure to such images, like those on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, is necessary to show the public the possibilities that the bicycle presents.  Most women here have no idea that riding a bike with a skirt and heels is easy; that bicycling does not have to be a sport; and that the bicyclist does not have to get sweaty.

F: What makes a bike ‘sexy’ to you?

D: Flushed skin, fast heartbeats, fresh air, healthy bodies, strong legs – what’s not sexy about bicycling?

F: What are some of your favorite bike paths or routes?

D: The Lakefront Trail is by far my favorite cycling route, with Lake Michigan on one side and the skyline on the other – and no cars.  I also enjoy Ravenswood from Addison north; it follows the Metra tracks and therefore there is little cross-traffic.  Most city streets are perfectly fine for cycling, except major routes such as Ashland, Irving Park, Sheridan and the like.

F: Aside from biking, what other things do you enjoy doing in Chicago?

D: I’ve always longed to move to a big city, as far back as I can remember.  I don’t take it for granted now that I’m here, and spend a lot of my free time exploring different neighborhoods.  Each area has distinctive characteristics, so I park my bicycle and wander around on foot to check out the stores and cafes.  Millennium Park is a favorite destination of mine and I always know I’ll have a nice day hanging out there.

F: What neighborhood do you live in?

D: I live in West Lakeview, and there is so much goodness all around me.  Dinkels Bakery, Pho’s Hot and Spicy Thai, Four Moon Tavern, El Tapatio Café and a little further up the road, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Haystack Vintage and the Book Cellar.

F: Where are the biker ‘hang-outs’ in the city?

D: The idea of “biker hang-outs” goes back to misconceptions.  I am not a member of any biker gang; most of my friends do not use bicycles as their primary form of transportation.  Some places you can find me hanging out after a ride are the ballet, the Shakespeare Theater, thrift stores, book stores and coffee shops

Navigating Chicago’s Transport Network with Mike Doyle

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By , October 26, 2009 4:23 pm
Carless Mike Doyle

Carless Mike Doyle

While living without a car may seem like an undreamed of foreign concept to some urbanites, local Chicagoan Mike Doyle actually cherishes life without the polluting metal structured behemoth.  A native New Yorker christened a “born-again Chicagoan”, Mike is the scribe behind Chicago Carless, and has used his popularity to help win the removal of ill-conceived cameras atop the Millenium Park fountains, improve street signs, and challenge the CTA’s judgment.  Funsherpa sits down with carless Mike and discovers urban secrets of Chicago and the beauty of Chicago’s railcars.

What benefits do you see in not owning a car? Have you been able to convert people to give up their cars?
I managed that conversion pretty recently, actually. But there’s no question about owning a car for me–like a million other hard-core New Yorkers, I have no idea how to drive one. I never learned how to drive a car as a teenager, have never had a license, and can count the number of times I’ve pumped gas–for others–on one hand. And I have no intention of learning. Ever. Have you experienced the soul-sucking nature of neighborhoods solely accessible by automobile? Sure you have. How eager are you to live in Schaumburg? Or Bolingbrook? Give me a transit-connected city or near-suburban address any day. Life is short. Why be bored by the place you live?

Are there ever times when you wish you had a car? Why or why not?
As a native New Yorker, my motto has always been that I was born to take public transit or be driven around by cute guys. There are plenty of cute guys in Chicago (especially the wonderful Texas-expat I’m dating right now), so I’m always able to get out to Ikea when I need to. Otherwise, I abide by my longstanding life choice to maintain an urban lifestyle in a major city. Chicago fits the bill perfectly.

You seem very knowledgeable and interested in urban details.  How did that interest begin?
Before I could read I would spend hours at a time sitting at my grandmother’s windowsill in Richmond Hill, Queens, watching the elevated rumble by on Jamaica Avenue. My grandmother would take me into “the city” (NYC code for Manhattan) on weekends to visit her friends working in major Midtown department stores, so I got hooked on the subway and dense urbanity pretty fast. In the late 90s, I began working at the New York City Transit Riders Council, where I was eventually named Associate Director. So by the time I left New York, it was my job to know all I could about public transit there.

What 3 aspects of New York’s public transportation system would you bring over to Chicago?
I far prefer living in Chicago to living in New York City–my adopted home is a much friendlier, more humanizing place. That extends to transit. Chicago has many things NYC doesn’t: systemwide automated announcements; windows that aren’t etched beyond all recognition; buses that actually get where they’re going without getting bogged down in traffic. The only thing this town needs–and it needs it badly–is a state government that truly understands the importance of funding for public transportation. Annual transit-funding “doomsdays” are ridiculous–and make Chicago look penny-wise but pound-foolish to outsiders.

In our humble opinion, public transportation seems to wrestle against optimizing convenience versus coverage.  Where do you think Chicago’s transportation system stands in the tradeoff between these two factors and what can be done to improve it?
You don’t take transit much in this town, do you? The great majority of Chicagoans live within a half-mile walk of a bus or L train (usually a bus.) Most of the major gaps in service are temporal, not geographic. Some key bus lines stop running too early on weeknights and weekend evenings (examples: the Addison bus in Lakeview, the 40-series buses in Bronzeville, and route extension on Milwaukee and Western avenues), and the ridership would probably support running a 24-hour Brown Line service now. Unfortunately, given our latest funding crisis, those temporal gaps will likely grow larger.

What does Mayor Daley think of you?
Mayor Daley’s office knows my name, so he–or his staffers, more likely–either loves me or hates me. Considering the questions about bone-headed mayoral decisions I’ve raised on my various local bylines over the years (a missing Red Line stop at Washington/State? covered-up violence at the 2009 Independence Eve fireworks?), my money’s on the latter.

What are your thoughts about the dormant Chicago Post Office?  What would you rather see in its place?
A post office. Have you seen the building the USPS replaced it with? Fug-Lee.

What neighborhood do you live in?  Can you name us some of your favorite things to do in your neighborhood without a car?
I live downtown and consider the entire area from Roosevelt north to Chicago and the Kennedy east to the lakefront my neighborhood. From my apartment at Marina City, the Loop is a 40-floor elevator ride and 60-second stroll across the State Street Bridge away, so I walk most places down here. I think people who drive in downtown Chicago are idiots and deserve the stress and expense of trying to find parking in the most transit-connected downtown between NYC and San Francisco.

What are your favorite CTA stops?  Why?
I have favorite railcars. I’m going to miss the old, blinker-door 2200s still running on the Blue Line when they start getting replaced by new cars next year. They’re not the classic, old green-and-cream cars, but they’re as close as anyone can get to feeling like they’re Bob Newhart wending his way home to Emily at the end of a Windy City workday.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in any of Chicago’s public transport systems?
There’s a regular act of public kindness I see all the time on the L: operators holding trains for connections and re-opening doors for late-arriving customers just before the train leaves the station. Sometimes I even see operators stop a train to let latecomers on (anyone who takes the Blue Line from the CTA’s super-long Logan Square station sees this all the time.) Those are really nice things for CTA operators to do. They would get you fired from New York City Transit. I may be the one New Yorker who’s never believed NYC to be the greatest city on earth. My mark of a great city is one that doesn’t slam its transit doors in your face as you try not to be late for work in the morning.

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